Glassnote Records

The 25 Best Singles of 2017

20

Taylor Swift, “Look What You Made Me Do”

The similarly themed “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things,” whose bouncy pop beat and comical overtones recall those of past hits like “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and “Shake It Off,” might have made a safer choice to introduce the world to the New Taylor than “Look What You Made Me Do.” Which is exactly why this droll single—with its deceptively lush strings, pulsing hip-hop beat, and Right Said Fred-aping non-hook—will likely go down in pop history as Swift’s first bona fide misstep. It’s also what makes the track the boldest and, quite frankly, most authentic thing she’s released to date. Sal Cinquemani

19

Birds of Chicago, “American Flowers”

It was a strange year in America, without much respite from the daily onslaught of outrage-enducing breaking news. Birds of Chicago, a prodigiously soulful husband-wife folk duo, offered “American Flowers” as a blossom of resilience, an invitation to hope for better days to come. The song looks forward by looking backward: Over pristinely finger-plucked verses—featuring some acoustic guitar assistance from the Milk Carton Kids’s Kenneth Pattengale—singer J.T. Nero shares vignettes of mundane excellence, everyday grace; the climactic one finds him driving, John Prine on the radio, the golden dome of a mosque entering his field of vision. The juxtaposition suggests everything weird and wonderful about American life. He’s joined by Allison Russell on the chorus, a gentle kick in the ass for anyone despairing that this might be the end: “Do not fear the winter blowing/In the hearts of men/I have seen American flowers/They will bloom again.” They perform it at the volume of a whisper, but it makes you want to shout. Josh Hurst

18

Father John Misty, “Ballad of the Dying Man”

Among the many portentous treatises on societal plagues that appear on Josh Tillman’s third album as Father John Misty, Pure Comedy, “Ballad of the Dying Man” is a tonal outlier. It seems pretty flippant, verging on a novelty song about a pompous social media crusader who spends his final moments on Earth lamenting “all of the pretentious, ignorant voices that will go unchecked” without him around. But as a lyricist, Tillman is at his best when he’s feeling mischievous and glib, and “Ballad of the Dying Man” features some of his wittiest one-liners: “The homophobes, hipsters, and 1%/The false feminists he’d managed to detect/Oh, who will critique them once he’s left?” But for all of Tillman’s chuckle-worthy quips, he still manages to make a resonant point about how fleeting and disposable the Dying Man’s modern methods of communication are. “And it occurs to him a little late in the game/We leave as clueless as we came,” he observes. When he switches to his super-suave falsetto on the choruses, Tillman sounds genuinely chagrined about the poor guy’s fate. Winograd

17

HAIM, “Little of Your Love”

HAIM’s Something to Tell You sounds less like a proper studio collection and more like a greatest-hits anthology, so perfectly sculpted is each and every track. In an alternate universe, any of the album’s songs could have been massive radio hits, with “Little of Your Love” the first among equals. The chorus is effervescent, instantly memorable—as if the band tried cramming as much explosive joy into it as they could. And the devil, as always, is in the details, and beneath its pristine pop sheen, the song boasts some weird sonic effects. It opens with an odd, garbled vocal—“Give me just a little of your love!”—and booms with programmed drums that could have been taken out of an old Prince song. For all these studio flourishes, though, HAIM never sounds like anything but a working, touring band: The sisterly harmonies make the song sound sweet, but it’s the savage electric guitar solo that gives it its sting. Hurst

16

Cardi B, “Bodak Yellow”

Cardi B’s underdog story is a feel-good one, as the vivacious, Bronx-bred stripper turned Instagram celebrity turned Love & Hip Hop cast member improbably delivered on her ambitions as a rapper and ended up riding the wave all the way to the top of the Hot 100 with “Bodak Yellow.” Her outsized personality is the engine for her success. That and her knack for making lines that stick: “These expensive, these is red bottoms/These is bloody shoes.” As always with viral successes, it remains an open question whether this particular bolt of lightning can strike twice, but in 2017, at least, Cardi B was the boss and we were all just worker bitches. Hoskins

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