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Top 10 Albums of 2017

Jose Cruz & Grant Baker discuss the 2017 Albums of the Year

Graphic by Ben Schnuck

Jose Cruz & Grant Baker discuss the 2017 Albums of the Year

Grant Baker and Jose Cruz

Another year has come and gone with a constant stream of great music throughout. The debate can be had that 2017 did not quite have as many “instant classics” as previous years, but that shouldn’t take away from the wonderful albums that released this year. Here’s a look at our favorite albums from the year

 

HONORABLE MENTION

  1. Kendrick Lamar – “DAMN.”

DAMN.does an excellent job of bringing the pop sensibilities of Kendrick Lamar’s earlier work like “Good Kid, m.A.A.d City,” with the masterful introspection and sounds of 2015’s “To Pimp a Butterfly.” It’s packed tight with speaker-breaking bangers like “DNA.” and “HUMBLE.” along with the biggest surprise of the year: the U2 featuring “XXX.” which effortlessly transitions from Bono singing to Lamar causing absolute chaos. “DAMN.” also features some of Kendrick’s most emotional tracks, like the seven-minute “FEAR.” which tells the perspective of the Compton rapper’s life at 7, 17 and 27 years. At this point in Kendrick Lamar’s career, excellence is expected, but each time he finds new and exciting ways to innovate. – Grant Baker

 

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  1. Fleet Foxes – “Crack Up”

After a lengthy spell on the sidelines, Seattle indie giants Fleet Foxes returned with “Crack Up,” their most complex work yet. Robin Pecknold’s songwriting charges through the curtains and delivers a powerful barrage of inward reflection and personal toil. Tracks like “Third of May/Ōdaigahara” reward the audience’s patience with a recount of the band’s effect on Pecknold’s personal relationships, delivered with his now famous warm timbre. The record doesn’t present the grand adventures that Helplessness Blues painted, but it hands the listener something with more weight—a finished product worthy of reflection. – Jose Cruz

 

  1. Xiu Xiu – “Forget”

Ever-strange, and ever-amusing, Xiu Xiu know all when it comes to experimentation. Wacky, twisted sampling and lyrics have in the past turned off potential listeners. But this project should be different. Jamie Stewart and his bandmates have developed an accessible sound without compromising their trademark eccentricity. Groovy bangers like “Jenny Gogo” and “Wondering” simultaneously induces a fit of dancing and fear in a quirky package of pop-friendly suspense. “Forget” delivers a clean-cut version of the band’s usually dark, goofy excursions. – Jose Cruz

 

  1. Joey Bad – “All-AmeriKKKan Bada**”

While all the hip-hop industry’s eyes fixated on the release of Kendrick Lamar’s “DAMN.” East Coast rapper Joey Bad slipped in to deliver one of the most solid collections of grooves and beats this year. The progressive-thinking lyricist spent much of the past couple of years dipping his toes into other forms of expression, most notably through his portrayal of Leon on Mr. Robot. But the young talent returned to the music scene with a fresh, feel-good tune in the form of “Devastated.” In reality, while the social criticism and undertones of frustration still ring brilliantly on “All-Amerikkkan Bada**” (see “Land of the Free”), tracks like “Temptation” give a welcomed change to the fiery deliveries so commonplace in modern rap. – Jose Cruz

 

  1. (Sandy) Alex G – “Rocket”

Although Alex G (now (Sandy) Alex G) has been making music for quite some time on his Bandcamp page, 2017 was a bit of a coming-out party for him thanks in part to “Rocket.” The indie rock artist and Frank Ocean collaborator makes sure to show off every genre he can cover, whether it’s the incredible alt-country sounds of “Bobby,” the drizzled autotune of “Sportstar” or the complete chaos of “Brick.” It’s a little bit of Elliott Smith, a little bit of Animal Collective and a little bit of Sufjan Stevens rolled into an amazing package. Whatever 2018 has in store for (Sandy) Alex G, there’s no doubt it’ll be off-kilter, experimental and quality. – Grant Baker

 

  1. Sun Kil Moon – “Common as Light and Love Are Red Valleys of Blood”  

The 50-year-old folk-rock legend Mark Kozelek returned this year under the Sun Kil Moon name, with the 130-minute-long (not a typo) “Common as Light and Love are Red Valleys of Blood.” Although the album sometimes sounds like a degenerate John Mayer doing a podcast inside a coffee shop during open mic night, it still manages to be one of the most captivating and interesting things released this year. Whether he’s talking about returning to his hometown (“God Bless Ohio”), making fun of music journalists (“Philadelphia Cop”) or trying to solve murder mysteries (“Window Sash Weights”) Kozelek has a deadpan and honest delivery that you can’t help but listen to. It’s not for everyone and is probably impossible to listen to in one sitting, but each repeated listen of “Common as Light and Love” unveils new, interesting and funny lines. Give it a listen. – Grant Baker

 

  1. Ariel Pink – “Dedicated to Bobby Jameson”

Ariel Pink never fails to make people uncomfortable, but this year his music should make them a little less so. “Dedicated to Bobby Jameson” sounds like the LA avant garde rocker at his best. The murky production continues to mask his quirky hooks, but this time around they present more compelling sounds. The album’s title track in particular exemplifies a rough-around-the-edges charm that serves as the deal-closer for most dedicated fans of art-rock. Yet, it still sounds like Rosenberg has ways to go, and later projects promise further exploration into the realm of weirdness. – Jose Cruz

 

  1. King Krule – “The OOZ”

Whether he’s making jazzy, hip-hop influenced rock as King Krule, producing for Earl Sweatshirt as Edgar the Beatmaker or creating seedy and dark soundscapes under his birth name Archy Marshall, the 23-year-old London wunderkind continues to astonish with “The OOZ.”  From the opening keys and hip-hop delivery of “Biscuit Town”, Marshall’s first album under the Krule name since 2013 does an amazing job of immersing the listener in a murky, lonely cityscape. It’s a soundtrack built for rainy days, from the post-punk textures of “Dum Surfer” to the hopeless bells on “Slush Puppy.” Marshall’s incredible vocals can range from a timid mumble to a hoarse scream in a matter of seconds (see: “The Locomotive”), but it never feels out of place. It’s the grand vision of one of the generation’s top talents. – Grant Baker

 

  1. Lorde – “Melodrama”

The kid got free. New Zealand’s golden girl continues to amaze four years off the back of the industry-defining “Pure Heroine. Though the wit of her debut’s lyrics doesn’t snap quite as sharply this time around, Lorde’s songwriting takes a more focused approach. The storytelling improves, moments of immersion resonate deeper and the production takes a step up thanks to Jack Antonoff’s work. But what really sells and cements Lorde’s name in the list of modern greats lies in the lead vocals—an ever-emotional delivery of some of the most vibrant lines in contemporary pop. “Liability” masters the art of the piano ballad while “Hard Feelings/Loveless” crushes the audiences with the weight of Lorde’s voice. “Melodramareleased as one of pop’s biggest projects, yet there is an impressive amount of experimentation within the collection of tracks. If the 21-year-old continues to push the envelope in this way, the future of pop has no bounds. – Jose Cruz

 

  1. Tyler, the Creator – “Flower Boy”

LA rapper, producer, fashion designer and TV star Tyler, The Creator finally made the masterpiece he’s been long attempting to create with “Flower Boy.” The experimentation and grand instrumentation of 2015’s “Cherry Bomb” join forces with the clever wordplay of 2012’s “Wolf” to form an amazing display of lyrical and production prowess. Everything just works. With an amazing guest list featuring Frank Ocean, Rex Orange County, Lil Wayne and A$AP Rocky, “Flower Boy,” it would be easy for the album to lose focus, but each artist gives their best to add an even deeper layer to the 47-minute tracklist. The syrupy sweet “See You Again” stands out as one of Tyler’s most affectionate as he collaborates with frequent contributor Kali Uchis, but “Flower Boy”’s ultimate legacy will be the rapper’s confession of his sexuality. It ranges from introspective and lonely like on “Garden Shed” (“That was real love I was in/Ain’t no reason to pretend”), to blunt and braggadocious on “I Ain’t Got Time!” (“I’ve been kissing white boys since 2004”). No matter what delivery Tyler gives and no matter what the topic might be, “Flower Boy” stands out as the rapper’s best work. – Grant Baker

 

  1.  Father John Misty – “Pure Comedy”

Father John Misty pulled out all the stops this year. Known for his eccentric personality and social (albeit at times pretentious) commentary, FJM burst onto the scene in comedic style with  “I Love You, Honeybear. At the time, it seemed little could be improved upon that album, the humor, the wit, the ferocious vocals that carried the ferocious messages. Well, two years later, Josh Tillman did just that. Every element of musicianship takes a whole new intensity in “Pure Comedy.” Tillman’s satirical take on the modern world shines through on songs like “Ballad of the Dying Man”  and the strangely imaginative music video for “Total Entertainment Forever.” But the grand, cinematic experience on the title track “Pure Comedy” takes the cake for me. All the anger, the frustration, culminates in a charged package of instrumentation and production on a track where FJM resigns to let his emotions run loose. Tillman mastered the art of tension and resolution this year, garnering more fame than he has previously enjoyed, a deserved piece of recognition. – Jose Cruz

 

 

 

INDIVIDUAL LISTS

Jose Cruz

13. “Forced Witness” – Alex Cameron
12. “Gone Now” – Bleachers
11. “DAMN.” – Kendrick Lamar
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10. “Antisocialites” – Alvvays
9. “CTRL” – SZA
8. “Crack-Up” – Fleet Foxes
7. “Common As Light and Love are Red Valleys of Blood” – Sun Kil Moon
6. “Forget” – Xiu Xiu
5. “Dedicated to Bobby Jameson” – Ariel Pink
4. “All-Amerikkkan Bada$$” – Joey Bada
3. “Flower Boy” – Tyler, The Creator
2. “Melodrama” – Lorde
1. “Pure Comedy” – Father John Misty

 

Grant Baker

13. “No_One Ever Really Dies” – N.E.R.D.
12. “13 – EP – Denzel Curry”
11. “Steve Lacy’s Demos EP” – Steve Lacy
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10. “LUV is Rage 2” – Lil Uzi Vert
9. “DAMN.” – Kendrick Lamar 
8. “Dedicated to Bobby Jameson” – Ariel Pink
7. “Common As Light and Love are Red Valleys of Blood” – Sun Kil Moon 
6. “Melodrama” – Lorde
5. “4:44” – JAY-Z
4. “Rocket” – (Sandy) Alex G
3. “The OOZ” – King Krule 
2. “Pure Comedy” – Father John Misty
1. “Flower Boy” – Tyler, The Creator

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