Top 10 albums of 2017


Writing this top 10 feels like the end of something and the beginning of a different approach to albums. Due to a growing disillusionment with the current state of the music industry and too many good-but-rarely great releases, I’ve decided for 2018 I’ll take a hiatus from new music, preferring to spend time catching up with the classics from stronger eras. There is one exception, I am looking forward to Jack White’s upcoming solo album Boarding House Reach, mainly because of my fondness for 2014’s Lazaretto. Other than that, I will enjoy not having to keep up with everything. You’ve only got one life, and I want to be smart about my choices.

2017 was a year I struggled to compile ten great albums, and it was only thanks to a few wonderful late discoveries (Foxygen, Curtis Harding, Alex Cameron, and Aimee Mann), that this post actually grew into a top 10. Honestly, without that December push, it would have been a top 5.  I can safely say that all ten albums listed are worth your time. The honorable mentions are pretty good too.



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A Deeper Understanding by The War on Drugs
Album of the year, and will take something special to knock it off the top spot. To be honest, not a great leap forward in terms of their sound, similar heartland rock as their previous. But they do it so well. Shouldn’t have doubted the band could equal 2014’s Lost in a Dream. Nothing to Find is the best of the non-singles. Probably could have ended after Thinking of a Place, but nice to have the rest as bonus material.




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The Ooz by King Krule
Album of the year contender. Archy Marshall is only three albums into his career (including his non-King Krule LP). For me, he is lyricist of the year and The Ooz could well be his magnum opus.
2013’s 6 Feet Beneath the Moon (which I recently revisited) is beautifully written anxiety-filled poetry about faltering relationships and girl trouble, yet if you had to point to its weaknesses, the storytelling is unvaried,  and lacks memorable songs.
The Ooz feels like a step up, more ambitious in its scope, going for a richness in the lyrical content, while taking his sound to new, interesting places.
The opening line “I seem to sink lower” is an indication of what to expect. His music isn’t for everyone and evades typical genre classification. Melancholy, introspective art rock/jazz/spoken word is what you could label it as. His vocal style is definitely one-of-a-kind. A gloomy album to put on when you’re in the right mood. As opposed to fast paced hip hop, Marshall’s deliberately slow, sad vocal delivery allows the listener time to reflect, and there’s a timelessness to the lyrics and emotions. Thematically dealing with topics such as loneliness, insomnia, drugs, childhood trauma, heartbreak, depression.
Weaknesses, there are minor tracks here such as (A Slide In) New Drugs, and 66 minutes and 19 tracks in one sitting is a bit excessive for this type of dark music. Requires an investment for the music to be moving and impactful.




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Hang by Foxygen
A retro 70s sound, big, lush and orchestral. I really couldn’t tell it’s contemporary. Looking at the credit list, a lot of musicians brought this ambitious project to life, and at only 32 minutes, the result is one of the most replayable and focused albums of 2017. Tracks 1-4 and the inspiring closer Rise Up are especially well done.




Face Your Fear by Curtis Harding


Face Your Fear by Curtis Harding
Retro soul. I’m not a soul aficionado by any means, I found Curtis Harding’s sophomore effort to be well-crafted and easy to enjoy. Lots of solid tunes so you wonder why he isn’t a bigger name. I’ve read the modern retro-soul scene is a crowded place, so maybe that’s why he hasn’t got the attention. An album that I only discovered by chance thanks to a Twitter recommendation. Most of the titles speak for themselves, though Wednesday Morning Atonement is about neglecting your children. Best: On and On, Till the End, Welcome to My World, As I Am




Forced Witness by Alex Cameron.jpg


Forced Witness by Alex Cameron
Synthpop from new-to-me Australian artist Alex Cameron. Forced Witness is his second album. Has become a cliché for today’s performers to try and recapture the 80s, but he does it very well, with catchy pop hooks and a little bit of Springsteen and The Killers. Tracks 1-4 are especially memorable. There’s a dip in quality on the second half. The depiction of women as objects of pleasure (The Chihuahua) can be off-putting, but apparently his lyrics are supposed to be taken ironically. Arguably the best pop album of 2017. Good escapist entertainment, easy to listen to.





Mental Illness by Aimee Mann


Mental Illness by Aimee Mann
Follows the template of her popular soundtrack to Magnolia. A heartbreaking acoustic album, and while can appear a little samey musically from track-to-track, there are plenty of ideas and tangents she explores.
About homesickness(Goose Snow Cone), regret(Stuck In the Past), abandonment(You Never Loved Me ), wanting to find escape (Rollercoasters), a bipolar friend who is pathological liar and presumably an explanation of the album name(Lies of Summer), the pitfalls of working in the entertainment industry(Patient Zero), alcoholism(Philly Sinks), walking away as a solution (Simple Fix), a relationship driven by poor judgement(Poor Judge)





Life Will See You Now by Jens Lekman (2017).jpg


Life Will See You Now by Jens Lekman
Lekman’s lyrics generally are playful and the humor is subtle, he’s quoted as saying humor is “a good way of telling a story, a good way of communication”. The dance pop production is a departure from the sound on his previous albums. For example he samples the beats off Ralph MacDonald’s The Path.
He boldly disses 90s recording artists on the opener To Know Your Mission. Evening Prayer is a strangely upbeat song about a tumor. How We Met the Long Version a tongue-in-cheek exploration of how our relationships can be traced backward. Postcard #17 about fears. How Can I Tell Him is about a bromance. Wedding in Finistère taps into the worry you might have about the future. Less original are songs such as What’s That Perfume You Wear? and Our First Fight, which contain some generic writing.
Overall though, the album won me over.
A few lyrics made me chuckle: “If you’re gonna write a song about this then please don’t make it a sad song”




Twin Peaks Limited Event Series Soundtrack.jpg


Twin Peaks: Limited Event Series Soundtrack
The soundtrack for season 3 of Twin Peaks. The set includes 3-4 tracks from the early 90s. Badalamenti’s new score is juxtapositioned with various artists from past and present.
I do like some of the new instrumentals, especially Windswept by Johnny Jewel, Heartbreaking, The Chair, The Fireman, and Saturday (Instrumental) by Chromatics. Nice to have Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima on here too, used during the atomic bomb sequence from Episode 8. The new stuff isn’t as distinctive as Badalamenti’s best work, but it feels like Twin Peaks music, is competently made, atmospheric, and sometimes quite moving.
If you have to choose between buying Twin Peaks: Limited Event Series Soundtrack or the instrumental album Windswept by Johnny Jewel, I’d pick the former.




Science Fiction by Brand New.jpg


Science Fiction by Brand New
A critically acclaimed and commercially successful return by a band who had not released a studio album since 2009’s Daisy. The Nirvana-esque 137 is very good, and Same Logic/Teeth stayed with me. There’s some quite beautiful guitar work on tracks such as In The Water, Desert, and 451. The melancholy closing ballad Batter Up is the album’s most emotionally affecting moment.
This album is closer to rock than what I understand as Emo. Perhaps you need to be a fan of the band to fully appreciate what they are saying here on their allegedly final LP. I don’t have context or nostalgia for the group’s discography.  Brand New frontman Jesse Lacey apologizing for sexual misconduct in November soured my respect for the singer, but I still hold it as one of the best releases of 2017.




Chilly Gonzales and Jarvis Cocker.jpg


Room 29 by Jarvis Cocker and Chilly Gonzales
Inspired by the mystery and history of the Chateau Marmont, Jarvis Cocker (of Pulp fame in the 90s) has a way with words that conjures images in your mind.
Tracks like Room 29, Salomé, The Other Side, and A Trick of the Light address television and what it does to us. The latter is the album’s longest and my personal favorite. There are also a number of references to the Golden Age of Hollywood, which I found interesting as a film buff.
The Quietus wrote: “The hotel is the thematic link that runs throughout the record, with pithy perspectives of events that took place there”.
Probably the most memorable of these lounge/piano tunes is Tearjearker, which hints at a soullessness and un-lived-in-ness of hotels: ”These surfaces are shiny. Anything wipes off them. These surfaces are hard. Nothing seems to mark them”. Yet you could also imagine the surfaces he speaks of are about the human condition, how hard our exterior is to outside influences.
Some listeners may feel the album at times is bordering on boring and non-music, with its spoken-word and sparse arrangements. I look at it as a welcome change of direction, Jarvis’ vocal suits this low-key collaboration well. An album that will still be relevant in 20 years and with piano instrumentals that won’t age. Wickerman is among my favorite Pulp songs, so Jarvis’ spoken word singing was just the ticket for me.



Honorable mentions:
Plunge by Fever Ray
Everything Now by Arcade Fire
Utopia by Björk
The Far Field by Future Islands
Slowdive by Slowdive




Have you heard any of the albums mentioned here and what did you think? Have I encouraged you to listen to any? Which are your favorite albums of 2017? As always, comments are welcome.

30 thoughts on “Top 10 albums of 2017

  1. The only record this year I got into though it’s pretty obvious as it’s Add Violence by NIN as it’s just an incredible EP proving that Trent Reznor still has a lot to say as the song “The Lovers” is really a track to check out.

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      1. I agree with what you wrote in the beginning of the post, Chris, and that’s the reason I mostly stopped following new releases at the year of their release – I’d rather wait a couple of years and see which albums still stand out. Seeing a top5 growing in a top10 is a beautiful thing as I’ve never quite understood why these tops often have 50 or more entries with a lot of forgettable stuff.

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      1. That is true. I keep forgetting that he’s now an official member of NIN now and has been Trent’s co-writer since Ghosts I-IV and involved in a lot of the production of previous NIN albums.

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      2. So far….

        1. The Downward Spiral
        2. The Fragile
        3. Broken
        4. Year Zero
        5. Pretty Hate Machine
        6. Add Violence
        7. Still
        8. Not the Actual Events
        9. Ghost I-IV
        10. Hesitation Marks
        11. The Slip
        12. With Teeth

        Soundtracks/Scores so far….

        1. The Social Network
        2. Gone Girl
        3. Natural Born Killers
        4. Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
        5. Lost Highway

        I haven’t had the chance to listen to the scores of Before the Flood, Patriots Day, and The Vietnam War as of right now. I also like How to Destroy Angels.

        There’s not a lot of things from Trent that I don’t like such as “Deep” which I think is my least favorite song that he did.

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      3. It doesn’t happen often to see Year Zero (which I absolutely love) rated higher than Pretty Hate Machine 🙂

        And what are your thoughts on Hesitation Marks & The Slip?

        With Teeth is my least fav too.

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      4. Hesitation Marks is definitely a favorite as I just love how accessible and intense it is as well as being diverse. The Slip I enjoy as it felt a little more raw than previous NIN recordings and it had a more of a live sound due to the fact that it had Trent playing with Robin Finck, Alessandro Cortini, and Josh Freese on that album.

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  2. The Duke Spirit – Sky Is Mine (2017) was a cool discovery, very atmospheric. postpunk with some shoegaze.

    Chicano Batman – Freedom Is Free (2017) – loved it! A mix of funk, soul, indie rock (pardon) and some other stuff.

    Proper Ornaments – Foxhole (2017), Also a nice discovery. Reminds me of the late Pastels/Low/At Swim Two Birds… (the band of Roger Quigley).

    P. S. Did you listen ”Before You Left”?
    I am pretty amazed by this work. I listened it first in 2010 and keep coming more and more often to it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. @Mr: Bobinsky: I don’t know your favorites, but I appreciate you taking the time to comment and share the music that is important to you. As I said, my focus moving forward are the classic albums of the past, but if there’s time I’ll give your discoveries a try. Before You Left sounds especially great from the description you give! I hope you find something you enjoy from my top 10, if not, then no worries.

      In regards to your Twitter comment about foreign artists, blogs are a good way for them to get exposure, as it’s tricky these days with so much noise on the internet. Based on a recommendation on Rate Your Music, I recently tried the Ukrainian artist KAUAN and their instrumental song Lapsenmuisto is beautiful no matter what country you live in. That group should be hired to do a film score.

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      1. The War On Drugs’ album is great. Good recommendation! I recall to listening some of their earlier stuff before and this one was no disappointment. What do you think of Kurt Vile? His “Waking on a Pretty Daze” has many similar vibes… (which isn’t a surprise though given their common past works)

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      2. @Mr: Bobinsky Happy to hear you enjoyed The War On Drugs’ new album-I love it 🙂

        Your question, I’ve enjoyed a few of Kurt Vile’s albums, and yes he was a past member of The War on Drugs. Smoke Ring for My Halo (2011) I got tired of, my favorite is probably B’lieve i’m goin down (2015). Wakin On A Pretty Day is a good one too.

        Think I gravitate towards War on Drugs the most, if I have to make a choice between which artists to give a re-listen There’s a bit more emotional depth with Adam Granduciel, while Kurt Vile is super laid-back

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  3. I often think that if the music industry gave up tomorrow, I’d still have plenty of old music to keep discovering for the rest of my life, and if you’ve reached the point where new stuff is no longer as engaging as “the classics”, I respect your decision, Chris. Not sure I could follow suit though, but then I had a better reaction to 2017 than you. (Last year I definitely struggled to get even a Top 10.)

    Never have been able to get into The War On Drugs. Sounds lovely but I can’t hear / understand what he’s singing about. Thought the Brand New album was disappointing even before the revelations about Lacey. Trying too hard to be a serious band (even verging on U2 in places) and I don’t have a lot of time for that. A friend of mine has been a huge Brand New fan since the 90s though: he considers them his favourite band. He had a really violent reaction to the Lacey news though – got rid of all his records and basically wiped them out of his collection. I respect him for that, I guess, but I’m not sure I could have done the same in his shoes.

    Interested by the Curtis Harding & King Krule records, thanks for the recommendations. I really should pick up the Twin Peaks soundtrack too!

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  4. @Rol: Yeah, there’s a mountain of music from the past I haven’t explored. I have a list of close to 400 discographies which will take me years if not decades to get through! So I’m not worried I’ll ever run out. Of course, the “classics” are not all going to be great. We are lucky to live in the Spotify age when we can pick and choose any music for very little money.

    Jesse Lacey incident is a tough one. I feel a bit bad for including the album in my top 10. I’m not excusing his behavior, which clearly is wrong. Fair enough your friend refuses to accept the Lacey news. To each his own. It’s easy to take this even further with the recent Harvey Weinstein scandal, or even back to the 60s/70s when musicians had underage sex with groupies, but as someone commented you can’t put every rock star in jail. That said, I have no interest in watching anything with Kevin Spacey at the moment. Perhaps because Lacey is a faceless person and I have no history of buying Brand New records I find it less daunting to go back to the album. There’s also the argument that if you cut all ties, then the rest of the group shouldn’t have to pay, as in the crew for House of Cards or the rest of Brand New’s band.

    Anyway, on to something more positive! King Krule has a very unique vocal delivery, if you can get over that hurdle, then The Ooz might be for you.
    Face Your Fear by Curtis Harding to me is one of 2017’s big mysteries, in that it doesn’t appear on hardly any year-end lists but definitely deserves to. Hasn’t been promoted properly is my guess.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. @Dell: Of these ten albums, I think maybe you’d find The Ooz by King Krule the most appealing, I describe his music as “melancholy, introspective art rock/jazz/spoken word”, but it wouldn’t be totally out of line to label him one of the UK’s new breed of rappers/hip hop artists. Pitchfork call him “The Wizard of Ooz” 🙂 Very different to Kate Tempest though.

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  5. Glad to see the Twin Peaks OST there. Listening to it right now. I love the Lynch remix of American Woman, its dark as hell as is used when we first see Bad Coop driving down the road at night Lost Highway style.

    In fact, what you wrote about the music industry is how I have felt since the turn of the millennium. Everything just seemed to shift and there is almost nothing ‘popular’ that is written just for the love of the art. Its sad. So apart from current favourites releasing new albums, I never really hear new music, apart from soundtracks. If I had to do a top ten it’d be eight soundtracks and the 2017 albums by Melvins and Dead Cross hehe. All my favourite genres have turned to shit in the last 20 years – the classics are where the best music is at! Back when people weren’t writing tunes for the money, perhaps partly due to the amount of LSD ingested before writing =P

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  6. @Jordan Dodd: Yeah, I noticed the Lost Highway homage too in Twin Peaks S3. Music made for love of the art definitely trumps music made for financial gain, though every artist still has to pay the rent no matter what generation.
    But now it seems musicians struggle to make a proper living, because they can only earn peanuts from streaming profits and are forced to have a day-job or tour live constantly(so less time to hone their craft in the studio) . With the fall in album sales, record companies don’t have the money to give artists a budget to work with as they used to. So sadly gifted artists fall by the wayside and find other careers. The whole “session musician” industry appears to be dying, these talents provided something special to albums. Plus, notice the dip in iconic artwork for albums-there is not the money to pay artists to make great sleeves.

    There’s still the occasional great album or song, but most fit in the “good-not-great” category these days. There was a YouTube comment on a ‘”best songs of 1980″ list I watched. This guy said, and I’m paraphrasing: “Even my least favorite song in your 80s list is superior to everything on the billboard top 100 today”. He’s kind of got a point, and his comment stayed with me. Why this decline happened there are many theories about, which I wrote about in detail here:

    Nice that we have the opinion to look back though, thanks to streaming services 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Sorry there hasn’t been much to get excited about this year. I usually don’t listen to whole albums, so while there are plenty of 2017 songs I’ve liked, I don’t know how good the whole albums are. The one album I did listen to and loved every song was Kygo’s Kids in Love, which made me an even bigger fan of his. I haven’t heard most of your list, so thanks for the recommendations. Hope you have a Merry Christmas!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. @sgliput: Thanks for the xmas wishes and same to you! I found a small number of very good albums to get excited about, which was nice. Hope you find something that appeals to you among the top 10.

    But the big number of mediocre/passable 2017 albums is definitely frustrating this year, hence the disillusionment with the current state of the music industry.

    Perhaps just listening to mostly individual songs, as you do, is the way to go now. Kygo’s Kids in Love I will look up, don’t know that guy. I’ll be doing a 2017 song list in Jan or Feb, stay tuned!

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