When it comes to music, the feeling you get when that song starts, or how you lose yourself in the lyrics, is all that matters.
Phoebe Bridgers makes impossibly pretty, yet emotionally carving indie rock. Her music has this ability to cut you to the core, yet keep you coming back for more.
This is her gift as a songwriter, to craft something so approachable, and making it deadly. She’s the human embodiment of a butterfly knife- floating delicately along, until it cuts you.
On her latest album, Punisher, she cuts deeper than ever before. “I Know the End,” the climatic album-closer, is one of the best songs of the year.
What starts as a strumming guitar grows into an erupting volcano. Bridgers’ voice is light as a feather, almost like a whisper in the breeze, until it comes crashing down around us. The song builds and builds into an all out apocalypse of guitars, drums, and shouts to anyone who’ll listen.
The result is nothing short of stunning, and the video is no different. Director Alissa Torvinen finds Bridgers in a bleak, world, gone past the brink of extinction. As the song builds to its crescendo, the fire and flames do too.
It’s a victory lap for an artist at the top of her game, and exactly what a world currently in shambles needs to see right now.
When taking photos of a rock show, it’s easy to be distracted by the band. These are the guys that are on stage, shrouded in fog and lights, slinging the expensive equipment, creating the sound. But there’s a moment, when you turn around, and take a look at the real rockstars: the fans. The folks who worked hard day in, day out, to buy a ticket to their favorite band’s show, got there early, wore their tattered t-shirt, and get to experience true effervescent, visceral joy. This joy dissolves all troubles in the world, just for a moment. This joy, this power that music brings, makes more sense to me than anything else ever could.
Drive By Truckers are a Southern rock/ alternative country band from Athens, Georgia, with a deep -fried Alabama sound. It’s the kind of crunchy, soulful, rebellious music that could soundtrack a dusty-road expedition, a cookout, maybe even a mild riot. That’s because this music just sounds BIG. It sounds like three guitarists trading solos, a bassist laying down heavy grooves, a heavy handed drummer, and two vocalists with pipes that can belt out with the kind of emotion that really moves people.
When DBT, as their fans know them, arrived in Kansas City, they carried a pride in their walk. It was a strut like they were so glad to be back on stage, and were ready to rock. Kansas City was their first show on their tour, and they had quite a bit to get off their chests. As singer Mike Cooley stated in a Rolling Stone interview, “These are fucked up times we’re living in.”
Written in a post-Trump era, the band’s latest album American Band, is their most political. Issues addressed in the music include gun violence, police brutality, political aggression against minority groups, and more gun violence. Scrawled on one of the amps onstage is a sign: “Black Lives Matter” written in all caps.
The weight of the music comes across in the live performance. The band, notably one of the more outspoken among their musical peers, dares to be bold. They dare to challenge their audience. They dare to wear their believes on their sleeves and play through songs like “Surrender Under Protest” and “Filthy and Fried” not because they are easy, but because they are hard. It is absolutely necessary to occupy this vital stage time breaking down the issues the band sees in America, while still providing a raucously fun rock show. Honestly, I don’t know how they do it, find the balance.
The show was one of those reminders that music is the most powerful instrument for change ever created. It’s always been a method for expressing our deepest emotions, happy or sad, exhilarated or disheartened. It can be heavy as a brick or light as a breeze. It can connect things or tear them apart. But no matter what the content, the feeling it creates in those who play it and those who listen it, is what keeps people going. This couldn’t be more true than when you turn around and notice those smiling, singing faces all around you, united, even for a moment in the sound.
List season, baby! This is what I’ve all been waiting for all year. I’ve listened to so much music this year, it’s actually kind of fucked up. But I did it all for this. This list. This brief summary of the 50 best songs of 2017. Let’s burn this mother down and start fresh in 2018.
So, 2016 was a burning shit and hair-filled diaper on a runaway trainwreck exploding on an Indian burial ground. So let’s look back at what didn’t suck, the music. Here’s the 50 best albums of the year. Let’s hope 2017 will have way less dead rockstars and Nazis.
That was my introduction paragraph to last year’s list… Well, shit. Maybe we’ll try for better in 2018.
Let’s get to the music.
#25: Father John Misty- True Comedy
This year was, as I’ve stated before, a complete and utter shit show. A Taco Bell induced, diarrhea explosion at the Louvre during a Bill Cosby stand-up comedy set. So to hear everyone’s favorite musical cynic, Father John Misty, describe the dreary world around him in such musical eloquence, it kind of felt like watching your house burn down and throwing your hands in the air as if to say, “fuck it, burn baby burn.”
#24: Thundercat- “Drunk”
How do you describe Thundercat to someone who’s unfamiliar? Well, he plays cosmic rhythm/ funk/ jazz on a six-string bass, and he’s friends with Kendrick Lamar and Flying Lotus, and he’s kind of a stoner hero and oh yeah, he occasionally meows. Like, there’s truly nothing to prepare someone for what to experience with Thundercat. However, the result is always jaw dropping. This is no exception with “Drunk,” which features some of my favorite lyrics of the year.
#23: Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit- The Nashville Sound
Country music hates Jason Isbell, and I’m pretty sure Jason Isbell hates country music. There is no doubt that a guy as cool, laid-back, and musically talented would despise being dubbed a “country artist,” being lumped in with the red, white, and blue toting, dip-spitting, 10-gallon hat wearing, imbeciles the genre usually plays to. But this album is a country album. It’s smart, sophisticated, understated, and cool. It gives the genre a good name, and even country music can’t be mad at that.
#22: Sorority Noise: You’re Not As _____ As You Think
Emo music is notoriously stark. It’s supposed to be bleak and sad, obviously, it’s called emotional music. But this album bites like a deranged T Rex with trust issues. “A Portrait Of” will cut you deep from second 1, and “No Halo” is a ram-shackling good time through the pain. So put on all black, get in the moshpit, push around, find yourself in the sound of someone else’s pain. It just might help you get through your own.
#21: Alvvays- Antisocialites
Alvvays put together a stunning dream pop album during some of the least dreamy circumstances. The music sounds airy, wistful, and like it belongs up in heaven. The lyrics, aren’t as peaches and cream though. Every line is painted with a brush of the anti-social. Those moments, like walking past someone on the street, knowing you’ll dream of them later that night. Like staying awake staring at the phone, hoping for a miracle. Like wishing you could be someone else. All of these emotions are so vivid on this incredibly catchy and beautiful album.
#20: Mac Demarco- This Old Dog
Mac Demarco is my hero. This might seem like an exageration, and even as I’m writing this, I’m thinking, “is he really?” But the more I think about it, there’s truth in the statement. Mac Demarco is a genuinely sweet guy, he’s creative and uninhibited to making one kind of music. He’s got heart, a whole lot of it. He makes great music for those of us who might not know what to do with this weird life of ours. And you know what, I genuinely love the guy. So yeah, he might be my hero, and “This Old Dog” was the soundtrack of my year.
#19: Charly Bliss- Guppy
Sometimes, in a year like this, you have to put down Twitter that’s only reporting bad news, look yourself in the mirror and say: “Let’s have FUN!” That’s when I put on Guppy by Charly Bliss. This album is an absolute thrill ride of fun and pure energy. It’s absolute bliss packed into 30 minutes of music. Lead singer Eva Hendricks is my indie-rock crush of the year, and her voice just makes me happy. This album is definitely going under the radar, which I find rude.
#18: Moses Sumney: Aromanticism
Wow, wow, wow, what a beautiful album. No man should be album to make music this gorgeous, or sing with such grace. Moses Sumney sounds like the first ray of bright sunlight after a torrential downpour. This album listens like a sonnet penned by William Shakespeare after one too many glasses of wine. It’s perfect romantic music, and it’s just exceptionally beautiful. “My wings are made of plastic” is a lyric that has floated around my head all year, like a lost balloon. There’s a mood behind this music, you have to find it, and experience this thing.
#17: Joey Bada$$- All-Amerikkkan Bada$$
This was the album Joey Bada$$ was supposed to make. I remember listening to his first mixtape, 1999, and thinking “this kid is the next coming of New York hip-hop.” He just has everything necessary. The soul, the rhyme-style, the mass appeal. He made the albums needed to get to this point, and now he’s making statements on a larger scale. “Temptation” is perhaps one of the most important songs of the year, and the message he’s sending on this thing can speak to all of us- white, brown, black, yellow, whatever. He’s remarking on the entire country, not just his community in Brooklyn. He’s an important and intelligent artist that we must protect.
#16: (Sandy) Alex G- Rocket
To me, this album is perfect road trip music. It sounds like pushing down the I-70 headed towards a bigger city, surrounded by miles and miles of nothing. There’s a lackadaisical sound in here, a hands-in-pockets modesty to the music. “Proud” moves along so gently it feels effortless. Alex G sings with such an earnest inflection, and the music matches this perfectly. It feels like a stroll downtown in your hometown, kicking stones.
#15: Gang of Youths- Go Further in Lightness
Are you ever so frustrated with life that you just want to run for miles and miles? You desire to feel that fire in your chest? You just want to disappear in a crowd. That’s what Gang Of Youths’ music can do. It’s potent and powerful, like a hit of emotional methamphetamine. The music is high octane lighter fluid, just needing one strike of a match to go up like the Fourth of July. These songs sound like a train heaving down the highway, nearly falling off the tracks, but keeping it together just enough. And there’s tremendous beauty in that. As the lyrics in “Let Me Down Easy” go “You give me a good reason to be heartsick again / To be here, to be strong, to be oddly and boldly estranged / From the loss and bitter years.”
#14: The National- Sleep Well Beast
The National have specialized in a style of sadness unmatched for the entirety of their career. Matt Berninger’s dark and dreary vocals layer so coolly on top of the Desner brother’s fiery guitars. However, they turned this equation on it’s head for this new album. All the components are there, but added are synthesizers, electronic drums, and an extreme sense of paranoia. The songs don’t sound like songs, instead, letters to self, written hurriedly and in what feels like a panic. But everything about it works. It’s truly unbelievable. These guys, The National, are masters of music.
#13: Young Thug- Easy, Breezy, Beautiful Thugger Girls
Young Thug is a national treasure. He needs to be protected. What he is able to do with music parallels what some of the world’s greatest musical anomalies (the Princes, the Bowies, the Thom Yorkes) have done- shatter barriers set for them. On EBBTG, Thugger completely exceeds any expectations placed on him, just as he did with his previous albums Jeffery and Slime Season 3. He can rap hard-as-hell (“Take Care”) and sing ballads with Future (“Relationship”) and croon over a bachata-inspired beat on the impeccably catchy “For Y’all.” I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Thank God for Young Thug.
#12: Tyler, the Creator- Scum Fuck Flower Boy
He did it! He finally made the album he was destined to make. Since the origin of Tyler the Creator, he has been painted as something he’s not. He’s been called crass, racist, rapist, obnoxious, and everything else unflattering. But then he goes and creates the most flattering album of the year. Tyler’s albums have all been building to this point. The musicality (Tyler produced every track on this thing) the lyrics, stunning and refreshing, the vibe of the album. It’s sunnier than anything he’s done before, and the colors he radiates sounds like a man who is finally in charge of who he really is, which is a super creative, lovely guy, who has been vastly misunderstood.
#11: Sampha- Process
I first heard Sampha on Drake’s “Too Much.” Here was this soulful British voice, weighing nearly 100 tons with emotion. As he sang, I could feel the heartbreak in his voice, and I was hooked. He reminds me of how I felt when I first heard Adelle sing. Now, on his debut album, he makes a statement. He is on of the brightest young faces in music today. His voice is so utterly unique, and the way he is able to craft a song is special. “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano” is one of the year’s most heartbreaking tracks, and “Blood On Me” might be the most important. Sampha’s debut album is a triumph, and I couldn’t be more excited to see where he goes from here.
#10: Lorde- Melodrama
Lorde is one of those artists that just radiates an energy so pure that it cannot be tainted by pop stardom. After her debut release “Pure Heroine” created a symphony of superstardom for this young New Zealand introvert, I wondered how she could follow this. Surely not with more catchy tunes, more revealing lyrics, and an even better album? But here I am, listening to Melodrama, dancing ferociously to “Green Light,” weeping my eyes out to “Liability,” and stunned by the majesty of this artist’s sophomore effort. Lorde and producer Jack Antonoff have created an album for everyone- the prettiest girl at he party, the loner, the emo kid, and the Prom Queen.
#9: The War on Drugs- A Deeper Understanding
A Deeper Understanding. What does that really mean? A deeper understanding of music? A deeper understanding of society? Or a deeper understanding of self. For Adam Granduciel, I believe this album represents all of these. The Philly dad-rock band, complete with layers of guitars, Bruce Springsteen-esque rhythms, and powerful lyrics, War on Drugs has made their most expressive and finely tuned album of their career. The song “Holdin’ On” is a clear-cut personal favorite, and could easily soundtrack many of life’s most beautiful and epic moments. “Thinking of a Place” borders on tear-jerking with how beautifully the guitars portray the emotion of a song. It’s a near perfect album.
#8: Jay Z- 4:44
Did someone spill the tea? Or should I say, Lemonade. After word got around that music’s most important and iconic couple, Jay Z and Beyonce, were amidst extramarital drama, everyone tuned in like it was the O.J. Simpson trial. Except if TMZ (The Messy Zone) reported every little dirty detail. So Beyonce had her say, and she said it all. With 4:44, Jay gets his chance to tell his side of the story, which ultimately reads, “I did it. I shouldn’t have done it. I’m a product of black culture in America, which is and always has been, fucked up beyond belief.” On this album, Jay sounds grown. He sounds like a man who has had to come to terms with the man he spent his whole life becoming. It’s a gorgeously produced album with Kanye-esque soul samples, slow and meditative lyricism, and Jay Z rapping like a man with something to prove again. This isn’t the gaudy Hov, like that Magna Carta bullshit he used to sell Samsung phones. This is a man, coming to terms with himself, his environment, his fidelity, and his society.
#7: LCD Soundsystem- American Dream
When LCD Soundsystem broke up in 2011, I was so sad. Here was this band that I had grown to love so dearly. I’d loved everything about them, their uncoolness, their style and sound, their unbelievably catchy songs. And now they were breaking up, at the height of their careers?! Thankfully that didn’t last long. 5 years later, we get the return of New York’s most cynical band, and with them, a new album, just as drenched in cynicism. Only this time, there’s a sense of responsibility where there used to not be one. James Murphy used to be utterly scathing with his pen, now he shows more restraint, like an older gentleman would. He pens his songs now skillfully, like a crossword puzzle. However, there is nothing changed when it comes to the dirty synths, the building crescendos of songs, and the sense of weirdness in this bizarre American world. If this is the American dream, it’s going to take a lot more LCD albums to get us through.
#6: Migos- C U L T U R E
In 2017, Migos invented the culture. There’s just no other way around it. I guess you could say Atlanta created the culture. The culmination of years and years of work, Southern strip-club bangers, Gucci Mane’s rise-and-fall and rise again, and the ascension of Three Brothers- the Migos- to rap’s highest peaks. Migos cut their teeth in the scene long before making it this big. They put out hit after hit, and fueled countless parties with their bangers. Then, finally, with a little help from Metro Boomin, the biggest producer in the country, they unleashed “Bad and Boujee,” and they were there. Between the meme-ification of the music, the adlibs, the unfamiliarity of 95% of the phrases, Migos caught everyone’s attention. There are just too many hits on this album to be excused. “T-Shirt,” “Slippery,” “What the Price,” “Kelly Price,” “All Ass,” I could list the entire track list. THEY’RE ALL BANGERS. No other rapper did that this year. All killer, no filler.
#5: Spoon- Hot Thoughts
As I’ve written before Spoon is the most consist band in rock and roll. Their sound is consistently changing, yet remaining in its wheelhouse. They’re never rewriting the textbook, but adding chapters that make you keep reading and flipping pages with intrigue. Britt Daniel is the fearless band leader and the glue of the band. His soulful croon, soaring and raspy at the same time guides the bands’ tight sound through song after song with ease. “Hot Thoughts” is a definitive statement, that the band is still able to churn out fun, adventurous, and complex songs at this point in their 9 album deep career. “WhisperI’llListentohearit” begins one way, and takes an insanely catchy turn halfway through. “I Ain’t the One” is the most cinematic song of the year. If I ever write a movie featuring a cool, building, eerie walk-up from a hero with a troubled past, this is the song I’ll use for it. This album is further proof, if you needed any, that Spoon is a masterclass in amazing American rock music.
#4: Vince Staples- Big Fish Theory
Vince Staples is one of the rare talents of our generation. Sophisticated and brilliant, yet hard-as-hell gang-affiliated Crip. Big Fish Theory is his departure from the traditional way of telling his story. As he did with breakout album Summertime ’06, he still raps with the aggression of a pit bull on bath salts with daddy problems. However, this album focuses intriguingly on the beats Vince has collected. Avant-dance producers SOPHIE and ARCA play a tremendous role in this album sounding the way it does. Skittering and jolting, clicking and clanking unpredictably while Vince lays down the coolest, slickest bars of his career. “Yeah Right” is a song that doesn’t sound like anything else produced this year, and features a ludicrously unhinged Kendrick Lamar verse. “Big Fish” is a classic Vince song that has a ridiculously catchy verse that will stick in your head. And “Rain Come Down” is one of the most ominous album closers of the year. Vince is just playing on a different level than everyone.
#3: BROCKHAMPTON- Saturation II
I could write a 20,000 word essay on the prolific boy band, BROCKHAMPTON. Lead by the esoteric and highly intelligent, openly gay Kevin Abstract, the group already has their own sound and marketing angle. Add on top of that 7 or 8 other rappers that have their own unique styles, including the stunning Ameer Vann, who raps with the aggression of DMX with the laid back coolness of Vince Staples. Saturation II is the second installment in a year-long ambush of ridiculously great music. Before the year is over, there will be a third. This staggering pace of the quantity music doesn’t take away from any of the quality. The album begins with “GUMMY” which might be the hardest hitting song I’ve ever heard. This song makes me want to flip a cop car. The album refuses to relent even an inch, getting more and more catchy with each song. “QUEER,” “JELLO,” “SWAMP,” and “SWEET” are all iconic BROCKHAMPTON songs. And there’s 12 more where they came from. So, needless to say, BROCKHAMPTON is my rookie-of-the-year winner. They’re also my most fascinating band story of the year. If you want to be on the right side of history, get on board with this new boy band that will take over the world like One Direction.
#2: SZA- CTRL
A year ago, nobody was giving SZA the respect she deserved. Whether they were ignoring her or just not paying attention, seemingly everyone glossed over this unmistakably unique songstress with some of the most fire lyrics in R&B. I guarantee you, nobody’s glossing her over now. SZA released her long-awaited debut, CTRL, to critical acclaim, from critics, sure, but mainly from fans. The reception for this album was nothing short of glorious. Fans were singing every lyric of the album like it was gospel, and truthfully, it almost is. SZA bares every bit of herself on this album, her insecurities, her fears, her lust, and her strength. She said before the album was released she wrote that she self-conscious of the album and didn’t think it would go over well. Judging by the multiple Grammy nominations, it went over better than she ever could’ve imagined. “The Weekend” is an anthem for side-chicks everywhere. “Love Galore” is a definitive classic, and “Garden (Say it Like Dat)” is one of the best songs of the year by miles and miles. SZA is a force to be reckoned with. Just like everything on TDE, this is a world-conquering album. I cannot wait to see where SZA goes from here, because it will surely be incredible.
#1: Kendrick Lamar- DAMN.
Kendrick Lamar is the greatest rapper alive. There is simply no other way to put it. There is competition, then there is murdering your competition, which is exactly what Kendrick did with DAMN. Now, it’s not like this is anything new. Kendrick has been rapping circles around the game since Good Kid, m.A.A.d City, but he’s taken a rare approach. He’s written a film, essentially, then he wrote a theological critique of society and the black man’s place in it (institutionalism, survival’s guilt, etc.) and now he’s on his fuck-the-world, I’m the best in the game, flow. Kendrick goes harder on this album than he ever has before. “DNA” is a banger unlike anything he’s ever done before. “HUMBLE” created one of the most identifiable hooks in music. “ELEMENT” is Kendrick at his very finest. Even the title, “DAMN” is the only way to look at this piece of work. Like, DAMN. He really is this good. Nobody can compete. Then there’s the idea that the album is supposed to be listened back-to-front, and not front-to-back. I’ve tried both, and I can tell you this much, the journey is different, but the destination is the same- Kendrick is untouchable by any other rapper in the game. In fact, one of the only features on this album is U2. Fucking Bono BARELY made it on this album. This might not even be Kendrick’s best album, but it is definitely the best of this year.