Through political scandal, social inequality, hatred and terrorism, this year hasn’t necessarily been a year of serenity; however, this year has been a golden age in music. Honesty, ambition and beauty take the reins as innovative artists push sonic boundaries, lyrical content and embrace darker tones. What we get this year are albums so intricately crafted, they set the stage for what’s to come as we transition into the new year. These are the 15 albums that stood out most in our dreary world.

15. Preservation — Nadia Reid

The album blends soft rock, folk and singer-songwriter tropes to create Preservation, a collection of songs laced with slinky guitars and soft percussion all held together with the honeyed vocals of Reid. A fair mix of rock makes this touch on many emotions. From the sunny day drive jam “Richard” and the lonely longingness of “Hanson St. Pt.2 (A River)”, the wide range of imagery is fully realized and relatable.

14. Backwater — Kllo

The Australian duo, Kllo, debut their down-tempo electronica with great ease and restraint. On Backwater, they draw influences from predecessors Burial and the electronic flourishes of Portishead and mix them into a sexy, wavy water world. With biting bursts of percussion, the concoction they create is distinctive yet familiar.

13. Okovi — Zola Jesus

After the suicide attempts of a close friend while also battling a depression, Zola Jesus grasps her Gothic roots and gives us the most stunning album of her career. Darkness looms over every track. On “Exhumed” her soaring vocals scrape the track bound by dramatic violin shaking and throbbing percussion. With such honesty and precise production choices, Okovi is a journey through grief at it’s most overwhelming and redemptive.

12. Plunge — Fever Ray

After an eight year hiatus, Fever Ray comes back swinging even harder than ever before. Not only is Plunge politically charged, unapologetically direct and queer, it’s also is her most accessible album that pounds with deconstructed pop sounds. Fever Ray proudly asserts herself as a woman who speaks her mind. Strangely though, Plunge is an album about love: loving that girl, loving your feelings and loving your voice. With sharp stabs at social change and sexual freedom, her second studio album is one worth diving into.

11. Rainbow — Kesha

After her highly publicized court battle with her producer Dr. Luke, it was looking like Kesha’s career was flickering away. After the release of lead single “Praying”, people around the world heard it and said, “This is Kesha?” Indeed, after subtracting the Auto Tune and abrasive electronics, the reinvention that came next was cathartic, reflective and a message for all that giving up gets you nowhere. Rainbow is not afraid to show its imperfections. By revealing what was underneath the crusty glitter, we see Kesha for who she is: a singer, a songwriter and a woman who wants her voice to be heard.

10. Number 1 Angel — Charli XCX

Charli XCX proves herself to be one of the most innovative pop stars the world has. She takes sonic risks in pop that are a prototype of what the future could sound like. Number 1 Angel is chaotic, sexy, a little harsh and progressive pop at its finest. Though she may not be as big as Taylor Swift, her approach to pop usurps any self professed princess of pop.

9. Utopia — Bjork

With its deceptive title, Utopia isn’t necessarily about being in paradise, but learning to create a new happy universe for yourself. After her bitter separation from long time partner Matthew Barney, Bjork takes us on a journey about new love, anxieties as well as spiteful attempts by her ex to tarnish this new chapter in her life. Even by the end, we aren’t sure if she’s fully reached utopia, but all that could be is enough to keep creating a new and beautiful world.

8. Arca — Arca

2017 has been quite the year for Arca, but his biggest achievement is his self titled third album. Here, Arca opens up, bringing his voice, culture and his incredible skill for creating a sound all his own to the table. Sung in Spanish, these songs still speak to you despite the language barrier. It’s emotional, unsettling, mysterious and electrically charged. But, despite it’s disturbed nature, there are moments of profound beauty that only a master class musician can create.

7. I See You — The xx

Re-drawing their tortured adolescent love blueprint, The xx bring us into a stunning up-beat direction. With the use of sampling and mid-tempo programmed beats by Jamie xx, their new sonic pallet is addicting and a breath of fresh air. Not to mention singers Oliver Sim and Romy Madley Croft’s vocals have improved their craft to further sink their teeth into the deepest emotions of their audience. A stunning third effort.

6. Hiss Spun — Chelsea Wolfe

After her experimental release Abyss, Chelsea Wolfe takes those elements and tightens the formula to perfection. A mix of heavy metal, doom rock and even a little bit of screamo, Wolfe channels anger, disgust and viscous ambition on Hiss Spun. As she prowls over every track with confidence, this album cements her as one of the most influential Alt-Rock artists of our generation.

5. Lust For Life — Lana Del Rey

Flowers in her hair and a big smile on her face, Lana Del Ray mixes it up while still staying true to her unique sound. Blending her signature old school influences, modern hip hop and light electronics, Del Rey shows that she’s not just moody and damaged, but she’s sensitive too. With all the drugs, hazy California daydreams and the fuck boys, she can still grin and even mock herself with a drug induced “oh well”. Here, we see Del Rey at her most realized and artistically daring.

4. No Shape — Perfume Genius

For those of you expecting bruised piano balladry from Perfume Genius, prepare for a surprise. Opening track “Otherside” opens with his signature dreary piano followed by a booming clash of drums, chimes, celeste, choir singers and bells trickling back to that melancholy piano. Blooming with sonic risks, No Shape reaches heights of beauty so astounding, that the listener can’t help but feel the pain, the love and the truth behind his genius.

3. Take Me Apart — Kelela

The debut album by Kelela is everything a die hard fan could have dreamed of. The experimental R&B artist brings her own brand of dreamy electronically tweaked hip hop to the dance floor and the bedroom. It’s sensual, seductive and dejected. It’s so well made that the short minute and 12 seconds of “Bluff” is a masterpiece in its own right. Take Me Apart breaks new ground for what R&B and hip hop could be and makes Kelela an artist to watch for years to come.

2. Melodrama — Lorde

Lorde is an extraordinary young woman who over-flows with creative energy, an ear for sound and lyrical imagery that is beyond her years. On Melodrama, we find Lorde dealing with her first big breakup. While the songs here range from pop bangers like “Supercut” to the forlorn “Liability”, they all push pop in their own way. With help from producer Jack Antonoff, they merge kooky sounds with complex compositions to make a jaw dropping display of her originality.

  1. Ctrl — SZA

It’s been a long road for SZA to release her debut album, but good things come to those who wait. On Ctrl, SZA relies on her life experiences and raw honesty in her lyrical content instead of the metaphorical lyricism of her early work. Now, we see a clearer portrait of the singer as an artist. She’s sensitive, emotional, horny, questioning, reflecting and a lover all wrapped into one perfect hip hop force of nature. Not to mention that voice! She climbs the notes and breaks them apart with such grace and effortlessness. There’s no doubt that this album has touched the hearts of millions of people and will be deeply treasured by many. 2017 was a year of great music, but the biggest gift this year gave us was Ctrl and the voice of an incredibly talented young woman.