Feature

2017's Best Songs About Places

Our favorite genre of music is the one that celebrates places.
December 18, 2017, 5am PST | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Mr. Doomits

2017 turned out to be a great year to bring back the "Music About Places" published by Planetizen for 2015 and 2014.

I spent the year cataloguing every new song I heard that mentioned a specific place, or relied on the idea of place to build meaning. I also read some of the best music of the year lists posted online this month, specifically lists by Gorilla vs. Bear, Fader, Noisey, and Bandcamp, in search for more music. Common among all of these lists were repeated references to the political climate and the many tragedies that struck the country and the world this year. Some variation of the sentiment "this song helped me deal with 2017" was repeated over and over again. Into the challenging and sometimes frightening cultural milieu of 2017, a large new collection of new songs about places emerged.

I mention some of my favorite examples in this post, grouping them by some recognizable themes. There are many more songs collected in a Spotify playlist embedded below. I tried to create a narrative of theme and genre in the playlist where possible. If you're obsessed with places, and music and places, I humbly recommend you devote time and attention to these songs. I hope you'll find many songs to add to the canon of music about places. As a final caveat, you are hereby warned that some of these songs include language that might not be appropriate in the office.

Protest Songs

Some of the best songs of the year referenced specific places, and concept of place, as part of a protest of injustice, xenophobia, sexism, and more. "All American Made" by Margo Price and "America Forever" by Mathew Lee Cothrane speak to the fear that the ideals of liberal democracy have been lost somewhere along the way in the United States. "Pink White House" by Priests excoriates the sexual violence inherent in the American Dream. "A Wall" by Downtown Boys is perhaps the year's most pointed response to specific policies of the Trump Administration. Finally, "Utopia" by Austra and "Point Breeze" by Sheer Mag address gentrification. Sheer Mag's take is focused very specifically on their hometown of Philadelphia, and does not shy away from calling out the racial dynamics at play in the titular neighborhood.

Rivers and Cities

It's no coincidence that artists find so much inspiration in cities and rivers. Cities and rivers must be two of the most fruitful artistic concepts in all of human history, and this year was no different. "River Mansion" by WALL somehow conjures the danger that is hidden in every lazy river, waiting to swell in the storm. Mac Demarco's "Moonlight on the River" meditates on the river as a companion through the experiences of death and loss.

The names of these (great) songs show what a snappy anthem from the city can be: "Back Downtown" by RAYS, "Take Me to the City" by Terry, "Living In the City" by Hurray for the Riff Raff, and "That's How City Life Goes" by Shabazz Palaces. Who's ready to live a little?

Name Droppers

I found so many specific place names referenced in music this year, it's hard to keep them straight. Sometimes it seems like all the songs are about Los Angeles and New York, which received a large amount of attention again in 2017. But this year really left the beaten path, with songs called "Cumberland Gap" by Jason Isbell and 400 Units, "Wasco" by Jaime Wyatt, and "Phoenix" by Slaughter Beach, Dog. If you're looking for a snarky defense of a city that sometimes gets presented as nothing more than a puddle, check out "Seattle Freeze" by Who Is She? "It's not Seattle, it's you," goes the lyric.

Two of the places I have spent some time in my life got special attention this year, which is always a thrill, so allow me to indulge. "Berkeley," by Lil B, celebrates that singular corner of the East Bay where I got my college education. And this video for "I Love LA" by Starcrawler was filmed in a donut and Chinese food restaurant steps away from the apartment where I live at this very moment. I might be in the background buying a beer or waiting for the Metro 201.

I also have to mention my favorite of this group, "New York 93" by Yaeji, who switches between Korean and English to describe the loss of childhood memories. Yaeji is the best. I don't need to say anything else.

There are a lot more songs on the following playlist, and in the lists from 2015 and 2014. I hope you'll also add your favorite songs about places in the comments or on Twitter with #SongsAboutPlaces.

And with that, I ask that those with the power to shape and envision the future of places remember as they go about their business in 2018 that there can be no music about places without places for music.

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