2017 has been a pretty crazy year and it's not over yet. Regardless of your stance on anything political, the year has certainly been a contentious one. From natural disasters like hurricanes and floods to what was possibly the most controversial presidential election in living memory; this year has been a lot of things to a lot of people, unfortunately many of them negative. One thing however, in a year of nearly inescapable conflicts can likely be agreed upon. 2017 has been a fantastic year for music. From country and folk to rap, EDM and alternative, this year has produced a multitude of outstanding projects by artists old and new. Here is a compendium of five albums released this year that I feel deserve recognition for a number of reasons, be it that they immensely changed or improved an artist’s sound or are entirely new and really resonated with me. So here goes, my list of the best albums of 2017 (so far…).
5. Drake: More Life
For a long time I just wasn't a fan of Drake. His first major breakthrough album Nothing Was The Same simply wasn’t an album that I was attracted to, it, to me just seemed like a generic R&B / Rap album with no true highlights. Since then Drake has released Views. An album that, while not critically well received I found to be more appealing. With its dance friendlier R&B it seemed that Drake was going in a different direction and I could appreciate that. More Life turns all of Drakes previous work on its head while still acknowledging his origins. The album, referred to as a “Playlist” showcases Drakes evolution from almost cliché Top 40 heartbreak songs into a more nuanced singer/songwriter. Possibly the greatest highlight of the album is the fact that it draws from so many different areas of music, from EDM on the song “Get It Together”, to Caribbean beats on tracks like “Jorja Interlude” and “Madiba Riddim”. Drake’s current incarnation presents a nice change in his body of work that can appeal to both newcomers and longtime fans.
4. Thundercat: Drunk
Thundercat is an enigma. His stage persona of over the top feather headdresses, Star Wars-esque costumes and deep-ripping bass lines contradicts his relatively small presence before the release of this album. He had previously released one LP and contributed to numerous projects with other artists. But now he has exploded, Drunk, his first major release is a funk-revival masterpiece that channels the spirit of George Clinton all the while featuring both timely and surprising guest appearances from artists like Kendrick Lamar and Kenny Loggins. Drunk is a fantastic time capsule of an album that in addition to staying true to its funk roots remains relevant. With funk revival being so in vogue right now “Them Changes” just might give Childish Gambino’s smash hit “Redbone” a run for its money.
3. Tennis: Yours Conditionally
It could be said that Tennis is an amalgam assembled from decades of music. From 50’s doo-wop to the occasional 80’s love power ballad (a la Heart), all sprinkled with a heavy helping of 70’s Fleetwood Mac. A relative newcomer, at least in the radio airtime scene, everything this husband and wife duo produces oozes with nostalgia, whether it be their extremely 70’s art direction and stage presence to of course, their music which would fit equally well coming out of a summer of love VW bus as it would a Saturday Night Fever Discotec. I first learned of Tennis during their explosive 2017 Coachella set and have been listening ever since. Yours Conditionally, is at its heart an album about matrimony and while seeping with the past in terms of composition it no less looks to the future in its sincerity about love and relationships.
2. Tyler The Creator: Flower Boy
Few modern musicians have gotten as much flak as Tyler The Creator. The rapper has been heavily criticized, if not vilified for some of his lines on previous albums “Goblin” and “Wolf”. Tyler was and is a controversial character in a year full of them. However, he is also a profoundly interesting individual, whose approach to art makes him, at least in my opinion one of the most viscerally powerful voices in rap today. His latest album Flower Boy loses some of the edge that has made him a household name but maintains his sense of irony, wordplay and most importantly ability to use his words sharply and intensely. The album is honest in a way I can't say many others are, plus features some truly outstanding guest performances most notably from Frank Ocean on the track “Where This Flower Blooms”. All in all the album is powerful but in a way more profound than his previous ones.
1. Fleet Foxes: Crack-Up
It's been nearly a decade since Fleet Foxes changed the Indie film scene with their second album Hopelessness Blues and now they've returned bugger than ever. Crack-Up combines lead singer Robin Pecknold's high vocals with a newly found orchestral flair not seen on their other two albums. The album itself revolves around similar themes the band has developed over their career, loneliness and the loss of Pecknold's brother being the main one. But more than that the album moves from song to song along the motif of water, which promises to both renew or drown of not careful. Crack-Up is more epic in composite and scale than what the band has attempted in the past and it's hauntingly beautiful melodies make it an unforgettable contribution to a year of great sounds.