“Won’t that just be really embarrassing for you?” That was my flatmate’s reaction when I mentioned writing this piece. Because he knows how often I’ve played Carly Rae Jepsen’s Cut to the Feeling in the past year. To be honest, I’m rarely embarrassed by my listening habits, but I’ll admit I winced a bit after checking my listening history and discovering my most streamed song of all time is One Dance. In any case, this list now exists to prove that I don’t solely listen to mainstream pop music – although I do a lot of that too, because Selena Gomez’s Bad Liar bangs.
2017 has been quite a year: exhausting and relentless in many respects, but with some excellent sounds to soften the blow. For me, the most noteworthy things that happened at the start of 2017 were starting my tenure as the hip-hop and R&B columnist for music and culture site The Quietus, and the Women’s March. In their own ways, both those things informed what I was listening to throughout the year: plenty of rap and R&B and, more saliently, powerful women.
To that end, my first 2017 album release of note was Syd’s Fin. She’s best known for her collaborations with the Internet and Odd Future, but Syd’s debut solo album is astonishing: all sensual, Aaliyah-tinged R&B with silky falsettos and careening production. In the era of Trump, a gay black woman not afraid to assert her sensuality, while voicing her insecurities and desire for power and money, is the kind of subtly radical music that’s especially potent.
Next up may be a little more incongruous to my general tastes, but I had one of those grossly cliché moments in Rough Trade in February where I went to pick up FKA twigs’ Nike-sponsored zine (I know), and fell in love with the record they were playing in-store. That happened to be the debut album by Hand Habits, aka New Yorker Meg Duffy – it’s full of dreamy guitars, vocals like liquid honey and basically sounds like Devotion-era Beach House, if a little weirder (which is a great thing).
Far more obvious is Drake’s More Life. I don’t care what anyone says, it’s an amazing time-capsule curation of zeitgeisty pop, and the Boy Meets World show in London with Nicki Minaj was glorious. As the days started getting brighter and the evenings stretched out, Drake’s Passionfruit was the perfect soundtrack. He’s not a radical artist, but giving a platform to so many UK artists, reinterpreting J-Lo’s If You Had My Love, and adding to this year’s surreal but glorious flute trend? Yeah, More Life was excellent.
Also excellent was the eponymous album from Arca, who prior to this year I’d only really been aware of via his work with FKA twigs and Björk. It’s an astounding record, full of a strange, sculptural, operatic beauty that, again, seems appropriate to be channelling when queer identity is still being oppressed (see also: Perfume Genius). I caught Arca’s show at the Roundhouse in April, the artist glowing in heels while Jesse Kanda created fittingly sublime and grotesque visuals – it was one of the most potent, visceral gigs I saw all year.
Summer, then, is always hip-hop season for me, and new music from Vince Staples and Tyler, the Creator was blissful: I especially enjoyed Big Fish Theory’s channelling of UK Garage. New discoveries were just as exciting too – “boyband” Brockhampton’s subversive but euphoric pop sounds, Playboi Carti’s cloud rap sheen and, notably, British MC Dave. The latter’s Game Over EP was a special release in a glowing year for UK rap; Question Time – which seethingly interrogates politicians post-Brexit, Grenfell and austerity – encapsulated my own political sentiments.
Since then, autumn has ascended and life has been flooded with Weinstein, #metoo, and the ongoing revelations about men being awful (exacerbated by all the allegations against the “leader of the free world” that had fuelled the Women’s March). Necessarily, the final part of my 2017 has been soundtracked by powerful women, because St Vincent and her sugary, strong Masseduction, Kelela’s futuristic, insatiable Take Me Apart and Björk creating pretty much anything, are all important reminders that women are magic. Listening to these artists and their music – both new and old – has genuinely made me feel comforted, empowered and enriched in a draining time.
So that was my year. It maybe wasn’t that embarrassing to share after all ...