Before, during or after looking at my lists, check out What’s Good In 2017.
The past few years, I said I’d do a better this year with listening to new music. I finally followed through on that, and 2017 rewarded me with a ton of great records from artists I’d either never heard of or never got too into. This year got a lot of things wrong, but music (and other forms of expression) certainly wasn’t one of them. Be sure to share what you liked or anything I might’ve missed in the comments!
When I chose Gone Now as my midyear favorite, it had been out for less than a month. At that point, these songs already felt familiar–like I’d been singing along to “Don’t Take The Money” and “I Miss Those Days” for years. Even ones like “Goodmorning” and “Goodbye,” full of bold choices, just clicked. They still do. Jack Antonoff has finally gotten some of his due this year, but it’s baffling that his achievements here haven’t been recognized the same way his production for others has. I’m doing my part. Listen to this record.
Every time I listen to this record, I’m more impressed with everything Phoebe Bridgers poured into it. Her songwriting is so direct and evocative, her voice so pure, beautiful, and emotive. The instrumentation throughout finds the perfect balance between sparseness and fullness. Stranger In The Alps feels like the sort of album I’m going to be listening to for years to come, and I only anticipate falling more in love with it as I do.
In a year that found me listening to a lot of artists I’d never heard of before, Aquilo’s Silhouettes was the first album to truly capture my attention. Full of sophisticated, cinematic songs and tight hooks that are more savory than saccharine, Silhouettes is a fantastic debut from a band that’s somehow already halfway through putting out its follow-up. The confidence, composure, and emotion present here shouldn’t go overlooked.
More than a few records I loved this year explore sadness or loss in a way that’s assured, if not outright bombastic. Lemon Cotton Candy Sunset doesn’t lack for musical expertise, but Richard Edwards leverages his skill toward balancing each of its songs on a delicate fragility that is still thick with sonic heartbreak and melancholy. Getting the stripped-down Pity Party! versions of a lot of these songs later in the year was nice, but it also gives a new appreciation for the beautiful album arrangements.
After Laughter narrowly missed my midyear list, but I think I was wrong about that. Songs like “Fake Happy” and “26” are already near the top of the band’s discography, with the latter being so frustrating perfect that you might spend a few hours trying to figure out how no one else came up with that chorus before. The band is finally comfortable being purely pop, but Hayley Williams hasn’t lost any depth in her songwriting, and they’re still able to get a little dark and strange with a song like “No Friend.” I’m glad they made this instead of hanging it up.
6. Movements – Feel Something
7. Overcoats – Young
8. The Maine – Lovely Little Lonely
9. Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 3
10. The Gospel Youth – Always Lose
11. Conor Oberst – Salutations
12. Julien Baker – Turn Out The Lights
13. COIN – How Will You Know If You Never Try
14. John Mayer – The Search For Everything
15. Lorde – Melodrama
16. ’68 – Two Parts Viper
17. Tyler, The Creator – Scum Fuck Flower Boy
18. Violents & Monica Martin – Awake And Pretty Much Sober
19. Lucy Rose – Something’s Changing
20. Kendrick Lamar – Damn.
Top 5 EPs:
1. Sainte – Smile, And Wave
2. Nine Inch Nails – Add Violence
3. Northbound – The Flaws In Everything
4. Smallpools – The Science Of Letting Go
5. Sincerely, Me – Aesthetically Pleasing
Top 10 Songs:
1. “Cut To The Feeling” – Carly Rae Jepsen
2. “Fake Happy” – Paramore, from After Laughter
3. “Biking” – Frank Ocean (Ft. Jay-Z & Tyler, The Creator
4. “Don’t Take The Money” – Bleachers, from Gone Now
5. “New York” – St. Vincent, from MASSEDUCTION
6. “You Won’t Know Where You Stand” – Aquilo, from Silhouettes
7. “23” – Overcoats, from Young
8. “When You Get Lost” – Richard Edwards, from Lemon Cotton Candy Sunset
9. “Would You Rather” – Phoebe Bridgers, from Stranger In The Alps
10. “One Foot” – Walk The Moon, from What If Nothing
I listened to something like 2,000 songs this year. Here are my top 25 in a convenient Spotify playlist:
Best Album Art: Movements – Feel Something
It’s beautiful, and it looks like what the album sounds like. This is exactly what I wrote last year, except this time I want to appreciate the blur and say something about how the text is like a sad children’s party. Oh, and you really need to listen to this record.
Favorite Live Show: Modest Mouse and Mimicking Birds at The Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, NY, 10/14/17
This was the second time I saw Modest Mouse this year, and it somehow blew the first time out of the water. Swapping Mimicking Birds in as the opener, including “Cowboy Dan” in the set, and fixing some of the issues with the mix were all big improvements, and there were two encores. The show ended with a jam on a new, unreleased song. It may have been the best show I’ve seen from my favorite band. It’s hard to beat that.
Biggest Surprise: Jay-Z – 4:44
I can’t say that I’ve listened to a lot of Jay-Z albums, but I can say that the more recent ones have been not that special. With 4:44, he seems to have regained hold of some drive and reason for making music. There are a lot of weighty ideas throughout the record, and it’s clear that he’s using these songs to work through them. Rap is frequently a genre that thrives on youth, but this is one example of experience helping to make something great.
Biggest Disappointment: Taylor Swift – Reputation
After 1989, I was really looking forward to hearing what Taylor Swift would do next. Unfortunately, she went more “Bad Blood” than “Blank Space” and released a bunch of songs that could’ve easily been released by a variety of other artists, devoid of much substance. While there are plenty of hooks and the production is great, it just feels like she had nothing to say. Not every album has to be profound, but I really thought Taylor might put herself out there even just a little bit. Maybe next time.
Best New Discoveries:
1. Phoebe Bridgers
5. The Gospel Youth
1. Pianos Become The Teeth
2. Elder Brother
3. Speak Low If You Speak Love
4. La Dispute
5. The American Scene
6. Fall Out Boy
7. Hop Along
8. Kacey Musgraves
9. The 1975
10. The Dangerous Summer
Oh, and if you’ve ever got a day to kill, here’s almost everything I liked this year, all in one handy playlist: