The Best of 2017

bestof2017A lot of things happened in 2017. It was a year of emotions, bravery, and women’s voices – sincerity, openness and reflexivity steered the way through our musical voyages, while trying to comprehend what was going on around us – globally and in our own private lives. As you can imagine, there is a great potential in such vibrant times to create art that will reflect our feelings in the best possible way. However, it’s probably the first time in a few years when I have a feeling that music could have responded to all of that with better results (e.g. see 2013 and 2015 lists). The spark of protest songs from the beginning of the year quickly vanished with a few notable exceptions, and we put our hopes to high when it came for the most anticipated releases. But let’s not get all that dramatic. When I’m reflecting upon what was the best about music this year, I think of magnificent LPs full of emotional power, the revival of great 90s bands, a new rendition of singer-songwriter format, strong women writers, commentary about (or critique of?) modern realities, and once again insightful, introspective, intense (postmodern?) music.

I’ve listened to a ton of new LPs in 2017 with an impossible task of choosing the best ones in my mind throughout the year. But the problem that seems to be the same each year – being not able to pick top-25 albums – was different. There were only few releases that deserved to be highlighted and few dozens of rather good ones, but with no clear winners. This is why the order of the list below is absolutely non-binding.

I picked albums that are worth listening – not the best, not the most advanced artistically, but those I liked the most and I thought they deserve to be listened to. So treat this list as a signpost to a good music, and my own soundtrack of the passing year, which hopefully could become a proper summary of what was the most interesting music albums in 2017.


25. Lindstrøm – It’s Alright Between Us As It Is
In his latest endeavor, Lindstrøm sends us on an hour-long conceptual journey through electronic nordic dreams about loneliness, anxiety and hope. Reflexivity through dancefloor. There’s no escape from emotional reality on this LP. On the contrary, It’s Alright sets a nostalgic mood with its beautiful sonic layers and lush production that ultimately ends up in one of the most insightful electronic albums this year. recommended especially for those who like their nu-disco served with a pinch of 80s nostalgia late at night.

24. Ryan Adams – Prisoner
At first, hailing Prisoner as a masterpiece of broken hearts seemed like an overstatement. Even though it doesn’t live up to the expectations on a full-scale, it’s a really strong album, a beautiful, emphatic consolation. This is an album about broken heart, about healing, about hope, about learning from the experience of being hurt, and about trying to go forward, but not about forgetting. However, the biggest downside of this LP is its lack of musical variety, originality and stand-alone compositional masterpieces. It has the potential for becoming a wonderful, very personal and intimate album for many. And that’s the most important aspect of heartbreak albums, isn’t it?

23. The Horrors – V
This was probably the most satisfying surprise this year. I wasn’t really into The Horrors, but V showed me their potential to create something really impressive. They created a strong, massive album with monumental songs that merge rock, britpop, indie and electronic music with surprisingly good results. Impressive and resonating are probably the best words to describe it. And you feel it when you least expect it; when you thought your indie-nihilistic-teenage-drama-80s-underground-black-clothes-bad-haircut self is no more. Well, it’s still alive, and V is there to help you rediscover it.

22. Pallbearer – Heartless
Monstrous. This album is monstrous. And epic. And massive. Yet easy to listen to. For some it may be not metal enough. For others too metal. I find it to be in just the right spot. Somewhere between Mastodon and Baroness. Pallbearer recorded probably not only one of the best, satisfying, comprehensible metal albums of the year, but in recent memory. It’s not tiring, but delightful; not dull, but imaginative; not overly complicated, but creative and varied. Heartless is by no means revolutionary, but just a magnificent one hour of metal full of  openness, vastness, massiveness, monumentality, heaviness.

21. The National – Sleep Well Beast
I love The National, I really do, but their latest feels like slowing down. With both their artistic advancement and thrill coming from their songs. Of course, there’s also an upside to this kind of album. It’s intimate, moving, deep, just like every The National’s LP. I would recommend it to every fan of this group, who’ll find all the elements that make this music so great. My harsh opinion probably comes from the enormous expectations, coming after such albums as High Violet and Trouble Will Find Me. But it’s still a pretty great continuation of their glorious career of melancholia, anger, anxiety and hope.

20. Slowdive – Slowdive
Oh my, there’s a lot of reverb there. And 90s feel. No wonder – Slowdive returned with their first LP in 22 years, and it’s pretty great. Of course, if you don’t like shoegaze and dreamy sonic-pop passages, you won’t find anything exciting here. But for those who want some blissful melodies, soothing voices, and a really, really (or un-really) wide sound, it’s a perfect match. I didn’t expect much of this LP, but it turned out to be very likable one, to which I’ve returned many times this year. I admit that it could be a little tiring to listen to it on a loop, but I can’t deny the fact (or my belief) that Slowdive is shoegaze with a pop feel at it’s best, or as good and relevant as it gets in 2017.

19. Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile – Lotta Sea Lice
This album is a proof that you don’t have to be able to sing perfectly (or that you can pretend not to sing perfectly) in order to sound truly convincing and powerful. Bob Dylan could confirm that. Sing like you don’t mean it. But trying and failing makes us believe. But there’s a lot more here than just imperfect singing. First and foremost, there are some great songs, which makes this LP a moving experience. Just like Courtney’s and Kurt’s solo albums. Their pairing brings together two songwriting forces that truly makes the best of both. Lotta Sea Lice is not for everybody, but its sincere character may speak to every listener. It’s worth a try at least.

18. Father John Misty – Pure Comedy
I have a feeling that often Father John Misty’s behavior is overshadowing his artistic achievements. Instead of reading some news about his rants or interviews, you should be listening to his music. And there’s a lot to listen to. Pure Comedy is a 1 hour 15 minutes, 13 songs long complex mixture of exuberant arrangements, baroque pop influences, and passionate themes, wrapped in a folk-(soft)rock package. Tillman’s musical evolution is going even further into more expanded territories, and he thrives in it. If you listened to I Love You, Honeybear, this album seems like a perfect continuation with all of its downsides. Nevertheless, it’s a thrilling and emotionally intense listen that will surely leave you impressed.

17. Queens of the Stone Age – Villains
For a long-time fan of QotSA like me, it was probably the most anticipated album of the year. And instead of the new LP by these stoner rockers, I got another Eagles of Death Metal release. Disappointment would be too much to describe what I felt, but I had strong, mixed feelings. Since their debut, QotSA released magnificent albums, evolving in the most spectacular way (yes, I still love the shift of Era Vulgaris). However, with Villains, Josh Homme decided to let everything loose and record a desert punk album without much focus on the bigger picture. Let’s have fun, right now. This is why this LP will be liked mostly by people who didn’t get along with (my beloved) …Like Clockwork. There’s punk, fun, dance, and decadence with little room left for reflexivity, massiveness and epicness, which is what I love about QotSA the most.

16. Grandaddy – Last Place
Last Place is an another example of situation when waiting pays off. Jason Lytle and co’s new record is full of old school indie rock, old school electronica, old school synthesizers, yet it doesn’t feel old school. You get a lot of great rock songs, and that’s what you get. No-one could ask for a more solid comeback. This is a rock album (but not typical), this is an electronic album (but uses synths as a secondary measure), this is a sad album (but more of a heartache), this is an angry album (but without an unrestrained angst), this is a sentimental album (but not cheap), and it gives you all of the emotions you expect it will. There is a great deal of nostalgia within’, but that type that makes you want to get back to something you lost or forgot. There’s no desperation here, only acceptance, a little bit of intimacy, subconscious connection with listener/friend/partner, and peace (?).

15. Mount Eerie – A Crow Looked at Me
A Crow Looked At Me brings you back to the earth with soul-wrenching stories, melancholic melodies, a mournful voice, and an aesthetically subtle, delicate, but powerful music. All of this have a power to resonate with the deepest reaches of listeners’ hearts. Guitar, laptop, record button. That’s all. And yes, this is an album about death – reflective, depressing, desperate, mournful, but also beautiful. It’s touching testimony about losing somebody you care for, somebody you love. It’s as real as it gets. That’s because it sends you a message. It not only breaks your heart, but also frightens you and reminds you of what life is all about – love, with all of its consequences, even if it also means passing.

14. The Accidentals – Odyssey
This Michiganian band’s third LP may as well be one of the most fun, entertaining, fulfilling and joyful album of the year. This is the quality I always seek in albums by The Welcome Wagon, Sufjan Stevens, Wilco, The Lone Bellow or Calexico. Odyssey is just fun to listen to. Just like that. It’s not innovative, new, groundbreaking, epic or magnificent, but the lightness of it is overwhelming in a good sense of this word, which makes me want to listen to it on a loop, especially on gloomy days. Great songs, great melodies, great arrangements, great time.

13. Sorority Noise – You’re Not As _____ As You Think
Long live authentic American punk rock, which stays true to its pop roots, while delivering a desperate, yet optimistic message! You’re Not As _____ As You Think is this kind of album that blends nostalgia, despair, suicide thoughts, teenage drama, aggressive posture, angst, delicacy, while maintaining feeling of a consistent record. It’s also about coping with anxieties, desperation, depression, with inability to catch up with the world, but also about hope, faith, optimism despite all downsides of life. Just a magnificent punk album, which flirts with alt pop rock, but does not lose its authenticity. I wouldn’t be surprised if I see Sorority Noise’s You’re Not As _____ As You Think become a cult classic. Underrated LP, which is not yet developed, but promises great things ahead, as soon as Sorority Noise will find and explore their musical selves. For now, they sound like a magnificent, world-class high school band, but still, a high school band. I’d love to hear them as graduates.

12. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Flying Microtonal Banana
Oh what a year that was for King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard. Five new albums [sic!], each one being different and magnificent on their own terms. But first, just forget about the world. Forget about the reality. Forget about the cover art. Forget about the weird band name and LPs title. Forget the fact this band released 13 albums in 5 years. Forget about the prejudice towards this record. Just listen and forget. Let the trance, psychedelia and unreality of those songs guide you through magnificent artistic achievement. You thought that psychedelic rock was outdated and its only saviour was Tame Impala? Just listen and forget. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard will guide you. Yes, this album is really weird. However, every long-time fan of San Francisco Sound, psychedelic movement of 60s, or even every enthusiast of Tame Impala/early-Kraftwek-like bands should listen to it, because it delivers a new rendition of what once was an art to get lost in.

11. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
DAMN. is a proof that Kendrick Lamar should be treated as one of the best rappers of our times. I’m even not afraid to say that he’ll soon be considered as one of the best of all time. Kendrick’s latest album may not be his best, but then again – how do you compare Revolver to Abbey Road to Sgt. Pepper. Yes, I just compared Lamar to the Beatles, because that’s what he (probably is) for contemporary rap. He is a groundbreaking trendsetter. DAMN. is just a work-of-art level LP. This kind of album has to be felt and individually interpreted. That’s why it needs a lot of time to fully acknowledge its content. Its main themes may be irritating, upsetting, sensible, incomprehensible, or intriguing. But this makes DAMN. – both lyrically and musically – pleasurable and thought-provoking experience. It makes us, listeners, react with the matter of an album; it makes us think about it.

10. Gorillaz – Humanz
This review is dedicated to all those people who think this album is a huge disappointment. I thought so as well. But then I listened to it again and again, and everything changed. I needed three weeks of continuous listening and a dozen of spins to fully appreciate it. And now, it’s I consider its artistry a jaw-dropping impressive work of post-postmodern music in the era of confusion, technology and loss. Gorillaz’ new LP sounds like a never-ending party on a wasteland of plastic, artificial emotions, false visions, disappointments with a hope of revelation and victory of us, humans, our natural goodness and a will to overcome.

9. Jesca Hoop – Memories Are Now
Memories Are Now is a sad, intense, anxious album, full of longing, wonder, mystery and therapy by confession. Its courageous openness to experiments, trance, mantra, or multi-layered production gives this album originality and exceptional quality. At the same time it sounds intimate, which makes it even more expressive and straightforward as if there was no Jesca Hoop, but your voice and emotions, even though these stories weren’t yours. She is convincing, she is honest, she is candid, she is genuine. This makes A Memories Are Now an experience not innovative or ingenious, but explorative and full of empathy. It’s full of angst, passion and powerful messages, showing what’s the best in folk and contemporary americana.

8. Margo Price – All American Made
Move aside, here comes modern country music. And oh my, it’s so much fun. Margo Price’s second album is full of fresh ideas, served in a good old country which draws from a wide range of influences from Emmylou Harris and Tammy Wynette to Tom Petty, while applying alt-country, Americana, Tex-Mex, or indie genres. You can also hear the Third Man Records sound here.There are hundreds of albums in such musical aesthetics, but they rarely have such a quality like this one has. It can be treated as a bridge between your country-hating musical taste and the world of Nashville.

7. St. Vincent – Masseduction
Annie made another album that stuns. Masseduction is a great continuation of her musical extravaganza known from her self-titled LP. Her robotic, modern sound is as magnetic as it gets, songs are beautifully written, powerful and delightful. It’s obvious that for a few years now she has been in her best form as a singer-songwriter, and this album proves that. Masseduction is coherent, easy-listening and aesthetically thought-provoking with its super-modern approach that also connects to more down-to-earth listeners. Just listen to Pills, New York or Los Ageless. Each of those could have been a contender for the best song of the year! I must stay, that I’ve had set a bar pretty high for this album, and even though it didn’t top the list as I thought it would before the premiere I think that it’s a magnificent representation of what St. Vincent is capable of doing and that this is not her last word.

6. Jens Lekman – Life Will See You Now
Life Will See You Now is a great, straightforward, optimistic album, which will make you want to go dance your common daily life away. Listening to it feels like both a fairytale and its opposite. It keeps you down-to-earth, while encouraging to enjoy your life. It’s an album about daily struggles and not minding them; about being sentimental, yet happy and joyous. It tells you that it’s all right to party and dance, while having common problems. Seriously, this album can be considered a pragmatic anthem of how to be optimistic about life despite all its lows. It’s all because of his great, funny and sincere storytelling, which reminds me of the dark humor of Tom Waits, but with the off-the-wall and weird indie pop filled with disco, samba and Trinidadian steelpan. Life Will See You Now is a delightful listen when you want to party, reflect on your life, think about social problems, or just forget about the world and hit the dancefloor, shaking your limbs til the dawn.

5. Laura Marling – Semper Femina
Marling’s talent is enormous, her gentility is magnificent, beauty of her music is astounding. In words, she made an album that you expected her to record. It’s this kind of album that you listen to just for the pure pleasure, but also for the deep contemplation. Beautiful, graceful, strong and impressive. For those who considered Once I Was An Eagle to be too long and too raw, this may be the answer – condensed and sophisticated. This album is a grower. You have to listen to it few times in order to fully appreciate its strength. Most importantly, do not get discouraged by the first negative response to beginnings of these songs. They’ll grow on you. Semper Femina‘s cover art seems to  wonderfully represent what it has to offer. We have a women’s silhouette, which is both daring, yet not licentious. Its put in the contrasting subtle pastel environment of devastated room. That’s what this album is to me. It’s the representation of both beauty and struggle, of gentility and fierce, of soothing, delicacy and strength.

4. LCD Soundsystem – American Dream
LCD Soundsystem is back. But were they really gone? American Dream feels like a continuation of their previous releases, like starting a record in pop cultural mid-flight. oh baby is not ordinary opener LCD used to put on their records. It sounds like something from the middle of an LP, and I’m sure it’s intentional. James Murphy proves that he is one of the best postmodern music poets as well as a skillful composer, leading his band into more experimental territories. We heard it all before – in Suicide, Neu, Joy Division, or in previous LCD’s albums, but it’s also an evolution into a very specific cultural context of modern times. This album is about aching, endings, love, failure, loss, uncertainty. It’s about American dream, why it can’t become a reality, and why it’s actually ok. If this LP started with how do you sleep? and ended with black screen, it could have been compared to such a masterpiece as Sound of Silver. However, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t better. It’s different. It’s now. It’s modern. It’s relatable. It’s 2017. It’s full of lyrical contrasts, irony, coping with loss and failure, filled with personal, introverted insights. And still, it’s just fun LCD Soundsystem.

3. Brand New – Science Fiction
Science Fiction proves that emotional music can be artistically magnificent, epic, fun to listen to as well as thought-provoking and deeply moving. Brand New’s first album in 8 years is a wonderful set of music full of nostalgia, vulnerabilities, insecurities, and sincerity. The whole concept seems very modern, yet based on an old format of depressive teenage punk, which sounds authentic, convincing, and heart-wrenching. It’s an absolutely amazing, moving swan song for Brand New. And it feels like one, however, you won’t get any kind of closure. It’s an open book that ultimately does not end here, but it leads to a thematic loop. Because these struggles do not end here, which makes the message even more melancholic and thoroughly touching. I dare to say that musically it comes close to being a masterpiece with its coherent structure, comprehensible message and anthemic choruses. A beautiful record for both struggling and caring. Also for those who don’t care much anymore. And for those who want to hear their stories.

2. Converge – The Dusk In Us
Converge are as impressive and magnetic as you can imagine. The Dusk In Us achieved something many hoped for, but few believed – it’s their second best album, losing only to classic Jane Doe. They’re aggressive, monumental, hard, heavy, yet accessible. Do not be mistaken – this is the same Converge that you used to headbang to fifteen years ago. Yet, this time they sound more mature, without sounding old. And the best part is that even if you’re not that much into screaming, mathematical constructions, extreme bridges, and a lot of speedy drumming, you can really enjoy these songs because they’re just fun. The Dusk In Us also finds a wonderful balance between musical anxiety attacks, aggressive passages, and emotional interludes. Converge is one hell of a band, and this is one hell of an LP – loud, angry, emotionally fulfilling, not afraid to turn to the more delicate side. This is what I was waiting for. If you’re not scared of some screaming and extreme guitar play, you should listen to this album. An album that is masterful, heavy, and beautiful. However, “beautiful” is probably not the best word for it.

1. Richard Dawson – Peasant
The last time I have had such a feeling about a folk record was when I fell in love with Joanna Newsom’s Ys. And this is a huge statement. Dawson’s great experimental concept album about the everyday life of British people in 5th to 7th century AD is a truly amazing, wonderful and moving experience which redefines what it means to release a truly folk record. Its minimal, yet complex approach to storytelling through rustic arrangements, freakish artistic approach, and modern feel is absolutely breathtaking.  Even though its characters are living in early middle ages, their stories are timeless, universal and relatable. However, the thing I love the most about this record is its emotional depth, which is strengthened with one of a kind sincerity, unconventional artistic approach, and musical mastery. Dawson’s LP is original, magnificent achievement; an epic journey in time, which proves that a concept album about such a weird topic does not have to be a cliché, nor a tacky banality. Peasant is a deep musical experience that unveils something new with each spin. It may not be the grandest or the best folk album in history, but the experience of listening to it is unbelievably profound and cannot be overstated. A folk album for the years.


The Best of 2017:

1. Richard Dawson – Peasant
2. Converge – The Dusk In Us
3. Brand New – Science Fiction
4. LCD Soundsystem – American Dream
5. Laura Marling – Semper Femina

6. Jens Lekman – Life Will See You Now
7. St. Vincent – Masseduction
8. Margo Price – All American Made
9. Jesca Hoop – Memories Are Now
10. Gorillaz – Humanz

11. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
12. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Flying Microtonal Banana
13. Sorority Noise – You’re Not As ______ As You Think
14. The Accidentals – Odyssey
15. Mount Eerie – A Crow Looked at Me

16. Grandaddy – Last Place
17.
Queens of the Stone Age – Villains
18. Father John Misty – Pure Comedy
19. Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile – Lotta Sea Lice
20. Slowdive – Slowdive

21. The National – Sleep Well Beast
22. Pallbearer – Heartless
23. The Horrors – V
24. Ryan Adams – Prisoner
25. Lindstrom – It’s Alright Between Us As It Is

Honorable mentions:

Aimee Mann – Mental Illness
Alvvays – Antisocialites
Arcade Fire – Everything Now
Bjork – Utopia
Blanck Mass – World Eater
Colin Stetson – All This I Do For Glory
Depeche Mode – Spirit
Dirty Projectors – Dirty Projectors
Elbow – Little Fictions
Fever Ray – Plunge
Japandroids – Near to the Heart of Life
Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit – The Nashville Sound
Julie Byrne – Not Even Happiness
Julien Baker – Turn Out the Lights
King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Polygondwanaland
King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Murder Of The Universe
Lorde – Melodrama
Mastodon – Emperor of Sand
Max Richter – Three Worlds: Music From Woolf Works
Paramore – After Laughter
Phoenix – Ti Amo
PICTURES – Promise
Real Estate – In Mind
Sampha – Process
Spoon – Hot Thoughts
The War On Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
Thundercat – Drunk
Timber Timbre – Sincerely, Future Pollution
Ty Segall – Ty Segall
William Basinski – A Shadow in Time

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