I’m not sure I should be writing this considering my backlog is still about 700 songs and around 50 hours long with some albums dating back to June, but here we are anyway. This year I made a point to start listening to only LPs and EPs, no singles. I listened to everything from Kesha to the National, Ozomatli to John Mayer any popular or suggested artists or interesting looking album artwork. The only thing I didn’t bring myself to listen to at all was country, unlike most I still enjoy the genre but since it’s death around 2000 to pop related complications I just can’t subject myself to it. So with that premise this is my favorite music of 2017 in no particular order. Here is the playlist
RTJ3 - Run the Jewels
Killer Mike told us on RTJ1 and he told us again on RTJ2 some still didn’t believe him but after 3 stellar albums it is undeniable, Run the Jewels is one of the hardest acts in the game and my personal favorite. From the moment Method Man rapped “pull your pants your pants up” the world needed someone to take the place of and bring the rawness the Wu-Tang Clan seemed to be inadvertently aging out of. Three years and albums later Run the Jewels has proven themselves a worthy heir. This is the third album in a row they have impressed me, I have not heard even one bad song from this pair of hip-hop gods and RTJ3 fits in with the rest of their catalog. While not as forceful as RTJ2 this album gives us a little more playful nature adding sci-fi synths and catchy hooks in some places but the duo also stays true to their thoughtful lyricism, disturbingly well crafted beats and continues their system-challenging political commentary. This album is not groundbreaking but it is ridiculously good and probably my favorite rap album of the year, considering Kendrick dropped an all time great release again this year that’s saying something.
Favorite Track: Call Ticketron
The Chief - Jidenna
In a year of pretty amazing music this album unfortunately seemed to slip off of most people’s radar. I have not seen it gather the attention it deserves, if any, on year end lists and when I recommend it it still seems relatively unknown and that is just unacceptable. The authenticity of this album is unparalleled and it manages to sound totally unique. The album’s sound blends an African influence with modern hip hop and R&B. The producers behind it crafted this sound into every track in a way that is never over the top but always present. This is particularly masterful because almost no track sounds the same which alone is a testament to Jidenna’s versatility. These qualities make The Chief sound like nothing else and really sets it apart. The album’s subject matter ranges from party songs, lost love and racial injustice each written with the same high quality of the music it’s sung over. Listening back to all the top contenders, this album was probably my overall favorite of the year if I had to pick and if you listen to nothing else from this list I suggest this one.
Favorite Track: The Let Out
American Teen - Khalid
I think the only reason I heard about Khalid initially was because he is from my hometown and I had friends posting pictures with someone who I assumed was The Roots' ?uestlove. Once I learned of my mistake I gave him a listen and was floored to learn his age because of how disproportionately wonderful his music is. If I had to pick one thing that separates him from most of his generation it would be his song writing. He always seems to use just the right amount of lines and perfectly worded phrases to incredibly portray genuine relatable emotions. At 19 he is still a kid yet he writes with the experience and skill of someone with decades of experience. American Teen is a celebration of young love and all the wonderful moments and painful tribulations that accompany it. It is the perfect soundtrack to the summer after graduation comprised of thoughtful introspective ballads and poppy teenage anthems. As an older adult I have been falling into the trap of hating almost all music made by the current generation of young artists, however, Khalid is one of and probably the biggest exception
Favorite Track: Shot Down
Ctrl - SZA
I don’t have any definitive proof that SZA is Patsy Cline reincarnated but I also don't have any evidence to the contrary so until I do I’m going to live with that assumption. I might be unqualified to write about this one because I only recently stumbled across it a few weeks ago but 30 seconds into the opening track, Supermodel, I immediately regretted putting off this album. The sultry tones and explicit sexual themes make it easy to draw Weeknd comparisons but at the risk of sounding like a hipster doofus the deeper of parts of her writing make her so much more. She writes about subjects not often explored like falling out of love or relationship insecurities with an open honesty that gives her music a relatable quality artists hope to achieve. Her ability to write about such somber content paired with the soulful beats of the Antydote keeps this album compelling throughout. If SZA and Khalid are a gateway drug for a new generation to Neo-Soul the future will definitely be in safe hands.
Favorite Track: Drew Barrymore
Sacred Hearts Club - Foster the People
Initially I wasn’t really high on this album, I added a few tracks I liked to my rotation and went on about my life. But as those songs would shuffle in I would notice they would be the ones that would stick with me. I gave it another listen and fell in love with it, listening to it exclusively for about a week. There’s nothing I can pinpoint that describes why I enjoyed this as much as I did but it’s just a nice feel good album. I’m not too familiar with Foster the People but the other stuff I have heard was not nearly as well crafted. It's nice for background noise but also awesome to sit and listen to because I am still finding things in the mixes I have not heard before. The last time I remember feeling a pure affection for and album like this was the Strokes Is This It. It’s not an essential album but it’s struck a chord with me and it’s really fun, I can not recommend it enough.
Favorite track: Harden the Paint
Awaken, My Love! - Childish Gambino
If this album is any indication of the experimentation and exploration he is capable of it is going to be hard to see him stop making music as he intends to after his next album. I considered leaving this out because it was technically released in December of 2016 but it was on heavy rotation throughout 2017. There were gripes about this not being a rap album and on first listen I shared that opinion. After I came to appreciate it for what it is I liked it so much more than what another Because of the Internet would've been. It's a modern soul album and it's outstanding. Though it may not be what we're used to from Gambino, that helps it shine all on its own. Donald Glover’s music making alias’ days may be numbered but releases like this will have me listening for years to come.
Favorite Track: California
DAMN. - Kendrick Lamar
I was late to the game on Kung Fu Kenny but he has yet to disappoint. A lot has been said of the consensus best hip hop album of the year so I don't really need to add to the conversation but it's worth mentioning on this list. The one thing that stuck out to me immediately is how excellent this album sounds. In recent years music, particularly hip hop, has devolved into awful sounding samples and recordings because compression of digital music kind of allows you to get away with it. Kendrick and the people behind this album did not fall into that trap of laziness, a lot of time and production went into this and it shows. I do have one question since he snuck on me with To Pimp A Butterfly, can someone tell me exactly when he became the greatest rapper alive?
Favorite Track: DNA.
Melodrama - Lorde
Melodrama is exactly what it sound it’s namesake alludes to, music for people with no real problems in their life. Listening to it again I’m not sure I like the content of the songs all that much, other than Homemade Dynamite, but I’ll admit I am probably not the intended audience. So why is on here? Following up on her stellar debut, Melodrama sounds incredible and the music is arranged very well. It’s a different breed of pop and it is still super intriguing for me, a pop music adversary. The one complaint I have about this album, as was the case with RTJ3, is it sounds exactly like what I expected. That being said her baseline is exceptional and landed her on this list alone and she still has a long career ahead of her and I am very anxious to hear what comes next.
Favorite Track: Homemade Dynamite
Science Fiction - Brand New
I wrote at length about this when it came out and that can be found here. The quality of person, or lack thereof, of frontman Jesse Lacey notwithstanding this album is artful and a swan song for the ages.
Favorite Track: Could Never Be Heaven
The Tales We Tell - The Sounds
This is the only EP in this list and though it is only four songs long it is superb and the culmination of everything the Swedish rock has been building over their 20 years together. Each track is reminder of why Maja was always the best fit for the Debbie Harry comps that get throw at every woman frontwoman. It incorporates all they have learned from their experimenting from the disco synths on Turn to Gold to the more epic tones on Sail Into the Sun. The other two tracks are a return to post-punk rock sound that they built their success on and they have not lost a step in that genre. This EP may have captured my attention mostly because I like The Sounds, if you aren't a fan yet this is worth the listen.
Lust For Life - Lana Del Rey w/ The Weeknd: The juxtaposition between their voices and the delivery of the verses contrasting the chorus is haunting and captivating.
The Cure - Lady Gaga: If there was master course on making a pop song, this would be the only study material they would need.
Slide - Calvin Harris, Frank Ocean and Migos: This tracks' high pitched vocal captures your attention right away and when the bass kicks in it never lets go, even Migos is bearable and dare I say decent on this track. This one might be my song of the year
Shot Down - Khalid: When I first heard this what stuck with me most was the chorus and I fell in love with how well it portrays the feelings of young romance.
Call Ticketron - Run the Jewels: I believe this is what is referred to as “banger.”
The Let Out - Jidenna: This song's combination of unique tones and the EQ on Jidenna’s voice give this track a personality that few can compete with.
Fragments - Blondie: The haunting tone of Debbie Harry’s voice and the diverse musical cues in this song showcase the talent Blondie has always had and it’s cool to hear them making rad music after all these years.