Courtesy of the artists
Clockwise from upper left: The singer, MILCK at the Women's March on Washington in January, Lorde, Big Thief, SZA, Partner, Moses Sumney
Courtesy of the artists
Music and politics have a long history and in 2017, a new chapter in their fraught and complicated relationship burst open. It began on a weekend in January with the Presidential inauguration and the Women's March on Washington, D.C. (and around the globe) that followed. That's when the new resistance movement got its first anthem, courtesy Los Angeles-based singer MILCK and her defiant song, "Quiet." She and other women sang the empowering ballad against sexual assault and abuse a cappella during the march, and it turned out to be a prescient chorus for what would unfold throughout the year.
It was a strong year for guitar rock, the best of it coming from relatively younger bands dominated by women: Jay Som, Charly Bliss, Vagabon, Waxahatchee, Diet Cig, Palehound, Chastity Belt, Girlpool, Daddy Issues, Partner. The list goes on and on.
2017 was also a year when much beloved artists abandoned the sounds their fans first fell in love with to try something new. Weezer and Beck dove deep into pop and all its tropes; St. Vincent and Torres largely traded electric guitar for synths and pulsing soundscapes. Bands that once dominated many top 10 lists — Arcade Fire, Grizzly Bear, The xx — all released records that fell way below expectations.
There was so much more that happened in 2017 — more than we could ever get to in a single episode of All Songs Considered — but we do our best on this edition to hit the highlights (and a few low points), with NPR Music's Ann Powers and Stephen Thompson.
Come back later this week for NPR Music's Top 50 Albums and Top 100 Songs from 2017, along with our personal Top 10 lists and more.
- Song: The Underside of Power
"Here in Washington DC, as around the entire country, politics and music all intersected. It just seemed to fill everybody's lives and attitudes this year." —Bob Boilen
"At the Washington, D.C. rally, a group of women led by the singer who's known as Milck began popping up and doing an a capella version of her song 'Quiet' and it ended up becoming the unofficial anthem of the moment." —Robin Hilton
"I am just stunned by this album, I am stunned by her inquiry into history, and I am particularly stunned by the song, 'Julie.' It tells the story of an enslaved woman, and her mistress, confronted with oncoming union soldiers." --Ann Powers
- Song: dOn't turn me Off (feat. JD AKA ThrashKitten & Mal Devisa)
"I loved experiencing the sound of what felt like absolutely unbridled creativity ... Nnamdi Ogbonnaya is a Chicago musician who put out an album this year called DROOL. He's a multi-instrumentalist, and he just packs his songs with ideas and energy." --Stephen Thompson
"The intent of this record was not to be a record. He made an app which would play endlessly. He tried to [unbind] that idea of what a record is ... This is a record that you put on and anything within the boundaries of what he calls 'reflection' changes." --Bob Boilen
"A song like 'HUMBLE.' — the more you try to take it apart, the more paradoxical it becomes. He's taking down all of his rivals in it, and talking about his own greatness, but at the same time he's demanding humility of himself." --Robin Hilton
"This is a record that you can study, get lost in and find contradictions in, but also just roll around in how weird, and sometimes confrontational and sometimes beautiful and languid it is." --Stephen Thompson
"They released a great record this year, Deep Dream, that reaches back to '90s grunge and shoegaze but also feels very now and very present. [It's] very much about young women's experience in the world, trying to find their power, and in fact, it contains this song which pertains to the '#MeToo' movement." --Ann Powers
"[Kesha's album Rainbow] makes me so happy, and at the same time, there's some real thematic weight behind it. This song is a response to a very traumatic experience .... It comes with this grace, this sense of forgiveness and this sense of moving on from these traumas a better person, a prouder person, a stronger person." --Stephen Thompson
"Becca's album, Good Woman, expresses her reality as a queer woman, as a daughter of a Puerto Rican mother, as someone whose trying to remake Americana music to have a bigger sound. But also, it takes us into a new sonic space for Americana music, and this is what I truly love about it." --Ann Powers
"The Moses Sumney record was one of the most beautiful, atmospheric records of the year .... He tries to get at this idea of understanding human relationships and how couples work and how we're drawn to one another. What if you don't feel that way? What if you're not drawn there?" --Bob Boilen
"This is the one [album] I'm most excited to talk about. Josée Caron and Lucy Niles put out a record called In Search of Lost Time and it's a stoner party rock album with lots of shredding. All the songs are about getting high and skipping school and staying home just to watch TV and hanging out with your friends. All of the songs are so chill and funny and fun and you just want to hang out with [the band]. For all the talk about the death of the guitar, it was a phenomenal year for guitar rock... and this record, In Search Of Lost Time, just go out and listen to it." --Robin Hilton
"Sylvan Esso ... made this beautiful record about falling in love and staying in love. It is this swooning, romantic but also springy, inventive and fun electropop record." --Stephen Thompson
"This song is an anthem about compassion, about love, about young people finding their path. I guess it revives that now kind of old phrase 'it gets better.' It's called 'The Joke,' and it makes me feel hopeful." --Ann Powers
"The Big Thief record is my No. 1 album of the year. It's filled with a great mix of guitar, and voice and storytelling. But this song, called 'Mary,' is just singer-songwriter Adrianne Lenker and a piano and organ atmospherics. She speaks a lot about the memories of her grandparents, and the first time she ever played the melody to this song was at her grandparents' house. It is just an absolute stunner of a song." --Bob Boilen
"The more I listened to Melodrama, the more I started getting into the stories that she tells and the more I began to understand. This is an album by a young person about this knot of feelings and experiences that people have in youth .... I feel so empowered when I listen to this record. It is very life-giving. Lorde has this gift for turning grief and loss and insecurities into this celebration." --Robin Hilton