This is a list of my favorite albums of 2017 in no particular order.
Is This the Life We Really Want – Roger Waters
The latest album by Pink. The Pink from Pink Floyd that was left comfortably numb so many years ago. The same Pink that rode the waves of radio K.A.O.S. and was left amused to death. Here comes Roger with an outstanding piece of art. His music is evocative of the golden years (the Roger days) of Pink Floyd. His familiar approach reaches new corners of artistry in collaboration with Nigel Godrich (of Radiohead). His lyrics are as ever political and subversive. But the most pleasant surprise is the sweet, quiet love story told in this record. This is a first for an artist that has always been preoccupied with the injustice of war, the loss of identity, the human pain. In this album, he finally lets Pink love.
If I were a drone
Patrolling foreign skies
With my electronic eyes for guidance
Painted Ruins – Grizzly Bear
Painted Ruins is a beautiful contemplative album. The music, as is always the case with Grizzly Bear, is elaborate and layered. The amount of detail that goes into each song is amazing. Layer after layer of interesting instrumentation builds cohesive and dynamic songs. The songs are mostly about life. They invite us to contemplate beauty in the tranquility of arid fields, in disappointment and solitude, in the sounds of mourning.
Living in a pile
Tangled in a pile
It’s chaos but it works
Crack-Up – Fleet Foxes
Fleet Foxes are back. Robin Pecknold & friends have produced another masterpiece. They’ve added another impeccable record to their discography. Pecknold’s lyricism has often been preoccupied with the individual. What am I to do in the vast universe in which I’m thrown upon? Echoing the existentialism with which rock has always been concerned, Pecknold situates his persona in beautiful musical (and physical descriptions of) landscapes, where he’s confronted by otherness and left in solitude. Friends and lovers are always the answer. In this new album, he recognizes something beyond the self. He empathizes with the social and political movements of the many. But he doesn’t pretend to usurp their protagonism. He is merely an observer. All of this enhanced by beautiful melodies and interesting rhythms and, of course, the sheer power of his voice.
As I went they’re all beside us in silence
As if unaffected amid the violence
Oh, are we also tamed?
Aromanticism – Moses Sumney
Aromanticism is an elegant and moving piece of art. Moses’ subdued approach to music arrangements is effective and genuine. In his lyrics, he challenges traditional notions of love and relationships. His powerful vocals express confusion and desire to understand the otherness around him. The emotion in these carefully crafted arrangements blossoms with sincerity. This album is a grand accomplishment in every sense.
If lovelessness is godlessness
Will you cast me to the wayside?
A Crow Looked at Me – Mount Eerie
It is inevitable to mention the context of A Crow Looked at Me. Phil Elverum lost his wife and dealt with his pain and grief by writing music. The result is a collection of intensely painful songs. There is almost no light in this album. Instead, A Crow Looked at Me is a brave and honest way of coping with death. You can feel real pain in these chords, in these words. There is nothing presumptuous or fake about this album. The listening experience itself can be devastating, one can only imagine how hard it was to write.
Death is real
Someone’s there and then they’re not
And it’s not for singing about
Planetarium – Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly, James McAlister and Bryce Dessner
Planetarium is an incredible journey. It’s a highly experimental album led by Sufjan Stevens that combines some of the indie folk he’s known for with his most experimental endeavors like Age of Adz to create something that is very alien in nature. The album itself is built as a Planetarium: it traverses each planet, plus a few other cosmic entities, in the solar system. The lyrics references are a mix of astronomy, astrology, mythology, and intimacy. Sufjan humanizes the Roman gods as flawed, vulnerable beings. Jove (or Jupiter) feel estranged in its grandeur, and Saturn longs for the acknowledgment of his wickedness. Planetarium is a joy in its intellectualism combined with musical playfulness that works.
Floundering star, failed that you are, fevering pitch, figure of speech
Sermon of death says Jupiter is the loneliest planet
Melodrama – Lorde
Melodrama blossoms with musical ingenuity. The rhythms are catchy, the melodies are surprising and the lyrics are sincere. Lorde captures fear, angst, and love in well-elaborated songs. The song structures are familiar, yet they demand exploration. This is a very enjoyable album that embraces and runs with melodrama. But it’s not empty headline drama that’s captured here. There’s actual emotion in these songs.
The truth is I am a toy that people enjoy
‘Til all of the tricks don’t work anymore
No Shape – Perfume Genius
Mike Hadreas is an amazing artist and he proves it once again with No Shape. All of these songs are interesting and a bit on the experimental side. But they’re full of emotion. His delivery is intense and heartfelt. The music is both sparse and bombastic, serving the overall composition in complex ways. Mike’s voice is powerful and the music is beautiful. Truly a great accomplishment.
How long must we live right
Before we don’t even have to try?
Pure Comedy – Father John Misty
Father John Misty is an interesting character. One can hardly tell where the irony ends and sincerity begins. That’s what I love about him. Every sincere thought is sprinkled with ironic observations. Every sweet moment is coupled to a sour one. In Pure Comedy, Josh Tillman is fully self-aware. He proclaims himself an authority as he observes his fellow humans. But he often reveals the face of imperfection in contradictions and confusion. At the end, Pure Comedy is not supposed to be a coherent manifesto. Tillman is too smart to pretend the views of yet another white man are to be taken too seriously. Instead, this is the intimate struggle of a man in a confused world. And it’s really great music too.
Now the miracle of birth leaves a few issues to address
Like, say, that half of us are periodically iron deficient
So somebody’s got to go kill something while I look after the kids
Hot Thoughts – Spoon
Has Spoon ever released a bad album? Probably not. Hot Thoughts is another fine addition to their discography. Their songs are engaging, heartfelt, and fun. Their songs are rhythmic enough that you can dance to them. Their melodies are catchy enough that you can sing to them. All in all, a very solid album.
When the moon is rising and looking on me
When the night comes knocking, knocking on me
Carrie and Lowell Live – Sufjan Stevens
Carrie and Lowell was originally released in 2015 but Sufjan released a Live version this year. The original album is, to me, an absolute masterpiece, and including it here is probably just an excuse to talk about it again. This live version re-imagines the original songs into something new and full of life. The devastating lyrics are all there. The painful childhood stories and the bittersweet memories of his mother still remain. But the arrangements are more electronic and the folk tale of death becomes a proclamation of life by celebrating death.
Spirit of my silence, I can hear you
But I’m afraid to be near you
And I don’t know where to begin
And I don’t know where to begin
MASSEDUCTION – St. Vincent
MASSEDUCTION is energizing. Annie Clark is fearless with that guitar. The music is exciting and a bit experimental. Her vocals are strong and effective. In this album, Annie has transformed herself into a symbol of power unapologetically yielding a bright palette. Her persona perspires dominance and confidence. It is sometimes difficult to reconcile the vulnerability sometimes showcased in her lyrics with the raw power of her guitar. But there she is, an enigmatic contradiction that results in one of the best albums of the year.
I sway in place to a slow disco
And a glass for the saints and a bow for the road
I See You – The xx
The xx always manage to create beautiful, intimate music using instruments some might consider synthetic. But there’s nothing synthetic about the way their samples merge harmoniously with Romie and Oliver’s vocals. These songs are sometimes sweet, sometimes hard. The rhythms and melodies are subtle. The album, as a whole, is a definite improvement over their previous effort. And it’s probably on par with their debut album.
Now you’ve found a new star to orbit
It could be love
Flying Microtonal Banana, Sketches of Brunswick East, Polygondwanaland – King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard
KGATLZ is such a unique project. All their albums’ artwork is created by Jason Galea and they all share a primitive, two-dimensional quality. But there’s nothing two-dimensional about this band. They’ve made the headlines this year because they’ve committed to releasing five albums in 2017. At the moment, they’ve only released four. And I’m including three of them among my favorites. Each of them is different. Flying Microtonal Banana, as the name suggests, achieves a very unique sound using microtonal guitars. This album is fast-paced and abrasive. Sketches of Brunswick East is jazzy. KGATLZ succeed in changing their abrasive prog sound for jazz in Sketches. Polygonwanaland is softer than Microtonal, more melodic, and includes some great harmonies. Worth mentioning the Murder of the Universe (the only album released thus far in 2017 that I’m not including here) is also worth checking out if you’re into epic heavy rock/metal narratives about the end of the world.
Meet me glassy-eyed, blind, and divine
Hold down the fort on the coastline
The castle is a pimple on the face of the world
A humble spot for clues to drop if you eavesdrop
Pleasure – Feist
I love the rough sound of Feist’s guitar. Her vocals are eclectic. The sounds are surprising. The structures are often unconventional. The raw emotions in the lyrics are paralleled by a raw quality to the music. I recently discovered Feist and this is my favorite of hers.
All lonely, or not lonely, century away
But still a vision as if help’s on its way
Hug of Thunder – Broken Social Scene
And while we’re on the subject of Feist, this is another one of her projects. Broken Social Scene is a cacophony of talents. Hug of Thunder is filled with diverse songs celebrating life. These songs are a testament to joy. It is often difficult to be genuine when writing upbeat happy songs. But Hug of Thunder is one of those albums that feels uplifting without an inch of fake.
It’s like a topography that is made from cartography of me
All those feelings everyday the bus stop pulls to size up the entire world
The OOZ – King Krule
The OOZ is a cacophony of dissonance. Experimental. Punk. Rock. Hard to describe. King Krule navigates diverse musical landscapes full of creativity and surprises. Musical structures are broken and rules are disregarded. The punk elements combined with jazz-inspired jams make for incredibly fun music. King Krule evokes memories of Noir Desir’s most experimental moments. Oh yeah, and serious existential lyrics abound.
The ups and downs, deep velvet folds
The landslides in, depression poles
Once thought was shed, but always holds
Reflection taunts my empty soul
Meio Que Tudo É Um – Apanhador Só
Here’s another band that is highly experimental. Apanhador combines soft sounds of traditional samba with experimental cacophony from improvised instruments. Their lyrics observe ironically how we are consumed by consumerism. They sample, distort and contort imagery into vivid portraits of life. Alexandre Kumpinski’s vocals are soothing and folksy. This is a band that deserves much more attention but one that will probably not reach many with their unconventional sounds.
Corpo, boca, pele, ponto, fim
Algo que nos vele
Infinito exato do que cederá
The Underside of Power – Algiers
The music of Algiers evades categorization. In these songs you’ll find beautiful gospel harmonies, hard rock guitar work, potent basslines and weird drumming. And it all comes together in an incredibly cohesive manner. The combination of sounds is wrapped in effective protest lyrics. The songs are subversive without being obvious and they’re personal without being melodramatic. In 12 songs, The Underside of Power is a must-listen of the year.
And her voice begs for comfort
But I cannot resist
To lie about my relationship
My relationship with that word: Abstraction
Jardin – Gabriel Garzon-Montano
Jardin is a plain fun and highly energetic album. Gabriel has assembled a collection of catchy tunes in Jardin. In them, surprising beats and samples accompany Gabriel’s soft voice. He merges hip-hop and R&B in interesting arrangements that remain engaging throughout the entire album. It’ll be interesting to see what Gabriel comes up with next.
And we bite with stolen teeth
Clattering in finery
Baseness glimmers all day
We’re going crazy over shiny things
Utopia – Björk
Utopia is the uplifting response to the dark Vulnicura. Whereas Vulnicura is made heavy by ominous string instrumentals, Utopia feels lighter due to the sounds of flutes and birds. The song structures are loose and chaotic. Natural order has taken over these songs. Björk sings in weird time signatures and disregards rules and convention. The result in an overarching well-crafted musical landscape. These are not individual songs as much as they are a musical manifesto of the ideal. The end-product is ultimately beautiful and haunting
Isn’t it odd?
Isn’t it peculiar?
These statistics of my mind
Shuffling your features
Assembling a man
Drunk – Thundercat
Drunk is part funk part R&B part Jazz part something else. It’s whimsical and silly. But it’s also serious and reflective. Thundercat ponders about the effect of technology in our lives and considers the meaning of death, systemic racism and the dangers of excess. At the same time, he sings about Goku and dedicates a song to his cat. All these contradictions work splendidly accompanied by phenomenal music in painting the authentic portrait of an artist.
Gotta stay connected so I know what’s happening
In these streets
Thank God for technology ‘cause where would we be if we couldn’t tweet our thoughts?
Eucalyptus – Avey Tare
To me, Eucalyptus sounds like the best Animal Collective project since Merriweather Post Pavilion. Each song oozes an individual psychedelic charm. The music in Eucalyptus is restrained in a way that Animal Collective hasn’t been in years. This lets Avey Tare’s amazing vocals soar through the cacophony in which he’s immersed. This is important because these are intimate songs. They’re about friendship and death and questions. Without a doubt, one of the highlights of the year.
Was on a beach and met PJ
But he died on a winter’s day
Capacity – Big Thief
Capacity is an intimate portrait of family. The cover is an unadorned photo you’d find in any family photo album. The scraps of life you find inside are profound and revealing. Adrianne Lenker is a gifted lyricist who pierces the heart with her touching anecdotes and the way she lets herself be affected by emotion. She responds with an organic expression of feminism in which she denounces toxic masculinity and embraces the feminine. The music is evocative and powerful. A great accomplishment.
You lie in bed at night and watch the lines of headlights through your screen
There is a child inside you who’s trying to raise a child in me
Sleep Well Beast – The National
The National’s latest does not, in general, break new ground. Instead, it refines that sophisticated and solid rock style they’ve been working with for years. Sleep Well Beast may be my favorite The National record. It’s pessimistic in the usual sense in which Matt Beringer writes. His vocals are, as usual, beautiful baritone. Electronic touches sprinkled throughout the more traditional rock instrumentals make this album more surprising than it would otherwise be. But there are no gimmicks here. The National simply delivers great music once again.
So blame it on me
I really don’t care
It’s a foregone conclusion
Peasant – Richard Dawson
Peasant is a conceptual album written by characters living in the 500s. The stories in this album reflect a cruel, dire age. By its own dark nature, it paints a much brighter present. The imagery is uncensored, the stories interesting, and the tone is dry. The music is a kind of medieval folk and works great with the dreadful stories told. Dawson is able to conjure the lives of these folks vividly and grab our attention with pleasant yet restless melodies.
The instalment of this modern wonder
Is for your own benefit
Down will rain boiling tar on your rooves, if you refuse
Arca – Arca
Arca has been in the news this year because he co-produced Utopia with Bjork. But more than just a collaborator, Arca is an accomplished musician known for his original approach to electronic music. The sounds on this album are extravagant and soft. They are eclectic and catchy. His voice is imperfect and his delivery is flawed. His lyrics are intimate and sensual. The album is appropriately self-titled, as it is a bare portrait of a man.
Quítame la piel de ayer
No sé caer
Los árboles mueren de pie
Villains – Queens of the Stone Age
Villains is a fun rock’n’roll album. Unlike many other rock’n’roll acts, QTOSA look tough but don’t sound that tough. These are funky songs with soft vocals and personal stories. Villains provides nothing groundbreaking, but it manages to maintain a high energy streak with the usual great guitar work intermingled with horns and synths for added funk.
Your heart is like a fortress
Keep your feelings locked away
Is it easier?
Does it make you feel safe?
American Dream – LCD Soundsystem
LCD Soundsystem have accomplished their usual greatness. The ironic juxtaposition of dance music and dark, depressing lyrics never gets boring. James Murphy has a way of delivering lyrics that feel serious even when they’re set against a background of synths and cowbell. It’s like he’s having a conversation with the us and we feel like we have to seriously consider what he has to say. It works and it’s great music to dance to while you ponder about mortality and police brutality.
Standing on the shore, facing east
Hang – Foxygen
Hang would be too much if it weren’t excellent satire. Nothing about the album is ever serious, except for the excellent arrangements. Foxygen have pastiched all of the greatest 70’s styles and have Sam France sing about overhyped optimism. The band employs an orchestra that provides a parody of the overdone staged arrangements of the 70’s. France simultaneously evokes Bowie, Reed and Van Morrison. Everything comes together for an elaborate sardonic album that is impossible not to admire and enjoy.
Just another wish, just another dream
Just a witch who comforts you when you’re dying
When you’re dying
Ahora – Luca Bocci
Ahora has a strong feeling of immediacy. The topics explored in this album are in the present tense, they are well captured by the snapshot that Luca takes with Ahora. But the music goes beyond the now, both to the past and to the future. Luca’s music evokes the classic rock of his native Argentine while at the same time looking towards the future. He is equally catchy and experimental. The way these fluid song structures work is a testament to Luca’s talent and prodigious ear.
Desvaneceré tu necedad de tormentas
Y entregado en mis sábanas te dormiré
Y robaré tus tambores
Para que no lluevan rayos sobre mí
En las mañanas
Rest – Charlotte Gainsbourg
In Rest, Charlotte explores death, love, life. The ghosts of her father and sister are beautifully painted in the songs in Rest. The lyrics are sometimes sad, sometimes dark, and sometimes upbeat. But the music is, for the most part, uplifting. She explores these personal matters, not with sadness or regrets, but as an observer honoring the memories of those dear to her. And uses the occasion to reflect on her role as a mother. The production is excellent, elevating electronic beats and piano to full spectacle in some of these songs.
Dans les traits de mes enfants endormis je plonge
Un reflet de mélancholie pâle s’allonge
Halo – Juana Molina
Halo is unsettling, dark, spooky. The subject at hand is witchcraft, potions, and poisoned apples. But the subtext is this beautiful landscape of words. In other words, she uses folklore motifs as a vehicle for beauty. Juana’s songs are engaging in the way they keep dodging expectations. The poetry she sings is accompanied by a pulsing bass and arresting drumming.
Ahora me olvidarás, ahora te olvidaré,
pero ya nunca será, aunque querramos volver.
La Síntesis O’Konor – El mató a un policía motorizado
This Argentinian band exemplifies what the media has been calling the new renaissance of rock music in Latin America. El mato… are quintessentially indie but they wear their Argentinian influence proudly. They envelope their art in mythological artwork and wordplay, much like traditional metal acts. But these songs are indie in their subject matters. They deconstruct Latin American machismo with the masculine angst of a new generation. Their music is delightfully ingenious and original.
Toda la noche nos vimos llorar
Toda la noche pelear y llorar
De esas noches que queremos olvidar
Green Twins – Nick Hakim
I’m not sure how to describe the genre Green Twins belongs to. It’s some sort of psychedelic soul. His delivery is definitely a mix of classic soul and avant-garde injection. The songs here are murky and psychedelic, creating an interesting contrast with Nick’s soulful vocals. He muses about God and love and sensuality accompanied by a tender piano that turns sensual with the help of brass. This debut is very promising and hopefully, we’ll get more great music from Nick.
If there’s a God
I wonder what she looks like
I bet she looks like you
I bet she looks like you
Favorite Songs NOT included in favorite albums
Put Your Money on Me; Everything Now; We Don’t Deserve Love – Arcade Fire
Arcade Fire is one of my favorite bands but the Everything Now album didn’t get to me the way their past endeavors have. However, these three songs were absolute standouts of the year for me. They’re as good as anything they’ve released in the past, and that’s saying much of a band I consider having a nearly flawless record (prior to this album). That being said, their live act is mindblowing.
Element; Duckworth; Fear; Lust – Kendrick Lamar
In DAMN. Kendrick Lamar has once again explored a complicated issue with that piercing insightfulness of his. This time, he struggles with damnation. To Pimp a Butterfly is one of my favorite albums but I didn’t connect with DAMN. as much. However, there are some great songs in it.
Chanel; Biking (Solo) – Frank Ocean
Frank Ocean didn’t release an album in 2017 but he released a number of singles. Chanel was the best of them. It’s not only the best Frank released but one of the best of 2017 overall. Biking was also another great one when he sang solo.
Supermodel; Drew Barrymore – SZA
If there’s an example of what a post-Frank Ocean world sounds like, it is SZA. In these two songs, she creates a baring, intimate account of herself. She does it with that sophisticated sense of musicality that Frank so expertly manages.
Tonya Harding (in Eb major); Visions of Gideon; Mystery of Love; The Hidden River of My Life; The Greatest Gift of All – Sufjan Stevens
Sufjan is immensely prolific. In addition to the amazing Planetarium, Sufjan contributed two beautiful original songs to the soundtrack of Call Me by Your Name and released an outtake collection of Carrie & Lowell, in addition to releasing the live version of the same album. Towards the end of the year, out of nowhere, he released Tonya Harding, a haunting portrait of an American hero (or so he claims). Sufjan is fond of these contradictions. He continues with his mission of is spreading love.
3WW; Adeline; Pleader – alt-J
I really enjoyed these three songs off of RELAXER by alt-J. The entire album is a pleasant experience but it’s not as consistent as their previous efforts. For me, these three slower songs were the highlights.
The Man – The Killers
The Man was the first glimpse we got of what The Killer’s comeback was going to be. Unfortunately, it was also the highlight, by far. Wonderful Wonderful has a few fun rock songs but it didn’t hold my interest for long.
Holding On – The War on Drugs
Holding On by the War on Drugs was one of my favorite songs. And the entirety of A Deeper Understanding is great but there wasn’t enough diversity in the album to keep me hooked. But it’s honestly great!
Where This Flower Blooms – Tyler, The Creator
Tyler also followed suit with a more R&B influenced album this time around. The highlight of Flower Boy, for me, was his collaboration with Frank Ocean. The contrast between the two voices and styles makes for a delightful song. Even more significant given the fact that Tyler proudly embraces his Frank Ocean influence throughout the rest of the album.
Tu Si Sabes Quererme; Rocio de Todos los Campos – Natalia Lafourcade
Natalia Lafourcade has teamed up with Los Macorinos to explore Mexican folk. The result is a delightful album of guitar-driven melodies, both new and familiar. As a whole, the project casts traditional Mexican music in a new light and reinvigorates this wonderful genre. Also, it’s easy to draw parallels between these songs and modern indie prog rock.