Steven and I went through this year’s music that we’ve listened to and decided to wrap up this semester with some of our picks for top albums, top tracks, and those that fell short, or rather, were disappointing to us.
The first thing we did was think of our top 10 albums of 2017. We kept track of albums that really stuck with us since the beginning of January. This list contains a variety of artists that we’ve checked out, whether they were personal favorites, with albums we were itching to listen to, or projects that received universal acclaim and picked up enough traction to catch our curiosity, or projects that we ourselves dug up, that haven’t gotten much overall coverage, but still felt special to us. In short, here is our hot take on the best albums of the year, and a little reasoning behind our “subjectively objective” opinions on this year’s round of music.
10. Smino – blkswn
Smino’s debut album is an exciting and contagious blend of funky, soulful hip-hop tracks that came out early this year right before our spring break. Listening to it all the way through, it was a jovial, “complete” experience, with well-produced, somewhat subtle tracks that flow from one to the next, never detracting from the swagger or unique excitement of this project’s direction. “Netflix & Dusse” is a must-listen, with an interesting and well-equipped hook, and the right combination of catchiness and originality. Blkswn draws similarities to the likes of Anderson .Paak and Chance the Rapper, with a little Vince Staples twang to his vocals. Smino has a lot of potential to make a name for himself in the upcoming years,
Notable tracks: Netflix & Dusse
9. The Districts – Popular Manipulations
The Districts released their sophomore album under Fat Possum Records this summer, further shifting their stylistic direction in a more mature fashion. Their debut record A Flourish and A Spoil is one of our favorite indie records we’ve come across in a long time, a mesmerizing blend of messy, dirty garage rock vibes with a tang of suburban and poetic angst in Rob Grote’s lyrical abilities and distinct vocal delivery; A Flourish was also a successful shift towards indie rock from their bluesy beginnings. This album changed that up, continuing that indie sound, but adding more crisp psych influences, and minimizing the garage origins in their newest song ideas. The lyrics are more blunt, with less clutter and shorter deliverances. The first half of Popular Manipulations is as exciting as their debut album, but then falls short in that energy in the second half. It would’ve been nice to have one more enthralling “Young Blood” near its end, but it nonetheless has a spot on our top 10.
Notable Tracks: If Before I Wake, Ordinary Day, Violet, Salt
8. Guerilla Toss – GT Ultra
I had the opportunity to cover this album while interning at The Deli Magazine this summer, and man was it a fun, difficult record to articulate. I narrowed down my comparison of Guerrilla Toss’s music to LCD Soundsystem meets Sonic Youth, or Blondie going haywire. Nonetheless, once Boston now NYC avant-rockers Guerilla Toss maintain their exotic, hard-to-decipher structure and wild style on this new album, but do so with nearly perfect production. The tracks, to put it briefly, are crazy; they can lead one way, towards perhaps disco or pop, but then leave you feeling foolish for expecting that idea to stay put. GT Ultra is a fun and disturbing listen.
Notable Tracks: Betty Dreams of Green Men, The String Game, Skull Pop
7. SZA – Ctrl
A beautiful follow up from her previous work, SZA delivered on Ctrl, drawing influences of neo-soul, indie, and hip hop really well in an honest, vulnerable record, drawing on topics of love as well as self-love. If you haven’t listened yet, you’re really going to get something from this listen, whether that be from her blunt lyrics, amazing vocals, or the catchy hip-hop/soul nature to her tracks.
Notable Tracks – Supermodel, Love Galore (feat. Travis Scott)
6. Lorde – Melodrama
A lot of people’s pick for album of the year rightfully so, Melodrama, similarly to SZA’s Ctrl, manifests a vulnerable but artful encapsulation of emotions like no other; The synesthesia that Lorde talks about experiencing in her songwriting process is articulated and shared with us listeners like never before. I’m not the biggest fan of him, and frankly, I think his work is a bit overrated, but Jack Antonoff’s co-production and songwriting on Melodrama proved me wrong. This album felt more gloomy than Heroine, more grieving, but maintained that distinct pop sound that Lorde has been able to perfect and claim as her own. Her incomprehensible rise to fame, with the personality, fears, and desires that she as a human being has, are displayed beautifully and thematically from start to finish. For Steven and I, a lot of the tracks never stuck with us permanently. But the overall project, and the culmination of these tracks, themes, and moods, easily makes a spot in our top 10.
Notable Tracks: Green Light, The Louvre, Writer in the Dark
5. Joey Bada$$ – ALL AMERIKKKAN BADA$$
Joey’s conscious rap album is full of anthems, thought provokers, and homages to his 90s-esque beginnings. Joey rose to the occasion here, and honed his frustration and anger at the state of America just at the right time on this early 2017 record. The Ice Cube tributing title, the provocative album cover, and the topics of his songs – they all really hit home. The depth of Joey’s overlaying message is not as deep as, say Kendrick Lamar’s, but the album is exciting and exhillerating. Joey is able to keep up with his successful debut, B4.DA.$$, and still push forward with his lyrical integrity. But had he reached the poetic heights of Kendrick, or anywhere close, this could’ve made its way up to our album of the year.
Notable Tracks: Devestated, Land of the Free, Rockabye Baby, Super Predator, Amerikkkan Idol
4. Tyler, the Creator – Flower Boy
How bout this album, huh? I mean, what a comeback. The fuzzy, overwhelming production from his previous project, CHERRYBOMB, in our minds, was going to mark the downfall of Tyler’s musical presence in the rap world. It seemed that Tyler was starting to focus his ambitions too much on this attempt at a unique production style that simply didn’t work. Instead, he came back with this luscious album, more colorful and graceful than literally anything he’s ever done. Tyler’s soft side is not a letdown. It’s rich, its fun, and was such a refreshing and relieving listen from him.
Notable Tracks: See You Again, Boredom, Garden Shed, 911/ Mr. Lonely
3. BROCKHAMPTON – SATURATION, SATURATION II
BROCKHAMPTON proved to us that quantity can coincide with quality with their never-ending 2017 projects. Their fresh lens and deliverance of topics that had never found a place in hip hop of this magnitude, accompanied by extremely catchy and effective production, is a huge breath of fresh air in the hip hop world. You could say that because of their large group, they can provide different sounds and moods on a plethora of tracks. But each side of them is as appealing as ever, and they never lose their bold unconventionality. Unfortunately, this week will be the last album under BROCKHAMPTON (as far as we know), with SATURATION III set to be their final release on December 15th, but keep an eye out on all these guys; we hope they grow to be the future of hip hop.
Notable Tracks: HEAT, QUEER, JUNKY, SUMMER, SUNNY
2. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
I’m still not over theneedledrop’s rating of a 7 for this album. Steven and I did a whole radio show dissecting the tracks the week it came out back in April, and it lands a #2 spot on our list because it continues to prove Kendrick’s ability to dominate every façade of the rap game. It doesn’t look anything like TPAB, but the follow up has the modern hip hop flavors of GKMC while staying entirely original. “DNA.” is the perfect beginning, riling us up as we listened, making us wonder how it wasn’t the big single instead of “HUMBLE.” (but we get why tbh). Tracks like “XXX.” Follow up on modern day issues Kendrick flawlessly touches upon, while tracks like “FEAR.” and “DUCKWORTH.” gloss up Kendrick’s incomparable storytelling. “LOVE.”, though it had mixed reviews across music pages, shows us another component in the musical world that Kendrick has been able to harness into his versatile discography. This was the best hip hop album of the year for us, and despite some people’s opinions, it can go down as one of hip hop’s best projects, right alongside his last two records.
Notable Tracks: DNA., LOVE., XXX., FEAR., DUCKWORTH.
1. Manchester Orchestra – A Black Mile To The Surface
Our biggest hot take of them all. Manchester Orchestra’s album hasn’t ended up on anyone’s top album’s list. It hasn’t even been reviewed by anyone but Pitchfork really. But we don’t see that as a justifiable reason to knock this album lower on our list.
Manchester Orchestra’s fifth record is a bounce-back from their 2014 album, COPE, an overdone, fuzzy project with an unusual lack of variety compared to their previously impressive albums (similar to how Tyler, the Creator’s CHERRY BOMB matches up to the rest of his own discography). Going into this year, I had lower expectations. And when the singles started coming out, I was perplexed at what they sounded like; they were softer than anything before.
Manchester Orchestra’s style, to put it in short, is a loud-quiet-loud combination of energetic guitar lines and Andy Hull vocal shrieks with folkier, retrospective moments, accompanied by some of the best lyrics in the indie rock scene. The series of singles off A Black Mile To The Surface was the most pleasant and tame I’ve heard them. “The Gold” hinted at folk; “The Alien” neared singer-songwriter. And “The Moth” felt ambient, maintaining the previous energy they always had, but just by a thread. When the album came out, the concept of ABMTTS followed.
The tracks went straight into one another, and that’s when the 3-part song came into existence. The single they had released in the summer, “The Alien”, a quiet acoustic narrative, progressed into a new song, “The Sunshine”, a virtual “part two”, picking up the pace with a smooth drum beat and dirtier guitar lines. “The Sunshine,” near its end, exploded into one of my favorite tracks of the year, “The Grocery”, what I think is their most impressive effort yet as a group, delivering an intense, ambient edge like what I talked about earlier in “The Moth”; this strong energy and presence wasn’t from overly amplified, crunchy guitars and heavy drums. It was something ethereal, something of a soundscape. The guitar wasn’t overbearing, but felt as heavy as ever before. This culmination of Fleet Foxes-esque folk, with inconceivably smooth blasts into indie rock, accompanied by thematic and poetic lyrics, is, “subjectively-objectively”, our album of the year.
Notable Songs: The Alien –> The Sunshine –> The Grocery.
Whether you love this list, or it makes you want to rip your eyeballs out, let us know what you think of our picks! Keep an eye out for our next two hot takes on the best tracks and the most disappointing albums of 2017.
– Pearse Devlin