The Pilerats Mid-Year Report: Our 50 Favourite Tracks of 2017 So Far
From Bonobo to Yeo, with a whole lot in between, 2017 has been absolutely full of big bangers so far.
In a year where politics and justice have dictated the lives of many, music has found itself increasingly relied on for comfort, warmth and encouragement. Artists such as Kendrick Lamar and Gorillaz have called upon their fans to act and speak out against prejudice, while others have used their music to provide a source of freedom and hope for those that need it. Because of this, 2017 thus far has seen music become far more important than it ever has before - not just in economic and cultural terms, but to health as well. This new-found importance has encouraged artists to dig deep and create moving pieces of art which are at a stronger level now than ever before, which in turn, has made the creation of this mid-year countdown increasingly difficult.
All the singles on this list, we believe, reflect this growth and maturity well. Artists like Kendrick Lamar, Vince Staples and Sampha bring messages of loss and anger, channelling into these emotions to create beauty. Meanwhile, artists like Calvin Harris, Confidence Man and Lorde are just here for a good time, providing songs of a high quality in the process. After hours on hours of painstaking withering-down and ordering, we’ve finally put together a bunch of 50 songs, in order, which we believe reflect the brilliance that has been the world’s music scene in 2017 so far. There’s also a handy Spotify playlist at the bottom of the list, with all 50 tracks loaded in for your easily-listening pleasure/next pre-drinks/whenever you’re in charge of the AUX cord and don’t know what to play under pressure. Follow us on SPOTIFY, and be sure to throw us a like on FACEBOOK to keep up to date with what the second half of 2017 has in store for us.
Note: All songs on this list were released between January 1st to June 16th in Australia.
50. Camp Cope - Footscray Station
49. The XX - A Violent Noise (Four Tet Remix)
48. Fortunes. - Focus
47. Touch Sensitive - Lay Down
46. Mookhi - Lacunae
45. Winston Surfshirt - Be About You
44. Ruby Fields - I Want
43. Kilter - Waste Time feat. Woodes
42. Kendrick Lamar - FEAR.
41. Ocean Grove - The Wrong Way
40. The Kite String Tangle - The Prize feat. Bridgette Amofah
39. Jacques Greene - True feat. How To Dress Well
38. Gorillaz - Andromeda feat. D.R.A.M.
37. Drake - Get It Together feat. Black Coffee & Jorja Smith
36. Bonobo - Break Apart feat. Rhye
35. Stormzy - Big For Your Boots
34. Eilish Gilligan - The Feeling
33. Phoenix - J-Boy
32. Mura Masa - 1 Night feat. Charli XCX
31. Thundercat - Friend Zone
30. Mac Demarco - Still Beating
29. Flume - Lose It (Golden Features Remix)
28. Golden Vessel - Tell The-Girl feat. Emerson Leif
27. The War On Drugs - Thinking Of A Place
26. Confidence Man - Bubblegum
25. Cashmere Cat - Quit feat. Ariana Grande
24. Charli XCX - 3AM (Pull Up) feat. MØ
23. Gang Of Youths - Let Me Down Easy
22. Oh Wonder - Ultralife
21. Drake - Passionfruit
20. Oscar Key Sung - Shallow
Slyly released on Valentine’s Day this year, Oscar Key Sung’s Shallow is an ode to the ridiculousness of love. Released while touring as a part of The Avalanches’ live band, the first single from Oscar Key Sung’s forthcoming debut album is pure class, sliding between genres with a clean, uncomplicated take on his electronic sound and a soothing R&B vocal line. It’s fragile and personal, with the Melbourne-based singer-songwriter wearing his heart on his sleeve for the incredibly personal effort which is bold and emotively powerful - making a long-lasting impression on us in the lead up to his long-awaited debut.
19. The XX - Dangerous
Approaching the release of their third album I See You, The XX had already demonstrated their modernised, upbeat sound with its leading single On Hold, yet, I think many still predicted that I See You as a whole was going to be a down-tempo affair. Dangerous - the album’s courageous and triumphant opener - dispelled this prediction immediately, with blaring horns and a joyous percussion line signalling a bold return from Romy, Oliver and Jamie with a sound I doubt anyone expected from the typically restrained trio.
18. Vince Staples - BagBak
A statement in more ways than one, BagBak was the perfect way to kick off the year for Vince Staples. Even before further details emerged about his sophomore record Big Fish Theory, BagBak is proof that Cali-native wasn’t about to slow down. Politically charged lyrics behind an absolute banging beat, Staples just has a knack for creating incredibly attainable music that doesn’t require all that ‘makeup’ that’s often common with pop and hip-hop. Vince Staples’ rise in the hip-hop world can be pinpointed all the way back in 2015 when he released his debut record Summertime ‘06, but, if we are looking for that solidifying moment, then let it be the record that features this track, Big Fish Theory. Any doubts aside, Vince Staples is now up there as a leader of the rap music world.
17. Methyl Ethel - Ubu
Accompanying the announcement of their latest album Everything Is Forgotten, Ubu is a shimmering, electronic-infused take on Perth indie darlings Methyl Ethel’s typically more alternative sound. It’s a risky move from the trio - who are constantly compared to fellow Perth group Tame Impala - but it was executed perfectly, combining Jake Webb’s charismatic vocals and catchy lyrics (“Why’d you have to go and cut your hair? / Why’d you cut your hair?) with a slick, indie-electro instrumental that is full of flavour and fun and took the group from a small, local indie band to a national show-seller in a matter of months.
16. Frank Ocean - Chanel
How much is enough Frank Ocean? The answer? You can never have enough Frank Ocean. Just when we thought Frank was about to head back in a long, long hibernation period after the release of Blonde/Endless, out pops more music. It wasn’t just the incredible Calvin Harris collaboration Slide or the JAY-Z & Tyler Creator collaboration Biking; we were also gifted the amazing Chanel. Premiering on his now infamous radio show BLONDED (that just pops on up Beats1 whenever he feels like it), Chanel continues right where Frank left us with one of the records of 2016 in Blonde. A B-side some might say, but however you wish to label it, it begs the question, just how much more new material does Frank have lying around - and are they all as impressive as Chanel?
15. Wafia - 83 Days
Wafia’s 83 Days arrived on a particularly dark day for pop music. Released just hours after the unexpected and horrific deaths of concert-goers at Ariana Grande’s Manchester show, 83 Days is the musical saving grace that I think everyone needed on this day. 83 Days is, simply put, beautiful - with the Brisbane songstress combining her emotive, passionate vocals with a fragile production that oozed with confidence and charm. Taken from her highly-anticipated, forthcoming EP, 83 Days not only set a new bar for Wafia as a songwriter but set a new bar for Australian electronic as a whole which so far, has only been eclipsed by a certain few.
14. Bonobo - Bambro Koyo Ganda feat. Innov Gnawa
Featuring Moroccan musical collective Innov Gnawa, Bambro Koyo Ganda is a unique cut from Bonobo’s latest record Migration that I don’t think anyone was expecting. While much of the record dabbles in a simple, relaxing tone, Bambro Koyo Ganda is contrastingly thick and sturdy, with a fierce bassline and clanging percussion combining with Innov Gnawa’s chanting vocals to create quite a tribal centre-piece for his returning album. The video was also impressive, using subtle CGI in picturesque looping video to transport you to an unfamiliar world that grooved with Bonobo’s energetic production pulse.
13. The Smith Street Band - Birthdays
It took some time, but it was worth one helluva wait. Yes, it’s now time for a song from one of the best Australian releases of the year, More Scared Of You Than You Are Of Me. The fourth studio album from Melbourne’s Smith Street Band runs deep. You could pick any number of tracks from this record a place it right here (Death To The Lads, Passiona, Song For You - take your pick) but, we have gone with Birthdays. From top to bottom, More Scare Of You Than You Are Of Me is stacked and be it not for the next 12 tracks, a song about love and growing up, Birthdays just may be higher.
12. Lorde - Green Light
2017 has already made way for some amazing comebacks, but none have quite stacked up to the way Lorde returned. Hype is everything, and Green Light is just about as good as of musical comeback statement as they come. The track hides nothing, with the lyrics telling the tale of a breakup. This isn’t a typical song for the sad and sometimes dreariness associated with the experience of breakups, with Green Light instead taking the kicking-and-screaming approach. Imagine Lorde is armed with a sledgehammer smashing down walls, that’s exactly what this song sounds like. Kickstarting her chart-topping sophomore album Melodrama, Green Light sums up everything that is good about pop music right now. Welcome back, Lorde.
11. London Grammar - Oh Woman, Oh Man
If London Grammar were after a song from their heavily anticipated sophomore album that carried the vibe of 2013’s incredible If You Wait, Oh Woman, Oh Man is just that. It may not be as much a vocal showcase as the spine-tingling Rooting For You or the record’s title track Truth Is A Beautiful Thing, but from the smooth guitar (almost Wicked Game, Chris Isaak sounding) to the amount of character Hannah’s voice withholds, Oh Woman, Oh Man is yet another London Grammar hit that tells a story that mirrors the question of identity and to what extent gender plays a role in it. Following the success their debut record had and the number of hits that spawned from it (Strong, Hey Now, Wasting My Young Years) Oh Woman, Oh Man is without a shadow of doubt the most attainable song on the record, that just screams commercial radio.
10. Maggie Rogers - On + Off
One of 2016’s most buzzed about new faces in music, Maggie Rogers is truly one of most exciting names in music right now. You must have been sleeping under a rock if you didn’t catch the song that catapulted her into stardom, Alaska, as it received a huge tick from just about every single person involved in music (one of which included Pharrell Williams). Her next big break came through Dog Years, then came her five track debut EP Now That The Light Is Fading which spawned the incredible On + Off. It’s pop music, with alternative substance. From Maggie’s delicate vocal to that incredibly refreshing guitar riff heard throughout, On + Off just may be her best piece of music yet (yes, it’s better than Alaska and Dog Years). Also, before we sign off on the first track in the top 10, we need to talk about the On + Off’s visual. From the changes of costume to the refreshing laughter and smiles to the dancing and prancing, it’s Maggie Rogers being Maggie Rogers. Still just 22 years old, her world has been thrown into overdrive being touted as somewhat of an overnight success, but cool, calm and collected the On + Off video depicts someone just having a tonne of fun. Showing no signs of slowing down, Maggie Rogers is an outright star.
9. Calvin Harris - Slide feat. Frank Ocean & Migos
After his recent nose-dive into fully-fledged EDM, I don’t think anyone was expecting Scottish super-producer Calvin Harris to return to his funk-infused roots, yet here we are. Slide, the surprise-released first single from Harris’ forthcoming, guest-packed fifth record, sees Harris team up with the elusive Frank Ocean and two-thirds of Migos for what is, without a doubt, the pop-club-crossover single of the year. Frank Ocean, only recently having re-emerged after his double-album last year, is at his peak on Slide, smoothly gliding above the single’s stripped-back, clapping production for a summery, addictive anthem I don’t think anyone was expecting.
8. Nick Murphy - Forget About Me
Gone, but not forgotten, it’s time we all move past the Chet Faker moniker as Nick Murphy is in no way suffering a musical identity crisis. In time, the ‘F.K.A’ attached label will disappear but for now let’s just enjoy that the man we all fell in love with is back, making not just incredible music, but music that actually represents what Nick Murphy stands for. Although tracks like the KAYTRANADA-produced Your Body didn’t quite hit the mark like some of his previous work, his five-track Missing Link EP is still full of gold. For example, there’s Forget About Me, a lengthy infusion of psychedelic electronica which is an absolute anthem in its own right. From the simple drum loop to the layered sound of the bell ringing faintly in the background to the song building to a climax that sees it take on a psychedelic form. Forget About Me is unapologetic in casting away the Chet Faker stigma. If this is what Nick has in store going forth, then we are well and truly on board.
7. Yeo - Never Wanted That feat. Asta
Watching the astronomical rise of Melbourne’s Yeo across the past few years has been spectacular, with the inventive singer-songwriter constantly one-upping himself with a mountainous repertoire of singles and production credits. Never Wanted That, a care-free, addictive pop duet with Asta, is our favourite track from him yet, telling a story of “the challenges of navigating between friendships, romance, and business” above a percussion-driven, electronic production which dabbles between dancehall, R&B and pop music. Its light-and-easy feel and the seamless vocal transitions between Yeo and Asta has this track locked-down as our favourite collaboration of the year thus far, putting all duets behind it to shame.
6. Lorde - Homemade Dynamite
While Green Light’s brilliantly-executed dance-pop feel may have had us all frothing at the mouth for Lorde’s long-awaited sophomore effort Melodrama, the album’s best moment didn’t arrive until the whole record was released. Situated at the top-end of the record, Homemade Dynamite is a refined take on Lorde’s addictive chill-pop sound, combining her newfound vocal confidence with her Pure Heroine sound to create a best of both worlds combination. Breathing with an explosive confidence and attitude, Homemade Dynamite has a certain pop music swagger to it that I doubt anyone thought Royals-era Lorde could pull off, but now, with a newfound sense of courage and boldness, Lorde feels in her element on Homemade Dynamite.
5. Kendrick Lamar - DNA.
On his fourth studio album DAMN., Kendrick Lamar opened himself up to the world more than he’s ever done before. On DNA., a high-energy, Mike Will Made-It-produced cut from the record, Lamar details his upbringing as an African-American male in a white society, harnessing his anger and frustration towards increasing racial tension and unleashing it in the form of an explosive, five-minute frenzy of in-your-face, unavoidable hip-hop. DNA. is powerful, injecting a FOX News segment aimed at Kendrick (“This is why I say that hip-hop has done more damage to young African Americans than racism in recent years,” says reporter Geraldo Rivera in the segment) to break apart the song whilst Kendrick takes a breath and steps back after the aural onslaught, which he smoothly glides through as the massive production warps and breaks around him. The single’s video continues this struggle against racism, with a chained Lamar exchanging verses with a lip-singing Don Cheadle - the original Kung Fu Kenny that Kendrick took influence from for his newly-adapted alias. DNA. is raw and powerful, bringing a severe issue into the limelight that, if it weren't for artists like Kendrick Lamar and singles like DNA., wouldn’t reach the same, worldwide audience that it deserved.
4. HAIM - Want You Back
Imagine having the mentality your band was the “coolest” band in the world, only to then realise you’re not actually HAIM. Sure, it may be four years since the three sisters shared their debut indie-rock masterpiece Days Gone By (which spawned a number of hit singles including Forever and If I Could Change Your Mind), but HAIM has officially re-claimed the status of being the “coolest band in the world” with their second, Something To Tell You. On the second cut from their forthcoming sophomore record, following Right Now (which was accompanied by a Paul Thomas Anderson-directed video clip), Want You Back feels like sisters Danielle, Alana and Este never left as this is one hell of a flourishing ballad. The track sees Danielle take centre stage, asking for forgiveness from an ex (“I know it’s hard to hear it, and it may never be enough / but don’t take it out on me now, cause I blame it all on myself”), packed with a real sense of openness and emotion - something we maybe haven’t felt from the band before. However, the real beauty behind this track is the sense of unity the three sisters present throughout the entirety of the song’s just shy of 4-minute duration. For all the emotion the lyrics/story bring forth, the song still delivers the same fun and flavour that make HAIM so damn great. From some funky slap bass to the catchy guitar riff to Alana and Este sharing vocal duties, Want You Back is an irresistibly catchy piece of indie-pop/rock. Not only does it solidify HAIM’s status as one of the best (and coolest) bands on the planet, but it numbs any notion of the cursed sophomore slump.
3. The XX - Say Something Loving
Released two days into the new year, The XX’s Say Something Loving is I See You’s best moment. Directly following the dominative opener Dangerous, The XX immediately strip things back and keeps it simple on Say Something Loving, hinting at a modernised take on their previous, well-loved sound that pleases new and old fans alike. The charismatic, seamless partnership of Romy Medley Croft and Oliver Sim truly flourishes on the single, with their jigsaw-like aural unity inseparable above Jamie XX’s echoing, Alessi Brothers-sampling instrumental. Incorporating swelling string sections and soft guitar work into the mix, The XX create the perfect, non-judgemental backing for a deeply personal song about the confusing state of seemingly un-genuine love (“You say something loving / it’s so overwhelming, the thrill of affection / feels so unfamiliar” sings Sim and Madley Croft in the single’s oozing chorus). “An album made by 2 gays at number 2 in the American charts the week Trump gets in, feels like a good sign.” said the duo on the release, and to an extent, this is true. Things might not always be okay, but with artists like The XX and the musical escape they provide with singles and videos like Say Something Loving, it’s at least dealable.
2. Sampha - (No One Knows Me) Like The Piano
In a world where you have a dozen people working on a single, overproduced pop song, Sampha’s (No One Knows Me) Like The Piano is important. Over the past few years, South London-based Sampha has worked with artists like Drake, Kanye West and SBTRKT, but Like The Piano is where he truly breaks free and becomes his own musical being - just him and his trusty piano. Like The Piano demonstrates the powerful rawness that can be achieved by an artist like Sampha and his instrumental choice, encapsulating the emotive power a small village of songwriters aren’t even able to match. The emotional, goosebump-forming piano ballad is an ode to his late mother, the last song played to her before her death and a song played at her funeral, highlighting the comfortness of a familiar place like your childhood home and the inspiration and feelings it brings. “An angel by her side, all of the times I knew we couldn't cope,” sings Sampha on the single, reflecting on his mother’s last moments in what’s his most personal single to date. “They said that it's her time, no tears in sight, I kept the feelings close / And you took hold of me and never, never, never let me go.”
1. Kendrick Lamar - HUMBLE.
Kendrick Lamar’s HUMBLE., simply put, is the perfect hip-hop song. Above another clanging, piano-laden Mike Will Made-It production, Kendrick Lamar is at his peak, gliding above the aforementioned beat with a confident, unbeatable flow only comparable to a selective few. While DNA. brought the message of racism to the front and centre, in HUMBLE., Lamar’s message is far more unobvious, hinting at his religious freedom and the power of black women in the song’s energetic three-minute assault. The single’s official video is where these messages become more evident, relying on distinct imagery to convey these messages, whether it’s him dressed in a Pope-like costume or reenacting the Last Supper with his greedy, TDE disciples surrounding him feeding on wine and bread. Likewise, Kendrick uses HUMBLE. to highlight black women and their power in a way he’s only suggested in the past, detailing his relationships with his Grandmother and previous girlfriends and encouraging the acknowledgement of girls with natural-like afros and stretch marks proclaiming that he’s “sick and tired of the Photoshop”.
HUMBLE. is a call for acceptance and action, demanding men to look at the images and emotions they expect from women in a way many have pointed out that Beyonce’s Lemonade does the same, and demanding respect from critics (“if I quit this season, I still be the greatest”, he proclaims), before reaffirming his modesty with the single’s looped, ear worming chorus (“sit down, be humble”). Lyricism aside, HUMBLE. is just a great song - full stop. It’s addictive and easily-repeatable, with memorable lines (“my left stroke just went viral”, for example) and an accessible, club-ready beat which makes it destined for dance floors and home listening alike. The video, however, is just brilliance. In a time where many are debating the point of videos in music, Kendrick just comes along and releases a video where every single frame could instantly be blown up and made into a billboard as if he and the TDE crew are the Steven Spielberg of music videos. That’s what makes HUMBLE. such an important moment, and a piece of art deserving of the top spot more than any other song this year.