- Mount Kimbie—Love What Survives
Love What Survives is a unique fusion of clangy, cityscape electronic music and opaque, gothy post-punk. Very little of it is particularly dancy, nor does it have the organic characteristic of a rock record. It doesn’t fall nicely in between those two, either; instead landing somewhere outside of them, somewhere completely foreign yet strangely familiar. It seems to exist within the bizarre locale of its album artwork, which pictures a man posing on what’s assumedly the tip of a mountain, but with telephone wires behind him that imply otherwise. Listening to Love What Survives is like the feeling of being lost in an unfamiliar metropolis, but you’re totally calm and open to the adventure. It’s a soothing sort of rush.
- Open Mike Eagle—Brick Body Kids Still Daydream
Brick Body Kids Still Daydream is as much a thought-provoking recount of American struggle as it is a sonic sandbox for one of the most creative minds in hip-hop. Open Mike Eagle, with his pleasant sing-rap vocals, has this magnetic way of storytelling, gripping your focus and holding it until he’s ready to let go. He’s more than just a cunning lyricist, though. Daydream sounds ripe, lush, and colorful; meticulously tinkered with in a way that could be described as experimental, but with the confidence of someone who fully understands the territory they’re heading into. ”I promise I won’t fit in your descriptions,” he states during one of the record’s best refrains. He’s right.
“Always poor/never bored” is both the chorus of Brutalism’s penultimate track and a brilliant summation of the album’s character. Idles pound through loud, grimy, lugie-hackin’ post-punk that tackles a variation of subjects (classism, unemployment, and pissing in kitchen sinks) with a sense of sarcastic self-deprecation that rivals the L.A.-by-Albany gang, Drug Church. Idles have that British wit, though, and Brutalism features a number of shredding instrumental performances, gritty yet earwormy hooks, and tasteful dynamic choices that give these guys a leg-up on many of their noisy, alt-punk peers.
- Washer—All Aboard
Washer are this generation of indie rock’s leading minimalists. Without leaving the confines of guitar/bass/drums and with austere garage-rock production, the Brooklyn duo assembled 15 of the most satisfying indie-punk songs of the year. They’ve got an ear for melodies, a knack for clever riffs and a propensity for delivering the pleasure of a six-minute build in just two. All Aboard sounds like Hoodwink’d-era LVL Up through the smudgy, cracked lens of Big Ups. Or maybe Pile doing a Car Seat Headrest cover set. It sounds like a lot of things, actually, but the only one thing it ever sounds like is Washer.
- (Sandy) Alex G—Rocket
To say an album contains an artist’s best and worst material is an overused phrase in music criticism, but for Alex G’s seventh full-length it’s 100 percent true. Rocket is probably the record I spent the most time with this year, but with every listen I further realize how disjointed it is. Songs like the jumbled road spike “County,” the dainty yet insipid “Alina,” and the continuously underwhelming “Witch” desire to be skipped—a reflex his previous albums never triggered. That said, “Poison Root,” “Bobby,” “Powerful Man,” “Judge,” “Guilty,” “Proud” and—depending on the mood—“Brick” are genuinely some of his best artistic endeavors yet. Ultimately, Alex G’s records are captivating because of their perplexing incoherence. By that standard, Rocket is one of his greatest, and despite its flaws, one of the greatest musical projects of 2017.
- 2 Chainz—Pretty Girls Like Trap Music
Pretty Girls Like Trap Music is more than just the best record of 2 Chainz’s career, it’s a post-modern response to the trap movement as a whole. A lot of the record’s beats, although rhythmically trap, feature a litany of literal bells and whistles—as well as expansive strings, creative synth tones, and abnormally crisp production—that don’t adhere to the genre’s dark and hazy conventions. There’s also its meta-aware title, its tongue-in-cheekily pink album cover, and its absurd promotional devices—the latest of which is a kid-friendly, holiday-themed ‘Trap Wonderland’—that all seem to be commenting on what the style, which has its thematic origins in the tribulations of drug-dealing, has morphed into. The record’s name is a statement in and of itself, a declaration of trap’s transplant from the literal trap houses to the college dorms and yuppie clubs where 2 Chainz’s definition of “pretty girls” most likely reside. I would dare to call it “profound.”
- Rozwell Kid—Precious Art
Rozwell Kid are physically incapable of writing a bad, or even mediocre, song. They only write jams. Precious Art is their fourth album, their first on SideOneDummy Records, their tightest musically, their catchiest, their most consistent—and they’re singing about freakin’ boogers, trash cans, obscure Weird Al Yankovic movies and wishing to be turned into a dog. There is no other—seriously, no other—band who can be that asinine and sound so, incredibly good while doing it. Rozwell Kid are pure-bred genius and Precious Art is nothing but true to its title.
- Strange Ranger—Daymoon
Last year, Strange Ranger released Rot Forever, an album that was as sprawling as it was in-your-face. This year they dropped Daymoon, an album that floats rather than soars, and that’s more inwardly intimate than it is physically. There’re still tracks on here like “Everything All at Once,” “The Future,” and “House Show” that possess the kick of Rot Forever, but rather than trying to make the same record twice, they bought a keyboard, dusted off an acoustic guitar, and splattered their introspections—which waver between hyper-specific and intriguingly vague—onto a totally different canvas. It’s hard to talk about this band without comparing their past and present forms, which is probably annoying to them and not entirely fair. But for me, it’s the best way to convey their sheer talent; few bands who undergo such an overhaul do it this well.
- Japanese Breakfast—Soft Sounds From Another Planet
My two favorite musical passages of 2017 appear on this record. One comes during the instrumental interlude, “Planetary Ambience,” which makes me feel what I can only assume is the intense flutters astronauts get in their stomachs when they first gaze down at earth. The other is the entirety of acoustic closer, “This House,” which makes me feel an earthliness—an intimacy with my species—unlike any I’ve ever felt. Soft Sounds From Another Planet gingerly glides above the duality of human existence; that we simultaneously view ourselves as both so big and so small, but never fully subscribe to either ideology. Songwriter Michelle Zauner managed to translate those complex ponderings into a piece of music that provides the gratification we, in our current form, are unable to achieve.
- Charly Bliss—Guppy
It’s the only one that makes sense. This year somehow topped 2016 as the bleakest the millennial generation has yet to witness, but Guppy is a goddamn quasar. Everything from the beaming riffs, the galloping rhythms, the triumphant hooks and the shimmering production. It’s a perfect power-pop record, and it’s one of the most invigorating, ferociously fun albums I’ve ever heard. There’s nothing else to say. Put it on and transcend.