2017 is over, and we have lots of music to show for it. What follows is a list of the best (and worst) of the year, as voted by the Mind Equals Blown staff. Leave us your opinions at the bottom!
A new voice emerged from the wealth of fresh songwriters this year in the form of Phoebe Bridgers and her debut album Stranger In The Alps. With all-too-relatable lyrics about inevitable death and emotional overwhelm and sharp asides about an obsession with serial killing and faking an English accent, her music recalls Joni Mitchell in its intimate storytelling and musical atmosphere. Vulnerable burst-outs like “Jesus Christ, I’m so blue all the time and that’s just how I feel” also happened to hit home during an especially emotionally-wrought 2017. Phoebe Bridgers has initially captured the attentions of Conor Oberst (who cameos on the track and in the video for “Would You Rather”), Ryan Adams, and Julien Baker, to name a few, and will carry her hype into an expansive U.S. headlining tour in the spring.
Once One Direction went from being a 5 piece to a 4 piece, it was only a matter of time before the remaining members of 1D followed in Zayn’s footsteps with their own solo projects. Harry Styles was pretty much the Justin Timberlake of the group, so when imagine my surprise when his solo debut “Sign Of The Times” was not the bubblegum dance-pop track that was expected of him. In fact, his self-titled debut album has clear indie-pop, folk, and funk elements similar to that of Beck, Foster The People, even Gavin DeGraw. He showcases a suprisingly new side of him with dreamy ballads, light acoustic melodies, and instrumentally-heavy rock anthems. Styles gracefully transitioned from the powerpop realm into a moody, alt. singer-songwriter in the blink of an eye. Harry Styles is another case of “not judging a book by it’s cover,” and props to him for proving the skeptics wrong.
With their first three albums serving as hallmarks to the modern indie rock canon, Arcade Fire’s shift to a bolder, arena-ready sound on Reflektor was both welcome and polarizing. If you take that record and sprinkle in some more instrumental opulence and stronger criticisms of contemporary culture, then you end up with a watered-down description of the ambition behind Everything Now. While offering emotional transparency and raw catharsis on their earlier records, Arcade Fire’s attempt at danceable hot takes did not have the substance or ingenuity that made their previous creative leaps worthwhile. Even the precise, high energy melodies and sheer danceability of “Creature Comfort” pale in comparison to the magnetic power of the band’s electronically-oriented peaks like “Sprawl II (Mountain Beyond Mountain)” and “Reflektor”. Without the passion or furor that made their previous records worthwhile, Everything Now lacks the immediacy and bombast of 2017 that it sought out to embody.
Ever since he came onto the scene, Tyler, The Creator has been working towards a certain sound. It would show itself in small increments as his discography grew, but it always seemed like his natural reaction was to return to the juvenile, faux-offensive stylings of his background. 2015’s Cherry Bomb was the rapper’s biggest step away from his past, embracing a strange, lo-fi-leaning sound, but his newest album is the full realization. Flower Boy is a bright and shimmering record that feels as cohesive of a project as Tyler has ever made. The meticulous obsession with jazz and the like that Tyler has brought up over the years finally falls in line with the delivery of his highly introspective songwriting. Flower Boy feels like the album Tyler has been aiming to make for years, and now that it’s here, it did not disappoint.
Kesha’s career has experienced a series of unfortunate rough patches in recent years. On top of handling ongoing lawsuits with producer Dr. Luke concerning sexual assault, gender violence, and unlawful business practices, she has struggled with her health as well. While working to produce her third studio album, she was rehabbing from bulimia nervosa, an eating disorder. Fighting for her health and spending time in the courtroom prevented her from producing Rainbow earlier, but now it is out and doing well. One of the tracks on her latest album, “Learn To Let Go”, beautifully blends the best of techno-pop with soul. Additionally, Rainbow combines elements of dance, glam rock, and hip-hop, which collectively makes this (arguably) Kesha’s best and most distinguished album to date. These musical blends are also one of many reasons why the album earned her a Grammy nomination.
Charli XCX – “Boys”
In what has been an era of innovation and transformation for pop’s most prolific queen, Ms. XCX presented us with a truly bold music video premise: boys doing stuff. That’s the whole thing–and it’s brilliant. A truly infectious, bare-bones electro jam narrating an odd, fully entertaining collage of young men (and a brief cameo from Charli herself) make for one of the buzziest clips this year; a short film as charming as it is simple, silly fun. Plus, Riz Ahmed hangs out with a giant teddy bear, so that’s a nice touch.
The Courtney Barnett/Kurt Vile team up was certainly a surprise that no one saw coming. The two are on very different spectrums of the indie rock scene, with Barnett having an angsty sound and Vile verging on the country side. However, these two sounds paired together quite well and made Lotta Sea Lice an instant indie classic. With wildly catchy tracks like “Over Everything” and “Continental Breakfast,” one would be remiss to ignore this record. Let’s hope that these two work together on future projects because you can’t just give us something this good and take it away!
Shoegaze, R&B, and the perfect I-don’t-give-a-damn attitude come together to form the subtly brilliant EP In Tongues, released by Joji early this November via 88rising. Born George Miller, Joji is a Japanese-Australian musician and YouTuber, previously known for his comedy before making a splash in the world of indie music. Bitter and mournful yet surprisingly gentle, his debut EP In Tongues turns self-loathing and jealousy into an intimate and warm personal account, teeming with the dark sensibilities and strong sense of humanity that has always defined Joji’s work, be it his comedy or his new musical ventures.
Four years after Lorde’s first studio album Pure Heroine came Melodrama…and it was well worth the wait. Melodrama delves into Ella’s world of senseless, shimmering, and flourishing youth. Entering the world of Melodrama is quite an emotional rollercoaster, for Ella wrote this album after reaching peak pop star status with the release of Pure Heroine. The album explores the vibrancy and fascination of partying, but what happens when the parties are over? What does the betrayal of friends or significant others feel like? How do you learn to be there for yourself? Melodrama explores it all. Ella partnered with Jack Antonoff of Bleachers and Fun. to craft an explosive cohesion of sounds that make you want to dance all night or sob for hours. This album also had help from some of Ella’s other friends Flume and Tove Lo, who were involved with tracks “Homemade Dynamite” and “The Louvre.” So thank you Lorde for capturing the vigor of growing and feeling in this generation. Melodrama Forever!
Julien Baker has truly made her mark with her sophomore LP Turn Out The Lights. Cutting yet graceful reflections on the complexities of the human experience paired with larger-than-life orchestral instrumentals come together to form an album that is as heartbreaking as it is beautiful. Turn Out The Lights is both raw and refined, showing a sense of maturity beyond Baker’s years while still overflowing with overwhelming pure emotion. It is her keen ability to create an intimate connection with her listeners that makes her music so alluring, without distracting from the heartbreaking truths that lie within it. Turn Out The Lights truly shines as one of the best albums of the year, earning all of the acclaim it has won since its fall release.
The modern metalcore scene wasn’t in need of something new as much as they were in need of something fresh, and Wage War delivered with the year’s most electrifying and memorable onslaught, Deadweight. There’s something to love for all brands of metalcore fans, whether they lean toward the old school genre staples, Warped Tour scene, or progressive gurus. “Witness” combines the three with bulky breakdowns, massive hooks, and sophisticated riffage, while “Stitch” and “Disdain” are Slipknot-inspired bangers. Tying everything together with a fiery sense of urgency, the group pushes hope-filled lyrics to the forefront of their relentless style. Deadweight provides a lot to latch onto for a metalcore genre that needed a reality check.
It’s been a while since Trivium has come close to the high bar they first set for themselves in the 2000s, but they come close to hitting it with their eighth studio album, The Sin And The Sentence. Much of the reason is because of the metalcore outfit’s renewed aggression–partly owed to vocalist Matt Heafy, who brings back his screamed style in full. The songs are full of chunky riffs and delectable choruses, with the band upping the ante with a faster pace and a greater tightening of their metallic pummel. Whether it’s radio-ready standout “The Heart From Your Hate” or the thrashing and soaring of the title track, there’s a lot to love on this release.
Car bangers, hardcore anthems, radio smashes, heart-felt records, everything you want in an exceptional form of rhyming is what you’ll get from Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. The way K. Dot executes his unique and unparalleled vocal delivery over the wide range of superb production to still make catchy tunes, is the reason why he continues to win over the respect of hip-hop and the entire music community, let alone listeners in 2017. Lyrics, deep subject matter, great beats, and superb song writing is a recipe that cannot taste bad.
Any Best Of 2017 lists without Brockhampton should simply not be trusted. The independent collective, self-labeled as the “internet’s first boy band,” consists of a dozen or so members and unleashed three (yes, three) albums this calendar year–Saturation I, Saturation II, and Saturation III. As part of a larger project to quite literally saturate the internet with their music, the group succeeded. Do not sleep on Brockhampton.
It’s been four years since we last heard anything new from the indie rock legends Arctic Monkeys. Once they announced that a new record was coming in 2018, I’m pretty sure the whole indie-loving world collectively lost their minds. Given the time they’ve had to work on new material, this new record has a lot riding on its success, but I’m sure that Arctic Monkeys will deliver. They rarely ever let us down!