The Best Albums of 2017 So Far

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The 30 best albums of 2017 so far

The first half of 2017 is almost over. By now surely most readers have seen the phrase “album of the year!” used on social media about a half dozen albums. Here’s the thing: We’re not there yet. We’re not ready to pick the album of the year, and who knows if the next five months will completely upend how we feel about music this year. But we do know that it’s been a killer half-year for music already, with a long list of great records in many different genres filling up our playlists. Punk, post-punk, shoegaze, dream pop, lo-fi, soul, hip-hop, indie rock, folk—it’s all represented in our list of the Best Albums of 2017 so far. They’re unranked; our 30 favorite records this year are presented in alphabetical order with a companion playlist for you to listen along to our favorite 2017 jams thus far. This is just a halfway marker, but in the words of Kung-Fu Kenny: “Damn.”

Algiers The Underside of PowerAlgiersThe Underside of Power

It’s hard to name an album released in 2017 that feels more vital and urgent than Algiers’ The Underside of Power. The follow-up to the band’s comparably stellar debut, Underside is an even more intense and eclectic examination of racism, oppression and corrupt institutions of power. Indeed, it’s a dark and visceral album at times, particularly when tackling racially motivated murders on “Cleveland” or inherited racism on “Death March,” but it’s also a collection of eclectic and often stunning songs, from the upbeat gothic Northern soul of the title track to the industrial-trap sounds of “Walk Like a Panther” and the gorgeously psychedelic art rock of “A Hymn for an Average Man.” Algiers offer a lot of food for thought on their second album; they also deliver one of the most vibrant and innovative listens of the year. – Jeff Terich

best albums of 2017 so far CavernlightCavernlight – As We Cup Our Hands and Drink from the Stream of Our Ache

The debut full-length album from Oshkosh, Wisconsin’s Cavernlight is one of the most stirring and profound pieces of music to be released this year. Through five cathartic odes to anxiety, depression and other inner demons the quartet rains droning doom metal that moves listeners to visible emotion. Their beautiful sadness resonates on a similar level to that of Jason Molina’s works or England’s Warning. As We Cup Our Hands… does what few other albums are able to do: make listeners feel. Consequently, it displays the links between art and pain in a wonderful manner. As We Cup Our Hands… delivers a much-desired reminder of the emotive properties that excellent doom metal should inherently possess. – Cody Davis

Cloud Nothings Life Without Sound reviewCloud NothingsLife Without Sound

It’s comforting to know that there’s an indie rock band that actually knows how to rock. They open their latest album Life Without Sound with a more reflective tone that cruises on smooth melodies, but by the second song, “Things Are Right With You,” they still offer a reminder that indie rock’s roots are in punk. There is enough of a jangle to take you back to the days when bands like The Replacements had a place on college radio. This is indie rock that knows where it came from and adds its own flavors. – Wil Lewellyn

best albums of 2017 so far ElderElderReflections of a Floating World

Massachusetts stoner/psych trio Elder set a pretty high bar in 2015 with the release of their outstanding third album Lore. As it turns out, however, the band was only beginning to explore the vast expanses of where their sound could take them. Reflections of a Floating World finds the band, now a quartet, taking on more atmospheric sounds and approaches while continuing to lay down some titanically heavy riffs and thunderous rhythms. Through songs such as the dense and hard-driving “Thousand Hands,” Elder maintains the intensity that defined their earliest records while the more ambient head trips of songs like “Staving Off Truth” reveal their expertise with space and beauty. Reflections of a Floating World is a complicated album to fit into any one category; it contains seemingly the entirety of rock ‘n’ roll and interprets it in innovative new ways. – Jeff Terich

best albums of 2017 so far Hazel EnglishHazel EnglishJust Give In / Never Going Home

Following a low-key EP and a handful of singles floating around the Internet, Hazel English’s Polyvinyl debut Just Give In / Never Going Home is a consistently impressive tale of new cities, quirky emotions and self discovery. Equal parts therapeutic as it is aesthetically pleasing, Just Give In / Never Going Home is an exceptionally matured release, exploiting English’s relentless ambition as a musician. Drawing influences from both hazy dream pop and sun-soaked post-punk, English’s debut is a living, breathing paradox. However, what separates English from the dreadful pit of useless dream pop—and post-punk for that matter—is her stealthy ability to avoid the headache-inducing platitudes that come along with the genres, all by delivering one of the most wholesome records of the year. – Timmy Michalik

Father John Misty Pure Comedy reviewFather John MistyPure Comedy
(Sub Pop)

Father John Misty is the kind of artist who’s not afraid to bite off more than he can chew. To wit: Pure Comedy, an album-length attempt at capturing why humanity is a disaster. No, he doesn’t succeed at necessarily offering any insightful analysis, but that’s essentially beside the point. In the tradition of artists like Randy Newman, Josh Tillman makes beautiful music by observational skewering; he’s sympathetic to his subjects, but he doesn’t let them off the hook. Not even close. It’s perhaps because of this too-ambitious look at society that the album is far from perfect, but good god is it beautiful. The arrangements are some of the prettiest in his songbook, and as always his vocal performances are flawless. In a post-Trump age, Pure Comedy isn’t the solution to the litany of problems ahead of us, but it soothes in ways that no other album can. – Jeff Terich

Girlpool Powerplant reviewGirlpool Powerplant

Girlpool’s latest album is an expansion upon the distinct and special note they hit on their coming-of-age debut Before the World Was Big. The duo has matured on Powerplant, adding lyrical depth and a broader, sweeping sound that pulls influence from acts such as Duster, Vashti Bunyan and Dear Nora. Since their previous release, both Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad have discreetly put out lo-fi treats between their joint efforts as Girlpool. These modest Bandcamp demos would serve as outlets and direct hints for the direction of Powerplant, the band’s stellar sophomore triumph. – Patrick Pilch

Gnarwhal Crucial reviewGnarwhalCrucial
(Exploding in Sound)

I have talked about and to Gnarwhal about their new album Crucial. I have listened to the shit out of Crucial. The new Gnarwhal rips. Crucial is built on anticipation. Listen to the first track, might as well listen to them all. Gnarwhal heaves each song’s melodic weight into the next, promoting full listens upon revisitation. “Marathon Ripper” sprints into the interlude-like “The Smell of the Bag,” which is snatched up by the spastic chugging intro of “Lazy River.” Back to back “Being Kidding” and “Cool River” are linked by a chain of distortion, with the latter containing a memorable and psychotic shriek at its1:38 mark. The highly accessible “Light Up City” lies between “My Crucial” and “Your Crucial,” a three-track preface for an incredibly satisfying three-track finale. Front to back, Crucial is insane, exceptional and unspeakably consistent. – Patrick Pilch

Jay Som Everybody Works reviewJay SomEverybody Works

Melina Duterte’s Polyvinyl debut is an admission—everybody works—including her. And while the idea that everybody works might seem like a bummer, the album is also an acceptance that maybe this isn’t the worst thing (like, after a few years of self-releasing music on Bandcamp, you can get signed). The album, lyrically, hangs in between a crumbling past and hard to see future and what rang melancholic at times in the colder parts of spring finds a summery revival on the back of sweet pop hooks and bright, layered tracks. – Matt Perloff

best albums of May JlinJlinBlack Origami
(Planet Mu)

If 2015’s Dark Energy served as the introduction to a singular force in footwork, then Black Origami is the ferocious sound of Jlin solidifying her spot as the most exciting electronic music producer in the world. Across 12 uncompromising tracks the Indiana-born producer explores the malleability of black human existence in 2017. Black Origami’s percussion is assaultive: A combination of militarist snares, stomps, spine tingling high hats, and hand claps fuse together to create a sonic warzone. The journey across Jlin’s world can be a harrowing one, but given repeat visits you will find comfort in her staggering command. – Wesley Whitacre

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