This has been such a bizarre year in so many ways, and a lot of these albums reflect the craziness, but also the need to take a step back to keep yourself together when you often can’t. For that reason this list could also be titled “Albums I sobbed along to like a baby in 2017.” When I think of the best albums in any given year, I always think of two things: 1. the best albums with continuity and flow throughout the entire album (or an album that has a cyclical nature to it) and 2. an album composed of consistently solid, beautifully crafted tracks. I tend to lean more towards the first option as the second can sometimes just feel like a bunch of singles thrown together – something that I’m pretty meh about.
10. Antisocialites by Alvvays
There’s something so late 90s/early aughts about this album that I adore. Bits of the opening track “In Undertow” reminds me of “Kiss Me” by Sixpence None the Richer and I get taken back to She’s All That and Dawson’s Creek. It’s appropriate considering this album was often such an escape for me during stressful moments when I needed to tune out all the things causing my anxiety and just take a break to pretend everything would be okay.
Album Highlights: “Plimsoll Punks,” “Dreams Tonite,” & “Lollipop (Ode to Jim)”
9. Everything Now by Arcade Fire
We should all probably be surprised this album isn’t higher up on my list considering how long and passionately I’ve loved this band, but there was a lot of good music this year – also I may still be slightly pissed off at Win for
stealing my basketball bleaching his hair for their last album cycle; that and I had to take a break from Reflektor after the poor decision to cast Andrew Garfield as a transgender character in their “We Exist” music video. This go around I’m mostly just glad they amped up their disco vibes with more Abba-centric beats. To the basic haters who finally came around with this album because it was the “least pretentious” thing they’ve done I say fuck you, but also I can’t blame anyone for coming around with this record because “Creature Comfort” is just so damn good.
Album Highlights: “Creature Comfort,” “Good God Damn,” & “Put Your Money on Me.”
8. Three Futures by TORRES
I’m really thankful that despite all the hate that’s circled this year, 2017 has been a year of so many of my faves owning their queerness (see also honorable mention I’m Not Your Man by Marika Hackman). As soon as I saw the music video for the title track with Mackenzie Scott going down on another version of herself I was like “SOLD!” Scott’s albums are so often about so many aspects of a person’s identity, and Three Futures is no exception with tracks like “Tongue Slap Your Brains Out,” which too accurately matches up with my split identities of being a New Yorker and a southerner.
Album Highlights: “Tongue Slap Your Brains Out,” “Helen in the Woods,” and “Greener Stretch.”
7. MASSEDUCTION by St. Vincent
This album is exactly the weird and emotional mess I needed this year. I wasn’t super into Clark’s last self-titled affair – I loved the aesthetic of the album cycle, her huge hair, and the vibe of a few songs, but it didn’t hook me 100%. Masseduction does everything I wanted Annie Clark’s last album to do but so much more. She still has the wacky visuals and off-kilter distorted sound, but the songs tick every box and the whole going “mainline to the heart” method paid off.
Album Highlights: “Sugarboy,” “Young Lover,” & “Slow Disco.”
6. Melodrama by Lorde
Oh lordy lordy Lorde. This is most definitely my most played album of 2017 and not just on Spotify. I’m someone who aside from my vinyl collection also still buys CDs to play in my car and this and my #1 album of the year were blasted on repeat for months because they were just that good to sing and shout along to while commuting 1.5 hours; also the feels. So so many feels. Aside from this being my most played album, the Vevo session Lorde did…I mean that’s pretty much all I watched on YouTube this year aside from skincare routines and monthly favorites videos from my fave vloggers. I will bathe in the glory that is the “Hard Feelings / Loveless” video at least once a month until the day I or YouTube dies.
Album Highlights: “Homemade Dynamite,” “Hard Feelings/Loveless,” & “Supercut.”
5. Semper Femina by Laura Marling
HI MOM. Remember when I was talking about my faves owning their queerness? Well, Loz Moz may be as straight as an L.L. Bean catalog but this album is most certainly queer as heck and it is my everything. If you’re not convinced just watch every music video for this album, and if you’re still not sure watch “The Valley” about five more times. I saw Laura (yes I feel comfortable using first names after 9 years) perform this album in May the day after I got my Masters and honestly it was the perfect celebration of that milestone. Laura Marling’s music has been with me through all the tough times and the good since high school and Semper Femina could not have come at a better time for both of us.
Album Highlights: “The Valley,” “Nothing, Not Nearly,” & “Don’t Pass Me By.”
4. Aromanticism by Moses Sumney
Can we talk about how I cried the first time I heard this album? They were like Demi Moore in Ghost level tears I got so emotional. I was also maybe at work editing newsletters and had to somehow avoid embarrassing myself. Sumney’s voice is like nothing I’ve experienced but so familiar and comforting and also capable of tearing my heart to shreds. “Raw” is an adjective that gets thrown around so often when describing hyper-personal lyrics, but that’s definitely one of the best ways to describe Aromanticism but I’m gonna one up it and call it “wounding” because YIKES. In all seriousness, though, this record is so incredibly breathtaking with lyrics like “trust in me I am the sun and the sea / and I’ll call you when I feel finally free” that the heartbreak you’ll inevitably feel will be well worth it. If nothing else please save up all your tears to have a nice cathartic sob session to “Doomed.”
Album Highlights: “Don’t Bother Calling,” “Plastic,” & “Doomed.”
3. What Now by Sylvan Esso
Not to take a brief pause on the music for a minute but can I share my conspiracy theory with you? Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn got married and the album cover to What Now is one of their wedding photos. BAM! Okay now I can get back to telling you about how much Sylvan Esso and their sweet, sweet melodies mean to me. Have you heard “Just Dancing?” No? WHAT ARE YOU DOING. This is a millennial dating app dance jam we must all groove to once in our lives! Especially if you, too, laugh about the fact that you actually found someone solid on that trash can of an app to date in a normal fashion after months/years of swiping left (or perhaps right?!?!) on humans wearing candy bikinis and telling their grandpas to R.I.P. in their profiles. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is no one writes about present day emotions and interactions quite like this duo; no one could so eloquently describe anxiety and depression as “Sometimes I’m above water / but mostly I’m at sea.” I am so very grateful for Sylvan Esso and also Amelia’s wonderful dance moves.
Album Highlights: “Just Dancing,” “Signal,” & “Slack Jaw.”
2. Capacity by Big Thief
When I found out Big Thief were releasing Capacity so quickly after their aptly-titled debut, Masterpiece, I was shocked and pleasantly surprised. So often I feel like we have to wait the usual 2-3 years between albums, so I was unsure what we would get from this sophomore record, but it was exactly the album I needed. Capacity is filled with so many personal and deeply affecting songs – it goes to show what serious talents Adrianne Lenker possesses as a songwriter and storyteller. I recommend lighting your favorite candle and spending a cozy night in bed listening to this album.
Album Highlights: “Mythological Beauty,” “Mary,” & “Shark Smile.”
1. I See You by The xx
I’ve been gradually listening to NPR Music’s yearly highlight podcasts from All Songs Considered celebrating their 10 year anniversary, and when I got to the 2009 episode I had a revelation. The now trio’s debut xx came out in 2009 – the year I graduated from high school – and it significantly shaped my musical leanings. Prior to discovering the band, I tended to be more into singer-songwriters, and pared down or at least largely linear based music. The xx were my first real step into dream pop and more modern electronic compositions. Without them I don’t know that I ever would have listened to other favorites like Sylvan Esso, Porcelain Raft, Porches, and more. I See You feels like the record I needed to hear to remember just how revolutionary and emotional The xx’s music can be. I think the growth of Jamie xx’s solo career really benefited this album and helped to pull Madley Croft and Sim’s vocals together. The sparsity of some of these tracks – like the heart-wrenchingly intimate “Lips” – paired with some of the big sounds of horns and beats is what made this my favorite record of 2017 (it also didn’t hurt that this was the record that soundtracked me falling in love.)
Album Highlights: “Lips,” “Performance,” & “On Hold.”
What were your favorite albums of 2017? Did you see any extraordinary shows that made this year slightly less of a hellpit for you?