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2017 YEAR-END BALLOT1. “Bobby,” Alex G: I feel like there’s some calamitous, life-altering story being told here, but I’m only able to make out a few phrases here and there: “I’ll burn them for you/If you want me to” sounds especially dire. (I believe he’s singing about some photographs.) I won’t lie and say this sounds like some lost hillbilly ballad from 1923 that’s been unearthed and thrown into the world; I’m aware of the artifice, and truthfully I think there’s a part of me that likes to express my complete indifference to whatever counts as real country music today by annually listing one or two fake versions. Beautiful and sad in any event. I also like to mull over the singer’s empathetic plea that “I know you--I do, I do,” how it inverts Naughty by Nature’s “Yeah, you know me.” The world being what it is, I would have expected that path from me to you to move in the opposite di- rection. (I’ve never listed two songs by the same artist on a year-end list, otherwise “Sportstar” would be here too.) 2. “Location,” Playboi Carti: I was ahead of the hip-hop curve for maybe 10 minutes in 1986--I was obsessively listening to and loving the first Schoolly-D album, and I interviewed the Beastie Boys a few months before Licensed to Ill came out. (Even then, I’m quite sure there was lots happening out of view that wouldn’t reach the world for a couple of years.) For almost all of my ballot- compiling lifetime I’ve been lagging behind, though, and the past few years I’ve been as out of the hip-hop loop as you can be. But I still connect occasionally--and when I do it’s usually something like “Location,” where I hear the same kind of faraway melancholy that I get from “Bobby” or most anything else that reaches me nowadays. 3. “Stay the Course,” Feelies, and 8. “Apoptosis,” Tall Friend: Tall Friend take a lo-fi (is that term still in use? should I be calling it something else?) fragment and, by adding a bit of extra- neous backwards tape at the end, stretch it to two minutes; the Feelies have stretched their lo-fi fragment into five or six albums spread over 30 years. I do fall for such stuff. 4. “Continental Breakfast,” Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile: I somehow didn’t get the Kurt & Court- ney joke until it was spelled out for me online. I must be easily amused--pretty good. (I had to check, but it turns out that Courteney Cox and Kurt Russell indeed made one film together, 2001’s 3000 Miles to Graceland--hope they marketed it accordingly.) I like the vocals here, but I’m really voting for the guitars. 5. “Sixteen,” Diet Cig: “When I was sixteen” is a promising start to a song. (The next line is not “it was a very good year”--for starters it wouldn’t scan well, and for the Diet Cig singer it evidently wasn’t.) When I was sixteen, Reggie Jackson was a Yankee, Jimmy Carter had an approval rating over 50%, 8-tracks were around but on their way out, there were two late-night talk shows (don’t forget Tom Snyder), and I had no trouble sleeping past noon on weekends. From a distance it all looks pretty good; at the time, I don’t think it scanned all that well. My favourite moment in “Sixteen” comes early, a throwaway “Ready?” that’s as perfectly placed as Colin Newman’s “Chorus!” (I think it’s Newman) in “Map Ref. 41° N 93° W.” 6. “No Question,” Waxahatchee: I like most of the album--I keep five songs on my hard drive and could have listed “Silver” instead. (As someone who doesn’t think in terms of albums, this mundane bit of bookkeeping seems worth noting.) There are at least two songs on this list that I wish were longer--“Location” and “Apoptosis”--so I’m heartened by the false ending on this one, and “It sets you free” is a great fade-out mantra. My understanding of what “it” is continues to be partial and intermittent at best. 7. “To the Moon,” Smokepurpp: Flaky and psychedelic like P.M. Dawn (underscored by their name: there was Prince Be and there was Prince, and Prince liked purple, and it all fits together), except it’s 2017, so there are strippers in the video and the lyrics are slurred and indecipherable: “Blobble bibble wobble/Wibble hibble hobble/She won’t fuck me, she won’t suck me/Jibble nibble nobble.” Many bonus points for making me think of Jackie Gleason (said video also features a lot of astronaut footage; would have been nice instead to see three minutes of Ralph Kramden bang-zooming a very bored and unimpressed Alice), like “Madison Time,” “Mambo No. 5,” and the Vengaboys’ “We Like to Party!” 9. “Snow,” Angus & Julia Stone: Or maybe it’s “Angus & Julia Stone” by Snow, how should I know? This joins “Continental Breakfast” as my second song involving Australians this year, thus breaking a strict one-Australian-per-Top-10 rule I’ve religiously observed since 1985--nothing personal, I just don’t like or trust Australians. I’d never heard this until a friend who knows my tiny musical uni- verse well recommended it a couple of weeks ago. Very pretty, kind of folkie, with an omnivorous, Beat-like declaration by the guy singer that “I can get fucked up on absolutely anything.” 10. “In Undertow,” Alvvays: They’re a tad repetitive over the course of a full album, but this has some of what made “Archie, Marry Me” so swoon-worthy. I’m usually able to connect whatever I vote for in a given year to Events Out There--and if such connections aren’t clear, I just fabricate them--but this year, nothing. I tuned out early and stayed tuned out.