Top 17 albums of 2017.

Better late than never, I hope: here’s my somewhat delayed ranking of my top albums of 2017. I thought it was a good year on the album front, better than 2016, including a lot of albums that I’d say I liked halfway – records with maybe two to four really good songs on them but that couldn’t sustain it through the deeper tracks – and twenty-odd records good enough for me to consider here. You can also see my ranking of the top 100 songs of 2017 for reference.

Other albums I liked but didn’t rank: White Reaper, Wavves, Ride, Queens of the Stone Age, Japandroids.

Previous years’ album rankings: 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013.

17. Afghan Whigs – In Spades. I had missed the Whigs’ comeback album in 2014, but this year’s release delivered in the same way, a more mature, refined sound without losing that essential energy that made them indie darlings in the 1990s.

16. Phoenix – Ti Amo. I thought 2013’s Bankrupt! was a huge letdown after their Grammy-winning Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, but this year’s album, the band’s tribute to Italian disco music, was a bit of a bounceback, not quite up to their magnum opus’s heights but a stronger record throughout with more memorable singles, including the title track and “J-Boy.”

15. Akercocke – Renaissance in Extremis. I’d long thought of this British extreme metal act as something of a joke, as they seemed more interested in causing controversy with their black-metal lyrics and album covers than in writing great music … but this album, released after a decade-long breakup, is a masterpiece of highly technical death metal. I could do with fewer blast beats, but that’s just the price of entry for the genre. Other metal albums I liked in 2017 that didn’t make the list included Pallbearer’s Heartless and Satyricon’s Deep Calleth Upon Deep.

14. WATERS – Something More!. Van Pierszalowski’s group returns with a record full of concise power-pop tunes, putting two songs on my top 100 along with several other great tracks like “Molly is a Babe” and “Modern Dilemma.”

13. Washed Out – Mister Mellow. Ernest Greene’s third record is my favorite of his so far, still a bit uneven, but that’s because there are almost too many ideas on the album. This also landed two songs on my top 100, and I’d also recommend “Floating By” and “Burn Out Blues.”

12. Hundred Waters – Communicating. Not quite up to the level of their debut The Moon Rang Like a Bell, Communicating works more as an expansion of the band’s unusual sound than as a collection of singles. “Particle,” “Wave to Anchor,” “Prison Guard,” “Blanket Me,” and the title track are all highlights, but I think this record is best enjoyed as a listen straight through.

11. Quicksand – Interiors. There were some great comeback albums this year from bands that hadn’t released records in over twenty years, including releases from Ride and Slowdive, but none surprised me more than Quicksand’s Interiors, which put two songs on my top 100 in “Fire This Time” and “Illuminant” and is a tremendous document of a band that hasn’t lost its signature sound yet has also matured, at least on record, during its 22-year absence.

10. Ten Fe – Hit the Light. This album is almost too anachronistic to find an audience in 2017, as the band’s indie-pop sound has a soft-rock vibe that would have been right at home in the 1970s or early 1980s. They had one song on my 2016 list, “Overflow,” that’s on this album, plus two more on this year’s list, “Twist Your Arm” and “In the Air,” with “Elodie” and “Turn” also highlights.

9. Death from Above – Outrage! Is Now. A bit like Royal Blood with a little more dance/rhythm sensibility … or maybe Sleigh Bells with some actual sense of melody … but man does it work, a huge step forward from their previous record. Pitchfork describes them as “dance-punk,” but I don’t hear that at all; they’re too polished to be punk, too hard-edged to be dance, but live somewhere in the grey areas between multiple genres. DfA had two songs on my top 100 this year, “Freeze Me” and “Never Swim Alone,” while “Nomad” and “Statues” are also strong.

8. Mastodon – Emperor of Sand. My favorite Mastodon album to date, with some more accessible tracks that don’t sacrifice any of the group’s trademark progressive-metal sound. “Show Yourself” is their most radio-friendly single ever, but “Steambreather,” “Sultan’s Curse,” and “Andromeda” are high points. Lest you think they’ve gone straight commercial, the album ends with an eight-minute epic track for the diehards.

7. Royal Blood – How Did We Get So Dark? “Lights Out” made my top ten, but unlike their debut record, this album has more good ideas than just the one that powers the lead single; “Hook, Line & Sinker” made my top 100, and I also keep going back to “Hole in Your Heart” and “Where Are You Now?” I did think the second single, “I Only Lie When I Love You,” was below the media on the album, but no one consults me on these decisions.

6. Daughter – Music from Before the Storm. I don’t think I’ve ever included a soundtrack on any of my year-end lists, but this record, recorded for a video game that was released in September, works extremely well on its own, a dense, atmospheric listen that molds Daughter’s dream-pop sound around a core idea to produce a compelling listen straight through. “Burn It Down” was my favorite track, but this record is much better enjoyed as a whole than in pieces.

5. INHEAVEN – INHEAVEN. The second-best debut album of the year for me, a record full of bombastic, old-fashioned heavy rock tracks that harken back to ’90s grunge, ’70s hard rock, and even earlier, led by “World on Fire” and “Bitter Town.”

4. New Pornographers – Whiteout Conditions. Do we just take A.C. Newman & Co. for granted at this point? This album sank with nary a trace, but it carried forward the tremendous pop sensibility of its predecessor, 2014’s Brill Bruisers, and I thought was a little better off for the absence of Dan Bejar, whose sound never quite melded with the rest of the group’s. The title track, “High Ticket Attractions,” and “Darling Shade” all made my top 100.

3. Sløtface – Try Not to Freak Out. These Norwegian punk-popsters first appeared on my radar with their 2016 EP Empire Records, and from there released a steady stream of great singles with witty, clever lyrics beyond their years. “Backyard,” “Pitted,” and “Nancy Drew” made my top 100, with “Magazine” a near miss, and there really aren’t any duds on the record at all.

2. Portugal. the Man – Woodstock. “Feel It Still” was my #1 song of the year, with two more songs on my top 100 and three more that I strongly considered (“Live in the Moment,” “Rich Friends,” “Tidal Wave”). I liked the sheer ambition of 2011’s In the Mountain In the Cloud, but it wasn’t until this record that Portugal. the Man converted their big ideas into a set of accessible pop gems that could give them mainstream success.

1. Beck – Colors. Featuring my #1 song of 2015, “Dreams,” plus three songs from this year’s list, and really just one song I would say I don’t like (“Wow” doesn’t really fit this record’s exuberance), this was an easy call for my top album of 2017. Beck is such a musical genius that he can go from 2014’s maudlin Morning Phase to this record’s enormously textured, uptempo, worldly sound and still maintain his essential … um, Beck-ness. Even when he produces something I don’t care for, I can still appreciate the brilliance behind it. Colors, however, is a masterpiece, probably my favorite album of his thirteen to date, the best representation of his complex, imaginative sound so far.

Comments

  1. Does it qualify as a hot take to say a New Pornos record is better without Bejar? Regardless, I wholeheartedly agree.

  2. Somehow my two favorite albums of 2017 ended up being Aromanticism by Moses Sumney and The Navigator by Hurray For The Riff Raff.

    Royal Blood is a helluva fun live show if you haven’t been able to catch them. Watching two people create that sound is astonishing.

  3. Stick to music! And baseball! And board games! And mental health! And whatever the heck you want!
    Thank you for providing your annual list. It is a treat. In a year that had new releases from the National, Arcade Fire, St. Vincent this is a remarkable list. I look forward to indulging on these.
    Toronto would be happy to have you back!

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