It’s time to admit my approach to music isn’t that great. I basically look at three websites and my Twitter feed for recommendations and add everything I find to my Apple Music library. In 2017, that was over 130 albums. What that boils down to is maybe five albums I really love and like 30 albums I would like to put on this list. And then the day comes when I have to write this post and it sucks. I artificially limit myself to only five honorable mentions, so, suffice it to say, there were some albums that could have been on this list earlier today that I won’t even talk about. This was the year that I tried to cut back on investing in media that I wouldn’t immediately use, and maybe in 2018 I’ll have to try to extend that approach to music too… On the other hand, maybe this is a good problem to have?
Broken Social Scene – Hug of Thunder
Julien Baker – Turn Out the Lights
The National – Sleep Well Beast
Ratboys – GN
Ride – Weather Diaries
Ugh, top tens are so hard. Why can’t we just do top fives? I know I’m going to regret omitting something later. I guess I just have to push through. LCD Soundsystem’s return, seven years after This is Happening devoured me, was very welcome. James Murphy’s whole self-conscious disbanding thing felt so bizarre at the time that really the question was never “will they come back” but more “will their return suck?” Maybe some people disagree, but american dream lived fully up to my expectations. And hey, I also agree that the “American dream” of old is dead, and it’s kind of a comfort that that depressing thought ended up sounding so nice.
There were three debuts vying for this spot, and I ended up going with what I think is my favorite (but what is definitely the critical darling) of the three. So my apologies to Beth Ditto and Diet Cig, but this spot belongs to Infinite Worlds. As you already know, Vagabon is the stage name of Laetitia Tamko, who taught herself to play a Costco guitar by watching instructional DVDs and went on to also play drums, bass, and synth, as well as sing, on this, her first album. She’s got an infectiously raspy voice and a great sense of how to pace an album. That balance of quiet and loud is super important and she just nails it. Very nice.
Hey, so, I’m not really an Americana guy. And I’ve not looked into Hurray for the Riff Raff’s other five albums. But, with The Navigator, frontwoman Alynda Segarra tells a story about her heritage, her culture, and our country that felt absolutely essential this year. In a time when literal nazis reemerged into our community, I needed to here a fierce defense of diversity and individuality against the insanity of the alt right. “Pa’lante” may not be my rallying cry, but it is one of many in the chorus I wish to join.
When it comes to straight-up rock, I’m looking for some truly anthemic jams. I didn’t really expect that from Waxahatchee, but here we are. Out in the Storm is a break up album of sorts, but with some distance from the relationship; enough that Katie Crutchfield doesn’t sound surprised or sad it failed and actually is kind of saying it wasn’t that great to begin with. She seems to blame herself and her expectations as much as anything, which makes sense given the personal nature of her previous albums. Anyway, each Waxahatchee album feels better then the last, let’s see where they go from here.
One of the more amusing memories I’ll have from 2017 is having to walk back my statement that Lost in the Dream is the greatest album of all time, after my (much more knowledgeable about music) new boss told me he was getting into The War on Drugs while we were in Chicago. Eventually, I just went with it and later when I was on a shuttle with all the other out-of-town people we listened to “Under the Pressure” which it felt like everyone liked. Anyway, I guess I’m pretty publicly committed to The War on Drugs at this point, so at least their new album was terrific.
I was definitely going to put one of these spacey, lush as fuck albums on my list, and I had a devil of a time deciding between Slowdive and Cigarettes After Sex’s self-titled albums. You must know by now that I love dream pop/shoe gaze/ambient/whatever Beach House is, because those albums go super well with the way that I listen to music – that is to say, while I’m driving, playing Destiny, writing, or working. Anyway, I went with Slowdive’s album because it’s prettier and I dig the story of them being a band from the early Nineties putting out an album for the first time in 22 years. Like LCD Soundsystem’s return, rock (or whatever) is not a young person’s game anymore, all that matters now is whether you can bring it or not. And Slowdive brings it.
After Jamie xx’s debut In Colour, I wasn’t sure what The xx were going to be going forward. I really like the minimalist approach to the first two albums, but after In Colour, would it be regressive for the band to not lean into a more complicated, expansive sound. Fortunately, that’s exactly what I See You did, making the band’s most ambitious record yet. You get the fullness of Jamie xx combined with the continued intimacy and honesty of Oliver and Romy’s lyrics. The result is, for me at least, blissful. I think “I Dare You” is my favorite song of the year (but maybe it’s Waxahatchee’s “Silver”).
The best thing to come from 2015 Amy Schumer-vehicle Trainwreck was “Little of Your Love” a Haim song that ended up not even making the film’s soundtrack. The writing of that tune helped revitalize the band after a grueling two years of touring, and gave them the push they needed to make Something to Tell You as awesome as it is. Sure, it’s not as infectious as their 2013 debut album, Days are Gone, is but everything that made Haim appealing then is still true now. The harmonies, especially when they say a lot of words quickly, are endearing, and their production sounds complicated, with all sorts of sound effects and fun shit thrown in there. Put it in your head!
The narrative that The Drums’ “Abysmal Thoughts” is their most personal album comes from one extremely obvious reason: the band is only one person now. With the departure of Jacob Graham, the band is now entirely the work of frontman Jonny Pierce, who used this opportunity to write an extremely delightful pop album about how much bullshit there is in the world. But for a band that started out as a vehicle for two gay men who bonded over their shared strict Christian upbringings, it’s not as much of a departure as it might sound. The resulting album is pop with a pretty significant shadow cast over it, an album that would have felt at home in the 1980s alongside The Cure or The Smiths. But this is newer so I like it more – boom, Sean stereotype confirmed.
What Now has been a constant companion since its release this April. It’s an interesting album to me, a synthpop record fascinated with dissecting the mystique and formula of pop music while earnestly, melodramatically endorsing the emotions behind it. So it has songs like “The Glow,” which basks in the pure joy of music, but also suggests that as we get older and more experienced, that simple pleasure is more and more complicated to find. Oh, and then there’s “Radio,” the only explicit song on the album, which does not have kind words for the pursuit of music as a career. I wish I had a compelling reason for this having been my favorite album of the last year, but honestly, it’s here just because I think it’s really enjoyable. Maybe it’s because, like “Song” suggests, sometimes the feelings you get listening to music can be more real than anything else in your life, and that’s damn hard to explain.