I decided to jump on the end of year list bandwagon in lieu of a publication that will put out my unfiltered opinions.
Countless albums could have made this list; many excellent records I gave repeat listens didn’t even come close to making it. The following run down includes a list of 20 albums I loved, my pithy thoughts on 19 UNRANKED albums I adored even more (because numerical positions are arbitrary and meaningless) and the year’s very best in its deserved top spot.
Here are some albums you should check out which didn’t make my 20 best:
Alvvays – Antisocialites
Blanck Mass – World Eater
Cloud Nothings – Life Without Sound
Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile – Lotta Sea Lice
The Courtneys – II
Feist – Pleasure
Girlpool – Powerplant
Japandroids – Near to the Wild Heart of Life
Jay Som – Everybody Works
Kelela – Take Me Apart
Kevin Morby – City Music
LCD Soundsystem – American Dream
Lomelda – Thx
Moses Sumney – Aromanticism
Phoebe Bridgers – Stranger in the Alps
Phoenix – Ti Amo
Ryuichi Sakamoto – async
Tyler, the Creator – Flower Boy
Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory
Visible Cloaks – Reassemblage
And now, the best albums of 2017, in alphabetical order, followed by my album of the year.
If last year’s Masterpiece didn’t quite live up to its name, the name of Big Thief’s follow-up, Capacity, undersells to the point of injustice. Adrianne Lenker’s words spill out with all their pain and violence in even greater crystalline clarity than before. Her stories are uncomfortably earnest. The verbal barrage is balanced by the faultless folk rock of her bandmates, which is impressive, but it is the startling sincerity Lenker possesses that makes us huddle in and listen closely.
Broken Social Scene
Hug of Thunder
Arcade Fire released one of the most disappointing albums in recent memory, so it is fitting that Broken Social Scene have returned to fill the gap left for triumphant, euphoric, orchestral rock music. Their aired-out, sing-a-long choruses – especially the satisfyingly drawn out one on best track ‘Protest Song’ – filled my summer with the joy Everything Now threatened to take away.
Father John Misty
Josh Tillman may be an opinion splitting troll, but his songs as Father John Misty are filled with beautiful melodies, intricate arrangements and lyrics that can be picked apart with a fine-tooth comb. Pure Comedy isn’t quite as good as his previous album I Love You, Honeybear; it is bleaker and more self-indulgent in comparison to that record too. But it is still a treasure trove of memorable, witty observations on our modern, Twitter timeline scrolling, tech-obsessed lives, that make it all too easy to get caught up in his infectiously cynical mind-set.
Soft Sounds from Another Planet
The transition from hyper-personal musings on the death of a parent to an album of galaxy encompassing ambition on paper doesn’t seem like it would be a smooth one. And yet Japanese Breakfast’s Michelle Zauner has done just that by upping the ante on her more shoegaze-y leanings – as well as crafting one of the most unusual pop songs of the year in ‘Machinist’ – to produce a sexually-charged interstellar journey through her head.
Turn Out the Lights
Julien Baker’s brand of emo is powerful in the silence she leaves in its spaces. This means that when she really let’s go – the refrain at the end of ‘Sour Breath’, the guitar opening out on the title track – it hits even harder. Turn Out the Lights is a step up in every way for Baker – production, song-writing, lyrics, instrumentation – from her previous album Sprained Ankle, making it all the more comfortable to wallow in its atmosphere.
I was not a huge fan of Lorde’s previous album Pure Heroine, and so to say I wasn’t bothered with Melodrama in the run up to its release would be an understatement. But this is a gleaming, hook-ridden masterpiece of pop music that won me over instantly. Lorde perfectly captures what it’s like to be young and wild; it’s no surprise this has been touted as album of the year by many.
A Crow Looked at Me
Phil Elverum’s heart-breaking elegy for his recently passed wife is suffocating in its sadness, but rarely has a truer reflection of the emptiness felt after the death of the one you love been put to record. I listened to A Crow Looked at Me not long after finishing the novella Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter, and the similarities in their use of the image of the crow as a representation of loss are too many to seem coincidental, making them excellent companion works of art. If last year saw David Bowie and Nick Cave talk mesmerisingly about death, this Mount Eerie record is this year’s treatise on dealing with grief and coming to terms with that death.
Sleep Well Beast
Here we are in 2017 and The National, one of music’s most consistently excellent acts, have released an under-appreciated album. The initial dialogue around Sleep Well Beast focused on the places in which the notoriously restrained band let rip: the guitar solo in ‘The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness’; the punky freak out of ‘Turtleneck’. Of course, for anyone who really loves The National, this isn’t completely new for them (see: ‘Available’, ‘Mr November’), and, in fact, Sleep Well Beast really bares all in the churning slow build of ‘I’ll Still Destroy You’, and the spare piano of ‘Carin at the Liquor Store’. This is another stellar record by a band that don’t do bad albums, and it contains some of their best work to date.
If Mike Hadreas’ Too Bright represented a scene-bursting statement record, then No Shape is the mark of an artist in full, confidence flaunting flow: comfortable in following their artistic inclinations down whatever path, unashamedly queer, defiantly himself. No Shape is filled with vibrancy and colour, and a unique back half that, while leaving aside the more expressly pop hits of the first side, offers something invariably more expressive, experimental and fascinating.
Nothing Feels Natural
Priests’ fiercely independent and political album is high on the in-your-face aggression and defiance that we come to expect from the best punk music, but it also contains an oasis of self-reflection at its centre, in the form of the title track, which can often go overlooked. The earliest of all the releases on this list, it is testament to its quality that it has stuck through to end of the year, and likely beyond.
Relatives in Descent
Shockingly underrated by the music journalism establishment, Protomartyr’s latest is a grand, sweeping epic that runs from ancient Palestine to the leaded waters of modern day Detroit. Joe Casey’s voice is a drunken, battered drawl; his words as inscrutable as anything he’s put to record. And yet, they possess a meaning and universality that changes from listen to listen, all backed by sounds that traverse lands as varied as the stories they accompany, from the screeching, howling guitars on ‘Windsor Hum’ which mimic the drone of the song’s subject, to the glistening chimes of ‘Night-Blooming Cereus’.
(Sandy) Alex G
Bedroom rock savant Alex Giannascoli has come off a year of great exposure, mainly thanks to his work on last year’s best album, Frank Ocean’s Blonde. In response to the attention surrounding him, he released Rocket, a wonderfully weird and eclectic group of short stories about the world’s misfit and misunderstood characters, which is equally as diverse in the genres he touches on. This is the peak (so far) of the prolific portfolio he has accumulated until now.
In a year filled with a colossal amount of horrible shit happening across the globe, sometimes it’s vital to block everything out and escape within yourself. Slowdive’s self-titled return is an apolitical wave of luscious shoegaze at its very best that, for me, has acted like a nuclear bunker from all of life’s lows this year. After their premature dissolution, and even their triumphant reunion at Primavera Sound 2014, this album had no right to be as wonderful as it is. And yet, the pioneers of this dreamy sound have distilled what was so great across their three initial releases and created a record that builds on that legacy.
You’re Not As ____ As You Think
This is the so-called “emo revival” at its very best: candid discussions of depression and suicide mixed with pop-punk riffs and soaring choruses. Along with Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, Touché Amoré, The Hotelier, and many others, emo kids have made some of the finest music of the year.
Annie Clark wrong-footed me with MASSEDUCTION. It wasn’t what I expected. But with each listen, its every hook has embedded itself in my mind. It’s Annie Clark’s twisted take on sex, love and what happens when we worship an individual (whether that be a lover or a hero), channelled through the most meticulously produced pop filter of her career. Her guitar playing is as dexterous and innovative as ever, if not more so, as her signature sound spindles its way around songs like ‘Pills’ and ‘Los Ageless’. But, for all the brash lasciviousness, it is on the more poignant songs – ‘New York’, ‘Happy Birthday, Jonny’, ‘Slow Disco’ – that MASSEDUCTION really clicks.
SZA’s long awaited debut album was my surprise musical treat of the year, and it presents a talented artist, fully-formed and showing what she can do. Ctrl is a truly pan-genre album – for anyone trying to pin SZA to the cliché of ‘black woman as alt-RnB artist’ can think again – and her remarkable, soulful voice and poised ability to deliver the perfect slap-down to fuckboys and naysayers everywhere are knee-shakingly good. It is scary how great this album is after the delays and the doubt cast over it by factors out with SZA’s control. Given a platform free from label pressure and reign to tinker and work as she pleases, it is so exciting to wonder what she’ll do next.
With her third album, Mackenzie Scott, aka Torres, has moved away from the 90s grunge tinged sound of her previous record Sprinter and created something more slow-building and hard to place. On songs like early single ‘Skim’, the spidery guitar is akin St. Vincent’s unique processed sound, but is backed by clicking drum machines that hint at something colder, more alien. The closing epic, and stand-out, ‘To Be Given a Body’, is something else entirely, with a pulsing rhythm that reaches for IDM, or even techno. Three Futures is an ambitious manifesto launch for the next stage of this artist’s already rich body of work.
Lætitia Tamko’s debut album as Vagabon is frank and emphatic. She is equally as adept at conveying the remembrance of a lost lover as she is singing about the way the world perceives her as a person of colour. Much of the album has a distinctly DIY indie rock sound, but mid-album centrepiece ‘Mal à l’aise’ is a cloudy, muffled ambient track sung in French which is weirder and more experimental. As always, 2017 featured a ton of white, male guitar bands trotting out the same old, same old. Vagabon has made a guitar-centric, indie rock album filtered through her own very personal and specific life experience, turned the genre on its head and beaten them soundly at their own game.
The War on Drugs
A Deeper Understanding
Adam Granduciel, mastermind behind The War on Drugs, makes music that’s as comforting as getting in your own bed after a long trip away – it’s warm and familiar. He has been able to carve out a style that is completely indebted to a musical aesthetic of years gone by, yet keep it feeling fresh and exciting. On A Deeper Understanding, he doubles down on the studio wizardry that he’s becoming known for, stacking layers of sound on top of each other – with each listen there’s something new buried in the mix – that makes it a constant joy to explore.
2017 Album of the Year
Novelistic in its scope, with a style as immediate as any of the best pop music released this year, Kung Fu Kenny’s fourth full-length album is a journey inside of modern music’s resident genius. With songs split to represent the facets of his psyche, Kendrick looks inward, perhaps in reaction to the way American society has disintegrated around him since his masterful To Pimp a Butterfly. There, Kendrick embraced synth-addled jazz funk and an ultimately defiant hope; on DAMN., he trades these in for harsher beats, Old Testament-style stories of challenge and vice, and an alternate imagining of a life in which Kenny Duckworth wasn’t saved by hip hop. DAMN. is not even Kendrick Lamar’s best album, and yet it is a singular work of art.