Entertainment » Music

A Year in Review: The 10 Best Albums of 2017

by Jason St. Amand
National News Editor
Friday Dec 15, 2017

Unlike the last few years, 2017 was not a consensus year for music. There was not a single album that critics and music fans championed; this year was more fragmented, where pockets of people lauded various albums. Artists like Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, Bon Iver, Run the Jewels, Beyonce, and Frank Ocean ruled year-end lists over the past decade but no musician or album "popped a wheelie on the zeitgeist" in a staggering way in 2017.

Albums by big pop stars failed to be an event this year. Katy Perry's exhausting rollout of "Witness" was a train wreck (and the music wasn't great either), Miley Cyrus's back-to-basics album "Younger Now" was an unfortunate flop and Kesha's comeback record only made a small splash. And then there's Taylor Swift, who didn't do her typical media bombardment to promote "reputation." She instead opted for a reserved albeit calculated attempt to get the word out there about her new music, which included cryptic snake videos on social media, ads on UPS trucks and not a single interview.

The winners of music in 2017 were men: Billboard published its year-end chart/top artists of the year list this week and the first 14 spots go to men, including Ed Sheeran, Bruno Mars, Drake and Kendrick Lamar. Placing 15th is Ariana Grande, whose latest album "Dangerous Woman" dropped last year. Female pop stars who had albums debut in 2017 are further down on the list, including Halsey (24th), Taylor Swift (25th) Demi Lovato (39th), Katy Perry (49th), SZA (57th), Miley Cyrus (64th), P!nk (78th) and Kesha (95th), which points to the interesting state pop music is currently in; perhaps a bleak reflection of our political climate.

That men dominated music in 2017during President Donald Trump's first year in the White House may not surprise those keeping an eye on culture. And whether or not you enjoyed albums by Sheeran, Lamar and The Chainsmokers is obviously completely subjective. But this list features several women musicians of varying genre, including pop, indie rock and experimental.

10. Destroyer - "ken"

Destroyer's Dan Bejar. Photo credit: Facebook

Since his breakthrough 2012 album "Kaputt," Canadian singer-songwriter Dan Bejar, who performs under the name Destroyer, has continued his brand of smooth indie rock that's one part scuzzy rock and one part romanticism. On his 11th album "ken," Bejar is most clearly inspired by New Order, basking in the glow of thick synths, heavy guitar riffs and thumping bass. Bejar's take on new wave is at its best with the stellar melodramatic track "Tinseltown Swimming in Blood." Tying the music together on "ken" is Bejar's unmistakable voice, a husky and beautiful sound that only gets better with time.

09. HAIM - "Something to Tell You"

HAIM. Photo credit: Facebook

The sisters who make up the California indie pop trio HAIM perfected their sound with their long awaited sophomore album "Something to Tell You." Distilling their Wilson Phillips meets Fleetwood Mac meets Sheryl Crow meets Amy Grant inspirations, HAIM's latest effort is a breezy, melodic album with groovy highlights, like singles "Want You Back" and "Little of Your Love." "Something to Tell You" is a well-crafted album, proving the HAIM sisters are growing as artists. "Something to Tell You" is an effortless album; one of the most-fun listening experiences of 2017.

08. Dirty Projectors - "Dirty Projectors"

Dirty Projectors's David Longstreth. Photo credit: Facebook

Once a band consisting of several members, David Longstreth's Dirty Projectors project is now a solo one. After a tumultuous breakup with former Dirty Projector's singer Amber Coffman (who put out her own solo record this year, too), Longstreth details the end of their relationship with self-reflective precision. Over experimental songs, Longstreth examines himself and where he went wrong while re-contextualizing Dirty Projectors' discography, like on "Up in Hudson," a sweeping epic that chronicles the ebbs and flows of his relationship with Coffman. Or like "Keep Your Name," which samples the band's 2012 song "Impregnable Question" (that song prominently featured Coffman). Despite it being an extremely personal album, "Dirty Projectors" offers some of Longstreth's snappiest and catchiest music, including "Cool Your Heart," featuring R&B chanteuse Dawn Richard. The album is as revealing as it is assessable.

07. The xx - "I See You"

The xx's "I See You." Photo credit: Facebook

The xx's third album "I See You" is the U.K. trio's most vibrant effort. The band injects their quiet and minimal sound with some big surprises, thanks to Jamie xx, the band's producer who released his house-inspired dance album in 2015. Here, he brings his dance floor-ready sound to the band's new album while Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim pen some of their most personal songs. "I See You" features introspective tracks detailing addiction, death and queerness. It's a polished album finding the xx at their most confessional - and most exciting.

06. Charli XCX - "Number 1 Angel"

Charli XCX. Photo credit: Facebook

Considered a mixtape, "Number 1 Angel" by pop princess Charli XCX is a 10-track party. Produced by experimental avant-pop musicians from the PC Music crew (A.G. Cook, Danny L Harle, Life Sim and Sophie), Charli's mixtape is full of unrelenting bangers. From the rapturous "3 AM," featuring singer MØ, to the euphoric "Roll with Me" and marvelously glitch-y "ILY2," "Number 1 Angel" is an addictive collection of jams. What makes the tape one of Charli's best works to date is because it's a collaborative effort. Not only does Charli work with some of the most interesting producers today, but she also enlists the help of alternative pop/rap stars like Raye, Abra and Cuppcakke, making "Number 1 Angel" simply a good time.

05. Jens Lekman - "Life Will See You Now"

Jens Lekman. Photo credit: Facebook

It's been a decade since Swedish musician Jens Lekman broke through with his lush album "Night Falls Over Kortedala." Lekman has bounced back-and-forth from lo-fi singer-songwriter records to vibrant albums that draw from tropical sounds (with varying success) but his fourth album "Life Will See You Now" finds him back in a sweet spot. Known for his diary-like and personal songwriting, Lekman is at his most confessional here, penning songs about faith, tragedy, breakups and a 3D molding of a tumor. Lekman always adds a dose of comedy to his music, and "Life Will See You Now," full of warm melodies and dazzling production, is a lovely album carved out of earnest emotion.

04. Terror Jr - "Bop City 2: TerroRising"

Terror Jr. Photo credit: Facebook

Terror Jr has been quietly making some of the most interesting pop music of the last few years. On their second album "Bop City 2: TerroRising" - a sequel of sorts to their excellent debut "Bop City," the mysterious band shares their dark and twisted take on Top 40- hits. Provocative and forward thinking, Terror Jr explore addiction, sexuality and romance on introspective songs with blunt lyrics a la seminal avant-garde band Xiu Xiu. The combination of radio-friendly production and confessional lyrics makes Terror Jr's "Bop City 2" a tour de force.

03. Lana Del Rey - "Lust for Life"

Lana Del Rey. Photo credit: Facebook

Lana Del Rey was perhaps the most aware artist of 2017. Not only was she self-reflective of her place in the world, her status and what she, as a musician and celebrity, means to her fans, but Del Rey also documented herself reacting to today's political climate: Threats of nuclear war with North Korea deeply concerned her. The way in which women are treated in Hollywood, or Hollyweird as she'd call it, was at the top of her mind (she revealed she'll no longer perform her song "Cola" at her shows because it references Harvey Weinstein). Donald Trump elected to office sickened her - so much so that she joined witches around the nation in casting a spell on him and later banned the U.S. flag from her live shows; a shocking move from an artist who built a career at honoring Americana. All of Del Rey's tumultuous and agonizing feelings about 2017 are weaved into her beautiful fourth album "Lust for Life." It's Del Rey at her most Del Rey; an album that looks back at her debut "Born to Die" with its sweeping string arrangements and nods to hip-hop, while being completely fresh, finding Del Rey concerned for her fans but still full of hope.

02. Phoenix - "Ti Amo"

Phoenix's "Ti Amo." Photo credit: Facebook

Indie singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens provided the music to this year's Oscars frontrunner, the coming-of-age gay romance "Call Me By Your Name." But it's the French indie rock band Phoenix that created the soundtrack to summertime in Italy. Their sixth album "Ti Amo" is simple and pure; exploring love, desire, lust and food while being inspired the Italian disco. The fuzzy single "J-Boy" is slick and cool like gelato, the title track dazzles with sparkling synths and fizzes like cream soda, "Tuttifrutti" is a sweet banger and highlight "Fior di Latte" is as rich as the cheese itself. Each song on "Ti Amo" is exciting as the last, with closing track "Telefono" being one of the Phoenix's catchiest songs to date. The album may not be the band's most innovative but that's OK - "Ti Amo" is an undeniable delight, perfectly capturing a sound and feeling unlike any record in 2017.

01. Lorde - "Melodrama"

Lorde. Photo credit: Facebook

Not long before he died, David Bowie apparently said Lorde is "the future of music." Wise beyond her 21 years, the New Zealand musician would be make Bowie proud with her impressive sophomore album "Melodrama," a stunning and cohesive concept album that subverts pop expectations of pop music. Tracking the ups and downs of a house party, Lorde's "Melodrama" explores every facet the emotional impact a breakup can give you. With her odd lyrical phrasing, jarring whispers and precise production from Jack Antonff, "Melodrama" is a radically raw album that exposes itself with each listen. It is also an achievement for Lorde herself; she sheds the teenage persona she created on her massively successful debut "Pure Heroine" (and that song's "Royals") and announces herself as an adult. With "Melodrama," Lorde is more profound than she's ever been.

Honorable mentions: "A Deeper Understanding" by The War on Drugs, "american dream" by LCD Soundsystem, "Masseduction" by St. Vincent, "Hug of Thunder" by Broken Social Scene, "Glasshouse" by Jessie Ware, "Rest" by Charlotte Gainsbourg, "Bop City 3: The Girl Who Cried Purple" by Terror Jr, "The Echo of Pleasure" by The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, "Dedicated to Bobby Jameson" by Ariel Pink, "After Laughter" by Paramore


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