Glassnote Records

The 25 Best Singles of 2017


Kendrick Lamar, “DNA

The swaggering anthem of self-reliance has long been a calling card of rap, so it’s no great surprise that on Damn—an album that finds Kendrick Lamar reconnecting with the lean, classicist spirit of 1990s hip-hop—he offers his own onslaught of self-confidence. Nothing’s ever quite what it seems with Kendrick, though, and “DNA” manages to be both an utterly braggadocios track as well as a ruthless self-interrogation. He’s not too proud to call out the “sucker shit” in rival rappers, but it’s only after he fesses up to the mark of original sin on his own troublesome heart: “I got dark, I got evil, that rot inside my DNA.” He’s at the top of the heap but never too confident of what his hands have wrought. As ever, Kendrick Lamar contains multitudes. Hurst


Carly Rae Jepsen, “Cut to the Feeling”

Carly Rae Jepsen’s best single since “Call Me Maybe” was almost never released. Reportedly one of over 250 songs written for 2015’s Emotion, “Cut to the Feeling” was inexplicably left off that album—as well last year’s Emotion: Side B—because it was reportedly deemed too “theatrical.” (The track finally saw the light of day via the soundtrack to the animated film Leap!) Produced by Sir Nolan, “Cut to the Feeling” begins with what sounds like a sample of the opening synth strains of Madonna’s “Lucky Star,” after which Jepsen delivers breathless, syncopated vocals over a measured handclap beat before the whole thing erupts into a euphoric hook. And that’s just the first 30 seconds. Jepsen’s voice breaks in her ecstatic admission that “I’ve been denying how I feel,” and she dons an almost British affectation during the bridge when she sings, “Show me devotion/And take me all the way,” atop some “Edge of Seventeen”-style guitar riffing. Cinquemani


Thundercat, “Show You the Way”

As forward-thinking as Kendrick Lamar remains, it doesn’t take a genius to realize that nearly every one of his most cunning collaborators, from the sound of it, are more conversant with the legacies of, say, Jaco Pastorius, Al Jarreau, David Sanborn, the Mizell Brothers, and those patron saints of egghead craft, Steely Dan. Thundercat, the Brainfeeder bass impresario whose affinity for the cushier contours of vintage jazz-funk fusion has spiked tracks as frenetic as Flying Lotus’s “Never Catch Me” and as chill as his own lumbering heartbreak anthem “Them Changes,” doesn’t mince notes with “Show You the Way.” No, here he invites two of the whitest paragons of blue-eyed soul, Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald, to kumbaya all over “Yah Mo B There.” The Fender Rhodes on this croon choon is drizzled with enough subtlety to choke a horse, all while Thundercat’s swarthy guests harmonize like a car-trunk CD changer playing all six discs simultaneously. “Show You the Way” is flatly the Justice League of neo-dad rock. Henderson


Lorde, “Green Light”

Lorde’s music has never exactly been subtle, and her transition from moody teen chanteuse to assured adult singer-songwriter has managed to preserve her work’s provocative mix of obviousness and honesty. Bolstered by a brash use of theatrical maximalism, with a blowout hook laid over a pounding 4/4 beat, “Green Light” fully sells material that in lesser hands might land as cheap schlock. Operating off a mixed metaphor, replete with handclaps and all other manner of gaudy window dressing, the song parallels the manic insistence of its narrator, charging through the early stages of a breakup while refusing to shed her fondness for the caddish object of her affection. As an album opener, it announces that things will be different from Lorde’s comparatively spare debut, while also assuring that her distinctive voice and yearning, youthful urgency remain fixed in place. Cataldo


Childish Gambino, “Redbone”

The feather in the cap of rap caviar wokeness, hyper-hyphenate Donald Glover’s side project took center stage with “Redbone,” not only on college and college-derivative radio stations, but within something like the counter-cultural resistance’s central consciousness. The song, a creepin’ tribute to the pre-quiet-storm R&B characterized by the Delfonics and the Floaters, as well as an implicit remake of Bootsy Collins’s P-Funk ballad “I’d Rather Be with You,” lingered on the fringes of chart success until after its prominent position in the exposition of Get Out. Just as Jordan Peele’s film tapped into America’s racial zeitgeist with a remarkably sermon-free fury, “Redbone” itself playfully dissects the tensions and paranoia of sleeping with the ally who, as it turns out, is also the enemy. And throughout, writer-producer Ludwig Göransson’s Thundercat-worthy popping bassline and Glover’s own insistent glockenspiel diddling strike the appropriate mocking tone. Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple memorably cued up Timmy Thomas’s spare “Why Can’t We Live Together” to accompany images of the carefree children who would soon meet their end, and someday, “Redbone” will serve a similar function for a documentary explanation for our current nightmare. Henderson