2017 was a year of highs and lows, but mostly lows. Fortunately, we were given plenty of highs in the form of plenty of great albums, as I never had a shortage of delightful tunes to get me through this year that was for the most part dismal. Granted, I still continue to feel overwhelmed by the amount of music available, as I’m now fairly entrenched in my commitment to streaming, while I still can’t help myself from buying lots of newer music on vinyl, mainly because I’m just a sucker for that limited edition colored vinyl. But hey, it was a year where indulging your vices was slightly more acceptable than usual. And luckily, with albums like these, I never felt a shred of guilt towards this most vital of indulgences.
Japandroids – Near To The Wild Heart of Life
Jay Som – Everybody Works
Julien Baker – Turn Out The Lights
Destroyer – ken
Pretty much anything I went to the trouble of reviewing on this site…
10. The National – Sleep Well Beast
It’s now dawning on me that this list will probably not be terribly surprising to anyone who’s kept tabs on my reviews or podcast rec’s the last year. So perhaps it’s appropriate that I lead this thing off with an especially unsurprising pick, since I sure have thrown a lot of love The National’s way after the (almost) 10 years we’ve been doing this blog. But as is usually the case with bands of The National’s stature, there’s a reason they’ve stuck around as long as they have. They continue their mastery of the middle-aged brood on Sleep Well Beast, while occasionally cutting loose in a time when cutting loose seems apt for every occasion.
9. SZA – Ctrl
Ah yes. The one album on my list that I’ve still yet to talk about anywhere on this blog. SZA’s Ctrl was an album that I first listened to back in the summer when it came out, and I enjoyed quite a bit after a couple listens. But for whatever reason, I kind of put it on the back burner, possibly just because its laid-back pop-R&B grooves just weren’t what I was generally in the mood for. But then came year-end list time, and this one started cropping up on a ton of lists, and I’m glad I decided to delve back into SZA’s pulsating anxieties set over some first-rate production worthy of her unique voice.
8. Lorde – Melodrama
It’s no stretch to say there’s been a trend among music critics recently to embrace pop singers in ways they hadn’t been embraced before. I, however, don’t consider myself a legit music critic, and have thus been a little more hesitant to embrace the big pop stars of our era with any real affection. But I even couldn’t resist the brooding (there’s that word again) catchiness of Lorde’s Melodrama. Again, I don’t really keep up with pop radio, so I don’t have much context as to how big of hits any of the songs on this thing were, but from “Green Light” to “Homemade Dynamite” to “Perfect Places”, really any one of them feel like they could’ve been a smash in some alternate universe where we’re all a little more comfortable embracing our inner depressive teenage girl.
7. Waxahatchee – Out In The Storm
Much like Melodrama, Waxahatchee’s Out In The Storm saw the return of an already established artist return with a newfound confidence, just on the more indie rock side of things. After mastering the raggedy confessional aesthetic of her early tunes, Katie Crutchfield and her backing band are absolutely crushing it on Out In The Storm. Every song rocks and reels with a bellowing confidence, while the tenderness of Crutchfield’s lyrics and vocals keep everything grounded and sounding like she’s ready to blast us into a brighter tomorrow.
6. Julie Byrne – Not Even Happiness
In a year seemingly filled with nothing but noise and chaos, there were a number of “quiet albums” I turned to in order to fend off this nauseating onslaught, which included the honorably mentioned Julian Baker album, as well as releases from Aimee Mann and Japanese Breakfast. But really no album made me feel as calm or collected or downright relaxed as Julie Byrne’s Not Even Happiness. Julie Byrne’s talents are not really worth expounding over at length, because what makes these songs so good is their simplicity. She has such a precise style of guitar picking, and her breathy vocals spout out such billowy lyrical images, that it’s music that’s easy to get lost in, without feeling much need to find your way back to whatever anxious state you were in before putting it on.
5. Sheer Mag – Need To Feel Your Love
It’s debatable whether my continued love of this album has anything to do with the fact that I saw Sheer Mag live this past year, and these songs sounded great. In fact, with a formidable three guitar attack, they probably sounded a little a better live than they do on this record. But regardless, Sheer Mag make the transition from their early scrappy EPs to a more nuanced, but still endlessly fun and rocking sound on this debut LP. If reviving the sounds of rock and roll’s past were this easy, everybody would be doing it, but for now there’s only one Sheer Mag, and I can’t wait to see what these guys do in the future.
4. St. Vincent – Masseduction
It’s hard to say whether Masseduction was Annie Clark’s attempt to cross over into the pop world, or instead to reconstruct the pop world in her own image. I’m probably gonna with the latter, since as catchy as some of these songs are, they still can’t help but contain the off-kilter charm that makes every St. Vincent a rewarding listen. Lurching dance-worthy tracks like “Los Ageless” or the title track are what make Masseduction a sexy good time, but stripped down ballads like “New York” or “Slow Disco” are the beating heart of the album, and proof that there are still plenty of surprises that the indomitable St. Vincent has to offer.
3. The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
I know. Sorry to break up the girls club that my top 10 turned out to be this year, but the fact of the matter is, Adam Granduciel and his band of dudes really outdid themselves on A Deeper Understanding. Well, actually, I’m still uncertain whether they literally outdid themselves, since it’s very debatable whether A Deeper Understanding matches the majesty of 2014’s Lost In The Dream. But I think you can easily look at them as equals in a way, if not two different sides of the same coin. Or at least two mostly similar (and great sides) of the same coin. I’m not sure if there’s a coin like that that exists… But needless to say, no one does yearning and expansive rock quite like The War On Drugs, and A Deeper Understanding handily reaffirmed that.
2. Hurray For The Riff Raff – The Navigator
You probably haven’t heard, but 2017 was a bad year for America. This year was an even worse year for the little piece of America known as Puerto Rico, which as far as I know, still doesn’t have a ton of power so to speak. On Hurray For The Riff Raff’s latest album The Navigator, singer-songwriter Alynda Seggara aimed to write about her Puerto Rican roots, as well as a bunch of other personal subjects that make up this concept album that explores exactly what Americana means at this particular point in time. And yes, the timeliness surely added to my enjoyment of this album, but so did Seggara’s deftness for passionate songcraft, as well as her ability to give us an anthem as vital as the powerful “Pa’lante”.
1. Charly Bliss – Guppy
There’s pretty much nothing timely about Charly Bliss’s Guppy, and that’s what I loved about it. This is pure escapism, in the form of hard-driving guitar riffs, pounding drums, and bubblegummy pop-hooks, all combined into this irresistible amalgam of teenage hijinks with zero repercussions. At a tight 30 minutes, this is a complete sugar-high of an album that somehow manages to never come down. I would highlight my favorite tracks off of this album but that would be futile. Basically every track pulsates with giddy aplomb, and because of that sustained optimism, this was an album that once I put on, I could not turn off. And I have to believe that in a year that was constantly threatening to do the opposite, it did wonders for my mental health. And for that, I’ll be forever grateful.