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Abraham Alexander’s “America” was our critics’ No. 1 pick for 2017.

Like all lists, this one is inadequate, as was last week’s stab at picking an Album of the Year. So why try? What’s the point in all of this? The short answer is this: We have to recognize the albums, songs, and artists that we feel did something truly special. That process demands, unfortunately, that we also leave out some amazing work. If we’re not rewarding greatness and, in turn, disappointing some deserving musos, then we’re not music critics anymore, and we might as well re-brand ourselves as a Fort Worth music-centric PR firm.
As was the case last week, the task of choosing 10 deserving songs was daunting, time-consuming, and politely contentious. Weekly contributors Patrick Higgins, Steve Steward, and I listened to a ton of good tunes, and these were the ones we agreed were the best. Enjoy! — E.G.

10.) “Ancient/Future,” Wire Nest Quartet

“Ancient/Future” is a remix of sorts, taking an older Wire Nest song and boosting it with bass and drums from Miguel Veliz and Quincy Holloway, the rhythm team from legendary dub octet Sub Oslo. But since Wire Nest’s Frank Cervantes and John Nuckels are also part of Sub Oslo, this song is the closest thing to new material from the elusive instrumental collective. Either way, the song is more than 10 minutes of spaced-out bliss, like a meditation session in a hyperspace trip from Jamaica to the farthest reaches of the galaxy. — S.S.

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9.) “Moonring,” Earthchild Imperius 

From the opening hit, “Moonring” is a drifting, floating trip into the cosmos. Amid swirling keyboards and electronic bleeps and buzzes, the hauntingly ethereal vocal melody carries the listener through a mystic high-fantasy fable. The song climaxes with a chorus of heavily distorted slide-guitar wailing over sub-bass droning and frantic snare and tom rolls. “Moonring” is psychedelic voyage that recalls progressive rock royalty like Yes and King Crimson. — P.H.

8.) “Hart,” BULLS

“Hart” builds to a brief but satisfying climax of highvolume guitar slams that winds down into a dust cloud of sustained distortion and decelerated drums –– the way the song gives space to the melody, repeated in a chorus of “I know it’s rough / I know it’s rough,” makes you feel as if you’re listening to a thoughtful argument that slowly agitates into wordless, emotional catharsis. — S.S.

7.) “Baby Teeth,” Cameron Smith • Sur Duda 

The opening track off the debut solo effort from War Party frontman Cameron Smith, “Baby Teeth” showcases everything the album has to offer. A thin vintage drum machine beat and a false start on guitar begin this whip-smart pop tune before the full band joins in, creating a lush wall of instrumentation. Baroque strings chase the melody of Smith’s signature surfy guitar lines that waltz over a sanguine walking bass. Lyrically, “Baby Teeth” is a lament on naiveté and the anticipation of a life’s successes contrasting with a commentary on a culture that seems to always come up short in offering those successes. Poignant and anthemic, “Baby Teeth” represents Smith at his finest. (Editor’s note: Smith is a Weekly contributor.) — P.H. 

6.) “Higher,” Brandon Marcel

The arpeggiated synth and sliding stabs of electronic bass provide a dramatic vaporwave backdrop for Brandon Marcel’s impassioned R&B diatribe about the emotional battles and perils inherent to the artist’s life that he’s chosen –– though his voice is honey, his words still sting. “Higher” is a slow-burning, unapologetic ballad wrapped in a neon-noir soundscape, the sort of jam you want to hear the night you leave your latest lover for good. — S.S.

5.) “Here’s the Thing About Me,” Kevin Aldridge

Veteran Fort Worth roots-rocker Kevin Aldridge’s single is a charming tremolo-laden ballad that channels vintage cowboy crooners like Chris Isaak and Roy Orbison. Aldridge’s melancholy twang over the verses is punctuated by dreamy interludes that give way to a surprisingly dissonant and distorted guitar build. A song about a confessional coming-clean with the narrator’s flaws becomes more of “a thing about Aldridge” as an engaging songwriter. —P.H.

4.) “Shell,” Frosty

As a moody guitar melody traces a pattern over somber cymbals, Claire Hecko’s voice descends upon “Shell” like ashes from a distant fire. The effect is gorgeous and transfixing. “You built your sand castle / Against a rising tide,” she sings. “There is exit / No salvation from the state you’re in / If you could choose another way / You’d choose the same again.” The resignation in her voice is assured and palpable. Fatalism has never sounded so appealing. — S.S.

3.) “Hey Look, I’m a DJ,” Vodeo

The most recent single by darkwave electro-clashers Vodeo is a laidback head bob-inspiring synthpop earworm every bit as contagious as it is simple. Sparse and funky Leo Nocentelli-style guitar walks over a swing-stutter dance beat and Casio keyboard stabs, as vocalist Jonathon Gehringer whispers in his sensual falsetto, “Keep the record spinning.” Sound advice to follow with this dark and fetching club tune. — P.H.

2.) “Floral,” Andy Pickett

Pinning down the best part of Andy Pickett’s “Floral” is like trying to decide what the best part of eating an ice cream cone is –– you end up in an excited debate with yourself, and the only resolution is to relive the experience immediately. From the sugary keyboard pads and the mellow, dubbed-out trumpet that accents the chorus to the confidence of its hook –– “It’s all right / It’s OK/ Make my millions someday” –– the tune is a scoop of mid-tempo pop perfection, a dreamy mélange of gorgeous sonic textures and wry lyrics that echoes in your head like a memory of a perfect summer day. –– S.S.

1.) “America,” Abraham Alexander 

Erupting with all the same raw passion and mournful reflection that has fueled African-American gospel and soul music for more than 100 years, “America,” the debut single from R&B artist Abraham Alexander, is a stirring tribute to the civil rights struggles of the ’60s, an acknowledgment of that struggle’s continuation today, and a declaration of faith and resolve to carry on that fight. Its stomping rhythm and beautiful chordal march reflect both the pain and hope in Alexander’s lyrics, his voice commandingly soulful. “America” is stunningly mature and inspiring commentary on this country’s frustrating, slow yet steady slog toward becoming a more perfect union. — P.H.

Top 3 Semi-Local Songs 

3.) “Amarillo,” Un Chien 

Before departing to Austin, frontman Stephen Beatty’s Un Chien recorded and released the full-length Where We Belong, a polished bricolage of pshych-blues and grunge-inspired pop. On “Amarillo,” the record’s most radio-ready tune, the band steps away from the fuzz pedals and lets the Fender guitar tones, rattling drum rhythms, and soaring vocal harmonies drive the dynamics. The opening guitar riff builds from subdued to anthemic. Its atmospheric backing keys and snapping percussion accents impart a campfire warmth that sticks around for the rest of the album. “Amarillo” is transportive, ambitious, and urgent. 

E.G.

2.) “Earful,” Oil Boom

With their second full-length Terribility, Oil Boom leans heavily into the musical tropes of ’70s-era guitar rock and turns them on their (a’hem) ear. On the album’s opener, the thick saltate riffs and serpentine guitar lines are punctuated by thumping rhythm and moody electronic flourishes. Vocalist Ryan Taylor’s sardonic delivery and the song’s hilarious music video encapsulate Oil Boom’s clever sense of humor. With “Earful,” Oil Boom drinks your milkshake. (Editor’s note: Weekly contributor Steve Steward plays bass in Oil Boom.) — P.H.

1.) “The Lies, Tho,” Calhoun

The opening track off Calhoun’s sardonic Football Night in America is an urgent blast of cynicism, colored with angsty video game synths and vitriolic lyrics. “You can do anything you want / A lie,” sings frontman Tim Locke. From there, his band pumps their collective fist at the world’s steady stream of bullshit promises and fake intentions. If you’ve ever had the idea of making a montage of Trumpian untruths and disingenuous pledges, put this song in the background. — S.S.

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