It’s New Year. Turkeys have been eaten, parties have been had, and now it’s time to embrace the coming of the next 12 months. To welcome the new, though, you’ve got to say goodbye to the past – and what better way to do that than giving 2017 a musical sendoff. For the next two instalments, I’ve decided to go a little off-script, bringing you one of the best tracks of every month of the last year (PSA: they might not be your immediate cup of tea, but give them a shot – after 12 months of listening I can assure you they’re worth it). So kick back, grab a glass of your chosen beverage and follow me on a trip through 2017’s hall of fame.
December’s Track: Run the Jewels feat. BOOTS – 2100
With America suffering from the prospect of a Trump presidency, December needed Run the Jewels. The duo have always been killer lyricists, but on RTJ3 they turned their eyes to politics more than ever before, delivering some incredibly potent social commentary. Whilst 2100 isn’t the most scathing track on RTJ3, it strikes a perfect balance, tinged with the despondency at the world but ready to fight. The track opens with the lethal “How long before the hate that we hold lead us to another Holocaust?” and delivers powerful line after powerful line over the track’s 4 minutes – Killer Mike’s “I refuse to kill another human being in the name of a Government” and El-P’s “I don’t wanna ever have to load a clip… I am still a kid in my heart” hit the mark. That’s to say nothing of the beat – El-P’s production is godly, soaring up and down alongside BOOTS’ featured vocals. This cannot be missed.
January’s Track: Wiley feat. Devlin – Bring Them All / Holy Grime
With the rise of grime to mainstream status, it’s only fitting that the Godfather of the genre returned. Yes, 2017 marked the return of grime superstar and legend Wiley, who dropped his Godfather LP last January. The record is phenomenal, bringing an all-star roster of grime legends to round out his most consistently brilliant album yet. Bring Them All / Holy Grime, one of the record’s best tracks, feels like a victory lap for Wiley – 10 years on, he’s still bringing some of grime’s best verses alongside fellow legend Devlin. We’ve received so many so-called ‘Grime’ records that miss all of the genre’s strengths – Godfather, though, is entirely refreshing, modernizing the grime sound and bringing London’s identity to the world. Wiley says it best himself – “In grime, I’ve lined my catalogue up, prime seller / I’m never too far from the hype that I set up.”
February’s Track: Sampha – Plastic 100°
Let me tell you, I’ve been watching Sampha for a long time. Ever since SBTRKT’s 2011 self-titled album, I’ve been waiting desperately for his debut – there was something different about Sampha’s beautiful vocals that instantly made me a fan. 2013’s Dual gave me a snippet of what was to come, but couldn’t prepare me for this February, when Sampha released his debut album Process. It begins with one of Sampha’s greatest tracks, Plastic 100°. Sampha’s soft, breathy vocals are accompanied by luscious strings, gorgeous choirs and cosmic special effects. The song plucks directly at the heartstrings, delivering a beautiful space-themed account of beauty, fear and pain.
March’s Track: J.I.D – NEVER
Let’s put it this way: if you like Kendrick Lamar, you should definitely be listening to J.I.D. right now. The rapper’s The Never Story is one of the best debut albums I’ve heard in a minute, and bodes well for 2018 – J.I.D. is a talented lyricist, a quick-witted rapper, a surprisingly good vocalist and a master of song construction. To pick just one track is near-impossible, but for the sake of popularity I’ll go with NEVER, the album’s standout banger. In J.I.D.’s words, his record is “the common man’s story / Everybody’s not rich” and this comes to light most on NEVER’s hook – “Never been shit, never had shit / Never knew shit, never out, never do shit, damn / But a n**** never gave two shits”. J.I.D. glides over the rest of the track with a series of smooth flows and witty punchlines, ending with a beat switch that blows the listener away
April’s Track: Arca – “Saunter”
Moving into April, we come face to face with a ton of fantastic records. Whilst it’s tempting to give this slot to one of the fantastic tracks on Father John Misty’s Pure Comedy, I’m going to have to give it to a personal favourite of mine, Arca. If that name is drawing blanks, it’s because Arca has remained largely out of the public eye, producing behind-the-scenes on monumental albums such as Kanye West’s Yeezus or Bjork’s Vulnicura. With his 2017 self-titled album, however, Arca cemented himself in the spotlight, being met with universal acclaim. The record features some of the most beautifully avant-garde work of the past few years, mixing his singing talents with his incredible production. Give Saunter a shot – Burialesque, it mixes beautiful crackling drums with despondent, wailing synths, creating a haunting track that reaches the peak of musical emotiveness.
May’s Track: Oxbow – Ecce Homo
Genre: Experimental Rock
In 2017, more than ever before, Rock needed an album to justify its place – after being toppled from the mainstream by the rise of hip-hop, we needed a confirmation that it was still going places. Experimental outfit Oxbow delivered just that. Thin Black Duke is glorious in its entirety, somehow making Oxbow’s music more accessible whilst simultaneously improving their formula. Standout track Ecce Homo merges the standard rock-isms with a beautiful arrangement of instruments, alongside Eugene Robinson’s phenomenally varied vocal talents. There was even a Damon Albarn-esque scream in there somewhere. The track is a true work of art, and one that should be in every music fan’s 2017 rotation.
Make sure to pop in next fortnight (that’s Jan 15th, stick it in your diaries) for the best tracks of June-December. If Buzzfeed has taught me anything at all, it’s that track number 7 WILL shock you.