Top Ten Favorite Albums of 2018


Hi there! You might have noticed that Ranting About Music took the year off. We’re sorry about that. But, as per usual, we’re back for Listmas, starting with the favorite albums of the year, so let’s dig in.

2018 wasn’t a bad year for music–we’ll get to that–but it certainly felt tepid more than a few times. On one hand, people like Cardi B and Snail Mail had breakout years, but then you also had plenty of artists who wiffed or ran in place. Like, Beyonce and Jay-Z did revelatory work in 2016 and 2017; this year, their joint album feels like a pleasant afterthought. I worried once or twice about not having enough albums to even make a top ten favorites list, but when it got time to put names to spaces, I found myself making a lot of painful cuts.

Usual disclaimer: These are my ten favorite records of the year, not the ten best records of the year (although I’d argue there’s plenty of overlap). Music writer Steven Hyden always refers to his favorite albums list as “what he obsessed over this year,” and here are my ten little obsessions with a full Listmas calendar at the end.

10. [TIE] The Wonder Years – Sister Cities & Joyce Manor – Million Dollars to Kill Me
I put these two together because they trigger the same reaction in me: band evolution is beautiful.

Image result for the wonder years sister citiesIn 2013, The Wonder Years released their fourth album, The Greatest Generation, which, to me, is the The Dark Knight of pop punk: there’s no way you will ever put these parts together and get a result this incredible ever again. And, instead of trying to climb that mountain again, The Wonder Years tried something different with next record No Closer to Heaven, a slowburner that pushed lead songwriter Dan Campbell’s writing further outward while his voice took on a new layer of nuance and held my attention, even if it wasn’t as acclaimed (if we’re keeping the Chris Nolan comparison alive, NCTH is probably the band’s Interstellar).

There’s no Nolan equivalent to Sister Cities, but the album’s damn cinematic on its own. No Closer to Heaven’s towering nature stuck around, but the band sounds more confident and potent this time around: just listen to the maelstrom on thundering opener “Raining in Kyoto,” the bombed out quiet of “When the Blue Finally Came,” or how they torch the title track. The Wonder Years have been a sneakily accomplished musical group since at least Suburbia, I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing, but they even kick that up a notch here with the album’s arrangements. And Campbell, who has grown leaps and bounds as a vocalist, does some of his best, most expressive work on Sister Cities, making the most of his upper register and losing none of his intensity (the way he sings “I’m helpless and you’re drowning” on the bridge of “Pyramids of Salt,” combined with the guitar lead that sounds like an outstretched hand afterward, is just crushing). Is it all “pop punk” in the strictest sense? Well, if not, I’d argue The Wonder Years aren’t the problem; if Sister Cities isn’t a pop punk album, it’s only because so few pop punk bands would dream this big.

Image result for million dollars to kill meJoyce Manor, meanwhile, might not have been dreaming “big” per se with Million Dollars to Kill Me, but like their previous album Cody, this one plays the long game despite being about as lengthy as an episode of The Good Place. Joyce Manor lean further into power pop territory than out and out pop punk or emo for their fifth record, but the result is a surprisingly robust set of songs with tunes that are immediately catchy (“Think I’m Still in Love With You” grabs on the first listen and never lets go) and ones that pull you in over the span of a few listens until you can’t get them out of your head (“Big Lie,” “Up the Punx”), and there’s a delicate balance here of conventional and screwball choices that really helps the entire album gel. There’s a renewed focus on melody through Million Dollars to Kill Me that stays intact from the hardest rockers to the sunny jangle of closer “Wildflower,” and as always, the band proves that short doesn’t mean sloppy with their exacting arrangements and song choices. While MDtKM might not be the lightning in a bottle outing that earlier records like Never Hungover Again were, I think it’s one of the most loopable albums of the year, and handily one of their best.

9. The Pom-Poms – The Pom-Poms – EP
The Pom-Poms are a collaborative effort from wife and husband duo Kitty (formerly Kitty Pryde, currently part of American Pleasure Club) and Sam Ray (formerly of Teen Suicide, currently American Pleasure Club and Ricky Eat Acid). I could tell you their 16 minute EP is a cocktail of raved up pop that has some of best production each of them have done to date, I could tell you that it slaps so hard that it’s categorically impossible to listen to at low volumes, I could tell you it’s fun (which is surprisingly hard to do in music!), orrrrr I could let Kitty’s cheerleader brat lyrics do the talking:

“Check out my boyfriend and my other boyfriend/And his other girlfriend and her other boyfriend!”

“I don’t really know what I said, got’em bitter like a lemond rind/Ever since I showed’em my bread, they decided it was peanut butter jelly time”

“They see my pics and never let it go/like, ‘scandalous!’/I read that shit and LMFAO, I’m in Miami, bitch!”


Image result for sweetener album cover8. Ariana Grande – Sweetener
Sweetener is where it all starts working for Ariana Grande. Her first two post-Nickelodeon albums were fine but prone to bouts of anonymousness and even her best singles were held back by the lack of the last little something that makes pop magical. But Sweetener makes the leap in no small part because of her producer choices here: Max Martin and Grande’s usual collaborators show up for singles and a few synth numbers toward the end of the album, but Pharrell takes over for most of the album cuts, which lets Martin et. al focus on the big hits. And somehow, it’s Pharrell of all people who helps Grande most; she sounds natural on their collaborations like “R.E.M.” and “Borderline,” and these deep cuts kept me coming back just as much as the singles did.

But Grande herself is singular here than she’s ever been before, as Sweetener digs into her life. It does that by addressing a pair of incredibly divergent real life events: Grande’s whirlwind engagement to Pete Davidson and the terrorist attack at her Manchester concert and the subsequent toll it took on her mental health. You’d expect Sweetener to go heavy on somber ballads, especially with a lead single called “No Tears Left to Cry,” but the song itself is a glitzy disco jam with a UK garage beat, and Grande examines her anxiety with a driving pop skyscraper and a bouncing R&B number, and all of it feels true to life. Sweetener captures a life in a turbulent moment (Grande is literally upside down on the cover), and while it knows about those impossibly crushing lows, it’s resilient enough to still chase the highs.

Image result for noname7. noname – Room 25
The opening line on room 25 is “Maybe this the album you listen to in your car when you drivin’ home late at night,” and damn if that doesn’t set the tone Chicago rapper noname’s debut record. Particularly in a year laden with triplet flows, the ubiquitous “mumble rap,” and yowling SoundCloud rappers, noname’s hushed, almost whispered introvert flows pull you in with a mix of precise but approachable delivery and a lot of “Wait, did she just say…” writing (my favorite go-to example: “My pussy wrote a thesis on colonialism”). The album casts a wide subject matter net, too, going from writerly boasting to race relations to mortality to good sex on a song-to-song basis, and noname’s deliberate cadances are backed by lush, detailed soul-based beats that aren’t afraid to sound pretty (“Regal”) but aren’t afraid to grit their either, either (“Part of Me”). room 25 is the sound of a person and an artist coming into their own, and it demands not to be just be played, but to be listened to. It’ll reward you, I promise.

Image result for beach house 76. Beach House – 7
Beach House have always been a tastemakers’ pick, with their immaculately made, delicately performed version of dreamy indie pop. This is great, because they’re consistently rewarding (even if it took until 2015’s Depression Cherry for me to catch on), but their own consistency and dedication to one sound can be used against them: I’ve seen cracks like, “My favorite Beach House song is the midtempo, twinkling, sighing one.” Their seventh album is their most varied to date without sacrificing any of their empyreal qualities; look no further than the early 3 song run of “Lemon Glow,” “L’Inonnue,” and “Drunk in LA” to see how Beach House sounds after adding live drums and electronics to their palette. These additions keep with the band’s tastemaker status, but they also result in some their darkest, most captivating songs–”Drunk in LA” is a cut of Blade Runner or Annihilation sci-fi, “Dive” has a sustained eruption of soft-touch guitars and drums, and “Woo” is perfect synth-pop. But you don’t have to take my word for it, just ask The Chainsmokers.

Image result for awakebutstillinbed5. Awakebutstillinbed – what people call low self-esteem is really just seeing yourself the way that other people see you
This is the debut album for San Jose emo band awakebutstillinbed, and it caught such fire as a self release that they were almost immediately picked up by renowned punk/emo label Tiny Engines, who put the album in wider release. It’s that good. Probably the nearest point of comparison for what people call low self-esteem…is The Hotelier’s second album Home, Like Noplace Is There: both albums exist in a constant state of emotional and mental health crises, both worry about others as much as themselves, both Holden Christian and awakebutstillinbed band leader Shannon Taylor sing and scream like their traumas are barbed wire twisted around the inside of their throats, both include funerals, and despite the crisis-level reckoning in the storytelling, both have a remarkable number of bangers (“Fathers,” for instance, talks about unlearning inherited traumas and flaws like it’s an episode of The Haunting of Hill House, but musically, it sounds like a revved up early Green Day track). In case the band and album names weren’t a tip off, self-esteem can be a lot, and I can understand where Taylor’s voice–an untrained but vibrant torrent of singing, shouts, and screams–can be a dealbreaker, but when you’re addressing a dead friend with questions like, “Why can’t we undo everything? Why can’t we fix ourselves?” and “Why is there so much wrong with us?” wouldn’t you be screaming, too?

4.Mitski – Be the Cowboy
Be the Cowboy is a headphones album.

Image result for be the cowboyNot the in traditional sense that it’s filled with a bunch of small intricacies that can only be appreciated on a careful listen (although if you’re looking for some of the year’s most intelligent indie rock, this is it), but in the sense that such a solitary album requires solitary listening. Be the Cowboy is ostensibly an “on the road” album, but gets there by a circuitous route: Mitski’s outsider protagonist has to be as self-reliant and self-determined as a cowboy while they wander like one from place to place, but instead of focusing on concrete details like highway exits and roadside diners, Mitski’s brief songs and askew lyrics mimic the mental state of a long trip, where you start interrogating old thoughts and relationships, jumping from subject to subject in the span of a few minutes. And then, there’s album centerpiece, the fully-formed disco heartbreaker “Nobody.” I took my first trip out west this year, and after a week, I was kind of done and had to grab new headphones at the airport on my way home. I decided to use “Nobody” to test them out, and man, listening to a song about longing for human connection or even just a body while packed in one of America’s busiest airports just wrecked me. Be the Cowboy is full of that kind of examination, and as part of a three album run, establishes Mitski as an indie mainstay that’s more than your best American girl.

Image result for a whole fucking lifetime of this3. American Pleasure Club – A Whole Fucking Lifetime of This
Sam Ray has been on an absolute tear. The rechristened/reborn version of Teen Suicide, American Pleasure Club put out a hodgepodge of singles, seven inches, and tapes this year with Run For Cover release A Whole Fucking Lifetime of This serving as both an anchor and one of Ray’s crowning achievements. It actually took me a while to get into AWFLoT; I missed the sprawling nature of Teen Suicide’s swansong record (comparatively, AWFLoT is less than half the songs in about half the time), but I eventually saw that this is a culmination of everything Ray and company have done before. “This Is Heaven and I’d Die For It” sounds like early Weezer with a suboxone script, and is every yearning squall of guitars Ray’s written put in one, and tracks like “Sycamore,” “There Was a Time When I Needed It,” and “New Years Eve” encapsulate most of TS’s earlier output. Meanwhile, Ray’s more experimental side comes through with the drum n bass cut “Just a Mistake,” the soundscape of “Seemed the Whole World Was Lost,” and especially on the crestfallen, Frank Ocean sampling “Let’s Move to the Desert.” If A Whole Fucking Lifetime of This sounds like a new lease on life, that’s because it is, and there’s no more sublime expression of Ray’s newfound bliss than the robo-piano ballad “Eating Cherries” with Kitty, who married Ray in 2016. Thanks to an early release date, this is probably the album on here that I’ve listened to most, and every time, it’s made me eager whatever American Pleasure Club does next.

Image result for dirty computer2. Janelle Monae – Dirty Computer
Janelle Monae’s third album is probably the one on this list I’ve thought about the most. Dirty Computer almost feels like a side step from her Metropolis saga and the exploits of ArchAndroid and Electric Lady Cindi Mayweather for an album that’s closer and truer to who Monae is as a person; during the release cycle for Dirty Computer, she came out as pansexual. This was important to Monae and really seemed to mean a lot in wider queer communities (I saw Monae live earlier this year about a week and a half after Pride month ended, and the concert was like a boomlet Pride itself in terms of how joyful people looked to freely be themselves), and yet, I couldn’t help but marvel at how a queer reading of Monae’s work has always been, at least in my opinion, readily apparent. You can’t really get around a song like “Cold War,” with a line that leaps off the page like “I was made to believe there’s something wrong with me,” or “Q.U.E.E.N.” which straight up asks “Am I a freak because I love watching Mary?” without at least thinking “Y’know, maybe this isn’t all about robots,” and while not all art has to include autobiography, there was at least enough evidence that the androids could be allegorical for a queer experience.

Seeing Monae perform Dirty Computer live is what sealed its place for me. Hearing the gigantic thump of “Take a Byte,” that wondrous “Don’t Judge Me” outro, and the flip from “Screwed” into “Django Jane” (which, “Django Jane” itself, holy shit) in person was an eye-opening experience. But it was the encore finale of “American” that really got me: on record, it’s a rousing finisher, but in concert, you can feel Monae tapping into whatever she’s got left for “Love me baby, love me for who I am!” that gives the song some extra grit and push that’s otherwise missing. Cindi and Janelle have always been living, breathing beings; now, they’re achieving synthesis.

1. Foxing – Nearer My God
Side 1, track one, one minute and thirty-seven seconds in. That’s when Nearer My God grabs you by the neck and tells you that rock band Foxing really means it this time as “Grand Paradise” has a drop with massive bass, apocalyptic drums, and flanged guitars that sound like lightning. This same song features a drum machine, a piano-lead pre-chorus, gang vocals, a background screamo wail, and I’m pretty sure I hear strings at one point. And yet it all works.

Nearer My God is, at its heart, an alternative rock record. We can sit here and debate genre tags all day (the strident emo kids say it isn’t emo, everyone currently lamenting indie’s fallen place in the world says it is), but when all’s said and done, this is a record that takes a bunch of cues from ideas that shouldn’t work and matches them all to impossibly big hooks and guitars that are all interwoven so that each disparate piece strengthens the whole. It’s the kind of record that has room for large hearted stadium rock like the title track and impossibly screwy Radiohead-esque songs like “Gameshark,” a nine-minute meditation on death that stretches out like a National anthem, a beautiful, goth rock show-stopper and somehow none of those are a weak point. Similar to last year’s AOTY Everybody Works, part of what I love about Nearer My God is how I’ve heard this album by so many bands before where the whole thing falls apart because they just added a drum loop or made a long song without a purpose, but here, decisions that seem nuts on the surface are exactly what was needed (also helping NMG and EW: amazing sequencing). Anyone who’s ever liked a rock album with even a little character to it would find at least something here they’ll like, so if you haven’t heard it, do yourself a favor. Hell, I’ll even link you to my favorite to get started.

Listmas 2018 Schedule
December 19th: Top Ten Favorite Albums of the Year
December 20th: A Brief Inquiry Into 2018
December 21st: Top Ten Worst Pop Hits of the Year, pt. 1
December 22nd: Top Ten Worst Pop Hits of the Year, pt. 2
December 23rd: The Gibby Fifty (50 favorite songs)
December 26th: Top Ten Best Pop Hits of the Year, pt. 1
December 27th: Top Ten Best Pop Hits of the Year, pt. 2

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Listmas Odds and Ends 2017

Hello everyone! Welcome to our final little day here at Listmas 2017 at Ranting About Music! We’re gonna close on a fairly light but very list-y day today with some superlatives and awards before coming back in January; think of it as the after-show or something. Listmas was a lot of fun, and, as always, thanks for reading. There might be a small thing or two that goes up before the end of the year if I get an idea, but otherwise, we’ll see you back in January. May you get lots of new music you love for the holidays!
-Blake G.

Favorite Albums That Just Missed the List
White Reaper – World’s Best American Band
Katie Ellen – Cowgirl Blues
Lana Del Rey – Lust For Life
Worriers – Survival Pop
LCD Soundsystem – American Dream

The Annual “I Meant to Listen to This and Didn’t, So Watch Me Fall For It In Like, April” Award
Big Thief – Capacity
Bjork – Utopia
Oso Oso – The Yunahon Mixtape

“I Forgot I Even Reviewed This Album Until I Saw It On People’s Lists” Album: The xx – I See You

Most Overrated Album: Lorde – Melodrama
Most Underrated Album: Jay Som – Everybody Works

Most Protracted Album Rollouts in Ascending Order:
3. Arcade Fire – Everything Now
2. Taylor Swift – reputation
1. Father John Misty – Pure Comedy

Most Protracted Album Rollout That People Swore Was Actually Fun, You Guys: Pure Comedy

Most Protracted Album Rollout That Didn’t Even Have the Damn Decency to Come Through With Good Songs Like “So It Goes…” or “Electric Blue”: Pure Comedy

Favorite Album Cover: Kitty – Miami Garden Club

Favorite Concerts
5. Joyce Manor with AJJ and Mannequin Pussy
4. Foo Fighters with The Struts
3. Cherry Glazerr with Mannequin Pussy and Leggy
2. Green Day
1. Arcade Fire with The Breeders

Best of the Pretty Good (Considered for the Best Hits List)
“Unforgettable” by French Montana ft. Swae Lee (live by Montana, die by Montana)
“T-Shirt” by Migos
“Havana” by Camila Cabello ft. Young Thug (although it may make it next year)
“Malibu” by Miley Cyrus (a dopey song, to be sure, but the backing vocals on the chorus are great)

Worst of the Eh (Considered for the Worst Hits List)
“Rolex” by Ayo & Teo (almost grabbed “Everyday We Lit”’s spot, but at least “Rolex” sounds better loud)
“Cold” by Maroon 5 ft. Future
“Bad Things” by Machine Gun Kelly and Camila Cabello
“Swalla” by Jason DeRulo ft. Ty Dollar $ign and Nicki Minaj (does anyone get bailed out as often as Jason DeRulo? Does anyone deserve it less?)

Best Number 1 Hit: “Black Beatles” by Rae Sremmurd ft. Gucci Mane

Best Number 1 Hit if I’m Not Cheating by Including a Song Culturally Tied to 2016 That Bounced Back for a Week in January: “HUMBLE.” by Kendrick Lamar

Worst Number 1 Hit: “Shape of You” by Ed Sheeran (while “Look What You Made Me Do” ranked higher on the Worst list, “Shape of You” was infinitely more insufferable as a number one)

Worst Number 1 Hit That Didn’t Make the Worst List: “Rockstar” by Post Malone ft. 21 21 21

Peak 2017 Number 1 Hit: Also “Rockstar” by Post Malone. Hail Big Algorithm.

2017 Emerging Pop Presence Award: Camila Cabello and Post Malone (tied; Malone seems like a short game winner, Cabello could be playing the long game)

Most Likely to Be a Vegas Resident in 2019 After This Year’s Comeback Attempt: Katy Perry. The “bon appetit” jokes write themselves!

“You Succeeded This Year, But I Don’t Know If You Won” Award: Ed Sheeran

Listmas 2017 Schedule
12/14: Favorite Albums
12/15: The Gibby Fifty (50 Favorite Songs)
12/16: Top Ten Best Hits of 2017 (pt. 1)
12/17: Top Ten Best Hits of 2017 (pt. 2)
12/18: Top Ten Worst Hits of 2017 (pt. 1)
12/19: Top Ten Worst Hits of 2017 (pt. 2)
12/20: The Year In Rant/Odds and Ends


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The Top Ten Worst Hits of 2017 (5-1)

Alright, let’s finish this.

5. Taylor Swift – “Look What You Made Me Do” (#39)
“Look What You Made Me Do” is Taylor Swift’s worst hit, and I can prove it against her worst outtings from other records.
“Bad Blood” from 1989: Eh, at least it’s vague enough as a diss to not entirely rely on Katy Perry, and the remix sort of knocks
“22” from Red: flimsy as hell, but at least it’s straight ahead
“Sparks Fly” from Speak Now and “White Horse” from Fearless: I normally give credit to someone who strikes out swinging than taking the just-fine bunt, but “LWYMMD” is a bad construct in a way these two aren’t
“Picture to Burn” from Taylor Swift: This one has the gay joke, but at least Swift’s tried nuking that from orbit at this point, and the song’s trash talk doesn’t waffle metaphors

“Look What You Made Me Do” is a context-dependent tirade whose lyrics never center in on what the offending party did or what Swift is going to do in response, and the music is a loud, ill-fitting mess. I get why she frontloaded it as a single, but I’ll be amazed if this thing gets remembered.

4. Imagine Dragons – “Believer” (#9)
In 2015, Imagine Dragons released their second album, whose title remains a perfect descriptor of their music. It was (spoiler) not a very good record, and I kind of unloaded on it because Imagine Dragons are like if a forty-five minute wait at BDubs was a band. Everyone seemed to notice that, and I thought their whole moment was over when S+M ended up being a go-nowhere record that didn’t have the hits or chart success of their debut. It did have this song on it, though, called “I’m So Sorry,” which was an admittedly kickass tune that only sounded flunky when Dan Reynolds would screech the title through his nose with an exaggerated rasp.

I didn’t think much of it at the time, but those few pinched seconds of “I’m So Sorry” would be the harbinger of Imagine Dragons’ return to the hit parade with “Believer,” whose hook Reynolds delivers as though he’s trying to shatter his nasal cavity. It’d be almost impossible to tell what Reynolds was bleating if his lyrics weren’t something as basic as “HEYYYYY YA MAKE ME A/YOU MAKE ME A BELIEVAHH, BELIEEEVAHH” over a garish beat. And, if that wasn’t enough, Reynolds also decides to get his “I’ve been listening to a little band called Twenty One Pilots–maybe you’ve heard of them” flow on a few times, only without sounding as natural on the mic as Tyler Joseph (God, do any of these guys believe in real last names?). Add that on top of the half-assed AWOLNATION-stealing shanty, and you’ve got a song that’s straight up rock and roll heresy.

3. Sam Hunt – “Body Like a Back Road” (#8)
I swear this song didn’t make the list because of its central premise. Like, I know it’s easy to shag modern crossover country ([“Look What You Made Me Do” voice] “I do it all the time”), but if you’re being fair about it, “Body Like a Back Road” has the same cross-genre premise of “Trap Queen.” No, “Body Like a Back Road” makes the list because every part of it is just lousy. Sam Hunt’s halting singing can’t quite mask how poor his voice is, the instrumentation sounds too drunk on cheap beer, I cannot fathom why anyone in 2017 would use those “heys” that we were all sick of by “Rack City,” and the lyrics are just flat-out dumb. “Body Like a Back Road” is like a back road: it’s shite and you should avoid it.

2. Blackbear – “Do Re Mi” (#98)
I swear this song made the list entirely because of its central premise.

In the interest of bloggeristic integrity, I listen through each song on the year-end Hot 100 before sitting down to seriously make a list of best/worst candidates. I’ll pencil in obvious picks as I go–like, of course “Slide” was going to appear on the best list somewhere, as was “Body Like a Back Road” on the worst–but I don’t preload my lists because there’s always a chance I’ll be surprised.

For example, when I discovered “Do Re Mi” got its name from playing that “Do re mi fa so fucking done with youuuu” hook straight, this fucker was damn near guaranteed a spot in the top 5. A by-numbers trap rattler by rapper Blackbear–a guy who seems less like a human and more like if an #aesthetic Insta gained sentience so it could learn how to ghost you–“Do Re Mi” is a blast of misogyny that doesn’t have an original bone in its cad body. I mean, I can get behind a good “fuck you” song, and I’m sure that someone like The Weeknd or Drake or even dvsn could make something like this a little more palatable, but you look at “Do Re Mi” and it’s like, c’mon, dude. I was going to make a crack about how this song seems like musical equivalent of seeing a guy call his ex a “fuckin bitch” on Facebook, but “Do Re Mi” straight up includes the lyric “Bitch, you crazy.” This song’s just mean, too; there’s no demented freedom coming from Blackbear, he’s just a guy in his feelings. Shit, she was probably right to leave his ass, too.

1. XXXTentacion – “Look At Me!” (#99)
So, our annual trip to the summit of Shit Mountain has been full of bad music, but we’re just having fun with it, right? Like, end of the day, it’s just a countdown from jokes at Shawn Mendes’ expense to jokes at Lukas Graham’s and we all peace out, yeah?

It’s a little harder to do that with this year’s number one.

XXXTentacion is a Florida rapper. Without getting into a year and a half of unpacking, I am writing this sentence while he is back in jail after getting slapped with additional charges like witness tampering and harassment following his arrest last year over domestic violence allegations, and there is a very real chance that he would be in prison for decades if convicted. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

“Look At Me!” just bums me out. There’s a torturous “art vs. artist” argument you can dance around, there’s a tired debate you can throw around over the merits of looking into someone’s darkest parts, but “Look At Me!” isn’t really worth entertaining either one. As a song, it’s SoundCloud rapper fodder that believes sounding like shit is a treasured aesthetic choice, like how bands will call themselves lo-fi to avoid having to sound coherent, and X’s shock rap, which largely consists of lines like “can’t keep my dick in my pants” and “My emo bitch like her wrist slit” doesn’t land like depraved, gleeful fantasy, but like someone conjuring imagery to cope with their own trauma. But with X, these impulses aren’t just imagery. They have real, tangible consequences for him and everyone around him, and honestly, a career like his feels counterproductive to him getting the help he needs, and the hell away from anyone else who might get hurt. It seems toxic. And, for a year where pop culture itself seemed tainted because of the toxic actions of the men running the (sometimes literal) show, there’s no song that fits this year’s worst impulses better than “Look At Me!”

[Y’all are cool sitting this embed out, I promise.]

Listmas 2017 Schedule
12/14: Favorite Albums
12/15: The Gibby Fifty (50 Favorite Songs)
12/16: Top Ten Best Hits of 2017 (pt. 1)
12/17: Top Ten Best Hits of 2017 (pt. 2)
12/18: Top Ten Worst Hits of 2017 (pt. 1)
12/19: Top Ten Worst Hits of 2017 (pt. 2)
12/20: The Year In Rant/Odds and Ends

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Top Ten Worst Hits of 2017 (10-6)

Hello everyone, and welcome to Day 5 of Listmas, where we’re closing out the year of 2017 here at Ranting About Music! For the last 4 days, we’ve been looking at everything good about the year musically; my favorite albums, favorite songs, and the best pop hits of the year. But, you had a bit of a year, right? You’re not looking for someone to talk about the greatness of Kendrick Lamar for the umpteenth time, or lay down some more praise for Kesha. You’re here for blood, aren’t you? You’re here let your inner hater loose. Well, these next two days have you covered with the worst this year had to offer.

The biggest difference I’ve found, between the best hits and the worst hits lists, is that the hardest part of both lists is sussing out the rankings on the worst hits. The best and worst songs of the year are usually pretty apparent, and you can build your case on the best hits list pretty well because there tends to be depth to liking a thing. Disliking something tends to be a knee-jerk reaction, and requires more interrogation of how you feel the way you feel. And these are the songs that, on reflection, can suck it from this year. First a quick recap on the rules.

-Had to land on the Billboard year-end Hot 100.
-Couldn’t be on my worst hits list last year.
-Had to peak this year.

One honorable mention like the best list, and then we’ll go.

Dishonorable Mention: Portugal. The Man – “Feel It Still” (#45)
The Dishonorable Mention has traditionally been the space where I can let my petty soul breath. If there’s a song that I hate, but putting it on the actual list would be disingenuous because it’s not the worst, then this is where it goes. Gotta earn that “Ranting” in the site name somehow.

Anyway, the 2017 dishonorable mention goes to “Feel It Still,” the random hit from indie lifers Portugal. The Man. The narrative around this one was excited chatter that Portugal. The Man, a real life band with actual, breathing people in it, was able to claw their way to the Top 10 after an extended stint on the charts. That much is true: “Feel It Still” caught on in the later part of the year thanks to its appearances in TV spots, ads, and sports arena dance cams with its lightly funky beat and accenting horn. Limited exposure like that is the best way to encounter “Feel It Still,” because the song crumbles like fucking ash if looked at head-on. “Feel It Still” is a song made out of spare parts: Danger Mouse-era Black Keys vintage-psych worship, anonymous vocals, and Fitz and the Tantrums/Bastille/the “Pumped Up Kicks” guys instrumentation for a song so vague that I swore I’d heard it before when listening to it for the first time. I get that it was relief seeing a real band actually notch a hit, but it’s less fun when the hit in question is just like, “Shake It Off” on benzos.

10. Sam Smith – “Too Good At Goodbyes” (#77)
Okay, so remember yesterday, where we talked about how great Kesha’s “Praying” was because it was a piano ballad that didn’t feel like it was cheating you, and how I specifically mentioned that living in a world where Samuel Frederick Smith was making piano ballads made it hard to not be cynical about them? “Too Good At Goodbyes” proves how you get so cynical in the first place. This soppy ballad tries do everything, but ends up coming off as aimless; those backing singers come rushing into the last chorus like, “Wait, shit, we’re here already?!” But beyond that, this song’s lyrics make no fucking sense. Smith says how he’s been here before, and how his lover must think he’s cold and heartless…but then the pre-chorus makes it sound like Smith’s the one who got hurt? And then he resolves that he’s not going to let anyone close, but the song is about someone telling him goodbye, and implies they’ve done this a bunch of fucking times and what the hell do you want from this man, Sam Smith?  I know that because of his arm-load of Grammies and multiple bank accounts, Smith has no reason to not keep rewriting this shit, but can he at least put some effort forth?

9. James Arthur – “Say You Won’t Let Go” (#11)
“Hey babe, I wrote this song about us! I wrote about how you talked to me at a party–or maybe it was a club? I kinda forget, I just know that it was dark–and how you were such a drunken mess that I held your hair back while you threw up, and you were okay with that despite the fact that we had just met. I wrote about how you smiled between heaves, and how I fell in love with you and how your body rejected vodka cranberries. Oh, and how you said I should stay over, but I refused. And then I wrote about how awesome it was of me to bring you breakfast in bed, and coffee, and how I’ll take the kids to school while you, I don’t know, just kind of exist as someone for me to wax poetic about. There’s also a bit where I say I want to love you till death do we part, like wedding vows, but then, I say that it’s just like our wedding vows! And how your love is worth more than its weight in gold despite love being an intangible concept because I love you so much I no longer understand metaphors! Oh, and the whole thing is set to this really basic little acoustic guitar ja–hey, where are you going?”

8. YFN Lucci ft. PnB Rock – “Everyday We Lit” (#95)
The Question:
What would it sound like if you took someone who hated modern rap, but also didn’t know a lot about it, and told them to make a rap song that sounded most like what they envisioned all modern rap to be?

The Answer:

7. Ed Sheeran – “Shape of You” (#1)
Writing for Uproxx, culture critic Steven Hyden pointed out that nothing’s ventured by making fun of Ed Sheeran in the year of our Lorde 2017. Attacking Ed Sheeran at this point is like shitting on Michael Bay or trash talking Applebee’s: it’s the easiest way to show you have basic (as in minimal) discernment/taste. It’s free points. But then, I listen to “Shape of You,” and more than the overplay, more than the fact that I sometimes think it was written and produced a predictive bot that plugged and chugged a bunch of Spotify pop playlists like that Harry Potter chapter, what I hate about “Shape of You” is what a Self-Insert Fic it is. That Ed Sheeran would be able to sucker a woman in through the combined powers of Van Morrison and the China Buffet is the height of male fantasy, as is imagining that anybody would find a lyric like, “I’m in love with the shape of you” or “And now my bedsheets smell like you” endearing. It might be easy to make fun of Sheeran, but that doesn’t make it wrong.

6. Shawn Mendes – “Mercy” (#54)
Who did this to Shawn Mendes? Who broke this (Siri, how old is Shawn Mendes?) child’s heart to the extent that the only way he thinks he can win them back is through a song whose John Mayer Lite guitar, elbow slamming piano chords, and exaggerated drums are so melodramatic that they venture into cartoonishness? Did this same person not tell him that a world The Disaster Artist at least in development in it is not one where “You’re tearing me apart” can be taken seriously as a lyric? Was it this same soul who convinced squeaky-clean Shawn Mendes that he had to sing with a phlegmy rasp to convey gravitas, or that he had to offer to torture and offer up his life twice for them? Or did they just say “make a terrible song for me” and all it there? I ask because I care, Shawn. I ask because I worry, Shawn. I ask so you don’t appear in the #6 spot again, Shawn.

We wrap up this list tomorrow!

Listmas 2017 Schedule
12/14: Favorite Albums
12/15: The Gibby Fifty (50 Favorite Songs)
12/16: Top Ten Best Hits of 2017 (pt. 1)
12/17: Top Ten Best Hits of 2017 (pt. 2)
12/18: Top Ten Worst Hits of 2017 (pt. 1)
12/19: Top Ten Worst Hits of 2017 (pt. 2)
12/20: The Year In Rant/Odds and Ends

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Top Ten Best Hits of 2017 (5-1)

5. Drake – “Passionfruit” (#65)
Drake got about as close to taking 2017 off as someone can get while still releasing a 22 track project in the same year. More Life didn’t come with any videos (sidenote: for a former child/teen actor, Drake’s videos have always been underwhelming) or a tour or any late night show guest appearances; after its release, the 6 God was arguably the quietest he’s been since 2008. Yet, despite the fact that I’ve seen small-ball indie bands promote their work with more effort, “Passionfruit” stuck because it’s just that good. Equal parts “Hold On, We’re Going Home” and “Too Good,” “Passionfruit” is like, the platonic ideal of a Drake single for this point in his career. He could do nothing, and this thing would still turn up on radio, on streaming, and at the club because of how well it blends sadboy synths, a thumping beat, and pop sensibilities. Not even that kind of doofy intro could sour this fruit.

4. Kendrick Lamar – “DNA.” (#62)
Similar to “Redbone” yesterday, ranking “DNA.” on the best hits list feels like a “letter of the law vs. the spirit of the law” line step in a way that ranking “HUMBLE.” or “LOYALTY.” wouldn’t. Putting it here feels loosely analogous to award show category fraud, like nominating Get Out for Best Comedy or Musical at the Golden Globes. But the damn (ha) thing looks enough like a hit, so I’m counting it. If “HUMBLE.” is Kendrick playing nice and coloring in the lines of a radio single, “DNA.” is him doing a single on his terms of fire and brimstone. For most of its length, “DNA.” is a loud and technically impressive but conventional track, but then you get to that Fox News sample and the countdown, and Kendrick goes in. I feel like every time I write about Kendrick, I inevitably talk about how electrifying those moments are when he decides to just annihilate a track, but the remarkable thing about “DNA.” is that the beat fights back. The last minute is just Kendrick and Mike WiLL Made-It’s beat warring for supremacy in a battle of speaker destroying rasped syllables, bass bombs, and samples. That this thing gained traction all was a testament to Lamar’s pull and people’s willingness to go with it.

3. SZA ft. Travis Scott – “Love Galore” (#80)
Dating in the 2010s is fucking complicated. There have been thousands of essays involving millions of words to catalogue the subject, hours of conversation dedicated to it, an entire library of fiction, and approximately 20% of all social media fixates on this notion. And SZA’s “Love Galore” is probably as incisive as any sprawling essay or conversation in four and a half minutes about modern romance. A lightly tropical R&B track with some actual rhythm and blues to it, SZA hits on the highs and lows of a back and forth will-we-won’t-we-but-we-probably-shouldn’t-but-fuck-it not relationship she has a guy played by capable placeholder Travis Scott. SZA’s vocals hit every important emotional beat here, but I also love just how unflinching this song is. Like, SZA straight up asks why they’re still doing this when dude’s got a woman, and then cops to digging up dirt on her. She doesn’t sugarcoat what she’ll do to maintain control (also, her Genius notations are a blast).

2. Kesha – “Praying” (#67)
Just listen to this song. Kesha’s return to music during her protracted battle with her abuser and King Shit of Fuck Mountain Dr. Luke is a skyward ballad dedicated to the sun finally breaking through again to lead you out of the dark. It’s inspirational for yourself while also knowing that justice will prevail against the person holding you down; that they’ll be pressed to run away and pray for repentance. But even without the context, “Praying” hits like a fucking ton of emotional bricks. It has Kesha’s best ever vocal performance, and that’s even before it hits The Note (you know the one), and the best use of Ryan Lewis–that Ryan Lewis–that you’ll ever see. It’s hard to not be a little cynical about piano and string ballads in a year that has Sam Smith in it, but “Praying”? “Praying” is like kingdom come.

1. Calvin Harris ft. Frank Ocean, Quavo, and Offset – “Slide” (#71)
So, the name of this list is the best hits of the year. And “Slide” just kind of is a perfect song. It was a perfect summer hit all the way in February, and slid (haaaa) right into place during the warm season, and listening to it near constantly all year still hasn’t worn any holes in it. In fact, “Slide” is so great that it even inspired its own mini-list of perfect moments.

5. 0:54: “Do you slide on all your nights like this?” is one of those title lyrics that’s immediate and exciting, but vague and cryptic at the same time. It just sounds like potential for nothing but a good time (it also makes for a killer Instagram caption).
4. 2:28: Few things announced fun in pop music this year like hearing “Off-set!” and his verse on “Slide” is an incredibly tight, memorable performance.
3. 0:50: That twinkling synth shows up for the first time. It’s just a fantastically wistful production flourish that signifies how methodical Harris is on this track.
2. 1:44: This moment, where Frank switches up his delivery for “Wrist on a wrist, a link of chams” and sings “chaaaarms” in that Frank Ocean major sixth, is where his performance clicks on “Slide.” It’s the moment where you realize that Frank, a guy who’s been illusive to the point of detriment before, is showing all the way up on a guest mainstream track (while telegraphing his continued activity for 2017).
1. 1:59: That Frank to Quavo hand-off. The thing with “Slide” is that it was announced as a Calvin Harris, Frank Ocean, and Migos collaboration, and while any two of those could have probably worked, there was skepticism around what all three of them would do. By the two minute mark, “Slide” establishes itself as a capable Ocean and Harris joint, but you’re still wondering how Migos play into it. And then, from out of nowhere comes the smoothest damn transition from Frank to Quavo, who turns in an AutoTune sung verse that perfectly bridges the gap between Frank and Offset. It’s the connective tissue of the track, and what turns a great collaboration into something noteworthy: the best pop hit of 2017.

Listmas 2017 Schedule
12/14: Favorite Albums
12/15: The Gibby Fifty (50 Favorite Songs)
12/16: Top Ten Best Hits of 2017 (pt. 1)
12/17: Top Ten Best Hits of 2017 (pt. 2)
12/18: Top Ten Worst Hits of 2017 (pt. 1)
12/19: Top Ten Worst Hits of 2017 (pt. 2)
12/20: The Year In Rant/Odds and Ends


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Top Ten Best Hits of 2017 (10-6)

Hello, and welcome to day 3 of Listmas! Today, we narrow our sights (and site) on the pop charts for the year. I’ll be honest: 2017 was kind of a rough one on the charts, where it felt like there was, at times, only a handful of different sounds that were catching on. Not that the sounds weren’t interesting, but you could make an argument (as Craig Jenkens does here in a brief but must-read essay) that pop’s found its center sound, and is refusing to budge. That center can feel limiting, but here are 10 hits that didn’t.

The usual disclaimers and rules before we get started:
1. Gotta be on the list: if it didn’t make the cut for Billboard, it didn’t make the cut here.
2. One and done: if it made my 2016 list, it’s tired from this one, so goodbye “Starboy” and “Black Beatles.”
3. Live for the now: holdovers from 2016 that peaked then and charted here because of a slow descent are ineligible. This meant DQing “Closer” and “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” so there weren’t exactly great losses. Now, we’ll do one honorable mention before the list proper.

Honorable Mention: Childish Gambino – “Redbone” (#25)
I love “Redbone” plenty. I remember being blown away when Childish Gambino released it as the 2nd single last year to preview Awaken, My Love! to clarify that, yup, this kinda-jokey rap project was really in the business of ’70s funk for a whole record. I remember trying to match that falsetto when no one was listening. I remember being stoked that it soundtracked the opening credits to Jordan Peele’s Get Out.

None of those are what kicked it onto Billboard’s list. Instead, “Redbone” made the year-end by the jankiest method of internet fame: it became a meme. To be fair, the meme in question is absurd and funny, but y’know, still just a meme. The same thing happened with “Black Beatles” last year, but that translated into airplay in a way it didn’t with “Redbone,” so while I love it, it would violate the spirit of the law to rank it on the list proper.

10. Future – “Mask Off” (#14)
Future and producer Metro Boomin are frequent, frequent collaborators, working on literally dozens of songs together. “Mask Off” might not necessarily be their crowning achievement, but damn, if it isn’t their most fruitful. Metro’s “bass+snare+[random instrument]” beats seem to not miss–“Bank Account” almost made the list based on that guitar alone–but matching that gliding, cinematic pan flute from Tommy Butler’s MLK musical Selma (not that one) with Future is near perfect. Of all the Atlanta trap rappers, Future’s one of the best at weaving through a beat, and I can’t imagine Migos or 21 Savage or anyone sounding this melodic on the track. “Mask Off” wasn’t Metro’s biggest production gig this year, but it handily won the “most heard blasting out of cars” award (on a kind of related note, the Kendrick Lamar remix is peak Kung-Fu Kenny).

9. Lil Uzi Vert – “XO Tour Llif3” (#13)
“XO Tour Llif3” (nope, still not over that spelling) is a loud bash of teenage feelings, but a sneakily well-constructed one. Each part of it ratchets up the drama, from that opening twisting synth to Uzi’s higher and higher yelp to the spent croak he uses on the last chorus; the whole song’s just an angsty joyride. While the “Push me to the edge/All my friends are dead” hook’s gotten a lot of praise, I think that the pre-chorus before that of “I don’t really care if you crrrrry” is the real make because it’s all melodic flourishes. It’s that kind of construction that took “XO Tour Llif3” from SoundCloud one-off to national hit; it’s been years since it felt this cathartic to scream “I’m not okay.”

8. The Weeknd ft. Daft Punk – “I Feel It Coming” (#34)
The Weeknd’s written a hit song that mentions 5:30 AM; now he’s written one that sounds like it. “I Feel It Coming” combines Daft Punk in full-blown “Random Access Memories disco classicist” mode and Abel Tesfaye doing his best Off the Wall-era Michael impression for a cut that’s as warm and reassuring as watching the sun come up with the person with whom you just spent the night. Granted, that reassurance is that you don’t have to worry because Tesfaye’s gonna sex you up right, but there are no drugs involved, so I think that technically counts as progress for a Weeknd tune. Also, I just realized this is the second song in a row that rhymes “eyes” with “lies.” Go figure.

7. J Balvin and Willy William ft. Beyonce – “Mi Gente” (#50)
“mi gente” translates to “my people,” and Willy William (a French DJ and producer) says that the inspiration for the song came from his desire to make something for all people to dance to. And fuck me, did he do it; “Mi Gente” is the kind of jam that impossible to stay still during, blending Latin pop, Afrobeat, and dance for a beat that succeeds because it’s always doing something different. You’ve got what’s become a kind of standard rhythm, but it stops and starts and there are so many different elements always playing off of it that the production is its own, dynamic thing instead of a constant loop like so many other hits. The chemistry between the 3 vocalists is great, too; Colombian singer J Balvin and William fire off solid verses and a traded off pre-chorus, and Beyonce comes through in party-mode as a gracious guest who doesn’t try to overshadow the track. The success of “Mi Gente” is a truly collaborative effort, and for a good cause, too. What’s not to like?

6. Cardi B – “Bodak Yellow” (#24)
Here are some things to know about “Bodak Yellow.” It’s the first solo number 1 by a female rapper in 3 presidencies. It’s inspired by/interpolated from Kodak Black’s 2014 “No Flockin'” a song that I think 12 people have ever heard despite it going platinum earlier this year. It’s likely the only song you’ll see both Janet Jackson and Azealia Banks dance to. It’s the major label debut single of Cardi B, who has two mixtapes, and already had successful careers as a stripper, social media presence, and reality TV star before her breakout year as a rapper. Its producer J White claims to have made the beat in 15 minutes. It has a length of 3 minutes and forty-four seconds, and consists of approximately 686 words bellowed through semi-recently fixed teeth, and in a Bronx accent that sounds ready to kick your ass.

Here’s the final thing to know about “Bodak Yellow:” it is a world-class shit-talker.

Come back tomorrow for the top 5!

Listmas 2017 Schedule
12/14: Favorite Albums
12/15: The Gibby Fifty (50 Favorite Songs)
12/16: Top Ten Best Hits of 2017 (pt. 1)
12/17: Top Ten Best Hits of 2017 (pt. 2)
12/18: Top Ten Worst Hits of 2017 (pt. 1)
12/19: Top Ten Worst Hits of 2017 (pt. 2)
12/20: The Year In Rant/Odds and Ends

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The Gibby Fifty: 50 Favorite Songs of 2017

Hey all, and welcome back for day 2 of Listmas 2017!

I imagine that most of us are going to spend the day abuzz about Star Wars, or staying off the internet to avoid Star Wars spoilers. I get that! So today is going to be a light day for us here at the RAM office, with just the Gibby Fifty: my 50 favorite songs for the year. The rules for this list are brief, but eternal: one song per artist/album, had to come out this year or on an album this year, and if it’s here, it’s not on the Best Pop Songs list that starts tomorrow. I also wrote one or two liners for a couple of songs this year because hey, let’s try something different. The songs are in alphabetical order, and there’s a Ranting About Music #branded playlist at the bottom.

Amber Coffman – “All to Myself”
Arcade Fire – “Creature Comfort” – This thing already sounded like a staple live
Best Ex – “See You Again” – New project from Mariel Loveland of Candy Hearts, pretty idiosyncratic and peppy
Broken Social Scene – “Please Take Me With You”
Bully – “Kills To Be Resistant”
Calvin Harris ft. ScHoolboy Q, PARTYNEXTDOOR, D.R.A.M. – “Cash Out”
Charly Bliss – “DQ” – I swear, you can hear Eva Hendricks sing exclamation point on that last line
Cloud Nothings – “Modern Act”
Drake – “Teenage Fever”
Frank Ocean – “Chanel” – “My guy pretty like a girl” is this year’s best opening lyric
Future – “Draco”/”Hallucinating” – Get you somebody that can do booff
Gorillaz ft. D.R.A.M. – “Andromeda”
Gucci Mane ft. Offset – “Met Gala”
Harmony Woods – “Renovations” 
Japandroids – “No Known Drink or Drug” –  1:44 in this song is like swan diving off 6 Marshall full stacks into someone’s arms, I love it.
Japanese Breakfast – “Road Head”
Jay Som – “Baybee” – How does Melina Duterte do so easily what Kevin Parker broke his ankles trying to do on Currents?
Julien Baker – “Happy to Be Here”
Katie Ellen – “Han”
Kendrick Lamar – “GOD.”
Kississippi – “Cut Yr Teeth” – This song came out like 6 days ago, which is the same number of times I’ve listened to it a day since then
Kitty – “Sugarwater”
Kurt Vile & Courtney Barnett – “Over Everything”
Lana Del Rey – “Love”
LCD Soundsystem – “how do you sleep?” – LCD Soundsystem, an all-time bitter band, have never sounded this acidic, and it’s great to hear Murphy just go scorched earth
Leggy – “Not What You Need”
Lil Uzi Vert ft. Pharrell – “Neon Guts”
Lorde – “Supercut”
The Menzingers – “After the Party”
Migos ft. 2 Chainz – “Deadz”
The National – “I’ll Still Destroy You”
Paramore – “Caught in the Middle” – “I don’t need no help/I can sabotage me by myself” and people really want to say Paramore aren’t emo anymore.
Perfume Genius – “Otherside”
Queens of the Stone Age – “The Evil Has Landed”
Run the Jewels – “Legend Has It” – This song wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Black Panther
Ryan Adams – “Do You Still Love Me?”
Small Circle – “About You”
The Smith Street Band – “Song For You” – A good, brawny, punk rager
Sorority Noise – “A Better Sun”
St. Vincent – “Sugarboy”
SZA – “Prom”
Taylor Swift – “So It Goes…” – Yeah, yeah
Thunder Dreamer – “You Know Me”
Vince Staples – “745”
The War on Drugs – “Strangest Thing”
Weezer – “Happy Hour” – Weezer basically wrote a Sirius XM single, but I kinda like it?
White Reaper – “Judy French” – This is the perfect “It’s Friday, and school/work’s out” jam
Wolf Alice – “Don’t Delete the Kisses”
The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die – “Infinite Steve”
Young Thug ft. Future – “Relationship”

Listmas 2017 Schedule
12/14: Favorite Albums
12/15: The Gibby Fifty (50 Favorite Songs)
12/16: Top Ten Best Hits of 2017 (pt. 1)
12/17: Top Ten Best Hits of 2017 (pt. 2)
12/18: Top Ten Worst Hits of 2017 (pt. 1)
12/19: Top Ten Worst Hits of 2017 (pt. 2)
12/20: The Year In Rant/Odds and Ends

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