When Leah felt a city kid bond
Growing up in New York City was weird. I know because people ask me all the time, "What was it like to grow up in New York City?" One really weird thing that happened here was September 11, 2001, which happened to be my first day of 5th grade. After my parents picked me up early from school, which was on the Upper East Side, we walked through Central Park, like we usually did to get home. But this time, my mom pointed out a dark, smoky hole in the skyline. It took me at least a few days to comprehend what had actually happened. From then on, every morning on September 11, our principal gathered us together for a moment of silence.
This summer, I heard the new album from Wiki, and it seemed to be the first time something akin to my juvenescent experience was put to music. Wiki’s a real-ass New Yorker, and it shows on No Mountains in Manhattan, particularly through his mega-proud intimacy with the sites and sounds of the city. The release show for the record was on September 11, and there’s nowhere in the world I would have rather been on that day — especially in 2017, when fear and intolerance and Islamophobia are again thick in the atmosphere, and every day is scary, the way it felt back in 2001. After a couple songs, Wiki asked for a moment of silence, just like we used to do in school, and everyone shut the fuck up, as requested. And then it was straight back to rapping about beef’n’broc and being stoned on the subway. I don't think I'll ever forget that show, and how that inexplicable city kid bond made my cold N.Y.C. heart glow. —LEAH MANDEL
When Rawiya had a summer stoop moment
Working at a music publication can sometimes mean having a complicated relationship with music, just as any passion has the capacity to change once it becomes inextricably linked to things like your ability to afford rent and doctors’ co-pays. Sometimes, that dynamic can be great: it’s a privilege to spend my days boosting artists I care about, helping tell their stories, and thinking about what it all means. But sometimes, working closely with music can take a toll: navigating the mechanisms of modern music discovery can be a chore; the proliferation of any given trend encourages cynicism; tracking metrics is straight-up depressing.
Which is why I’m often hit hardest by songs or bands I loved way back when I never dreamed I could do much with music other than consume it. One day this summer, I sat on the stoop of my apartment and watched over a dozen of my neighbors dance along to the “Cha-Cha Slide,” that cheesy, pure-hearted staple of cookouts and weddings and family affairs. On that balmy night, a toddler tiptoed on her father’s shoes; a teen, usually angsty, cracked up while hopping and doing a smooth cha-cha with her mom. The block’s resident elder, Miss Josephine, clapped loudly from her perch in the front yard. The song ended, and the aux DJ replayed it a couple more times. I’ve since moved from that apartment, but in the months since, I’ve often thought of that evening. A song doesn’t have to be especially good or groundbreaking to spread a small joy outwards; sometimes all it has to do is exist. —RAWIYA KAMEIR
When David saw the light in a laugh
My favorite point in music these past twelve months isn’t a crazy live show or an unforgettable film score, in fact it’s not even a full song. The one moment that dragged me out of my jaded daze and made me feel something real comes just after the one-minute mark during Kesha’s “Woman,” the most fist-pump worthy track on a defiant and exultant album from the California pop star. It’s during this song that Kesha attempts to go into the bridge and sing “loosey as a goosey and looking for some fun.” She doesn’t really get that far though, and instead breaks into a fit of giggles half-way through. It feels natural, a glimpse behind the curtain of a fun recording session, and one that showed a different side to Kesha than that which has been portrayed in the past few years.
I can’t claim to be an OG Kesha fan but, working as a music news reporter, I have followed her story closely for the past few years. In this job, you often find yourself writing about people going through terrible times, only to never hear of them or their music again. It’s a shitty side of the industry and one I struggle to reconcile with. However, the narrative of Rainbow, Kesha’s first album not made directly with alleged abuser Dr. Luke, shows things don’t always have to be that way. One of the things abusers take from their victims is a future in which they are afforded the same opportunities that would have been otherwise available. Kesha, though, fought for her right to carry on and define her own future. It’s taken years, and is far from over, but Rainbow, and specifically “Woman,” sound to me like a victory. After everything, her laugh is a crack of light in an otherwise dark time. —DAVID RENSHAW
When Owen shrugged off his jetlag and danced
I’d been in Mexico City for 24 hours and awake for nearly 48. I was exhausted, and everything in my body was telling me not to go to JOCKSTRAP, a local party that Mexican Jihad, of the local collective N.A.A.F.I, had organized. But honestly, what was I doing in the city alone for a week if I didn’t go to a gay party called JOCKSTRAP? I decided to go, ignoring the small niggle in the back of my mind that I hadn’t thought to bring an actual jockstrap on holiday with me; hopefully regular underwear would do.
JOCKSTRAP wasn’t really a sex club — the name turned out to be firmly tongue-in-cheek, and everyone kept their clothes on. The party, held in a cozy back room with a kitschy chandelier, was really about friendship, family, and music. Mexican Jihad spun cut-up club remixes of “Bodak Yellow” and “Wannabe,” as well as the deconstructed dance rhythms of London producer Kamixlo, but the fun Spanish-language pop songs played by another DJ, named PRIEST, set the crowd alight like no other. I didn’t know the songs that everyone was screaming along to, so I danced alone, beaming wide and recording my favorites on my iPhone — a new friend later identified them as Angel & Khriz’s carnival-ready “Ven Bailalo,” Shakira and Maluma’s mega hit “Chantaje,” and Danny Ocean’s reggaeton anthem “Me Rehúso.” I played these songs in headphones all through that week; they became a soundtrack to long coach journeys, and eating street tacos in the rain. When I hear those songs now I’m reminded of a couple of things: one of those is to listen more widely, outside of the Western bubble. The other is that sometimes you need to just say “fuck it” and go out and dance. —OWEN MYERS
When Aimee found peace in a repeat listen
I have a bit of a thing for listenings to songs on repeat. I've always done it, to an embarrassingly extreme extent: it helps me to concentrate, or to calm down, or to simply feel really good, like hitting some pleasure receptor in my brain directly. Apparently, the psychological reason for doing this is that when we listen to the same track over and over, we dissolve the boundary between the artist and ourselves. We can anticipate the next sound or breath or note so clearly that we might as well be singing it.
This year, I did this with various songs, but for a particularly gloomy stretch in September it was "Imagining My Man" by New Zealand goth-folk artist Aldous Harding. My life was in a kind of flux, love and relationships felt like a mystery to me, and a couple times on my 45-minute commute home from work, I listened only to that song.
The track grapples with our ideas of love, and how reality fails to match them ("It's not what I thought, and it's not what I pictured"). When I went to see her live in November, she prowled and scowled around the stage at London's Islington Assembly Hall, and I realized that Harding's entire persona is a blurring of reality and fantasy. With a gender neutral stage name, intense performance style, and drastically shifting voice, she's many things at once — and yet, still distinctively honest, and uniquely herself. When I binged on "Imagining My Man," I was borrowing a little of that escapism; I tried so hard to merge with that song, so I could get lost in that liminal, in-between space too. —AIMEE CLIFF
When Sharon felt swaddled by the moon
In September, I left N.Y.C. for the first time in two years to get clobbered by techno at the fourth installment of Sustain-Release, a three-day electronic music takeover of a summer campsite in upstate New York. It felt a like a block of warehouses had been forklifted out of Brooklyn and collaged into the woods. There was a consortium of friends and familiar faces, DJs I’ve danced to before and musicians I had been dying to see, all soaked in a smoothie of natural and synthetic fog.
On that first early morning at 5 a.m., my best friend Sam and I pulled our bodies away from the Bossa stage to catch a breath outside. We linked arms and talked, drifting all the way to the midpoint of the path to the main stage before I looked up. The moon was a perfect crescent, slightly turned onto its belly. It was literally smiling! Like the Cheshire Cat with its eyes closed. We sobbed laughing. I screamed every time I looked. I felt a rush of gratitude. I felt so cared for, swaddled by this maternal moon and the arms of ambient bass exhaling from the two stages, knowing that some of my favorite people in the world were in the vicinity. I haven’t since moved with such force or swallowed air that fresh. —SHARON GONG
When Juliana got sprinkled with fairy dust
The first time I saw SZA’s Nabil-directed video for “Supermodel,” I sobbed. I watched it at SZA’s Ctrl listening party in New York, and immediately after the video played SZA came out to greet her guests and I cried in her face. Sorry, sis, I was overwhelmed.
The video begins with SZA looking at herself in the mirror, reflecting over a fuckboy. My eyes started to well up when black girl fairies showed up at her back door, sprinkling gold dust in the air, and beckoned her to come outside. They weren’t just inviting SZA for a walk, they were inviting her to own her magic, and offering affirmations and support along the way.
The fairies seemed to represent the future. Watching them smiling, celebrating each other, being care-free, it felt as if the kind of self-neglect SZA had experienced wouldn’t be passed down. It’s a hopeful message, that perhaps the next generation of women and girls can be firm in their self-worth without having to endure the emotional trauma that can come with relationships. —JULIANA PACHE
When Patrick found the perfect road trip soundtrack
This year I saw Modern Baseball do “Your Graduation” three times, back to back, at what may have been one of their last shows. A week earlier I saw them perform as Daniel Johnston’s backing band on his last tour; he sang “Casper, The Friendly Ghost” and I got a knot in my throat. In the middle of Frank Ocean’s set at Panorama, a middle-aged man asked me if I was okay when “Self-Control” ended because he saw me wiping tears from my eyes. I got chills when Lorde sang an a capella version of her Kate Bushian tearjerker “Writer in the Dark” to 500 people at the Bowery Ballroom. I saw (Sandy) Alex G and Emily Yacina sing “Bobby” together, in a church. I saw Girlpool play “Fast Dust” a bunch of times; it sounds really beautiful live.
But my favorite music-related memory wasn’t a show; it was in a car. I was driving around Albuquerque with three of my oldest friends and a tiny dog named Patcha. We were running last-minute errands before heading into the New Mexican wilderness for a four-day camping trip, when I put on “America Forever,” a song by Mathew Lee Cothran, the quietly influential North Carolina songwriter best known for his Coma Cinema and Elvis Depressedly projects. It’s off his solo album from earlier this year, a record that features auto-tune, bible allusions, and a tribute to reality star Farrah Abraham.
To me, “America Forever” is about feeling stuck, both in a human body and in this country. The titular refrain is like “Texas forever” but instead of pride it’s delivered with a sad sort of acceptance; “forever” isn’t that long, when you really think about it. “I wait for judgement like a good kid / The sunrise is coming / When we see the night for what it really is.” It sounded almost too perfect, driving past strip malls and fast food chains, the gorgeous Sandia mountains just hanging there in the background like some sort of green screen. A couple of days later we would be hiking in canyons and swimming in rivers and boiling water over a fire. But in that moment there was just all of us and the car and the voice on the radio, singing about America. —PATRICK D. MCDERMOTT
When Nazuk discovered the sonic form of euphoria
Twelve days into this calendar year, a Pretty SB skate video single-handedly changed the trajectory of my 2017. Around seven minutes and fifty seconds into the sunny, skater-scape of a clip-compilation, what sounds like the happy version of the Twilight Zone theme song started to seep into my speakers, and suddenly the sonic form of euphoria was made known to me. I think I blacked out from happiness because I literally can’t remember how I eventually found out what the song was, but I’m glad I did. The track is called “Please B Okay,” and it's an edit of Taeko Ohnuki’s “何もいらない” from her 1977 album, Sunshower, by a Columbus, Ohio producer who goes by Oedipus. Oedipus’s title is exactly the sentiment the song embodied for me this year. Whenever I was down, whenever I needed a little jumpstart in the heart, or even when I was floating on a happy high, I played this song and it made me feel “Okay,” and, sometimes, even better than that. —NAZUK KOCHHAR
When Duncan found a song for a new era
I used to say my favorite song was Bran Van 3000’s “Drinking in L.A.” It’s a visionary, genre-hopping slacker song about being 26 and making plans you will get in the way of. Turning 30 this year, I changed it. Now it’s Zoe Muth’s “New Mexico,” a calmly despondent country song about a state I’ve never been to.
But I feel like I’m there, where Muth sings about, past some point of ambitious dreaming and in a new phase of realized disappointment. After losing some weight from years of being vegan it has somehow come back. Debt scares me less because dying seems more plausible. Things make me happy every day because I’ve set the bar for my joy as low as I can.
This is what Zoe Muth sings: “Dirty old blackbird landed on my windowsill / I didn’t want him to leave so I sat there watching him perfectly still / And when he finally flew / I asked him to cut a hole in the morning sky that I could pass right on through.” —DUNCAN COOPER
When Lakin and her family had the mother of all singalongs
Cardi B has special powers, and so does “Bodak Yellow.” The song’s contagious force took over my family last summer during what would’ve seemingly been a somber gathering. My older brother Anthony passed away so in the spirit of celebrating his life, we comforted and brightened each other up at the repast with soul food, libations, and good memories that filled the house. Of course, my kin did what we always do when we get together, no matter the occasion — sing. The song is usually made up on the spot and filled out by riffs and ad-libs that are all a culmination of our sonic contributions. This time, my 60-year-old Aunt Sylvia, who is unapologetic, extremely creative, and the most humorous person in the family, revved up and started adding some soul to the “Bodak Yellow” chorus as the track played in the background.
“You can drink yo’ wine,” she sang in her raspy alto. “If you wanted toooo.” The rest of us chimed in with a fired up call-and-response using her melodic version of the original hook. She went on to comically rhyme with it with “You can say, kiss yo behind.”
We stood around the black leather sectional couch with Aunt Sylvia seated at the head of the circle like a matriarch, and cackled as she belted all types of Sunday morning vocals around Cardi’s gully bars. It was mind-blowing to watch her bad bitch anthem speak to my family’s babies and elders during a time when we really needed to release and raise the energy for each other. Joining an unplanned singalong with black folks is always healing, and it felt super blessed with Cardi B’s testimonial masterpiece backing us. —LAKIN STARLING
When Jordan felt the weight of Lil Peep's contribution to music
The morning of November 15, 2017, I woke up and did my first Twitter check — every other user I followed was posting about Lil Peep. My fandom had at that point been economy-sized, so when I realized that Peep really was gone, I revisited a handful of old favorites like "White Wine," "Kiss," and "Witchblades." Then I read what other people were writing online, sharing their favorites, and I listened to those as well, over and over. I cringed at Uncle Kracker-style clunkers and marvelled at the chemistry between Peep and Tracy, another rapper who helped pioneer modern hip-hop's belligerently emotional and raw sound, and who will probably never get the credit he deserves. Peep's music was my soundtrack as I scoured social media for the reactions: fans and friends, members of GOTHBOICLIQUE, conspiracy theories, the witch hunt, drama, and people from across the entertainment world riding an opportunistic wave of condolences. I clicked on it all, and everything it linked to.
I felt evolving shame: for my newfound voyeuristic compulsion, for my own complicity working in an industry that's already looking for the next thing to exploit, for not knowing how to talk responsibly about addiction, for making it about addiction, for not adequately separating art from artist. It was appropriate, in a way, for some strain of the self-loathing in Peep's art to find its way into my memorializing of him. But I had been drawn to his music initially by the same thing that made Korn's Follow The Leader a life-changing record for me, and why my first-ever concert of Western music was My Chemical Romance: Peep wrote confessions that sounded like they'd been paid for in his own blood. Once he found this frequency in his music he never got rid of it, and when I read the outpouring of grief from the people who knew him best, I felt like Peep's biggest creative coup was transferring this genuineness into his art. There's a lot of positive things for kids and adults to learn from Peep's example, even if his sound may not be for everyone. So rather than look at the reasons for his death, I'm going to focus on the example of his life. —JORDAN DARVILLE
When Myles battled anxiety with the perfect beach song
2017 really made me think about the phrase "riddled with anxiety." I spent most of the year with tense shoulders, trying to understand everything that spooked me and why the world can be so cruel. The only time I felt truly relaxed was on a week-long vacation in Spain this summer with my boyfriend and my two best friends. We danced a lot, ate a ton, and napped exactly the right amount. One morning, we took the train from Barcelona to the magical gay beach town of Sitges and found the sand and surf we had been waiting for. With the mountains sitting quietly behind us, we planted ourselves down in front of the sun and baked for a while, laughing our heads off and taking dips in the clear blue sea. We took turns being DJ on our little portable speaker and eventually someone played Miley Cyrus's "Malibu."
I hadn't really liked the song when I first heard it, but I completely fell in love with it on the beach that day. There's something about Miley's voice — strong and steady, but clearly tapping into the intense emotions of a real love story — that just does it for me. In moments of panic after that vacation, I'd return to that memory and be thankful I managed to chill out for a bit. —MYLES TANZER
When Ben took refuge in a classic
In June, I moved across the country from New Orleans to New York City. Joni Mitchell soundtracked my five-hour trip through the sky from Louis Armstrong Airport to John F. Kennedy, as she has for many emotional moments in my life. To me, the 74-year-old is one of the greatest songwriters of our time and her albums are some of the only pieces of my parents’s music that have always stuck with me. Sitting on the plane before it sped down the runway, I played “All I Want” and listened to Joni sing: “I am on a lonely road and I am traveling, traveling, traveling.”
When everything felt at its most uncertain this year, it was always easier to look backwards instead of forwards, to sink into the familiar sadness of nostalgia rather than the fear of not knowing. Joni Mitchell’s catalog brings me back to specific places and times, even as her songs straddle that line between the ache of the past and the stomach-turning future. I listened to Blue two times through on that plane ride and didn’t sleep at all. —BEN DANDRIDGE-LEMCO
When Olivia made a detour to her teen years
2017 was weird. Blah blah Trump, blah blah imminent class war, blah blah LaVar Ball saving the world. People smarter than I will parse out why this year felt like we took a wrong turn on the space-time continuum and ended up in this timeline. That being said, a weird moment I do feel qualified to talk about is the time I found myself weeping to Dave Matthews’ 1996 corny stalker-narrative-as-love-song “Crash Into Me” as it played during Lady Bird. Greta Gerwig’s exceptional coming-of-age film is set during 2002, and features “Crash Into Me” playing on the radio during not one, but two pivotal moments where the titular high school senior realizes the true nature of her love interests doesn’t match the idealized versions of them she’s concocted.
As a teenager in the suburbs, I spent a lot of time driving around listening to the radio. My personal “Crash Into Me” was Kelly Clarkson’s “Catch My Breath,” a song that is basically pop-shaped air. I still know every word. For Lady Bird, loving “Crash Into Me” is what reminds her of who she really is. She and her best friend unabashedly adore it, and only when a hot, cool boy derides it does she realize that she’s found herself in the wrong crowd. I’ve seen Lady Bird twice now, and each time that sweet, sweet DMB chorus kicks in I start crying. Rarely is the torment of being a teenage girl captured on film with such care, but Gerwig nails it. When you’re a teen, most of your time is spent posturing (shoutout to all the dubstep remixes I pretended to like). But something special happens when you let that guard down and stop trying to be cool: you can realize who you actually are. —OLIVIA CRAIGHEAD
When Ali caught the spirit of SahBabii
On the night of March 18, we’d just wrapped up our fourth and final day of FADER FORT at SXSW. A week highlighted by performances from Cardi B, Young M.A., and 2 Chainz, and capped off with a slab of brisket, the devil Jack Daniels, and a bunch of Backwoods courtesy of the Eardrummers squadron. Our litty late night celebration culminated in the inevitable question: “Aiiite, so what’s the moves now?”
“We can still catch Uzi and Gucci at the Atlantic showcase.”
“Fuck it, we out.”
So boom. Delirious and wild lit, I hit that Fasten app (fuck Uber), and jumped in a car with fellow FADER staffers Lakin, Nazuk, and Naomi. We pulled up to the wails of “I don’t really care if you cryyyyy" so you already know we were on on 1000.
Uzi wrapped up his set not too long after, so we hit the bar for more drinks. Who, what, and why were we still drinking? I don’t fuckin know. All of a sudden, the surprise twinkling keys of a piano followed by “Bitch I’m loyal to the mob / Pull up with the capos and 100 fuckin dons — ”
We didn’t even look at the stage before we started turning all the way the fuck up. At that time, SahBabii was mostly unknown and we were all completely enamored by his breakthrough hit, "Pull Up With A Stick." Everyone was “screaming woah woah woah” that night. When Loso Loaded came on to perform his verse of the track, naturally I took that brief 45 seconds to sip more of my drink and get something up for my IG Stories — shit was extra poppin and everybody needed to know that I was having the time of my life.
A few months later, rejoicing over that same fun-ass blur of a night, I found out that SahBabii was never even at the showcase. It turns out SahBabii truly is a magical mystery, and even though he wasn’t there that night, his spirit definitely was. —ALI SULIMAN
When Ruth remembered to shake the stress out of her body
Since as long as I can remember, I’ve felt the most me when I’m dancing. When my body’s in motion, hugging the music with every ligament, it feels like nothing can hold me down. These days, my early nights outweigh my all-nighters, but the dance floor is still there when I need to shake the stress from my cells. A few of the events that delivered me back to myself this year included: Fourth World with Sybil Jason and Yaeji and Turtle Bugg; Warm Up with Jlin and Laurel Halo and Evian Christ and Roni Size — the latter in true wedding DJ style; Sustain-Release, at which everyone shone, but especially Josey Rebelle soundtracking the pool party; and Mixpak’s recent do with the incomparable Manara and DJ Tunez for Nazuk’s birthday.
Hands down, though, the best thing that happened this year was DISCWOMAN co-founder Frankie Decaiza Hutchinson and her Dance Liberation Network collective's campaign to repeal New York City’s racist Cabaret Law. The 1926 act banned dancing in venues without a prohibitively expensive license, and was used to discriminate against black, brown, and queer spaces over the past nine decades. In October, after months of organizing, Frankie and co announced their win: ding dong, the bill was dead! If that doesn’t make you want to sweat it out under some strobe lights, I don’t know what will. All I know is I have Frankie’s words, which she told me in an interview back in May, rolling round my head as 2017 slips into the rearview mirror: “Repealing a law like this under Trump sounds fucking awesome.” —Ruth Saxelby