2017 was a year in which many of my current favorite artists put out new albums. Going into the year I was super excited and impatient to get my hands on their newest creations. If I liked what they made before, surely I’ll like what they make today? Sadly that didn’t turn out to be the case.
Most of the music that I listened to on repeat was from artists that I had never listened to before. Most of them were new artists as well. They breathed new life and sounds into a musical landscape that, without them, would have been pretty boring.
One of my top dissapointments for the year was the new Grizzly Bear album which never grabbed my full attention. I can typically tell after the first few seconds of an album if I’m going to enjoy it, and I knew - even from the early release of their single - that the new Grizzly Bear album would leave a, well, unbearable impression. That was super disapointing. I’ve loved almost all the previous Grizzly Bear albums and to have one come out that left me with a solid “meh” impression wasn’t fun. (Don’t get me wrong, the album isn’t bad. It’s just not anywhere near as good as their previous works.)
Also on my list of honorable mentions were follow-up albums from Spoon and The Xx. Spoon (unlike Grizzly Bear) has yet to disapoint me. They almost made it into my top 10 but they got beat out by other albums that were simply better. And The Xx’s album was fine. Nothing will be as good as their first album, but at least this record wasn’t as bad as their second album. But again, there was other music that was just better.
The honorable mentions this year, in alphabetical order.
- Amine - Good For You
- A Boogie wit Da Hoodie - The Bigger Artist
- Blackbear - digital druglord
- Dirty Projectors - Dirty Projectors
- dvsn - Morning After
- Father John Misty - Pure Comedy
- Four Tet - New Energy
- Grizzly Bear - Painted Ruins
- HAIM - Something To Tell You
- Iron & Wine - Beast Epic
- Jessie Reyez - Kiddo
- Lorde - Melodrama
- mansionz - Mansionz
- Maggie Rogers - Now That the Light Is Fading EP
- Spoon - Hot Thoughts
- St. Vincent - MASSEDUCTION
- The xx - I See You
The overall trend of genre that I fell in love with this year has been R&B. I’ve loved the crooning voices over grooving baselines that gets my head bobbing up and down while I ride the subway around New York. Getting into a chill groove was also the perfect antidote to an otherwise tumultuous and stressful year (2017, amirite?). My unconscious mind knew what it needed to set itself at ease. Without these albums, this year would have been a whole lot worse.
Top 10 Albums of 2017
10. JAY-Z “4:44”
4:44, as most popular music publications have already written, was a raw confessional album of Jay-Z dealing with his demons, insecurities, and bad behavior (namely, cheating on Beyonce). The raw and honest writing combined with Jay-Z’s uncontested rapping prowess produced an album of strong individual tracks that - while very good - did not produce a cohesive album or message. Each track tackles a different subject matter, without any bleeding of subject matter between the songs. If it wasn’t for the individual strength of each track I doubt I would have liked it as much, however it resulted in an album that was hard to listen to on repeat as each song demanded its own individual attention. In some ways this album would be better reviewed by looking at each song apart from the whole, however I usually listen to albums and as a result this one comes in at the bottom of my list.
9. Sam Smith “The Thrill of It All”
I can’t get over Sam Smith’s voice. Honestly, everytime I think he’s going to miss a note or fall flat he just soars above all my expectations and leaves me dumbfounded at his effortless delivery.
This is a slow album full of songs that Sam Smith croons over. In fact, you wouldn’t be wrong to call this an adult contemporary album. The general pace of this album is much slower than the first and that’s probably my biggest grievance. I would have loved some Disclosure-influenced songs however I think this record is a much more accurate depiction of who Sam Smith is and what type of music he enjoys creating.
8. Daughter “Music From Before the Storm”
I’m a big fan of instrumental rock, however I haven’t heard an instrumental rock album that has resonated with me in such a strong way until discovering this album. Truth be told I know nothing about this band or this album past what it sounds like, and I’m more than content by just knowing this album.
The only thing I enjoy more than instrumental rock is when there’s a touch of vocals added into the mix as an additional instrument. This is done perfectly on this record. It reminds me of one of my favorite records of all time, Ambulance LTD and that’s probably one of the highest compliments I can give to an album.
I don’t drive anymore because I live in a city however if I did this would be a record that would keep me warm on a long dark ride into the country.
7. Nick Mulvey “Wake Up Now”
I’m such a sucker for singer-songwriters. I’ve been a fan of Nick Mulvey for a while now and this album came at just the right time. I’ve sucked it down and listened to it on repeat, letting his acoustic guitar and soft croon pacify my nerves and calm my mind. If I were to ever make my own music this is the type of music I would love to create. Just a man and a guitar, making lovely music together.
6. Mount Kimbie “Love What Survives”
I almost missed Mount Kimbie. A few years back I got a last minute invite to see a concert with a friend. The concert was for Mount Kimbie’s second album, and I ended up going without having heard any songs. I was blown away by the concert and Mount Kimbie and I’ve been a huge fan ever since.
This is their third album and it is 100% just as solid as their first two albums. It is obviously a Mount Kimbie record, keeping their patented sound, however it also manages to branch out and explore new areas. That’s always a hard feat for a band to accomplish and it was thrilling to hear it from Mount Kimbie. (In case you haven’t heard Mount Kimbie before, they create electronic music with catchy drum beats and an otherwise dark feel, similar to the first Xx album. It has guest vocalists as well that round out individual songs.)
Like all Mount Kimbie albums it has one fatal flaw. It’s too short. Only 11 tracks. Sure, quality is better than quantity, but can’t we get both for once?
5. SZA “Ctrl”
I’m almost embarrassed to admit it, but I almost overlooked SZA. I had her singles playing on repeat however for some unknown reason I never took a listen to her entire album until December. Abashed at my neglect I started to devour this album, putting it on repeat to understand what I did and didn’t like about the album. I started listening to make sure I hadn’t missed something great, and by my third listen I knew I had indeed almost missed something great. This album has consumed December for me and I honestly didn’t know where to put it on this list as I had to rush my listens. So I stuck it in the middle. Had I listened to it earlier in the year there is a very strong chance it could have made its way higher in the list but alas, you only get to listen to something for the first time once.
That preamble aside, once I began listening to Ctrl I was unable to stop. The breakout song is undoubtedly The Weekend but really the entire vibe to this album is wonderful. SZA croons and prowls around every song, ensnaring the listener into her world with effortless ease. The album gives me tingles.
4. Khalid “American Teen”
Remember how I mentioned R&B was a big trend for me this year? Khalid continues that trend, coming up just after SZA.
I think the best way to describe Khalid is to provide some context. He’s a normal 19 year old kid who has dreams just like everyone else. When he was 14 he tweeted that he would love to go the Grammys one day. Five years later it happened. Those two tweets are probably among my favorite tweets from this year.
There are so many catchy songs that I keep forgetting they all come from the same album. It’s rare for an album to have standalone hits that still make the sum bigger than its parts but that is what Khalid was able to do with this album.
Listen to the songs by themselves or in the flow of the album, you’ll be delighted either way.
3. Kendrick Lamar “DAMN”
Kendrick Lamar is a pretty damn good rapper, isn’t he? I mean, if you didn’t already know that then you have some things to catch up on. But if you are just getting to know Kendrick Lamar off of DAMN then that is a very fine place to start.
DAMN continues Kendrick Lamar’s place at the top of the rap game. He’s just so damn good. He knows he’s good but he doesn’t take it for granted. He still puts in the work to make sure every song is just as good as every other.
2. Daniel Caesar “Freudian”
If you haven’t listened to the breakout track from this record, We Find Love please do so now. It’s the single song that gave me the most feels out of any other song this entire year. I played it so often I was worried I would wear it out. However I was so grateful when that never happened. When the entire backing choir comes into the song I just get transported away to a place that makes me feel happy and safe. It’s a perfect song.
The rest of the album isn’t as good as that perfection but if that song is an 11 then everything else varies between a 7 and a 9. The smooth voice of Daniel Caesar combined with his ernest words made this an album full of honest and true emotions and feelings.
1. Future “HNDRXX”
I think this was my most listened to album of 2017. While the album itself is a little sprawling at 18 tracks, the first 8 tracks are all standouts. I did not expect to like this album as much as I did but more often then not I’d find myself putting this album on while I went out about my day.
Tracks 3-6 I can play on loop again and again. The groove and song-rap of Future imbued the songs with such a strong vibe that to this day I find myself unable to dance along.
I don’t think this album will be to everyone’s liking as much as it was to mine but there’s a certain mood and vibe that carries throughout that made this my number one album of 2017.
Small addendum. Here’s my top 20 most played songs from 2017 as well. This is just generated from iTunes.
- We Find Love by Daniel Caesar from Freudian with 32
- Young Dumb & Broke by Khalid from American Teen with 27
- Four Years and One Day by Mount Kimbie from Love What Survives with 24
- Supermodel by SZA from Ctrl with 21
- Blue Train Lines (feat. King Krule) by Mount Kimbie from Love What Survives with 20
- Passionfruit by Drake from More Life with 19
- Say Something Loving by The xx from I See You with 19
- Blessed by Daniel Caesar from Freudian with 18
- Love Galore (feat. Travis Scott) by SZA from Ctrl with 18
- Dangerous by The xx from I See You with 18
- Best Part (feat. H.E.R.) by Daniel Caesar from Freudian with 17
- Mourning Sound by Grizzly Bear from Painted Ruins with 17
- Too Good at Goodbyes by Sam Smith from The Thrill of It All (Special Edition) with 17
- Keep Running by Tei Shi from Crawl Space with 17
- No Promises by A Boogie wit da Hoodie from The Bigger Artist with 16
- Glass by Daughter from Music From Before the Storm with 16
- My Collection by Future from HNDRXX with 16
- American Teen by Khalid from American Teen with 16
- Saved by Khalid from American Teen with 16
- Lips by The xx from I See You with 16