Link to Spotify Playlist
1) Waxahatchee - Out in the Storm - One of those albums that just blows the doors off. A great example of a songwriter (Kate Crutchfield) making a breakthrough and happening to be surrounded by the right musicians and producer. The band is crisp and alive, the arrangements are flawless, and the songs fully realized. The influences are there but more than anything this album feels like walking into an empty bar, seeing someone on stage, and from the first note of the first song you’re just blown away by a kind of music you’ve never heard. And you realize it’s not necessarily the music that’s new (meaning: it’s guitar, voice, drums, etc) but the artist’s voice being so clear. By the end of the year I’d gotten so into this band that not only did I drag myself to Jersey on the night of the NYC Marathon to see their only area show, but I also ended up buying tickets for the guitar player’s old band’s reunion tour in April 2018. In a tough year, an album full of joy for which I will be forever grateful.
2) Kendrick Lamar - DAMN. - I think this is the album everyone expected after GKMC. The album we did get (To Pimp a Butterfly) was superb in its own right, but it wasn’t necessarily the album full of bangers that everyone thought the best rapper alive at the height of his powers would deliver. On DAMN Kendrick manages to fuse a kind of ponderous, searching lyricism with incredibly exciting and powerful music in such a way that each elevates and pushes the other. As a rapper his skills seem limitless. For whatever he needs, he finds the perfect inflection and voice. This record has everything: sick hooks, incredible beats, features that add to the track. It’s also a perfectly mastered and perfectly sequenced album that just might have the year’s best song (FEAR.)
3) St Vincent - Masseduction - I get the feeling that this was a pretty divisive record among St Vincent fans. It was the first record of hers that I really got into, so I can’t speak to how much a departure it really is, but I will say that it grabbed me in a way her previous work hasn’t. I liked a song of hers here and there, and respected her as a guitar player but until this album nothing really made me sit up and pay attention. This record might be the most “2017” of all the records on the list, fighting between pop melodrama and dark, brooding, understated tunes, anxious and playful, mysterious and upfront. Themes and melodies bleed from one track into the next (another perfectly sequenced album). At times harrowing (the wickedly aggressive title track, “Young Lover”), and at times subdued (“Hang on Me”, “Smoking Section”) this record is more diverse and subtle than the “Oh it’s her pop record” crowd is giving it credit for.
4) Japandroids - Near to the Wild Heart of Life - By the time the opening track’s chorus came around for the second time, I was already frantically googling these guys. By the time the third track had finished, I’d already bought tickets to their Terminal 5 show. This is a record that shows there’s still a place for sincere, pit-ready, danceable anthems in this world. Part Bruce Springsteen, part early Green Day (a compliment in my eyes), Japandroids do more than I ever thought possible with just drums and a guitar. The lyrics draw some of the clearest pictures of friendship, passion, and love I’ve heard all year, and the power of the music and irresistible melodies make an argument for this kind of fist pumping rock and roll that’s seldom this unrestrained and unapologetic.
5) Alvvays - Antisocialites - One of the things I’ve appreciated about this year in music is how compact the best albums have been. It seems the days of 19 track albums are over. In the days of singles and videos a 9-12 song album is enough. There’s no need to use up every second of free space on a CD because it’s there (unless you’re Eminem). When I saw Alvvays this year at Brooklyn Steel, they played something like 17 songs in a show that lasted one hour. Now THAT is compact. This record is full of dreamy, tight pop songs that get in your head and refuse to leave. A step up from their raw but promising debut, Antisocialites may not have anything on the level of their debut’s triumphant, once in a lifetime track “Marry Me Archie” but it’s way more consistent, and gems like “Undertow” and “Lollipop” are right up there and signal the best may be yet to come from this confident, growing outfit.
6) Beck- Colors - Hey, Beck put out a record! And it’s pretty fucking good! I liked it from the first time I put it on and every time I put it on I’m impressed all over again. I haven’t had many positive feelings towards late-era Beck (aside from the majority of Sea Change) but this is a very solid record that rewards repeated listens.
7) Julien Baker - Turn Out the Lights - This is another sophomore full length that delivers. Sad songs, sad piano, huge voice, huge heart. Also one of the best shows I saw this year. This record reveals remarkable maturity for someone so young. Excited to see what else she can do in the future.
8) Laura Marling - Semper Femina - I slept on this record. Listened to it when it came out, and then put it aside as other music took over as the year went on. I picked it up again as I was looking over this list and was shocked that almost every song seemed familiar. One of the most powerful lyricists in the game. Laura Marling is an incredibly consistent and understated artist that deserves more listens and this album fits right in to what has become a startlingly powerful discography.
9) The National -Sleep Well Beast - Easily their best work since Boxer. Finally - some songs that sound like what I love out of the National. And it’s not just “good compared to the snooze fests they’ve been releasing” but a legitimately good record. I get the feeling it is still a track or two long but I can’t think of anything I’d cut.
10) Mt Eerie - A Crow Looked at Me - I mean what can you say about this record? It’s an incredibly sad and moving record and a devastating, profound meditation on love and loss. It should be listened to over and over yet is impossible to listen to for too long.
Alt J - Relaxer - I have no idea what to say about this record but I found I kept coming back to it over and over all year.
Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile - Lotta See Lice - a funny, cool, relaxed record from a couple of dope songwriters. How much weed was smoked during these sessions? It’s impossible to know.
Allison Crutchfield - Tourist in this Town - kind of a lo-fi Cure vibe. Another songwriter coming into her own. She plays guitar and synths in Waxahatchee.
Do Make Say Think - Stubborn Persistent Illusions - a welcome return from this Canadian post-rock band. Swelling soundscapes a la Godspeed but with more emotional heft.
Lorde - Melodrama - good pop music. A record I didn’t like much at first but came around on.
Phoebe Bridgers - Stranger in the Alps - more sad guitar music. But good!
Joey Bada$$ - ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ - overlooked
Tawl Friend - Tawl Friend EP - five songs in under ten minutes. Beat Happening meets Cat Power. Brilliant.
Madeline Kenney - Night Night at the First Landing - I don’t think this record is as good as I first thought it was, but there are some real gems on here (“Rita, “Big One”)
LCD Soundsystem - American Dream - Good songwriting, maybe overlong and weirdly mixed. But it did get plenty of play over here.
Vince Staples - Big Fish Theory - playful, weird, bizarre