Say what you will about 2017—It was the dumpster fire to end all dumpster fires; It was the emotional and cultural equivalent of a massive slap-to-the-face/sledgehammer-to-the-soul; It was a waking nightmare that continues to somehow get worse every fucking day but 2018 will be better right right RIGHT‽
Well. Anyway. Say what you will, but this year was a fantastic year for music. Film, writing, art-as-escape and -critical-change tool in general, yes very much, but here on these pages we’re focusing on 2017 in music; specifically, the year’s best albums.
Maybe it’s that aforementioned slap-to-the-face wake-up-call, but it seems like more artists are making more excellent work than ever and, as a result, our long list of top albums was longer than ever this year.
So many artists made albums in 2017 that we consider to be superb—Phoebe Bridgers, Broken Social Scene, Grizzly Bear, Lawrence Rothman, Ella Vos, Shout Out Louds, Cymbals, and Baths, just to scratch the surface. And Sampha‘s debut full-length Process was a beautifully innovative masterpiece that very nearly bumped more than one album off this list, which isn’t much of a surprise given that artist’s talent and creativity. What was a surprise for us was the eventual omission of new albums from two of our all-time favorite artists—The National + Björk. We still hold both artists in very high esteem and truly love their music, but something about both respective releases just didn’t strike the chord they usually do with us; which is totally fine—it makes room for so much more new music, much of it from very new artists for us.
As with last year, we’re presenting this year’s top ten chronologically, in order of release date…which oddly resulted in a noticeably split-down-the-middle list of, first, bigger (or at least better known) releases followed by smaller, more independent releases, with three of our ten being self-released (granted, one of them’s LCD Soundsystem, but nonetheless).
This playlist is a mix between favorite songs from each of these favorite albums and ones that work together on the same playlist and in this self-imposed order of release date, so, enjoy—it is indeed made to be listened to as a whole—but we also encourage you to listen to each and every one of these ten albums—they’re, every one, beautiful beginning-to-end.
And happy fucking new year.
Kendrick Lamar • DAMN. • Aftermath/Interscope
We’re guessing someone out there has a best-of 2017 list that doesn’t include this album, but if it exists, we haven’t seen it yet; and with good reason—DAMN. is razor-sharp smart, fucking catchy as hell, and demands to be listened to, word-for-word. And Lamar’s live show will blow up your brain.
Sylvan Esso • What Now • Loma Vista
We love these guys. Not only do they create organic, well-written electronic music that puts song-writing, vocals, and lyrics front-and-center, they just seem like genuinely nice people. And, oh yeah, their music is the best. See above re: excellent shows that explode minds.
SZA • Ctrl • Top Dawg
Jersey’s SZA blind-sided us in the best way possible—we knew she was someone to watch after first hearing her single “Drew Barrymore” but we had no idea what an amazing piece of work she’d put together with Ctrl; astounding from track one to fourteen.
The War on Drugs • A Deeper Understanding • Atlantic
We know full well there are haters out there, but we will defend this band and this album wholeheartedly as one of our favorites to our dyings days. Yes, A Deeper Understanding looks to music of years past, but it does it in a way to pushes forward into something new and—for us—genuinely endearing and innovative. We bought the album just before a trip back east and will forever associate with long drives through the weirdly beautiful swamps of southern North Carolina, which seems oddly fitting.
LCD Soundsystem • american dream • Excelsior Equity Management
Sonic Mastermind and King of Tonality James Murphy returns, and thank fucking god he has; this albums everything we want and need—the repetitive hooks that wedge their way into your subconscious, the monotonous talk-singing that approaches annoying and then pushes through into fundamentally real and undeniably beautiful, the tiny, weird little subtleties and shifts in sound that only someone with Murphy’s level of aural OCD would bother with; and all that while tackling aging and death and our socio-political climate. Thank god for James Murphy; more accurately, thank David Bowie.
Wild Cub • Closer • Mom+Pop
Wild Cub frontman Keegan DeWitt jumped on our radar back in 2011, after we stumbled upon some of his excellent solo work and discovered we had some good friends in common. We were fans from the start and have seen incarnations of his bands nearly every year since; this new from his Nashville-based band seems to be striking the perfect balance, pulling from DeWitt’s distinct, deep past writing style and building it into something new and stronger as a whole—perfect dancing-in-your-bedroom-pop.
Vilde • Study / Dance • VILDE/self-released
Melbourne’s Vilde (AKA Thomas Vilde) is a totally random Soundcloud find for us, but one that strikes the perfect chord for us—glitchy, hyper melodic electronics melding with intimately weird vocals and distinct rhythms. We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again: Melbourne’s electronic scene is blowingthefuckup—Vilde’s one of our favorite new artists jettisoning out of that explosion of creativity.
Luwten • Luwten • Double For Me/self-released
Amsterdam’s Luwten prove’s the perfect balance of analog and digital for us—singer-songwriter-y arrangements put to softly played, gently sung acoustics paired with beautifully explorative electronics and rhythms that step into something new altogether. Read our interview with frontwoman Tessa Douwstra from early this year, wherein we falsely accuse her band name of being intrinsically dishonest.
Hanne Hukkelberg • Trust • Propeller
We generally avoid comparing artists, but this album filled a certain void left by the aforementioned Björk release this year—Norwegian musician Hanne Hukkelberg is weird in the most compelling way possible for us, pitch-blending vocals, glitchy electronics, elements of hip hop, and natural sounds into an unlikely amalgamation that we can’t stop listening to.
Liima • 1982 • City Slang
Liima is a band born of Mads Brauer, Casper Clausen, and Rasmus Stolberg of longtime favorite Danish trio Efterklang and Finnish percussionist Tatu Rönkkö. Efterklang has evolved from minimalist electronic musicians to choral folk group to high-art-opera-writers over the years (all incarnations well-worth checking out), but this newish incarnation of the group with Rönkkö delves into the hyper-melodic electronic, glancing back at the early eighties in style but morphing into something newly beautiful in form—these guys can do no wrong by us. And this track we feature is a great example of highlighting a song we love, but one that we primarily thinks fits this mix best—there are others that even more amazing. With this and all these albums, again, please listen to them all in full.
Thanks and, again, happy new year, all.