Music Features

Crossfader’s Top Albums of 2017


We are proud to present the 50 albums from 2017 we enjoyed the most

album Tzusing

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50. Tzusing- 東方不敗

Genre: Industrial Techno

Favorite Tracks: “日出東方 唯我不敗,” “Digital Properties,” “Nature is Not Created”

Speed through downtown Los Angeles on a rainy night listening to this album as loud as you possibly can. Let the bass bleed through your speakers and rattle your bones with sounds both exotic and instinctively familiar. This is what electronic music should sound like in 2017, an effortless blending of several different sounds and styles from Eastern Asia to create a heart-stopping journey. The mystery and aggression pulsing through every track on this album is intoxicating—at every moment there’s a sense that Tzusing could pull the rug out from under the listener and switch the direction of the song entirely. While this is an entirely instrumental album, and as such the “message” may be up entirely to conjecture, the track titles seem to suggest that Tzusing is fascinated by our increasing suffusion with the digital world and our alienation from the natural. In this producer’s vision, this new world is both alluring and foreboding; this record teams with a mixture of thrills and dread. From the opening notes of the first track, it’s evident that Tzusing is taking us on an absolute thrill ride, and it doesn’t relent until the very end of “Torque Pulsations.” Don’t look back, strap in, and enjoy the ride. [Carter Moon]

album Jonwayne

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49. Jonwayne – RAP ALBUM 2

Genre: Abstract Hip Hop

Favorite Tracks: “Ted Talk,” “Out of Sight,” “Blue Green,” “These Words Are Everything”

Tired, worn out, frayed, and fractured—these feelings come through so clearly on RAP ALBUM 2. With the surge in popularity of sadboy rappers this year, Jonwayne shows what it truly means to struggle with one’s demons in a refreshingly mature and subdued manner. When it comes to art rap, 2017 delivered in heaps, with numerous fantastic releases from the genre’s forerunners, such as Open Mike Eagle and Milo, but Jonwayne has proven himself to be a fresh and reinvergerating force, in addition to quite the contender. The type of honesty and vulnerability Jonwayne displays on RAP ALBUM 2 is soul-crushing and beyond admirable. Nothing is out of bounds, be it his struggles with alcoholism, crippling flight anxiety, loss of purpose, or eventually picking up the pieces: Jonwayne leaves himself on display, warts and all for everyone to see. This type of vulnerability and openness should not only be recognized for the strength it must have taken to divulge, but deserves to also be held up and celebrated. Furthermore, he often demonstrates braggadocio delivering quips about his abilities and, well, they’re all true. His raps are varied and skillful, his production is creative and serene—he does it all, and he does it so well, it leaves me desperate for whatever is next down the pipe. [Will Turmon]

album converge

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48. Converge – THE DUSK IN US

Genre: Metalcore

Favorite Tracks: “A Single Tear,” “Under Duress,” “Arkhipov Calm,” “The Dusk In Us,” “Thousands of Miles Between Us,” “Reptilian”

2017 has been the year of political tongue-lashing. And I’m not just referring to that of the orange guy in office, but to what’s aimed at him too. Musicians across the board have felt the need to dip their toes in the vitriol, from Roger Waters to Fiona Apple to comedian/singer/songwriter Tim Heidecker. However, there has yet to be a record that pushes such criticism of the current climate as sagaciously as Converge’s THE DUSK IN US. The album is concerned less with finger-pointing and more with fist-raising. The fiery instrumentation and vocals could no doubt incite a riot, and the allegories present are delivered with the same palpable energy and urgency of the very fusillade they’re censuring. That being said, for all these rapid-fire projectiles aimed at huge targets like gun control (“Under Duress”) or war and its despicable perpetrators (“Arkhipov’s Calm”), there are the more deliberate slow-burns (“Reptilian,” “The Dusk In Us”) that not only let their messages congeal, but show just how accessible a band with such a spiky, incendiary past can become in times when conveying cogent and reliable information is as vital as ever. Occasionally, they even exit the political track to muse on the disruption of fatherhood (“A Single Tear”) or love garroted by distance, internal and external (“Thousands of Miles Between Us”). But whatever the veneer, one theme looms over the entire album: survival. Converge are cunning muckrakers, but make for even better motivators. It’s their duty to be unignorable. [Nick Funess]

album tomppabeats

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47. Tomppabeats – ARCADE

Genre: Instrumental Hip Hop

Favorite Tracks: “Tale,” “Waytolove,” “Goodbye,” “Tsukiji”

If I believed in reincarnation, there wouldn’t be a doubt in my mind that Helsinki’s Tomppabeats is the reincarnation of Nujabes. Last year’s HARBOR stayed on repeat for months, soundtracking my day-to-day life until I had nearly every sample on the album memorized. When Tomppa announced ARCADE, I was excited to hear more of the same boombox-quality lo-fi, but upon the first listen, it became clear that Tomppa’s success has led to an upgraded production quality and effort. Gone is my awe at the effective simplicity of HARBOR. Instead, ARCADE is a much more ambitious tape, highlighting collaboration and danceability, where HARBOR favored solitude and sought to soundtrack benign hours. ARCADE proves that Tomppa is capable of breaking out of a musical fad, and is ultimately a talented and thoughtful producer pushing the boundaries of hip hop production. [Ted Davis]

album pallbearer

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46. Pallbearer – HEARTLESS

Genre: Doom Metal

Favorite Tracks: “Thorns,” “Cruel Road,” “Heartless”

Consider for a moment that HEARTLESS, Pallbearer’s third album, has no choruses and no musical refrains. Like the disparaging mountains that make up the cover of the album, it is a long and winding journey that holds nothing back. On their third LP, Pallbearer are as accessible as they’ve ever been, indulging in their cleanest production and tightest instrumentation in the years since their sludgy motherfucker of a debut, SORROW AND EXTINCTION. HEARTLESS is a motherfucker in a different way, tapping more into hard rock and metal’s wizened roots and channeling more of the fantasticism of bands like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath than the doom rock scene the band began in. The vocals are as clean as ever, with Brett Campbell’s timbre almost whimsically authoritative as he harbors us through a journey of truth seeking (“A tiny glimpse of truth / Wrung from a simple twist of fate / Help me to find a new way to tread / So I might not be alone on the path that lies ahead”). The guitar parts remain resolutely juicy and purposeful (just listen to the way they play off each other on “Cruel Road”) and the entire hour runtime paints as satisfying a musical narrative as any release, metal or otherwise, this year. [CJ Simonson]

album lomelda

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45. Lomelda – THX

Genre: Indie Rock, Indie Folk

Favorite Tracks: “From Here,” “Interstate Vision,” “Bam Sha Klam,” “Far Out,” “Mostly M.E.”

Singer-songwriter and basketball enthusiast Hannah Read is the brain and heart behind Lomelda, a music project based in Silsbee, Texas. THX is her third full-length release, but the first on the Double Double Whammy label. Drawing upon deeply personal experiences and feelings, Read creates music that’s as revealing as it is welcoming, as if she’s purposefully left her diary unlocked on the counter just asking to be read. It’s raw, unaffected, and unconcerned with trying to fit into a certain genre. “Interstate Visions” is hands-down the catchiest song on the record, with specific-yet-accessible images such as, “Still I sit with you in parking lots, acting like I’m not falling for it.” The album is laden with twisting, unexpected chord progressions and vocals that spiral out of control before returning to aching simplicity. Lomelda’s THX is the stranger you meet on the train, have a meaningful two-hour conversation with, and then part ways, never to see each other again. Read abandons the devices so often relied upon by indie folk artists nowadays, instead following her own compass religiously, making this album one of the strongest I’ve heard this year. I cannot stress this enough—THX deserves your time. [Claire Epting]

album bjork

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44. Björk – UTOPIA

Genre: Art Pop, Glitch Pop

Favorite Tracks: “Arisen My Senses,” “Losss,” “Sue Me,” “Claimstaker”

The matron of modern pop music has ascended at least three levels above everyone else, and it’s just impossible not to be awed by her. Continuing her quest to escape the waifish box that patriarchal forces kept her in for years, Björk brings her gift of moving impossible emotional mountains and brings it HARD to UTOPIA. She is liberated and at her most powerful, and it’s not inconceivable that this would be higher up the list had we had more time to let it sink in. She’s called this record her “paradise,” and it’s about as wondrous, frightening, and awe-inspiring as you would imagine Björk’s paradise to be. For every bird-like flute or harp pluck, there’s a glitched-out explosion of percussion. Silence occupies just as much space as sound, and producer Arca does a marvelous job of shaping the world of UTOPIA around Bjork’s inimitable vocal expressions.

“Arisen My Senses” is a remarkable invocation of this world, bursting with chaos and doing a better job than any track on this record at creating the environment this album lives in. Björk only gets more and more emotionally aware and sincere on every album, and we see a more actualized version of her person with every release. She is joyous on UTOPIA for sure, but it also further establishes her as radically human, as it crackles with life, elation, and unpredictability. [Adam Cash]

album cigarettes after sex

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43. Cigarettes After Sex – CIGARETTES AFTER SEX

Genre: Slowcore, Dream Pop

Favorite Tracks: “Apocalypse,” “K.,” “Young & Dumb”

Shoegaze is back, baby, and it’s as ethereal and dreamy as ever. Cigarettes After Sex’s first full-length album has garnered extensive praise and earned an unexpected fan—renowned French singer-songwriter Françoise Hardy. Hardy, now 73, has described it herself as the music she “has been looking for all her life.” Greg Gonzales’s silky, androgynous voice and the minimalist guitar licks are addictively easy to listen to. This album would be damn near perfect if it weren’t for a few unfortunate lyrical hangups. On “Apocalypse”, the line “Your lips, my lips, apocalypse” stands out as being particularly grating. This point aside, CIGARETTES AFTER SEX is the most mesmerizing and hypnotic album since Slowdive’s SOUVLAKI. These are songs that you’re ultimately going to attach memories and feelings to, music that rushes right from your ears to the pit of your stomach. They’re meant to be played on repeat, entrancing you into a dark, hazy world where nothing feels better than being in love. [Claire Epting]

album carlos casas

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42. Carlos Casas – PYRAMID OF SKULLS

Genre: Sound Collage, Field Recordings

Favorite Tracks: “Avesta,” “Dargilik Variations”

As my identity as a music obsessive matures, I find myself equally interested in sound as much as I am music. Sound is powerful, mystical, and essential. It can conjure a mood, memory, time, and place, even those that are not directly our own. No release this year may have embodied these aims more than Carlos Casas’s PYRAMID OF SKULLS. One of the most transportive releases I encountered in 2017, PYRAMID OF SKULLS is wrapped in a dewy esotericism that hearkens back to untold, mysterious societies, long left to dust as the wheel of history turns indiscriminately. Inspired by the works of Russian Orthodox liturgical philosopher Nikolai Fyodorovich Fyodorov, who believed that bodily resurrection was possible if a common thread between humanity could be defined, Casas traveled to the Pamir Mountain region of Central Asia, thought to be the impetus for the myths of Chinese, Indian, and Semitic origin, a “pyramid of skulls” from where we sprung. What follows is a transcendent and expertly crafted layering of sounds both artificial and natural, documenting the atmospherics of the journey, local music culture, both popular and religious, and his own, sound art-leaning ambient work. It certainly is meant to be pondered over, and can’t really be considered casual listening in the slightest, but those patient enough to try will find themselves bowled over, brought to contemplation of powers and cultural movements far beyond our comprehension after undergoing a pilgrimage that practically physically exhausts. Open your mind and let Carlos Casas take you by the hand. [Thomas Seraydarian]

album morosity

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41. Morosity – LOW TIDE

Genre: Alternative Rock, Progressive Rock

Favorite Tracks: “The Answer,” “Ouroboros,” “Smoke and Mirrors,” “Low Tide”

This is the kind of record most bands who blend extoic beauty, rock muscle, righteous anger, and crushing sadness strive and fail to make until the end of their careers. Morosity takes a lot of obvious influence from Days of the New’s acoustic eeriness and grizzled vocals, but they finally came into their own with LOW TIDE by taking Travis Meek’s angst to a cosmic level. It is the perfect next step after MISANTHROPE, keeping that record’s size and weight, trimming the excess fat, and expanding the band’s sonic palette to include more psychedelia, blackened alt-country, folk, and Arabian world music. The insular grunge of their influences has similarly been blown up, with each song resembling an old myth told by an eccentric madman and composed of simple yet violently effective descriptions. The end result is a transcendent, evocative experience; listening to tracks like “Smoke and Mirrors” without imagining a trek through an abandoned temple in the desert or a traumatic encounter with evil spirits is near impossible. Those who want their progressive rock to be spectacular and musically adventurous sans any naval-gazing will find few albums better this year. [Blake Michelle]

album infinite bisous

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40. Infinite Bisous – W/ LOVE

Genre: Hypnagogic Pop

Favorite Tracks: “Teen Sex,” “Brake,” “Why Should I?,” “Life + You”

Without a doubt this is one of the year’s most sopping lovesick jams. Released way back in March, W/LOVE made a slow burn through 2017, and remains at its end just as striking as when it debuted, playing like the weepy child of Homeshake’s MIDNIGHT SNACK and Connan Mockasin’s CARAMEL. Coming from what seems like just a few warbly synth patches paired with a pallet of percussion and guitars that only bite softly, Infinite Bisous crafts a record that is both gut-wrenchingly sad and undeniably, overtly, hot. Afterparty grooves like “Teen Sex” and “The Past Tense” likely put Infinite Bisous on the cool-kid Spotify map, but it’s on tracks like “Brake” with its three-minute, “I’m breaking my own heart,” mantra, the delicate keyboard plucks on “Why Should I?,” and “Life + You”’s soul-shredding wails where W/LOVE stops feeling like just any other lowkey alt-indie sleeper. From its opening lines, “Much too far for our relationship,” to its closing, “I want you to be anywhere but here with me,” W/LOVE is an exquisite experience of, and remedy for, heartbreak. Even in that final line, there is ambiguity in the pauses, allowing it to be read as either finally wanting to be away from someone, or wanting to go away with that someone. And the ambiguity of those feelings might hurt. Recommend listening while driving at night at crushing volumes. Sobbing. [Micha Knauer]

albums grizzly bear

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39. Grizzly Bear – PAINTED RUINS

Genre: Indie Rock

Favorite Tracks: “Four Cypresses,” “Losing All Sense,” “Aquarian,” “Glass Hillside,” “Sky Took Hold”

In a year where a lot of quintessential indie rock bands of the late aughts are coming back around for a victory lap, Grizzly Bear remain frontrunners on their field. Unlike many of their veteran peers, PAINTED RUINS is an album that doesn’t run merely on the exhaust fumes of nostalgia—when I listen to the recent works of The Shins, MGMT, or Animal Collective, it’s never really because I’m excited or challenged by what they’re putting out, but instead because I’m sentimental for the familiarity of their sound. As individuate as they are in the indie rock canon, Grizzly Bear still sounds like themselves, but in a polished embrace of their roots, PAINTED RUINS proves to be a work that doesn’t fail to haunt with its spatial sensitivity and attention to detail. As the record cycles through various perspectives—a dog-owner hauling wood on his ATV (“Wasted Acres”), a homeless person sleeping on a driveway (“Four Cypresses”), country folk watchfully eyeing incoming city slickers (“Glass Hillside”)—you can’t help but sense deep foreboding, the feeling of some sinister monster growing as everyone nevertheless continues on with the mundanity of their usual daily chores, speed bumps, and fears. Even upbeat songs like “Mourning Sound,” “Losing All Sense,” and “Neighbors” exude the type of contained hysteria only experienced when leaden feet sink into the soil and manic thoughts float heads into a dark cosmos. The result is an omen that stretches from heavy, rhythmically-dense drums and rusty moans to cellos, squealing synths, and breathless vocals that will simply chill you to your core. Whatever their sixth sense is seeing, it can’t be good. [Sienna Kresge]

albums kelly lee owens

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38. Kelly Lee Owens- KELLY LEE OWENS

Genre: Tech House, Ambient Pop

Favorite Tracks: “Anxi. (featuring Jenny Hval),” “Lucid,” “Bird,” “8”

A real shame about this year is that electronic music seems to be straying more and more towards becoming background muzak than something actively experienced. It’s a bummer, because it means people may have missed the finer points of Kelly Lee Owens’s exceptional eponymous album from this year. This is a relatively quiet and subdued record, but its meditative reverberations and instantly danceable hooks are enough for any listener to get lost in. She seems interested in curating an intimate and personal experience with her music, creating the sense that she’s filling a whole club with beats but that she’s playing just for you. Her perfectly light vocals draw the listener in luxuriously and are used as more of an atmospheric texture than a focus of the songwriting. The result is music that is deeply listenable, a record to get lost in over and over again. You probably won’t see Owens headlining EDM festivals anytime soon, but her music is more than enough to dance to by yourself. [Carter Moon]

album moses sumney

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37. Moses Sumney – AROMANTICISM

Genre: Art Pop, Singer/Songwriter

Favorite Tracks: “Don’t Bother Calling,” “Plastic,” “Lonely World,” “Doomed,” “Indulge Me”

Steeped in melancholy, heartbreak, and solitude, singer-songwriter Moses Sumney’s debut, AROMANTICISM, beguiles with taciturn grace. Throughout the album, embellished with an eclectic meld of folk, soul, and electronic tones, Sumney meditates and ruminates on the absence of intimacy. This isn’t a typically lovesick project; with his tender, otherworldly crooning, Sumney symbiotically honors and bemoans an unwillingness or inability to love another. This theme is sometimes expressed in more mundane moments, such as in “Make Out in My Car,” in which Sumney doesn’t want to complicate things with his hookup and just sticks to first base. The album’s weighty emotional core comes to a poignant climax on “Doomed,” where Sumney mournfully muses, “Am I vital / If my heart is idle? / Am I doomed?” AROMANTICISM, admittedly a brief project at 34 minutes, is an affecting and dizzying breakthrough for Moses Sumney. Its idiosyncratic view on affection and love that never had a hope of lasting is a delectable sampling of an assuredly bright career for the burgeoning musician. [Connor Duffey]

album gallops

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36. Gallops – BRONZE MYSTIC

Genre: Experimental Rock, Post-Rock

Favorite Tracks: “Pale Force,” “Crystal Trap,” “Prince O,” “Darkjewel”

Sometimes a little time off is the best thing for a band, especially in a genre that’s meant to be as challenging and unique as experimental rock. Having broken up immediately after their debut album, the British instrumental trio Gallops reunited only when they felt that spark of creativity that fuels all great experimentation. The real guitars and drums provide the backbones of the songs, giving Gallops the freedom to fill the remaining musical space with loads of colorful electronica. The compositions are composed of fairly basic melodies, but the way that songs unwrap themselves and reveal more and more unique textures, sounds, and rhythms is nothing short of spectacular. BRONZE MYSTIC never lets moments drag on to the point of tedium, while simultaneously letting each part breath enough to stick with you. Repeated listens are consistently rewarded with something new, and there are plenty of little guitar and keyboard riffs to get lodged deep in your head. It’s the perfect intersection of rock, pop, electronica, and instrumental music, with an unrelenting drive and sense of wonder bringing it all together. Bask in the beautiful, catchy chaos. [Blake Michelle]

album dj seinfeld

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Genre: Outsider House

Favorite Tracks: “I Hope I Sleep Tonight,” “Too Late for U and M1,” “Time Spent Away From U,” “U Hold Me Without Touch,” “Come Thru for U”

Trust me, I really did not want to be blown away by a release from someone named DJ Seinfeld, but for my money, TIME SPENT AWAY FROM U is by far the easiest electronic album to return to from 2017. Capturing the energy of a live setting in a recording booth is nearly impossible, especially for artists tied to a mixing board. And yet, DJ Seinfeld instantly places you into the middle of a sweaty, severely inebriated converted garage long, long after hours. An unassuming meditation on loss and grief that becomes all the more impactful due to how tightly it holds its cards to its chest, TIME SPENT AWAY FROM U is the rare album that can remain this yearning and euphoric at the same time, all while remaining intensely ass-shaking. Expect lots of crisp hi-hats, unrelenting four-on-the-floor, bubbling bass, grooving synth licks, and vaguely melancholic vocal edits. There is an indescribable feeling of living forever that only dance music can invoke when it hits its peak. This is an album where every track hits that mark perfectly. Bring the best night out in LA to the comfort of your headphones. [Thomas Seraydarian]

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34. Tyler, the Creator – FLOWER BOY

Genre: West Coast Hip Hop

Favorite Tracks: “Foreward,” “Garden Shed,” “I Ain’t Got Time!,” “911 / Mr. Lonely,” “Droppin’ Seeds,” “November,” “Enjoy Right Now, Today”

I’m not gonna talk about Tyler, the Creator on an ethical level! But as someone who has followed his transformation from GOBLIN to CHERRY BOMB, all I want to say is that FLOWER BOY is one of the most refreshing hip hop releases of the year amidst the trashbags posing as rap artists like XXXTentacion and Kodak Black.

While more conceptually nuanced than GOBLIN, 2013’s WOLF was aggressively emotional, and CHERRY BOMB sonically overzealous, though more optimistic and ambitious than the former. That being said, FLOWER BOY is satisfying merely because it is Tyler’s most clean, cohesive, and tender release to date, highlighting the subtle characteristic that always made his charm stand out from the rest of the Odd Future clan. Where CHERRY BOMB was an album of his most ardent musical muses thrown together into a chaotic stew, FLOWER BOY sounds thoughtful, seamless, and still him, like he’s learned to doodle his own drawings after years of dissatisfaction coloring outside the lines. From the steady undulation of “Where’s This Flower Blooms,” to the grungy, funhouse-reminiscent nature of “I Ain’t Got Time!,” Tyler is clearly still the brazen goofball from Odd Future past, and yet the growth of his career opportunities has matured both sound and content to reflect the young, intelligent entrepreneur he’s blooming into—finally, a record where Tyler comes of age. Likewise, as an artist whose work is deeply impacted by the musicians he grew up loving, FLOWER BOY features the crisp, rhythmic production likely inspired by Pharrell, and the coolly romantic languor of Stevie Wonder. No, I don’t think Tyler’s prowess is comparable to either artist, but I’m happy to hear him making something coherent out of the influence from his idols, all the while painting a more honest, pastel (but still DGAF) portrait of himself. FLOWER BOY is nothing new to the West Coast hip hop canon, but if you’re looking to laze around on a breezy summer day, perhaps killing time or no time at all, Tyler’s made just the right soundtrack. [Sienna Kresge]

album dirty projector

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33. Dirty Projectors – S/T

Genre: Art Pop

Favorite Tracks: “Keep Your Name,” “Death Spiral,” “Little Bubble,” “Winner Take Nothing,” “Ascent Through Clouds,” “Cool Your Heart”

No matter the social, political, or historical context, artists will always be making breakup albums. Love is powerful stuff! But how anybody is able to reimagine it anymore is beyond me, which is exactly why I’m such a huge fan of Dirty Projectors’ self-titled release this year. DIRTY PROJECTORS has reverted back to a solo project for frontman David Longstreth, and the loneliness is sonically and emotionally palpable. Luckily it has a happy ending, but S/T has a whole lot of push and pull along the way, an echo chamber of anxiety as our narrator unravels, analyzes, and reanalyzes what went wrong along the way. What could be misinterpreted as admonition towards his ex-girlfriend (former band mate Amber Coffman) actually turns out to be the internal monologue of retrospective thoughts and insecurities that make breakups so exhausting—Longstreth is actually admonishing himself as he navigates his memory. DIRTY PROJECTORS asks itself all the right questions and then some: it’s emotional meat dense with the nutritive marble of R&B, West African music, hip hop, electronics, and art pop, not to mention all kinds of Easter eggs and interpolations from Dirty Projectors’ discography past. The turns are sharp, the production rich, and the self-realization earnest. Written down, it kind of sounds like a hot mess, but it’s without a doubt much more calculated than a breakup could ever be. DIRTY PROJECTORS is easily one of the most inventive, yet honest and strangely danceable records of the year, and for that, I can not recommend it enough. [Sienna Kresge]

album hoops

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32. Hoops – ROUTINES

Genre: Lo-Fi Indie, Dream Pop

Favorite Tracks: “On Top,” “On Letting Go”, “Management”

Okay, I get it. The past few years have cropped up a surplus of all-male indie rock outfits specializing in sensitive lo-fi tunes with a throwback edge (re: Whitney, Mild High Club, Twin Peaks). With ROUTINES, Hoops isn’t breaking out of that format, but their superb song crafting abilities prove them worthy of riding the wave. Hoops entered the scene under the radar with TAPES #1-3, quickly catching the ears of online music sites. On ROUTINES, they have finessed their sound; the album lacks that murky cassette-hiss found on TAPES #1-3, opting instead for something cleaner. Their sound is deceptively simple, but a closer listen reveals its complexity—there’s melancholy in even the breeziest tunes, with “On Letting Go” being a prime example of this. Lyrics of past love like, “I can hear your accent and darling it kills me, that our time is all gone” are energized with crystalline guitar solos, creating an entanglement of emotion. In short, ROUTINES is a sophisticated batch of pop songs that deserves a spot on in your Spotify rotation. [Claire Epting]

album war moans

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31. Mutoid Man – WAR MOANS

Genre: Post-Hardcore, Stoner Metal

Favorite Track: “Kiss and Death,” “Dance with the Devil,” “War Moans,” “Wreck and Survive,” “Open Flame”

It’s usually an insult to say a record reminds you of too many other things, but that’s honestly part of what makes WAR MOANS so special. The best way to describe it is a Rorschach test for rock nerds. In my initial review, I compared the trio to Offspring, Mastodon, and High on Fire, but I’ve seen others dras comparisons to Led Zeppelin, Minor Threat, and Guns N’ Roses. Every allusion one can make about the record only highlights how much Mutoid Man have nailed what makes for great rock, metal, and punk: an irreverent, no-fucks-given attitude, raw production, drums and bass that never let up, and a bottomless supply of powerful riffing and shredding condensed into terse packages that still manage to sneak in a few curveballs. (That is, Chelsea Wolfe on “Wreck and Survive,” in case you were wondering.) Accessibility is a word with a typically negative connotation in the metal world, but WAR MOANS is all the better for its ability to appeal to fans of Converge or Cave In’s most extreme material, as well as newcomers whose only exposure to heavy metal or punk is “Enter Sandman” and “American Idiot.” It’s hard to put a genre tag on it, but WAR MOANS puts the super back into supergroup and the fun back into rock like few of their peers can. For more information on Mutoid Man and WAR MOANS, check out Crossfader’s interview. [Blake Michelle]

album the body

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Genre: Power Electronics

Favorite Tracks: “Earth is a Cage,” “The King Laid Bare,” “Didn’t the Night End”

Have you ever wanted to feel like the subject of a Hieronymus Bosch painting? Do you like music that makes you feel like you’re being slowly crushed in a car compactor while gorgeous bursts of sunlight are the last thing you see? Look no further than ASCENDING A MOUNTAIN OF HEAVY LIGHT, then. This is not for people who want music to be nice to them; only very specific audio masochists will find much to get out of this record. For those of you in favor of having your ear drums ritualistically brutalized, however, this is about as good as it gets. The Body and Full of Hell have both been grinding away in the far corners of extreme music for years now and released a decent collaboration last year, but this latest effort finds them fully finding their niche and pushing it to the extreme. The two groups naturally suit each other; both have always had a taste for eccentric flourishes and sampling on top of delivering brutal walls of sound. ASCENDING clocks in at just over 30 minutes, but feels like a gargantuan test of the listener’s endurance.  What makes it truly exceptional is how cleansing the whole experience feels by the time one reaches the end, a true baptism by fire which leads to an undeniable sense of triumph. [Carter Moon]

album slowdive

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29. Slowdive – S/T

Genre: Shoegaze, Dream Pop

Favorite Tracks: “Star Roving,” “Everyone Knows,” “No Longer Making Time”

Slowdive’s self-titled comeback album is inviting in a way that is almost jarring the first time you listen to it. Those familiar with the band’s past work may remember moments of warmness, but the band have developed an uncanny ability to envelope listeners into comforting ecstasy through blissful guitar tones and cloudy mid-morning atmospheres, a skill that they’ve clearly elevated in the years since their last release. SLOWDIVE dramatically melds the ambient, dream pop, shoegaze, and rock elements of the band’s DNA, things that were central but individually defined on previous records, and regurgitates them into a sound that’s not just reinvigorated, but almost holistically reinvented. When I reviewed the album in May, I said that “Slowdive seem to have looked back on their 22-year hiatus and really considered what elements of their music allowed for this kind of legacy in the first place,” something I stand by wholeheartedly. But having had the chance to spend half a year with this album now, it’s clear to me that SLOWDIVE isn’t just a meticulously designed retrospect, but also a comforting summation of what makes shoegaze still such a vital sounding genre in 2017. [CJ Simonson]

album angles 9

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Genre: Experimental Big Band

Favorite Tracks: “Equality & Death (Mothers and Fathers, Where Are Ye?),” “Pacemaker,” “Disappeared Behind the Sun”

A collective of roughly 10 or so Scandinavian jazz musicians, for as small and myopic as the world of experimental big band music is, Angles 9 is easily the most formidable supergroup, even if Fire! Orchestra tends to get a bit more mileage. DISAPPEARED BEHIND THE SUN is perhaps most notable for how goddamn large it feels. Considering the general appeal and oeuvre of big band music, historically most suited to a light cocktail hour or a Frank Sinatra retrospective, it’s a feat in and of itself that Angles 9 manages to make a piano, drums, acoustic bass, vibraphone, and brass section sound this bombastic, bold, and often even downright unhinged. Even songs that start off lounge-lite build into pummelling hooks of monumental presence and weight (“Ådror”), with the album regularly breaking out into maniacal, frenetic improvisation that usurps and lurches the listener out of complacency. That being said, don’t worry too much; for as fearful as the concept of free jazz-laden soloing is to some, DISAPPEARED BEHIND THE SUN is sure to temper it out with structured drumming and a heavy hand in traditionally melodic licks and riffs that push the tracks to their consistently dizzying conclusions. Accessible and daring all at once, Angles 9 have crafted something special with DISAPPEARED BEHIND THE SUN, and the album’s a fantastic rebuttal to anyone claiming jazz can’t still captivate in the modern era. [Thomas Seraydarian]

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27. Princess Nokia – 1992

Genre: East Coast Hip Hop

Favorite Tracks: “Bart Simpson,” “Tomboy,” “Brujas,” “Saggy Denim,” “Green Line”

The reason 1992 is my second favorite record of 2017 isn’t because I’m a sucker for east coast hip hop. It isn’t because the clattering marching band snares of “Tomboy” soundtracked many a frustrated walk home from class, and it isn’t because her boisterous shows makes Nokia one of the most entertaining live acts of the year. The reason 1992 is my second favorite album of 2017 is because of how moving it’s been to watch the album empower my female friends in a year wrought with fear and regression. 1992 is an album for mischievous, independent young people who want to twerk themselves clean when it feels like fun is the only alternative to basking in the horror of a collapsing world. 1992 is a party album laden with grass roots authority. Though you can shake your ass to every song on the record, Princess Nokia never fails to remind listeners to stand up for themselves, and most of all,t fight for their right to party. [Ted Davis]

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Genre: Midwest Emo

Favorite Tracks: “reindeer games,” “shoes (the sneaker song),” “the secret spot,” “the plant mouth,” “out of the blue”

Every guitar solo on THE YUNAHON MIXTAPE fights to be heard, as though the joy and pain that runs in the current of each note cannot be contained any longer. On oso oso’s debut REAL STORIES OF TRUE PEOPLE WHO KIND OF LOOKED LIKE MONSTERS…, Long Island native Jade Lilitri found a way to take the sound running through earnest late ’90s emo acts like The Promise Ring and The Get Up Kids and filter it through two decades of a shifting indie rock landscape, and his sophomore record has matured those ideas with glossier production and continually satisfying songwriting. Most of the album, notably songs like “shoes (the sneaker song),” “reindeer games,” and closer “out of the blue,” scratch the rarely acknowledged musical itch of needing music to high-five friends during, while participating in a brotherly or sisterly embrace, or while acknowledging our own individual smallness together. As Lilitri sings some of the most poignant love songs of the year, wink and nod along as you feel the warm touch of his guitar and the understanding in his voice, and know that you’re not alone in wanting to rock out during the lows and fist pump during the highs. [CJ Simonson]

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Genre: Indie Pop

Favorite Tracks: “Baby Don’t Believe,” “Modern Woman,” “Island Music”

Tennis is a band whose backstory actually informs the music—its kitsch adds to the experience. Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley met in college and decided to travel the seas together, via sailboat. It’s from this nautical place that they crafted YOURS CONDITIONALLY, and it shows in their shimmering guitars and effervescent vocals, like a breeze over a calm body of water. Lush pop melodies are complemented with just the right amount of attitude and style from Moore’s cheeky lyrics. “Baby Don’t Believe” is by far the grooviest song on the album—instantly engaging from the first chord. It then blossoms into the kind of sultry, mid-tempo pop that’s reminiscent of Todd Rundgren and Carole King. The record is soaked in retro flair, which will either draw you in or turn you off. But nonetheless, it’s easy to gather that Tennis have become pros of their own game. [Claire Epting]

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24. Sorority Noise – YOU’RE NOT AS ___________ AS YOU THINK

Genre: Emo, Indie Rock

Favorite Tracks: “No Halo,” “A Better Sun,” “Second Letter From St. Julien”

The desperation and hopelessness that plagues Cameron Boucher on Sorority Noise’s YOU’RE NOT AS ________ AS YOU THINK is palpable. The weighing vulnerability that he nakedly displays makes his voice sound tired at times. As he begins to account for the losses he’s experienced, he tries to do so with an energy that can’t help but find slight separation from the album’s thematic core, a tension that makes the urgent grind of the guitars on “No Halo” or the time lapsing memories at the climax of “A Better Sun” all the more potent. “So caught up in my own head,” he reflects right before the crescendoing self-care chorus on “Disappeared,” and the tangible nature of Boucher’s memories of his deceased friend Sean are cutting and beautiful. As Boucher works through losses of faith and crises of conscious, his anger, sadness, and sanity on full display, you can’t help but smile and consider how vital and intense a record like this is for the songwriter and no one else—the core of “emo” rock burning bright and fast. Sorority Noise have made good albums prior to YOU’RE NOT AS ________ AS YOU THINK, but never has their music so felt so bullishly and selfishly personal in all the best ways. [CJ Simonson]

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23. St. Vincent – MASSEDUCTION

Genre: Art Pop

Favorite Tracks: “Hang On Me,” “Masseduction,” “Los Ageless,” “Happy Birthday, Johnny,” “New York,” “Fear The Future”

Annie Clark is a mastermind. Acting under the moniker St. Vincent, Clark has musically skyrocketed far past her modern contemporaries, with her freakish musical genius being rivaled only by the likes of the late Bowie or Prince. At this point, she has rightfully cemented herself as a rockstar, a label that modern musicians often fall short of. MASSEDUCTION’s arsenal is filled with roaring, pitch-shifted guitars, visceral drum sequences, and generally chaotic computerized clamoring, providing enough residual stimulation for the listener when songs like “Happy Birthday, Johnny” or “New York, New York” need time to breathe. Whether it be Clark’s virtuosic guitar playing, her cutting voice, or the compelling themes and imagery compressed into every song, there’s a higher magnitude of artistry that comes into play when dealing with an album as conceptual as MASSEDUCTION. And though this record may not be as accessible to the general public as a release from an artist of this size could be, the ambition and risk that drives the record is astounding. St. Vincent does not play it safe, and thankfully, it doesn’t seem like she ever will. [Daniel Cole]

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22. Daniele Luppi and Parquet Courts – MILANO

Genre: Art Rock

Favorite Tracks: “Soul and Cigarette,” “Mount Napoleon,” “Flush ft. Karen O,” “Memphis Blues Again,”  “Café Flesh”

The greatness of MILANO is something of a miracle; a collaboration between a Danger Mouse collaborater and composer who had never done something so personal before and two indie icons whose best work seemed far behind them was ripe for disaster. Daniele Luppi managed to light a fire under Parquet Courts and Karen O., as they deliver some of the most energized and raw performances of their entire careers alongside Luppi’s atmospheric strings, horns, and glockenspiels. They were the perfect picks to help him bring his cinematic, complicated vision of ’80s Milan, Italy to life. Even with all the vivid character portraits, the most interesting character is the city itself, full of struggling artists, airheaded fashionistas, desperate junkies, and an underbelly of debauchery, misfortune, and ruin beneath the city’s glamorous facade. The amount of musical variety MILANO packs in within its 9 songs and 30-minute run time while maintaining cohesiveness is impressive in itself, and the intertwining saxophone and guitar on the old-school “Café Flesh” instrumental is the perfect closer, a final testament to the city’s vibrancy that will stand strong in a rapidly changing world. It’s an art rock record that’s artful and most certainly rocks, and deserves far more attention than what it’s received. [Blake Michelle]

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21. Jens Lekman – LIFE WILL SEE YOU NOW

Genre: Indie Pop

Favorite Tracks: “Dandelion Seed,” “Wedding in Finistere,” “Our First Fight,” “Evening Prayer”

LIFE WILL SEE YOU NOW is exactly as emotionally complex as its title would suggest. Most of Lekman’s songs on this record are small-scale, slice-of-life pieces that are representative of feelings much larger than their surface value, and he does an amazing job of expressing them in ways that will make sense to anyone who listens. Once a much more outwardly gloomy singer-songwriter, Lekman has done a complete 180 stylistically, filling his record with lush arrangements influenced by disco, tropicalia, calypso, and whatever else he can fit in. The change is crucial to the album’s success in balancing a sense of wonder with Lekman’s more down-to-earth writing sensibilities, and also provides an interesting sonic foil to his baritone, closely akin to Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode’s. Album opener “To Know Your Mission,” a song about a young Lekman seeking direction through a conversation with a missionary, sets the tone remarkably, establishing his anxieties and attitude toward them. “Evening Prayer” is a perfect example of the delicate balance struck throughout LIFE WILL SEE YOU NOW, as its narrator faces both the potential death of a friend and anxiety about his worth and value to said friend. One is clearly a much “bigger” problem, but Lekman is frequently ill-equipped to handle those problems because of others created through self-sabotaging thoughts.

Though LIFE WILL SEE YOU NOW was a February release that came and went with little fanfare, it’s an essential record for 2017 because of the way it can be an emotional anchor for its listener. It finds a emotionally empowering space that avoids excessive and foolhardy optimism, preachy and obnoxious pessimism, and dangerous emotional apathy all at once to become a record about getting through life, facing fear, and achieving a balance between joy and heartbreak and anger and dull, aching sadness. [Adam Cash]

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20. Gas – NARKOPOP

Genre: Ambient, Ambient Techno

Favorite Tracks: N/A

Despite being my personal pick for Album of the Year, NARKOPOP is surprisingly difficult to discuss. A complex, breathing, all-encompassing work, Wolfgang Voigt’s first album in nearly two decades is exceptionally subtle, a canvas with only the lightest of shades stenciled in, leaving the listener responsible for filling in the rest. Gas has always been a project interested in exploring the pensive and spacious extremes of music even remotely affiliated with “dance.” NARKOPOP sees a continuation of these aims, the least assuming rhythms you’ve ever heard constantly churning in the background, offering a path on which to wander aimlessly in the verdant soundscapes present within. It can be argued that ambient music can only ever really be subjective, as it’s intimately wrapped up in the desire for reflection, both self- and otherwise. As such, I can’t point a finger at you and tell you what conclusions you’ll reach by the end of NARKOPOP. But what I can tell you is that it’s by far 2017’s most rewarding and hopeful electronic journey, one that wraps the listener up in the palacious folds of its sound and holds on tight for the entirety of its runtime. In a year of such turmoil, these kinds of long-form meditations on peace, progression, and serenity are the most cathartic self-care of all. [Thomas Seraydarian]

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19. Mount Eerie – A CROW LOOKED AT ME

Genre: Indie Folk, Slowcore

Favorite Tracks: “Ravens,” “Real Death,” “When I Take Out the Garbage At Night”

I never, ever, ever want to listen to this record again. A CROW LOOK AT ME is such an intense emotional experience that it feels voyeuristic, almost like we shouldn’t be listening to it. It’s such a profound expression of deep grief and pain and loss, so unique to Phil Elverium, that it could never mean as much to someone as it does to him. Its intensity comes from its brevity and its observation of the most unexpected sources of grief, and Elverum is constantly finding new ways to be reminded of his loss throughout the album, whether it’s getting rid of his late wife’s clothes on “Ravens,” or the discarded tissues on “Toothbrush/Trash.” It’s gut-punchingly sad and must be listened to once. [Adam Cash]

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18. Angel Olsen – PHASES

Genre: Indie Rock, Singer/Songwriter

Favorite Tracks: “Fly on Your Wall,” “Special,” “Only with You,” “California,” “For You,” “Endless Road

Angel Olsen can’t be human. It’s the only explanation for how she seems to have disrupted space and time to carve out her unique sound and style that defies all modern convention yet feels so immediately necessary. It’s the only way to explain how her voice can simultaneously seem so intimately vulnerable and explosively operatic. She seems to be touched with an intuition that draws from rich traditions of folk and country music that have largely been forgotten by contemporary artists, but she brings just enough sleek mystique to immediately captivate any audience. PHASES is ostensibly a collection of B-sides and throwaway tracks Olsen couldn’t find another place for, but it also may be the greatest synthesis of her work to date. There is the expansive, rock-driven sound of MY WOMAN present here, but there’s also the ultra lo-fi sound of Olsen’s acoustic guitar and sorrowful voice sounding like it’s coming from the bottom of a well, instantly reminiscent of STRANGE CACTI. True, there is a certain amount of whiplash to this record since these tracks were never meant to be strung together, but taken on their individual merits, this is a devastating collection of songs crafted by a songwriter at the peak of her abilities. [Carter Moon]

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17. Love Theme – LOVE THEME

Genre: Ambient

Favorite Tracks: “Docklands / Yaumatei / Plum Garden,” “All Sky, Love’s End”

In this world there’s nothing more mysterious and undefinable than the feeling of love, and Alex Zhang Hungtai’s post-Dirty Beaches project Love Theme acts as a perfect meditative reflection on the complex emotion. It’s no secret that making music inspired by love dangerously teeters on the line of cliche, but anyone who dipped their toes into Dirty Beaches knows that Hungtai and company are rarely predictable straight-shooters. LOVE THEME feels like a walk through a spacious portrait of a desert as vast and formidable as the eponymous feeling, the undiscerning nature of the winds and sands of time slowly decaying the edges of the frame. A twisting, winding road, the improvised nature of the recording session is made apparent through the fluid tapestries of synthesizer and saxophone, although the snippets of churning, James Ferraro-reminiscent touches of drum machine-predicated tribal ambient keep the project from ever coming across as aimless. It’s a dense and multi-faceted journey, with a sense of deeply intimate pain at love lost and vulnerable, raw hope to find a connection constantly battling for the focus of the listener’s attention. 2017 saw ambient music reach new heights across the board, but few albums managed to be as instantly gripping and emotionally evocative as LOVE THEME. [Thomas Seraydarian]

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16. Charly Bliss – GUPPY

Genre: Power Pop, Garage Rock

Favorite Tracks: “Percolator,” “Glitter,” “DQ,” “Julia”

Charly Bliss exude joy. You remember joy, right? Happiness so extreme it can hardly be contained? That refreshing trait was lost in most of 2017’s best or most essential pieces of pop culture, but GUPPY, the debut album from the Brooklyn power-poppers, seems blissfully unaware that joy isn’t en vogue this year. As our nostalgic eye begins to focus more and more on the ’90s, the exuberant post-grunge era of alternative rock will get its due reassessment, and Charly Bliss fantastically exist on that spectrum between Weezer and “Stealing My Sunshine.” Songs like “DQ” and “Percolator” prey on our pop rock desires, with Eva Hendrick’s high-pitched screams and clever wordplay backed by tight and fulfilling musicianship, notches above in-the-garage rocking and just clean enough to be radio friendly circa 1996. GUPPY smartly exists in a world entirely its own, and Charly Bliss musically capture the feeling of going on trips during summer vacation, taking long walks to the ice cream parlor or the comic book store during listless Sunday afternoons, and gossiping with your friends at sleepovers in the early hours of the morning. GUPPY succeeds at capturing a sense of youthful freedom in a world of crushing responsibilities, and the world could always use more optimism and light. [CJ Simonson]

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15. Julien Baker – TURN OUT THE LIGHTS

Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Favorite Tracks: “Hurt Less,” “Turn Out the Lights,” “Appointments,” “Claws in Your Back”

Julien Baker’s done it again. Anyone familiar with the 22-year-old’s simple but heartbreaking debut SPRAINED ANKLE eagerly awaited her sophomore release, and the near-universal consensus is that TURN OUT THE LIGHTS not only lives up to its expectations, but surpasses them. Baker tackles similar topics of love, loss, and potent faith as that of her previous work, but this time there’s more of a gravitas surrounding them. The stakes are raised, the orchestrations are more elaborate, and the melodies are more haunting than ever. On SPRAINED ANKLE, Baker quickly revealed that she had serious vocal chops, but the prowess she demonstrates on TURN OUT THE LIGHTS is unprecedented. Baker’s voice on “Claws in Your Back” is chill-inducing in the best possible way, offering pure catharsis when she belts, “I’ve changed my mind, I wanted to stay.” The self-ashamed contrition so oft found on SPRAINED ANKLE has been traded in for confident resistance. TURN OUT THE LIGHTS is vital in today’s world, where subject matter like this is typically only reserved for group therapy sessions. It’s not just important to talk about, but to sing about, for finding the beauty and sincerity in the pain is the first step towards healing. Baker is a crusader for music that doesn’t shy away from our demons—rather, she confronts them, makes friends with them. Baker has never been anything other than herself, and on TURN OUT THE LIGHTS she solidifies herself as an artist in a league of her own. [Claire Epting]

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14. King Gizzard & the Wizard Lizard, Mild High Club – SKETCHES OF BRUNSWICK EAST

Genre: Neo-Psychedelia, Jazz-Rock

Favorite Tracks: “Countdown,” “The Spider and Me,” “Sketches of Brunswick East II,” “The Book”

2017 saw whacked-out Australian weirdos King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard reach a level of productivity as ridiculous and nigh unwieldy as their name. With a whopping four full releases under their belt, at least three of which vary widely in style, the Year in Music for King Gizzard is a sizable debate on its own. But the official Crossfader Gospel is that SKETCHES OF BRUNSWICK EAST is the best one by a Moonlight Mile, and perhaps the strongest album they’ve released in their storied career. While most recently popular for being a technical, face-melting “Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees but maybe a little better,” as 2015’s underrated PAPER MACHE DREAM BALLOON demonstrated, they’re all lighthearted, comfy, afternoon delighters at heart, an aesthetic maximized and improved upon over the course of SKETCHES OF BRUNSWICK EAST. Perfectly combining with the unironic, loping, Steely Dan-channeling stride of Mild High Club, SKETCHES sees all parties involved double down on a summery jazz-rock odyssey instantly bringing to mind Return to Forever with Chick Corea and Spiro Gyra. We’ve got flutes! We’ve got intricate, layered guitar solos in non-traditional rock progressions! We’ve got an opus style of organizing that has each track seamlessly bleed into the next! For those hot off of the three preceding releases, this may be a bit of a shock of cold water, but damn it if it isn’t one of the coolest, most refreshingly tall glasses of water you’ll ever have. Nobody else would even think of making something that sounds like this in 2017, and for that reason alone it’s worth your time. [Thomas Seraydarian]

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13. (Sandy) Alex G – ROCKET

Genre: Indie Folk

Favorite Tracks: All of them

Alex Giannascoli’s foray into folk-tinged indie rock makes sense. It contains that same nostalgia and warmth that permeated all of his bedroom recordings on Bandcamp, but it’s been updated with a little more twang and a whole lot cleaner production. Much of the instruments he’s dabbled with prior, like the banjo, piano, or violin, now come forward with consistency too. But his arsenal isn’t entirely material. The power of harmony is deployed on “Bobby,” imbuing lyrics like, “I’d leave him for you if you want me to” with crushing affect; Emily Yacina plays the yin to Giannascoli’s yang as the two offer up their infallible servitude to each other’s happiness. It’s a warbled and worn masterpiece, ranking as one of the best country duets, right up there with Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson’s soulmate psalm, “From Here To The Moon and Back.” Even if it’s his most cohesive, Alex G is still strutting his experimental chops, far and away from any potential labels. ‘Sportstar” sounds like what might be the closest we’ll get to a dream collaboration between Frank Ocean and Broken Social Scene, “Brick” flails in the same scream-rap and grimy noise frequented by NY hardcore outfit Show Me the Body, and jazz and country are wonderfully fused on closer, “Guilty,” thanks to the saxophone and guitar tremolo. The miracle here is how Giannascoli pulls it all off so fantastically. ROCKET sees the indie oddity finally narrowing his sights while simultaneously continuing to raise the bar for his contemporaries. [Nick Funess]

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Genre: Alternative R&B

Favorite Tracks: “Hello Welcome,” “Call Me Up,” “Not U,” “Every Single Thing,” “TV Volume,” “Khmlwugh”

HOMESHAKE is the solo musical project of Montreal-based singer-songwriter Peter Sagar, a man whose claim to fame used to be playing guitar in Mac DeMarco’s live band. However, since departing from DeMarco’s company in 2014 to focus solely on HOMESHAKE, Peter Sagar has released three full lengths that fuse the charm of lo-fi indie pop with the smooth, dreamy production of R&B and hip hop. FRESH AIR is the most recent of the three—a convincing indication that Peter Sagar would have been doing the world an injustice by keeping himself under another musician’s thumb. Despite its dependence on lo-fi synth and drum sounds, FRESH AIR is an immaculately produced album that highlights Sagar’s eclectic songsmithing, while also injecting his delicate singing voice with the style and personality that is necessary to effectively deliver it. Tackling familiar “slacker-rock” themes of modern romance, introversion, and emotional detachment, when it comes down to it, HOMESHAKE is simply the most believable artist to touch on the subjects, and what makes this album so special is the unique context in which HOMESHAKE delivers “slacker music.” HOMESHAKE’s sonic leanings on this album are so malleable and dynamic that songs plays with the boundaries of the project’s genre entirely. Sagar explores the parameters of his cheesy vintage synths enough to juice out somber yet funky tracks that are unlike those of any other artist. And though it may not be regarded as a hefty, grandiose pinnacle of musical achievement, FRESH AIR sets a liberating precedent for what indie music can be in the future. [Daniel Cole]

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11. The World Is a Beautiful Place & I am No Longer Afraid to Die – ALWAYS FOREIGN

Genre: Midwest Emo

Favorite Tracks: “I’ll Make Everything,” “The Future,” “Gram,” “Marine Tigers”

What does it mean to be a rock band in 2017? It’s pretty clear that rock music has lost its stature as the driving central force in music, primarily because it so often feels that the genre has reached its limits in terms of what can possibly be done that makes some combination of bass, drums, and guitar feel “new.” One of the only rock bands I find myself consistently able to enjoy is the emo group The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die, a group who rotates members and has anywhere between six and 12 members at any given time. They create huge, symphonic soundscapes with their multi-instrumental approach, but always ground their songs in incredibly human and personal lyrics, which mostly keep them from steering too far into unapproachable pretension. ALWAYS FOREIGN sees the band with less members than on previous ones and less focused on personal storytelling, but it still delivers the goods in a way so few rock acts can today. What’s more, the band has taken a more outward-facing political stance to satisfying effect. For the life of me, I can’t think of lyrics that have resonated with me more than those on “Marine Tigers”: “We know they have a car for us to drive in / A box for us to die in / A vote for us to write-in / An app we all confide in / Making money is a horrible and rotten institution.” The band kept things rooted in their personal experiences, but also looked around at a world that’s suddenly felt alienating and cruel in ways that simply take your breath away. It may not have been the record everyone was talking about in 2017, but for those of us that found it, ALWAYS FOREIGN was an enormous comfort. [Carter Moon]

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10. Vince Staples – BIG FISH THEORY

Genre: West Coast Hip Hop

Favorite Tracks: “Big Fish,” “SAMO,” “BagBak,” “Love Can Be…”

With a short run time of only 36 minutes, unlike his previous breakout SUMMERTIME 06, Long Beach native Vince Staples’ Big Fish felt much more concise, hard-hitting, and trimmed down. With features including Damon Albarn, Kendrick Lamar, and Kilo Kush, Staples expertly uses his features to help make up for his lack of strengths, primarily when it comes to his singing abilities, letting his guests carry the weight of this burden to much success. Be it the boom-bapping and aquatic beat of the titular track or the undeniably groovy club banger of “Love Can Be…” (a better Gorillaz track then 90% of HUMANZ), Vince has displayed himself to be a jack-of-all-trades rapper with one of the best releases of the year. [Will Turmon]

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9. Brockhampton – SATURATION II 

Genre: Pop Rap

Favorite Tracks: “SWEET,” “JELLO,” “CHICK,” “QUEER,” “FIGHT”

The truly remarkable thing about Brockhampton’s oeuvre over the past year is how exactly they have their collective finger on the pulse of America’s youth. SATURATION II in particular is equal parts angry, goofy, progressive, American, traditional, worldly, queer, black, and also something completely beyond all of these things. Its musicality in particular is striking, with a plethora of intriguing samples—“JELLO” stands out with a skittering drumbeat and repurposed orchestral samples rewired into a hypnotic, Eastern-flavored beat that never gets old. Diversity is a huge part of why SATURATION II works. It zigs when you expect it to zag and surprises both with its depth and its youthfulness. How they manage to put it all together so cohesively is a bit of a miracle, considering how many cooks are in the kitchen, but SATURATION II is a remarkable reevaluation of everything that it is, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the SATURATION records become even more of a reference point for future artists than those that Brockhampton used to get here. [Adam Cash]

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Genre: Heartland Rock

Favorite Tracks: “In Chains,” “Holding On,” “Strangest Thing,” “You Don’t Have To Go,” “Nothing to Find,” “Clean Living,” “Up All Night”

Plenty of people have tried to tear down the mighty force that is The War On Drugs by claiming that they don’t deviate enough from their influences to be worthy of consideration. A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING is an album that will likely further infuriate those critics, as it takes a deep dive into areas of rock music that have been skimmed, but perhaps not truly meditated on until now, first explored (lightly) in the late ’80s both by U2 producer Daniel Lanois and the rootsier purveyors of rock music, and then left behind amidst the genesis of college radio and grunge. It’s an album that, rather than seeking to blaze new trails, deconstructs what we already know and builds it in the machine-like vision of its creator. A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING is influenced by many of the incessantly noted TWOD wards—Springsteen, Dylan, Neil Young, blah blah blah—but it stands out from past work in that it takes from what is considered by many to be weak periods in their careers. “In Chains,” an album highlight with a chorus that will quite literally knock you onto your ass, takes pretty heavy cues from TUNNEL OF LOVE-era Bruce, reworking what was once kind of schmaltzy and hokey into a tidal wave of catharsis. This record also sees a change in Adam Granduciel’s songwriting, pulling it into more direct, personal territory, and though lyrics and vocals aren’t the backbone of The War on Drugs’ appeal, songs like “You Don’t Have to Go” and “Clean Living” show significant growth in those areas that allow them to put their country influences a bit more front and center than before. It’s certainly possible to miss it, but A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING is as transportive as its predecessor, LOST IN THE DREAM. It’s an accessible record in that there’s a lot of familiar reference points to grasp, but dig deep into it, and it contains a whole other universe, filled with several layers hidden just out of sight. It’s rock music that exists in a retrofuturist bubble, outside of time and space, and is by a long margin the best capital-R Rock record of the year. [Adam Cash]

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Genre: Post-Punk, Post-Industrial

Favorite Tracks: “Walk like a Panther,” “Cry of the Martyrs,” “Underside of Power,” “The Cycle/The Spiral: Time to Go Down Slowly”

In a year where so many artists felt compelled to step into the arena of political commentary, Algiers was one of the very few that came with receipts. The post-punk act has been in the business of delivering soulful screeds against the powers that be for a few years now, which lends their album a sense of authenticity that other artists who haven’t commented on politics until now lack. This is a group of guys who have been dedicated to fighting the forces of oppression through an eclectic and dialectical approach to creating music, and it’s never resonated more than it did in 2017. The group makes no allusions to where they’re coming from ideologically on THE UNDERSIDE OF POWER, as they start the record off with a brief sample from none other than Fred Hampton, the Chicago Black Panther who was murdered by the police and the FBI. Algiers didn’t come to mourn the supposed loss of democracy to Donald Trump, they came to rage against the established political and economic classes that have kept generations of people trapped in poverty, locked in prisons, and forced out of any genuine political agency. They personally served as my soundtrack as I dove head-first into political activism and organizing this year, spurring me on to direct action and confrontation with the police, elected officials, and white supremacists. A revolutionary change is brewing in the United States, and thank God for Algiers for providing the musical backing we need to drive us forward. [Carter Moon]

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Genre: Post-Punk

Favorite Tracks: “Puff,” “Appropriate,” “Pink White House,” “Jj,” “Nicki”

Despite being one of the earlier releases on our list, NOTHING FEELS NATURAL is a lo-fi indie punk record that is filled with the kind of defiant, youthful energy that we really could have used more of in 2017. It was a year spent licking our collective wounds, but this record is exactly the kind of thing one needs to get them back in the ring and ready to fight. Album opener “Appropriate” is a ferocious, gleefully amateurish number that descends into a pit of chaos and roars back. Priests also has a slightly poppier side that suits them very well, as evidenced on tracks like “Jj”, a high-energy indie punk burner that has a bit of honky-tonk piano in for flavor, and the new wave-inspired album closer “Suck.” But, ultimately, both band and listener are having the most fun when Priests are at their most angry and bitingly sarcastic. There’s more than a whiff of Jello Biafra in Katie Alice Greer’s delivery in the wonky late-album cut “Puff,” as well as throughout NOTHING FEELS NATURAL at large, but Priests prove through this record that they’re capable of doing a lot of different styles extremely well. They lack fear, but not conviction, and that combination makes NOTHING FEELS NATURAL stand out above many of 2017’s entries. [Adam Cash]

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5. Lorde – MELODRAMA

Genre: Synthpop, Art Pop

Favorite Tracks: All of them

First love is a passionate fever, a high more face-numbing and endorphin-rushing than any recreational drug. And when it’s time to come down, the drop is as tall as the climb. Never has a young pop artist captured this mania with as much eloquence and fearlessness as Lorde’s MELODRAMA. In the process of coping with the aftermath of love’s dissolution, Lorde wastes no time covering the extremes of the emotional spectrum at hand. In fact, she’s eager and graceless—each bite, each snarl, each wail is dripping with tragedy in the most theatrical sense. This album is a living, breathing record of how fanatical, and how oh, so real it is to have your heart broken for the first time as a young person, and to equate MELODRAMA with mere growing pains would be a gross affront to adolescent experience at large. While the album is as confessional as ever, Lorde captures that particular universality with wisdom beyond her years, and pop textures that rip the play’s script to shreds with teeth chiseled by the passionate, inner chaos of heartbreak, reckless abandonment, and ultimately, self-realization. This is the only album from 2017—hell, even from the last five years—that has enveloped me so psychosomatically that by the end of it, I’m brought to tears over and over again (a lofty feat for a mainstream pop album). The atmosphere Lorde has crafted is impeccably visceral, and begs to be heard. MELODRAMA is the performance of a lifetime. [Sienna Kresge]

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4. King Krule – THE OOZ

Genre: Art Rock

Favorite Tracks: “Biscuit Town,” “Dum Surfer,” “Logos,” “Lonely Blue,” “Czech One,” “Vidual,” “La Lune”

After one listen, THE OOZ left me pondering whether or not King Krule is the Kurt Cobain of the 2010s. Seeing Archy Marshall live this November, stomping like a dinosaur, flinging his guitar at the drums like a maniac and screaming over dissonant saxophones accompanied by whirring echoes, the answer to my question is “yes.” Whether or not Marshall’s baritone screams over smeared jazz chords is for you, the emotion behind it is tangible and spine-tingling. “Half Man Half Shark,” “Vidual,” and my personal favorite track of the year, “Dum Surfer,” each see King Krule unleashing the unhinged punk he always seemed to have lurking within. On the other side of the spectrum, “Logos” and “Czech One” embrace gentle ambiance and free jazz to a degree rarely successful in the commercial spotlight. Marshall’s musings on mental illness and heartbreak are becoming a reliable theme of King Krule’s character, but I’ll be damned if he’s not the most genuine sadboy on 2017’s year end lists. [Ted Davis]

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Genre: Indie Pop, Jangle Pop

Favorite Tracks: “In Undertow,” “Dreams Tonite,” “Hey,” “Saved by a Waif,” “Forget About Life”

Half of this list was probably inspired by ugly breakups and bullshit of young adulthood, yet this Canadian five-piece managed to make such topics sound fresher than anyone else. The layers of pretty guitars and synths, insistent rhythms, and an impenetrably gloomy ambiance that makes every song sound like they are occurring at the magic hour are great, but they’re not what makes ANTISOCIALITES so special. In the first song, “In Undertow,” lead singer Kerri MacClellan delicately sings, “What’s left for you and me? /  You respond to my question metaphorically.” Unlike her incompatible ex who doesn’t even know that he doesn’t have all the answers, Kerri’s lyrics are filled with anger, melancholy, but most of all, uncertainty. Every use of figurative language is complemented by a blunt phrase that came directly from Kerri’s soul, with the chorus of, “Did you want to forget about life? / Did you want to forget about life with me tonight?” on the closing track “Forget about Life” serving as the most direct, powerful words I’ve heard in music in a long time. The open-hearted honesty and mix of confidence, pleading, and desperation permeate the whole record and help that final song resonate so much more with me, a testament to consistently fantastic writing. ANTISOCIALITES is an excellent pop record, and a reminder that themes that we’re all familiar with can still be visceral and deeply affecting. [Blake Michelle]

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2. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.

Genre: West Coast Hip Hop

Favorite Tracks: “DNA.,” “LOYALTY. (featuring Rihanna),” “HUMBLE.,” “XXX. (featuring U2),” “DUCKWORTH.”

One of the most surprising and admittedly relieving moments of year-end-list season for me is when I don’t see DAMN. at number one. This isn’t because DAMN. is a lackluster record or because Kendrick doesn’t deserve every ounce of the clout he’s received this year. Au contraire, every drop in his bottomless well of cred is beyond apt. The reason I get excited to see Kendrick number two on this list is because everything Kendrick touches takes the gold medal for the year and forces every other artist to settle for bronze. DAMN. took left field volatility to stadiums for the first time in living memory, while simultaneously spitting on 2017’s rampant injustice. “DNA.,” “HUMBLE.,” and “LOYALTY.” shocked with their capacity to lodge themselves into the headphones of hip hop lovers globally. This surprise and admiration is also the root of my frustration with Kendrick—no other living artist has the ability to dominate the music industry the way Kendrick does and his supremacy forces every other release of the year to try to attain a pedestal no living artist can come close to. Kendrick, I don’t know what the hell you have in store next, but from one musician to another, know it’s going to break my heart to listen to an album that untouchably impressive. [Ted Davis]

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Genre: R&B

Favorite Tracks: “Supermodel,” “Love Galore,” “Doves In The Wind,” “Drew Barrymore,” “The Weekend,” “Normal Girl,” “20 Something”

During a watershed year that marked pointed cruelty and revolution for both women and people of color, CTRL existed as a revealing and personal apolitical artifact, one that brought the loftiness of the world’s current dystopian rhetoric and humbled it back down to what often seems matter most: ourselves. While two of last year’s de facto top 10 albums, LEMONADE and A SEAT AT THE TABLE, were also created by strong black female artists, SZA lacked the ethereal regalness and, at times, the strength, to be the kind of conventional hero we needed in 2017. SZA isn’t a queen—she’s a kween. She doesn’t have a hive or a navy, and her name doesn’t draw universal recognition the way most pop icons do, even if on the surface her music isn’t many steps removed. She has a familiar anxiety to her, and the kind of naked tiredness that makes her seem overtly human, especially to people of a certain age. She opens her album not just seeking the kind of positive affirmation people search their whole life for, but does so by concluding that perhaps she’s better off by herself. The insecurities and inadequacies that plague SZA across every moment of CTRL are representative of the mental anguish and uncertainty that the millennial generation (and silently every generation before them) has been trying to solve through self-care, the vanity of social media, and Netflix and Chill. SZA isn’t a militarized independent figurehead like Beyonce, and she’s not some new age sage like Solange; when we think of the type of people who marched across the country (and the world) last January during the Women’s March, they more often than not are outward embodiments of the Rosie the Riveter “We Can Do It” montra—and rightfully so. But CTRL, through small moments like crying for self-help and therapy on “Drew Barrymore,” or accepting that she’ll never be a “Normal Girl,” SZA is a picture of the typical “20 Something” whose life is tangible, relatable, and filled with minor victories. In a world that is focused on the major ones, CTRL never forgets that getting out of bed or through a breakup can be just as praiseworthy a victory. [CJ Simonson]

Thomas Seraydarian
Thomas founded Merry-Go-Round Magazine and acted as Editor-in-Chief until 2020. Now he yells about fish for a living and does Merry-Go-Round's taxes.


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