Rather than treating this as an objective look at the best albums that came out this year, compiling these lists is more of a meditative exercise for me. When you listen to as much music as I do, the events of your life become intrinsically tied to whatever you were listening to at that time. When I think about these albums, I’m thinking about the context in which I enjoyed them as much as I’m considering the various positive aspects of the music itself. That being said, 2017 was pretty shitty, so god damn was this ever a painful exercise! Hope you enjoy!
25. Charli XCX – Pop 2
I love Charli. If she wanted to, she could rule the charts; see her impressive 2014/15 run where she flirted with this type of success with writing credits on Iggy Azalea’s inescapable “Fancy”, Icona Pop’s “I Love It”, or her own breakout hit “Boom Clap”. But just when it seemed a star was born, she retreated. Her first follow up to her major label breakthrough Sucker, was 2016’s EP Vroom Vroom, which was a headlong dive into PC Music’s deconstructionist, ironifuturist pop. The growing pains were obvious, but two mixtapes of fleshing out this new persona later, she arrives fully formed on Pop 2, a record which lives up not only the promise of Charli’s songwriting skills, but PC Music’s entire ethos. The perfect blend of progression and catchiness, Charli XCX is the pop heroine we need right now.
24. Various Artists – mono no aware
I usually skip compilation records, due to being too married to the concept of albums as cohesive statements, rather than just collections of songs. PAN is a label I was willing to take exception to, due to their fascinating roster of experimental and ambient artists. Mono no aware is a testament to PAN’s expert level of curation; despite every song being contributed by a different artist, the album flows, twists and turns as a whole. Ambient music too often gets a rep as ‘wallpaper’ music (kind of on purpose), but mono no aware is a gripping, unsettling, and ultimately engrossing listen.
23. Pallbearer – Heartless
In 2014, Pallbearer released a near-perfect slice of doom metal with Foundations of Burden, my album of the year that year and still one of my all-time favourites. The follow up to that masterpiece was always going to be disappointing to a degree, so you have to hand it to Pallbearer for releasing such a strong record with Heartless. Instead of taking the ‘each riff and melody better than the last’ approach they used on Foundations, Heartless is much more insular and proggy. Its a difficult, thorny record, devoid of easy hooks and logical song structures, but it feels in many ways like the record Pallbearer had to make.
22. Jacques Greene – Feel Infinite
I spend a lot of time with my mom. I love her to death and I consider her one of my best friends. We get along and rarely fight, but a contentious issue that has always plagued us has been music. We both love music and are passionate about it, but we always struggle to find common ground. Feel Infinite was the antidote to this problem this year. My mom has this funny saying she says when she hears something she appreciates: ‘I like this music’. Not ‘I like this song’, or ‘I like this artist’. She’s referring specifically to the sounds of the music, the tones and textures, and feelings they generate. When it comes to Feel Inifinite, my mom likes this music. So do I.
21. Playboi Carti – Playboi Carti
The first time I listened to Playboi Carti’s long awaited debut mixtape, I thought it some of the worst shit I’ve ever heard in my life. I wasn’t sure though, so I listened to it again. And again. You see where this is going. This progression makes sense; there’s a certain learning curve needed to enjoy Carti’s idiosyncrasies. This mixtape represents the logical conclusion of Atlanta-based ‘mumble rap’; sparse beats punctuated more by ad-libs than actual rapping. Anchored by one of the year’s best and most ubiquitous hip hop singles, “Magnolia”, Playboi Carti is a veritably shameless ode to style over substance, with absolutely not a single fuck given along the way. You wanna come out here?
20. Krallice – Go Be Forgotten
Krallice has been chipping away at their own space in the North American Black Metal scene since their formation a decade ago, but Go Be Forgotten is by far their most realized effort yet. Released only a month after their stellar collaboration with Neurosis’s Dave Edwardson, this record finally sees the band living up to the potential hinted at on previous efforts. Eschewing lo-fi for cleaner production is typically the first move of black metal bands abandoning their principles for wider recognition, but in Krallice’s part, it simply seems like a necessary move so that listeners can truly appreciate the breadth of musical ideas to be found on this record. Also look at that cover art. It doesn’t get much more kvlt than that. Go Be Forgotten should stand as a watershed moment in North American Black Metal, the title track alone standing as one of the most transcendental piece of music I heard in 2017.
19. SZA – CTRL
SZA’s wry, I-can’t-believe-she’s-actually-going-there indieR&B confessionals struck a nerve with people to an almost unexpected level this year. Have you seen how many Grammys she’s nominated for? More than deservedly so, of course, but who really saw that coming, like, a year ago? CTRL was released the same year as DAMN. by TDE’s almost boringly critically literate cashcow Kendrick Lamar, but she gave him a serious run for his money this year in terms of praise and recognition. It’s been a long journey for SZA to release this record, and there were a few times where it seemed it may never see the light of day, but CTRL’s unique take on the complications of modern day love have made the world much better for it.
18. Chelsea Wolfe – Hiss Spun
I’ve always been more of a fan of the concept of Chelsea Wolfe, rather than her actual output. The whole dark goth rock with an industrial metal edge to it is right up my alley, but the songs have never landed. On Chelsea’s fourth, and heaviest LP, it finally clicked for me. On Hiss Spun, Chelsea abandons any pretense and churns out some of the prettiest sludge metal tracks of the year. Wolfe’s music has always been about the dichotomy of beauty and ugliness, but combined with a newfound strength in the songwriting department, Chelsea’s battle between darkness and light has never been more compelling.
17. Laurel Halo – Dust
Halo’s been edging further and further away from her beginnings in the techno and footwork scene with each new release; on Dust, she’s abandoned them entirely. Dust is a baffling listen, shifting restlessly from second to second, making it difficult to grasp just what it is that you’re listening to at any given time. Instead of coming across as aloof in its intent, however, there’s a sense of playfulness and joy that permeates the record, drawing you back in again and again into the magical world Halo has created.
16. Stabscotch – Uncanny Valley
When I came across this record I was CONVINCED it was the best album I’ve ever heard. Convinced! I told everyone around me that I had found the best, most innovative record I’d heard in years. I was totally obsessed for like…two days. I cooled off pretty quickly, realizing I was maybe being a tad hyperbolic, but Uncanny Valley still stands as one of the most fascinating (extreme scare-quotes here) ‘rock’ records I have heard in a long time. A meta-record ostensibly about pushing the boundaries of what a rock band is and can do, this album bursts with an almost frightening degree of creative energy , many of the songs coming off as exorcisms of impulsivity. This is definitely not the best album I’ve ever heard. Its not even the best album I’ve heard all year. But it very well could be the most affirming, injecting at least another decade of juice into the ‘rock band’ formula.
15. Mastodon – Emperor of Sand
Despite this record’s somewhat low standing on this list, Emporer of Sand is without a doubt Mastodon’s best record in a while now. Mastodon’s transition from prog-metal titans to hard rock heroes has been a contentious one. People wondered if it was merely a phase with 2011’s The Hunter, and when 2014’s Once More ‘Round The Sun confirmed that this new iteration of Mastodon was here to stay, one couldn’t help but feel disappointed. Mastodon are modern legends for a reason; their initial four records are certified classics. And genre purism aside, their last two aforementioned records just weren’t as objectively good as the extraordinarily high standards they’ve set for themselves.
Emperor of Sand feels like a true return to form. Its still most definitely a hard rock record, but the songs are filled with the same ambition of old, and contain some of their best straight forward songwriting to date. I can’t help but feel like its no coincidence that this is their first concept record since those mid-aught classics; Mastodon works best when they have a focus to their power.
Okay just one quick thing though – why the fuck did Mastodon choose the two worst songs on this record as the lead off singles?? The album literally gets good as soon as those two songs are over and is a tour de force the rest of the way through. I don’t get it. Anyway. Album rules.
14. Lil Peep – Come Over When You’re Sober Part 1
Peep’s passing, only a few short weeks ago, hit home harder than most similarly tragic stories of up and comers overdosing because there was no one quite like him. The fusion of hip hop and emo has been much talked about over the past year or so, but Peep was on an entirely new level, best documented on his debut mini-LP Come Over When You’re Sober Pt. 1.
The music that Peep made, and perfected on this record, doesn’t sound like a fusion of anything at all, but rather a brand new genre of music in and of itself. Listening to Lil Peep initially was a Eureka moment for me; how had no one thought of this before? When you hear it, it seems so natural, so simple, so obvious. There’s no doubt in my mind that Peep would have absolutely exploded in 2018, but unfortunately, we’ll never know. Though he may be gone, the music he made will live on forever, and Come Over When You’re Sober Pt 1 will stand as a monument to the potential this very talented young man had.
13. Ulver –The Assassination of Julius Caesar
Though gaining fame in the European black metal scene, Ulver quickly became notorious for treating genre like a costume instead of solidified identity, switching it up on a whim from record to record. And despite fans’ well-groomed nature to expect the unexpected over the past 20 years, I don’t think anyone saw the savvy synth-pop of Julius Caesar coming. This record is melodic and groovy enough to endear any Depeche Mode dad, but still weird enough to warrant listen after listen to tease out the nuances – of which there are plenty. Ulver may very well churn out a classical music inspired numetal record on their next go around, so I recommend enjoying this catchiest iteration of Ulver yet while you still can.
12. Couch Slut – Contempt
Boy oh boy do I ever feel better loving this record – and band – knowing that the vocalist is a woman. An all dude group calling themselves Couch Slut seems like it would be extremely distasteful but I guess its okay if a woman does it in my fucked up sense of morality? Anyway, Couch Slut fucking rules. Building from a foundation of noise rock, Contempt is influenced by everything from black metal to indie rock, meanwhile frontwoman Megan Osztrosits rips her vocal chords to pieces over anything her bandmates have to offer. Shout outs to this record for Most Effective Use of Feedback As An Instrument in the year 2017, and for apparently having saxophone playing all over it despite the fact that I’ve never once been able to pick it out, which is mostly just a testament to the sheer singularity of Couch Slut’s sound.
11. Yellow Eyes – Immersion Trench Reverie
I have no clue what an Immersion Trench Reverie is, but whatever it is, it must be pretty freaking badass, because this album rules. USBM has been home to some of the most cutting edge black metal of the past few years, and Yellow Eyes is currently at the top of the game, with 2015’s stellar Sick With Bloom and this year’s Immersion Trench Reverie setting them apart from their peers. With beautiful production, killer riffs, and a defiantly adventurous nature, this record is black metal perfection, steering way clear of the tropes that can make the genre overbearing. This is what epiphanies sound like.
10. Young Thug – Beautiful Thugger Girls
Let’s make something clear: Young Thug’s ‘singing album’s real name is Easy Breezy Beautiful Thugger Girls and that is hands down the best album title of the year. I don’t know why Thug shortened it – can’t help but think it may have something to do with legality issues – but a title like that is enough to put this record on my year end list. That’s not even getting into my proudly admitted heavy bias for Young Thug himself, who I’m sure is the most fascinatingly creative person in hip hop today.
All this considered, the record’s pretty damn good too, though not quite reaching the highs of his absolutely legendary 2015. A subpar Thugger project is still a highmark of the genre, however, and Thug’s official(?) debut(?) album(?) contains some of his best material to date. “Family Don’t Matter” and its absolutely bonkers music video is Song of the Year material, lower key cuts like “Tomorrow Til Infinity” and “For Y’all” are subtle growers that never escape your head, and “Relationships” with Future is worth celebrating if only for its debuting of the cutest Atlanta hip hop friendship to date (even if their collab mixtape from this year did end up kinda sucking). Thug’s engineer Alex Tumay once famously delcared that can ‘rap over literally anything’, and Thugger Girls proves this with ease.
9. Hell – Hell
Hell seems to be a pretty popular topic in metal, from what I’ve gathered. But you have to admire this project’s commitment to it. The album’s called Hell, by an artist going by Hell. The album art looks like Hell, and this record sure as hell SOUNDS like Hell, or at least what I’d imagine it sounds like.
Information surrounding this record seems pretty sparse; I think its a one man band, and I think this is his first project (under this moniker anyway). As you can imagine, googling this shit is pretty difficult. But whatever this album is, its made one hell (haha) of an impression on me, containing some of the most downright evil sounding blackened death metal I’ve ever heard. Its a difficult but highly rewarding listen; when the distraught, mournful strings of “Victus” finally kick in, you truly feel as though you’re approaching the end of a spiritual journey. Not for the faint of heart.
8. Kelly Lee Owens – Kelly Lee Owens
Before a certain other record that I haven’t gotten to yet dropped, Kelly Lee Owens self-titled debut was my go to for late night listening. Life’s hard, and I need music that soothes me, since I don’t really have time to go to actual therapy like I probably should. Owens’ brand of singer-songwriter ambient techno scratched the itch that I desperately needed in this year of perpetual personal and global chaos. Alternating between airy pop songs and whimsical, feather-light bangers, Owens’ debut is a strong statement of intent, and highly promising for her future in the electronic scene.
7. Oxbow – Thin Black Duke
I am very proud of B.G.M.’s collective decision to name Thin Black Duke our album of the year this year. Though not personally my own, this record is an astounding achievement and more than worth the ten year wait. I was 17 years old when The Narcotic Story dropped in 2007, and just beginning to dip my toes into noise rock. I almost screwed myself over by listening to that record so early into my experience, as no other noise rock record has balanced beauty and insanity quite like it…until Thin Black Duke.
The record picks up exactly where the last left off, as though only ten months had passed instead of ten years. Eugene Robinson still wails and moans and mutters like an absolute madman, with his bandmates anchoring the experience with either propulsive riffs and rhythm, or paired down numbers almost too gorgeous to believe could come from something that not seconds ago was so gruesome. I hope we don’t have to wait another ten years for a follow up, but I will if need be; this band is just that good.
6. Ariel Pink – Dedicated To Bobby Jameson
If 2014’s pom pom was Pink’s grand coming out party to the world, Dedicated To Bobby Jameson is an insular retreat back into the twisted depths of his warped mind. After flirting with indie stardom, and even potential crossover success, Pink seems to be over it all, Bobby Jameson containing by far his most bizarre set of tunes since bursting onto the scene in 2010. Pink revelled in obscurity for years, and he seems eager to return to it, quite literally devoting this record to a figurehead of obscurity.
Unfortunately for Pink, the man is just way too talented for his own good; despite his proclivity to obfuscate his tracks in as much production dirt as possible, his status as one of the modern age’s best songwriters makes for one of the best collections of tunes in any genre this year. There’s an obvious degree to which Pink just doesn’t really seem to care or want it as much as he used to, but the fact that he can make a record this fucking good while essentially running on autopilot proves that he is truly one of the greatest of our generation. Sorry dude, but you aren’t going anywhere.
5. Glassjaw – Material Control
Its hard to put into words my feelings surrounding this album. Myself, and the leagues of other Glassjaw diehards, have been waiting for this for 15 years. Ask yourself this: have you ever waited 15 years for anything? Seriously? And whether due to marketing brilliance, or the band just being utter assholes (both are equally likely), the wait has been absolutely excruciating, with a drought of information available leading to every single tiny piece of possible information being analyzed to death.
When Glassjaw surprised released 2 EPs in 2011, it was satisfying yes, but it was not the full length that we were promised. Then, at the end of 2015, they released “New White Extremity”, a brand new single officially slated to be on the absurdly long awaited third LP, appeared, and it kicked a lot of ass. Hype for the record hit a fever pitch…then….nothing.
This degree of teasing and fucking with the heads of the fans would have left any other band in the dust a long time ago, but the fact that after all this, Glassjaw fans still stick around, still attend the shows, still waited, full of hope, for that elusive third record is a testament to just how important of a band they are. Material Control was supposed to be a surprise drop on the first of December, but in an almost serendipitous move on behalf of the universe saying ‘fuck you’ to these guys for everything they’ve put us through the past decade and a half, Amazon fucked up, and info on the album leaked two weeks beforehand.
No one really believed it could actually be true at first, but the band confirmed it, and all of the sudden thousands of fans around the world had to reckon with the fact that it was actually happening.
My time waiting for this record was 15 years, my time with the album thus far is only one month. My connection to this record will be defined largely by the lead up to it, therefore I’m going to refrain from speaking on the album itself, as I still need time to process that it actually exists. Just know that it was worth the wait.
4. Liars – TFCF
Its been years now since Liars’ heyday. About a decade ago, Liars became critic darlings with a run of battered post-punk records that saw them becoming one of the hottest acts in underground rock. After reaching their peak of popularity with 2007’s self-titled release, the band slowly started retreating inwards, first with 2010’s brilliant Sisterworld, then 2012’s sparse, insular WIXIW. The music remained fantastic but the buzz around them slipped away. After the misstep of 2014’s Mess and the accouncement that one of the two official members of the band was departing, the fate of Liars seemed very uncertain in 2017.
But after retreating to Australia to a remote cabin to record, Angus Andrew announced that Liars would continue as a solo project, and the next album was on its way. I probably wasn’t alone in my wariness. Bands turned solo projects usually come off as a desperate attempt on behalf of the remaining member to keep alive what should be put to rest. But what Andrew has done here is unprecendented; free of any constraints to his vision, Andrew has crafted Liars best album yet with TFCF.
Wholly concerned with its own existence, this record combines latter day Liars electronic sensibilities with an unpredictable singer-songwriter approach to create a fascinatingly creative experience where anything goes. In the vein of Ariel Pink’s Dedicated To Bobby Jameson, TFCF is the best of a series of 2017 releases that plumb the potential of isolation to astounding effects.
3. Bell Witch – Mirror Reaper
The title track to Bell Witch’s Mirror Reaper sits comfortably at #21 in my Top 25 Most Played playlist on my iTunes. That doesn’t seem like that big of a deal until you consider that the title track is the only track, and its 83 minutes long. When we talk about Mirror Reaper, we talk about the album, the song, and the experience. The concept of a single album length track is nothing new, especially in the world of metal, but its mostly used as a marketing gimmick, the ‘track’ usually comprising of many segments and sections that could have easily been divided up into seperate songs.
Mirror Reaper is the only album length track that truly feels like one song, one unique entity. Listening to this album/song/whatever fucks with your sense of time, a masterful effect considering the record itself is a meditation on death and time itself. Expanses of time pass with only single instruments floating mournfully in the mix, empty space weighing everything down. The central riff to the song doesn’t make an appearance until almost 17 minutes in. Extraordinarily challenging yet equally rewarding, Mirror Reaper demands that you get lost in its depths. Based largely around the death of founding member Adrian Guerra, Mirror Reaper serves as a solemn reminder that while we may be able to reach the light at the end of the tunnel of this beast, some who get lost in the depths of darkness never make it out again.
2. Migos – Culture
Culture. That may seem like an arrogantly audacious title for the Atlanta hip hop trio’s sophomore record, until you stop and consider that everything that the Migos have done, and achieved in their short few years in the spotlight, has been nothing short of audacious. Migos invented the dab, a dance move that Hilary fucking Clinton literally performed on the Ellen Show. Migos invented the triplet flow, a flow so engraved in modern hip hop we accept it as the norm. Migos brought back the hip hop group, a concept that hasn’t had any cultural weight to it in at least a decade. The only thing these guys had left to do to cement themselves as legends was release a classic record, which they very well may have done with Culture.
Atlanta trap has been the dominant genre of hip hop for a few years now, thanks to the incomparable creativity and prolificity of artists like Future and Young Thug. But as much as I love those guys (especially Thug, who I consider to be my favourite rapper alive right now), neither of them have put out a project as cohesive as Culture. This record brings a lot of descriptors to the table that one wouldn’t have dreamed to be associated with the genre not a year ago; diversity, cohesion, nuance. Migos dominated 2017 as a unit and as individuals, with Quavo becoming ubiquitous on the charts, Offset carving out his own unique path of solo stardom, and Takeoff emerging as the secret genius behind the whole operation. With Culture 2 reportedly dropping some time this month, the Migos reign is not set to slow down any time soon.
1. GAS – Narkopop
Its difficult for me to put in to words the importance Narkopop has had in my life over the past 8 months or so, but I’ll give it a shot. Part of what has made music such a vastly important part of my life since as far back as I can remember, is its functionality. This works both ways; the artist uses music as a functional release of creative energy, the listener then reapplies this creative energy into their own context, allowing them to feel connected to something beyond themselves. Of course, music’s application in the modern age takes on many different schemas, due to its commodification and association signalling. But the purest relationship is based off of the give and take of emotional resonance.
Sometimes an album comes along that transcends the basic emotional response relationship of most music, and becomes something more; a tool, medicine. A lot of research has been done in the past few years on the function of music as a tool for healing, a supplemental form of therapy. Indeed, results have shown that the right kinds of music containing the proper frequencies have the ability to speed up the reproduction of particular grey matter cells associated with memory retention.
I’ve had sleeping problems since I was very young. I’d lie awake for hours, waiting for the sweet release of sleep that would often never come. In those long, dark hours alone, music became my refuge. It kept me company, and gave my mind something to latch on to besides my adolescent fears and worries. Distracted from my own thoughts, music allowed me to relax, let go, and eventually fall asleep. Listening to music to fall asleep became a part of my life, and I would actively seek out music to specifically fill the role of lullaby.
Everything changed this year. After a particularly loud Neurosis concert (I knew they were infamous for their piercingly loud live shows, this was 100% my own fault for not wearing earplugs), I developed tinnitus. I left the concert with a shrill ringing in my left ear, and the ringing never went away. It still hasn’t. I can hear it right now. It’ll probably never go away.
I knew what was happening to me immediately; being so connected to music for so long, a knowledge of the dangers and potential rammifications of listening to loud music is important, and I had long been afraid of developing tinnitus. I was terrified. There is no cure for tinnitus; chances are that if you have it, you have it for life. Knowing this made me feel helpless in a way I never have. During the day it wasn’t so bad. I was busy with work, distracted to a point where I would hardly notice it. But at night, I was brought right back to the helplessness of being a kid unable to sleep again, except this time with an incessantly loud ringing in my ear, mocking me, reminding me of how much harder the already elusive good night’s sleep would be.
Narkopop had already established itself as my go to sleep music, having already been out for a few months at this point. But the first night of tinnitus, I lay awake worried that the magic would be lost. My heart pounded as I put the earphones in and scrolled through my iTunes to the G section. What if it didn’t work? Would I ever sleep again? But as the enchanting opening swells of “Narkopop 1” filled my ears, the ringing became lost amongst the ambience, and I was out cold before the second track ended. Tinnitus development aside, 2017 was a very rough year for me (and everyone really). It wasn’t long before Narkopop became my security blanket, the one thing I knew I could rely on to comfort me, and instead of dreading the silence of the late night, I came to cherish it.
Narkopop may have ended up as my favourite album of the year regardless of all this, purely based on how incredible of a record this is. I listen to this record every night to get to sleep, yes, but I’ve listened to it during waking hours countless times as well, certainly more than any other ambient record I’ve come across in my life. It is an album filled with equal parts majesty and mystery, simultaneously trance-inducing yet wholly enrapturing. This is not ambient music as ‘wallpaper music’; this is ambient music to immerse yourself in, to become an active part of your waking (and sleeping) experience. Narkopop is gorgeous, its terrifying, its awe-inspiring in every sense of the word.
According to my iTunes, I’ve listened to Narkopop in full 246 times. Some tracks, close to 300. At this point, this album is a part of my DNA. I hear it sometimes, walking around the city, echoing off the buildings. In some part of my mind, its always playing, reminding me not to worry, that the incomparable escape that sleep has to offer isn’t far away. Narkopop is my favourite album of the year, and my medicine.