Glassnote Records

The 25 Best Singles of 2017

10

Luke James, “Drip”

With a falsetto vocal that goes from aching to ecstatic and a wah-wah guitar lead that channels vintage Ernie Isley, New Orleans singer-songwriter Luke James’s “Drip,” the first single from his forthcoming sophomore effort, sounds like it could have fallen out of heaven, or at least the early 1970s. The only real clue to its 2017 origins are the lyrics, which don’t even try to pretend that the title isn’t about what you think it’s about. In a year when contemporary R&B at large was blander and more samey-sounding than ever, “Drip” was a breath of Afro-Sheen-scented fresh air. If every neo-neo-soul track can be this good, then sign us up for the revival of the revival. Hoskins

9

Kelela, “LMK

Kicking off in the club and resolving in the gauzy ether of a potential meaningless hookup, Kelela’s “LMK” sounds both ominous and alluring, an aloof seduction condensed to three and a half minutes. In its delivery, the singer turns the standard come-hither suggestiveness of so much female-fronted pop on its head, abandoning intimations of virginal purity or masculine power transfer for cold transactional consumption, all cards immediately laid out on the table. By removing desire entirely from the equation, she reduces the procedural essence of the mating ritual to its barest elements, within a track that pulls off a similar musical process, stripped down to Jam City’s slim ambient production and the singer’s silky, expressive voice. Slinky and soothing despite its aggressive tone, blending plainspoken confidence with low-key virtuosity, “LMK” represents the finest qualities of Kelela’s sumptuous debut, concentrated into a sui generis amendment of pop sexual politics. Cataldo

8

Kendrick Lamar, “Humble”

Kendrick Lamar’s slim, curated catalogue has been defined by precision and control, complex rhymes unspooling over jazz fusion-inspired beats, always entertaining a slight suggestion of menace. On “Humble,” that equation gets flipped, which is fitting for the lead single off an album in which rougher songs surround introspective wordplay with short-fused intensity. Here in particular the menace appears front and center, Lamar’s growl rumbling over the rudimentary minor-chord piano stomp of Mike Will Made It’s crudely effective production, laced with scratchy electric guitar and trilling electronic pulses. Breaking up dense lyrical torrents with a repetitive, hectoring chorus, the track’s confrontational approach is complicated by the fact that, as with much of Lamar’s material, he’s talking just as much about himself as any imagined, nameless foes. By finding personal reflections in these shadowy hater figures, Lamar both complicates the message and sharpens the barb. Cataldo

7

Sheer Mag, “Need to Feel Your Love”

With no more new-wave swag than it needs, and no more direct lyrical context either, Sheer Mag’s “Need to Feel Your Love” is an omnivorous pop play in the finest sense. With delicately twangy, heavily flanged guitars and lead vocalist Tina Halladay’s snarling, distorted vocals always on the verge of tearing through the song’s midtempo groove like a sai through wet tissue paper, it’s an emotional contradiction. In true state-of-emergency style, the air gets awfully thin “thinking ’bout times that we had, the good times and the bad.” If ever there was a moment for a wistful but adamant call for do-over to erase the juvenile mistakes of the recent past, this is it, and the truce between rock and disco that forms the soaring backbone of “Need to Feel Your Love” suggests the thrill of retroactive resolution. Henderson

6

St. Vincent, “Los Ageless”

It’s possible that there’s never been a St. Vincent song as propulsive as “Los Ageless,” which grooves to a gleaming stainless-steel beat, Annie Clark’s electric guitar purring on top. It’s a pop song so perfect—so sleek and so addictive in its new-wave pulse—that it only makes sense that Jack Antonoff served as producer. He brings a formal control to the track, but it never blocks out the roiling desire buried just below the surface. A multi-tracked vocal refrain comes in after each slinky verse, playing the role of the Greek chorus: “How could anybody have you and lose you/And not lose their minds too?” The singer is torn apart by longing and loss—and on the song’s bridge, both she and the song lose their composure altogether, that perfect gleaming surface breaking up into pops and static. “I’m a monster!” Clark wails—but it’s just a moment before she’s got everything locked under perfect pop control once more. Hurst

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