For many of us, 2017 was a year fraught with tension, fear, and sometimes victories. More than anything, 2017 seems like a year that has galvanised people toward taking action to make the world a better place - even if it's just small steps at a time. So it's appropriate that the five songs below - our picks for the best of 2017 - ripple with the energy of self-realisation and empowerment from within. Even when things got tough, we found strength in ourselves.
"One way or another I'mma love you / They don't wanna see it happen, but we say fuck it" - Kehlani delivers the chorus of her finest single yet with incredible resolve and even something close to glee. Throwing back to the bright, pop-influenced R&B of the early 2000s, the former teen pop singer is a joyful rule-breaker on what is undoubtedly 2017's best love song. As a queer woman of colour, Kehlani knows a lot about being told what to do by others, but here she re-affirms that nothing can stop love. Love is everything.
In 2017, Zola Jesus's luscious gothic pop gelled into something spectacular. Simultaneously brooding and anthemic, her fifth album Okovi is a dark masterwork of melody and emotion. The booming highlight "Siphon" is an ode to a friend after a suicide attempt. Anxiety and worry is contained in the song's dark undercurrent and shuddering drums, her phenomenal voice rises as if from another world: "Won't let you bleed out / Can't let you bleed out."
The title of Hurray for the Riff Raff's incredible, piano-led suite loosely translates as "move forward." Frontwoman Alynda Segarra celebrates her Puerto Rican-American roots on the band's terrific new album The Navigator, and "Pa'lante" brings her forceful words and performance to a spectacular climax. While the titular phrase has strong connotations for the Puerto Rican community - this year facing a huge number of hardships - its meaning can apply to anyone who's ever felt disenfranchised or disregarded. Move forward!
Moses Sumney's "Doomed" is an anti-love song. When it seems to be a biological (and social) necessity to pair up with another, Sumney asks what the consequences are of remaining alone. The poesy of the song is wondrous to behold, with Sumney hovering in his falsetto range as if above the world, while demure synth drones buoy him. "Am I vital if my heart is idle?" he asks, and the answer seems to be yes, as if a heart as searching and perceptive as Sumney's could ever really be idle.
Mixing free jazz with rap and beat poetry, "Bye River" capitalises on all the potential that Sampa the Great has shown since she first arrived with a bang only a couple of years ago. Renowned for her explosive, uncontainable energy, here the Sydney-based artist is in a more reflective mood. Evolving out of a few stray notes and radiant ambience, "Bye River" is expansive, metaphysical music, and the centrepiece of her incredible new mixtape The Birds and the BEE9. Stretching out for nearly eight minutes, "Bye River" won't just get your feet shuffling, but might change your world view too.