Songs I Was Addicted To In 2017

Sylvan Esso (Photo: Gabriela Herman for The New York Times)

Yes, that’s right, this is another “Best of 2017” list! 2017 was, in my opinion, a very good year for new music. This year seemed particularly full of addictive songs. You know the kind I mean: a song that grabs hold of something inside you the first time you hear it, that makes your heart flutter or your feet move, that leaves you hungry to listen to it over and over so you can experience that feeling again. During the obsessive-listening phase, those songs begin to color my days until they inevitably become tied to certain memories of that moment in my life. Joni Mitchell’s “Amelia” (which I wrote about last month) is permanently associated in my mind with an April day during my third year of college, and a particular rainy drive with my best friend. Rufus Wainwright’s “California” evokes a summer tour with my band when we listened to that album literally every day. This year was full of those songs, so here are a few of them. Be warned, though – there’s some decisively non-rootsy music on this list, and I could not resist using the word “banger” two times.

For a Spotify playlist with all these songs (in order, even!), click here.

Sylvan Esso, “Die Young”

By far the best “crying-on-the-dance-floor” banger of 2017, this song is both incredibly dark and incredibly romantic. Amelia Meath’s voice slays me. She sings with a folksinger’s unprocessed directness, and Nick Sanborn’s production uses a grittier and more creative soundscape than much of today’s pop music. 

The Weather Station, “Thirty”

The Weather Station was one of my favorite finds this year, and I listened to this song so many times on my trip to Amsterdam last month that I see bicycles and canals in my mind whenever I hear it. “Thirty” eschews traditional verse-chorus structure for a slow-burning cascade of verses that build to a gloriously cathartic guitar solo.

Weaves, “Slicked”

A few months ago I wrote about playing at the Hillside Festival in Ontario, and noted that Weaves played my favorite set of the festival. Their sophomore album contains a wide range of quirky, groovy, empowering bangers, and I think this might be my favorite. (Also, watch the music video.)

Sam Amidon, “Juma Mountain”

Yesterday I hiked a steep ridge in Hohenems, Austria, up to the ruins of an old castle. It was just beginning to snow, and the early morning was gray and misty. This song was stuck in my head the whole time. 

Jennifer Kimball, “Love and Birds”

Okay, I’m biased on this one because Jen is a friend. But she released a really creative and beautiful album this year and I want more people to hear it. I was humming this song’s melody for weeks and telling anyone who would listen about the distorted flute solo.

Jesca Hoop, “Memories Are Now”

I loved Jesca Hoop’s early albums when I was a teenager, but lost track of her music until hearing about this new Blake Mills-produced album on No Depression! The guitar groove is delightfully off-kilter and the chorus’ layered harmonies are gracefully defiant: “Clear the way/I’m coming through/No matter what you say/I’ve got work to be doing/If you’re not here to help, go find some other life to ruin.”

Cuddle Magic, “Slow Rider”

Cuddle Magic is one of the best bands that you may never have heard of. Their brand of pop music is globally inspired, with lyrics that bridge the mundane and the absurd and an effortless mixture of acoustic, electric, and synthesized sounds. You probably wouldn’t be able to guess that this song was inspired by Ghanaian bawa music, but it was, which makes it even cooler. This is one of those songs that you can’t help but sing along to, but you have to take a second figure out the rhythms first.

Aurora Birch, “Woman”

I’m extremely biased on this one because Aurora Birch is one of my closest friends. (She was also a finalist for the first-ever ND Singer-Songwriter Award!) But journalistic ethics aside, this song gets to me in a way few other songs ever have. “I know that look in your eye/What kind of woman am I?/I’m not the kind of woman you can fold into two lines, and I’m not kind sometimes.” 

Big Thief, “Mythological Beauty”

Brooklyn indie-folk-rock quartet Big Thief is one of my favorite bands making music right now. Adrianne Lenker’s songwriting has been a huge inspiration to me for the past few years, and this song, in which she retells a traumatic incident from her childhood imagining her young mother’s perspective, is some of her finest and most devastating storytelling.

Rayna Gellert, “Grey Bird”

This was probably my favorite song from one of my favorite albums of the year. Though it doesn’t feature Rayna’s old-time fiddle playing, for which she is best known, this wistful meditation on a fading love has the kind of deep, pulsing groove that only an old-time musician could create.

The Stash Band, “The Internet’s My Brain (Without it I Am Nothing)”

This song was my favorite on my friend Stash Wyslouch’s new album “The Faucet of Love,” but I’m going to strongly recommend that you listen to the whole album. Just be warned, though: it’s not like anything you’ve heard before. Maybe just imagine what it would be like if John Hartford and Frank Zappa had a love child, and don’t let the weirdness distract you from the caliber of the songwriting.