As we get to the last of our end of year countdowns, it’s time to present the Top Twenty albums of 2017. Among this list you’ll find rock, metal, hip hop and many other configurations of genres. All these records were awesome and while many worthy records didn’t make the cut, these twenty five do a great job of showcasing the best sounds of the year. Enjoy!
BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE: HUG OF THUNDER
PORTUGAL. THE MAN: WOODSTOCK
MOSES SUMNEY: AROMANTICISM
THE XX: I SEE YOU
20. WOLF PARADE: CRY CRY CRY
After a lengthy hiatus, the foursome of Krug, Boeckner, DeCaro, and Thompson, released a record that’s just as good, if not better than what they delivered before taking time away from the industry. The album is at moments sinister, upbeat and eclectic, and further elevates their craft to a very interesting level. Hopefully they’ll stick around for more, because “Cry Cry Cry” is a record old and new fans alike can get behind.
19. PHOEBE BRIDGES: STRANGER IN THE ALPS
One of the loneliest sounding albums on the list finds us out the gate at number nineteen. Bridges sulks hazardously and openly about her struggles with depression and anxiety for our future using nothing more than her soft voice and eloquent guitar. It’s a tough album to get into and it forces you to examine your life in a different rear view. A remarkable record great for just you and your thoughts.
18. THE NATIONAL: SLEEP WELL BEAST
After so long, a total of seven albums now under their belt, the National are changing. However, some things stay the same. Matt Berninger in the vocal role maintains his sullen depression and agony while the brothers Dessner still maintain a tight sync with each other. New elements such a more synth heavy sound, and more speedy songs like “Day I Died” alongside the velocity of “Turtleneck” all add this new exciting energy to the band. The last record wasn’t anything remarkable, but I think on this one the National are back to the core and have accelerated into entirely new terrain.
17. JAPANESE BREAKFAST: SOFT SOUNDS FROM ANOTHER PLANET
Michelle Zauner as Japanese Breakfast is able to get sensual, and sexual with minimal effort, and it never seems like it’s being forced. From early on during her second album in two years, you can sense her lyrics and instrumentation are open to new routes of exploration. I haven’t heard the first record yet, but that’s mostly because of the aroma “Soft Sounds” gives off. It’s great for a lazy day at the house, or for a easy bike ride through the park, with only you and the energy of the day. If you haven’t dove in, you should, it’s some good stuff.
16. THE WAR ON DRUGS: A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING.
While the Adam Granduciel led War on Drugs has been gradually getting more and more traction with each release, on “A Deeper Understanding” the band ventures beyond their comfort zone. The result? A strong fourth album that is sure to lead to bigger pay days and more acclaim and acknowledgement. Listened to in a single listen, the ten songs join to make a cohesive album that’s filled with intricate musical arrangements and honest, personal lyrics that shine a light even more on the depth of the band.
15. GRIZZLY BEAR: PAINTED RUINS
It seems like every few years, another chapter in the vastly organic Grizzly Bear albums comes out, and Ed Droste, along with Dan Rossen, Chris Taylor, and Christopher Bear have somehow refined their sound even more than in the past. Songs like “Morning Sound,” perfectly paint a picture of the depth that the foursome are capable of. There’s not a bad song on the record, which helps to clear the way in a more cohesive style. They keep doing it, and I’m sure in a few years, they will have grown even more. For now, the Bear is hibernating, and touring.
14. NINE INCH NAILS: ADD VIOLENCE
This time last year, Reznor and Ross as nine inch nails released part one of a trilogy of Ep’s. This year we got this excellent new breath of fresh air with “Add Violence.” From the opening moments of “Less Than,” Reznor delves into experimentation after experimentation. “This isn’t the Place” is a unique beauty of eeriness, but the complex, descending nature of “The Background World” showcases Reznor’s rang as a vocalist, but also some of the craziest beats and noise he’s ever concocted.
13. SPOON: HOT THOUGHTS
I first heard this band over a decade ago, when they appeared on the Conan O’Brien show, and honestly I wasn’t impressed at all. However, the moment finally came for my understanding during the exciting, and varied sounds of “Hot Thoughts.” I’ve heard from longtime fans that they didn’t enjoy the album, so maybe everything got flipped on its head in terms of how far they pushed themselves. Lead single and title track has, for good reason been all over the radio for the last months, and other songs like “WhisperI’lllistentohearit” are minimally gothically inspired, with a dark undertone trying to get through the more beats driven sections of the song. This is repeated multiple times on the record and ultimately adds to the individuality of the Austin Texas based band.
12. FEIST: PLEASURE
When Leslie Feist releases an album you’re never quite sure which Feist will be showing herself to the world. Her first solo album “The Reminder” was an elegant, emotionally vulnerable but upbeat album, while “Metals’ fell flat with hard edges and a certain incoherent nature. However, with her amazing “Pleasure,” it seems as though she’s going back to her softly sung variance of folk rock. Even a song like “Any Party” has a down home ho-hum to it that makes it exciting, like something you’d hear in a western drama in the 60’s. “Century” featuring Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker is rustic in all the best ways a Feist song can be, joining another great track in the form of “Pleasure,” which for my money steals the entire album, which lands at number twelve on the Top Twenty Albums of 2017.
11.CONVERGE: THE DUSK IN US
It’s reassuring when a band of twenty plus years is still capable of making some of the best aggressive music around. Massachusetts natives Converge seem delighted and exposed as they venture through their ninth record. Openers like”A Single Tear,” tear open your awareness, while slow burning, cathartic tracks like the title track show just how much thought and emotion Bannon and Ballou and company have in their engine, ready to spew forth. Bannon’s voice is the driving force, but the storm enveloping everything else only adds to his deliberate moment of truth.
10. LCD SOUNDSYSTEM: AMERICAN DREAM
When a band comes back from a breakup, or whatever it was that LCD did a few years ago, you never quite know what the end result will be. In this case, we got a record that easily matches the eclectic wave that James Murphy and company found early in their career. All of the songs featured on “American Dream” weave and wind like before, but there’s a far amount of experimentation happening for the NYC Electro Punk pioneers. “I used to” rolls through a jungle cautiously yet focused on its end point, while “how do you sleep?” shines bright like a fire in a far off country, isolated by darkness and joy. After each album I wonder where this band can go, and each time they surprise but never disappoint. Let the second phase of LCD Soundsystem continue, and get excited for whatever result we’re treated with.
9. SAMPHA: PROCESS
This has been quite the year for the silky smooth voice and piano murmurings of Sampha Sisay, or just Sampha for short. From the early moments of his excellent “Process,” Sampha narrates a beautifully downtrodden song, but it doesn’t end with opener “Plastic 100* C.” in fact the emotional intensity only gets harder to work through, but it’s in those moments where his beauty soars through turmoil. The record to me harkens back to the distinct sounds of Joanna Newsom, Bjork or other musicians who have embraced the harp in recent years. It’s wonderfully pretty, and makes you want to share your emotional energy with the world after you get through a listen of the entirety of the record. If this is his high note, then later albums might suffer, but if this is Sampha just getting started, heart flutters and excitement be damned, because this could get very interesting.
8. FLEET FOXES: CRACK UP
I’ve been a fan since the early days, the “Sun Giant Ep” days, and it’s remarkable how much Robin Pecknold and company have grown into a beautiful, majestic creature that only shows it’s face for small amounts of time. “Crack Up” is no exception. From the early moments of the unisonally song “I am All That I Need…” you’re welcomed into the arms of a soothing voice and harmonic hymns that it’s impossible not to get swept up in the mess of things. Over the course of the eleven song record, you watch in awe as Pecknold and the rest of his Fleet Foxes spread their wings and build a world of music jumbled into something tangible and gorgeously layered. At this point, I’m happy with the amount of output these guys have, because every album has been immaculate, and i expect that trend to continue.
7. QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE: VILLAINS
Can this band make a bad album? The short answer, no. The long answer has to do with the gestation, growing period. Once again joining forces with Van Leuvan and welcoming John Theodore on his first record playing drums with the band, Queens take a chance and succeeds with producer Mark Ronson, and with this fresh air coming through, Homme and the other Queens are able to make it lighter to handle in some areas, while turning up the aggression and volume, sometimes during the same song, like what they accomplish on “The Evil has Landed.” It’s another reminder of how truly wonderful this band is, and why they’re still very much at the top of the rock n roll heap. If you think I’m wrong, just listen to “Head Like a Haunted House,” and tell me this isn’t classic QOTSA mixed with a little something extra.
6. FEVER RAY: PLUNGE
After nearly nine years, Karin Dreijer Andersson has returned to her Knife alter ego Fever Ray. This album, simply, is astounding and astonishing, much different form the first, but still pushing the boundaries of overt sexually that she so vehemently defends. This is a Pro- Woman Pro-Sex type albums, and Karin eats the narrative up, all sensual like. It’s refreshing that in this day and age, with all the sexual turmoil happening over and over again in various sections of the world that a woman can make a record as unapologetically overt in it’s sexuality. Upbeat tracks like “IDK About You” only add to the casual vibe prevalent through the record. It’s fun, sexy, graphic, and it only adds to the allure of one half of the Knife, Karin.
5. KENDRICK LAMAR: DAMN
Simply put, this shit is fire. Raised in the house of Dre and Snoop and gradually elevating himself to form a beast of his own creation, Kendrick Lamar is the without a doubt the most important solo rapper currently releasing music. If the also excellent “To Pimp a Butterfly” was Lamar’s presenting his ideas in a powerful, anti-authority warning shot, then “Damn” is the back up to that which sees Lamar signaling how far he’s willing to push his ideas to get what he wants, while opening the eyes of naysayers who simply dismiss rap as bullshit music not worthy of the bright lights of the best musicians unafraid to display their beliefs. It’s both booty bouncing music and protest music in a singular “fuck you” to all the enemies who are trying to destroy everything they see as unfit. With Kanye still doing something somewhere, and Jay Z having drifted even further from authentic rapper to “Look at how awesome it is to be Mr. Beyonce,” Lamar is the truth teller we all need.
4. LORDE: MELODRAMA
It’s rare for a major breakout star to have two albums as authentic and awesome as Lorde’s first two records have been. From the dimly light but gradually brightening opening of “Green Light,” you accept that not only has she grown as person, but her art has turned a corner to an intersection of brave honesty and smarts, and someone with a good enough x-factor that she somehow is big in circles ranging from indie to electronic fans to teenie boppers. A song like “Writer in the Dark” has all the brutal honesty to tackle a subject that we’ve all struggled with. It’s a song about life’s challenges and the difficulty of family. But it’s in that song that her true potential is burning to come out even more. Dave Grohl is right I think, when he mentioned Lorde as the future of alternative music. “Melodrama” has everything you’ll love, and more you'll grow to love with repeated listens.
3. RUN THE JEWELS: RTJ3
Ok so first things first. RTJ3 was suddenly released on everyone the day after Christmas last year, but it makes it onto this list mostly because of how close it was to 2017, but also because of the physical release, which was actually this year. Anyway onto the music, and well it’s another home run for the supergroup featuring Killer Mike and El-P, and they spare no expense to give us another near perfect record. It tackles quite a few tough lingering issues, including corruption of the highest order, the propensity of white police officers killing black people of various shapes and sizes, and the loss of friends and complacency in this hazardous world and country we’re currently living in. After all that though, this is still a record that allows you to have fun some of the time and dance your conflicted brain away. “Talk to Me,” is a siren for awareness, while “Panther like a Panther” is a filthy song with dirty, highly sexual lyrics(after all it’s still hip hop.) It’s a perfect record all around, and as the album closes with the one two punch of guests like Kamasi Washington Zack de la Rocha, it’s hard to brush this collection aside. All hail RTJ, they are the future storm of the rap world. My prediction: we haven’t seen anything yet.
2. BLACK ANGELS: DEATH SONG
This one for me is a long time coming in terms of getting around to. I’ve seen them three times, but never got into their studio albums. Until this year, when my roommate had them on and i was transfixed. “Death Song” is their fifth albums, and it’s as slow, doomladen and methodical as all the other ones, judging by what i’ve heard live. “Currency” brings the album to a heavy stepped opening, but from there they have many songs that captivate you. Songs like “I’d Kill for her,” “Estimate,” and the album closing explosion that is “Life Song” all tie into one messy but calm record that is sure to make you think about your past, present and future. It’s just one of those albums that can be enjoyed with one or two people around, but you all need to listen closely, or all the most interesting parts will blend into the background.
1. ST. VINCENT: MASSEDUCTION
From the early moments of this years number one, you get the distinct impression that Annie Clark is defying space and time. Her rock hard guitar has melted into a electro-rock aroma that is now fully filling her cup. It’s seductive in a “I won’t be ignored” way, but it’s very provocative in its delivery, which only helps to put even more ideas and music and concept in the brain of the listener. It’s a difficult listen at first, mostly due to how different it is compared to previous albums, but on listen after lister it installs itself as a powerful, evocative listen. Once you get to “Masseduction” the song, you’re already well aware of how different and energizing this neo-pop renaissance is. It’s a dangerous record for a world that needs to have different experiences shoved in faces, but it never worries you that it might go off the rail. With each album Clark is able to create a different scenario than anything else in alternative music. She’s a guitar god with a beautifully willful voice. She periodically changes her persona and adds another shimmering example of what a challenging artist pushing different views of morality, secuality, power, and the hunger to succeed. Think of her a Madonna type, able to contort and show different sides of herself with each new interpretation, except here Clark is actually writing the lyrics and music, which is something I doubt Madonna has done in a very long time. The Best album of 2017, “MASSEDUCTION,” by St. Vincent. Thanks for reading!
Landon Murray is a published writer and an avid lover of music, books and films. He's also a lover of the New Orleans Saints. He was born in 1982 and has a chainsaw tattoo on his arm.
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