From all of us here at Atwood Magazine, we wish you a happy and healthy new year. 2017 has been an exciting year for all aspects of music, finding the engaged activism that began last year hit an all-time high as it seeped into our collective conscience. Art always has the capacity to be more than mere self-expression, and it’s during the most challenging of times that we find art becoming a real voice for others – the disenfranchised; the oppressed; the underrepresented and the underprivileged. Records like Tennis’ Yours Conditionally and Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. offer pointed observations and commentary on issues from gender and racial discrimination to gun violence and more.
Music was also a reprieve and an escape, offering us worlds away from our own. Albums like Bleachers’ Gone Now and HAIM’s Something to Tell You offered blissful pop melodies with infectiously catchy hooks. Lorde’s Melodrama found the young breakout diving deeper into herself than ever before, exploring difficult, relatable situations with a candid honesty. Meanwhile, Iron & Wine took us back to his indie folk roots with a record about people and emotions, hardship and perseverance. Whether we were dwelling in others’ strife or relishing in their happiness, these albums were our happy places – opportunities to connect to people on another plane.
There were many fresh faces with brand new perspectives: SZA came out with her highly anticipated CTRL, while new favorites like QTY, TENDER and Julia Michaels introduced themselves for the very first time. They carried no baggage; there was nothing to base them off but the work they gave us, and we ate it up.
And in other instances, some artists just made really great records. Atwood Magazine is proud to present our staff-procured list of 2017’s Albums of the Year, in no particular order. These are our favorites – the albums that influenced us the most. With 2017 at an end, we look back on the year’s contributions to the music world.
Mitch Mosk, Editor-in-Chief, Atwood Magazine
Atwood Magazine’s 2017 Albums of the Year
In a year full of turmoil, tension and pop politics, Iron & Wine gave us a reason to embrace the deeper elements of our humanity: Love and pain, connection and disconnect, devotion and movement – all these and more make up the artist’s elegant sixth album, Beast Epic. The acoustic guitar-driven indie folk record feels much like a throwback to the “Naked As We Came”-era Iron and Wine of the early aughts: It’s warm, raw, colorfully lyrical and (often brutally) unforgiving: “Some call it talking blues; some call it bitter truth; some call it getting even in a song,” he sings in “Bitter Truth,” revealing the hardships within a supposedly loving relationship.
But not everything is falling to pieces: The evocative “Call It Dreaming” paints a vision of love’s finest – the giving of one’s full self and life for the service of another. “And we get a chance to say, before we ease away, for all the love you’ve left behind: You can have mine.” Sam Beam – who adopted the Iron & Wine moniker over fifteen years ago – has a tendency toward large brush strokes infused with finer tendrils: His love songs will talk about death and dying. His death and dying songs will muse about the beauty of life, or some innocuous memory – or the concept of memories themselves. The man is a poet, and he brings his full bag of tricks to Beast Epic, a cohesive and dramatic, touching and laid-back storytelling adventure. Strip away the layers and at the center of it all is a man and his guitar, singing songs about life that take us out of the daily grind, if only for a little while. This timeless record could have come out at any time, but in the turbulence of 2017, it has felt like a true masterpiece. – Mitch Mosk
Wife-husband duo Tennis have always had this colorful, magic quality about their vintage pop/rock sound, but there is far more at play on their fourth album. Yours Conditionally is driven by frustration and determination; from being a woman in a man’s world; from being told of barriers you can never overcome. It’s a prove them wrong album in all respects, from the biting “Ladies Don’t Play Guitar” to the introspective “My Emotions Are Blinding.” Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley whip up a cocktail of delightful, yet impassioned songs that together tell a story, while individually connecting on their own merits. Freshly independent and in full control over all aspects of the recording process, Tennis assert themselves through vibrant choruses, smart (and often darkly tongue-in-cheek) lyrics, and a charismatic can-do attitude that embeds itself into the very core of Yours Conditionally. This album offers powerful anthems balanced out by sweeping odes to love and remorse; it is introspective and reflective, engaged and highly emotive – one listen to side B’s impressive “Modern Woman” proves that and more – yet above all else, it’s excited. Tennis come at their latest full-length with sincerity and joie de vivre, which makes listening to them all the more fun, meaningful, and memorable. – Mitch Mosk
Daniel Caesar’s stunning debut Freudian is a seamless throwback to the type of old-school R&B that makes you want to fall in love, yet still has a sense of placelessness within the genre. It possesses a type of magic you just can’t label. With an array of harmonious tracks, the entire album has the wisdom of a man far beyond his years who’s had love, lost it, and found it again. Caesar weaves in gospel, clean beats, and his honeyed falsetto to craft songs such as “Hold Me Down” which are minimalist yet grand. It’s that special timbre in his voice that brings to mind a cross between Frank Ocean and Miguel. Helped out by Charlotte Day Wilson, Syd (of the Internet), Kali Uchis, and the soulful singer H.E.R, Caesar has allowed his spiritual roots to transcend the hallowed halls of the church and make us all feel close to the ethereal quality of his music. The elegance with which Freudian poses soul-searching questions of identity and religion are capped off using angelic choral arrangements and piano. Done with sincerity and style, Freudian is about looking into the innermost parts of ourselves, and not shying away when we can’t find the answers. – Natalie Harmsen
QTY are the band that you want to be friends with. Their version of rock music, filled with some of the best guitar you’ll hear today, is modern as it is nostalgic, and their lyrics celebrate the ups and downs of being alive and having a best friend to share these moments with. Their self-titled debut album, produced by Suede’s Bernard Butler, is joyful, personal, and beautifully curated. Each track tells a different story about Dan Lardner and Alex Niemetz’s friendship and lives – some feel like a page torn out of a diary, while others sound like a conversation between close friends at a bar. It is one of those rare records in which no song is dispensable. There’s an honest and genuine feeling about the album that is hard to emulate, and even harder to come across – Lardner and Niemetz have been striving towards making a debut album for around 8 years now, ever since their first band Grand Rapids came into existence, and it’s almost like you can see all these years of hard work from the moment you click play. It paid off. Songs like “Cold Nights” and “Salvation” were designed to be played at arenas, while “Rodeo” sounds like an instant classic. “New Beginnings” is introspective and delicate, and “Living Things” is the best and most beautiful depiction of what sharing a special friendship with someone really means. Niemetz shines on the guitar, with the instrument becoming an extension of herself and adding colour and dynamism to the songs, while Lardner’s abilities as a lyricist are unparalleled. 2017 saved the best for last with this record. – Nicole Almeida
I don’t know where to start with this because I’m still amazed that Billie Eilish is real. Eilish’s debut EP, Don’t Smile at Me, is so strong it keeps you wondering if her debut album can be any better. In under 10 tracks, Eilish gives presents us so many different facets of her music and personality that it’s impossible not to fall in love with her and her music. “COPYCAT”, EP opener, and “my boy” are led by their strong beats and attitude-filled lyrics, on the former she’s fed up with someone trying to be her, and the latter is lyrical revenge on a boy who didn’t treat her like she deserves to be treated. Debut single “Ocean Eyes” is ethereal and fragile, with Eilish’s falsettos and incredible voice taking center stage. “Bellyache” is an addictive, eerie tune written from the point of view of a murderer, while in “watch” she bathes in the pain of not being wanted. To put it shortly, the EP is filled with hits. Most impressive, however, is Eilish’s musical maturity and very specific vision – Eilish’s creative control over her music, image, and career is crystal clear and probably the reason why she has found success so early on. Seeing her live is a fabulous treat, as her voice sounds just as impressive as it does on the record and her stage presence would make many stage veterans envious. Eilish is a phenomenon who has just now started to break out of her shell, and with a debut body of work as strong as this EP, we can be certain that there are only incredible things ahead for her. – Nicole Almeida
There is no question which rap album will go on to define 2017. Kendrick Lamar’s third straight power-punch LP featured the rapper at his funniest (“Humble”), fiercest (“DNA”), tenderest (“Love”) and most vulnerable (“Fear”) — all of which made for a fascinating case study of one of this generation’s most compelling musicians. “Damn” has already been nominated for many awards, including Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards — with any luck, it will go on to be the first purely hip-hop album to win the grand prize in February. – Josh Weiner
London-based electro-pop duo TENDER’s debut LP, Modern Addiction, (1st September via Partisan Records) delicately explicates a duality of brokenness and catharsis, navigating relationships and the intimacy of them — be that good or bad. Removing the rose-colored glasses, TENDER, comprised of James Cullen and Dan Cobb, definitively ideates life and love through addictive tendencies, providing a criticizing narrative that simultaneously points the finger and acknowledges one’s own faults. Throughout the album’s dozen tracks, the duo maneuver through peace and discord, offering a full-bodied view into the magnetism one often feels in a relationship, whether that is healthy or not. Modern Addiction is filled with anecdotes about addiction pertaining to love and lust; however, there are also tracks that viscerally examine more tangible addictions, like technology and drugs, and the inevitable hollowness that accompany these things.
When the album closes, we feel a manifested shift in tone, implicating acceptance derived from the album’s overarching narrative. Modern Addiction overlays percipient, cognizant lyricism with impressive instrumentation; Cullen and Cobb have democratically minted a matchless record that feels invariably unblemished. It is a glimmering gem within 2017’s musical landscape, offering an opportunity to see things more clearly through the looking glass — and inspiring opportunities to change. – Maggie McHale
Through a much-needed break and subsequent self-discovery, Grizzly Bear are au courant as ever, explicating intense feelings with unparalleled élan. The group’s fifth studio album, Painted Ruins, released on August 18 via RCA Records, reintroduces the world to Grizzly Bear in a way that is cognizant, melodic, and achingly enchanting. Painted Ruins standardizes the new norm of what is to be expected following an extended break from music; it is a sweeping achievement for a band that has already achieved quite a bit throughout their illustrious 13-year professional (but 15-year total) career. Painted Ruins takes form over function, elucidating a world imperfect yet magnetic. The eleven-track LP is noticeably democratic, allowing each of the members’ unique styles to shine throughout. It makes sense, too: the band is self-described as such, thanks in no small part to their seamless chemistry amassed over 15 years of friendship and musicianship. Grizzly Bear operates as a unit, subsequently allowing their complex musical prowess to feel effortlessly achieved.
The album glows in its sentience; each lyric drips with an acute awareness of oneself — and one’s position in the world — in conjunction with an awareness of society as a whole. Each track is anecdotal and associative, outlining life in its truest forms. Painted Ruins was a five-year journey, but a worthwhile one nonetheless. – Maggie McHale
On February 17, Electric Guest, the Los Angeles-based indie alt-electronic duo, released their first album in five years: the enchanting, glimmering sophomore effort, Plural (Interscope). Having only put out their debut album, Mondo, prior to this release, Electric Guest (comprised of Asa Taccone and Matthew Compton) decidedly jumped feet-first back into the music world. Jump first, fear later. But there is no fear needed. Plural is an electrifying, dreamy 11-track record that represents Electric Guest in the purest, most authentic iteration. They may have been away for five whole years, but it was certainly worth the wait.
Plural is an amalgamation of inimitable sonic ingenuity and thoughtful lyrical one-liners, entrancing its listeners through a serpentine narrative of love and loss, often ending up at odds with itself. There is necessary realization, accompanied by unique self-reflection. Each track argues with its predecessor, weaving a captivating story to which the listener attaches oneself.
Plural has many faces, but it is its singularity among its contemporaries that truly makes it an impressive indie nonpareil. Navigating life, love, and loss is a continuous battle within one’s own mind, and it is a theme oft tackled within music. Plural is constantly at war with itself: each track that follows the next seems inherently opposite from its predecessor. The duality of Plural subsequently curates a drawn out narrative of light and darkness, of love and hate. Electric Guest know what they want to say — or do they? They do. They definitely do. And it is entirely up to their listeners to figure out exactly what that is — if it’s anything concrete at all. – Maggie McHale
It’s no secret that Jack Antonoff is a musical genius. From his work on Lorde’s colossal Melodrama to Taylor Swift’s attention-demanding reputation, 2017 has been an incredible year for Antonoff as a producer. But his album with Bleachers, Gone Now, is an incredible work of art that reminds us of his talent as a musician too.
This is an album in the purest sense of the word. It can only be truly experienced from top to bottom in one sitting. There is no other way to really appreciate the cyclical nature of the album. Whispered admissions of loneliness and hope—“I gotta get myself back home soon” “I wanna be grateful“—are littered throughout their heavily self-referential songs; these are small yet profound details that are lost on shuffle or singles alone. Bleachers showcase their range on this album: from the loud, pleading “Don’t Take the Money” to the quiet, confessional “Nothing is U,” they show us they can do both—and do them well. This album is personal despite its vastness, coherent despite its contradictions. It is oozing with a humanness that is almost impossible to achieve.
And if you have the chance, you must see Bleachers live. Equipped with two full drums sets, a saxophone, keyboards, and plenty of guitar, the full, bright sound captured on the record is heightened to an unimaginable level when they play live. It is truly the most honest, most triumphant outpouring of collective positive energy that I’ve ever experienced. In a particularly trying year, the space that Bleachers create at their show—a space that embraces hardship and sings about it with others—feels more important than ever. Bleachers is an incredible band and you should listen to this album live. The seemingly hyperbolic way in which I speak about them will make sense once you do. – Kaitlyn Zorlla
So many of the best albums to come out this year tapped into a mutual depression that so many of us have shared for the past year, look at Julien Baker or Father John Misty. Diet Cig’s debut has been a breath of fresh air in how fun it is. The duo of Alex Luciano and Noah Bowman had the most energetic shows of the year with Luciano bouncing around the stage. With a ton of artists adopting a hyper-serious posture, Diet Cig are snarky, silly, and unguarded. Luciano can go from being a smartass saying “get over it” to “I’ll probably cry when we kiss” over the course of a song. She writes simple songs that are goofy but heart-shatteringly sincere. Swear I’m Good At This was a treat to listen to whenever I needed to pep up this year, and it’s so exciting to see where Diet Cig will go now that Luciano and Bowman are about to tour with other musicians as a four-piece. – Jimmy Crowley
MUNA burst onto the music scene in all the right ways with the release of their debut album About U on February 3. As a follow-up to their Loudspeaker EP, which housed four of the songs on the 12-track LP, About U expanded upon the complicated and incredibly palpable feelings of love and loss that embody MUNA’s work. Their deeply poignant lyricism, highlighted by frank yet poetic honesty, is delivered with care and an immense complexity of feeling by lead singer Katie Gavin.
Throughout the album, MUNA tackles issues of emotional and physical abuse, depression, thoughts of suicide, and partner manipulation with grace and sensitivity. They expertly avoid romanticizing these topics, instead offering community and words of empowerment to anyone listening who may be able to relate. The contrast between dark and light within their lyrics is echoed by the same themes in their songwriting and production. Gavin’s dark vocal tone placed upon the band’s signature synthesizers and electric guitar creates an extraordinary balance not often found elsewhere.
Each track on About U is distinct, important and beautiful. Most of all, each track is for anyone who needs it. MUNA avoids using pronouns across their music in an effort to create a world in which anyone can see themselves. From beginning to end, the LP is a journey in self-discovery, love and liberation. We dance together in the face of hate on “I Know A Place,” we defy abusive relationships on “Loudspeaker,” and we try to understand why we hurt the ones we love on “Promise.” We do so much more throughout this album, but the most important part of it is: we do it together. – Alex Killian
The story behind Nervous System is what makes it Album of the year for me. Yes, of course, it is about the music, but it’s also about the person who made the music, and the path she took to get to where she is now.
The 7 Track EP starts with the chart-topping single, “Issues.” “Issues” immediately caught the attention of the masses. The unique fluctuations of Michaels’ voice paired with fearless lyrics is what made this song go as far as it did, taking her all the way to a Grammy nomination for “Song of the Year.” It wasn’t until after this song became wildly popular that people began to realize who Julia Michaels really was – the voice “Sorry,” by Justin Bieber, “Hands To Myself,” by Selena Gomez, and so many more.
This woman is truly the real deal. What I love so much about this album is that each of and every one of these songs are hers. After writing music for other artists for so many years, she held on to these nuggets, these capsules of her truth and only her truth, making it impossible for anyone but her to genuinely and authentically release these songs. That’s what makes each and every song on this album unmatched. They were all gems, diamonds in the rough, just waiting to be dug out and heard.
“Uh Huh” follows “Issues” kicking it up a notch and staying on track with the edgy and unique feel-good pop style. The album weaves in and out of stories of her life with the eerily truth ridden “Worst In Me” and the heartbreaking reality in “Don’t Wanna Think.”
The album is filled ballads and stories of pop-fueled heartbreak, all introducing us to the true voice behind the songs we’ve been singing to for years, Julia Michaels. – Kelly McCafferty
Melodrama has been topping all the lists for Album of the Year, and for good reason. Lorde encapsulates all that is energizing and all that is disheartening about being young in the 21st century into a tightly packaged, evocative multi-sensory experience. It’s well-written, well-produced, and an exuberant joy to listen to from start to finish.
Many of the tracks search, beg, and dig for relief from heartbreak including “Green Light,” “Hard Feelings/Loveless,” and “Writer in the Dark.” “Supercut” and “The Louvre” paint the sky warm reds with memories and deep blues with nostalgia for the love Lorde seems to be missing. The way she writes about love and heartbreak feels almost Shakespearean with metaphors, imagery, and sound that electrify the written into reality. “Hard Feelings” stands out in particular because of how precisely Lorde illustrates the post-breakup conversation and the imminent months of emotional suffocation. The poet comes alive as she whispers of “the winds of regret and mistrust” and the need to “let go of this endless summer afternoon,” yet at the chorus she plainly labels her emotions as the “hard feelings of love.” Lorde geniusly designs her words to drip with vitality, power, and flavor at one moment and punch you in the face with simplicity and profoundness by the time you reach the conclusion.
“Liability” and its reprise express Lorde’s intimate reflections on herself and her interactions with others; the slow piano-driven ballad serves as Lorde’s acceptance of and struggle with her quirks, qualities, and forest fire personality. It’s the teenage battle to find oneself immensely intensified and gracefully characterized.
“Sober,” “Homemade Dynamite,” and “Perfect Places” freeze the millennial experience in ice while we listen to Lorde partake, hesitate, and judge the partying, self-destruction, and empty attempt to find euphoria by herself and her peers; these are the songs that catapult Melodrama to Album of the Year status, the ones that set it apart from the boundless catalogue of enthralling albums about love and loss. She sings about the pills, the weekend, and the debasement of individuality occurring among her generation. Then she pulls the contemptful curtains back and we see her glorify the freedom, passion, and exhilaration of her peers. “Perfect Places” exists as Lorde’s anthem for all that she admires and despises about her era – the graceless nights, getting lost with another, all to find the “perfect” places. Although she can’t fully understand the phenomenon, she finds comfort in the familiarity and the fiery liberation these nights bring. With Melodrama, Lorde anoints herself the animated, cathartic, and emotive voice of a generation. – Baylee Less
There aren’t enough words in the English language for me to describe how potently I feel this album. Before the album arrived, I heard the single “Mary.” A hauntingly beautiful song about singer/guitarist Adrianne Lenker’s grandmother, it ebbs and flows in such a way that truly captures the turbulent beauty of grief and memory. For me, it hit home. It was the first time since my own grandmother’s death some months before that I felt some sort of peace. When the album finally came, I was astounded by the depths it contained. It’s far beyond what I ever thought a folk-rock album could achieve, and it’s a credit to Lenker’s immense talent as a writer. The album twists and turns with unexpected rhythmic and melodic shifts while she and her bandmates create an atmosphere rife with stories of family, loss, and memory. The album has at once a timeless swagger and a tremulous shimmer. I’ve seen “Shark Smile” garner comparisons to Springsteen, while songs like “Coma” and “Pretty Things” are run through with a soft, dark thread. Lenker writes with a quiet brilliance, producing lines such as “quiet as roses sting” and “flight is a beautiful word, flowered with consonance.” This is the kind of writing that silently breaks your heart – so quietly that you don’t even notice, and run back for more again and again. I genuinely haven’t loved an album this much in years, and I thank Big Thief for that experience. – Mariel Fechik
If your familiarity with Anna Wise extends only as far as her illustrious collaborative history with Kendrick Lamar (most notably as the female vocals on “These Walls”), one of music’s most brilliant and badass artists has been slipping through your fingers. After breaking into the solo realm with The Feminine Act I EP in 2016, Anna returned this year with a full-length follow up record that’s everything we needed and more.
The Feminine Act II is an extension of the vivid pop power tracks that comprised Act I (and if the patriarchy is especially draining you today, take “BitchSlut” for a spin right now). From bass-backed, r&b influenced tracks like “Coconuts” to funk-leaning vibes on “Same Mistakes” and the full on freaky “Self On Fire,” her song titles and clever lyrics call out the bullshit workings of society over moody loops and dance-inducing bass. Coming from an artist who created her own label to maintain creative integrity, and one who builds her entire live shows solo (and from scratch) every time, The Feminine Act II both infuriates for its truth and empowers with its tenacity. – Olivia Perry
I’ve heard a few people refer to Ctrl as ‘side-chick’ music, and while it does tackle themes of betrayal, this is an album with incredible depth and complexity, that transcends such a limiting term. It’s full of wry lyrics, that describe love in different, poignant ways. For her first mainstream album, SZA has excelled at communicating a narrative that shatters the preconceived stereotype of what a woman in R&B should sound like. – Matthew Tordoff
2017 was the year that R&B/Soul music took a firm stance against the ever growing narrative, that R&B music was “gone.” It manifested itself in some of the best albums of this year. Some were critically acclaimed and Grammy nominated. However there is one in particular that fell under the radar as one of the best albums of 2017, with featured songs on the hit HBO show, Insecure.
Nick Hakim’s Green Twins is by far one of the most lyrically and musically enticing body’s of work from an artist this year. Prior to its May 18th release via ATO Records, the Brooklyn based singer-songwriter had a creative output that placed him on the melancholic side of transcendent soul. He impressed with songs like “Cold” and fan-favorite “I Don’t Know”, where affectionate lyricism drive the many narratives of love, heartbreak and solemness. Green Twins is no different. It in fact is a huge leap forward in production value, cohesion and self-expression, that it should again, easily be called one of the BEST albums of the year. Without a doubt, the tender moments throughout the record provide a sense of duality between its collision of sensual bravado and atmospheric approach in storytelling. It’s mesmerizing and truthfully just the beginning of the Northwest D.C. natives artistry. – Brandon Payano
Soft Spots is an album of of change, growth, and self healing. It resides in the in-betweens of self-improvement with an emphasis on patience. The album explores the ups and downs of personal growth and becomes a tear jerking display of lead singer Stephanie Knipe’s poetic songwriting prowess. From soft ballads to angry rock songs, this album has something for everyone. – Carolyn Fasone
After a hiatus, British singer-songwriter Sivu returned in 2017 with his sophomore album Sweet Sweet Silent. In a decided change of pace, all ten songs off the record feature mostly acoustic instrumentation that was recorded live in a more stripped back approach. By eschewing the indie rock instrumentation that featured so heavily on his debut LP, Sivu created a timeless collection of ballads on Sweet Sweet Silent. The bones of the songs remain the same, with his introspective lyrics and emotive vocals, but the lush acoustic instrumentation allows his voice to take center stage. On many of the tracks, lightly strummed guitars and soaring strings build to a swirling crescendo without ever feeling overly grandiose or tackily saccharine. The stripped back instrumentation leaves nothing standing between Sivu and the listener; the songs are unguarded and vulnerable.
The title track “Sweet Sweet Silent” forms the centerpiece of the album, and its lyrics illuminate Sivu’s battle with progressive hearing loss from Ménière’s Disease. Instead of shrouding the topic in oblique references, the lyrics to “Sweet Sweet Silent” are vivid and somewhat resigned, as though Sivu has come to terms with his diagnosis. In confronting the inner turmoil and despair that arose from his diagnosis, Sivu’s metaphors and lyrics about drowning, water, and waves extend into several other songs on the album. It’s nearly impossible to separate Sivu’s struggle with Ménière’s Disease from the album; it becomes a pervasive specter weighing heavily over almost all ten tracks. Ultimately, Sweet Sweet Silent is solid evidence that Sivu has matured as an artist, and further proof that sometimes the most beautiful music arises from painful, personal struggle. – Carmen Chan
No matter the personal struggles that Kehlani seemed to overcome with the release of SweetSexySavage, it is in no way a comeback album. Building upon her previous status as the bona fide-R&B mixtape artist, Kehlani drew inspiration from TLC’s CrazySexyCool and modernized the stylistic influences with the help of production duo Pop & Oak to create a more hard-hitting and confessional pop album. As an LQBTQ woman-of-color, she faces the harsh reality that her artistry may be overshadowed by a more polished, cookie-cutter act that churns out radio-ready hits like a factory. By remaining such an outspoken advocate to any and all outsiders and strivers, she has been able to develop this powerfully impactful collection of work that reflects her own struggles. Boasting her signature lyrical audacity throughout, she explores numerous sides of herself: the sensitive introvert, the confident diva, the seductive adventurer. Whether she be talk-singing on her more melodic pop-rap tracks or spitting bars on her more trap-pop songs, her honeyed vocals are what unmistakably champion her as the rising queen of R&B. – Ethan Germann
Okay, let’s admit it. 2017 has been a doozy. Personally, what I needed most to get through the year was an uplifting collection of harmonic pop, one that would suck me so deeply into its world that I forgot the problems on the outside. That little world inside our big, bad, scary one is exactly what HAIM created, and they should be honored and praised for it.
The three-piece sister group is an impressive act vocally, but it’s important to remember the album’s instrumental credits and writing notes can all be attributed to them. The album is purely family talent, something long gone in the top charts. Creating pop hits, now two albums deep, the sisters have refused to sell out. They’re sticking to their sound and best sides, and have produced an addicting, incomparable collection that sounds like the color pink and your favorite girl’s night ever. It’s truly a musical chick-flick, but one your boyfriend still wants to watch over and over.
HAIM and Something To Tell You stand for the best moments of the year. It allowed a political escape, while declaring what much of this year showcased: the movement of women holding each other up, whether that be on the streets in a march or in the studio on supporting instrumentals, and succeed. It’s pure girl power. And in listening to the album the hundreds of times I did since its release in July, that message never changed for me. Every time I listened I felt empowered, understood, and began rejoicing. Sometimes all it takes is a moment, or eleven tracks worth, of positivity to change your whole outlook. This was an album I wasn’t anticipating, one I almost didn’t listen to. But the moment I did, it became the soundtrack of my year for the most beautiful reasons- the ability to feel confident and supported in womanhood and the overarching need to dance and sing to the tracks that sounded so perfectly pop, even with my hairbrush as a microphone. – Kelly Wynne
Archy Marshall has had many names. Over the years the London-based artist has performed under the monikers of Zoo Kid, DJ JD Sports, Edgar the Beatmaker, Lankslacks, and more. This year, however, marked the fabled return of his most lionized persona: King Krule. Marshall had not produced any music as Krule since the release of his breakthrough in 2013 when he released his debut album 6 Feet Beneath the Moon at the ripe age of 19. But like the prodigal son, Krule returned in 2017 by unveiling a handful of enigmatic singles – the mystic rock of “Dum Surfer,” the thunderous “Half Man Half Shark,” and the forlorn love ballad of “Czech One” – all culminating in the release of The OOZ, which is perhaps his most ambitious and radical album to date.
While Marshall’s other faces are reserved for experimental instrumentals and other methods of musical exploration, in The OOZ he returns to his roots where his vocals and lyrics take the limelight. True to his past work, his sound is dark and sticky: at times wrapping you in a dark embrace, and at others inundating you with swampy bass-lines and saxophones. Within the verses of “Logos,” a sobering glimpse into his mother’s struggle with alcoholism; on “Slush Puppy,” his textured falsetto seduces; with “Lonely Blue,” a nod to the fleeting love of Blue from his past work. However, within his dark and decrepit worlds there are flashes of redemption and acceptance, making his music ever more poignant and chilling. With each passing song, Marshall’s lyrics ensnare you in his web of discord where the genres of jazz, rock, trip-hop, and more begin to overlap, blur, and then combine entirely creating a genre that is otherworldly. What is left is a shattered ceiling. – James Meadows
I wrote about this album when we did our mid-year roundup, and though we’ve made it to the end of the year, this album still stands out as one of my favorite releases of 2017.
This album was a fun and relaxed take on millennial culture. While songs such as “Western Kids,” the song’s chorus including lyrics such as “I just love this, I swear I’ll go viral,” other songs on the album such as “Vacation” bring about the more realistic side to this culture, though still self-aware.
The album feels intentional, and while it’s filled with subtle irony and social commentary, it’s a great way to escape the world. With their characteristic west coast vibes, Hippo Campus have made themselves a force to be reckoned with in the indie community. Their debut album has done nothing but help solidify their trademark sound, and has shown that you can both participate in and mock the culture of which you are apart. In a tense year, it was enjoyable to relax and have a laugh. – Sara Santora
This year has been a hangover from the 2016 election. The inauguration felt like waking up dry-mouthed, head throbbing, and sore wake up the morning after a blackout. If 2017 was a hungover day, After the Party was the greasy breakfast and bloody mary. It’s equal parts sincere, heartfelt rock record and fun, raucous punk album. Greg Barnett and Tom May deliver early-30’s anxiety with their hearts as on their sleeves as it was for On the Impossible Past. While there are political flourishes (“I’ll be there when the ocean rises” in “Thick as Thieves), this is an album about entering the middle point of adulthood and falling in love. There’s romance with a sense of escape along with some reminiscing. “Your Wild Years” sees Barnett finding solace in his domestic life with his partner, but “Bad Catholics” reminisces on an old fling from his own wild years. It’s an album that’s easy to find comfort in, and as it closes on the midpaced “Livin’ Ain’t Easy,” it’s the album that I kept coming back to in the hellscape of the year we’ve had. – Jimmy Crowley
Yes, I wrote about INHEAVEN’s debut album earlier this year, and I’m writing about it again it here because it was one of the few albums this year that really hooked me enough to listen to it repeatedly. INHEAVEN’s debut was one of the few albums from this year that legitimately made me hopeful about the future of rock n’ roll. Aside from being a rollicking debut album with excellent production and pacing, the band never sacrifices lyrical importance for musical prowess, or vice versa. Through all their fuzz-induced stupors and screaming solos, INHEAVEN plays no games and takes no prisoners. Which, in a world where what passes for “alt-rock” relies on playing it safe, is not only a breath of fresh air, but a return to what rock is all about. – Lindsay Call
No group in the colorful cosmos of Hip Hop seems to be having as much fun as Harlem’s A$AP Mob right about now. Their second volume in the Cozy Tapes canon is a rollicking testament to such. Whether it’s the anthem-blaring “Walk on Water,” where macho lyrical vulgarities collide with brass horn instrumentation, or the single “RAF” that’s accompanied by the likes of Quavo, Lil Uzi and Frank Ocean, A$AP Mob seems to find solace in all things simple and catchy. And quite frankly, so do the fans. It’s no surprise that Rocky and Ferg serve as the dual standouts on almost every track, but with the East Coast kinship now equipped with Playboi Carti there seems to be an emcee trinity forming that is as exciting as it is historic. I mean just think of the Mob’s cadence range now: they can leap from Ferg’s animated drawl to Rocky’s suave delivery to Carti’s shrill-pitched inflection… all on one track! The 90’s were blessed with Wu-Tang LP’s, there’s no denying that. I think it’s important to remind millennials that we have A$AP Mob tapes. Cozy ones to be exact. – Danny Dyer
Sir Sly’s achingly intimate followup to 2014’s powerful debut You Haunt Me finds the LA trio expanding their musical palette through a daringly diverse, yet surprisingly concise set of songs that stays faithful to, and builds upon Sir Sly’s unique blend of electronic, gospel, and hip-hop influence.
Death cast a dark, ever-present shadow over You Haunt Me, and while death and loss are equally as visible across Don’t You Worry, Honey, it is Sir Sly’s approach to heavy, difficult subject matter that once again makes for such a compelling narrative. Frontman Landon Jacobs’ vulnerability is vivid and tangible as he opens up about his mother’s death and his recent divorce, the two major conflicts that together form much of this record’s foundation. Soulful music and breathtakingly personal lyricism find Sir Sly struggling to deal with, confronting, and attempting to overcome and move beyond these significant life changes; “I’m a lover having a hard time, walking a thin line between the life I want and the one I live,” sings Jacobs on “Fun,” going on to poetically lament, “I’m a dreamer stuck in a nightmare.”
But even in darkness’ deepest depths, Sir Sly strive to find a spark of light. Don’t You Worry, Honey ultimately tells an important story about the individual’s journey through grief and mourning, toward resolution. Just like their debut, Sir Sly’s sophomore effort succeeds at injecting substance and humanity into spellbinding music: Out of pain, the band creates beauty. – Mitch Mosk
Tove Lo is a pop mastermind. And her third album, BLUE LIPS (lady wood phase II), which comes as a second part to 2016’s Lady Wood, comes to show everyone just how brilliant she is. The album is unapologetic, sexy, empowering, and manages to leave you both in ecstasy and heartbroken – it’s incredible. “Disco Tits”, the album’s lead single, fuses pop, dance, drugs, and lust, “Stranger” is the perfect pop song with a guitar riff that will leave your ears begging for more. “bitches” is both a punch in the gut and the sexually empowering anthem to end all anthems. In “cycles”, Lo admits to unhealthy love patterns, and “9th of October” comes as a ballad and an ode to a love lost. “hey you got drugs?”, album closer, is fragile, hazy, and so emotional that it will make you feel the pain of heartbreak too. Lo’s star has been on the rise for a few years now, but I’m almost certain BLUE LIPS will consolidate her as the pop star we need in the charts today – as a woman and a pop singer, Lo breaks all paradigms by being extremely blunt about sex and drugs, flicking both literal and metaphorical middle fingers to the industry-imposed rules while creating amazing pop music and empowering women. – Nicole Almeida
— — — —