The Best Albums of 2017

By Katie Cauthen, Zac Fallon, John Flannagan, Patrick Gipson, Mathan Gore, Matt Miller, Rusty Odom, Kyle Przybyszewski and Matt Rankin

Best TV Shows of 2017

25. Bark – Year of the Dog

Bark’s “Year of the Dog” completely drenches the speakers from which it flows. It’s the sweaty musical embodiment of a Mississippi juke joint. The Knoxville two-piece has moved on from the days of the Tim Lee 3, but the gritty brand of boozy rock they became known for still can be found in the output of Tim and Susan Lee’s new project. This is not just a great listen for those in East Tennessee; it’s an album for everyone. – Rusty Odom

24. Sia – Everyday is Christmas

Mariah Carey has sat on the throne as the reigning queen of Christmas pop ever since she released “Merry Christmas” in 1994. Needless to say, every retail worker and holiday shopper has heard “All I Want for Christmas is You” every year since the album release, and while there are far less tolerable tunes, it’s time for some new blood on Christmas playlists. It was with great delight that I discovered the delightful and purely original “Everyday is Christmas” during a recent trip to Atlanta, and I purchased it for my sister without hesitation. Now we will have something new to listen to while setting up her oversized tree each winter. My sister doesn’t read BLANK because, in many ways, I’m still just her annoying little brother, so I’m not too worried about spoiling this gift for her. But on the off chance that she is reading this: Hey, Gloria! And Merry Christmas. UPDATE: She liked it! – RO

23. Wu-Tang Clan – The Saga Continues

Method Man really steals the show on the latest album from rap pioneers Wu-Tang Clan. But that’s not to say the whole gang doesn’t contribute with aplomb. The beats are undeniably theirs, and the flows complement the pace throughout. There’s really not a bad track on the whole thing, which is enough to make this my personal favorite hip-hop album of the year. – RO

22. Miguel – War & Leisure

I loved Ginuwine when I was in high school, but I really haven’t adopted another R&B singer as a favorite since. They usually are too soft for my taste, but Frank Ocean caught my ear a few years ago with a song that featured Andre 3000. That got me starting to look around a bit, and I landed on Miguel after some searching. I’m glad I did. “War & Leisure” came out just in time to make this list, but it was so late in the year that it likely won’t be included on many of the larger lists you’ll see, and that’s a shame. It’s as smooth as any album released in 2017, and the hip-hop elements are excellent, as well. It’s worth a listen when you’re looking to chill. For relaxing times, make it Miguel times – RO

21. Sandy (Alex G) – Rocket

In an age where technology is so quickly changing – or worse yet, replacing – our way of life, a record like this serves as a very human return to what creating music truly is about: discovering humility, honesty and vulnerability in one’s own identity. Perhaps with “Rocket,” his seventh record since 2010, Alex Giannascoli finally reached that equilibrium – a tireless quest, if so, as the album sources folk, indie, harmonizing duets and even Auto-Tune. Tracks such as “Bobby,” “Powerful Man” and “Poison Root” will attract many a new-age folk fan, while “Sportstar” is the clear Indie Airwaves winner. But it is the catchy hooks and charming yet damaged sarcasm in “Proud” that make the track my favorite song of the year. Is sarcasm one of the most inherently human qualities? Perhaps that’s why, to me, “Rocket” is the most human release of the year. – Patrick Gipson

20. Oh Sees – Orc

As frontman for OCS, Oh Sees, Thee Oh Sees and other similar tweaks to the band’s name, John Dwyer boasts a discography that stretches over 15 years and 20 albums, with “Orc” being the latest of the bunch. Featuring punk and psychedelic undertones, it is a strong follow-up to last year’s “A Weird Exits” and “An Odd Entrances.” Filled with fuzz, these songs shred, and the controlled chaos of the album leaves listeners on edge. Top tracks include “The Static God,” “Animated Violence” and “Cooling Tower.” – Kyle Przybyszewski

19. The New Pornographers – Whiteout Conditions

Although the Vancouver supergroup was down an influential member (Dan Bejar of Destroyer fame) for the recording of its seventh album together, the resulting collection of tracks is perhaps more fully realized than anything it has released to date. Influenced heavily by ‘70s Krautrock and ‘80s new wave, “Whiteout Conditions” features more of the same resplendent harmonies listeners have come to expect from the band. This time around, though, they are anchored by mechanical, workmanlike percussion. The repetitive song structures create a trance-like effect, while Neko Case’s shimmering vocals – always a highlight but especially gorgeous here – soar above the mix and mingle with A.C. Newman’s distinctive croon. Bejar’s absence may be to blame for the lack of experimental leanings, but a fine offering nonetheless. – Matt Rankin

18. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1/Volume 2

Chris Stapleton’s meteoric rise to fame following the release of his 2015 debut album “Traveller” is nothing short of astounding. This year, he avoided the drama of a sophomore slump by casually releasing two albums of odds and ends. “From a Room: Volume 1” dropped in May and was followed by “From a Room: Volume 2” just this month. As a songwriter, he paints vivid pictures, orchestrated by a raw, almost fatherly voice that in many ways harkens back to the era of country music he so effortlessly celebrates through his artistry. Included on both volumes are cover songs, tracks originally performed by previous outfit The Steeldrivers and new material too rich to label as B-sides. Stapleton has made an impressive start to what appears to be a solid solo career, and he has earned his place among the last remaining torchbearers of real country music. – PG

17. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – The Nashville Sound

The sixth album from one of the biggest names in Americana is distinctly different from his last two records (which made this list in 2013 and ’15, respectively). For a musician who built his reputation on terrific storytelling, “The Nashville Sound” seems to focus more on navigating the road ahead and determining which pieces of the past to bring along. With the always-impressive Sadler Vaden, Amanda Shires and the rest of the 400 Unit, Isbell takes us through what the real Nashville music scene sounds like. (The album title itself is a not-so-subtle dig at the hollow industry that markets the twangy pop it shills as legitimate country music.) “Cumberland Gap” is reminiscent of early, bar-rocking Isbell days. The first single, “Hope the High Road,” is a catchy, timely anthem that is guaranteed to be a permanent staple of live shows. The king of the Ryman delivers once again with an album that feels familiar yet introduces us to a new version of the singer: a man who is a little tired of singing about himself and who is a little more rock ‘n’ roll. – Matt Miller

16. Tyler, the Creator – Flower Boy

Tyler, the Creator has come a long way from where he started. The former Odd Future frontman seems to have grown up a lot since his “Yonkers” days. “Flower Boy” comes across as more introspective and honest than any of his previous releases. This contains some of Tyler’s most intricate production ever, but he still holds true to his affinity for sparse and minimal beats. While “Flower Boy” certainly stands on its own, there is a sort of special reward for those familiar with Tyler’s former work. Hearing a radical artist transition into a relatable one who features contributions from the likes of Jaden Smith and Frank Ocean is an interesting prospect, making this one of the most fun and surprising albums of the year. – Zac Fallon

15. Four Tet – New Energy

One of 2017’s best records belongs to Kieran Hebden, better known as the electronic/IDM mastermind Four Tet. “New Energy” is his ninth studio album, a cerebral effort that moves languidly but gracefully from start to finish without featuring an obvious crescendo. It begins with a teaser sample of “SW9 9SL” before quickly transitioning into the sweet strings of the first track “Alap.” A little beyond the halfway point, “SW9 9SL” begins in earnest. The danciest track on the album, it gently pulses at a slightly faster clip than what surrounds it. The epitome of a grower, “New Energy” requires a certain amount of patience. But Four Tet takes dedicated listeners on a worthwhile journey, managing to somehow get them to a final destination (a pretty wonderful place) without following much of any directions along the way. We will get to see up close and personal in the spring of 2018 during the next Big Ears. A big helping of this album should be served, which will make for one of the most anticipated sets of the festival. – John Flannagan

14. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Luciferian Towers

The latest entry in the legendary yet enigmatic Montreal collective’s canon is another towering (pun intended) achievement in long-form instrumental music. Album opener “Undoing a Luciferian Towers,” with its droning, dissonant notes accompanied by a plaintive drumbeat and random trumpet shrieks, is the sonic equivalent of a funeral march into hell. The proceeding compositions unfold gradually but gracefully, eventually culminating in “Anthem for No State,” an epic, three-part suite, the final third of which finds the band reemerging from the bleak landscape, positive guitar lines ringing out and hopeful horns soaring above the murky din below. It’s heavy, heady stuff that functions as well as background music as it does for a dedicated listening experience. Expect the latter when they, too, take part in the next Big Ears weekend. I witnessed a live performance of theirs dating back roughly 15 years, and the nearly four-hour concert remains one of the most haunting, beautiful and moving musical experiences of my life. Which is to say, don’t miss them when they’re here. – MR

13. Gorillaz – Humanz

Stylistically, “Humanz” is the Gorillaz most ambitious work thus far, and it exhibits the most star-studded ensemble of any album made this year. Each song is a uniquely recognizable chapter within the overarching story of the album, and in a lesser band’s hands it likely would be an unfocused, disappointing mess. However, under the supervision of Damon Albarn, “Humanz” weaves a lush and lustrous tapestry, connecting all the notes and synchronizing the larger theme in an utterly dazzling display of musical prowess. There is no lack of ingenuity to be heard on the record, and shown throughout is a versatility and a willingness to break the mold for which the group became known on its debut album. Yet once the heavy synths, dance beats and guest stars are stripped away, what remains is “Busted and Blue,” a hauntingly enchanting ballad about finding one’s place in the ever-growing technologically drenched world and fighting the fear of losing personal relationships. It is a search for meaning and a reminder that, at the end of everything, we’re all in this together. Leave it to the cartoon band to shine a light on what it means to be human. – Mathan Gore

12. Lilly Hiatt – Trinity Lane

If there were one record I had on repeat this year, it would be Lilly Hiatt’s third effort, “Trinity Lane,” released in August on New West Records. Produced by Michael Trent of Shovels & Rope, the album tells a story of both heartbreak and recovery through raw rock tunes and soulful ballads. The album is named after the street in East Nashville where Hiatt moved after a relationship gone wrong and where she wrote this record. Songs like “Everything I Had” and “The Night David Bowie Died” tell the familiar story of going through a breakup, while songs like the title track and “Records” boast of healing and newfound independence. Hiatt steps away from her love life on another standout track, “Imposter,” a song detailing her relationship with her father, the well-known musician John Hiatt. She makes many musical references throughout “Trinity Lane,” mentioning Neal Young, Prince and the B-52’s, all of which give the listener a timeline with which to identify with Hiatt, while also giving a nod to the importance of music as a soundtrack in a person’s life. – Katie Cauthen

11. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Murder of the Universe

Nobody out there is working at the same breakneck pace as King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard. “Murder the Universe” is the second of four full-length albums the band released this year, and the concept is almost as ridiculous as their release schedule. Heavily based on the style and substance of the classic1988 Sega arcade game “Altered Beast,” the album walks you through a narrated story of trying to rescue a god’s daughter, fighting two-headed bears and transforming into a monster of incredible power. The album is relentless from start to finish. If it weren’t for the brief bit of buffering that Spotify provides between tracks, it would be nearly impossible to discern the end of one track from another. It’s the same formula that King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard have been using for years; it’s just that now they have gotten better at it. – ZF

10. Broken Social Scene – Hug of Thunder

In what I now am realizing was a theme for me this year, here I am again writing about an oversized veteran Canadian outfit comprising several accomplished solo performers. Oh, well … hey, this one is from Toronto! Anyway, after producing tepid efforts the last couple of times they convened in a studio, “Hug of Thunder” is a marked return to form for the group. In fact, it stands as the best thing the band has released since its self-titled third album way back in 2005. Tracks like “Halfway Home” and “Protest Song” are peppy, infectiously catchy numbers, The gently lilting “Skyline” is the closest thing to an acoustic ballad I can recall BSS creating. “Stay Happy,” “Towns and Masons” and “Victim Lover” are punctuated by welcome experimental effects, and the title track features Leslie Feist and Metric’s Emily Haines, two of the collective’s most impactful members, joining forces for some drop-dead gorgeous harmonizing. As effortless and engaging throughout as anything the band has ever fashioned, this album is proof that age isn’t a deterrent for creativity, and it only grows more enjoyable upon repeated listens. – MR

9. Courtney Barnett/Kurt Vile – Lotta Sea Lice

Maybe the title of the album is a little off-putting, but there’s no denying the fact that this pair set indie rock ablaze with one of 2017’s most anticipated releases. Vile’s twangy drawl coupled with Barnett’s classic deadpan approach truly works in this gem of an album, the writing duties of which are split between the two, with Tanya Donelly of Belly fame having penned closer “Untogether.” The duo create magic by intertwining subtle country with blues and honest lyricism. I’m not sure Dolly and Porter could have done it any better. Vile and Barnett managed to make several videos, as well, with the standout being “Over Everything,” which features them singing each other’s parts in an unassuming manor. Overall, this brilliant album by a pair kindred spirits feels like it was a long time coming, and I hope it is just the first of many collaborations between the two. – JF

8. Khalid – American Teen

A difficult album to pin down, “American Teen” is not quite a pop record, nor is it quite an R&B record. It straddles the line between the two genres, drawing from the best aspects of each and adding personalized flair in formulating a fiercely unique record at a time when it is difficult to differentiate between the cycle of top-40 hits. There’s no confusion associated with Khalid’s standout debut album, and he has the Grammy nomination to prove it. A wide range of tempos are strewn throughout the album, and no matter the speed, Khalid remains relentlessly smooth as he cruises in and out of heartache and hope, exhibiting youthful exuberance no matter the case. “American Teen” is not an album to shuffle and listen to intermittently; rather, it should be experienced in totality, as it hypnotically carries the listener from one song to the next. Well deserving of all its praise, “American Teen” is a captivating album from beginning to end and one that should be visited again and again. – MG

7. The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding

Following the overwhelming and deserved success of 2014’s excellent “Lost in the Dream,” anticipation for the next release from Adam Granduciel and company had built to a fever pitch entering 2017. While “A Deeper Understanding” is a thoroughly wonderful record in its own right, it doesn’t quite live up to those lofty expectations. But such is the inherent difficulty in crafting a follow-up to a flawless masterstroke of an album. The back-to-back punch of “Pain” and “Holding On” comes closest to reaching the gold standard set by “Lost in the Dream.” The former slowly builds momentum before erupting with a searing guitar solo, the tone of which is goosebump-inducing. The latter’s gurgling synth and keyboards bubble over as the track progresses, handbells, clean guitar lines and string flourishes rounding out the robust, rollicking rocker. “A Deeper Understanding” makes up for what it lacks in signature moments with sheer quality of sound. Painstakingly and lovingly mixed as to reveal each individual element of its densely layered construction, it is an audiophile’s dream. – MR

6. Father John Misty – Pure Comedy

No one tells a story quite like Josh Tillman aka Father John Misty, and our list of this year’s best albums is evidence that we as a staff are big fans of the art form. Tillman has a unique way of creating incredibly soothing, familiar music that simultaneously is at odds with and complemented by his intelligent yet discomforting lyrics. Tillman celebrates confrontation, his writing questions norms and invites critical consideration on the behalf of his audience. On “Pure Comedy,” he continues this awkward yet beautiful quest for the pursuit of knowledge and truth. The bitterly sardonic album reflects on mankind’s flaws, so numerous and obvious they are that the undertaking becomes almost farcical. Everything from politics and religion to materialism and self-absorption is up for discussion. To accompany Tillman’s terrific voice and lyrics are powerful orchestrations that can build to a grand finale or provide the background for an intriguing story. As Father John Misty, Tillman invites us sit back with him, open our eyes to the world we inhabit and share a laugh as we watch it crumble. – MM

5. Sinkane – Life & Livin’ It

Ahmed Gallab’s is known for his session work with indie heavyweights like Eleanor Friedberger, Caribou, of Montreal, Born Ruffians and Yeasayer, but he’s also recognized for his critically acclaimed his role as bandleader for Atomic Bomb!, a project that celebrates and performs the music of the iconic William Onyeabor. His sixth studio album under the Sinkane moniker brims with hope, hooks and danceable beats. Hints of Afrobeat, psychedelia, pop, shoegaze and everything in between fill out the album without detracting from its continuity. If you like fun music, this is for you. Top tracks: “U’huh,” “Favorite Song,” “Theme From Life & Livin’ It.” – KP

4. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 3

Run the Jewels creates the kind of hip-hop that today’s internet-age listeners crave: obscenely funny, cleverly sarcastic, hyper literate and endlessly stimulating. Their thought-provoking, hold-all-accountable commentary on society is reminiscent of past groups such as Rage Against the Machine and Public Enemy that could masterfully weaponize music as an agent for change. The lyrical ping-pong that Killer Mike and El-P play is so natural, and their featured guests always enter the fold equally as comfortably; Danny Brown, BOOTS and Tunde Adebimpe all take star turns here. With “RTJ3,” fans are treated to some of the most memorable tracks in the duo’s catalog to date, such as “Call Ticketron,” Hey Kids (Bumaye)” and “Thieves! (Screamed the Ghost).” This, the third album in four years (the completion of a trilogy?) comes at a time when the emcees’ aggressive take on politics is desperately needed. And while much of the world pushes sorrowfully into an era of uncertainty, RTJ pushes back against the grain with us, middle fingers outstretched high into the sky. – PG

3. Pond – The Weather

Australian psych rockers Pond have remained consistent in sharing members of their sister band Tame Impala and releasing an album per year since 2009. “The Weather,” the group’s seventh studio album, proved to be a breakout of sorts, as it showcased Pond’s poppier tendencies. Produced by Tame Impala frontman Kevin Parker, “The Weather” kicks the fun off with tracks like “30000 Megatons” and “Sweep Me Off My Feet,” both of which evoke funkiness and good vibes. This album translates well into a live setting, as well, as evidenced by their well-attended Shaky Knees set in the spring – a show which also saw dancing throughout and frontman Nick Allbrook dominating the crowd with an electric performance. One can’t help but think that this new material has pumped renewed energy into Pond; if so, maybe we’ll hear more from them sooner rather than later. – JF

2. LCD Soundsystem – american dream

Early in 2011, James Murphy announced that LCD Soundsystem was calling it quits. With a massive farewell concert taking place at Madison Square Garden in April of that year, certainly no one thought that the band would ever record another album. But after regrouping in 2015 for a one-off single and putting together a string of incredible headlining performances at major festivals the next year, Murphy confirmed earlier in 2017 that a new album was nearing completion, creating an uproar and stirring hype that would be difficult to live up to. LCD’s success is built upon creating unique, genre-bending music that sounds new while retaining the consistency and familiarity of their trademark sound. “american dream” (stylization the band’s own) is no exception to this strategy, and it is a near-perfect combination of Murphy’s musical influences and past work. Ranging from the synth-driven ballad, “oh baby,” to the lyric-heavy, dance hit “tonite,” this may be LCD’s most complete album to date. It’s hard not to compare them to Talking Heads, with songs such as “other voices” and “change yr mind” combining catchy melodies and intelligent lyrics with random sounds and sporadic guitars. The album embodies everything fans love about the band. Not only does it push the boundaries of modern music, but it carries with it a new energy fueled by past swagger and a rejection of the constraints of well-defined genres. Due to its creativity, intelligence, talent, production, energy and so much more, “american dream” is BLANK’s second-best album of 2017. – MM

1. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.

I could try to wax poetic about this album, the third consecutive masterpiece from the Compton-bred rap artist. I could enthusiastically gush about the stellar production value, reportedly achieved by everyone involved in the creative process literally locking down the workspace and remaining until the project was deemed satisfactory by all. I could try to convey how the amalgamation of rich textures, studio wizardry and thumping beats provides Lamar with an opulent tapestry on which to weave his insightful narration. I could speak of the heartfelt delivery and unique flow of his meaningful and carefully considered rhymes. But nothingI write obfuscates the fact that I’m simply a semi-woke white guy approaching his late-30s who has no idea what it is like to be a person of color in the United States in 2017, a year that has witnessed an alarming rise in police brutality and white supremacy, as well as a commander in chief who is an unabashed apologist for such behavior. While these specific truths lie only on the periphery of “DAMN.,” they inform Lamar’s thorough exploration of what it means to be a young African-American male – the central theme of the record. From the moment in the album opener a gunshot unexpectedly shatters the illusion of an idyllic social arrangement to when the rapper spits his final venomous syllable on the crushing “DUCKWORTH.,” a wealth of feelings and frustrations are presented and analyzed honestly from a minority perspective, and the deconstruction proves illuminating. Lamar is a superstar because of his musical and lyrical talents, but he is a national treasure because of his ability to adroitly expose the American zeitgeist in this most confusing and turbulent of times. – MR

 

Best TV Shows of 2017

About The Author

Related posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *