2017 was a year of shitty reality that yielded some incredible musical catharsis. And while every album we heard this year soothed and satisfied our insatiable need for good tunes, we somehow, through hours and hours of listening, narrowed them all down to one of those top ten favorite album lists you all love to read. From heavy-hitting, soul-emptying ballads to genre-defying adventures in the reconstruction of sound, these albums kept us growing and evolving and most of all feeling throughout this long, hard year. –Maya Eslami
10. Björk, Utopia
Fave track: “Courtship”
Bjork is a prolific performance artist and musical genius at best, so when the Icelandic force of nature comes out with a new album, it’s bound to end up on a “best-of” list. Utopia, her ninth studio album, is an impressive addition to this legend’s famed discography. Through acclaimed orchestral instrumentation and vivid lyricism, Bjork whisks us away into an intriguing, surrealist world all her own. This is more than just an album you casually thrown on; it’s a full-on experience and a therapeutic one at that. In a time when our world is going through some upsetting shit, music you can escape with is an absolute must. We’ll let Bjork take our hands into her Utopian world, any day. –Asal Shahindoust
9. Cherry Glazerr, Apocalipstick
Fave track: “Nuclear Bomb”
I smoked a blunt once with Cherry Glazerr’s Clementine Creevy at a party. She was definitely sixteen at the time. Their debut Haxel Princess had just dropped, and I remember thinking, I’m obsessed with your band. Three years later and the Los Angeles-based threesome have one-upped their sardonic teenage angst with actual shreddage on their sophomore album Apocalipstick. Released on Secretly Canadian and produced by The Strokes’ Joe Chiccarelli, the album thrashes through swollen moods and slaps you in the face with fierce riffs, keys (thanks to new addition Sasami Ashworth) and proto inspired intensity. Favorite track “Nuclear Bomb” starts off slow before kicking you in the teeth, which plays to the creation of this band that started out in Creevy’s bedroom – literally – before exploding into shards of shrapnel goodness.
8. Shannon Lay, Living Water
Fave track: “Recording 15”
Shannon Lay has bright fiery orange hair and wears Simpsons t-shirts and shreds guitar in LA-based rock band Feels. So when she announced a solo project, I assumed it would be of a similar shreddy note. What’s that expression about assuming shit? Well, it’s safe to say I was floored when the incredible songstress sat upon a stool, alone with her acoustic guitar, and finger-picked the most soothing, heart-breaking songs set to an angelic voice brimming with desire, angst, and pain. The abundance of emotion Lay inspires with her breathtaking second album Living Water – released on Kevin Morby’s new Woodsist label – will make your bones crumble. And her voice, which reminds me of Vashti Bunyan, could cool a burning flame.
7. Wand, Plum
Fave track: “Blue Cloud”
“Beauty will surround you, and you’ll be free at last.”
Wand went through a metamorphosis the last two years, and from their chrysalis emerged Plum. With a new, refined sound, bursting with robust instrumentation and unchartered experimentation, Wand created an album with rich, emotional depth that is felt from beginning to end. The addition of a second guitarist and keyboardist allowed Wand to spread their wings in a profound way that is both refreshing and pure. Along the way, front-man Cory Hanson relinquished some creative control and gave everyone in Wand a hand in creating their new sound. Check out our interview with them in Issue 19 for the nitty gritty details that went into creating the world of Plum. –Asal Shahindoust
6. Lana Del Rey, Lust For Life
Fave track: “Cherry”
Okay. Secret’s out. We love Lana Del Rey. Her moody ass vibe keeps us in check, and her ability to borrow lyrics from her predecessors and influencers and spin them up in her own cotton candy way amazes me. On Lust For Life, using the title from Iggy’s infamous Bowie-produced second solo album, she enlists some flashy guests (ASAP Rocky, The Weeknd, fucking Stevie Nicks) but remains true to her songstress self. On album favorite, “Cherry,” she wails out, “Darlin’, I fall to pieces when I’m with you,” and you can just feel Patsy Cline twitch. But then LDR litters the track with an interloping “bitch” sound bite that turns the otherwise dramatic melancholy into attitude. This is emotional, gut-wrenching, thought provoking pop, set to tricked out tempos and beats and wistful arrangements that somehow work scattered across an album’s expanse. And in the end, it’s her 50’s beehive wide-eyed pinup pout that does us in, even if she’s singing, “Out of the black, into the blue,” and we’re cringing at what Neil Young must think. But she disguises her appropriations so well, you’ll think they were hers for the offering all along.
5. Neil Young, Hitchhiker
Fave track: “Hitchhiker”
Speaking of Neil Young, an amazing thing happened in music this year. The prolific songwriter released a collection of acoustic songs from a 1976 session fueled by weed, beer, and cocaine, that was essentially scrapped, until now. Hitchhiker, Young’s thirty-eighth studio album, was finally released with the help of longtime collaborator and Crazy Horse essential David Briggs, who left the songs as demos, almost entirely in their original format. Three of the songs have never been released before, including title track and album favorite “Hitchhiker.” The songs remind me of the slower, somber ballads on On the Beach and Zuma, my favorite Neil Young era. Slip Hitchhiker right between them and it fits perfectly, like a worn leather glove.
4. Kevin Morby, City Music
Fave track: “Come To Me Now”
There’s a pause in the center of Kevin Morby’s fourth studio album City Music, right before the title track, where a lovely voice reads from Flannery O’Connor’s The Violent Bear It Away. The interlude, appropriately titled “Flannery,” recounts a boy approaching city lights and mistaking them for fire. In an NPR interview, Morby explained that the passage touched “on a sentiment I was going for with the album.” This is songwriting at its best. To weave a prominent theme through an entire album is something most musicians ignore, and yet Morby thrives in this capacity, taking us on a journey through the fire of his city lights. When his fourth album dropped, I was still listening to last year’s Singing Saw on repeat. And sure, I’m a little biased because he does Townes Van Zandt covers live, but Morby may be my favorite modern lyricist, and his new album slays me.
3. John Maus, Screen Memories
Fave tracks: “The Combine” and “Edge of Forever”
After disappearing into uncertainty for about five years, synth-pop wizard John Maus was on the verge of disenchanting his entire fan base. But in the spring of this year, Maus emerged from his elusive void with a snowball of tour dates, a video, a single, and then an album far beyond satisfactory. Every favorable Maus element can be found in Screen Memories. It’s dark, moody, and deliciously chaotic. Dig deeper into how Maus created the new songs, and you’ll appreciate the intricate way he crafted his staple electronic sound into the album. For starters, he made the songs on a modular synthesizer that he built himself over the course of two years. Add in Maus’ comforting coos and wailing guitars, and this album engulfs you into a world of nihilistic beauty. –Asal Shahindoust
2. King Krule, The OOZ
Fave track: “Dum Surfer”
King Krule’s third album The OOZ is a meditation on the understanding of what music means in our present age. It’s reflective, introspective, genre-defying, and experimental, teetering on the edge of spoken word and the complete abandon of contemporary musical structure. Remember when Radiohead put out Kid A and everyone freaked? This album reminds me of that moment. Not that King Krule is throwing his style upside down, because really he’s always been serving his juice with a slight love it or hate it attitude. But the ooze he flows on OOZ is undeniable, with his brute baritone snarl that evokes Guy Ritchie rumble scenes spitting out lessons in attitude. This is music that pushes boundaries, and not intended for the faint of heart, or anyone who expects music to sound like “music.” We love that shit.
1. Kendrick Lamar, DAMN.
Fave track: The whole damn thing.
“Damn, damn, damn, it’s a goddamn shame/You ain’t frontline, get out the goddamn way.” The lyrics to “Element” on Kendrick’s fourth studio album DAMN. pretty much sum up his momentum in music. I wasn’t a huge fan of To Pimp A Butterfly, instead loving Good Kid, M.A.A.D City more than any contemporary rap album I’ve heard in the last decade, hands down. So when “Humble” dropped, the first single from his most recent opus, I was hesitant. Kendrick has amassed such devotion and uncompromising adoration that I didn’t want my opinion skewed, so I approached cautiously. I took my time with the damn thing, letting each song sit loudly in my brain, his lyrics weaving stories into life through incongruous tempos and trap beats. And that’s what this album is: a visual, tangible reflection on the life of Kendrick Lamar. To be so fully expressive while maintaining fresh beats is beyond impressive. I’ll be listening to this album for many years to come, and that’s why it’s number one.