In a chicken/egg type of contemplation, a Nick Hornby character once wondered if he listened to music because he was miserable, or if he was miserable because he listened to songs about heartbreak and anger and frustration and confusion.

We’re not prepared to answer that question, only to offer 25 of the best alternative rock and pop songs of 2017 – which is to say, more tunes about heartbreak and anger and frustration and confusion.

The greatest music often reflects the time in which it was created and this list of tracks doesn’t buck that truth. Melancholy seemed to infect an abundance of 2017’s best music. Even the most exciting moments – a brazen Hall & Oates sample by the xx, a charging single by the National, an incandescent rocker from Alex Lahey – are steeped in loss, mortality and self-criticism.

Arcade Fire, Björk and St. Vincent put love under the microscope, while LCD Soundsystem, Queens of the Stone Age and Jason Isbell did the same thing with the modern political climate. The Shins and Fleet Foxes retreated into swirls of memory. Mavis Staples made her stand in a cartoon band, challenging the demoralized to toughen their resolve.

Did the best music of 2017 enhance listeners’ misery or offer a respite from it? Maybe both? Regardless, the year would have been less interesting without these 25 songs.

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