Best Albums of 2017

Evolution is the common thread running through the majority of these 2017 releases—many of the veterans took their work in a new direction, and one particular debut nearly came out on top. As a result, here are the best albums of the year (according to a recovering music addict):

“Best Albums of 2017” full playlist via AppleMusic

“Best Songs of 2017” 15-song playlist via AppleMusic

10) Future Islands – The Far Field

future-islands-the-far-field_sq-fecacdb42cd94c9d212b212d97e41b7b3d20cb14-s900-c85– Standout tracks:

  • Beauty of the Road
  • Ancient Water
  • Through The Roses
  • North Star

– What it sounds like: curtains drawn, stereo at max. The groove hits you in the gut as you try to mimic unconventional vocal patterns. You throw in a limber dance move or two (nobody’s here to judge you). There’s only one problem—you forgot to check if your dog was close by (or whatever else it is you use for comfort), because now it’s too late and you’re already shaking and shivering along with the murderous bass lines.

– Why I love it: The Far Field recognizes the strength in coming to terms with weakness. Although Herring’s usually confident voice cracks momentarily during “Through The Roses”, this can’t be mistaken as an example of fragility—it’s merely Future Islands’ lead singer letting go. The slick and snappy rhythm section lays down a backbone reminiscent of the best post-Strokes bands, with a unique vocal clamor and bellow making every moment a worthwhile listen.

9) Kommode – Analog Dance Music

kommode-adm-digipack-full.indd– Standout tracks:

  • Come On, Sense!
  • Lady-Logic
  • Shoes
  • Captain Of Your Sinking Ship

– What it sounds like: as the title describes, here are ten tracks to get you up-and-moving, sans the use of drum machines or synth bass. As Kommode shift flawlessly between song sections, your ears will insist they’re listening to a sample or loop instead of any actual band.

– Why I love it: Eirik Glambek Bøe is 1/2 of indie folk group, Kings of Convenience. Needless to say, this half is just as good as the other. I spent part of the fall traveling through the misty trails of the Pacific Northwest and Analog Dance Music was the perfect soundtrack to help me navigate from point A to point B. I can imagine two ideal scenarios for enjoying this record: sipping cold session IPAs lakeside, and cutting a rug with your boo.

8) Paramore – After Laughter

paramore-after-laughter-album-artwork– Standout tracks:

  • Told You So
  • Fake Happy
  • Rose-Colored Boy

– What it sounds like: longtime listeners of Hayley Williams know of her ability to deliver emotional lyrics on a platter doused in Ghost Pepper Hot Sauce. On After Laughter, those lyrics still range from tender to menacing—but this time are prepared like musical Sloppy Joes with a side Ambrosia Salad—giving you the false sense that these songs might be well-suited for playing at an ’80s-themed dinner party.

– Why I love it: Paramore continue to get better as they evolve into a more pop-oriented band (their last, self-titled album being the discernible turning point in their sound). Now they’ve done away with distortion and replaced it with fizzy guitars and clever production. Hayley is one of the standout voices of her generation—here we have her talents shining brighter than ever before.

7) Portugal. The Man – Woodstock

portugal– Standout tracks:

  • Number One
  • Easy Tiger
  • Feel It Still
  • Fat Lip

– What it sounds like: the latest from PTM has hints of it’s ’60s namesake (i.e. vintage electric guitar tones, upfront bass, etc.) but pushes far beyond the constraints of an era devoid of drum loops, samples beats, and other elements that can give you a welcoming, full sound. “Talent borrows, genius steals” remains more true today—it’s all about what you do with what you stole (buy the McMansion or build the empire, on your own accord, from the ground up). Portugal chose the latter, as their sonic empire is under full construction.

– Why I love it: I’ve watched this band grow from opening the 500 capacity Troubadour in West Hollywood to tearing up the AMA stage this fall in front of millions of viewers. While this band started hitting their stride years ago, here they’ve exchanged their trainers for cleats—digging into the dirt, gripping the ground, and pushing themselves forward with more traction than ever before. The album artwork shows a classic car engulfed in flames—the band’s out with the old, in with the new message is coming through loud and clear.

6) Acceptance – Colliding By Design

acceptance– Standout tracks:

  • Diagram Of A Simple Man
  • Haunted
  • Colliding By Design
  • We Can Escape

– What it sounds like: prior to Colliding by Design, Acceptance released the impressive cult-classic, guitar-laden rock debut Phantoms (2005) which was commanded by the sanguine vocals of lead singer Jason Vena. Twelve years later we have a reanimated sound which includes minor elements of ’80s synth and glittering guitars, combined with a major focus on cohesion, and engineered to mix the vocals more evenly with the music.

– Why I love it: for those who commonly associate colors with sound, Phantoms can be described as a combative relationship between red and blue (bloodletting energy being strained through a wall of frozen ice). However, Colliding by Design is a symbiosis of bright colors, like orange rays of light being pulled toward a mint green valley below. Here’s a great case study for bands contemplating a lengthy hiatus.

5) Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – The Nashville Sound

theNashvillesound– Standout tracks:

  • Cumberland Gap
  • Tupelo
  • White Man’s World
  • If We Were Vampires

– What it sounds like: alt-country in the same vein as your Wilcos and Whiskeytowns, transfused with heavier Heartbreakers’ tunes, and balanced out by more straightforward Americana. Nashvillian country traditionalists might scoff at the title, but this version of the Nashville sound may actually be a more realistic and accurate representation of the eclectic nature of this southern town.

– Why I love it: Isbell pulls out the best songwriting elements of his influences and leaves behind all the filler. The 400 Unit perform less like a supporting cast and more as a single co-leading actor. Nashville Sound is at it’s best when you listen to the extremes back-to-back, as with the one-two punch of “Cumberland Gap” paired with the tenderness of “Tupelo”.

4) Ryan Adams – Prisoner

ryan-adams_prisoner– Standout tracks:

  • Prisoner
  • Haunted House
  • Doomsday
  • Do You Still Love Me?

– What it sounds like: long-time Ryan Adams fans may have thought they knew what genre tinge he would apply to his spectacular writing this time around—stripped-down acoustic (Ashes & Fire), alt-country (Cold Roses), or even brit-pop (Love is Hell) were all possibilities. Instead, on Prisoner, it’s as if Adams spent the last few years dissecting Springsteen’s catalog and ’80s power ballads in preparation for this release—adding to his diverse artillery of musical modifications.

– Why I love it: there’s much ado about how this is Adams’ breakup record, but the focus should be on how Prisoner is a reminder of how resilient we can be. Instead of feeling somber listening to this record, look to Prisoner as step-by-step guide of how to get over lost love: “Haunted House” exclaims the importance of getting far away from the ghostly memories that haunt you;  “Breakdown” reminds you how to build yourself up after you’ve been completely broken down; and “Prisoner” is a declaration of how to liberate your heart of chains holding you captive. You’ve been warned…love is hell.

3) Richard Edwards – Lemmon Cotton Candy Sunset

richard edwards– Standout tracks:

  • Lil Dead Eye-d
  • Git Paid
  • Lemon
  • Rollin’, Rollin’, Rollin’

– What it sounds like: Lemmon Cotten Candy Sunset applies Laurel Canyon melodies to non-coastal specific tribulations such as lost love, major illness, and insurmountable absence. Here’s a perfect example of darkness being balanced by sunlight—a divorcees mangled heart being reassembled by times natural ability to fix all. Dissonant piano keys fill the spaces between acoustic guitar strums and electric meanderings—all in support of Richard’s incomparable ability to draw you into his intimate storytelling.

– Why I love it: I remember watching my parents tune into the The Eagles Hell Freezes Over live concert in the mid-’90s and thinking to myself, the band are on auto-pilot, and feel more like an Eagles cover band than the real thing. Reinvention seems essential to prolonged creative success, and here the tenured Mr. Edwards (Margot & The Nuclear So and So’s) made a decision that reinvention means stripping away the excess to reveal what’s important—carefully crafted melodies, devastating lyrics, and incredible musicianship.

2) Bedouine – Bedouine

Bedouine-Album-Cover-3000x3000-1024x1024– Standout tracks:

  • Dusty Eyes
  • One Of These Days
  • Nice and Quiet
  • Solitary Daughter

– What it sounds like: Azniv Korkejian (a.k.a Bedouine) was born into an Armenian family in Syria, relocated to Saudi Arabia, and then later to the United States. Her wandering lifestyle is an excellent metaphor to describe the way this album causes your mind to drift and amble without cause. While clearly pulling from the ’60s/70s and the laid back California lifestyle, I imagine her former lives have given her an alternative perspective on traditional folk music. Mostly acoustic instrumentation leads charge here while supplemental keys, woodwinds, and brass carefully lend a hand.

– Why I love it: listeners are pulled into this album and may react in a similar manner as when enjoying the best work of Nick Drake. You’ll get lost in the airy comfort of Bedouine’s voice, hardly breaking free from her special spell. She’s masterfully created an environment and vibe which make it easy to forget about the world around you, especially on songs like the magnificent “Dusty Eyes”. It’s just as important to note that Azniv challenges the listener throughout, as delight turns into defiance, on such songs as “Solitary Daughter.”

1) Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Who Built the Moon?

noel gallagher– Standout tracks:

  • Holy Mountain
  • It’s A Beautiful World
  • She Taught Me How To Fly
  • The Man Who Built The Moon

– What it sounds like: Noel Gallagher has had a shameless reputation of borrowing from The Beatles, Sex Pistols and Stone Roses for 20+ years—let’s call that period the calm before the storm. On Who Built The Moon?, the sky has turned electric with lightning, resounded with thunder, and then cleansed itself with a pelting downpour. This is not Morning Glory 2.0 and never tries to be. Instead, this album should be placed in it’s own category of godlike genius (that one’s for you, Liam).

– Why I love it: the songs are brilliant, hopeful, and are the idyllic representations of his resurrection. Noel and his birds soar through every track, especially the striking nods to Blondie on “She Taught Me How to Fly”, Stevie Wonder on “Keep On Reaching” and even Genesis on “If Love Is the Law”. It’s always felt like The Chief was just one more album away from putting out his magnum opus and now with Who Built The Moon?, it doesn’t seem like we need to wait any longer.

Honorable Mention:

Washed Out – Mister Mellow, Photay – Onism, Beck – Colors, Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up, The Japanese House – Saw You In A Dream

About “The Best Albums of 2017” List:

The above list was developed to help readers find new music via the music service of their choice (Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, etc.). I try to keep the commentary concise, only including the elements that I find most helpful when receiving a recommendation: brief list of my favorite songs, how each record compares to other artists/albums folks may know, and what’s unique (or what do I love) about these albums in particular. 

– Kenny Bringelson

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