“Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent” ― Victor Hugo
For a few years I’ve been sharing my top albums of the year lists, and I am happy to bring that to Rise Up Daily this year. These sort of lists are always incomplete and subject to debate and criticism by their very nature. In fact, having discovered albums I had not heard in years past, I wouldn’t stand by my own previous lists. Still, it is a snapshot both of my own personal observations and the greater cultural dialogue in a time and place. So here is my list of the top 30 albums of 2017.
2017 was a fantastic year in music, so good in fact, I expanded my list from 25 albums to 30 for this list and I still left out many excellent releases. From Spoon to Sylvan Esso, from Vince Staples to Kamasi Washington, from Bruce Cockburn to Bob Dylan to Robert Plant, and from Lorde to Bjork to Jay Som, the year was full of music worth hearing, worth sitting with, worth enjoying. The biggest problem I had in compiling this list was not feeling comfortable ranking much below the top 3. When there’s this much quality, one suffers from an overabundance of joy.
We have compiled a Spotify playlist of this list which you can listen to here.
- Destroyer – ken
The New Pornographers, a super group of sorts, released a fantastic album this year, but one of its members, Dan Bejar also released this solo record under his Destroyer moniker. Bejar never fails to deliver in his own unique style, and this one finds him in fine form.
- Future Islands – The Far Field
Future Islands made pop culture waves a few years ago when frontman Samuel T. Herring poured his heart and soul into a performance on The Late Show with David Letterman. This album continues the band’s exploration of 80’s-tinged indie rock. Actually a better album overall than their previous one, Singles.
- Stars – There is No Love in Flourescent Light
Stars has quietly been making some of the best club music that never gets played in clubs for almost two decades. By turns melancholy and hopeful, the Canadian band continues to make great dance music that questions itself even while putting you in the mood to let loose.
- U2 – Songs of Experience
They’re the biggest rock & roll band in the world, but their last few releases have stumbled musically, lyrically, and with their marketing tactics. Here, they do not return to form so much as settle into a new form. They finally sound comfortable in their new position, no longer kings of rock & roll, but wizened rockers who can still make solid music that has something to say without grasping for the heights they were used to. A step towards aging gracefully.
- Priests – Nothing Feels Natural
A fantastic debut album. Punk rock has never felt so melodic, so feminine, so pure.
- Flo Morrissey & Matthew E. White – Gentlewoman, Ruby Man
Easy listening pop isn’t in style right now. But this is as good as it gets.
- Beck – Colors
Beck continues to reinvent himself while still maintaining a sense of self. This is the first Beck album in more than a decade I continued to listen to because I wanted to, not because I felt I needed to give it another listen.
- Zola Jesus – Okovi
Nicole Hummel’s music is hard to classify, part goth, part electronic, part classical, part pop. It’s one of the best amalgams I’ve ever heard. It is what it is. And it’s gorgeous.
- The Suburbs – Hey Muse!
Hey Muse! Is not Minnesota rockers The Suburbs comeback album. That was 2013’s Si Sauvage. What it is is a punk/new wave/funk band inhabiting the world three decades past their peak, delivering some of their best music.
- Syd – Fin
Syd reminds me of Pink, Iggy Pop, and Beyoncé. No other album I’ve heard this year has been so challenging, melodic, and low key in-your-face.
- Lo Tom – Lo Tom
Lo Tom is a super group consisting most notably of David Bazan (Pedro the Lion) and Jason Martin (Starflyer 59) who many wouldn’t recognize outside of the underground Christian music scene. Bazan especially is a touchstone for disenfranchised protestant Christians, but this album deserves a wider audience, bringing his, and Martin’s, music to a wider audience.
- Laura Marling – Semper Femina
Laura Marling is the embodiment of the female singer/songwriter. There are people who insist that’s a myth. Just play them this album.
- Blitzen Trapper – Wild and Reckless
There’s a difference between Southern tinged rock, country, Americana, and folk music. Blitzen Trapper disregards all this and just makes damn good music.
- The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
A Deeper Understanding is beautiful, melancholic stadium rock in the vein of Bruce Springsteen.
- Rhiannon Giddens – Freedom Highway
“At the Purchaser’s Auction” kicks off Rhiannon Giddens’ second full-length album like a sledgehammer, and I’m still not sure I’ve gotten past that punch to the gut. The former Carolina Chocolate Drops member brings the full weight of her musical heritage to bear here, and it’s one of the most poignant albums of the year.
- Dave Depper – Emotional Freedom Technique
The former Death Cab for Cutie player makes a personal, melancholic album that supersedes his former band’s output.
- Kelly Lee Owens – Kelly Lee Owens
The best electronic album of the year. It’s intimate, questioning, soothing, challenging, and delicate.
- LCD Soundsystem – American Dream
A wall of sound straining to break through the screen.
- Joe Henry – Thrum
Joe Henry has been quietly making and producing albums for decades that speak to the human and American condition. He is a steady voice, a poet, a prophet seeking connection, justice, and love in a world seeking profit.
- Ibeyi – Ash
Mixing electronic music, hip-hop, jazz, pop, and Cajun soul with stories about their existence this album from French-Cuban sisters continues to be the album I most want to listen to again.
- St. Vincent – Masseduction
Annie Clark is more confident here than any previous outing, without sacrificing her musical roots, crafting an album that pulls no punches but keeps you wanting to hear more.
- Joshua James – My Spirit Sister
“I wish somebody would just sleep here over to check I’m breathin’,” singer/songwriter Joshua James asks, “I feel a bit too broke to fight.” Throughout the album, James continues to take stock of himself and the world around him, asking who is listening, who is loving, who he is and who we are in a low-key offering that feels like home to anyone who asks themselves similar questions.
- Hurray for the Riff Raff – The Navigator
Alynda Segarra plays folk tinged, Americana music. But her soul is pure punk. The Navigator is a beautiful, challenging fulfillment of the promise her last album, Small Town Heroes, teased.
- Miguel – War & Leisure
Arguably the best pop album of the year, Miguel doesn’t shy away from cultural commentary, which often reveals everlasting longings and questions.
- Torres – Three Futures
Mackenzie Scott has questions. We are lucky we get to hear her explore them through her music. Three Futures is her third album, doubling down on the questions she has and observations she wants to make, while beautifully framing it all in sonic soundscapes.
- Ten Fé – Hit the Light
Easily the best pure indie pop rock album of the year, nobody bothered to take notice.
- Arcade Fire – Everything Now
Almost universally panned, Arcade Fire continues to blaze their own trail, holding a mirror to society with disco hooks and orchestration. I’m not really sure what listeners expected to hear, but to my ears this is as relevant and well played as any of their albums.
- Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – Nashville Sound
The best country music album of the year, and maybe the decade, questions “America First”, the place of the good ol’ boy, and a man’s place in world. Isbell received a lot of flack for this one, as he turned his previous inward gaze to that of the culture. But he is no less poignant here, he is just asking us to question and engage ourselves as we admired him doing himself in previous offerings.
- Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
Kendrick Lamar reminds us all to sit down and be humble.
- Soundtrack – Twin Peaks (Music from the Limited Event Series)
Twin Peaks: The Return was the best cinematic experience in 2017, and its’ soundtrack was no small part of that. No other compilation of filmed or sonic elements better encapsulates the year. An unwillingness to look at and engage the world we have built for ourselves, a melancholy wistfulness of what could be, an angry frustration at what is, and the horror of it all. All of this is encapsulated in the soundtrack, both to the series and the year.