What the hell was 2017?
These are the albums that kept me dancing through the haze.
Haiku From Zero
Favorite Song: Black Rainbows
If the Talking Heads and LCD Soundsystem had a love child, their disco-pop baby would be Cut Copy. Especially on the glossy “Black Rainbows”, I imagine David Byrne in all his big-suit lovin’ glory, back in his prime. An easy go-to album, Haiku From Zero is a perfect vinyl for Saturday night hangs or for headphone grooving while trying to stay awake at work.
Baby Driver Soundtrack
Favorite Song: Debra
Named after a Simon & Garfunkel song, I’ve truthfully never seen Baby Driver, but with a soundtrack so stacked in grooves, I don’t need to. This carefully curated playlist so perfectly captures the tension, romance and chase scenes – I’m certain I’ve pictured the movie better in my mind. Plus, any album bringing Googie Rene into the new millennium has my attention. Queue up this soundtrack while driving, and feel badass, even at 5 miles above the speed limit in your mom’s Prius.
Favorite Song: Nothin to Somethin
A behind the scenes member of Odd Future, and the face of The Internet, Syd tha Kyd has finally released her solo album. Easing into a confidence, Fin will flirt with you at the club, mesmerizing you with money and woman, until you are seduced all the way back home.
Love What Survives
Favorite Song: Blue Train Lines
Mount Kimbie consistently makes satisfying records, and Love What Survives stacks up with a tangle of spacey sounds perfect for late night drives. The coolest songs are the collaborations with features from Micachu, Andrea Balency, and two idiosyncratic James Blake tunes. Best of all, Mount Kimbie brings back King Krule for “Blue Train Lines”, easily the most cathartic song to blast in 2017. I dare you to not scream “six pounds in my pocket” every time it plays.
Sudan Archives EP
Favorite Song: Come Meh Way
Recently signed to Stones Throw Records, Sudan Archives fuses classical, electronic and folk music with inspiration from Northeast Africa. A self-taught violist, Sudan Archives produces unconventional music that blurs cultures and genres. Fresh lyrics, such as the opening lines to “Oatmeal”, “Bake up, when I wake up / Make you oatmeal, hope you stay” about the prospects of starting a new romance fall beautifully over both traditional and new-age beats.
Favorite Song: drink i’m sippin on
One hazy night, Yaeji floated into my life on a cloud. Dreamy and artistic, she brings meditations to the dance floor, whispering over bubbling levels of synth while casually switching between Korean and English. Dip into “drink I’m sippin on” or dive head first into the bumping “raingirl”. No stranger to the Brooklyn rave scene, some of Yaeji’s favorite dancefloor experiences are the ones that make her cry, saying that even in a crowd, dancing is very introspective and personal. You hear Yaeji do just that on her EP’s final track, re-inventing Drake’s intoxicating “Passionfruit” into a layered electronic daydream.
(Sandy) Alex G
Favorite Song: Sportstar
Effortlessly pulling off a disordered grab-bag of sounds, Rocket impressively still holds on to a cohesive vision. Certainly, an indie album, fading at times into folk, the strongest tracks off Rocket are the Outliers. “Brick” is an explosion that feeds into the soaring falsettos of “Sportscar” which stacks up to Alex G’s previous work on Frank Ocean’s Endless and Blonde. At the forefront of the D.I.Y. scene, Rocket is representation of a how a new generation makes music.
Shake the Shudder
Favorite Song: Dancing Is The Best Revenge
2017 was hard. Music attempted to cleanse us, as artists tackled the hardest political, racial and economic issues head on. Sometimes, however, you just need a break from it all. A moment to break down, grab homies, and let it all go. Shake The Shudder simply sounds like that release. As the title of the standout track “Dancing is The Best Revenge” laments, maybe we can face our enemies on the dancefloor.
Favorite Song: Aura
Photay embodies refracting light, using dislocating frequencies and syncopations to create a towering electronic album. Trained as a drummer, including the West African Djembe, Photay experiments with beats that fall somewhere between dance and headphone music. Though mainly without vocals, the album creates movement around the idea of “Onism”, a made up word by John Koenig, of being confined to only one body – always stuck in one place, aware of “Everything you are giving up to be where you are right now.”
Murder Of The Universe
King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard
Favorite Song: Altered Beast II
Five albums, multiple demos – all in one year. These guys dominated music in 2017, barfing out sounds of apocalyptic anxiousness. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but their early-summer release of Murder of the Universe stands out as a feverish dream. The concept album, split into three distinct parts, could be the orchestra for an inverted Shakespearean play from the underworld.
Soft Sounds from Another Planet
Favorite Song: Road Hoad
Originally meant to be a concept album about love in space, Michelle Zauner’s sophomore album is best listened to while in flight. The musical ambiance matches with that hard to describe feelings of flying during the day, feeling inversed as you float over a bed of clouds. Not to be misconstrued as a light album, the poignancy in the lyrics can shake you, leaving you jumbled as you take your first steps after a long plane ride.
Certain lines have stuck with me, such as the feathery “dream on baby” which repeats on the last verse of “Road Head”, a song for an ex that told Zauner she’d never be successful. Other lyrics such as “This house is full of women / Playing guitar, cooking breakfast / Sharing trauma, doing dishes / And where are you” about losing her mother to cancer is heartbreaking because it expresses loss in the simplest of scenarios.
Lotta Sea Lice
Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile
Favorite Song: Fear Is Like a Forest
Lotta Sea Lice is an ode to making music, old friendships, and being different. Both Barnett and Vile have such distinctive vocals and guitar techniques, that I didn’t anticipate their collaboration, but in hindsight their friendship totally makes sense. This record allows the two to switch up roles, re-work old songs, and just be downright silly. Listening to Lotta Sea Lice sways like drinking one too many beers, as I presume they did while making the record.
Favorite Song: Them Changes
This album is truly hilarious. From “Friend Zone” to “Captain Stupido”, Thundercat is like the lovable animated character of the jazz world. Aptly named, Drunk is very different from the tone of Thundercat’s previous solo albums. Maybe it’s aftereffect to the heaviness of previous apocalyptic worries. Or, commentary on how most of life is simply elevating our realities to get through it. Either way, Drunk is honest, fun, and brings those same damn basslines that we humans aren’t worthy of.
Favorite Song: Dum Surfer
From the London streets, Archy Marshall of King Krule has designed his own sound in angsty punk jazz. The tempo of The OOZ is moody, with waves of slacker breaking over the intensity of Marshall’s frustrated shouts into the void. Listening is like watching a fist fight in slow motion. Incredibly raw and visceral, the album title alone evokes strong imagery (as well as track titles like “Biscuit Town”, “Slush Puppy”, and “Half Man Half Shark” to name a few).
Freedom Is Free
Favorite Song: Passed You By
Switching between Spanish and English vocals, Chicano Batman has a tight-knit following behind them, and for good reason. Born from the foundations of soul, psychedelia, and tropicália, Chicano Batman is what new Southern California cool sounds like. Their third album is hot and sweaty, like you were there with them melting under the Los Angeles sun. The lyrics are poetic, the guitars are sexy, and the feelings are full funk.
Favorite Song: Come to Me Now
Kevin Morby induces fragmentation, making me simultaneous wish I was roundtripping out of town while aching to be back home. The songs “Come to Me Now”, “City Music”, and “Night Time” all worship around the moon and the city-dwellers who believe only the best things can happen after 2 am. Morby sings as if you had taken a baby Neil Young or Townes Van Zandt and raised them in a small New York City apartment – their eyes reflecting the world opening for them at their window. I’ve been a fan of Morby for years, as his music evokes a certain sound of freedom, and this record has been his most moving since his 2013 solo debut “Harlem River”.
Stranger in the Alps
Favorite Song: Scott Street
In an interview, Bridgers reflected on the type of loneliness that brings her to CVS just so she can be surrounded by other lonely people. The genius of Bridgers is in her validation of your most isolating feelings, and by putting words to the ones you never knew existed. On “Scott Street”, she calls out the irony of those ‘let’s catch up’ coffee dates with an ex. On “Killer”, she word-pukes about Jeffery Dahmer as a broader metaphor for her fear of abandonment. Bridgers striking debut album is as dark and intimate, as it is delicate and echoing. Plus, it’s guaranteed to be the most fun you’ll have in bed with all the curtains pulled down. So, go ahead – lean into those emotions. You’re no longer alone.
Favorite Song: SWEET
This self-described boyband had a hell of a year. It’s not easy to a pick a favorite from the epic trilogy, but Saturation II was what cemented Brockhampton as one of my favorite artists of 2017. The catchiest singles stay with you from the up-tempo “SWEET” to the rhythmic “SWAMP”. More than anything, Brockhampton emulates a brand that you wish you were cool enough to be a part of. From their music videos to their live performances, it’s obvious that Brockhampton is more than just a crew. They are a family of creatives, bringing together varying flows and swaggers like we’ve never seen before.
Favorite Song: (No One Knows Me) Like the Piano
This record so beautifully shares Sampha’s life story that we don’t need him to tell us he has soul. Nestled in as the fourth song, careful to not place such a climactic moment near the start or end of the record, Sampha gifts the world “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano”. After recently losing his mother to cancer, this record reflects on the process that is grieving. Simple in its nostalgia, I’m certain this song will intensely evoke childhood memories for its every listener. Though loss remains forever, Sampha reminds us that life ebbs and flows, as the pacing of the record picks up and slows down at just the right tempo. Over acoustic pianos, synth keyboards and electric beats, Sampha revives us with life even as we are breaking down.
Favorite Song: My Balloon
As an artist, Montano is hard to categorize, finding influence in Prince, Frank Ocean, and J Dilla. Of the ten songs on Jardín, each have their own unique sound as Montano switches from crooning falsettos into low-pitched murmurs that come together like part of a storybook. You hear Montano’s meticulous effort to fit the right production tone for each story he tells, reverberating jazz, cumbia, and hip hop. It’s no easy feat, and after the album’s release, Montano debuted an instrumental version of Jardín that could stand alone as a top album of 2017. When synchronizing the beats with Montano’s soothing voice and immense vulnerability in songwriting, Jardín is a standout record that unfairly fell under the radar of many big-name music journals.
Big Fish Theory
Favorite Song: Big Fish
My favorite album of 2015, Vince Staples “Summertime ‘06” was a masterpiece. I recognize that now, probably unfairly, I can’t help but compare all of Staples new work to that record. If “Summertime ‘06” was our formal introduction into Staples frustrated introspections, Big Fish Theory is the louder, indignant counterpart that’s screaming to the world. At first listen, I was surprised at the records noticeably more electronic production. “Crabs in a Bucket”, “Yeah Right”, “Party People”, and “BagBak” are straight bangers even with blatant darkness in tone. Especially on the latter, Staples goes all in, calling everyone out – the media, the police, the oval office and even his fans.
Distorted and sobering, Big Fish Theory is not a traditional rap album, and shouldn’t be placed in one category. Vince is grappling with what it means to be a rapper, tying in issues of race, stereotyping and inequality. Nihilist and apathic at times, there’s an underlying anxiousness that fuels the entire album (which is visually depicted in his “Big Fish” music video). Another interesting addition, “Alyssa Interlude” includes an Amy Winehouse sample, a favorite musician of Staples and his inspiration for the 2016 Prima Donna. Bundled together, Big Fish Theory proves Staples ability to continually defy expectations.
Not Even Happiness
Favorite Song: Sleepwalker
The first time I listened to Not Even Happiness, I had this dream that I was stuck underwater, calmly drowning, before Byrne’s voice led me back to the top. The word ethereal is too often thrown around to describe music, but Byrne is certainly as ethereal as they come. A talented guitarist, with a delicate fingerpicking style, Not Even Happiness is a raw beauty. Byrne leads a nomad existence, a common theme in her music, struggling with what it takes to always be on the move. Working as a park ranger and studying environmental science before dropping out of school, Byrne also vividly incorporates nature into her writing. In her boldest, and consequently opening track, Byrne rationalizes to her love that despite immense affection, she must go:
“To me, this city’s hell / But I know you call it home / I was made for the green / I was made to be alone.”
Flawlessly bittersweet, Not Even Happiness is a breakup record at times, but is overpowered by its yearning for more. Especially in 2017, when culture is so obsessed with being happy at all costs, Not Even Happiness suggests that more should be revered – strength, wisdom, movement.
Scum Fuck Flower Boy
Tyler, the Creator
Favorite Song: 911/Mr. Lonely
Man, this album makes me feel old. I’ve been a fan of Tyler since I was a teenager and this finally feels like our graduation day. He’s still angsty and hyped, but Flower Boy brought a new level to Tyler that I think we all knew he had, but that was just waiting to come out. For those that miss “Goblin”, we got its remains in “Who Dat Boy”. But we also got “Boredom” and “911/Mr. Lonely”, songs that resonate deeper than Tyler has gone before.
Open-ended tweets about the record hint that Tyler is coming out as gay, but that shouldn’t be our focus. More interestingly, Flower Boy is about Tyler’s struggle with depression. Over Frank Oceans melody, Tyler questions how childhood loneliness has stalked him into adulthood, “I’ve never had a pet / There’s more fish in the sea / But I never had a goldfish to begin with.” Despite these isolation themes, Tyler brings in some tight collaborations. From Steve Lacy to Rex Orange County to Kali Uchis, Tyler has certainly created one of the best albums of 2017, and possibly his personal best.
Favorite Song: Element
At this point in his career, you could dedicate a college class to studying Kendrick and write essay’s examining DAMN. The album begs to be heard and discussed, with friends, with strangers on the street, and alone – contemplating. Seriously, I have so much love for this album, come find me at a party and let’s talk. Word of caution: to any trolls saying they don’t get the hype around Kendrick, that’s like saying you don’t GET the Beatles, you lost your right to have an opinion. Now, I’m just praying the 2018-gods bless us with some DAMN untitled, unmastered cuts.
Favorite Song: Prom
At what age do you acknowledge how much control you really have over life? Despite two debut albums and numerous collaborations with big-name artists, SZA finally found her breakthrough in 2017. Ctrl is a significant and honest expose on growing up, vulnerability and strength. A truly genre-bending R&B record, Ctrl is toned down from SZA’s previous work, using less reverb, to put focus on her powerful voice and lyricism. The record opens on “Supermodel” with SZA’s mother speaking of her biggest fear – that losing control could kill her. This theme echoes across the record, and SZA is skilled enough to make self-doubt sound beautiful. From asking for more male attention to asking herself why she’s not content alone, SZA is refreshingly real. My favorite album of the year, Ctrl is incredibly fun and promotes so much empowerment for woman – especially black woman. SZA can validate our fears, but still remind us to hold on to our playfulness:
“Them jeans, they must be uptight mama / You need some get right mama /
And go Gina, go Gina.”