The 20 Best Songs of 2017... (So Far)

Music Lists best of 2017 so far
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The 20 Best Songs of 2017... (So Far)

It’s pretty incredible how much can be conveyed in three minutes. As we mentioned last week in our Best Albums of 2017 (So Far) list, 2017 has already been quite the year—politically, environmentally, socially, artistically. The songs we choose to give soundtrack to those experiences and emotions can help us process or party through it in the span of just a few minutes.

Some of the songs here come from artists whose latest works also appeared on our Best Albums of 2017 (So Far) list. Others are teasing nuggets for albums due out later this year. Others have just stood out to us in message or form regardless of the means of their release. So, after scouring through thousands of songs in these first four full months of 2017, here are Paste’s 20 best songs so far.

20. Benjamin Booker feat. Mavis Staples, “Witness”
When gospel-soul queen Mavis Staples opens up your comeback single, it’s a good omen. “Witness” is Benjamin Booker’s first new music since his self-titled debt LP in 2014, and his most scathing to date. At the time, Booker gained attention for his snarling incorporation of punk into the blues. Now, with “Witness,” the 27-year-old takes a more worldly approach. In each verse Booker spits out almost spoken-word raps about the state of people of color today (even dropping the f-bomb in front of Staples, which is actually a pretty punk-rock move). Each narrative culminates with the pre-chorus, quite obviously about Trayvon Martin, in which Booker switches back to his singing voice and describes, “See we thought that we saw that he had a gun / Thought that it looked like he started to run.” Each time, the maternal Staples interjects, “Am I gonna be a witness?” It’s rhetorical, but also pragmatic—a reminder to be aware, informed and vigilant wrapped up in the warming swath of soul. —Hilary Saunders

19. Ty Segall, “Orange Color Queen”
Ty Segall’s voice has never sounded quite this beautiful. On his self-titled ninth LP, “Orange Color Queen” stands as the crowning love song (to his now-wife, in fact), and his pack of accompanying musicians (Mikal Cronin on bass, Charles Moothart on drums, Emmett Kelly on guitar and Ben Boye on keys) slay as per usual. But it’s Segall’s tender lyrics and ambitious vocals that really make this one special. His playful metaphors—“Oh, you’re the silver lips of honey / Oh, you’re my cherry fizzle sundae”— make “Orange Color Queen” feel like they belong in a different era, yet it’s Segall ranging like never before on the song’s conclusion (“You’re beautiful lazy / Orange color lady / The morning sun, it wants to know / Where you’ll go”) that show his dynamic range. —Adrian Spinelli

18. Hurray for the Riff Raff, “Pa’lante”
Meaning “onward, forward,” “Pa’lante” is a rallying cry, starting off simply with Hurray for the Riff Raff frontwoman Alynda Lee Segarra singing, “Oh I just want to go to work and get back home and be something.” As her voice gets stronger, the anger and passion more obvious, she continues, “Colonized and hypnotized, be something.” She’s speaking specifically about the Puerto Rican experience in America (and “Pa’lante” includes a powerful sample of Pedro Pietri’s poem “Puerto Rican Obituary”), but in today’s political climate, it’s a fitting anthem for anyone marginalized. In the song’s final minutes, Segarra erupts and declares, “From Marble Hill to the ghost of Emmett Till, pa’lante.” Onward, forward, indeed. —Bonnie Stiernberg

17. Thundercat, “Friend Zone”
Don’t lie: The “friend zone” is a thing and we’ve all been there. On Thundercat’s version, he drops an all-too-real recount of getting thrown into the zone by a prospective flame. The reigning god of bass writes a steady groove to pair with a spacey synth loop and tongue-in-cheek references to now having more time to play classic video games (like Mortal Kombat and Diablo because ‘90s gore FTW!) Let’s not overthink it, though. This is some nerdy stuff, and song about getting friend-zoned on your 23-track album of bass-heavy funky jazz and hip-hop fusions called Drunk, is par for the course. —Adrian Spinelli

16. Big Thief, “Mythological Beauty”
After one hell of an opening salvo last year with Masterpiece, Brooklyn-based Big Thief hasn’t wasted any time assembling their next album, Capacity, which is due out in June. Single “Mythological Beauty” loses some of Masterpiece’s rustic elements in favor of searing, sad acoustic balladry. That chiming, delicate soundscape elevates the mid-range of Adrianne Lenker’s voice before it ascends to a wavering crescendo in the chorus. —Sean Edgar

15. The War on Drugs, “Thinking of a Place”
“Thinking of a Place” has everything that there is to love about The War on Drugs. Still bolstering that iconic Mark-Knopfler-backed-by-the-E-Street-Band sound, the magic here really resides in Adam Granduciel’s patient urgency. He sings a meditative, even mournful, love song that stretches out over 11 minutes, and not once does it rise above a strained whisper. And that guitar solo, oh, that guitar solo, coming in around the 3-minute mark, just blisters in and fades out, almost like a sigh. Also, there are a few moments when the slide guitar steals the show, and it’s just perfect. “Thinking of a Place” is a restrained, dreamy piece of indie rock; if it accurately showcases what’s coming on the fourth album, then it’s about damn time to get lost in the dream again. —Pete Mercer

14. Goldfrapp, “Anymore”
The perfect fusion of emotional frustration and dark dance beats, “Anymore” sees Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory returning to the slinky sexuality of Black Cherry and Supernature. This time, though, the British duo has painted it black with a helping of electronic work from producer Haxan Cloak. The beefed-up beats bring a do-or-die verisimilitude to the track. When Goldfrapp coo/growls “You’re what I want / You’re what I need / Give me your love / Make Me a freak” you can taste the urgency in her words. —Laura Studarus

13. Feist, “Pleasure”
To appropriate a quote from Wu-Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah, Feist’s comeback single “Pleasure” is “rugged and raw.” It’s dark and nervy and minimalist in a way the Broken Social Scene member’s previous work isn’t. When she yelps, “It’s my pleasure” over a grimy guitar riff meant for the Mississippi Delta, there’s no sense there actually is any pleasure. It’s the sound of a heady kind of fury but also the sound of someone shaking off the rust after six years away and rocking out. And honestly, the pleasure is all ours. —Jared McNett

12. Jay Som, “The Bus Song”
Few songs have captured the mundane beauty of city life like Jay Som’s “The Bus Song.” In it, Jay Som’s Melina Duterte unpacks the emotional pace of a relationship and likens its ebbs and flows to either riding a car or taking the bus. It’s as if she’s staring at the end of things, but finds comfort and solace within herself when riding the bus: “But I like the bus / I can be whoever I want to be / take time to figure it out.” Duterte’s relatable lyrics are wrapped in guitars and melodious arrangements that evoke nostalgia for simpler times. Her even-keeled delivery shows a refreshing temperament, evident throughout her wonderful debut LP, Everybody Works, and helped garner her one of our Best of What’s Next nods. —Adrian Spinelli

11. The xx, “ “Dangerous”
The moment Jamie xx’s thundering drum and horn samples on “Dangerous” open up The xx’s long-awaited third album, I See You, we instantly forget the sullen basement laments of the band’s lackluster sophomore release, Coexist. “Dangerous” teems with life and a vibrancy that the band dug deep to extract. Allowing Jamie to have a more central role in the production of I See You was a necessary move for a band that had to deliver on this album in order to stay relevant. While I See You maintains a palpable energy through 10 excellent tracks, it’s the way “Dangerous” explodes from the get-go, and how Oliver Sim and Romy Madley-Croft find a symbiotic balance within Jamie’s canvas, that makes this the most goosebump-raising moment on the record. —Adrian Spinelli

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