Brendon Bigley’s Very Subjective Top 10 Albums of 2017
This was really hard.
Hi. 2017 had a lot of good music and it made this list really difficult to put together. Here’s my Spotify playlist with all of these albums, should you want to check them out.
Below are a lot of opinions. ❤
10. Antisocialites by Alvvays
I’m torn on Antisocialites, the sophomore album by Alvvays, a band perhaps best known for “Archie, Please Marry Me” which has graced every indie rock playlist for the last three years.
On one hand it’s a triumphant effort, bursting to life with two of my favorite songs of the year “In Undertow” and “Dreams Tonite” back to back. On the other, I’m not sure if the rest of the album reaches the heights of those first two heavy-hitters. For a while over the summer I listened to both on repeat for entire days at a time and eagerly anticipated the rest of the album, and although I was slightly disappointed when it arrived, I can’t deny the hold those singles had over me.
Antisocialites feels like Alvvays coming into their own, and although I liked this album a lot, I’m more excited about what’s next.
PS: Sing along to “Dreams Tonight” with your best Morrissey impression.
9. Take Me Apart by Kelela
This album fucked me up for real. The week it released I consistently saw my friends on Spotify listening to it on repeat for days at a time. I hit play, needing to understand what had everyone I knew hooked, and quickly took my headphones off during opener “Frontlines” to take a second to breathe.
Take Me Apart is confident in every way an album can be confident. Kelela’s voice is mesmerizing, the production is constantly surprising, the writing is brutal and beautiful and earnest.
8. Prisoner by Ryan Adams
This is the album I’ve always wanted from Ryan Adams, aka “sad Bruce Springsteen.” Nowhere does that stupid moniker shine more than on Prisoner, his 16th (!!!) album in an already glowing discography. Here Adams seems more interested in exploring the first few weeks of attempting to cope after a harrowing breakup than the reason for the breakup itself, tossing cliches about questioning oneself aside in favor of trying to remember what living alone feels like.
Personally, Prisoner dropped at precisely the right time in my life. It’s an album I needed, and it’s an album that helped me tremendously.
7. Guppy by Charly Bliss
Listen to this song as loud as you can right now:
Holy shit, right? Good luck getting it out of your head.
Guppy is the first full-length album by Brooklyn four-piece Charly Bliss, which has in just this one album became one of my favorite bands of all time. Eva Hendricks’ vocals are hypnotic and filled with an anxiety-riddled fun that I can honestly say I’ve never heard before. Lyrics like “she’s got her toe in the corn hole” are so fucking goofy you can’t help but listen to the same song repeatedly to figure out in what possible context it would possibly fit. Melodies on tracks like “Ruby” keep me up at night, desperately grabbing my phone to listen to it once before I go to sleep.
I can’t overstate how much I love Guppy, and now Charly Bliss by extension.
I want more ASAP. Thanks in advance.
6. american dream by LCD Soundsystem
I heard LCD Soundsystem for the first time while they were in the middle of playing their “last show ever.” We were having a party at our apartment and had Pitchfork’s livestream playing over the house speakers. I remember being very drunk, but also enamored by this middle-aged dude at Madison Square Garden crooning about losing his friends and feeling out of touch and attempting to dance those feelings away. I spent a large majority of that night sitting in front of the computer watching the show in 480p instead of mingling with the people around me. I wanted nothing more than to teleport myself to New York City that night.
Fast-forward to 2017 and The James Murphy Gang returns with american dream, an album that I both simultaneously can and can not believe ended up being this good.
It’s an effort that I’m not even totally sure I 100% have a handle on, if I’m being honest. On my first listen, I didn’t think much of it. “This is just okay, but at least I have Sound of Silver,” I told myself. But as I kept going back to the well for another listen, I kept coming out the other end feeling like I’d heard something truly special. Opening track “oh baby” is maybe one of the best in LCD’s entire discography, an immediate and true classic. “tonite” is like a complete ground-up overhaul of their breakout hit “Losing My Edge,” but with added years of experience to make it an arguably better track overall.
And that’s kind of the piece of the album I can’t quite put my finger on yet. Why retread old ideas? Although the final work is better for it overall, it still seems like an odd choice. I feel like over time, and over the years, I will get even more out of american dream than I already have. For now it’s like a puzzle, and I’ve only snapped the corners and edges together.
5. Sleep Well Beast by The National
“Goodbyes always take us half an hour, can’t we just go home?”
I’m not sure if there’s ever been a song as quintessentially The National as “Nobody Else Will Be There.” Sad, obviously. At a party. Trying to sneak off away from everyone else to drink alone in the stairwell. It’s like all the hits in one song to open the album, a brilliant bit of misdirection. Get it all out of the way early, then change it up. And that’s exactly what The National does on Sleep Well Beast, which in my opinion is easily their best album to date.
Sleep Well Beast is shockingly introspective, asking and answering the question “what actually makes up a National album?” When you strip the band down to its core elements, you’re left with Matt Berninger’s low mumble and some wildly inventive drums to help shuffle you through the subtle melancholy.
It’s in that subtle melancholy that Sleep Well Beast thrives, introducing a plethora of electronic elements for the first time in the band’s history, which although divisive amongst fans of the band is also precisely the reason the album succeeds at all. There is nothing colder and more devoid of emotion than a sine wave or a drum-loop placed perfectly in production software. Similarly, there is nothing colder thematically than the themes Berninger’s lyrics have explored for years. The blending of these two elements creates a cohesion unlike anything we’ve heard from the band thus far, propelling it from “just another sad-dad album” to new heights for what The National can and should be.
4. City Music by Kevin Morby
One of the lynchpin songs for my entire journey through 2017 was “Aboard My Train,” a song about accepting that every person you meet will impact your life in some way, and that they could leave at a moment’s notice. “I have loved many faces, many places. All aboard my train, but depart at different stations,” Morby sings amidst a collection of brief memories, acknowledging that each person has something to give, no matter how small. It’s the kind of idea that on paper should seem simplistic and possibly even juvenile, but is handled with such a deft hand that it comes out the other end both beautiful and profound.
That’s the secret to Kevin Morby’s City Music: Create an unflinchingly optimistic album in a time when cynicism reigns. It’s an album half-told from the perspective of an old woman named Mabel in uptown Manhattan looking down on her city, fondly reminiscing on her life and her community and the people she’s known. Simultaneously, it’s an album about allowing oneself to overflow with emotion, both literally on a song like “Crybaby” but also more subtly in “Pearly Gates.”
The high point of the album, as was the trend this year, was the opening track. “Come to Me Now” is told from the view of the aforementioned Mabel, who spends her days waiting for the sun to fall below the horizon. It’s in that moment when the lights of the city begin to shine, and the moon bathes the skyscrapers that she feels comfort.
It’s a feeling I connect with almost instinctively, and those of you who have spent a late night driving around by yourself listening to your favorite songs will understand too.
3. DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar
Talking about 2015’s To Pimp A Butterfly, I wrote:
“How does one raise the bar above the already high spot they’d placed it at three years prior? Write a protest song. Invoke the Bible repeatedly. Vividly describe the lowest mental point a person can reach, then create an anthem for self-love nine tracks later as a direct response to yourself. Essentially, you shatter expectations by creating an anthology of unfortunately taboo thoughts that meld into one coherent and striking package.”
Somehow Kendrick pulls off the same trick two years later with DAMN, which is another direct response to himself. TPAB was complex and unsettling and triumphant in equal parts. DAMN. is equally unsettling, but peels back the complex layers of Butterfly to reveal a fucking solid rap album.
DNA, ELEMENT, HUMBLE. Banger after banger after banger without losing any of the introspection or search for meaning. Add in a few tracks like FEEL to slow the pace but let Lamar just spit nonstop for 4 minutes and you have what is essentially a genetically engineered perfect collection of tracks.
DAMN is Kendrick proving that he can dominate every sub-genre of the game simultaneously, and he does it in such an effortless fashion that I’d be really bummed if I were trying to make a rap album in 2018.
PS: YAH and LOYALTY are thinly-veiled Drake diss-tracks, right?
2. Half-Light by Rostam
Half-Light is a 52 minute dream sequence by a producer at the absolute top of his game. Previously of Vampire Weekend, Rostam Batmanglij has had a spectacular career of experimentation. He started with exploring the potential of auto-tune all the way back in 2005 (culminating in 2008’s LP by side-project Discovery), adding a harpsichord to indie-rock in Vampire Weekend’s discography, and leaving VW to take his gifts to the pop masses with artists like Charli XCX and Carly Rae Jepsen.
So what does he leave for himself on his first solo-outing? Seemingly everything, resulting in probably one of the most musically dense works I’ve heard in a long time. Any single track off Half-Light is packed with ideas I’ve never heard before, and as a collection is a surprisingly cohesive and uniform force to be reckoned with. Take for example a song like “Bike Dream.” Rostam sings the whole song while smiling, an incredibly out-of-the-box choice that adds an entire layer of meaning to what was already an ear-worm. To listen to Half-Light is to hear what the future of pop music could sound like, and probably will sound like given Rostam’s meteoric rise through the ranks as one of the most sought-after producers in the game.
But at the same time, the album is a joyous journey through his entire career. So much is explicitly stated on “Gwan,” a gorgeous sea of strings with lyrics like “all of these dreams keep coming back to me slowly, and sometimes I laugh when I think about how you know me.” Here, on the second to last track, Rostam recontextualizes the entirety of his debut album as a retrospective. Suddenly the auto-tune on “Hold You” begins to sound a lot like 2008’s Discovery LP, and the harpsichord on “Sumer” begins to sound like an homage to his work with Vampire Weekend. Rostam writes “and sometimes I laugh when I think about how you know me” because although you began to listen to his music for one reason or another, you’ve heard his influence everywhere, and you’ll continue to hear it for years to come.
1. Everybody Works by Jay Som
Everybody Works is an album I’ll be listening to for the rest of my life. I knew it from the moment I finished listening to the second track, “Bus Song,” for the first time while on a cold train ride home from New York City. What felt like seconds later, the album was over and I had started it again. I got off the train and listened to it on the walk home. I got inside my apartment and started it from the beginning, and listened to it on repeat for the rest of the night. And I did it again the day after. And again the day after that.
From the breathy opening of “Lipstick Stains” through the final moments of the almost eight minute long “For Light,” Melina Duterte, aka Jay Som, doesn’t waste a single moment of her debut album. From beginning to end, Everybody Works is proof of what “bedroom rock” can be, and a statement about what Duterte herself is capable of accomplishing. In ten tracks, she explores a variety of different sounds that somehow blend into one cohesive album. Nowhere is this better exemplified than “Remain,” a weightless and beautiful track that could easily play during the most emotional moment of a Perks of Being a Wallflower adaptation, leading directly into the grimey and upbeat “1 Billion Dogs” with relative ease.
The highlight of the album, and the entire year of music I listened to in 2017, is the title track “Everybody Works.” Having spent some time in bands in the past, and knowing artists who make wonderful things on the weekends while bagging groceries Monday through Friday, no single line resonated with me more than her final, repeated line: “you don’t want to see me like this.”
Here, Duterte decimates the image of the indie rocker who releases a great album and subsequently has it all. Here is a multi-instrumentalist with a breakthrough debut in which she says to her new fans “I am not a rock star yet. You don’t know what went into making this piece of music. Everybody works and so do I. I had to work my ass off.”
It was worth it.
DJ Seinfeld’s Time Spent Away From U is a shockingly emotional dance album, harkening back to the 90s rave scene. Check out Come Thru For U.
Waxahatchee’s Out In The Storm is an incredible followup with some seriously dangerous ear worms. Listen to 8-Ball.
Mac Demarco’s This Old Dog is a surprisingly thematically complex album from a dude who sings about his favorite cigarette brands. Listen to the title track.
Snail Mail’s Habit EP is like a warning. If their debut is better than this, it’ll be on my top 10 next year. Listen to Dirt.
The War On Drugs’ A Deeper Understanding seems like the culmination of their Tom Petty + Bruce Springsteen + Bob Dylan experiment. This album rules. Listen to Holding On.