If 2016 was the year of “realizing stuff”, 2017 was certainly the year of transformation. Streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music transformed the music landscape by making new music more readily available than ever. The rise of Bandcamp and Soundcloud have made it possible for up-and-coming artists to release their music to the masses without the need for record labels. 2017 was not an easy year, as the music scene was rocked by an unpredictable political climate and allegations of sexual assault and harassment (a cultural moment that was difficult yet necessary), but some of our favorite artists dropped surprise releases that kept the year interesting, to say the least. Kendrick Lamar got political and took on Fox News and the Trump administration on his fourth LP, DAMN. Lorde made evident her status as pop’s poet laureate on her second album Melodrama. The California-based boyband BROCKHAMPTON dropped not one, not two, but three new albums in one year. The indie rock scene was dominated by female and non-binary performers like Vagabon, Jay Som, Girlpool, and Adult Mom.
Here were our favorite albums of 2017.
Every so often an album comes around that mirrors my emotions and sparks self-reflection—this was Lorde’s Melodrama. A stellar sophomore follow up, it is no surprise Melodrama affected me this way. The honest way in which she describes life after ending a long-term relationship is universal. Songs such as “Writer in the Dark”,” “Supercut,” and “Green Light” speak to adapting to such a dramatic life change and the reality of letting go. Contrastingly, “Sober,” “Homemade Dynamite,” and “Perfect Places” celebrate this rebirth, highlighting and challenging the way in which we move on. My favorite track, however, is “Liability.” With this ballad, Lorde shares a fear many of us have—being “too much” for those in our lives. With “Liabilty,” Lorde gets me. The production on the album is also to be noted. With Lorde, Jack Antonoff masterfully expands upon traditional pop sounds, pushing musical boundaries to reflect deep emotions.
St. Vincent’s MASSEDUCTION challenges pop music in a similar way. A reflection of letting go and being left, with MASSEDUCTION Annie Clark doesn’t try to top previous albums but turns inward, bravely expressing her vulnerabilities. From an emotional perspective, this album feels closer to St. Vincent’s audience than her previous albums, but she achieves this feat without sacrificing the glamorous style for which she is known. Annie Clark is a talented songwriter and guitarist and MASSEDUCTION is a display of her artistic growth.
Tyler, the Creator’s Flower Boy had a lot of hype and it lived up to the hype. A testament to personal and artistic growth, each track on Flower Boy is a banger, but they also explore themes such as isolation, youth, and contemplation. Tyler distorts the boundaries of what we consider rap and hip-hop while showing us another side of himself.
2017 was the year of SZA. Having previously collaborated with artists such as Rihanna, with her debut album CTRL, she steps into the spotlight. The album dazzles, flowing seamlessly and highlighting her uniquely talented way of weaving together poetry and R&B. CTRL showcases SZA’s talent as a songwriter. Over two hundred songs were created during the recording sessions of the album, all recorded freestyle. This method led to a beautiful album, confessional and emotional with stellar production.
What to me is one of the most underrated albums of the year, Julien Baker’s second album, Turn Out the Lights, is an honest meditation on spirituality and internal conflict. Through piano, guitar, and voice, Baker speaks to the challenges faced in relationships: with oneself, with others, with spirituality. On “Sour Breath,” Baker addresses the difficulty of loving someone who is affected by substance abuse. The song ends with her repeatedly singing “the harder I swim, the faster I sink,” an acceptance of the fact that sometimes the effort we give feels like it will never be enough, an expression that resonates with such a universal emotion.
Honorable Mentions: DAMN. - Kendrick Lamar, Big Fish Theory - Vince Staples, Powerplant - Girlpool, SATURATION I-III - BROCKHAMPTON, YOUNG - Overcoats
My New Year’s resolution for 2017 was to listen to more new music which resulted in me regularly checking my Spotify Release Radar, and I’m so glad I did. According to Spotify, I listened to about 40,000 minutes of music this year, and I think that about half of that was just Lorde’s Melodrama on repeat. I was underwhelmed when I first heard “Green Light” as a single, but the album as a whole exceeded all of my expectations. The first time I listened to all of Mount Eerie’s A Crow Looked at Me, I had to pull over on the side of the road because I was crying so hard thinking about how death is so real. It’s truly the saddest and most heartbreaking album, and it’s some of Phil Elverum’s best work. Vagabon released Infinite Worlds at the end of February and I remember immediately texting Manny saying “I know it’s only February but this is The Best Album of the Year.” Most of the songs on Infinite Worlds are songs from her 2014 EP Persian Garden re-recorded and retitled, and you can really see how Lætitia Tamko has mastered her unique sound and evolved as an artist. Jay Som’s Everybody Works is groundbreaking due to the fact that Melina Duterte plays all of the instruments on the album. It’s easy to simply label her music as bedroom pop, but Everybody Works is so much more than that, blending indie pop with shoegaze, folk, and grunge. (Sandy) Alex G’s name change was (Awkward) to say the least, but Rocket was a stunning album that established him as one of the most preeminent songwriters of today, and seeing him perform in a gymnasium was one of the highlights of the year for me. Overall, 2017 was a great year for new music, and I’m looking forward to what 2018 has in store.
Honorable Mentions: Big Fish Theory - Vince Staples, Soft Sounds from Another Planet - Japanese Breakfast, Collection - Soccer Mommy, Phases - Angel Olsen, Need to Feel Your Love - Sheer Mag, Saturation I-III - BROCKHAMPTON, Powerplant - Girlpool, You’re Not as ____ as You Think - Sorority Noise, YOUNG - Overcoats
2017 seems to have been the year of TDE—both Kendrick and SZA delivered memorable favorites. SZA jumped out from behind the scenes and knocked it out of the park on her major label debut. A few tracks stand out in particular: “Doves in the Wind,” “Drew Barrymore,” “The Weekend” and, especially, “Normal Girl.” Also, guitar in R&B is always welcome. The first time I listened to DAMN. I was really pleasantly surprised with the direction Kendrick had taken. Except for the songs that sounded like pop Drake knockoffs, the songs were musically so captivating, so intricate and so mature. Props to Kendrick for getting the best U2 feature (/sample?) of all time. I love the slow burners like YAH., PRIDE., and XXX., as well as the hype stuff, like DNA. and HUMBLE. I’ve had those tracks in particular on repeat ever since the album was released.
With Hang, Foxygen’s eccentricity remains, but that’s about it. They totally ditched their lo-fi, crunchy sound for a slick and unexpectedly grandiose, theatrical style. I like it just as much. Everything feels huge and all the more impactful when backed by a 40-piece orchestra. The album retains their vibe, though—it’s totally frantic, now genre-hopping and as good as ever.
Alien Sunset is so pleasant. It’s the best vintage, throwback little collection of songs that’s not just vintage-sounding for the sake of being vintage-sounding. Max Clarke a.k.a. Cut Worms recorded it all on an eight-track, so it’s got that crusty vintage tape warmth and sounds super old-school. Yes, it really does sound exactly like music from the year 1960 (e.g., Everly Brothers, Peter and Gordon), but earnestly. I believe that he made this album not just as an exercise in retrograde, but because they are just great, timeless songs—and they stand up regardless. Plus, he’s a lowkey shyboy in interviews.
My favorite album of the year, though, has to be a collaboration between two of my favorite artists from the last few years. As soon as I heard that one of King Gizzard’s 5 albums in 2017 would be a collaboration with Mild High Club, the hype was instant and real. Mild High Club is just what King Gizzard needs to chill them out. The album brought about something even more interesting than what I would’ve expected. It’s jazzy, carefully orchestrated, progressive and trippy—but part of the reason it’s so enjoyable to listen to is all the little details tucked within the songs. The way the album keeps returning to the same musical themes at scattered points throughout really gets to me, and kept me listening over and over.
Honorable Mentions: Crack-Up - Fleet Foxes, Flower Boy - Tyler, the Creator, Somersault - Beach Fossils, Star Stuff - Chaz Bundick Meets the Mattson 2, Steve Lacy’s Demo - Steve Lacy, Apricot Princess - Rex Orange County, This Old Dog - Mac Demarco
Not to be a downer/snob, but I found 2017 a little bit disappointing compared to 2016 and its slew of incredible albums (A Seat at the Table; Untitled Unmastered; 22, A Million; A Moon Shaped Pool; Telefone, etc.) Nevertheless, this year delivered some phenomenal records by well-established artists and newcomers alike. The best of these, of course, was DAMN., a minimalist meditation on fame and religion that should cement Kendrick’s status as one of the all-time greatest musical artists, let alone rappers. As for newcomers, I’m cheating and including all of BROCKHAMPTON’s superb SATURATION trilogy, a string of indie-rap records that balance unabashedly fun bangers with surprisingly poignant tracks like “SWIM” and “BLEACH.” (I rarely become enamored of a new artist or group like I did with BROCKHAMPTON—4 of my 5 most-played songs of the year on Spotify were tracks from their first two entries in the trilogy.) Process is the debut LP from British singer Sampha, a record whose intricate production and moving vocal performances met the hype preceding its release. On Big Fish Theory, Vince Staples expertly blurred the lines between electronica and hip hop, finding the perfect instrumental canvas for his razor-sharp lyrics. The third album from Venezuelan producer Arca, and perhaps the most underrated record of the year, is a collection of haunting electronica ballads sung by the producer himself. In 2017, musicians like those in my top five – as well as Tyler, the Creator, Mount Kimbie, King Krule, and plenty of others – managed to defy our expectations of genre by drawing from a range of unexpected sources (see: U2 on “XXX.” by Kendrick). Can we really call Flower Boy rap? Is Process actually R&B? What about The OOZ? I don’t know, but hopefully we will be asking more of these questions in 2018.
Honorable Mentions: Love What Survives - Mount Kimbie; The OOZ - King Krule; Flower Boy - Tyler, the Creator; Take Me Apart - Kelela; Drive It Like It's Stolen - Injury Reserve; Gang Signs & Prayer - Stormzy; World Eater - Blanck Mass; Beautiful Thugger Girls - Young Thug; Harmony of Difference - Kamasi Washington; At What Cost - Goldlink
You’d have thought it would have been the year of revivals, “2009 but better.” Or at least I did. All my favorite bands from when I was entering high school came out with new albums: LCD Soundsystem, Arcade Fire, Fleet Foxes, Phoenix, Grizzly Bear, Mac DeMarco, The xx. You remember 2009, right? “VCR” on repeat, “Two Weeks,” “1901,” fuck! Merriweather Post Pavilion? Even the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs were good. Yeah, it was Best-New-Music-core but this was pre-Condé Nast Pitchfork. I’d being lying if I didn’t say that every year since then I’ve been waiting for a year that felt that overwhelming, chock full of freshly-discovered bands that I still call my favorites. But, notably, none of the releases from late-00s bands made it to my 2017 list save for LCD Soundsystem, who I feel a deep personal connection to despite the fact that I usually hate when bands rescind their farewells (it didn’t feel like it was for money, it felt like it was for music, that sounds trite, whatever).
For the most part I find the albums in my top 5 to be inseparable from 2017 itself, for better or for worse. I feel that music thrives when its emotional core is oozing at the seams; I like when artists struggle to keep their cool, when the cracks show. This is true for many of my favorite albums this year, including the (I’ll say it) underrated This Old Dog and truly amazing Phases. That being said, I think 2017 will be remembered for its singles (“Boys,” “Mask Off,” “Slide”) rather than its albums, not because we’ve lost the capacity to listen to an artist’s whole project, but because of their quality and staying-power.
Honorable Mentions: Love What Survives - Mount Kimbie, Rocket - (Sandy) Alex G, Slowdive - Slowdive, Phases - Angel Olsen, Pure Comedy - Father John Misty, This Old Dog - Mac Demarco
2017 was one of my favorite years in music in a long, long time. And yeah you’ve probably noticed my top album list isn’t similar to anyone else’s here. But as a freshman at Wesleyan, one thing I’ve grown to love about this place is that everyone and their music tastes are so different that I shouldn’t feel alienated if I don’t listen to the majority of music people like. After all, music is very personal, and no matter what the Grammys or Rolling Stone magazine or your neighbor that hears you playing tunes at 2am say about your favorite albums, they’re still your favorite because they speak to you on a level that no one else can quite understand.
That being said let’s get started on my list. #1 we got a banger. I’m talking every song on the album will get stuck in your head for weeks kind of banger. The 18 year-old Brit finally released his debut album nearly 2.5 years after debuting the lead single of the album. Declan McKenna’s lyrical prowess at such a young age shows major promise as he continues as a musician, while combining beautiful instrumentation and catchy pop hooks with biting social criticisms (such as the government's treatment of trans kids in Paracetamol and the widespread xenophobia in media shown in Isombard) created a beautiful happy/sad thematic album. Coming in after is a groovy, surf-punk band, the Buttertones, with their third album. While every song on the album has its own style, they combine to create a sensational feeling as if you have been transported to the wonderful, nostalgic, cinematic-western world they’ve created. The Canadian indie-rock group Arcade Fire’s latest album comes in at #3 with Everything Now, an '80s nostalgic, feel-good vibes album that still contains the bittersweetness that the band is known for. The dark yet beautiful Sleep Well Beast comes in next, showing how much the band has matured over their 18 years of existence, while newcomer Ron Gallo dazzles with his quirky, head-bangin' album that gives hope to the future of the garage punk genre. In conclusion, 2017 had its ups and downs, but the music that came from it was unforgettable, and I already got a couple albums on the radar for 2018 that will definitely be something to look forward to.
2017 was a fine year for music. More importantly, it was a watershed year for exposing the shameful and harmful effects of male domination in the music industry. I for one realized this year that placing any male musician on a pedestal, past merely admiring their music, is a bad idea that will just make the tearing-down of their lofty status that much more difficult. We, as a society, also learned this year to believe women and to confront patriarchal systems of subordination in the music industry and beyond. But let's get to the tunes.
At my #1 spot, it’s an artist who continues to defy conventions in his genre, while delivering tracks that consistently serve the BASSSSS. I’m of course talking about Sprite spokesperson Vince Staples, an MC who, throughout his latest LP Big Fish Theory, addresses a variety of current issues over a selection of beats that go hard as hell. These beats are sinister but, unlike most chart-topping hip-hop beats, they pack a rhythmic punch that’s urgent and rife with some nasty industrial drum timbres. Second place for me belongs to Lorde, a kickass, BDS-supporting, New Zealander whose new album combines bangers and emotional ballads at a level I haven’t seen from a pop album in years. Shoutout to Jack Antonoff too on the production here; moments like the midpoint of “Supercut” or even the subtlety of the drums in general are master strokes in terms of weaving emotion into a pop record.
Kendrick’s latest is genius as always but it’s a shame that a few languid moments on this project weighed it down somewhat. Girlpool released a criminally underrated album this year that showcased their superb melodic abilities in tandem with a new beefed-up sound that suits them well. Rounding out the top 5 is Arca's self-titled which is just.... you gotta hear it. We still hear his characteristically aggressive, haunting production but now with vocals that are elegiac in the most spine-tingling way possible. Honorable mentions to Remo Drive for putting out a super fun record and for putting on an excellent show in Middletown, BROCKHAMPTON for being the most exciting group around in a year where King Giz released five (5) albums, and I would be remiss in not dedicating a shoutout to all the up-and-coming independent female artists of color who are shaking up the scene in the best possible way. Vagabon, Yaeji, Jay Som, Japanese Breakfast, and Kelela all released projects I thoroughly enjoyed this year and I know they’re all going to continue making waves in years to come.
I feel like every few weeks I look at my music and think to myself that I need to listen to more new music. Going through the albums I liked this year, I realized that’s not true. At this point everyone’s hopped on the “Fuck 2017” train, and this year for sure deserves that. However, fuck most years; at least we got some good music in 2017. First off, I did not expect CTRL to take my number one spot. The first time I heard it, I liked it but it didn’t shatter my world like Blonde did last year. Then, all of a sudden, it was the thing I listened to most. Whenever I had nothing to listen to, I always ended up back on CTRL (or Blonde honestly). It became a fun conversation with friends, talking about our favorite songs from the album and singing along. Beyond it just being an easy album to listen to, CTRL is a goddam incredible album, from the effortlessly catchy compositions to the amazingly vulnerable and strong lyrics. The OOZ is a pretty different album. King Krule was like a true bona fide rockstar when I saw him live over fall break. I thought I was heading out of my King Krule phase, but The OOZ pulled me back in. Flower Boy is far and away Tyler’s best album in my opinion. Unfortunately, people didn’t talk too much about the music and spent more time talking about Tyler’s sexuality, which he didn’t seem to purposefully make the centerpoint. The album is just banger after banger. Kendrick Lamar can’t produce a bad album. DAMN. is no exception. It’s so different from his other projects and yet still masterful in its own right. Green Twins is a deep meditation on sex, love, relationships, having children and everything in between. This fifth spot was the only one I wasn’t sure about, but I just couldn’t leave this album off. For some reason listening to it feels nostalgic to me, and I am such a sucker for that familiarity in music.
Honorable Mentions: Aromanticism - Moses Sumney, No Shape - Perfume Genius, W/ Love - Infinite Bisous, Infinite Worlds - Vagabon, pleasure suck - The Spirit of the Beehive, Rocket - (Sandy) Alex G, I’m Not Your Man - Marika Hackman, Crack-Up - Fleet Foxes, Capacity - Big Thief, American Dream - LCD Soundsystem, Love What Survives - Mount Kimbie, If Blue Could Be Happiness - Florist, RINA - Rina Sawayama, Antisocialites - Alvvays, Visions of a Life - Wolf Alice, Phases - Angel Olsen, Saturation III - Brockhampton, Under the Electric Blanket - Goo
Looking back on what I listened to this year, I was a bit underwhelmed by 2017’s releases compared to 2016 and 2015. I spent most of the year listening to old favorites instead of new albums, but there were still some great albums this year with songs I played on loop for days.
Sheer Mag sounds like a post-apocalyptic version of The Jackson 5, if you shrunk The Jackson 5 really tiny and had them play inside of a tin can. As weird as that sounds, it works—Sheer Mag’s lo-fi, high-energy take on rock is unique and completely addictive. The shouting vocals and incredible riffs on “Just Can’t Get Enough” never fail to put me in a good mood. Sheer Mag was probably my favorite music discovery in 2017.
I was in charge of the music in the store I worked at this summer, and half the times people asked me what song was playing, it was “Dark Red” from Steve Lacy’s Demo. Even though the demo isn’t technically an album, I had to include it since Steve Lacy is one of my favorite young artists right now and the fact that he made his demo almost entirely on his iPhone amazes me. The catchy bass lines and layered vocals that define his sound on this demo are irresistible. I could go on and on about him (and if you’ve ever mentioned him around me, I probably already have), but I’ll just say he’s one year younger than me and about a thousand times cooler. Going by his demo, I can’t wait to hear what he comes out with in the future.
I’m very late to the BROCKHAMPTON party, but I’m glad I finally got around to listening to them before the year ended. I didn’t expect to get hooked as much as I did—all three of the albums from the SATURATION trilogy are packed with amazing quality tracks.
To be completely honest, I was a bit underwhelmed by King Krule’s latest album. It was impressive on first listen, but I only found myself being drawn back to a few of the tracks. However, the range of styles Archy Marshall tackles through his different projects never fails to impress, and this album was no exception. “Half Man Half Shark” and “Dum Surfer” in particular are catchy and addictive yet unlike anything I’d ever heard—jazzy, grimy, and soulful, the two most energetic tracks on the album sound like the music I imagine a band of very talented zombies would come out with.
While I didn’t really care for most of Play the Songs You Like, it was a source of some of my most played songs this year: “Out of Mind,” “Nothing Nice,” and “Dance Number” among others. Short and sweet, these tracks are more on the pop side of what I normally listen to and feel familiar and nostalgic in a way I instantly loved.
Honorable Mentions: Phases - Angel Olsen, Is Everything Okay In Your World? - Yellow Days, Love What Survives - Mount Kimbie
2017 brought a great amount of choice to the music world. Indie, rap, and rock, among other genres, flourished, with tons of new content released alongside demo recordings and re-releases (shouts out to Whitney and Sufjan Stevens). There was an uptick in songs with activist aims, a welcome shift in the entertainment business at large. The fall of formerly-queer punk PWR BTTM reflected a piece of the music industry’s struggle with ethical production and promotion alongside a consumer refusal to literally buy into sexual assault. However, this did not take away from soaring accomplishments in indie releases. Jay Som and Adult Mom both released their sophomore albums (Everybody Works and Soft Spots, respectively), each full of swelling joy and melancholy. Tyler, the Creator continued the rising trend of genre-bending on Flower Boy, mixing rap and R&B with diverse sampling. Meanwhile, Lorde and Kendrick Lamar prove again their prominence in pop and rap -- Lorde delivers exactly what the title suggests and even deeper sorrow on Melodrama, while Kendrick’s DAMN. allows listeners to indulge in his poetry by stripping down formerly heavy production. The influx of releases at the tail end of the year leaves me particularly excited for 2018 -- looking at you, Car Seat Headrest. I can’t wait to see more records released with the same or more vigor than this year.
Honorable Mentions: If Blue Could Be Happiness - Florist, american dream - LCD Soundsystem, Powerplant - Girlpool, Routines - Hoops, James McAllister, Bryce Dessner, Sufjan Stevens, Planetarium - Nico Muhly, Ctrl - SZA, Record Time! - Lexie
Though 2017 was filled with many anticipated albums that disappointed audiences (i.e. Arcade Fire’s Everything Now), the year was just as packed with albums that absolutely exceeded my expectations. It has become quite the trend to scorn the new music of 2017, but I will not succumb to this. I thoroughly struggled to sift through the plethora of new albums I liked in order to assemble my list. Any year of music that requires that effort is a good year, in my opinion. 2017 was especially a great year for hip-hop, with newcomers and veterans alike putting out albums that undoubtedly live up to the excitement preceding them. DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar, Flower Boy by Tyler, The Creator, and Big Fish Theory by Vince Staples are just a few examples of some excellent albums that obliterated my expectations. However, the only hip-hop album that made it to my top 5 is Renaissance by The Underachievers. This album houses what I would consider this East Coast duo’s most lyrically refined work. The album takes a minimalist approach to the instrumentals on most of the album, with the vocals being the main focus. The first track of this album, is certainly an exception. “In My Zone” features a sample-packed intro and a complex beat that do a great job of opening the album. The most anticipated album on my list is certainly The OOZ by King Krule. This album was a masterpiece of lyrics and instrumentals. Every song on this album has such a unique flavor to it that really signals a newfound maturity since 6 Feet Beneath the Moon. With lyrical highlights like “Czech One” and “The Locomotive” as well as instrumental highlights like “Vidual” and “Half Man, Half Shark”, this album certainly did not fail to impress. Phillistines by Pro Teens was a fitting runner up to their last album Accidentally, which made it onto my list for 2016. This album has maturity in the songwriting and youthfulness in the execution. A perfect cocktail of an album. I was also enraptured by Multi-Task by Omni as it is truly one of the funnest albums of the year. Omni probably has one of the most specific sounds of any band I found this year. With chorusy, tape warbling guitars and a matter-of-fact vocal style, Omni is a band to watch out for in 2018. I gave the crowning spot on my list to New World Pregnancy by Boy’s Age. This dreamy alt-pop masterpiece blew me away the first time I heard it. The ethereal and complex instrumentals of the album absolutely sweep you off your feet as you feel yourself melt into the music. Though this album came out in December, it absolutely stole the spotlight for me. In conclusion, I was very pleased with the music of 2017 but I expect even greater and more fantastical things from 2018.
Honorable Mentions: Don't Let It Be - Playboy Manbaby, Sketches of Brunswick East - King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizzard and Mild High Club, Big Fish Theory - Vince Staples, Flower Boy - Tyler, the Creator, Fresh Air - HOMESHAKE, Hang - Oxygen, This Old Dog - Mac Demarco, Stranger in the Alps - Phoebe Bridgers, Love What Survives - Mount Kimbie
2016 had better music, but 2017 had MORE CAPS LOCK.
Honorable Mentions: Infinite Worlds - Vagabon, Gang Signs and Prayer - Stormzy, Pop 2 - Charli XCX, From The Fires - Greta van Fleet