From Loveland’s Favorite Albums of 2017
Well, I jinxed it. I opened last year’s album list with this statement: “I’ll just come out and say it: This is the best year for music in recent memory. Maybe not the best of my lifetime, but certainly the best since I’ve been old enough to discover music on my own.”
It was true. 2016, even in hindsight, was the best year for music since I’ve been old enough to discover things on my own. This makes year number five ranking albums, and I can look back at older lists and say “I still love that album and listen to it pretty regularly” in regards to the top three or four projects per year. I’d argue the top seven or eight albums on 2016’s list have aged flawlessly, which is unprecedented in the years I’ve been making these lists.
I bring all this up to say that 2017 was pretty weak for music. In my eyes, there were two, maybe three, second-tier albums. There isn’t an album that ran away with my attention this year. There were a decent number of albums I really enjoyed, but I’m not sure If I’ll be listening to anything other than the top two albums this time next year.
The good thing about making my own lists is that I can decide how many albums should be on it. I used to cut it off at 10, but expanded to 20 last year. This year I did 15, because there are really only 15 albums I enjoyed enough this year to feel that they’re worthy for year-end recognition.
Read my favorite songs of the year list:
15. John Mayer — The Search for Everything
The more time goes by, the more I feel like Mayer used up all of his mojo on the comeback leading up to Born & Raised. The proceeding albums haven’t been bad, and The Search for Everything is a step in the right direction, but it still doesn’t quite hit the marks as well as B&R did. One thing Mayer has done oddly well is increase he cool level as he aged. Maybe it’s self-awareness, but 2017 Mayer seemed to be at his most relevant since 2006’s Continuum. I don’t love all of this album, but there’s enough heart here to keep me coming back.
14. Khalid — American Dream
Khalid is just 19 years old with zero ceiling. American Teen exploded onto the scene with a handful of laid back summer jams. I think if he can continue making chart-toppers that avoid full-blown pop, he’ll be set. There’s just a dash of oddball flair here that keeps things interesting. We’re looking at a kid who just released a debut album with half a dozen radio-ready singles.
13. Jay Z — 4:44
The are precisely two kinds of good Jay Z: old Jay Z and creative Jay Z. Amongst a handful of great songs on various projects, the best Jay Z albums are as follows: Reasonable Doubt, The Black Album, American Gangster, and 4:44. The reason is simple: Jay Z was so successful early in his music career that he was able to jump start a business career that was also successful. For a while now, Jay Z has been old and rich. For the last decade or so, none of us have been able to identify with him, aside from moments in which he steps outside of himself. There’s a part on “The Story of O.J.” where Jay Z reacts to a famous O.J. Simpson quote, saying “I’m not black, I’m O.J………. Okay.” it’s delivered so conversationally and so perfectly that it ended up being one of my favorite musical moments of the year. It sums up my feelings on this album pretty well. It’s understated and subtle and grew on me over time.
Not available on Spotify
12. The National — Sleep Well Beast
I rarely ever go out of my way to listen to The National, but every time I do I become enthralled and listen to them exclusively for a week afterward. I don’t what this says about the band or me, but I think they’re one of the most underrated groups in the music industry right now. Sleep Well Beast, like the rest of The National’s work, makes me want to get whiskey drunk in a suit, and I don’t drink whiskey or enjoy dressing up. It’s been 16 years since their debut, but it’s nice to know the University of Cincinnati alums can still nail the moody, brooding music like they always have.
11. Rex Orange County — Apricot Princess
I have no idea where this kid came from, or even how I discovered him. It wasn’t until after I got into him that I realized he had already been featured on Tyler The Creator’s Flower Boy. While we’re at it, I also have no idea how he hasn’t gotten more shine in 2017. He kinda reminds me of a Bruno Mars take on Frank Ocean. I’ll be following closely to what he does in 2018, but I think there’s huge potential here if he can keep up this knack for upbeat pop R&B with bulletproof hooks and intriguing melodies. He’s only 19, so there’s basically no ceiling on where this kid can go. Some of the songs on this album, and elsewhere in his catalog, are dynamite waiting to explode.
10. Lorde — Melodrama
I can’t wait to see where Lorde is in five or ten years, because I think she has the potential to be one of the landmark artists of her generation. She’s popular, but most importantly, she’s earned her commercial success while maintaining a high degree of critical acclaim. Melodrama obviously wasn’t my favorite album of the year, but it’s stacked full of enough ideas to satisfy everyone from the radio to the Grammys to the critics. There are huge singles in here, but the album cuts are just as good.
09. Brand New — Science Fiction
As I’m nearly positive I’ve mentioned on From Loveland before, I’ve never been a huge Brand New fan. Some of their early stuff intrigues me, but most of what’s seen as their seminal work doesn’t connect. Science Fiction was a surprise, both in its release and in its resonance. It hit the internet unannounced and found a way to achieve a kind of relevance in 2017 I didn’t think was possible for the band. I said The National’s album was dark and brooding, but Science Fiction takes it to another level. “Lit Me Up” is downright menacing in its plodding delivery, and “Can’t Get It Out” is spun around some haunting Jandek-esque lyrical themes: “Because I don’t want to surrender or lose your face in the crowd. I finally found all my courage, it was buried under the house.” Brand New’s first new project in eight years sees the band spreading its wings like never before while still nailing its place in the current landscape.
07. Sorority Noise — You’re Not As ____ As You Think
Joy, Departed wound up being my #3 album of 2015, and would likely land even higher if I were to re-rank projects from that year. YNAAYT isn’t as good start to finish, but it still contains the band’s best work, so it’s an easy top 10 for me. This is an album born out of a lot of death. Lead singer Cameron Boucher went through the ringer leading up to its release, and that manifests itself in some interesting ways. There’s a lightheartedly morbid line about “losing a basketball team to heaven,” referencing what the listener can assume to be the death of five friends. Reactions to death here range from irreverent to sad to angry. While Joy, Departed took a largely optimistic approach to loss and depression, this album doesn’t quite get there. That doesn’t make it any less important. As “A Portrait Of” reiterates: “I’m not trying to say it’s easy, but I’m trying to say it’s fine.”
06. Mount Eerie — A Crow Looked At Me
I had a hard time placing this album. As you’ll learn by the end of this ranking, this is one of just two albums I made time to write about extensively in 2017. I have an immense respect for A Crow Looked At Me, but its documentation of Phil Elverum’s life in the wake of his wife’s death is so genuinely heartbreaking that placing it any higher on a “favorite” album list feels impossible. When this was first released, I listened to it front to back, shell-shocked by how blisteringly personal it all was. I decided I had to write about it, and played it through another time that same night in order to collect my thoughts. Since then, I haven’t dared touch it. I think the opener, “Real Death,” provides a perfect microcosm of the album. “Death is real,” the album opens. “Someone’s there and then they’re not.” The song closes with this: “It’s dumb, and I don’t to learn anything from this. I love you.” This all comes across less like a musical album than a novel in remembrance of a deep loss. That doesn’t make it any less beautiful.
Recommended: You have to listen front to back.
Read my full review here:
05. Tyler The Creator — Flower Boy
I’ve been a supporter of Tyler’s for a long time. His career has been full of several twists and turns, but one constant has always been a lot of creative aggression. Tyler has never been shy about pushing the boundaries, even in areas where he didn’t yet have the ability. What resulted were a lot of admirable efforts at something incredible that ultimately fell two or three beats short of success. I enjoyed his music, but it came with the need to “fill in the gaps” yourself. Tyler may have been the only artist I listened to where I’d think “I get what you’re going for there, and I like it.” On Flower Boy, there’s none of that. For the first time in his career, Tyler seems capable of wielding his creative ambitions and it’s stunning. These aren’t just good ideas, this is good music.
04. Kendrick Lamar — DAMN.
Kendrick is building one hell of a career. 2017 brought his third major-label album, and I think it was his worst. It also has a 95/100 on Metacritic and is easily one of my favorites of the year. Kendrick is in Kanye territory, which is probably the highest praise you could ever bestow upon a hip-hop artist striving to leave a legacy. Kendrick simply doesn’t make bad albums, but this one still managed to underwhelm me a bit. Each of his albums include a narrative element. On DAMN. It falls shorter than it has on previous projects. While there are the expected home runs, there are also missteps that come off like extended interludes instead of fully-formed songs. However, there are far more highs than lows, so it succeeds. Kendrick also managed to make an interesting rap song that features U2 in 2017, which is a landmark achievement in its own right.
03. The Smith Street Band — More Scared of You Than You Are of Me
These guys were the best concert I saw in 2017. Lead singer Wil Wagner patiently tuned his guitar in front of an anxious crowd before suddenly lurching into back-to-back-to-back-to-back songs, seemingly without taking a single breath. It was incredible. This album feels like that. The opener, “Forest,” is a party from the start and, while things bob and weave a bit, the energy doesn’t really quell until the final song 41 minutes later. Wagner provides plenty of pointed commentary on mid-twenties life, especially on “25.” He grapples with his place in life compared to where his parents were at his age: “When I turned 25, I was terrified. Still haven’t learnt to do the dishes. My mum was my age when I became alive.”
More Scared of You Than You Are of Me may as well be a sing-along album in the way its choruses soar and burst with emotion. This is pop punk at its very best, with a little bit of Australian flair. This may be the most consistent front-to-back album of 2017 in my eyes, so I have a feeling this will age really well.
02. BROCKHAMPTION — SATURATION
BROCKHAMPTON absolutely blindsided me in 2017. I believe my first encounter with Kevin Abstract came in 2010 or 2011, on the Kanye West forum KanyeToThe. Talks began to form a collective shortly after, and back then they were going by AliveSinceForever. I didn’t love Kevin’s work. His creativity and understanding of music has always been obvious, but his abilities hadn’t caught up to that vision yet. I’d been checking in on BROCKHAMPTON every year or so since, and things were improving. They seemed to be bubbling back up on social media with the release of SATURATION looming, so I dropped back in for my cursory listen and was floored. It was like gasoline had met fire and everything had clicked. A group I hardly thought anything of six months ago has become the first artist to ever place two albums on my year-end list.
I think what makes BROCKHAMPTON so compelling is the insane level of cohesion. I flat-out dislike hip-hop that has too many rappers on each song. It’s probably the fundamental reason I’ve never been a big Wu Tang fan. These kids pull it off with ease. It doesn’t feel like 7–10 artists competing for glory on the same song. It feels like one artist with 7–10 different personalities. The group loves to tease that they’re a boy band, but the parallels are there. They’re a single unit working in a single direction, much like a boy band or rock band. From a nuts and bolts standpoint, my favorite part of their renaissance is their understanding of language. It’s something that Kanye West and even Kid Cudi have excelled at. Even when the lyrics aren’t super heady or dripping with meaning, they sound good. My favorite moments are simply fragments of lines: “Rock the boat like a one-eyed pirate” or “Swan dive down the 405” or “Foreign whips speakin’ Yiddish.” These kids understand how to make language sound pleasing even when the meaning isn’t anything groundbreaking.
I don’t know where they’re headed next, but their abilities have caught up with their artistry. It’s game over.
01. The Menzingers — After The Party
Hot take: This is the worst album I’ve ever named my favorite of the year. That’s not to say I don’t love it, because I do. It’s to say I love it despite some flaws. It’s my #1 for 2017 because it connected strongly with me, not because I think it’s a flawless piece of art. (For the record, I think everyone should have albums like this. It’s a bit of a wonder it took me this long to put one at #1.) I didn’t have more fun listening to any album in 2017 than I did with this one. This marks the fifth straight year in which an album I didn’t anticipate reached #1 and the third year of the last four in which the artist was foreign to me. I’ve mentioned this in the past, but this phenomenon is the very thing that keeps me anxious to discover new music and write about it. I never know what will strike a chord.
After The Party resonated with me because of the youthful, nostalgic lens it uses for its grown-up portrayal of some of the things I’m beginning to experience in Year 25. It feels as if someone plucked one of my favorite bands from my childhood to accurately depict my feelings about it all, 15 years later. I think I drew the best analogy in my full review when I said it feels like Superbad in its mature, pointed portrayal of youth and growing up. It carries the kind of weight that only something that comes from someone who’s lived it can carry.
Read my full review: