One of the most exciting years for music in recent history, 2017 has seen the advent of breakout new artists making waves in their respective communities and well-known artists returning to the spotlight with massive top-charting hits. In a sea of brilliantly made albums throughout the year, these are 10 of the best.
An unusual, warbling, synth-heavy trip, R&B artist Thundercat’s “Drunk” tours the feelings accompanying the album title’s associated state of mind. Simultaneously slow, smooth, jazzy and upbeat, the album will put you to sleep and keep you dancing all night long. With unique and talented features like Kenny Loggins, Kendrick Lamar and Wiz Khalifa giving pause to Thundercat’s buttery-smooth, jumpy voice and adding new tones to an already diverse project.
The third album from British alternative outlet Alt-J, “Relaxer” features the band’s smoothest, calmest records yet, and splashes their most aggressive, noisy cuts in stark contrast. An album of extremes, “Relaxer” gives audiences a sample cut of Alt-J’s full potential. Though generally well-received by critics, at only eight tracks, the album felt like more of an EP and less like a full-length project.
“The Underside of Power”- Algiers:
An unexpected musical triumph for veteran alternative-rock outfit Algiers, “The Underside of Power” explores the dark and silky guitar tones that the band has experimented with for several years, producing a sound that combines garage-rock with a well-produced and well-executed alternative vibe. With heavy snares, lead guitars and a vocalist that isn’t afraid to get angry on a record, Algiers displayed in full force the intensity they can bring on an album.
“Pure Comedy”- Father John Misty:
The third studio album by folk and alternative artist, under the stage name Father John Misty, turns its glaring eye to politics, entertainment, religion and self-fatalism, exploring any topic deemed important, interweaving commentary with slow and sad piano-led ballads, evoking emotions left and right. Only upon multiple listens does the album delve below a surface of deep, powerful vocals and captivating music. “Pure Comedy” has been nominated for two Grammys in 2018.
“Flower Boy”- Tyler, the Creator:
After four albums of wild and comical lyricism and dark, aggressive beats, rapper Tyler, the Creator brings a new side to his historically aggressive personality in 2017, blending his angry style with a more passive sense of introspection and self-reflection, including multiple passing references to his own sexuality, something the rapper was notorious for blasting prior to the release of “Flower Boy.” The album has been nominated for one Grammy in 2018.
The critically acclaimed studio debut of R&B singer-songwriter SZA, “CTRL” is a lo-fi, emotional romp and a perfect introduction to newfound crowd favorite SZA. Powerful vocals, warbling background instrumentals and big-name features drive home the most profound aspects of the album, making it worth listening time and again. “CTRL” has been nominated for one Grammy for 2018.
A natural and brilliant progression from her 2013 debut, “Melodrama” finds pop sensation Lorde in a different place than when she first came into the spotlight with “Pure Heroine.” The New Zealand native struggles with fame, alcoholism, drug addiction, lost love and depression, bearing all on the aptly-titled album. With more pop-anthem hits and sobering vocals, “Melodrama” allows Lorde to expand from her dark, alternative roots to a more Top-50’s-friendly records. “Melodrama” has been nominated for one Grammy in 2018.
“Saturation I & II”- Brockhampton:
A relative newcomer to the hip-hop scene, the 12-person self-described “Internet Boy Band” Brockhampton has brought not one, but two full-length projects in 2017, each perfectly exemplifying their extensive lyrical and musical skill. A blend of pop-rap and unusual, synth-inspired trap beats, the twin “Saturation” albums are a unique entry to a genre crowded with similar sounds. And with a third and final addition to the Saturation trilogy slated for release on Dec. 15, the Brockhampton collective have certainly solidified their names in rap history.
On his 13th studio album, veteran rapper Jay-Z proves he’s still got it. “4:44” focuses less on the stage personality of Jay-Z and more on the man behind the mask, family man Shawn Carter. The album lacks the intense, hard-hitting tracks that Carter was known for early in his career, but instead focuses on the more delicate aspects of the rapper’s home life, discussing allegations of infidelity by wife Beyoncé on her 2016 record “Lemonade” and detailing his new life as a father and husband. Carter looks back on his career, his life and his decisions, reflecting on himself, racism and society. Fusing laid-back, jazz-inspired beats with this social commentary, Jay-Z returns to the rap limelight after a four-year hiatus. “4:44” has been nominated for eight Grammys in 2018.
“DAMN.”- Kendrick Lamar:
Topping dozens of Top-10 lists across the world, rapper Kendrick Lamar’s fourth studio album solidifies the Compton native’s place at the top of rap game in the height of his career. Blending his classic style of intense rhythms and politically dynamic lyrics with newfound trap-inspired, bass-infused beats, “DAMN.” explores a variety of elements that made Lamar who he is today, covering topics from his childhood to the circumstances that would serve prelude to his birth to the state of politics and society in the United States today. All around, Lamar proves he feels the flow of the music and understands the power his words have to influence his audience. “DAMN.” has been nominated for seven Grammys in 2018.