Our Staff Picks for 2017 series continues with a look at our favorite pieces of music from this year. Unlike our other Staff Picks, this is not based on a group vote, but on the writer’s individual preferences.
The choices do run the gamut of genres, and we’ve even thrown a little bonus track in here for you to enjoy.
So without further adieu, here’s our list of…
Best Albums of 2017
Dua Lipa by Dua Lipa (Corbyn Jenkins)
Dua Lipa released her self-titled debut studio album on June 2, 2017. From the moment the 12-track album was released the world went crazy due to her incredible vocals and the relatable lyrical themes of falling in love, breakups, sex, self-empowerment, and well everything else that we all go through in our lives.
This album is composed of six singles including the popular top 40 singles, “New Rules,” “Be the One,” “Hotter than Hell,” and “Blow Your Mind (Mwah).” Although it is not one of the singles, my favorite song on the album is, “IDGAF.” It is a legit anthem. The track is so upbeat, fun, and confident and it instantly puts you in a better mood. It is the perfect song for those of you who are going through a rough time due to a heartbreak because it reminds you of your worth and how great you are in a fun and catchy way.
It is clear that the world is falling in love with Dua Lipa, including myself because, in early December, Lipa received the news that she has sold over 4 million singles in the United Kingdom and that her self-titled debut album has gone gold! If you don’t know who Dua Lipa is, well let’s just say that you will know very soon.
Melodrama by Lorde (Matt Taylor)
It took four long years for Lorde to follow-up her critically acclaimed debut, Pure Heroine. Luckily, her sophomore album, Melodrama, was well worth the wait –– not just from a musical standpoint (although the music is quite good), but from a thematic one. While Pure Heroine found a young artist emerging on the scene with a deeply personal collection of songs, Melodrama finds Lorde darker, more mature, and more relatable than ever. An 11-song odyssey through the common millennial experience, Lorde’s new album is a complete success, whether you’re looking for catchy pop songs or a thought provoking collection of lyrics.
The album’s best song, “The Louvre,” embodies what makes Lorde so special; with a simple, hypnotic melody and her haunting voice, the song quickly worms its way into the listener’s ear. Meanwhile, Lorde’s lyrics brilliantly describe the early days of a crush; her words are relatable, yes, but with a dash of sarcasm and a deprecating sense of humor to show that she doesn’t take these passionate emotions seriously. She’s aware of the way both she and her fellow millennials tend to overdramatize, but she’s having fun while reveling in those emotions.
Elsewhere on the album, Lorde solemnly celebrates the importance of self-love in the face of a breakup (“Melodrama”), and decides to own her flaws while enjoying her 20s (“Perfect Places”). And you’d be hard-pressed to find a wild house party described in a more artistic fashion than it is on “Homemade Dynamite.” These are relatable moments in every 20something’s experience, described in the most poetic terms possible, and with great music to back it up. This is a brilliant piece of art that perfectly summarizes an entire generation, without a hint of negativity but, instead, with a sly, sarcastic smile. It’s fun; it’s eerily relatable, and a complete home run.
American Dream by LCD Soundsystem (Kat Manos)
If anyone would’ve told me in January that my favorite record by December would be LCD Soundsystem’s American Dream, I would’ve laughed in their face. LCD Soundsystem has never been one of my favorite artists – in fact, I spent years actively disliking them for pulling stunts like claiming they were breaking up only to announce a tour months later, or play a dozen shows in a row at one tiny venue instead of one night at an appropriately-sized venue.
Then I heard American Dream. In the politically-charged, emotionally complex year that was 2017, American Dream captured the unique feeling when reality starts to feel like a bad dream. From the first note to the final synthesizer tone, this record is both nostalgic and current, referential and entirely new, moody and ecstatic. You want to dance to the gritty guitars and disco drumbeats even when James Murphy flatly reminds us: “Time isn’t over, times aren’t better.” 2017 was rough, but American Dream wasn’t.
Lovely Little Lonely by The Maine (Laura Curry)
It took awhile to decide, but for my album of the year choice, I’d have to say The Maine’s Lovely Little Lonely. The Maine has been my favorite band since I first discovered them back in 2008, and whenever they release an album, it becomes the highlight of that year. This time around, it was even more exciting and meaningful, especially because I was able to ask their drummer, Pat Kirch all about their album during our interview in April before their show at The Stone Pony. That experience was one of the best parts of 2017 and therefore, this album means a lot.
The songs of Lovely Little Lonely were there for me when I needed something to boost my spirits. They also remind me that everyone gets nostalgic from time to time. That feeling is explored on the album— particularly in “Taxi,” “Do You Remember (The Other Half of 23)” and “The Sound of Reverie.” It’s a combination of happiness and sadness that makes us reflect on the happy memories of our past. This album has a main message that comes across, which is wherever you are is just where you’re at, not where you’ll always be (we hear this on the track “Little”).
To me, this encourages us to appreciate every moment in our lives, even if we’re not completely satisfied with where we are. Personally, it reminds me not to stress about the future as much or get down on myself about where I am with my career. These songs help take the pressure off, and they provide such valuable reminders.
United States of Horror by HO99O9 (Dylan Brandsema)
HO99O9’s United States of Horror is a such a bizarre, weird amalgamation of genres and sounds I almost have no words to describe it accurately. It’s punk, it’s hip-hop, it’s thrash metal, it’s crunk, it’s weird, atmospheric bassy songs with no definable structure. It’s a lot of things, and it’s awesome, and it’s my favorite album the year.
This Newark, NJ duo makes their full-length debut here after a long series of many EPs and singles since 2014, and this album perfectly encapsulates everything the band has been about from the beginning – politically charged, angry, aggressive music that can switch from sounding like a hyperactive Bad Religion to a turnt up club banger in just the turn of a beat. The transition from “Hydrolics” into “New Jersey Devil” near the end of the album is one of the biggest musical 180s I’ve ever heard on one single record, and it’s frickin’ great.
It’s impossible to pin HO99O9 (pronounced “Horror”, for those unaware) into one genre, and this album is a wild, unstoppable roller coaster of different genres, political anger and aggression, and some absolutely unpredictable musical U-turns. It’s a definitive milestone album from one of the most unique outfits in music today, whether it be in hip-hop, punk or any genre. They’re certainly a divisive band too, so there’s no guarantee you’ll like it, but I think it’s a masterpiece.
BEST TRACKS: Street Power, Bleed War, City Rejects, Hydrolics, New Jersey Devil, United States of Horror.
The Sin and The Sentence by Trivium (Anthony Toto)
In the year 2017, Trivium has officially solidified their status as the best modern metal band in the world.
Yes, I standby my previous statement without a moment’s pause or hesitation.
The Sin and the Sentence is quite possibly the band’s magnum opus and the word flawless doesn’t seem adequate enough to surmise the brilliance of Trivium’s latest masterpiece. The Sin and the Sentence captures the most enthralling elements of the metal genre as a whole: musical and technical wizardry that ranges from melodic to death metal and everything in between.
Case in point, “Betrayer” features some of the most gut wrenching screams of frontman Matt Heafy’s career – Randy Blythe and Jamey Jasta levels of brutality – and he effortlessly transitions and infuses the chorus with contagious power metal melodies along the lines of Blind Guardian’s Hansi Kürsch. From front to back, this LP’s progressive brutality, virtuosic performances, and timeless hooks possess the iconic aura that will define its legacy as one of the most impressive musical statements of this decade.
Rise by Kitty in a Casket (Allison Lips)
For a lot of us, 2017 hasn’t been a great year. Kitty in a Casket’s Rise perfectly captures that as well as the “life sucks in general, but it’s really not that bad because we’ve got each other” themes usually present in pop punk and psychobilly.
The band kicks off the album with “Twenty17,” which expresses Kitty in a Casket’s discontent with the world today. When Kitty Casket sings, “I’m not really welcome in the land of the free.” She’s just getting started. “F.U. and “Kiss My Ass” also express anger, while “Oh, Johnny” and Love Me Thrill Me” address love interest. The other songs provide something for everyone.
Rise is a great starting point for those who are interested in psychbilly. Lovers of rock music will also like the album because the band doesn’t rely on any gimmicks associated with niche genres
Damn. by Kendrick Lamar (Angelo Gingerelli)
Damn. proves Kendrick Lamar is the best rapper of this decade. Period.
There are artists with more/bigger hits (Drake, Nicki Minaj, Future) and artists with comparable creative output (Run The Jewels, J. Cole, A$AP Rocky) but there is nobody performing at the same commercial and artistic level as the “Five Foot Giant” from Compton.
Damn. is Lamar’s most straight forward major label release, 2012’s Good Kid, m.A.A.d City introduced K. Dot to the masses via a cinematic concept album loosely based on his life, 2015’s To Pimp A Butterfly was an experimental, jazzy and genre bending rumination on race in America and 2017’s Damn. is an attempt to silence critics and earn Kung Fu Kenny his rightful place among the all-time greats.
The songs on Damn. address emotions with titles like “LOVE.” “FEAR.” and “LUST.” and all expertly convey the intended feeling. Aggressive songs like “LOYALTY.” and “HUMBLE.” showcase Kendrick at his fire-spitting best, while mellow cuts like “YAH.” And “GOD.” show the more contemplative side of the MC. The production is also top notch as the beats complement his complex wordplay and Kendrick goes against the grain of most commercial Hip-Hop by only having a few well-placed guest appearances that all fit into the flow of the record.
In an era where critics constantly lament the demise of cohesive albums due to downloading/streaming and the rise of style-over-substance Hip-Hop (Trap Muzik, Mumble Rappers, etc.) Kendrick Lamar continues his streak of great LP’s that showcase his lyrical talent, social conscious, song writing ability, ear for production and ability to be different from just about anything else available in the music industry. Damn. It feels great to be living during the reign of King Kendrick.
Polygondwanaland by King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard (Andrew Howie)
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard’s Polygondwanaland is a crowning achievement. Their fourth of five albums in 2017, it’s the sum of the various parts of the three previous releases from this year; all the searing psych rock, gooey jazz-pop, animalistic heaviness, and careening song structures come together to form one truly epic rock album. The fact that they gave it away for free and encouraged fans to press their own physical copies for profit doesn’t hurt either.
From the colossal opening track, the music twists and turns through dense, textured prog rock with sweeping, grandiose instrumental breaks, intricate dueling melodies between flutes and acoustic guitars, shifting and roiling polyrhythms from the drums, bass, and keys, and shaman-esque, trance-inducing vocals, with King Gizzard’s trademark blazing three-guitar onslaught. It’s a melting, bubbling cauldron of prehistoric galactic desert rock.
Victory Lap by Propagandhi (Greg Kennelty)
I remember joking to one of my friends back in 2012 after Propagandhi’s album Failed States came out that whatever the band did next would pretty much have to be grindcore. Propagandhi had been getting progressively heavier and more pissed off as the years went on at that point, and Failed States was a culmination of those feelings rife with thrash riffs and throat-shredding vocals. So in a shocking move maybe only to me five years later, Propagandhi cranked out an album that can best be defined as resignedly infuriated and laughing about just how fucked up things have gotten.
Victory Lap is a shot at American politics, at futile attempts to assert oneself over others with race and religion, and even at themselves to an extent. Or as Propagandhi vocalist Chris Hannah put it, “I think back in the Less Talk era, it was more like, ‘Give me the fuckin’ bullhorn and let me talk about me. But I’ve modified that position somewhat. People say they’re tired of hearing white, male voices, and so am I. I’m fuckin’ tired of hearing my fuckin’ self.”
Musically, there’s not a single second of this album that you’ll forget exists. Every riff, every chorus, every tempo change and solo is placed with incredible precision to the point where you’ve got to sit back and accept that this album probably took the full five years to create, because nobody stumbles into perfection like this.
Bonus Track: Everything in Gold by Modern Chemistry (Bill Bodkin)
This record is a “bonus track” because to be totally transparent, lead singer Joe Zorzi was a longtime staff writer for this site, and today remains a ver good friend of mine.
So while I can’t put this on the “official” best of list, I cannot within good conscience leave this record out of the conversation. Everything in Gold is the absolute record of the year for me. If you’ve known me for any length of time you’ll know I’m more of a heavy metal and/or jam band kinda guy. However, there is something about this record that grabs me my the heart, and does not let me go.
Could it be because I’ve seen this band grow up before my eyes — having booked their first gig, and watching them work through a 10 minute cover of The Outfield’s “Your Love?” Or is it because this band has written a record with tremendous lyrics, a bombastically melodic sound, and is produced brilliantly?
It’s the latter. Everything in Gold is a record, even without knowing the guys, would be my top record of the year. It’s re-listenability is ridiculously high, and it’s an album fans who’ve been searching for good, lyrically driven rock music need to have in their lives immediately.