Top 25 Albums of 2017

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Amelia Cacchione / Daily
Tuesday, January 2, 2018 - 6:22pm

25. Guppy, Charly Bliss

Charly Bliss’s frontwoman and guitarist, Eva Hendricks pulls listeners into a sugary sounding trip of emotional turmoil and coming of age on Guppy. Her bubbly voice hits all of the right feelings that are involved in the girl-growing experience from insecurities and self reflection, to love and abusive relationships all strung over distorted guitar riffs and poppy drums. Throughout the record, Hendricks deals with anger cultivated by the world, by fake love and abusers, but not without a tone of regret for letting those things take a hold of her in the first place. With moments of despair and peaks of self-reflection, Guppy is an internal cry for help that can only be answered by yourself.

Selena Aguilera, Daily Arts Writer

24. Antisocialites, Alvvays 

Serving up bubblegum melodies over washy, nostalgic synths, Alvvays’s Antisocialities sticks in your head as seamlessly as “Archie” did in 2014. Three years after finding fame beyond their Canadian roots with their debut self-titled album, the indie-pop band’s follow-up stands as a succinct, twinkly soundtrack. Referencing chance encounters, dreams, astrology and a desire to “Forget About Life,” Molly Rankin’s voice swells through nostalgic lyrics and over ringing electric guitar riffs. Like Emily Dickinson’s #466, on Antisocialities, Alvvays “dwells in Possibility.”  During its peaks, the record feels like a walk down a city street during “magic hour,” a hazy house party and a deep-rooted teenage isolation, all at once.

Avery Friedman, Daily Arts Writer

23. Slowdive, Slowdive

Slowdive’s place as one of (if not the) founders of shoegaze gave them a solid fanbase throughout the ’90s, with landmark records like Souvlaki paving the way for a fresh generation of alternative musicmakers. The critical success of the the band’s self-titled comeback album proves that Slowdive’s abstract dream-rock has maintained musical relevance even 22 years after their last release. The stars of the album, like “Sugar for the Pill” and “Star Roving” balance angular guitar with synthesized hooks that produce a feeling which one could imagine is similar to floating in space, a sense that makes up the core of their work. Slowdive presents somewhat of an echo of the group’s past, but twists and builds that echo into something very innovative and beautiful, creating one of the best alt-rock albums of the year.

Clara Scott, Daily Arts Writer

22. Take Me Apart, Kelela

Take Me Apart is enigmatic. Falling somewhere between pop and R&B with a touch of soul, Kelela defies genre classification and delivers one of 2017’s most compelling albums. With production from Ariel Rechtshaid (HAIM, Adele, Vampire Weekend) and Arca (Kanye West, FKA Twigs, Bjork), Kelela explores the intricacies of her relationships from intimacy to break-up. Standout tracks include “Blue Light” and “LMK” showcasing the insanely dynamic production of this album.

Danny Madion, Daily Arts Writer

21. Luv Is Rage 2, Lil Uzi Vert

In late 2016 Migos released “Bad and Boujee” with a feature from up-and-coming Philadelphia rapper Lil Uzi Vert. The single introduced Uzi to the charts and prefaced his 2017 emo-rap takeover. On Luv Is Rage 2 — the follow-up to his 2015 mixtape and first studio album — Uzi is one of rap’s most innovative figures. Blending emo lyrics with a mix of mumble rap and catchy, pop-worthy choruses, Uzi delivers an extremely cohesive yet diverse project. Outside of the standout single “XO TOUR Llif3,” don’t sleep on “The Way Life Goes,” “X” or “Dark Queen.”

Danny Madion, Daily Arts Writer

20. Stranger in the Alps, Phoebe Bridgers

Two months after its release, my friend recommended I give Stranger in the Alps a listen while we were doing work at our local Espresso Royale. With headphones in, I breezed through the first song, “Smoke Signals,” impressed by the subtle harmonic arrangements and Phoebe Bridgers’s tender and enveloping vocal tones. And then “Motion Sickness” came on, and my jaw nearly hit the floor. “Funeral” came next and my jaw fell off.

Stranger in the Alps is an incredible amalgamation of folk, alternative and pop into a concrete record composed of brutal honesty. Celestial synth weaves beneath the surface of “Demi Moore,” which opens with raw desire and loneliness: “Take a dirty picture, babe. / I can’t sleep, and I miss your face.” The folksy melody of “Funeral” backdrops Bridgers’s struggle to relate her own existential melancholy to the very tangible sadness that accompanies death. On her debut, Bridgers somehow blends a perfect concoction of emotional candor and impressive compositions that made her a standout artist of 2017.

Dominic Polsinelli, Senior Arts Editor

19. Soft Sounds from Another Planet, Japanese Breakfast

Who knew a song about road head could be so beautiful? Michelle Zauner, apparently. Soft Sounds from Another Planet lives up to its title, ethereal in how easily the music takes you to an entirely other space. The work is both jaunty and dance-worthy while also sharp and honest. It’s the kind of music that needs to be listened to on full volume, the sound enveloping you. On “Machinist,” the saxophone break offers a pleasant, melodic reprieve. “Diving Woman,” the opening track, sets up spinning layers of guitar, synth and percussion below Zauner’s subdued vocals. Though cohesive in sound, Soft Sounds is never stale. It is beautiful from afar, but the more you hear the more you want. Each listen lifts you further from the ground.

Carly Snider, Daily Arts Writer

18. A Crow Looked at Me, Mount Eerie

In 2016, Phil Elverum’s wife died, leaving him alone with a one-year-old daughter. He released A Crow Looked At Me, a musical rumination over her death under his musical project, Mount Eerie, in March 2017. The instrumentation is sparse and mournful, dominated by clean guitar, giving the impression of Elverum playing alone in his cabin. If you plan on listening, be prepared: A Crow Looked At Me hits like a sledgehammer. Every song so deeply personal and devastating that it feels silly to attempt to describe them. Elverum masterfully depicts both the abstract (the longing for metaphorical meaning in nature and the imagery found in his memories of his wife) and the painfully specific (her “bloody, end-of-life tissues” and her jaundiced skin). The album refuses comparison or categorization. There is no light at the end of this tunnel, and there is no coping. There is just emptiness.

Jonah Mendelson, Daily Arts Writer

17. Rainbow, Kesha

Rainbow is a shot of empowerment, not only for listeners but also for Kesha herself. The first album released since Kesha’s legal battles with Dr. Luke, Rainbow has a wildly different tone from both Animal and Warrior. Instead of party tracks engineered for chart-topping, the album features heart-wrenching and beautifully written songs about growth (“Learn To Let Go”), self love (“Woman”) and forgiveness (“Praying”). Where Kesha’s character used to get lost in music that made her out to be a carefree party girl, Rainbow shows that she’s anything but — it’s easier than ever to look past the outer layers of her music to feel the genuine strength and vulnerability that make up her character.

Samantha Lu, Daily Arts Writer

16. I See You, The xx

This year, The xx returned in full force with their third record I See You, a work of art which advanced the recognizable sound of the London trio into a new era. On the album, producer Jamie xx manages to elevate the already near-perfect instrumentation and vocals from members Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim to another level. This well-balanced, tight production brings a spunky edge to their minimalist R&B style on standouts like “Dangerous” and “Test Me,” as catchy hooks dot each song without overshadowing the group’s poignant lyrics. Although The xx is still riding on the overwhelming success of their self-titled debut record, it’s clear that I See You has the potential to be just as timeless.

Clara Scott, Daily Arts Writer

15. Rocket, (Sandy) Alex G

After rattling off four albums through 2014 and 2015, the space ahead of this year’s Rocket felt like an opportunity to reset. Frontman Alex Giannascolli essentially announced his intentions for the new album with the release of “Bobby” in May. “Folk!” the single cries, “with aggressively accessible melodies!”

“Bobby” was an unexpected turn for the now four-piece outfit, but the rest of the album doesn’t necessarily follow suit. Songs like “Poison Root” and “Powerful Man” are similarly folk inflected, but “Horse” and “Brick” occupy other extremes. “Horse” is a frantic dirge featuring creepy moaning, while “Brick” is both the angriest and noisiest we’ve ever heard Alex G. It’s difficult to find a clear-cut narrative through Rocket, but if nothing else it feels like Giannascoli addressing his relative fame. He demonstrates reassuring self-awareness and never hesitates to humble himself. Sometimes, it seems, he wonders how he got here, while all we can do is wonder where he’ll go next.

— Sean Lang, Daily Arts Writer

14. No Shape, Perfume Genius 

The significance of Seattle-native Mike Hadreas’s fourth album, No Shape, is best understood within the context of a greater trajectory. He began quietly, releasing his intimately lo-fi recordings on MySpace starting in 2008. Learning (2010) and Put Your Back N 2 It (2012) were both characterized by Hadreas’s delicate croon, which hangs over sparse arrangements of acoustic guitar and piano. The pained quietness and sorrowful reserve that characterizes his earlier work gave way to a defiant strut in 2014 as Too Brights leading single “Queen” garnered more widespread attention.

In three words, Hadreas’s career can be defined as narration of his struggles as a gay man, confrontation (“Queen”’s iconic satire: “No family’s safe / when I sashay”) and reconciliation. On No Shape, Hadreas finds himself more capable of love than ever before, and the album is a manifestation of that love. It is shameless, nuanced and overwhelmingly beautiful.

Sean Lang, Daily Arts Writer

13. After Laughter, Paramore

After Laughter is a perfect example of Paramore's ability to strike the line between being world-weary and completely alive at the same time. On one end of the spectrum, there are songs like the acidic yet jumpy “Rose-Colored Boy” and the party crasher “Hard Times”; on the other end, there are the melodic strings of “26” and the surprisingly tender “Tell Me How.” And then there are songs like the dread-infused “No Friend” and the lyrically stunning “Idle Worship,” which seem almost to exist on a different spectrum altogether. Throughout it all, Paramore is eloquent, energetic and honest, both with us and with themselves. After Laughter may be their most mature album yet, using all of their familiar talents — clever lyrics, an angsty yet hopeful spirit and, of course, the splendor of Hayley Williams — to new advantages.

Laura Dzubay, Daily Arts Writer

12. MASSEDUCTION, St. Vincent

Even when Annie Clark is tired, she isn't tired. She proves this time and time again on MASSEDUCTION, never failing to deliver passion and real emotion, from sarcastically bouncy “Pills” (in which she's tired of pills) to the ethereal “Slow Disco” (in which she's tired of dancing with someone at a party). The album glides easily between tenderness and edge, and Clark hits the nail on the head every time, whether she's baring her soul or baring her teeth. At times mournful, desperate, determined and confessional, MASSEDUCTION finds St. Vincent more awake than ever.

Laura Dzubay, Daily Arts Writer

11. Drunk, Thundercat

On his third studio album, bassist and vocalist Thundercat solidifies his brand: a marriage of goofy techno-funk and dissonant jazz. On Drunk, Stephen Bruner’s seemingly improvised melodies and signature falsetto have a certain mesmerizing charm. When blended with his undeniably groovy beats and bass lines, they create a sound that is just left of center. For 51 minutes, you are in Thundercat’s ethereal and almost nonsensical world, as he meows in the background of “A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song Suite II)” and asks where he left his phone on “A Bus in These Streets.” As a bonus, you run into yacht rock legends Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald and hip-hop king Kendrick Lamar while you’re there.

Mike Watkins, Daily Arts Writer

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True Panther Sounds

 

10. The OOZ, King Krule

Ah, the state of the UK in 2017: The reality of Brexit settles in, and Fabric has its license revoked. Dark times in London called for a dark album from Peckham’s preeminent Lonely Boy, Archy Marshall.

More so than any other record this year, The OOZ is dense; at times the album is difficult to finish, but it always finds a way to immerse you, almost hypnotically, to the absolute fringes of the world it creates. It spans from Barcelona, the home of Archy’s mysterious girlfriend, to Bermondsey and the corridors of Le Marais.

Though the album is a bit of a globetrotter with regard to influences and references, it mainly takes place in the extreme depths of Archy’s insecurities, anxieties, doubts and fears. The listening experience is like evaporating into a cloud of smoke, only to be pulled back into the guck of a world you’re trying to escape.

Although this is familiar territory for a King Krule album, sonically it deviates into jazz fusion and much harder rock sounds than we’ve heard from Archy before. He screams a bit, but he also cries, growls and mumbles. It’s clear that he’s still figuring things out, and that likely won’t end when the year does too.

Shayan Shafii, Daily Arts Writer

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Matador Records

 

9. Turn Out the Lights, Julien Baker

On Turn Out the Lights, Julien Baker peels off every layer of her skin and exposes her most vulnerable self. She steps further into the insecurities that she revealed on her 2015 record, Sprained Ankle, dealing with the ghosts of substance abuse and the self-doubt that follows. Her haunting voice creates a personal conversation where she whispers her biggest secrets, her deepest regrets and her greatest fears into your ear as goosebumps grow on your arms. The record’s tranquil piano and guitar flow into the river of emotions that Baker is pulling out of her gut, creating one harmonious moment of catharsis that is Turn Out the Lights.

Selena Aguilera, Daily Arts Writer

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Def Jam Recordings

 

8. Big Fish Theory, Vince Staples

Big Fish Theory is a futuristic wet dream. It’s polished synths and sleek electronic beats bring to mind the basement of a Tron-esque club. Presiding over the entire scene, Vince Staples acts as the nihilistic neon demon. His flow is almost manic, a relentless frenzy of energy that illuminates the glitch among the glamour of rap stardom. Individual tracks are hybrids that mesh rave and hip hop to create dark bangers: social commentary on the dance floor. “Crabs in a Bucket” and “Party People” especially revealing the fame that weighs heavy on Staples’s shoulders. Amid the lacquered shine of expensive cars and stacks of cash, stereotypes and expectations of what a young African American man should be creep next to disillusionment and hopelessness.

There is no reserve as Vince Staples dives into Big Fish Theory. He embraces his own cynicism, traversing the bleak landscape with ease, leaving behind a mirage of pulsing tempos and slick rhymes; destitution disguised as a macabre celebration.

Shima Sadaghiyani, Daily Music Editor

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Dominic Polsinelli / Daily

7. Flower Boy, Tyler, The Creator

Since the release of his mixtape in 2009, Tyler, The Creator has established himself as a master storyteller, fabricating a cohesive fairytale that spans across three albums. Bastard, Goblin and Wolf introduce us to a variety of Tyler’s alter-egos: Wolf Haley, Dr. TC, Tron Cat and Sam, among others. His characters exist within the fictional world of Camp Flog Gnaw, dropping in and out of therapy sessions and asylum visits. Everything is a little unhinged, including the storyline, which seems to be purposely made difficult to follow. Every time you think you’re starting to understand the motive behind all the madness, you get lost in the chaos of non-linear timelines, songs that just don’t make sense and blunt rhymes wrapped in barbed wire.

Flower Boy is different.

Tyler, The Creator deconstructs the entire world he spent nearly eight years building. From this wreckage, Flower Boy unfurls: a multicolored dreamscape rich with expressive vocals and flowing background instrumentals. Individual tracks are wistful reflections on everything from old relationships to burgeoning sexualities. They flow together effortlessly, creating an intimate connectivity that is unmatched in any of his previous work. This is Tyler, The Creator at his most sincere, trading in subversion for vulnerability. Multiple personas and convoluted narratives are replaced by straightforward acceptance: “Tell these black kids they could be who they are / Dye your hair blue, shit, I’ll do it too.”    

Understanding the necessity for growth, he allows himself to bloom: Flower boy T finally found his wings.

Shima Sadaghiyani, Daily Music Editor

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Columbia

6. Harry Styles, Harry Styles

If you would have told 2010 Styles fans that he would go on to launch a solo career full of floral Gucci suits, a heavy coating of tattoos and a lyrical comparison between a cocaine-filled nose and a tunnel full of traffic, they would be hesitant to believe you. Yet, all of these things have come to fruition quite wonderfully. Harry Styles is simultaneously tender and exclamatory; Styles peacocks as a young, Jagger-esque rocker while lamenting and praising genuine affection.  Aware of his audience's and his own aging, he includes blushingly-intimate details without being crass (See: Fellow 1D alum Liam Payne’s “Strip That Down”). Harry Styles is an extremely strong debut, well-suited for One Direction veterans and new listeners alike.

Carly Snider, Daily Arts Writer

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Dominic Polsinelli / Daily

 

5. american dream, LCD Soundsystem

Forgive those who thought american dream was underwhelming, or even stale, at first. Initially it could have felt as if the group failed to veer from its trademark album format of catharsis: Each song an at least six-minute post-punk curation of doggedly burnt out emotion. Slowly, however, the album has a way of seeping in. There’s the nuance of each synthy progression on “how do you sleep”; the nu-disco overload on “tonite”; James Murphy’s hollowed-out vocals in “american dream.” Such a diverse collection of sounds backs up Murphy’s characteristically dense-yet-concise lyricism. “oh baby” is arguably the gem of the album, a warm croon replete with an indescribably ’90’s sound and emotionally-weaponized melodies. In LCD’s universe, time is merely a construct both in literal track length and full listening absorption. With american dream, too, it may take a while. But like in any measure of musical temporality, somehow, eventually, you’re going to need to hear whatever Murphy says (even without realizing as much beforehand), and you’re probably going to cry as you do.

— Joey Schuman, Daily Arts Writer

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Young Turks

4. Process, Sampha 

From the opening chords of Process, there’s nowhere else to go but within. They’re plucked from some strange universe that Sampha has carefully constructed, where the entirety of the album exists. It’s where synths, strings and keys not only play off one another, but mimic each other. “Plastic 100C,” a slow moving anthem about the fear of climax, opens up this world; what unfolds over ten tracks is a kind of fragmented dance, urgent at times, languid at others.

So much of Process is about relationships, both romantic and familial. Sampha’s mother, Binty Sisay, passed away in 2015, and though largely unspoken (at least explicitly) he seems to navigate that grief through his other relationships. His mother sometimes sits behind the “you” in these lyrics, and Sampha spins out this delicate web of love and loss with beautiful vocals. On Process, Sampha finally perfects the R&B palette he has curated for years, with greatness only hinted at.

— Matt Gallatin, Daily Arts Writer

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Top Dawg Entertainment

 

3. Ctrl, SZA

If Top Dawg Entertainment is a world-class university — with label superstar/professor Kendrick Lamar integrating his encyclopedic knowledge of all things historical and cultural into each one of his lectures, er, songs — SZA is its blossoming student, now equipped with new knowledge and building on previous lessons (see: 2014 studio debut Z). This scholarly tinge informs Ctrl, a genre-crossing release that really is as sonically malleable as it is sheer listening pleasure. As with any album of this year-defining caliber there are those characteristically breathtaking moments: When the singer boasts of “secretly banging your homeboy” before admitting to an unwelcome dependence over a lush guitar on “Supermodel,” for example, and also on “Broken Clocks” with a soulful punch (“Can't beat ‘em just join the party / I don’t wanna don't need nobody”). SZA ultimately gives a deeply personal lecture where her insecurities and strengths meet elegant, layered production; a stream-of-consciousness broadcasted as gorgeous poetry in (R&B) motion.

Joey Schuman, Daily ArtsWriter

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Top Dawg Entertainment

2. DAMN., Kendrick Lamar

DAMN. finds Kendrick Lamar running circles around his competition after the critical and commercial successes of Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City and To Pimp A Butterfly, but it doesn’t always feel like a victory lap. While songs like “ELEMENT.” and “LOYALTY.” find Kendrick at his most arrogant, other tracks like “YAH.” and “FEEL.” partially dispel this illusion of confidence, instead portraying his stardom through a lens of paranoia and bitterness. The sonic palette is correspondingly bleak as well as somewhat anachronistic: Motown-esque Fender bass tones and old-school tags by Kid Capri mingle with hard-hitting 808s and rolling hi-hats. There is a subtle anxiety pervading the album, created by dissonant chords, paranoid lyrics and the ominous recurring motif of a sound best described as a distorted flock of birds, reminiscent of the looped tape effects found in “Tomorrow Never Knows.” Kendrick’s lyricism is as sharp as ever, every song packed with clever and insightful bars, particularly on “FEAR.” and “XXX” where the storytelling and social commentary in both are among his very best. Even the less substantive tracks such as “LOVE.” and “GOD.” are well-made and absorbing, providing some necessary respite from the weighty topics of the adjacent songs. Part of what makes this work so compelling is the ambiguity: Kendrick weaves together egotism and self-defeat, dissonance and brightness, to create an album that feels less like a celebration and more like a contemplation.

Jonah Mendelson, Daily Arts Writer

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Amelia Cacchione / Daily

1. Melodrama, Lorde

There is a bizarre, nebulous space between 18 and 21 that sometimes gets called “19 and 20,” but is more aptly titled “melodrama.” New Zealand pop queen Lorde spins her sophomore album from the heartache and hormones that dominate that space, and holds a mirror and a microscope up to the world my peers and I are moving through.

Lorde is my peer, too. And while celebrities age prematurely, our emotional experiences run parallel to each other. Her first album Pure Heroine defined my high school years. But that’s an easier moment to define. On Melodrama Lorde dances through post-teenage wreckage: broken glass on a floor sticky with champagne bought with a fake ID. She parses wisdom from the tragedy that is growing up and realizing that every heartbreak isn’t the end of the world and every new love isn’t its beginning.

Lorde traverses this glittering world, but never seems to wholly belong to it. She asks, early on: “But what will we do when we’re sober?” a question that looms over the rest of the album. What happens when the party ends — “lights are on and they’ve gone home, but who am I?” she asks later. What happens when the album ends and she’s no longer “young” or “new?" What happens when the novelty of novelty wears off?

Melodrama is everything a 20-year-old is: anxious, poetic, vulnerable and alive with beauty. This isn’t just the album of the year; it’s the album of a generation.

Madeleine Gaudin, Managing Arts Editor