Best Albums of 2017
I’ve let this one sit a little long, I know. The good thing is, these have had time to marinate and age.
Just kidding, I’ve had writer’s block and have been in a general creative slump since November 2016 and only now feel like I’m coming out of it. Hard to be creative and joyful about much when you’re depressed about most things going on around you.
Anyway, go vote. But not if you suck or have an inclination to elect someone who does.
As always, every album has a Spotify link in the title. I picked 4 songs off each album (except that Mount Eerie album - shit man you can only be so down) to have an even 96-song playlist for you to shuffle through. Key tracks are all gathered in a playlist at the bottom of the post. Hit shuffle and enjoy the year that was.
Ben Sollee // Ben Sollee and Kentucky Native
Perennial favorite, but I have basically skipped over his last album, Infowars (no relation to Alex Jones, quite the opposite). This one sees Sollee and a band of friends bunking up in a Kentucky cabin and quickly and simply putting a record together. They attempt a few style blends (what if mariachi music was made with Appalachian instruments? for example), mostly successful.
Key tracks: “Carrie Bell,” “Mechanical Advantage,” “Moon Miner,” “The Wires”
This one was longed for, anticipated, cheered, and then shunned due to past sins of the band’s lead singer, Jesse Lacey. However, the album itself is a work. I haven’t been a longtime fan of Brand New - I first got into them when I needed something angsty to listen to while doing design studios in grad school - but I do enjoy this one, and it’s good enough to be considered apart from a band member’s actions.
Key tracks: “Can’t Get It Out,” “Waste,” “Same Logic/Teeth,” “Out of Mana”
Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah // Ruler Rebel
Not usually a jazz fusion kind of guy, but this has such a cool mood. He released three albums in 2017, and I need to check out the rest.
Key Tracks: “New Orleanian Love Song,” “New Orleanian Love Song II,” “Phases,” “Encryption”
If Bazan makes an album, it’s going to end up here. That’s how it goes. Care is Bazan going back to a Headphones arrangement - pretty much everything is synths. But! I would like to see an artist who wrings as much emotion and sets as much mood with as few pieces as Dave does on this record. It’s an intimate view of relationships, and hits as close to home as any meditations on spirituality he’s done in the past.
Key Tracks: “Care,” “Disappearing Ink,” “Make Music,” “The Ballad of Pedro Y Blanco”
Everything Everything // A Fever Dream
Everything Everything - the band with the largest gap between the audience they have and the audience they deserve. And also my favorite band I don’t own a record of, because they’re from the UK and they’re all expensive to get over here. Unbelievably talented and incredibly smart - the music is complex and fund to dive into, and the lyrics are political and biting.
Key Tracks: “Night of The Long Knives,” “Desire,” “Run The Numbers,” “A Fever Dream”
Albums like these are why it’s good to live with your picks (but a whole year probably isn’t necessary). Didn’t love it at first, but now I can’t pick only 4 songs. It’s timeless, it’s complex, it has references you’d need a doctorate in Greek literature to understand, it’s beautiful and fully realized. Glad I stuck with this one.
Key Tracks: “If You Need To, Keep Time On Me,” “Third of May / Odaigahara,” “Mearcstapa,” “On Another Ocean (January / June)”
Hiss Golden Messenger // Hallelujah Anyhow
Hiss Golden Messenger has become one of my favorite bands. The horns, the groove, the space - they keep getting better. I love listening to the music, reading MC Taylor’s writing, watching the band comb through an Ameoba record store - whatever it is, give it to me. As part of the Durham, NC scene, they’re also part of one of my favorite band ecosystems. Saw them in Tallahassee at the Club Downunder with maybe 30 other people - put on a great show in spite of that. Even came back a year later! Class act, these guys.
Key Tracks: “Harder Rain,” “John the Gun,” “Domino (Time Will Tell),” “When the Wall Comes Down”
Jake Xerxes Fussell // What in the Natural World
Saw Jake Fussell in Savannah a coupe of years ago with Mount Moriah, and was not sure what to expect. I knew who he was, but hadn’t listened to his first record. It was just him, his guitar, and a stool, but he won me over. Basically what you’re getting here is a professor of Southern Studies who is an exceptional musician, reworking old folk songs in his style.
Key Tracks: “Have You Ever Seen Peaches Growing On A Sweet Potato Vine?,” “Furniture Man,” “Canyoneers,” “St. Brendan’s Isle”
James Holden and the Inheritors // The Animal Spirits
Sounds like a wild synthesizer-led occult ceremony, which means it’s great to work to. I love it when someone takes something wholly electronic and somehow turns it into sounds organic enough to feel like they dug it out of the ground.
Key tracks: “Spinning Dance,” “Pass Through the Fire,” “Thunder Moon Gathering,” “Go Gladly Into the Earth”
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit // The Nashville Sound
Of course this is on here. Greatest songwriter of our generation. All hits, no misses.
Key tracks: “Tupelo,” “If We Were Vampires,” “Chaos and Clothes,” “Hope the High Road”
Lots of noise, lots of hooks, lots of woozy, baked guitars. Great all the way through.
Key tracks: “The Bus Song,” “One More Time, Please,” “Baybee,” “Take It”
Moreland’s been developing a sound for a while now, and he keeps working himself over into the Hiss Golden Messenger realm, which will win me over every time. He keeps getting better at bringing together the music, the stories, and the tone together to make something we’ll be listening to for years.
Key tracks: “Sallisaw Blue,” “Love Is Not an Answer,” “Amen, So Be It,” “Slow Down Easy”
I feel like all Kevin Morby’s albums are future classics, and this one is no exception. He’s branching out a bit here - or, if not branching out, at least tweaking the sound a bit. The title track is a wonderful example of dynamics and how to wring momentum out of playing the same riff over and over. A great driving song.
Key tracks: “Come to Me Now,” “City Music,” “Tin Cup,” “Tin Cup”
Big dumb rock by way of Pedro the Lion and Starflyer 59. Love everything about this, and it sounds exactly like it should.
Key tracks: “Covered Wagon,” “Overboard,” “Bad Luck Charm,” “Lower Down”
This one snuck up on me. I had seen other musicians I like mention Nau, but I hadn’t ever really listened to him until this year. I bought the album because it was on special for $10 at Suicide Squeeze, and it’s now one I reach to fairly often. Homage to the 60s is paid, but in Nau’s own way - it’s very much inspired-by, not impersonating.
Key tracks: “How You’re So For Real,” “Oh, You Wanna Bet?,” “Scatter,” “Light That Ever”
Mount Eerie // A Crow Looked At Me
There’s no best songs on here, and I’m not pulling any singles of out context for the playlist. This might be saddest record I’ve ever listened to - I’ve only listened to it once and it’s stuck with me for a year and a half. Maybe one of those things having young kids will do to you. I should go back and listen to it now that he’s engaged to actress Michelle Williams - not a bad place to land after this mess. Might not affect me as much knowing where he and his daughter ended up.
Likely Mutemath’s last proper album. While it’s not as good as previous work, there are still some gems on here. I think it’s also notable that this album was really trying to meld their different sounds; some worked really well, some worked less well, but nothing’s bad here.
Key tracks: “Stroll On,” “Break The Fever,” “Everything’s New,” “Achilles Heel”
The National // Sleep Well Beast
It’s been a little while, and man, what a return. After the wasn’t-as-good-as-it-sounded-like-it-would-be collaboration with members of Menomena (El Vy), The National returns with an expanded sound. Guitar solos! Electronica! Rockin’ out! Drunken piano ballads! They couldn’t abandon what got ’em here, right? Great example of a band pushing their boundaries without losing themselves.
Key tracks: “Nobody Else Will Be There,” “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness,” “Guilty Party,” “Carin at the Liquor Store”
Pheobe Bridgers // Stranger in the Alps
My first impression of Bridgers was a Julien Baker imposter, and I still don’t think that’s totally off base. But she pulls off the Ben Gibbard songwriting trick here - songs so specific they’re somehow universal.
Key tracks: “Smoke Signals,” “Motion Sickness,” “Scott Street,” “Would You Rather”
Adams is one of my favorite songwriters, but we can all say it’s been a little bit since he was on his A-game. I also feel bad for noting this, because this record was the product of much personal sadness. But it’s his best in a long time.
Key tracks: “Do You Still Love Me?,” “Prisoner,” “Doomsday,” “To Be Without You”
I appreciate Slowdive for taking me on a shoegaze journey - not every day a band takes 20 years off then comes back and kills it like this. Going back and listening to their old albums and their contemporaries that don’t have a comeback in them is highly recommended.
Key tracks: “Star Roving,” “Sugar for the Pill,” “No Longer Making Time,” “Go Get It”
Sorority Noise // You’re Not as ___ as You Think
Been a minute since I’ve gotten into an album that makes me play air drums as much as this one. Catchy as hell while pounding your face in.
Key tracks: “No Halo,” “A Portrait Of,” “Disappeared,” “Second Letter From St. Julian”
Special Explosion // To Infinity
Another Ian Cohen twitter-find. This is a beautifully-produced and recorded album, packed with mood and emotion. It could be emo, I suppose - I’ve been welcoming the emo revival of the last couple years. I can’t listen to “Fire” loud enough, and the bass on many of these songs sounds like it was chiseled out of stone.
Key tracks: “Wet Dream,” “Your Bed,” “Fire,” “So Long”
It’s a TW Walsh record. This should be all you need to know. I don’t think it’s as good as 2016’s Fruitless Research, but that was an all-timer and you can’t expect a one man band to be in his basement pumping out all-timers on a yearly basis while mastering hundreds of other projects and also being in another band (Lo Tom). Just be happy with what you get, right?
Key tracks: “High Numbers,” “Dead Landmines,” “Terrible Freedom,” “Fake Disease”
War on Drugs // A Deeper Understanding
The knocks on this album are 1) it is dense and the songs are long and 2) War on Drugs definitely has a “sound.” So brushing through it, it can all blur together. This album needs attention to bloom. There’s so much packed into each one of these songs that it’s worth digging in to find the moments and hooks and layers that make it something special.
Key tracks: “Up All Night,” “Strangest Thing,” “In Chains,” “Clean Living”