The Top 25 Tracks of 2017
Here are the top 25 tracks of 2017, according to Crack Magazine.
Visit 2017.crackmagazine.net for more end of year coverage over the coming weeks.
The Workers Are on Strike
Don't Be Afraid
Karen Gwyer’s 2017 album Rembo pushes at techno’s boundaries but retains the melodic nous that Detroit’s techno titans always had in spades. Track titles like this nod to the old industrial powerhouse, as does the chaotic melody of standout track The Workers Are on Strike, which crashes like 8-bit waves on its spluttering beat, elevating a fine high-tempo workout into a peak-time apogee, a stone-cold ‘what is this?’ moment on the dancefloor.
Skywalker ft. Travis Scott
ByStorm / RCA
Miguel has a remarkable vocal range, so it’s unusual that his comeback single largely sticks to one fairly basic phrase. But it’s the water-clear simplicity of Skywalker which makes it so exquisite. It’s still got all the cornball hallmarks of a Miguel classic (he rhymes “I don’t lose” with “Tom Cruise”) but there’s a direct quality to the track which feels natural. The drifting bass and oscillating top-line synth bring Miguel’s timeless swagger into focus.
DOOM was shady this year. Various projects were announced, but his Missing Notebook Rhymes singles series was abruptly deleted, only leaving only the debris of YouTube rips behind. True Lightyears – a collab between the masked enigma and Jay Electronica – was presented as the comeback track from DOOM’s golden era group KMD. Atop flamenco guitars and a melodic whistle lead, these two elusive poets commemorated their lifelong love of word-play. A diamond in the rubble.
Bijoux de Diamantes
Inspired by the 1932 jewellery collection for which Coco Chanel designed diamonds shaped like stars, this turn by London-based producer E.M.M.A. certainly kept its gaze stratospheric. The luxuriously off-kilter track’s wistful melody floats and twinkles like sunlight piercing through clouds. An underrated track with all the cold sophistication of something Kanye might rap over if he picked up on weightless grime.
KMT ft. Giggs
OVO / Young Monday
For better or worse, 2017 was the year of the rap gig moshpit, and KMT opened a circle in the crowd quicker than any other track. Giggs’s unhurried delivery and deadpan humour may have confounded American Twitter users, but there was solid proof of anthem status in the staggering streaming stats and the sight of a thousand people running into each other. Ready for it? Batman – duh-nuh-nuh-duh-nuh!
Celebrate The Last 20 Years of Human Ego
Giant Swan gave us a giant belter this year with Celebrate… – an unflinching cut of sheer industrial energy where chopped-up vocals are barked over an uproarious din of razor-wire synths, metallic clatter and blown-out kicks. In re-cent years the ‘punks-do-techno’ narrative has arguably grown a little tired, but the Bristol-based duo (who make up half of noise-rock outfit The Naturals) have transcended this simply by being among the best to ever do it.
Throwing shade, Uber Uber everywhere, bad bishes, rolling triplets… On the face of it, Shade could be one of any number of bangers in the vast sea of post-trap hip-hop. But with a haunting, spectral edge to her jazz-influenced vocals and a Manchester accent dropping in and out of sounds so rooted in the US, with Shade IAMDDB still stood out. A slick banger from one of the UK’s most promising artists.
The Trilogy Tapes
Blue Pedro remains a terrible idea on paper: a thoroughly paint-by-numbers house cut driven by a shanty-like melody which gives a painfully knowing nod to the Blue Peter theme. But just listen to how sweetly those guitars warble over the warm synths, the dreamy chords, the breezy beat – these elements all combine to create an impossibly feel-good affair which none but the truly humourless will fail to appreciate, even if it takes two or three listens.
Finders Keepers ft. Kojo Funds
Mabel’s regal RnB oeuvre was finally nurtured to fruition this year. Shared between the spring’s Bedroom EP and Ivy to Rose this autumn, Finders Keepers eased its way into a high spot on the charts. The single is breezy, balmy and arguably boasts the most infectious hook of the year, with the young chanteuse coolly reminding her suitor: “It don’t need to be no deeper/ It’s finders keepers”.
For the past three years, Angus Finlayson has been exploring the ill-defined region of contemporary dance music that favours fulsome bass and crooked rhythms. Volumes raised the bar. The airy beauty of the pads and keys on the lead into the track are a marvel on their own, while the mid-section bass drum throb is dancefloor manna. With a deft flick of the wrist said bass tone ramps up to a bloated, stuttering snarl that never fails to shock the dance.
Ascension ft. Vince Staples
Parlaphone / Warner Bros.
Tearing open the gates to one of the biggest albums of the year, Ascension saw Vince Staples bring some of his most politically-charged bars against the Technicolor backing of Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett’s returning cartoon heroes. Capturing the urgent essence of the dystopia which the album was framed around, Staples’ intensely vivid final verse felt all the more important given the scale of the audience it would be reaching. A call-to-arms for the imagined apocalypse.
Come Meh Way
Brittney Parks is a self-taught musician from LA whose songs feature a sleek combination of violin playing inspired by Sudanese fiddlers and RnB beats. On Come Meh Way, Parks’ violin riffs interlock with tambourine-led percussion. Digital tools – loops, keys and distortion – amplify the quickfire arpeggios which, along with her barely-singing vocal style, contribute to the unusual sound palette which formed one of of the most arresting tracks of the year.
21 Savage, Offset & Metro Boomin
Ghostface Killers ft. Travis Scott
Slaughter Gang / Epic
There’s a trend of rappers dropping projects on Halloween. With church bells and eerie organs, Ghostface Killers – the opener from this Atlanta dream team’s collaborative LP Without Warning – explores the intersection between horror movie creepiness and the very real darkness of the trap lifestyle. “Do you wanna take a ride with the coroner today?”, 21 Savage asks with stone-faced hostility. A chilling classic with replay value that lasted well beyond 31 October.
Degreelessness (Overmono rmx)
Nathan Fake might be Norfolk’s premier export. Bernard Matthews is dead, and Alan Partridge doesn’t exist. QI is crap, so that’s Stephen Fry disqualified. So Fake sits pretty at the top of the Norfolk tree. Overmono headed deep into the dark heart of Fake’s country, coming back with this raucous bit of beatific techno-not-techno that sinks into musical quicksand, only to pull itself out of the mire and cross the club finish line with a massive smile on its face. Bootiful, as dear old Bernard might have said.
TG Millian & Naira Marley & Blanco
Money on the Road
G Millian and Blanco are primarily known as members of South London drill collective Harlem Spartans, but here they switched things up to take on the Afrowave vibe alongside Naira Marley, who provides cheeky bars, wavy melodies plus his Pidgin lingo and Nigerian twang. Money on the Road was for both the road and the clubs, with quotables, a catchy hook and just the right amount of crud.
A1 / Freebandz / Epic
Returning after a three-month hiatus (practically a lifetime in Future years given his prolific work rate), Future sandwiched Mask Off in the middle of his eponymous album at the start of the year. From the moment the snaky flutes seep into the mix, you’re hooked. And like all his best bangers, there’s a chilling sadness to it. Future’s sedated delivery rolls across Metro Boomin’s addictive production – a formula which remains unparalleled.
First Things First
#Merky / Warner
By the time Gang Signs & Prayer dropped Stormzy was on the precipice of stardom, but dark forces were conspiring against him. First Things First was the sound of Stormz clenching his fists and refusing to be taken down by bitter rivals, ignorant radio stations, racist nightclubs and the devil himself. Echoing Dizzee Rascal’s Sittin Ere, on First Things First Stormzy also confirmed his battle with depression – demolishing the stigma to start a thousand important conversations among his young fans. A seminal intro.
Peder Mannefelt + Hodge
All My Love
Peder Mannefelt PMHO001
The world’s changing quickly – we have unicorn bagels and an escalated threat of impending nuclear war now! – and we need music that reflects just how fast everything moves today. Handily, historians of the near-future will be able to listen to this absurdly turbo-charged slab of OTT, hoover-rave breakbeat techno-throb and go, “Ah yes, that was the year the world went completely fucking insane. Brilliant.”
AWGE / Interscope
Playboi Carti probably wouldn’t take offence if you accused him of style over substance. The Atlanta fashionista’s charisma seems effortless, and his delivery is carefree. Having once bragged about having star appeal without even releasing a full-length project, Young Carti eventually found the perfect sound via producer Pi’erre Bourne – who crafted colourful, featherweight beats for Carti to bounce his restless ad-libs off. From the self-titled mixtape, Magnolia was the hit. With minimal syllables and choppy assonance, in three minutes Carti detailed the dizzying ride of hedonistic crime spree in New York, nodding to the city’s 2015 Milly Rock dance craze as a gesture of respect. Magnolia sounded like Playboi Carti was hardly trying, and millions of us loved it.
Shadows ft. Debbie Harry
As the penultimate song of Future Islands’ album The Far Field, this synth-powered duet paired two iconic voices. Both Samuel T Herring and Debbie Harry have reputations that precede them, but on this they’re presented in their ultimate forms: as incredibly engaging and idiosyncratic vocalists. Each performer allows the other’s voice room to dance around their own. There is no competition here – you can almost sense the mutual respect in the air. As the climax approaches, the song becomes triumphant and theatrical, as both artists push themselves to the limit, before fading down into a quiet glory. Shadows is the past and present of indie rock meeting, and it sounds exultant.
There’s only a handful of people who you can really say have won 2017, and Cardi B – the “regular, degular, shmegular girl from the Bronx” – is one of them. Having climbed the ranks from internet personality to reality TV star and further on to certified platinum recording artist, she’s won herself the title of the new Princess of Rap, with Bodak Yellow her crown jewel. Bodak Yellow is an unapologetic true gyal anthem that’ll go down in the books much like the Spice Girls’ Wannabe, Christina Aguilera and Lil Kim’s Can’t Hold Us Down or Beyoncé’s Single Ladies. Sorry not sorry to all the guys the ladies deafened in the club while screaming along at the top of our lungs.
Lil Uzi Vert
XO Tour Llif3
Generation Now / Atlantic
We’ll look back at XO Tour Llif3 as one of the defining rap tracks of 2017. But at its heart, it’s an emo standard: a swan song, a final anthem on excess and desperation and exhaustion, but one packaged over dark, future-facing trap production cut by a clean flute sample that leans into the same four-note sequence like a dreamy ambulance. “I don’t really care if you cry…” Lil Uzi Vert declared. “Push me to the edge/ all my friends are dead”. The track stretches Uzi’s voice to its limits, with the Philly artist almost belting the chorus in that pained wail that Future and Young Thug crafted before him. It’s an unusual juxtaposition: the cracks in Uzi’s voice, the overwrought meditations. If Lil Uzi Vert is in the Class of Soundcloud, then he’s got one hand on the valedictorian’s cap.
True Panther / XL
King Krule’s album The Ooz was variously conceived as: a concept album about family; seduction ammo a la his beloved Sade; and a collection of sleazy punk. Dum Surfer probably leans to the latter, but the single manages to incorporate at least part of all three. It works as a good summation of King Krule as an entity: snarling braggadocio, aimless paranoia, fright, self-deprecation and tenderness are all plunged into the sludgy mixture. Bookended by ghoulish groans, with its bright and beachy guitar solo among the mire, the song shows a more relaxed Archy Marshall, at ease with humour as he roughly rhymes his way through a tale of low-lit romance, trash music and puke on the pavement. Eventually, as the submerged call and brattish response seeps into your brain, you’re left with one of the most intoxicating tunes of the year.
Theme from Q
Few, if any, records sounded quite so enamoured with the idea of music itself this year as TJ Hertz’s dizzyingly fun, deliriously deep club anthem. Theme from Q, easily the most straightforwardly enjoyable Objekt production to date, takes a lugubriously slow rhythm track, sprinkles it with a giddy trill of notes that sound like every beefy mid-90s NYC house tune you’ve ever loved blurred into one gorgeous earworm, and then slathers the lot in a heavy blanket of bass. It feels designed purely with pleasure in mind, and it was rinsed for a reason. This is a record which reminds you that for all the discourse around club culture, all the after-party talk about the relationship between neoliberal-ism, yoga and Jeremy Underground’s hotel preferences, sometimes the best thing about dance music is that it makes you want to dance.
Did You See
Black Butter / Epic
When Jae5 – J Hus’ longtime producer and the creator of his lithe, vibrant sound – was ten years old, his parents moved him from London to Ghana. His brother had a PC and he got hold of FruityLoops. After school every day, he’d spend hours on the programme playing around and trying to find a groove. Absorbing the sounds of his environment and learning a craft, he eventually found a formula which bloomed when he was back in London and started working with J Hus.
Then, in March 2017, Hus shared Did You See – the lead single from his debut album and an expertly produced, glimmering pop song which harnessed the twin energies of London’s DIY revolution and the innately celebratory spirit of Afrobeats. Without warning, he stole the summer. The song is custom built for car speakers, windows down. The four-note steel drum intro delivers a universal magic – it’s an alchemy unique to J Hus and Jae5, unique to their experience and to this moment in time. This is effortless musical chemistry, and an instant classic that stays with you long after that white Mercedes glides into the distance.