YEAR IN REVIEW: My 20 favorite albums of 2017

1. American Dream – LCD Soundsystem

From the first time I heard it (when it was released Sept. 1) to the last time (about 10 minutes before writing this), American Dream was my favorite album of the year. It’s rare I like something that much on first listen without getting sick of it, and coming from LCD Soundsystem, who’s albums and songs typically go on for a bit too long, this is easily their most concise and accessible. From the opener “oh baby”, a classic LCD Soundsystem slow-build track, through “tonight,” a classic dance-punk anthem, and the pulp-inspired single ‘call the police,” to the 12 minute electronic ballad that closes the album out, there isn’t a sour moment.

2. A Deeper Understanding – The War On Drugs

If you’ve ever listened to The War on Drugs before, A Deeper Understanding sounds exactly like all of their other albums that have come out over the past 10 years, except there’s more of everything you’ve ever liked about the band’s music and no traces of anything you’ve ever hated about the band’s music. The still obviously live in their mid-80’s, Tom Petty style, but they explore and combine a lot more sounds than before, the guitar solos righty take center stage instead of getting lost in the soundscapes, the choruses are more attention grabbing than ever before and, while there’s still a repetitive, “all the songs sound the same” kind of vibe, there’s a intimacy in the familiarity that wasn’t there on the band’s past works.

3. Masseduction – St. Vincent

I really hate making my genre playlist in year’s where one album so clearly stands out over the others, and this year Masseduction does that with pop music. You won’t here St. Vincent’s music on a conventional Top 40 station, but there’s really no reason she shouldn’t be on there with the likes of Lorde (who’s album shows up a little latter on this list) and Charli XCX. It’s catchy, smart, sexy, funny and sad all at once.

4. V – The Horrors

While most tracks on V, The Horror’s fifth album, build to a similar climax of electric guitars, they each get there through different means. The band utilizes walls of 80’s synths, with 90’s industrial percussion and alternative rock guitars and 2000’s-era indie energy to create an loud, adrenaline-filled album that’s easy to enjoy and fun to listen to.

5. Soft Sounds from Another Planet – Japanese Breakfast

Soft Sounds from Another Planet is the album is listened to the most this year. For a while, each time I listened I picked a different song as my favorite: “Diving Woman,” “12 Steps,” “The Body is a Blade,” “Road Head” and “Machinist.” Each also represent different genres, from shoegaze to electronic dance music.

6. Slowdive – Slowdive

For a shoegaze band that hadn’t put out an album since the mid 90’s, Slowdive didn’t skip a beat with their 2017 release, which fits right into a lot of the music being made today. In fact, it’s probably their best and songs like “Star Roving,” “No Longer Making Time” and “Don’t Know Why” make it extremely catchy.

7. DAMN. – Kendrick Lamar

It’s Kendrick. It’s great, and it’s the best hip-hop album of the year. However, DAMN. is a much more commercialized Kendrick Lamar album, and as good as songs like “DNA.” and “XXX.” are, the album as a whole doesn’t feel as essential as To Pimp A Butterfly or Good Kid M.A.A.D. City.

8. Dirty Projectors – Dirty Projectors

An experimental pop ( I guess) album with an eclectic mix of songs that explores different genres, production techniques and vocal embellishments that mesh together unexpectedly well. “Cool Your Heart” is my favorite song to come out in 2017 and mixes piano, synth, horns, computerized tribal percussions with vocal interplay.

9. Melodrama – Lorde

I was never a fan Pure Heroine. Despite having a few cool songs, I felt like the album was boring and didn’t understand why a bunch of alright pop songs were masquerading as an indie album. On Melodrama, Lorde fully embraces what it means to be a pop star and the results are wonderful. From the energy-filled opener “Green Light” to the reflective closer “Perfect Places” every track is personal lyrics and catchy choruses.

10. The Process – Sampha

I’m typically not too into straight R&B music, but Sampha’s brings everything you’d want. His lyrics sound genuine and his voice is pure. He opens up and lets you into his feeling with his piano, while the electronic production, something between 808s & Heartbreak and Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes, illustrates both conflict and isolation. The album really isn’t something you can find elsewhere in the genre.

11. Out in the Storm – Waxahatchee

People say that rock and roll is dying, but I don’t think they realize that the majority of great classic rock music is now being performed by bands fronted by women. Waxahatchee brings everything you could want in a standard rock album, upbeat choruses, soulful ballads and personable lyrics.

12. Big Fish Theory – Vince Staples

I was definitely looking forward to Big Fish Theory before it came out in May. “BagBak,” the album’s lead single, is one of the best songs of the year, and all of Vince Staple’s albums are aesthetically pretty different, so I was curious about what might be in store. However, the album wound up sounding somewhat ordinary and predictable, and with a run time of only 36 minutes I walked away thinking “is that it?” I didn’t fully appreciate the album until much later in the year. The production is still top-notch start to finish, and guest appearances from Kendrick Lamar, Kilo Kish at various points and other make it a phenomena collaborative effort.

13. Ctrl – SZA

Ctrl. is the perfect version of the female R&B/Pop album. Great production throughout with subtle synths, guitars and strings similar to Frank ocean’s Blonde. last year. A balanced mix of ballads, upbeat pop songs and R&B radio singles. A nice amount of relevant feature artist without having them suffocate the album. And a really good lyrical and vocal performance with hooks good enough for top 40 radio.

14. Villains – Queens of the Stone Age

The main problem with Villains is that it isn’t nearly as great as Like Clockwork… from five years ago. All of the elements are still there, except, maybe because we’ve heard it before or because it was just impossible to live up to the loft expectations the band set for themselves, the seems just good. A lot of good songs, and some great moments, but where Like Clockwork… soared this doesn’t go quite far enough. I appear missing build and resolve, the payoff on Villains isn’t quite big enough.

15. Flower Boy – Tyler, the Creator

Flower Boy shows that Tyler The Creator has matured substantially as a producer and an artist since the early days of Odd Future, a welcome change in an era where jokes about race, homophobia and sexual violence are more frowned upon than ever, no matter how obviously satirical. The album’s lead single, “Who Dat Boy,” would be one of the top songs on any of Tyler’s other projects, and while “See You Again” couldn’t exist on any album besides Flower Boy, it’s likely his best song since “Yonkers.” However, while most of his albums are intentionally over the top and probably 10-15 percent too Tyler-sounding, Flower Boy is intentionally subdued and actually needs 10-15 percent more of his signature sound, because despite its high points and beautiful production, it’s not really that fun to listen to.

16. Colors – Beck

It’s weird writing a review for a new album that’s two best songs, “Dreams” and “Wow,” were already released in 2015 and 2016. Even excluding those songs, Beck creates an album that’s fun and intentionally corny at times making it both a departure from and a compliment to more serious and orchestral Morning Phase. Where Morning Phase was a very beautiful, cohesive album, it lacked a clear single, tracks 1-11 on Colors could all see airplay on college and indie radio.

17. The Autobiography – Vic Mensa

If you’re a fan of J. Cole’s A Sideline Story from the early part of the decade, you’ll love The Autobiography. No ID’s phenomenal production helps the album move along and allows Vic Mensa to share his sometimes-complex lyrics and stories in a commercial yet highly appealing sound.

18. Planetarium – James McAlister, Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly

Not necessarily a easy listening experience if you”re trying to go start to finish (the 17 songs stretch an hour and 16 minutes) but Planetarium a great feat of artistic diversity and exploration. The four artist dabble in the realms of techno, classical, electronic, rock and ambient music, sometimes multiple in a single track.

19. Sleep Well Beast – The National

Sleep Well Beast is solid album, but one that was surprisingly one dimensional and underwhelming when compared to The National’s other works. Still, “Guilty Party” builds really beautiful, the guitar on “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” really rocks harder than the band ever has, and “Nobody Else Will Be There” could have easily fit on any of their other albums. 

20 – Everyone – Logic

The Pros: the really detailed production and Logic’s story telling, with subject matter that makes Everyone feel much more culturally important than his others. The cons: Logic still uses boring repetitive hooks and, while almost every song is good, they all more or less fit the same purpose. If you want a perfect snapshot of the album as a teaser listen to “Black SpiderMan.” The skits and story on “Take It Back” are cool in theory but not particularly fun to listen through. Overall, the album has a lot of good songs and some great moments, but is a little much at times and falls flat at others.

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