10. JULIEN BAKER- TURN OUT THE LIGHTS
Julien Baker is a Tennessee born, young, ultra-talented indie singer-songwriter who sounds much older and wiser than her twenty two years. Baker delivers powerful, raw and authentic vocals with spare accompaniment usually consisting of piano and electric or acoustic guitar all played by Baker herself. She asks philosophical questions about depressions, God and her place and purpose in the universe. “Turn Out The Lights”, Baker’s second album immediately captures your attention, but continues to get better with each listen. There are no weak tracks, but the title cut is my favorite along with “Happy To Be Here”, “Appointments” and “Sour Breath”, but this is the type of album where your favorite song could change often over time and “Turn Out The Lights” could be destined to reach future classic status.
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9. THE XX- I SEE YOU
3rd album and first since 2012’s “Coexist” is both an improvement on that record and a step forward for the band. While maintaining the group’s signature smooth, sultry sound the xx incorporates elements from dj Jamie xx’s solo career and uses samples for the first time.
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8. THE WAR ON DRUGS- A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING
Fourth album find Philadelphia’s The War On Drugs really settling into a groove after 2014’s incredibly well received “Lost In The Dream”. With a sound and production deeply indebted to mid eighties Boomer-rock (think “Avalon”-era Roxy Music, mid eighties-Dire Straits, late-eighties Springsteen with less nasally Dylan-esque vocals) TWOD is able to remind listeners of that throwback era, while maintaining its own singular, recognizable sound. Led by frontman/songwriter and guitarist Adam Granduciel, the group’s big, busy sound is machine-line in its precision offering a product that is greater than the sum of its parts. Though tracks like “Pain”, “Holding On” and the 11 minute plus “Thinking Of A Place” do stand out, “A Deeper Understanding” is best listened to as a whole- it’s a album that allows you to get lost inside of it.
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7. SZA- CTRL
Major label debut album from New Jersey based alternative R&B singer, SZA, is a surprise hit with tracks like “Love Galore” and “The Weekend” even crossing over to radio. SZA’s lyrics are bold, frank and sometimes self-effacing- she is equally tough on herself as she is on bad ,ale behavior. Her music sticks out as unique among her contemporary R&B peers as she often draws her sound from indie-rock as she does pop & soul. Her Top Dawg label mates Travis Scott, Isaiah Rashad and especially Kendrick Lamar are all welcome featuring artist on this very smart & promising album.
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6. KAMASI WASHINGTON- THE HARMONY OF DIFFERENCE
“The Harmony Of Difference” is the 30 minute EP follow-up to South Central Los Angeles Jazz Saxophonist Kamasi Washington’s three disc, three hour debut “The Epic”. Washington, a leading light of today’s jazz who often collaborates with like-minded musicians outside of jazz like Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus & Thundercat, writes five concise thematic pieces that are combined into one lengthy fourteen minute suite called “Truth”, which is possibly one of 2017’s greatest recordings. There is not a misstep one the EP, which may somehow better his audacious debut. If you are looking for a good entry point to current jazz, Washington is a great place to start. He takes the traditions of the hard bop masters, particularly John Coltrane, and expands it into current R&B and Hip Hop, enriching and enhancing both genres.
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5. ST. VINCENT- MASSEDUCTION
Fifth full-length album by singer-songwriter & wunderkind guitarist Annie Clark (As St. Vincent) is one of 2017’s best albums. Like two of her heroes, David Byrne & David Bowie, Clark is never content to rest on her laurels, stretching her writing and musical chops to yet again create an album unique to her discography. Thematically, “Masseduction” deals with heartbreak, leaving and distance. It’s already been called St. Vincent’s most pop-oriented album. This may be true as far as song accessibility but none of it sounds remotely like any current pop dominating the radio. “New York”, “Los Ageless”, “Pills” and “Happy Birthday, Johnny” are early faves.
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4. SLOWDIVE- SLOWDIVE
Nineties shoegaze band’s first album in twenty-two years and it’s one of 2017’s best albums, continuing the welcome streak of Gen-X bands (Dinosaur Jr., My Bloody Valentine, Sleater-Kinney) delivering great reunion albums up there with their best work. “Slowdive” is exacting and fussed over, but strikingly beautiful and at eight songs there is not even an average one in the bunch. Whether pure pop, like album standout “Sugar For The Pill”, or more dissonant and swirling like “Star Rover” Slowdive deliver continuous ear candy- this album is a true triumph and makes me eager to go back and listen to the band’s original output.
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3. LORDE- MELODRAMA
Twenty year old, precociously talented Lorde follows up her wildly successful debut album (2013’s “Pure Heroine”) with “Melodrama”, which is five times better than her pretty great debut- an album which simultaneously shows major music growth, is a cohesive artistic statement and contains a collection of amazing songs and singles. It’s the best pure pop album of 2017 and one of the best albums I’ve heard this year. Thematically “Melodrama” concerns the trials and tribulations of teenage life on the precipice of your adulthood. It’s a concept that’s been explored before for sure but Lorde’s expert writing makes the songs fee lived-in, authentic and autobiographical. The highlights are many- lead single “Green Light”, “The Louvre”, “Homemade Dynamite”, “Supercut” and album closer “Perfect Places”. It’s the type of album that could be generating hits for several years. Is Lorde the voice of her generation?
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2. LCD SOUNDSYSTEM- AMERICAN DREAM
First album in over six years is another absolute winner for James Murphy’s LCD Soundsystem, adding even more to a catalog that as consistently great as any band of this millennium. As usual, Murphy synchronizes driving synth pop and club music, gloomy post-punk and the early oughts dance-punk sound that he helped revolutionize into a sound often familiar but still uniquely his own. Bowie, Talking Heads, New Order, Suicide, Brian Eno are all major influences. “American Dream” focuses on the aging process, self-reflection and the search for meaning and idealism, particularly in Trump’s America. It is certainly among the best albums released this year and tracks “Tonite” and “Call The Police” are among the best songs in the group’s arsenal to date.
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1. KENDRICK LAMAR- DAMN
Kendrick Lamar has now, by 2017, taken over Kanye West as the most exciting artist in modern music. Lamar’s influence drives not only hip hop culture but music in general. After 2015’s world conquering, heavily jazz & funk influenced “To Pimp A Butterfly”, Lamar with “Damn” brings the focus back towards pure rap, but “Damn” is as singular and unique as any of Lamar’s previous output. It sounds far more focused that the sprawling and densely packaged “Butterfly” and though fifty-five minutes long it seems much shorter. Lead single “Humble” managed to go all the way to #1- a huge crossover radio hit; it did so without compromises. The best artists set the standard and make the societal infrastructure change for them. “DNA”, “Fear”, XXX (featuring U2!!!!) and last track- the amazing “Duckworth” are all some of the best cuts of not only Lamar’s career but of 2017 in general. “Damn” will likely be on the short list of 2017’s best albums when all is said and done.
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