At several points throughout 2017, a simple question was asked: What are you listening to? Whether we were fielding it or asking it, the reply was often specific to a singular song. With all due respect to the time-honored album and EP — and from Slowdive’s self-titled to Kendrick’s DAMN. to Quiet Giant’s You’re in Heaven, there were quite a few of note — this year was all about the song. Songs of passion, songs of empowerment, songs of not giving a damn and songs of giving every last damn imaginable soundtracked a year that tested the will of the people. As Daniel Brockman notes in his intense Year in Pop essay for Vanyaland, pop music is headed down a dangerous path; but it’s also merging into one giant streamable playlist, where the underground battles for clicks and listens with Top 40, and this year’s Vanyaland year-end recap — a mere selection of our staff’s favorites, and by no means a silly declaration of the absolute “best” — reflects that. Our staff was asked to come up with their faves, and these are the responses, presented alphabetically. The lead entry, via Toronto’s Alvvays, feels like an appropriate jump-off, and the featured image of the up top was shot by the late, great Eddy Leiva, from their October show at The Paradise.
Alvvays, “In Undertow”
Picture this: It’s summer 2014, and as you get lost in the majestic melancholy of “Archie, Marry Me,” a friend leans over and suggests the best of Alvvays is yet to come. It probably sounded preposterous at the time, but three years later we’re engulfed in this summer’s “In Undertow,” a breaktaking and swirling indie-pop track that finds songwriter Molly Rankin exploring the outs of a failed relationship and just how she and her partner got there. The song glistens along, highs and lows of equal emotion, radiating shoegazing warmth and Bernard Butler-esque guitarwork, with Rankin’s lyricism (wrestling bouts of pessimism and optimism through a true lover’s surrender) once again taking center stage. If we had to rank this list, a heavy push would have been made to put it right at the top. We even said it back in October.
— Michael Marotta