2017 was a trying-ass year. With all of the trash news and general feeling that the world is ending, we know you need some music to get through the bullshit.
With that in mind, here is a list of the best 10 albums of the year (with some other notables included).
Just to get out ahead of any comments like “what about [insert personal favorite dumb band’s album]??!!” this is just, like, my opinion, man.
So relax, stay hydrated, and jam out to some music for The Resistance or just to forget we are living in end times.
Jay-Z – 4:44
Grown folk rap by one of the greatest to remind us that we ain’t grown.
Mura Masa – Mura Masa
Producer from the island of Guernsey weaves one of the most fun dance albums of the year.
Young Nudy – Nudy Land
Alongside Pi’erre Bourne, an intriguing young voice in trap rap emerges out of East Atlanta.
SZA – Ctrl
TDE’s songstress makes a near-perfect R&B album with debut.
Miguel – War and Leisure
After years of exciting potential, Miguel realizes his full musical powers on fourth album.
The top 10 albums of 2017…
10. Downtown Boys – Cost Of Living
Providence, Rhode Island’s Downtown Boys were described by Rolling Stone as “America’s Most Exciting Punk Band” after their 2015 debut Full Communism.
The album name suggests a radicalism that runs through Downtown Boys’ music in equal measure. Although Cost Of Living was recorded before the current crop of idiots in power came to power, there’s a notable strain of protest and advocacy on the new record.
Cost of Living opens with the song “A Wall”, a rippling work of post-punk perfection that is as hopeful as it is angry. Lead singer Victoria Ruiz screams to the powers that be that they won’t win,
“You can’t ball the fuck on us
I won’t hide
I won’t hide
I won’t let that go
I’ll never let that go”
Ruiz reminds the hopeless among us that “A wall is a wall/ And nothing more at all”. Cost Of Living is a protest album against the evil that took root in 2017, but Ruiz and Downtown Boys are more concentrated on lifting up the powerless than wallowing in self pity.
“Somos Chulas (No Somos Pendejas), which translates to “I’m elegant/intelligent, I’m not dumb” is a rip-roaring track with a driving guitars and bubbling bassline calling for women and queer empowerment.
Cost Of Living is music for the revolution that will make you hopeful for the future again. After all, a wall is just a wall.
9. J Hus – Common Sense
21-year-old London MC J Hus’ Common Sense is one of the most diverse-sounding rap records to come out this year.
This is particularly notable coming out of grime, which can be a pretty monolithic genre. The production on Commons Sense draws from a variety of different infleunces and sounds, from American trap rap to London post-dub to UK Afrobeat.
On “Did You See”, one of the most enjoyable hip-hop songs of the year, J Hus is at his boastful best, rapping over a springy, steel drum-driven beat and a bouncing bass.
The eponymous “Common Sense” pulsates with maximal production that recalls early MMG. “Clartin” could stand right alongside any Chicago drill or Atlanta trap.
From the dramatic strings on “Goodies”, reminiscent of early 2000s era G-Unit, to the dancehall synths of “Bouf Daddy” to the post-dubstep drums on “Plottin”, J Hus gets a massive cultural swath of production from London-based producer Jae5, who produced the whole album.
It’s an album that mirrors the diverse cultural tapestry of London, and one of the records that signals the UK as a legitimate mover in hip-hop.
8. Migos – Culture
It seems like so damn long ago that this album came out, but Culture, led by the viral “Bad and Boujee”, was probably the most omnipresent album of 2017.
As trap rap emerged as the prominent genre in popular American music, Migos led the pack, shaping the sounds and the, hehe, culture of music far beyond hip-hop.
After Takeoff, Quavo, and Offset spent the last couple years releasing a series of sprawling mixtapes, Culture is a carefully crafted, 13-track collection of impeccable production, Migos’ rhythmic bars, and the most endlessly entertaining adlibs in the game.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a flaw on Culture, from “T-Shirt” to “Bad and Boujee” to “Call Casting” to “Big on Big” to “Slippery” to “What the Price” to “Brown Paper Bag” to “All Ass”, this was a collection of the most fun and ubiquitous songs of the year.
Culture legitimized Migos as a force in music, far beyond the Atlanta hip-hop scene. Now the trio dot the songs of Kanye West, Future, Katy Perry, and Calvin Harris.
7. (Sandy) Alex G – Rocket
Starting in 2013, Alex Giannascoli, aka (Sandy) Alex G, released a series of albums on Bandcamp. Giannascoli built a mass following, became a blog darling, and was suddenly playing on Frank Ocean’s album Blonde (Giannascoli played guitar on “Self Control” and “White Ferrari”) in a matter of three years. It’s an intense rise for an artist that doesn’t seem very interested in the spotlight, but Rocket deserves our attention.
It’s an album that spans the indie rock universe, touching on all its subgenres and sounds. The opening track “Poison Root” sounds like a bluegrass song on a whole bunch of acid. “Proud” is indie-folk at its jangly and acoustic best. “Brick” is some kind of industrial hardcore brew with Giannascoli howling through a filter.
“Powerful Man” is a beautifully-written acoustic folk track about family relationships and growing up.
On “Sportsar” Giannascoli sings through a high-pitched vocal distorter (similar to the one used by Frank Ocean throughout Blonde). He repeats “I play how I wanna play/ I say what I wanna say”, it’s clear on Rocket that (Sandy) Alex G will, and can, do whatever the hell he wants.
6. Mount Kimbie – Love What Survives
Mount Kimbie, the duo of Kai Campos and Dominic Maker, emerged out of the maximalism of UK dubstep with their 2010 debut Crooks & Lovers to offer a new vision of electronic music.
Among all the overcooked dubstep, Mount Kimbie offered an intriguing stripped-down alternative.
The duo’s second album in 2012, Cold Spring Fault Less Youth, showed they were trying to bring their sound away from the computerized synthesizers and go with something bigger and more ambitious, but lost some of their energy.
Now, with Love What Survives, Campos and Maker found the happy medium between their blipping synthesizers and a more expansive, live band sound. They did this despite recording the album in separate locations, Maker in Los Angeles and Campos in London.
The result is an amazing work of alternative electronic music.
“Audition” shows Mount Kimbie can still do their ambient thing, just with more live instrumentation. “Delta” is driving electronic perfection with pulsating synthesizers that could’ve blended into any other Mount Kimbie project.
One of the most impressive things about the album is how Mount Kimbie use their few features.
There’s “Blue Train Lines”, where Mount Kimbie back up King Krule’s roaring vocals with banging snares, the metronomic “Marilyn” with vocals from Micachu, “We Go Home Together” has James Blake howling over live organ.
Love What Survives has Mount Kimbie back at their genre-busting best.
5. Kelela – Take Me Apart
Singer/songwriter Kelela’s full studio debut Take Me Apart has one foot in the world of 90s R&B and another in modern electronic music.
Much like Solange and FKA Twigs, Kelela sings about relationships, past and present, over intricate, multi-layered production. Take Me Apart is both ultra-modern, offering a alternative vision of R&B to the sadboy ‘PBR&B’ popularized by The Weeknd, and retro in its songwriting and lyrics that recall R&B’s most familiar tropes.
But the vocal power of Kelela isn’t familiar. Her voice soars around the pulsating production. On the bopping “Waitin”, Kelela ponders a slowly-dying relationship.
The eponymous “Take Me Apart” shows Kelela’s voice soaring to ridiculous heights over an unfurling wall of sound, only to come back down to the ground. The song is a sensual ebb and flow as Kelela sings “Cross my water ’til you drown/I feel it, baby”.
“LMK” is another standout with Kelela tells a prospective lover that this relationship shit isn’t all that big a deal,
“Let me know
It ain’t that deep, either way
Let me know
Said I gotta go, don’t wanna hear me say”
It may not be that deep but Take Me Apart is an R&B album with limitless depth.
4. Young Dolph – Bulletproof
On February 25th, Young Dolph was the target of shooting as his sprinter was hit with 100 rounds before a concert in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Dolph survived unscathed and went on to record Bulletproof, as triumphant, boastful, and unabashedly hard of a hip-hop album in recent years.
On the opening track “100 Shots”, a song that one would assume would be a contemplative reflection on almost losing his life, instead Dolph is as pugnacious as ever, rapping over twinkling synths,
“Yeah, I really came from shit
But I won’t change for shit
My bitch say I’m stuck in my ways
My wrist say I been getting paid”
With menacing production from Metro Boomin, “In Charlotte” is another example of Dolph laughing his ass of at the haters with almost cartoonish brashness.
“I’m So Real” shows Dolph is less concerned about attempts on his life (in September he was shot again in broad daylight in Los Angeles) and more worried about communicating his superiority to the rest of these rappers.
With one feature (Gucci Mane), perfectly-crafted production from some of the best producers in hip-hop, and Dolph’s trademark Memphis drawl, Bulletproof is a damn good rap record.
3. Sampha – Process
Music is deeply personal for UK singer/songwriter Sampha. “You would show me I had something some people call a soul/ And you dropped out the sky, oh you arrived when I was three years old,” he sings to his childhood piano on “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano”.
“Like the Piano” is a beautiful song as Sampha sings with his silky and emotive voice about his close relationship with the piano in his mother’s home.
It’s quite the conceit, to literally have a relationship with an instrument, not to mention that this is the best relationship in Sampha’s life.
But on Process it’s pretty hard to argue with Sampha’s assertion. After accompanying acts like Drake, Frank Ocean, Kanye West, and Solange, Sampha’s Process shows an endlessly talented musician stepping out on their own.
It’s not all minimal piano ballads, though. “Blood on Me” is a sprawling, unfurling song with Sampha wailing about his battles with anxiety and trying to find peace with an overactive mind.
The instrumentation on “Blood on Me” matches the lyrical content, with drums bouncing around in a chaotic swirl. Sampha’s music is so emotive because of how it draws the listener in, makes them feel what he feels.
On “Timmy’s Prayer”, the first single off Process, Sampha sings about losing both of his parents to cancer. The song’s title is a reference to the sample of Timmy Thomas’ “The Coldest Days of My Life”.
Sampha sings about having no sense of belonging without his parents, “I don’t know which way to go now/ Don’t know which way is home now.” Sampha is one of the most intriguing talents in world music, Process was the realization of his endless ability.
2. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
As the political and social structures around us imploded this year, Kendrick Lamar emerged above the fray to communicate the feelings of an entire generation of young Americans with DAMN.
It’s almost a concept album, each song title takes on a big idea, “BLOOD.”, “DNA.”, “ELEMENT.”, “LOYALTY.”, and on and on. Kendrick addresses his subject matter seriously, playfully, and eloquently all at once.
Back on 2015’s “Alright”, Kendrick looked systematic racism in the face and told everyone “We gon be alright”, but two years later it’s a lot harder to maintain that outlook. On “FEEL.”, Kendrick says what a lot of people felt like this year,
“I feel like it ain’t no tomorrow, fuck the world
The world is endin’, I’m done pretendin’
And fuck you if you get offended”
What makes Kendrick such a unique emcee is his diversity of delivery. “YAH.” is a floating, dreamy, slow-paced track about Kendrick dealing with fame, family, and racism.
“ELEMENT.” is as hard-hitting and aggressive of a song that came out this year beginning with the refrain “I don’t give a fuck, I don’t give a fuck”. “LOVE.” is a pretty straightforward, and great, love song.
Kendrick Lamar is the best rapper of our generation and on DAMN. he articulated the emotions and anxieties of all of us who watched in horror as 2017 took one dark turn after another.
1. King Krule – The OOZ
King Krule, real name Archy Marshall, arrived on the music scene with 2013’s 6 Feet Beneath the Moon, a scattered collection of jangly guitars and trip hop beats recorded over the years under multiple monikers.
The then 19-year-old Marshall was levitated by music critics and fans alike who were looking for the next great rocker to once again bring good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll back.
Instead of continuing into the spotlight, Marshall receded, suffering from writer’s block and insomnia. His only release was A New Place 2 Drown, an experimental electronic album under his real name in 2015, a far departure from the most compelling material on 6 Feet.
When he found his inspiration again, Marshall returned with The OOZ, an album dripping with substance, an ooz, again showing Marshall’s broad set of ideas and inspirations, but more grounded than his previous release.
The diversity of sound on The OOZ isn’t a lack of focus, but instead exemplary of Marshall’s massive set of skills. On “Biscuit Town”, a song about the Southeast London neighborhood of Bermondsey, kick drums jaggle along as Marshall wraps his airy, floaty guitar around the listener. The drums are raw, the guitar polished and clean.
“Dum Surfer” is a driving track with call and answer between Marshall and a disembodied Marshall with an element of precise improvisation.
There’s a darkness to The OOZ, an unbridled pain and anxiety. On the grungy “Slush Puppy” Marshall pleads with a woman, “Deface me already/ I’m a waste, baby” the track then builds into a dramatic surge as Marshall screams from the distance, “Nothing is working with me.”
Marshall documents his struggles with insomnia on “Emergency Blimp” muttering in his deep voice about the ineffectiveness of sleeping pills over a humming guitar.
Archy Marshall is not the glamorous rock star that the music intelligentsia wants him to be, but he is an endlessly talented artist. We’re lucky to have him.