The Top 50 Albums of 2017

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Priests Nothing Feels Natural20. Priests
Nothing Feels Natural

(Sister Polygon)

Demand for protest music in this decade has hit a record high in 2017 for pretty obvious reasons. But there’s also never been a more appropriate moment for unfiltered, high-energy, get-yer-ya-yas out catharsis, the likes of which Washington, D.C. post-punks Priests deliver with effortless style and impossible cool throughout the entirety of debut album Nothing Feels Natural. It’s a dark, itchy, restless album, driven by taut grooves on “Nicki,” “Leila 20” and the menacingly tense “No Big Bang.” It’s danceably dreamy on “Suck.” It’s dreamily introspective on the title track, and even politically satirical on “Pink White House.” It’s also sometimes extremely silly (“My best friend says ‘I want to start a band called Burger King,’ and I say ‘do it—make your dreams a reality‘,” goes a lyric on “Puff”). Being awake meant tearing one’s hair out in panic at every scroll of the Twitter app this year, but Nothing Feels Natural gave respite in the form of a primal-scream dance party. It’s the sound of freedom. – Jeff Terich

best albums of 2017 Run the Jewels19. Run the Jewels
Run the Jewels 3


I’ve seen Run the Jewels perform four times now, and after each show I’m left with the same feeling: “Damn, I needed that.” The same sentiment pops up across the internet every time Killer Mike and El-P drop new music—that we need their brash blend of anger and absurdity now more than ever. RTJ3 dropped on Christmas Eve 2016, at the end of one of the most brutal years in recent memory. With its arrival came a sense of relief, that someone could capture those inescapable feelings of anger and absurdity and channel them into something that was not only entertaining, but fuckin’ fun. RTJ3 isn’t the duo’s best record—it sags a little in the middle—but it’s arguably their most cathartic. It’s a document of self-affirmation, friendship, and defiance in the face of apocalyptic odds. “Hell comin’ and we got about a mile,” Mike raps on “A Report to the Shareholders,” summing up the album’s battle cry. “Until it’s over I remain hostile.” – Sam Prickett

Cloakroom Time Well review18. Cloakroom
Time Well


Cloakroom does shoegaze proud by focusing on its intersection with post-punk and post-hardcore that has largely been ignored in favor of poppier terrain. It’s important to remember after all that My Bloody Valentine started not as a shoegaze band but as goth rock, and that notions of heaviness and darkness are just as comfortably suited in as bleary-eyed pop songcraft. Their usage of unstable chords that warble and waver in the chest and the dreary emotionalism of the record keep the record full of the same glowering intensity as the great grunge and post-hardcore records of the late ’80s and early ’90s. They prove the old adage that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel so long as you have something to say, and that a good chord progression played well will you take you anywhere you need to go. – Langdon Hickman

Thundercat Drunk review17. Thundercat


The low-end gospel of Thundercat’s weirdly funky bass made a captivating comeback in 2017 with Drunk, a soulfully psychedelic collection of jazz, hip-hop, funk and rock. Overall it’s restless, jumping from tales of alcohol dependency and dark heartbreak to smart collaborations with Pharrell, Michael McDonald, Kenny Loggins and Wiz Khalifa. “Captain Stupido” lays the groundwork for the album with discordant chords and bizarre lyrics like “Comb your beard, brush your teeth / Still feel weird / Beat your meat, go to sleep / I think I left my wallet at the club,” and “Them Changes” brings that emotional bizarreness to a peak with a hefty, wobbly bassline and violent imagery of a man whose heart was stolen. The 23-track set distinguishes itself with mesmerizing bass improvisation, smooth vocals and fun stories that paint Drunk into an emotional, dark, yet playful and very fun album. – Jonathan Ortiz

best albums of 2017 Alvvays

16. Alvvays


Alvvays’ second album begins with an ending—a conversation in which two exes attempt to figure out where to go next, now that it’s over. It ends with a suggestion that two young, bummed-out people could maybe avoid further bummers by spending their life together. Breakups are handled with good humor and practical ways to pass the time (“Meditate, play solitaire, take up self-defense”), and the excitement of something real and joyous is still weighed down with the pressures of the outside world. There’s very little living in the moment here, just what could be, what might have been, what definitely won’t be anymore. But Alvvays nurse heartache and youthful angst the best way they know how, through shimmering sheets of guitar, sweetly chirped choruses and melodies that aren’t soon forgotten. Antisocialites is always coming or going, taking stock or making future plans, which is funny in a way—it’s so easy to just enjoy the moment and take in its warmly therapeutic jangle. – Jeff Terich

best albums of 2017 Nine Inch Nails15. Nine Inch Nails
Not the Actual Events/ADD VIOLENCE

(The Null Corporation)

This is the sound of redemption. Trent Reznor is breathing it in, having made it to the other side of the pains of recovery and is able to reclaim his darker, more angst-ridden side.He is older and wiser, and he’s moved away a bit from the metallic aggression that once rivaled Ministry. With the release of these two EPs (with a third supposedly on the way) Nine Inch Nails has becomce atmospheric and organic than Reznor’s post-The Fragile excursions. Most Importantly, it marks the return of a prominent guitar sound, which has been a much missed dimension of their approach. The only downside about Nine Inch Nails’ new EPs album is that they’re relatively short, but it’s good to have Reznor back in top form. – Wil Lewellyn

best albums of 2017 LCD Soundsystem14. LCD Soundsystem
American Dream


Last year saw the death of a wide range of musical heroes, among them David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Prince, and Alan Vega of Suicide. No doubt these affected LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy significantly more than us mere mortals. Their presence colored him, his band, and their world-beating catalog during the first decade of their existence. Their absence does the same, as this culling coincided with the reunification of the band and the gestational period for what would become American Dream. It’s an album that certainly has the same kind of gnarl and knottiness we first heard on their 2004 debut LP, but we’re looking at choking, poisoned vines instead of the weathered oak. Murphy’s never been convinced that getting older meant getting better, but he’s downright panicky at this point. He once draped his lyrics and grooves in ennui and detached bemusement. Here they have a kind of flailing desperation (“Emotional Haircut,” “Oh Baby,” “Other Voices”), and some songs frankly forsake any groove at all (“I Used To,” the Bowie tribute “Black Screen”). This isn’t to say American Dream is bad, or even a misstep; it’s just challenging, which for this band at this stage of their career might be a master stroke. LCD Soundsystem no longer focus on art-punk informed by, say, James Chance or Talking Heads. This is artful, near-spoken punk in the expansive mode of Iggy Pop, X, and Social Distortion, but with a few more synthesizers. – Adam Blyweiss

Protomartyr Relatives in Descent review13. Protomartyr
Relatives in Descent


It’d be easy to look at Relatives in Descent, Protomartyr’s fourth and best record, as a political record. It certainly invites that interpretation at points, particularly on the literally riotous “Up the Tower,” which culminates with an angry mob throwing their out-of-touch ruler out the window of his gilded tower. (Who could this possibly be referring to?) There’s also singer Joe Casey’s laments about the “age of blasting trumpets / paradise for fools” that we live in—which, yeah, sounds a lot like 2017. But Protomartyr take a broader view of things. Humanity hasn’t fundamentally changed in the past 10 years, Casey seems to argue. Much of Relatives in Descent focuses on issues that have plagued us for centuries—gender inequality (“Male Plague”), economic inequality (“Corpses in Regalia”), and never-satisfied materialism (“Windsor Hum”). It’s not as misanthropic as it sounds, either. Throughout the record, Casey paints all these struggles as part of a massively imbalanced cosmic struggle between truth and obfuscation. On the album’s stunning closer, “Half Sister,” he bounces between three anecdotes, set centuries apart, of people seeking or rejecting truth—which, he promises, is “just trying to reach you.” It rarely, if ever, actually makes contact—would we even understand it if it did?—but the fact that it’s trying, Relatives in Descent suggests, is enough. – Sam Prickett

Father John Misty Pure Comedy review12. Father John Misty
Pure Comedy

(Sub Pop)

My favorite thing about Pure Comedy is its ambition. Josh Tillman (aka Father John Misty) was actually trying to write the album of our times. This is a totally pretentious and absolutely ridiculous thing to do, but Tillman knows that, which somehow makes it all excusable. Take his lyric from the album’s centerpiece “Leaving LA”: “Oh great, that’s what we all need/Another white guy in 2017/Who takes himself so goddamn seriously.”  Maybe I’m wrong, and his acknowledging his pomposity is no justification for a 75-minute sprawl that covers everything from religion, to politics, to social media to you name it.  But I get the feeling that when we listen to this album again in five, or 10, or 20 years, we’ll look back and say, “Yeah, that’s exactly what 2017 felt like.” – Adam Ellsworth

best songs of 2017 Big Thief11. Big Thief

(Saddle Creek)

Through the opulent folklore that made Brooklyn four-piece outfit Big Thief masters of their craft on their 2016 debut album Masterpiece, their 2017 follow up, Capacity, brought them to the big leagues. Encompassing their sound with some seriously gorgeous production—as well as a handful of tear-jerking ballads—Adrianne Lenker and company’s sophomore effort is striking and beautiful, radiating existential sadness as well as uncontrollable glee and euphoria. At its finest moments—which are plentiful—Capacity is not just an album, but instead a statement of musical autonomy. Bigger, bolder and more aesthetically pleasing than any “breakout” album of 2017, Capacity resonates with both indie lifers and casual listeners alike. – Timothy Michalik

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