Happy to bring you, treasured reader, another batch of 50 albums ranked via the pleasure yielded upon each listen throughout the year of 2017. This is my 8th year of doing these, so I’ve gotten quite good at whittling everything down. However, I always have to leave in some honorable mentions, which you’ll find directly below. This was the first year I was tempted to list 100 records here, but concluded that there wasn’t really any point in listing 50 more records that were just pretty good, not really good. It was more just to spark some future name recognition for you, dear reader, so if you saw someone like NPR or Gorilla Vs Bear talking about a band, you could remember “oh yeah, Warm Visions listed that as his 87th favorite album of 2017. That’s interesting. Maybe I’ll post the rest at a later time. For now, there’s just 50 + 15.
I also have a long, rambling thing at the very bottom of this post on why I post a Top 50 and why I like lists so much. Thought it was necessary since I’ve been seeing a lot of negative feels on lists for some reason. Nevertheless, happy how this turned out and I hope you enjoy it as well.
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(aka the records you gotta listen to once or twice or maybe just dip your toe in to get a feel)
- Blue Hawaii – Tenderness
- Charlotte Gainsbourg – Rest
- Drake – More Life
- DJ Seinfeld – Time Spent Away From U
- Faye Webster – Faye Webster
- First Hate – A Prayer For The Unemployed
- Gunn-Truscinski Duo – Bay Head
- James Holden & The Animal Spirits – The Animal Spirits
- Jessica Lea Mayfield – Sorry Is Gone
- Madeline Kenney – Night Night At The First Landing
- Phoebe Bridgers – Stranger In The Alps
- She-Devils – She-Devils
- Sote – Sacred Horror In Design
- Visible Cloaks – Reassemblage
- Weed – Born Wrong Love
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50. Faith Healer – Try 😉
49. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – The Kid
48. Mega Bog – Happy Together
47. Jacaszek – KWIATY
46. The Spirit Of The Beehive – Pleasure Suck
45. Joan Shelley – Joan Shelley
44. Land Of Talk – Life After Youth
43. Colter Wall – Colter Wall
42. Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up
41. Circuit Des Yeux – Reaching For Indigo
40. Omni – Multi-task
39. Oneohtrix Point Never – Good Time Soundtrack
38. Destroyer – ken
37. Julie Byrne – Not Even Happiness
36. Migos – Culture
35. Nite Jewel – Real High
34. Jens Lekman – Life Will See You Now
33. Hundred Waters – Communicating
32. Pond – The Weather
31. Ariel Pink – Dedicated To Bobby Jameson
30. Trio Da Kali & Kronos Quartet – Ladilikan
29. TOPS – Sugar At The Gate
28. Slowdive – Slowdive
27. Four Tet – New Energy
26. Giant Claw – Soft Channel
25. Brockhampton – Saturation II
24. Laurel Halo – Dust
23. Colleen – A flame my love, a frequency
22. King Krule – The OOZ
21. Fever Ray – Plunge
“Two elite warriors from rivaling kingdoms clash repeatedly on their travels, starting strong and with swagger but are slowly eroded by the unending brutality of war.”
A few saxophones, some strategically placed microphones, and freakish talent. The depth of storytelling this album achieves with just those few ingredients is shocking. I count myself as one of the luckiest folks on the planet to have seen Colin perform live, something I accomplished at long last, this year. It’s an absolute treat and a total sensory overload.
“Sitting up in bed after being horizontal for a long amount of time, you punch a pillow over and over until it becomes misshapen and somehow the perfect shape for hugging. You lay back down and hug the pillow.”
I didn’t connect with this album as much as many of my friends did, but damn, it’s still so super good. Expertly arranged songs. A totally tight instrumental pocket. Deeply personal, striking and yet inviting lyrics. Great movement within the songs – or maybe I’m just thinking of seeing the band live, all swaying in unison. If you haven’t listened to this, there’s a very high likelihood that you’ll enjoy it no matter what you’re a fan of. Yes, that’s a bold, intensely vast statement. I stand by it. The lyrics and arrangements are that good.
“A bluegrass fever dream where everything transforms into sweaty free jazz.”
It makes my heart swell to hear Sam Amidon break out of his classic folk-rearrangement mold into new, totally freaky and exciting territory. Merging free jazz and Arthur Russell-esque playfulness into his usual bluegrass zone, with a bit of help from some truly revolutionary musicians like Sam Gendel, Shazad Ismaily and Milford Graves, is a revelation. You can only re-arrange classics for so long and this was a major, incendiary step forward. Chalk up Sam’s follow-up to be one of my most-anticipated records to come.
“An indie rock fever dream where everything transforms into bluegrass.”
This weirdo blend of living-room-piano-with-a-nice-old-rug-underneath community feels/guitar-on-the-soggy-porch-couch folk/local bar music night smooth jams/basement-dwelling rock blossomed my Spring into something like happiness, something I hadn’t felt in a while. Glad this was around for it.
“A series of instrumental suites set to dreams of rooms.”
This is the highest I’ve ever ranked a various artists compilation. Its ability to cover such a wide emotional spectrum and tap into such a tender part of my being has had me returning to it as a haven throughout the year should be worth noting. It’s able to make me feel at home AND like an outsider. How about that?
“A group of teenage friends live out the last weeks of their final suburban summer break in flawlessly attractive fashion. All of them have incredibly complicated relationships with each other, ones that are like, completely believable and real, but we just can’t get into that detail right now, okay?”
While this album isn’t filled floor-to-ceiling with total winners like their debut, there are tunes here that draw an unbelievable amount of raw giddiness and emotion out of me. Why? The vocals aren’t spectacular (although more dynamic than the previous record), the instrumentals aren’t wowing folks with musical prowess (the frequent addition of tape echo is a nice touch), there aren’t that many fancy studio tricks (again, tape echo) – what’s the deal? I’m not quite sure, folks. It’s just pure, uncut fun oozing with youth and wistful romance. These Canadians have a key to some emotional control panel in my brain. I’m sure of it because I couldn’t stop crying when I saw them live earlier this year. Call me a romantic if you want.
“Flying down a tunnel in a high-speed rail, the blinking lights in the darkened passageway craft a symphony of color and rhythm.”
Simple electronics, vocals and song structures. Not much to mess up & done extremely well. Super dreamy and trancelike – this will really hook you in after only a few songs. I found its gentle, bubbling patterns have a healing affect, putting my brain on a totally separate set of train tracks when manipulating harmful stimuli throughout the day. Whether it was maximizing productivity, or adding a mantra during slow down time, this had me covered. When the “extended edition” was announced I was legitimately excited at the thought that all these songs would be elongated by several minutes, when in fact there were just three songs added on. I would be ok with every song on here doubling in length.
“Underneath the old clock tower lies a pitch-black portal to another dimension. A dark, dripping hand slowly extends from the gaping opening after you recite the incantation.”
This is an amorphous, gooey chasm of darkness concocted into song. It floats like smoke and once you inhale it, it’s hard to lose its high. There were few albums this year that put me in one specific, unique place like this one does. It just so happens Nektyr’s ‘place’ is at the bottom of a dark, murky well filled with black slime. The lyrics are barely intelligible, the instrumentals move like molasses and lurk among shadowy ambiance. It’s one big puddle of mood, a terribly addicting one at that.
“A teenage girl writing a novel on her fire escape has Nuyorican stories from her grandparents floating in her head and the bustle of the city bubbling below her.”
Attention musical theater fans – you’ll probably like this album a good amount. The Navigator is plays out like a multi-act musical, with real theatrical songs with gang vocals, anthemic choruses and a conceptual theme draped over the whole thing. It’s fantastic. This was holding strong in my Top 10 throughout most of the year, slipped a bit, but definitely I’m going to be revisiting for years to come.
“In 2079, a man is having the time of his life in a crumbling Los Angeles, despite the consuming knowledge of the many evils surrounding him.”
I could do without the few interlude tracks on here, but the rest of Big Fish Theory is pure heat. I like pairing the hook/chorus of “Big Fish” to absurd things I’m doing such as playing Roller Coaster Tycoon, shopping at Trader Joes, cleaning my room, or trying to decide where to go for lunch. This record and SASSY 009 (my fav EP of the year) did something cool in making dope beats with things that don’t sound super pleasing to the ear. It’s fire. It’s fun. Very happy for Vince – he’s living.
“An immortal, emotionally-tortured vampire tries & fails to resurrect a lost friend in a series of dark magic rituals.”
Midway through this year, after escaping a long stretch of time where many themes on this album mirrored some of my own personal, ongoing battles, Okovi grew into something bigger than just an album I was promoting to college radio DJs. It’s a beautiful and powerful album that made me rethink my own inner-workings and relationships in a big, booming, overwhelming way. I wouldn’t say this was the main catalyst, but it certainly helped get some gears turning and fireworks exploding.
“An extremely likable protagonist is on a journey to recover his lost memories.”
Process came out WAY early this year and held a near and dear spot with me for the whole dang thing! I think it’s as close as you can get to a perfect debut LP – a great mix of tempo & different types of instrumentals, highlighting different vocal strengths. An excellent mix of variety, all with Sampha’s familiar voice carrying us through. As someone who really likes Sampha, I have this thought in my mind that it must be SO hard for someone to dislike him. Not only does he have a great, memorable voice, he also seems like a really lovable, honest and fun guy. Please don’t ruin this fantasy for me.
“A grove of sea anemone undulate uncomfortably in warm waters. An unmoving human face appears to be nestled in between the tendrils.”
I will be an Arca stan for the rest of my dang life. Hope he continues to sing on his future projects. There are still a few loose idea moments on here that I wish he embellished upon, but for the most part things can’t get any better. There’s still no one putting out compositions like Arca, the damaged, beautiful, volatile freak that he is.
“Like eating a really, really spicy pepper and experiencing a euphoric spectrum of overwhelming stimuli and blistering heat.”
A tropical island of an album, teeming with sweaty, humid love and dense with birdsong and hallucinating foliage. A deep, world-melting fantasy. A bit messy and unkempt, but what love isn’t? Grandiose and without form, Utopia billows in the strong currents exuded by Björk’s genius arrangements and songwriting. On the first few listens it didn’t hit me as much as Vulnicura, but some of the textures and sounds on here are some of the most gorgeous in her whole catalog. I can’t wait to explore this island even more.
“The album is DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar. Is there more one needs to know?”
Have you read anything about this album yet? As time as passed the songs I liked have gotten stronger and the songs I’ve been middling on have gotten weaker. Probably my second-favorite Kendrick record.
“A break-up leads our protagonist to a full-bodied metamorphosis into a truly superior, elegant and groove-based individual that effortlessly glides through analyzing and accepting trauma and kindles a new love within themselves.”
The wait for this album was worth it. Could have handled it being a bit weirder, but these songs can vibe. The three-round knockout of “Frontline,” “Waitin” and “Take Me Apart” right out of the gate on this record is just genius. These songs GO. Then forging into “Enough” as this huge, engulfing sonic wash is the perfect follow up. “LMK” is just too much groove for my uncoordinated self, but I make it work. “Blue Light” makes me feel like I’m in a dang space station. I may or may not have made up some choreography to these songs in my own kitchen while cooking alone, but that’s neither here nor there.
“Seeing the clothes of a deceased loved one worn by people of the town you live in.”
If you want to be sad, this is for you. I could only get through maybe two or three full listens of this before having to skip around. I also can’t see myself really coming back to this that often, but wow. A raw document of total loss, spare and longing. Hearing these songs performed live was one of the most soul-wrenching experiences. Phil is the best. I cherish his music and his spirit dearly.
“It’s 1pm on any given Sunday. Light pours in through a well-thought out window. A good friend is in one room of the house and you’re in another, but you can see them if you look up from the book you’re reading. They’re cutting fruit that you will both enjoy together. You love them. You lay on the floor next to each other. You love them.”
In a year where bleakness reigned, this album helped me start finding the extraordinary in the ordinary – the little hidden pleasures that pass without a trace in our consciousness. It’s the sonic embodiment of sunlight, of moving light across a bus ceiling, of looking over the couch at a friend, of finding enjoyment in seeing your own breath on a cold day, of a warm blanket out of the dryer, of walking alone (and feeling fine) in the city, of gentle melancholy, a gentle smile, a gentle sigh. I may have had a few sad listens to this album, but there was always a light waiting for me to come back to.
“In the year 2017, the entire history of humanity and its culture is rebuilt and destroyed in a cataclysmic flash. The process is documented via a team of artists and antagonized by cannibalistic radio hosts.”
Quite simply the opposite of Wildly Idle, Paradiso is a portal to hell. An ultra-realistic, hyper-modern version of hell with political prisoners, brainwashing, ongoing natural disasters, military coups, corrupt politicians and police forces, an ouroboros of culture, public executions, civil rights violations, a complete void of hope, a constant reset of the nadir of society. Is this my heavy-handed attempt at saying this album is a portrait of the world at large right now? Sure, if you want it that way. But I want you to listen to this and try and find any other foundation other than the events happening around us all and everything that has lead up to this moment in time, as much as that pains me to say. Tremendously violent and upsetting. Hard to listen to at times, due to the amount of sonic carnage happening. A vicious twister of sound. Truly nothing else like it.
“A shape-shifting lounge singer recounts harrowing tales from their long, eternal life to the enraptured crowd.”
There was nothing else that came out this year like Party. On paper, that seems very unlikely. Yeah, true – plenty of similar musicians did their thing this year; writing achingly beautiful or entertaining or sad songs. But none were like Party. The way Aldous writes lyrics. The way(s) in which she sings them. The spaces in between the notes. The little things, the bigger things. It’s all here and nowhere else. Throughout the year I kept coming back again and again and every time Party accommodated me in its weird, shifting world. Nothing was upturned since I had last been there – everything was still intact and dust-free. Still putting me through its emotional exercise course whenever and wherever I decided to listen.
These nine songs really do cover a large spectrum of emotion, throwing me and likely many other listeners into a fit on most play-throughs. Third track “Living The Classics” was a favorite of mine right from the get, with its quick, finger-picked guitar and mischievous vocal delivery, which goosebumps me most times on the line “come find me, drag me back to hell.” More goosebumps arrive on the final verse of “Swell Does The Skull” : “he can’t feel as I hold him tight / the day is over / we belong by the fireside.” It’s a slow, syrupy song that acts like corrosive acid, wearing away the reserve of stoicism. When I saw Aldous open for Deerhunter in 2016, she introduced “I’m So Sorry” as her song about crippling alcoholism. Quite a bold move for an opening musician. But there’s no shortage of other boldness here, as seen on massive crowd favorite “Horizon,” which you truly need to see live to really appreciate, and fellow single & Lorde co-sign “Imagining My Man,” which is full of magical curveballs that even throw off the performers onstage.
You might have noticed that I brought up her live setting a few times already. Ultimately what boosted my favor for this record was seeing Aldous live, something I did multiple times this year, in fact. Seeing her perform these songs is essential to the digestion of their contents. Look up a video or something. Her shows are spellbinding and will leave you squirming in your stance as she stares you down with an uncomfortable level of intensity. It’s something you won’t forget. It gets etched into your brain as “the time the music lady stared me down while playing a song called ‘I’m So Sorry.'” When I’ll think back to the music of 2017 and my overall relationship with that music that year, I’m going to think of this album and how I watched Aldous, who was watching me from atop a stool for a few seconds, hunching down below her mic stand while awkwardly cradling her white electric guitar, her eyes obscured due to the sparse lighting onstage, before she shifted focus to another unwitting participant. She’ll take no bullshit. I’m glad.
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- Aldous Harding – Party
- Chino Amobi – Paradiso
- Hand Habits – Wildly Idle (Humble Before The Void)
- Mount Eerie – A Crow Looked At Me
- Kelela – Take Me Apart
- Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
- Björk – Utopia
- Arca – Arca
- Sampha – Process
- Zola Jesus – Okovi
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- Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory
- Hurray For The Riff Raff – The Navigator
- Demen – Nektyr
- Kelly Lee Owens – Kelly Lee Owens
- Alvvays – Antisocialites
- Various Artists – Mono No Aware
- (Sandy) Alex G – Rocket
- Sam Amidon – The Following Mountain
- Big Thief – Capacity
- Colin Stetson – All This I Do For Glory
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- Fever Ray – Plunge
- King Krule – The OOZ
- Colleen – A flame my love, a frequency
- Laurel Halo – Dust
- Brockhampton – Saturation II
- Giant Claw – Soft Channel
- Four Tet – New Energy
- Slowdive – Slowdive
- TOPS – Sugar At The Gate
- Trio Da Kali & Kronos Quartet – Ladilikan
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- Ariel Pink – Dedicated To Bobby Jameson
- Pond – The Weather
- Hundred Waters – Communicating
- Jens Lekman – Life Will See You Now
- Nite Jewel – Real High
- Migos – Culture
- Julie Byrne – Not Even Happiness
- Destroyer – ken
- Oneohtrix Point Never – Good Time OST
- Omni – Multi-task
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- Circuit Des Yeux – Reaching For Indigo
- Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up
- Colter Wall – Colter Wall
- Land Of Talk – Life After Youth
- Joan Shelley – Joan Shelley
- The Spirit Of The Beehive – Pleasure Suck
- Jacaszek – KWIATY
- Mega Bog – Happy Together
- Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – The Kid
- Faith Healer – Try 😉
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One critique I’ve seen of high-quantity toplists is “why would I want to check out someone’s 50th favorite album on the year? That’s just stupid. Give me a short, concise list.” The quantity over quality argument. And yes, for the most part, I agree. There couldn’t and shouldn’t be enough music from any given year where anyone should feel compelled to listen to 50 records that were borne from it.
My drive to making a 50-album list would be based on the fact that A) I’ve been doing this for a long time, B) I’ve listened to 200+ different projects this year alone, so I feel like featuring the top quarter is justified, and C) as someone who tries to sample the entire pool of specimen out there, 50 records (especially in these super stratified, individualized times (what with all those fat cats in city hall)) definitely is up to par to be a demonstrative sample size for the rest of the year. Granted, yes, it’s through the lens of a 20-something white dude with an inclination towards scummy indie rock or as Spotify labels me, “indietronica.” Not the best gauge for the world at large at all. But I do give it my best shot.
The main impetus of numbering from #50 to #1 here is not “which album is better,” rather, it’s more “at the end of 2017, which did album I find most interesting, what kept me engaged throughout the year, what was the most unique, memorable, forever tied to the 2017 experience, etc etc.” There’s no way I could say that something is technically better than something else.
The ordering was changing on the day I published it. The strength I have in my numbering system is pretty blasé. Mainly, if I could make you listen to every single one of these albums, I would. They’re all great and worthy of many listens, in my eyes. Does #1 deserve more listens than #50? No, but it’s the one that I thought deserved my top spot. It’s a discussion piece. What made you enjoy this so much to rank it at #14? Why did you like it more than #15 or #34 or #49? On and on. I find that very entertaining. Because there’s real no concrete logic behind it, no numbers, sales, yadda yadda – to me it’s just feeling. It’s fun for me to organize them in this way – it really makes me think about what I really enjoyed throughout the year and making sense of all that happened in my personal life with these records as the soundtrack.
Ultimately, I just want to let you know what I like and ergo, perhaps help you find something you like as well. On that same level, maybe add a layer of bonding between us founded on the mutual appreciation of a record. It’s all about enjoyment here. Music is for enjoyment. It’s the end of the year. Let’s just have fun with it. Hope you enjoyed!