If you're not diligent, music can pass you by. That's true now more than ever. Artists have the tools to create and release new music at any moment with the push of a button.
Here we are, just a few months into 2017, and we've heard some truly memorable albums. And every single day, artists are sharing new music from records to come later this year.
Even an industrious music consumer can miss things. That's why, for the casual or obsessive listener, we'll be curating the best songs of the year as they're released.
Right now it's still early, and there are only a handful of tracks here, but keep checking back as the list of best songs grows throughout 2017. And get started now to be on top of the best music of the year.
Drake - "Passionfruit"
It's clear that something as simple as an arbitrary term for a collection of music can be freeing for an artist of Drake's stature. A playlist—that's just a word. But his is how he labeled More Life, his batch of 22 new songs. By removing the pressure of something as daunting and serious as "an album," Drake was able to approach this release from a more organic perspective. Rather than release a bunch of clinical tracks manufactured for maximum commercial value as he did on Views, Drake could finally relax. "Passionfruit" might be Drake at his most chill. It's certainly Drake at his most unabashedly cheesy. It's Drake making a hit by not trying to make a club banger. This is like if "One Dance" took a bunch of Ambien and got super emotional. "One Dance" is album Drake; "Passionfruit" is playlist Drake. I'd imagine the latter is the closest to the real deal.
Kendrick Lamar - "The Heart Part 4"
Over the days after Kendrick Lamar suddenly released "The Heart Part 4," I found myself having passionate arguments with friends about which section we liked the most. At nearly five minutes long, the song has at least four distinct parts. It's a schizophrenic collection of each one of Lamar's identities. And together it becomes a stunning cross-section of what he can do—almost as if when he clearly spells out that he is "The. Grea-test. Rap-per a-live," the song's macro construction itself is the proof.
Frank Ocean - "Chanel"
There's something so fascinating with what Frank Ocean does rhythmically here. The beat of "Chanel" is a normal enough, shuffling 4/4 beat. But the way that his voice comes and goes and pulses in and out and stretches at its own whim, cutting himself off and crescendoing at unexpected moments, he pivots what could could be a simple song into something that's challenging for reasons you can't quite put your finger on. There's also no real linear construction. The chorus, the clever lyric—"I see both sides like Chanel"—only arrives twice in the song between two verses of completely different length. Like Ocean always does, he leaves you wanting more, and he makes you come back for answers.
Fleet Foxes - "Third of May / Ōdaigahara"
It's been six years since we've heard a new Fleet Foxes song. In the music world that's an eon—especially for a young band with as much forward momentum and buzz as Fleet Foxes had in 2011. As if to make up for lost time, Fleet Foxes returned with the nearly nine-minute "Third of May / Ōdaigahara." There's a four-minute radio edit, but you'd be remiss to prefer that version, if you'd like to get the full effect of this song. (Plus it's been six years—take every second you can get!) It's clear that frontman Robin Pecknold, who took a break to finish school, returns with a tighter grasp on musical theory. The song is challenging in its abrupt dynamic changes and harmonic juxtaposition. But at its heart—those stunning harmonies—it remains the band that created a new direction for indie music in the late 2000s.
Hurray for the Riff Raff - "Pa'lante"
Roughly translated to English, "Pa'lante" means "onwards, forwards." Here, singer Alynda Segarra, who is of Puerto Rican descent, uses it as a rallying cry in the face of cultural assimilation. "Colonized, and hypnotized, be something / Sterilized, dehumanized, be something / Well take your pay / And stay out the way, be something / Ah do your best / But fuck the rest, be something," she sings on the track. By the second half of the six-minute track, which uses a sample of Pedro Pietri's 1969 poem "Puerto Rican Obituary," it transitions into a celebration of culture. This is a voice and a sentiment that needs to be heard in this country now more than ever, and "Pa'lante" is the ideal political anthem of our times.
Father John Misty — "Ballad of the Dying Man"
Father John Misty is understandably a polarizing figure. He's kind of like a folk music troll—a modern embodiment of the traveling bard, but one who gets to your town and makes a mockery of your scene. But at the same time, it's hard to doubt the sincerity of his music, which is often preachy about the many failings of humanity. In "Ballad of a Dying Man," it's almost as if Josh Tillman is envisioning the death of his own jeering persona. Whatever his intentions on this song, he's produced a melodically dynamic and truly beautiful ballad for a man checking his phone with his final breath.
Lana Del Rey - "Love"
If David Lynch ever makes his own La La Land-type movie, I really hope he casts Lana Del Rey as its lead. On one hand, her music has overwhelming romanticized imagery of youth culture that makes teenagers love her. But on the other hand, it's so goddamn surreal and creepy. "Love," the first single from her upcoming album, features the sound that is eerily similar to someone cocking a gun while she coos the song's chorus. With those deep, doomed drums—and her haunting "don't worry, baby"—it's all so menacing. But that's what makes Lana fascinating as hell.
Mac DeMarco - "My Old Man"
Mac DeMarco idolizes Neil Young so much that he's known to force his entire live audience to kneel before the fellow Canadian-born singer-songwriter. DeMarco is Neil Young if Young spent more time on the beach and cared less about shit. This breezy acoustic number, like Young's classic, contemplates aging and masculinity. But DeMarco seems to at once acknowledge it and not be at all worried about it. And in the face of mortality, that's the most comforting thing I can think of.
Calvin Harris - "Slide"
Not even Calvin Harris can ruin a track with Frank Ocean and Migos. Harris makes big, dumb, fun music that's either just big, dumb, and fun or just a sappy breakup track about Taylor Swift. Fortunately, anything Ocean touches is instantly gold, and here, even when he half-asses his vocals, he turns Harris' tropical disco beat into an absolute delight. And if you weren't having a good time yet, Migos come in to bark and woo and splash the song with onomatopoeia. The world sucks anyway, so fuck it, and let Harris, Ocean, and Migos make it more bearable.
Stormzy - "Lay Me Bare"
As evidenced by Skepta's Mercury Prize winning album last year, grime music in the UK is currently in a great place. But in the U.S. it's still trying to catch up to the popularity that trap is enjoying. On Gang Signs & Prayer, Stormzy attempts to show his sensitive side along with his aggressive, scrappy side—as the title would suggest. Album closer "Lay Me Bare" is the perfect harmony of these two ideals. It's a five-minute, unflinching personal examination with a mid-tempo breakbeat and Stormzy in complete control of his flow.
Run The Jewels - "Legend Has It" (Run the Jewels 3)
Technically, Run the Jewels released this album early in December and released "Legend Has It" before that. But since, on paper, this album came out in 2017 and it didn't make it on our 2016 lists, we'll include RTJ here. If half of rap is about bragging, then RTJ are the best at bragging about bragging. Killer Mike and El-P are the only ones with the writing skills to pen their own legendary status. Their militant assault of pop culture references and jokes can swipe between Tinder and Fargo and The Godfather within an instant. In a year where we need humor and politics from these two funny, well read guys, Run the Jewels started it off strong.
Sampha - "(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano"
A song with a title like this could have been bad. This could have been another sadboy, lonely piano ballad. But Sampha's delivery is sincere, it's raspy like he's spent the night crying, and it's believable. This isn't a metaphor. It's not personification. That piano, the one he's playing, is real, and you can just hear him sitting there writing this melody all alone.
Migos - "Big on Big"
Everyone who heard "Bad and Boujee"—or who dabbed through 2016 (and there were a lot of you)—was likely expecting more viral club bangers on Migos' Culture. Then, midway through the album comes the piano-driven and dramatic "Big on Big." It's like the Migos biopic through the lens of Migos themselves. It's almost beautiful, it's menacing, theatrical, and the serious larger-than-life artist story that Migos must picture themselves living. And no one can say they're wrong.
Priests - "Nothing Feels Natural"
Jesus Christ, this year. Nothing feels natural when you watch the news, look at the Internet, or in any way communicate with another member of American society in 2017. Sadly, it's the perfect time for an art-punk debut as confident and fierce as Priests'. "This is when I'd give a God a name, but to people in sanctuaries all I can say is you will not be saved," sing Katie Alice Greer at the climax of "Nothing Feels Natural." It's doom that feels all too real. You don't even need to give it a name. Ironically, this song in this time is the only thing that does feel natural