Top 25 Albums of 2017
What a year 2017 has been for music. We’ve seen everything from political rap to avant-garde pop. Veterans have returned to the scene in a big way, while newcomers made their splash for the first time. We’ve even witnessed the resurgence of one of the oldest American genres, country music. There certainly is a lot of notoriety to go around this year. Here’s a look at our choices for best albums of 2017.
1. Kendrick Lamar: DAMN.
It seems with each passing album, Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar outdoes himself. We saw progression with “good kid, m.A.A.d city,” we saw profundity with “To Pimp a Butterfly,” and this year with just his fourth studio album “DAMN.,” we were awakened to his true genius. Hard hitting, politically charged, full of fire and rage yet peppered with romance and vulnerability, Lamar has yet again raised the proverbial hip-hop bar.
2. St. Vincent: MASSEDUCATION
Art-rock peddler St. Vincent has dropped a handful of records that broke the norm of what music is supposed to be, but none like her 2017 masterpiece “MASSEDUCATION.” This collection of songs burrowed even deeper into an already robustly creative mind. Genres? Forget it. Structure? Nah. The finishing product was a boundlessly experimental album of sharp tongues and even sharper guitars.
3. Lorde: Melodrama
After coming to prominence in her teens, Lorde was finally ready to look back on her come-up with “Melodrama.” Youth ideals always played a part in her music, but this time around it came from a more mature, experienced perspective. The stunning single “Green Light” follows her signature “getting ready playlist” formula but injected plenty of wisdom and sincerity, even the bouncy “Homemade Dynamite” melds poise with danceability.
4. LCD Soundsystem: American Dream
After seven year of painful waiting, fans were finally rewarded with a new LCD Soundsystem record. Even more fortunately for fans, “American Dream” lived up to every unrealistically high expectation they could have conjured during their extended hiatus. Singer James Murphy and his band of electronic fiends have perfected live dance music with this one. Hard to believe that for a band that’s been around since the early 2000’s, that this was only the band’s fourth studio album. There is a consensus though; it was totally worth the wait.
5. The National: Sleep Well Beast
Like many artists over the past year, and historically in fact, Matt Berninger and The National looked to Washington D.C. for inspiration in their politically-charged album “Sleep Well Beast.” Marking the first commercial single in the band’s history, “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” recruited angelic tones, fuzzy guitars and Berninger’s well-known baritone to remind fans of the strange times in which we live.
6. Father John Misty: Pure Comedy
From one beard to another, folk singer Father John Misty took aim at the buffoonery of modern-day humans on his 2017 record “Pure Comedy.” Even the title screamed of cynicism as the rest of the album tackled his frustrations with religious zealots, the gangster patriarchy of our politics and the pretention of hipsters. He even self-inflicts a few insults. While this may sound like utter contempt, his delivery on “Pure Comedy,” amongst gorgeous orchestral backings, made this album one for the singer-songwriter books.
7. Chris Stapleton: From a Room: Volume 1 + Volume 2
The so-called rebirth of country music has been led by only a small number of artists, most notably the bearded Kentucky-native Chris Stapleton. Through his candid use of acoustic instruments as well as his refrain from modern-day country tropes, Stapleton used the two-part release titled “From a Room” to salute the once bygone genre. On “Volume 1,” the powerful heartbreaker “Broken Halos” brought listeners to tears, while on “Volume 2” fans latched onto the catchy, self-reflective chorus of “Tryin’ to Untangle My Mind” alongside the blue-collar “A Simple Song” which saw the rising country star romanticizing easy living.
8. Margo Price: All American Made
Along with our seventh best two-part album of the year from Chris Stapleton, Margo Price has been right alongside him in ushering in a new era of country music. “All American Made” both praised an all-American lifestyle but condemned some of its most unsavory, and unfair aspects. From women’s pay inequality (“Pay Gap”) to the demise of the family farm (“Heart of America”), Price’s “All American Made” proved that barroom country music is back.
9. Vince Staples: Big Fish Theory
The rap game’s newest idol, Vince Staples, continued to push the envelope with 2017’s “Big Fish Theory.” With savvy electronic production from the likes of Flume, SOPHIE and up-and-comer Zack Sekoff, this experimental rap album gutted genre barriers with a chef’s precision. Vince shined on “Big Fish Theory” for his ability to please both the backpack rap fans and those just looking for an exciting house-party beat.
10. Khalid: American Teen
Texas-native Khalid saw quite the advancement in 2017 after his debut “American Teen” – drape a tapestry over the lamp for this one. Khalid’s soothing vocals played perfectly over the soft synths and 80s inspired beats. It was this concept, mixed with contemporary R&B styles, that made “American Teen” crack the top 10 on our list.
11. The XX: I See You
The XX are known for their dimly lit, yet sharply produced, indie minimalism. On “I See You,” the British trio have expanded their sound to more prominently feature one of their members, Jamie XX. Jamie’s vision added a sense of experimentation to the band’s already prosperous sound. Guitarist/singer Romy Madley Croft and bassist Oliver Sim combined with Jamie for a tranquil, yet explosive gem.
12. Tyler, the Creator: Flower Boy
Trying to unpack rapper Tyler, the Creator’s psyche is not an easy task. He’s both abrasive and forthright, but at times so provocative that it’s hard to know if he’s sincere. Well, all that went out the window with “Flower Boy.” Here, Tyler unveils his deepest thoughts through a myriad self-produced beats. From him questioning his own sexuality to his admittance of loneliness, “Flower Boy” crafted a whole new persona for an already characterized MC.
13. Fever Ray: Plunge
Provocation is Fever Ray’s expertise, and her last album “Plunge” was no exception. The song “Musn’t Hurry” details her bisexuality while “This Country” presumably claims “(America) makes it hard to fuck.” Filled with shadowy eroticism and explicit kinks, the long-awaited sophomore effort from the mysterious Swedish singer/producer – formerly of The Knife fame – used experimentation to make an outright stimulating piece of sonic art.
14. Taylor Swift: Reputation
Reinvention is something Taylor Swift is all too familiar with. In fact, it’s become her thing. Leaving behind the bad boys for the nice guys, leaving behind country music for pop. And this past year with “Reputation,” she left behind her fragility for fierceness. From the club-ready “King of the Heart,” to the trap-inspired “End Game,” Swift said goodbye to her old self once and for all. “Reputation” was ultimately a power grab for the young artist who was not only demanding respect, but reclaiming her liberation as well.
15. Arca: Arca
Known primarily for his complex, intricate instrumental production, Venezuelan producer Arca unleashed haunting vocals on his self-titled album from April. “Piel,” the metallic bedtime lullaby and “Anoche,” the futuristic church hymn found Arca singing softly about being reborn into a new person, and wanting what you can’t have. Or more specifically, wanting something that doesn’t even exist.
16. SZA: Ctrl
SZA’s old-school R&B mentality met with contemporary, abstract production on her debut “Ctrl.” This album was so good, in fact, that it lead to five Grammy nominations at next year’s upcoming awards ceremony. Raw, yet smooth as butter, “Ctrl” showcased SZA’s unique, trap-inspired arrangements and powerful vocals. Come February, we’ll see how many Gramophones she walks away with.
17. Sampha: Process
In his long-awaited debut LP, Sampha proved that he was more than just a superb collaborator – he’s previously worked with Drake, Frank Ocean and Solange, among others. “Process” was rife with emotional piano ballads and fresh electronic R&B, all emphasized by the South Londoner’s proud, yet vulnerable vocals. From the chime filled sounds on “Plastic 100°C” to the moving lyricism on “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano,” Sampha glowed bright on his debut.
18. Paramore: After Laughter
Paramore swapped their signature emo/punk sound for 80’s pop on their newest album “After Laughter.” A far cry from their initial success indeed, but Hayley Williams is no sell-out. This record, the band’s fifth, is rife with skillfully crafted synths, beats and retro pop flourishes. The tropical “Hard Times” and the No Doubt-inspired ska cut “Caught in the Middle” are standouts on this brightly-colored project.
19. Jay-Z: 4:44
Progression usually implies an inevitable plateau. But not for Jay-Z whose whopping thirteenth studio album was one of his all-time bests. “4:44” unapologetically tackled race relations in America, amongst other prominent issues, through a slew of expertly curated beats and accompanying music videos. He even opened up about his relationship with long-time partner Beyoncé. “4:44” was not only an unprecedented look into the lives of one of America’s most glorified couples, but a deep-dive into the mind of one of the country’s greatest rappers.
20. Björk: Utopia
Icelandic songstress Björk has long been a prolific and highly influential artist, which is why last album “Utopia” was so moving. Through a litany of fairy-like songs featuring flutes – one of her favorite instruments – and harps, she poetically sang about love found. She imagined a dreamland of blissful choruses over transcendental production, and managed to see it all through to fruition. Don’t let the sentiment fool you though, the singer also donned “Utopia” her “Tinder album.”
21. Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings: Soul of a Woman
Sharon Jones’ posthumous final album “Soul of a Woman” was the ultimate curtain call for a woman whose influence on funk and soul music is unmatched. At 59-years-old, Jones’ last album tested her grit as a performer as the recording was done in between her chemotherapy treatments. From her incredible vocal range, to the towering instrumentation that supported it, this album was one last stamp of approval on a monumental legacy in music.
22. Kesha: Rainbow
After her first two albums, Kesha found herself at the center of my publicized legal issues with her long-time producer Dr. Luke, spawning a long hiatus from music. Upon her triumphiant return with her third album “Rainbow,” she sought to silence the drama with a rebel yell, shooting down her haters with glitter, funk and hardcore femininity. Kesha laughs and belts lyrics like “Don’t touch my weave / Don’t call me honey” through dance beats, pop hooks and even horn contributions from the aforementioned Dap-Kings.
23. Bob Dylan: Triplicate
“Triplicate” not only represents Bob Dylan’s most expansive release yet – 30 songs over three discs – but it shows his musical range is even more capacious than previously thought. Here Dylan tackles the Great American Songbook, that is, Sinatra, Rodgers and Hammerstein and the like. His dignified delivery and the cohesiveness of his band made this album one of the best in the modern Dylan-era. This was a new look for Dylan, but one that suits him now.
24. The War on Drugs: A Deeper Understanding
The title “A Deeper Understanding” could easily be referencing what fans walked away with after first listening to The War on Drugs’ fourth studio-album. These Philly musicians burrowed into their signature sound with fuzzed-out guitars solos, syncopated basslines and flirtations of electronics, all the while sticking to their emotional tendencies about life, love and loss.
25. Zola Jesus: Okovi
Sinking deep into the muddy waters of her mind, Wisconsin-bred singer Zola Jesus turned her last album “Okovi” into a truly morbid vision. While this may sound like something you’d want to stay away from after what some would call an already corrosive year, she managed to turn angst into pure beauty. The haunting “Exhumed” single focuses in on Zola’s depression, using stabbing strings as a battle cry for help.