This year instead of a top 10 I’m going to break down my favourite picks from a few different genres. I’ll give a short review for why I have an album in each spot, and why it’s rated higher or lower than others on the list. Keep in mind this is my opinion, so it’s based more on how much I enjoyed the album rather than critically assessing the artistic merit of the music.
I think rap was the most difficult subject to judge this year, since there were so many standout albums for me, and I appreciated them all for different reasons. It feels like the albums that made my list have enough depth that I’ll be listening to them for a long time to come, and I’m still discovering or appreciating something new on each listen. In this category I was especially looking for consistency in tone, which is why I think my selections ended up in the order they appear in.
1] Brick Body Kids Still Daydream – Open Mike Eagle
This album made the top of my list because of its coherence: every song feels like one piece or chapter of a complete story. While it may not be as diverse as the later albums in my hip hop section, and I don’t listen to the individual tracks as often as some of Kendrick or Tyler’s singles, I keep coming back to this album as a whole. I’ve always been partial to somber, introspective music and I think Mike Eagle did a fantastic job demonstrating his life experiences through this album.
2] Flower Boy – Tyler, the Creator
Though I was a big fan of the OFWGKTA days of Tyler’s earlier albums, it’s been one hell of a ride up to a more personal, reflective album like Flower Boy. As much as I enjoy tracks like “Who Dat Boy” and “I Ain’t Got Time!” I left this album in love with “See You Again” and “Boredom.” I’m still taken aback that I’ve never heard “I wonder if you look both ways before you cross my mind” in a song before. Tyler’s production and features are both still highlights of his work, and I’m glad to see his songwriting always improving.
3] DAMN. – Kendrick Lamar
As i said in my section on Mike Eagle, I like it when an album tells me a coherent story through each track. I think DAMN. is a great album, but I’m still more partial to Kendrick’s last two releases. When it comes down to it, there are just more tracks on Brick Body Kidsand Flower Boy that I enjoy, but Kendrick’s production and flow are still at the top of the game.
Big Fish Theory – Vince Staples
I’m conflicted when it comes to Vince Staples. Half of the tracks on this album I love, and the other half I couldn’t tell you the name of. I would never want an artist to only take the direction I want to hear from them, but some songs off of Big Fish Theory are my favourite rap tracks of the year and the others just feel underwhelming in comparison.
Saturation I/II/III – Brockhampton
I get the feeling we’re gonna be hearing a lot more from of the members of Brockhampton in the future. Personally, I would love to hear a project with more coherent direction, and I look forward to future releases and projects from individual members of the group.
At first I wasn’t sure how 2017 would live up to last year, after Gojira and Neurosis both released very strong albums in 2016. Having reviewed some returning acts and relatively younger bands, I think this was another great year for metal. I’m looking forward to diving back into these albums and any future efforts from all of these groups.
1] Nightmare Logic – Power Trip
This is one of the best thrash albums I have ever heard. It sounds like I’ve been transported back to the 80’s to hear the genre at its pinnacle – so my surprise was genuine when I stumbled into this album in 2017. Everything about it, the vocals, the riffs, the thundering drums, even the song titles scream “heavy metal” and I’m always coming back for more. The album’s a bit short at 32 minutes but it doesn’t feel like it; if Power Trip continue to release music of this quality I’ll be hooked for years to come.
2] Heartless – Pallbearer
One of the best doom releases I’ve heard in recent years, Pallbearer has some really great material and it feels like they continue to evolve each album. The songs here feel like no section overstays its welcome, with droning guitars and wailing solos leading us through some beautifully bleak soundscapes. There are some clean tones a with a bit too many effects for my taste, but I’m willing to forgive the small flaws of this album for how great the piece is as a whole.
3] Urn – Ne Obliviscaris
This album barely edged out Dying Fetus’ Wrong One to Fuck With for my third metal slot, but after a couple of listens I was thoroughly impressed by Ne Obliviscaris’ newest effort. There’s a bit of everything here that makes up a great modern progressive metal album; soaring clean and textured screamed/growled vocals, intricate guitar work, elegant solos, and blisteringly fast drums. I’m a sucker for good prog rock/metal and these guys definently scratch that itch.
Wrong One to Fuck With – Dying Fetus
As I briefly mentioned above, this is a killer Dying Fetus album and it almost made my top three. I’m not always a fan of their vocal style, but I was impressed by how catchy the riffs and hooks on this album were despite their technical complexity.
Obsidian Arc – Pillorian
All you need to know is this is John Haughm from Agalloch’s new band. If you haven’t listened to Agalloch, I implore you to do so now, you are definitely missing out. I think a lot of metal fans are happy to know that Haughm is still making music, and we can (hopefully) look forward to more great material in the future.
Forever – Code Orange
This album is hardcore. I wish I could just leave it at that, but if you ever feel like turning out the lights and smashing something, listen to this album.
I was pleasantly surprised by some of this year’s rock releases – and not in the ways I thought I would be. 2017 brought us some new Queens of the Stone Age, Foo Fighters, and a new full release from Brand New after eight years. Hard rock acts like Royal Blood and Greta Van Fleet are keeping the tradition alive, but the releases I included here I feel are pushing their boundaries further, while playing with influences old and new.
1] The Underside of Power – Algiers
Algiers is hard to pin down. They’re truly a unique blend of gospel-style vocals, with music ranging from industrial to post-punk to electronic beats. While this album has a diverse set of tracks, they’re unified by the soaring vocal style and driving beats that tie each song together. If you’re going to check out anything on this list I urge you to make it this album: There’s no-one else making music like Algiers right now.
2] Villains – Queens of the Stone Age
Another solid album by Josh Homme and company that shouldn’t be overlooked. Queens of the Stone Age once again switch up their style just enough that they’re still definitively Queens, but with a bit more spring in their step than 2013’s …Like Clockwork. While I prefer their heavier or moodier efforts, this album has a lot to offer between bangers like “Feet Don’t Fail Me,” ballads like “Villains of Circumstance” and everything in between.
3] Science Fiction – Brand New
What’s likely to be Brand New’s last album after more rumors of a breakup and the allegations against Jesse Lacey, Science Fiction would be a fitting end to their career. The album is a throwback to their early emo sound, while staying closer to the raw energy of Daisy rather than the melody-driven Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me. I think the first half has stronger tracks than the more mellow songs that close the album, but overall a good addition to their discography.
Flying Microtonal Banana – King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard
The first of five albums (one still to come as I’m writing this) this year, I feel this was the strongest of the four currently released. While I enjoyed the other material King Gizzard recorded, this album doesn’t rely as heavily on a single theme, like Murder of the Universeleaning too hard on spoken word passages.
Is This the Life We Really Want? – Roger Waters
The arrangements here are obviously reminiscent of Pink Floyd, though I’m counting my blessings that Roger Waters has given us another album since 1992’s Amused to Death. While the subject matter is still politically charged and very much topical, it’s a very intricate, yet accessible album.
A Deeper Understanding – The War on Drugs
If you want to get lost in some haunting and beautiful soundscapes, look no further than The War on Drugs. The instrumentals might stand a bit stronger than the lyrics here, but there’s a great balance of mellow, yet powerful songs throughout this album.
Thanks for reading through my list, if you’d like to share some of your own picks or discuss the albums here leave a comment.