Best of 17: My Favorite Albums of 2017

kendrick-lamar-variety-hitmakers31. Kendrick Lamar
DAMN.
Aftermath/Interscope
After pouring so much — sonically and emotionally — into his masterful, “To Pimp a Butterfly,” it’s understandable that Kendrick followed it up with the most stripped-down record of his career. Though nowhere near as essential as TPAB (or even “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City”), there’s a ton to like on the back half of this disc, from ridiculous feats of storytelling (“FEAR.” “DUCKWORTH.”) to a pair of tender, insightful love songs (“LOVE.” “LOYALTY.”).

Start With: “LOYALTY.” (f/ Rihanna) / “LOVE.” (f/ Zacari)

30. Ryan Adams
Prisoner
PAX-AM
It was a weird year to be a Ryan Adams fan. After nearly a decade of critical apathy, his Mandy Moore break-up LP suddenly started garnering legitimate buzz, like it was 2005 again. The truth is, the biggest difference between the Springsteen-obsessed disc and the rest of his secretly solid recent work is the easily digestible narrative. “Prisoner” isn’t a game-changer, but it is a well-made collection of mid-tempo, heartfelt rock songs by one of the best craftsmen working in the genre today.

Start With: “Shiver and Shake” / “We Disappear”

29. Sorority Noise
You’re Not As _____ As You Think
Triple Crown
The Connecticut emo/alt-rock quartet’s third album is a really impressive record that’s also reeeealllly tough to listen to. Death, fear, lost faith, and despair are around every corner here, bravely and insightfully chronicled by 24 year-old singer/songwriter Cameron Boucher. Though it is certainly uncomfortable at times, it’s one of those rare records that has become a very important album to a great deal of young people, and much of that is owed to Boucher’s gutsy decision to open up and let the world in.

Start With: “Second Letter From St. Julien” /  “No Halo”

28. YoungBoy Never Broke Again
“AI YoungBoy”
Never Broke Again
The most promising young Southern rapper around, the Baton Rouge native dropped a trio of solid projects this year. His tribute to The Answer is the strongest of the bunch, featuring impressive range and consistency. The 18 year-old has a knack for lacing his bars with melodic hooks, which keep his verses stuck in your head even more than the choruses. One to watch in 2018.

Start With: “Untouchable” / “No. 9”


Jaws-of-Love-press-photo-2017-cr-Lani-Trock-billboard-1548
27. Jaws of Love.
Tasha Sits Close to the Piano
K-Rizzla
Disappointingly ignored by much of the mainstream blogosphere, Local Natives singer Kelcey Ayer’s debut solo album is a beautiful collection of heartfelt piano ballads. Ayer writes astutely about easing into adulthood and a committed relationship with a mixture of appreciation, trepidation, joy, and acceptance. My favorite bit about the record is the way he captures the way our loved ones keep us grounded and grateful in this increasingly bewildering world.

Start With: “Hawaiian License Plates.” / “Microwaves”

26. Grizzle
“Consort”
Liminal Sounds
One of the freshest dance EPs of the year, the London-based producer’s crafts swirling, evocative neo-grime tracks that are a bit reminiscent of ThunderPenguin favorite MssingNo. Unlike a lot of producers, he doesn’t work in a linear, build-up/breakdown or verse/chorus structure, rather keeping the listener on their toes with an undulating arrangement that will grow organically and drop when you least expect it.

Start With: “Consort” / “Eleusis”

25. Jacques Greene
“Feel Infinite”
LuckyMe
The Montreal producer’s debut LP was six years in the making, and goddamn, it was worth the wait. The 28 year-old manages to distill many of the best parts of his life-affirming live shows into 11 ecstatic, house-leaning club tracks that sound just as good in your earbuds as they do in the club (well, almost as good). Unlike a lot of dance records, Greene doesn’t rely on guest vocalists to keep you engaged, rather relying on lyrical programming and expertly chosen samples.

Start With: “True” (f/ How to Dress Well) / “Fall”

24. G Perico
“All Blue”
So Way Out
Though the LA native doesn’t get half the shine he deserves, G Perico had an insane year, dropping three excellent slabs of West Coast G-funk. On the best record of the bunch, “All Blue,” the 29 year-old tells stories that prime Snoop Dogg would be proud of, while offering subtle but substantial insight about the toll that gang life can have on a person. He touches on dealing with constant pain from a gunshot wound in the hip and the emotional cost of constantly looking over your shoulder. One of the most promising voices in hip-hop.

Start With: “Can’t Play” / “Keep Ballin”

23. The War on Drugs
“A Deeper Understanding”
Atlantic

If you really value craft, you’ll love Adam Granduciel’s meticulous fourth LP. Every little piece of this thing sounds pristine, from the layers of strummed guitars to the atmospheric keys to the reverb jumping off the snare. It’s basically a musical impressionist painting. Impressive as the construction is, it is held back by its opaque, vague lyrics, which rarely go deeper than pretty words that sound nice but say little.

Start With: “In Chains” / “Clean Living”

Screen Shot 2018-01-18 at 6.15.22 PM22. Hiroshi Yoshimura
“Music for Nine Postcards”
Empire in Signs
Originally released back in 1982, the late Japanese ambient composer’s debut album got its first release outside of Japan this year. Crafted only with a keyboard and a Fender Rhodes, “Music for Nine Postcards” is possibly the most purely, melodically beautiful album I heard this year. The arrangements are simple, but they are pristine, carefully crafted to swell and recede seamlessly. Best of all, it has served as a gateway drug to Yoshimura’s back catalogue and the rest of the Japanese ambient scene.

Start With: “Clouds” / “Water Copy”

21. SZA
“Ctrl”
Top Dawg
The dirty little secret about SZA’s wonderful debut LP is that the men who are now basking in the glow of her success are the very ones who tried to keep her from releasing it in the first place. The disc is soaked in self-doubt, perpetrated by people who have tried to stand in the way of her realizing her potential, both personally and professionally. However, she is a fighter with deep-seeded self-belief, and “Ctrl” is the sound of her pushing back against the obstacles that have tried to keep her from sharing her unique, vital voice with the world.

Start With: “Supermodel” / “Prom”

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