Music powers my life.
Every last part of it in fact. Whether I’m commuting, exercising, sitting and working – but not when I’m writing alas; I’m one of those people who must write in monastic silence or the worlds will not flow – or simply sitting and watching the world go by (doesn’t have to happen but it does happen), music is there providing a rich and varied soundtrack for every moment.
And when I say varied, I mean varied.
I dash from genre to genre like a ferret on speed, one minute singing along to Scandipop, the next to glacially dark electronica, before throwing in some P!NK, some Coldplay and as much indie music from all corners of the globe as I can manage.
That barely scratches the surface really but suffice to say I listen to a lot of music, all of which makes my life a better, lovelier and more energised place, but which also makes selecting just 25 songs for the year quite a challenge.
But I’ve managed it so sit back, read, enjoy and most of all listen to some of the finest music you could ever hope to soundtrack your life to.
1. “Only One” by Fluir
Melbourne duo Fluir (singer-songwriter Siobhan Krelle and producer Jesse Marantz) are a talented duo, blissfully mixing together pop and electronica to utterly beguiling, danceable effect. “Only One” is proof of their ability to craft songs that stroke at the heart – who hasn’t fallen so deeply in love that they know they need that person more than anything right down to the core of their being – with Purple Sneakers aptly noting that the song is an “is an 80s-inspired bop that starts bouncing immediately, and never ceases … with the staccato synths are covered perfectly with Krelle’s sombre, breathy vocals.”
2. “Use Me” by Goo Goo Dolls
Up until a few months ago, my interest in the Goo Goo Dolls began and ended with their luminously-affecting song “Iris (City of Angels)” which provided the musical heart-and-soul of the 1998 film City of Angels. Then I heard their new track “Use Me”, a giddily upbeat, harmonious as hell – the chorus alone is worth the price of admission – piece of catchy music a bit of ’60s-Roy Orbison-esque thrown in for good measure, and I was hooked all over again.
3. “I Don’t Why” by Imagine Dragons
Released as the first single of Las Vegas-based band Imagine Dragon’s 2017 album Evolve, “I Don’t Know Why” is a full-on force of nature that drives brilliantly and mercilessly forward, complete with a catchy beat-heavy melody and lyrics celebrating the adrenaline- pounding fun of “dangerous” love. I am also rather partial to the “whoops” that punctuate the song at regular intervals, making this a gem of a song to exercise to.
4. “Bad Ones” by Matthew Dear
American music producer Matthew Dear, a man known for “subtle and heady dance production”, according to Pitchfork, is throwing his considerable talents to add some lusciously dark notes to pop music with the latest recipients being Canadian duo Tegan and Sara. The lyrics are open, honest and self-aware, the music has a suitably less-than-sunny but still wholly approachable vibe to it, and it moves at such a winningly loping rate that you can help but hit “repeat” over and over again.
5. “Because I Love You” by Montaigne
So “Because I Love You” is from last year, which makes me considerably late to this particular pop gem party, but my lord was it worth waiting for. Intoxicatingly bitey with an insistently catchy melody that will not be denied, the song, by Sydney-based singer-songwriter Montaigne, is all about how we rationalise sick relationships in the hope they will fulfill our romantic hopes and dreams. They never will of course but while Montaigne struggles with that, we get a brilliantly-good, socially-aware piece of pop that has consumed my soul in all the best ways.
6. “Mourning Sound” by Grizzly Bear
I discovered Grizzly Bear years ago courtesy of a now sadly shutdown record store in Newtown (next to my home suburb) and fell in love with them pretty much instantly. Technically a rock band that hails from Brooklyn, New York, Grizzly Band are adept at weaving all kinds of interesting and diverse sounds and influences into their music, a skill that finds gloriously-good form in “Mourning Sound”, lifted off their Painted Ruins LP. The song is musically loose-limbed, mellow, loping, the kind of track that blissfully carries you along, one that comes with a pretty cool video clip to boot.
7. “Deliverance” by Rationale
Wow just WOW. “Deliverance”, by stunning Zimbabwe-born British singer-songwriter Rationale, is a bracingly poignant song of loss. The artist is mourning the end of a romantic relationship, caught in that disorienting afterwash of conflicting emotions that can do your head in. He articulates the pain and sadness with achingly affecting beauty with the song gripping your soul tight and with soul-searing passion. Just gorgeously emotionally-resonant.
8. “Green Light” by Lorde
When I first heard Lorde, along with the rest of the world back in, back in 2013 when the then-17-year-old music prodigy dazzled us with the lo-fi brilliance of “Royals”, I could immediately sense the New Zealand artist was capable of many great things. Just how great became blisteringly obvious when “Green Light”, the lead single from 2017’s LP Melodrama landed, bringing with it a host of life lessons learned from a now-defunct, enormously-healthy romantic relationship. The song embodies pain and regret, the bitterness of loss and the calmness of acceptance, all bundled up in a driving, piece of danceable power pop.
9. “Daniel” by Bad Wave
There is a ethereal ’80s-drenched synth darkness to the music of LA-based duo Bad Wave, who pour every emotion possible into their music. “Daniel” is the story of the last man alive on Earth in the 22nd century and its redolent, musically and lyrically, with everything that scenario entails. The song is fantastically moving and sad and yet intensely, richly listenable, intelligent pop with a beating, driving melodic heart.
10. “Giver” by K.Flay
K.Flay, known to her no doubt very proud parents as Kristine Meredith Flaherty, is an American singer with the ability to infuse her powerfully-intense but amazingly-intense songs with a raw, self-aware humanity. “Giver” is right up there, an honest exploration of who she is as a person set to a sometimes distorted piece of grungy, musically-buoyant pop.
11. “My City’s Gone” by Francis and the Lights
You would expect someone who has worked with the likes of Drake and Frank Ocean to know their way around a magnetically appealing song and Francis Farewell Starlite, possessed of a magically-wonderful name I want as my own, and the leader of an Oakland, California-collective, Francis and the Lights, most certainly does. “My City’s Gone” from the group’s debut album Farewell, Starlite, is possessed of an incomparable emotional resonance that anchors the entire song through its melodically-meditative length. Drawing on soft piano and electronic flourishes, that beautifully wed the digital and the organic, and with a star turn by Kanye West no less that adds a whole other element to this remarkably poignant song, “My City’s Gone” is exquisitely, transportively beautiful, one of those songs that feels like it is full of every heartfelt emotion that has ever coursed your veins.
12. “Deadly Valentine” by Charlotte Gainsbourg
There is a mesmerising beauty to “Deadly Valentine” by Charlotte Gainsbourg, the daughter of legendary French singer/actor Serge Gainsbourg and British model/actor Jane Birkin, a breezily lush, ethereal, emotionally-resonant song that speaks to the glorious permanence of wedding yourself to that someone special, mixing in key phrases from wedding vows to add to the message.
13. “Do It” by Rae Morris
“Do It” is the song you need to listen to when you really, really, REALLY want to do something but aren’t sure or emboldened enough. As the artist herself says – “This song is a dare to myself; it’s about daring to take a risk and choosing to take the more exciting route!” Exciting, unknown, risky is always better, and sure you could play it safe, stick with the beige, the monotone, the unchallenging but where the hell is the fun in that? Just do it already! And make you play Rae Morris’s catchy, beautiful song as you do.
14. “Bless Your Heart” by DENM
Santa Barbara’s own DENM creates pop songs possessed of rich melody, abiding humanity. In that vein “Bless Your Heart” serves up some deeply romantic longings with the artist making a determinedly upbeat pitch for the heart of a girl who’s nothing like all the people around her which works out perfectly since DENM says he’s a breed apart too. Sure, there’s some playful confidence at work in the loping bright slice of pop but can you blame the guy? He’s trying to woo the girl of his dreams and if he’s going to succeed then some bold overreaching may be just what St Valentine ordered.
15. “Friends” by Sure Sure
L.A. natives Sure Sure have crafted a bouncily upbeat song that’s all about the glories and bliss of love, and the frustrations of its inability to always deliver on all that romantic promise. The song marries the maudlin realisations of heartbreak with the sort of lopingly happy music that suggests there’s still some hope in there somewhere.
16. “Am I Wrong” by Anderson .Paak
With an appealingly Jamiroquai modern soul funk beat that is smooth af, “Am I Wrong” is a dream of a song that percolates along with a playful, chilled jauntiness that is a joy to listen and groove to. Paak, hailing from Oxnard, California has enlisted ScHoolBoy Q to add some deliciously catchy rhyme to a song that is well night perfect in every way.
17. “Cold” by SNOW CULTURE
You can practically feel the snow and ice falling off Snow Culture’s cover of Maroon 5’s hit “Cold”. The Stockholm-based duo, featuring vocalist Ana Diaz, have crafted a song that is as emotionally resonant as they come, a heartbreaking recognition that the once bright-burning flame of romance has cooled to the point where it cruelly cold and hurtful. For all that, it is unquestionably beautiful in a way that many of Annie Lennox’s odes to the darker parts of life manage, a pleasing mix of light and dark that will get into the very recesses of your still warm-and-beating heart.
18. “The Flute” by Petite Meller
French artist Petite Meller is gorgeously, fabulously, wonderfully, appealingly odd. Styling her music as nouveau jazzy pop, the music of this wholly original, fantastically-imaginative singer is propelled by her little girl lost voice and a knack for channelling irrepressibly catchy melodies such as the one in “The Flute” that are always underpinned by a feisty intelligence. Meller, for all her playful imagery, is the thinking person’s pop artist, who understands that the best place for surprising people with weighty insights is where they least expect to find them – in pop sings so gloriously hook-laden that you can’t help but sing and dance and yes, muse on life.
Drawing from Brazil (specifically a poem by the Brazilian poet Chaca), New York-based SOFI TUKKER (Tucker Halpern and Sophie Hawley-Weld) are a fold-dance duo who delight into mixing a slew of interesting inspirations and see what results. In this case, “Best Friend” is one hell of a result that is all fun-in-the-sun hanging-with-friends jaggedly-bouncy musical fun that celebrates the bonds of friendship. It’s addictive, entirely catchy, one of those songs with all kinds of cool moving parts that makes for an enormously attractive song.
20. “Oh No Pedro” by Tom Rosenthal
“Oh No Pedro” is exquisitely, beautifully, emotionally-resonantly lovely. The work of independent music artist, London-based Tom Rosenthal, who has made quite a name for himself through the featuring of his songs on TV shows such as Skins and Hard Knocks, films like Comet and The Odyssey and even Vodafone’s official campaign, the song grants us a deep insight into what We Are: The Guard calls “the internal and external battles faced by transgender people”. The song speaks to the soul of the poet that anchors Rosenthal’s clever, intelligent and insightful music
21. “Blood in the Cut” by K.Flay
Ever had those moments where everything feel totally and utterly viscerally real and raw and you realise that all those pleasant outer layers of civilised behaviour, those stories we tell ourselves, the tissue thin paper of rationale and justification feels utterly superfluous? K.Flay does and in “Blood in the Cut” she lets every last honest feeling and thought hang out over a purringly aggressive, melodically-rich beat that speaks of brokenness and loss and wanting to feel it fully but also the possibility that this could lead to somewhere beyond the abyss. It’s real, true and fantastically intense, making me feel alive in ways that too often stayed buried.
22. “Bitter by the Apple” by Big Black Delta
Driving, pulsating ethereal brittleness and power (yes all at once), “Bitter by the Apple”, with vocal richness supplied by New Zealand’s Kimbra, is classic Big Bad Delta, the solo project of Mellowdrone’s Jonathan Bates. It’s a potent mix of dark electronica and scintillatingly melodic pop that draws you in with its raw power and drivingly infectious tunes and keeps you there with intelligent lyrics that really saying something as bates told Clash: ““It’s helplessly returning to a vice (whether it be a person or substance) that you know for a fact will destroy you. A shuffle over a march. Kimbra’s character and mine having a verbal back and forth over gluttony.”
23. “Chained to the Rhythm” by Katy Perry
Sure you can accuse Kate Perry of playing to the Top 40 crowd, serving up music that plays to what they what and doesn’t really push beyond that. And yet, songs like “Chained to the Rhythm”, which to be fair is not all that cutting edge musically or lyrically, somehow transcends all the formula, serving us a catchy, really interesting and fun song that really calls for repeated listens.
24. “Feel It” by Georgia
Describing her song “Feel It” as being about the times “when our mind and bodies are consumed by a powerful feeling, and the sense of nobody or anything being able to affect or ‘shatter’ it”, British-born Georgia, singer and drumming wunderkind, has delivered up a song that DIY observes is “a euphoric, pulsing celebration of all things percussive”. Its punchy, catchy as hell and one of those songs where the lyrics find their perfect home in the music.
25. “Some Kind of Wonderful” by Betty Who
Australian-born, US-based singer-songwriter Betty Who has a gift for creating bright effervescent songs with a deliciously clever, literate and all too human core. They may like light and bouncy, and they most certainly are, but they have substance to go with the fun and “Some Kind of Wonderful” channels it all, a bursting with addictive fun song that celebrates the wonderfuless of romance and love.
So which songs made Paste Magazine’s Top 50 list for the year? Why these fine tunes of course.