What. A. Year.
Over the past 12 months, we’ve had a lot of days that have felt like entire lifetimes. With the world literally burning and a constant stream of head-scratching headlines dampening spirits across the country, if there was any year to turn to art as a comfort, it was 2017. Thankfully, musicians delivered, offering up a bevy of self-reflective anthems, heart-wrenching lyrics and deeply personal projects. Here are some of our favorites amongst the countless albums that were released this year.
10. Ash by Ibeyi
The twins of Ibeyi enchant on “Ash,” their second studio album. From the moment the first harmonies hit, it’s impossible not to fall under some sort of spell. There are moments that may invoke tears, others that will leave you moving, just adding another addition to the powerful year of reggaeton. The French-Cuban sisters channel their Yoruba culture throughout the project, and the album is littered with anthems that somehow simultaneously empower and soothe. Just listen to “Deathless” or “No Man Is Big Enough for My Arms” (which features Michelle Obama!) and try not to feel anything at all, I dare you.
9. Harry Styles by Harry Styles
Of all of the One Direction members in their post-boy band careers, Harry Styles is the one that has given us a thorough look at who he really is behind all the teenage screams. His solo debut is a self-titled shining collection of ’70s-inspired soft-rock tracks — a capsule of what the 23 year-old showed us only glimpses of during his 1D days. While the album doesn’t necessarily stray far from what was expected of the floral suit aficionado, it sits solidly as a canvas for his commanding voice. It’s already obvious that Styles has the charisma of a rock star, but this album makes it crystal clear that he’s got the chops to do it alone and do it well.
8. Masseduction by St. Vincent
Annie Clark goes pop with this year’s offering from St. Vincent. “Masseduction” explodes any notion you’ve built of the powerhouse vocalist that is Clark. Sure, she remains bold and brazen over electrifying guitar riffs and booming drums, but on this album also Clark goes deep and at times, it gets a bit dark—or rather, she becomes a “dominatrix at the mental institution,” as she describes it. “Sometimes I go to the edge of my roof / And I think I’ll jump just to punish you,” she sings on “Smoking Section.” It’s just one of the countless examples of the visceral moments that flitter within the complex layers of “Masseduction.”
7. Process by Sampha
Sampha’s shining moments in the spotlight have largely been due to Drake—take his contribution on “More Life” this year with the track “4422.” Process carries a million more of those moments. While it’s dedicated to the singer’s late mother, who passed away from cancer two years ago, most of it reads as a mediation on his own life, dreams, pain, grief, shortcomings and more—all of which Sampha has a way of transforming into dynamic melodies. The accompanying short film directed by Khalil Joseph (yes, the same who worked with Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar), is just the visual masterpiece that supports his vision.
6. Take Me Apart by Kelela
The wait for Kelela Mizanekristos debut album was well worth it. On the heavy Take Me Apart, Kelela takes us through the emotional highs and lows of love and lust, exuding a spectacular confidence even on the album’s most vulnerable moments. The Maryland native has never been shy when it comes to discussing , freedom and love—and her lyrics continue this trait, each line delicately cutting through the opaque production and heavy bass that permeates the project. It’s a work that somehow manages to impress exponentially with every listen.
5. Melodrama by Lorde
Lorde booms at the very start of Melodrama, her second studio album, triumphantly marking her place in the limelight. She handles her vocals with a prowess unmatched, powerfully bouncing throughout the record and equally serving us all the depths and hums that come with being a young woman today. Lorde produced the entirety of the project with Jack Antonoff, an impressive feat for the pop powerhouses within Melodrama.
4. Freudian by Daniel Caesar
When people consistently chose to propose to their significant others at an artist’s concert, it’s a tell-tale sign that something special is going on. Daniel Caesar’s debut album Freudian is relentless in it’s pursuit of understanding what love is and how the fuck it actually works. Romance is messy, and while thematically this album explores that inevitable stickiness, the Toronto native has a way of using his pipes to make the rollercoaster sound appealing and holy. His strong—but soft—voice effortlessly floats on each track, expertly intertwining with the perfect guest vocals that are peppered throughout. Freudian is a heavenly piece of work; indulge at your own risk.
3. Ctrl by SZA
With the release of her debut studio project, Solana Rowe seizes authority over her life and career in a magnificent way that’s breathtaking with every spin of the album. Ctrl, technically her third body of work out in the world, is full of some of the catchiest melodic moments of the year and her ability to weave complex narratives in sound bites that stick with you for days on end is incredible. There isn’t anything quite like it right now, and SZA proves that the incredibly long wait for her reign was completely worth it.
2. Flower Boy by Tyler the Creator
On Flower Boy, Tyler the Creator blossoms. The 26 year-old has always come across as self-assured on his projects, but there is something different about this particular release that paints a more intimate portrait of the rapper than we’ve ever seen. The Odd Future front man’s production skills have grown tremendously since his first projects, and they shine in between the thorny world he creates on Flower Boy, where he tackles everything from identity to loneliness to nostalgia for better days. The introspective moments are magnified by a host of beautiful collaborators, including Frank Ocean, Kali Uchis, Anna of the North and Rex Orange County.
1. DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar
It’s easy to throw the title of “greatest rapper” repeatedly to Kendrick Lamar, but his latest offering is damning evidence (ha, sorry) that he’s at the top of his game and is nowhere ready to step down from his throne. The album is electrifying in its wit and musicality. Lamar tapped into a wide range of producers—BADBADNOTGOOD, James Blake, Mike WiLL Made-It and Steve Lacy are just a few names who touched the album—and they all do a fantastic job creating the perfect landscape for Lamar’s sharp storytelling, and deep dives into the metaphors provided by the singular emotions and ideas like “Lust,” “Loyalty,” and “Fear” that tracks are titled after.
As always, there were a great deal of other albums released this year that deserve your ears, too. Here are some honorable mentions: Aromanticism by Moses Sumney / American Teen by Khalid /Crack-Up by Fleet Foxes / Half-Lightby Rostam /Big Fish Theory by Vince Staples / What Nowby Sylvan Esso / Saturation IIby Brockhampton.
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