The Top 20 Albums of the Year, 10–1
Two days ago, I published the first ten of the top 20 albums list here. On to the top 10!
10. DAMN., Kendrick Lamar
There’s a part of me that still believes that Kendrick will never make anything as perfect as both an album and a statement than To Pimp a Butterfly. So it’s a good thing here that Kendrick is smarter than trying to recapture that magic. Damn. instead turns Kendrick’s eye inwards towards himself, as hinted by the brilliant “U” from Butterfly. Every line on the record serves the record’s theme of whether both sides of Kendrick’s life, as the biggest rapper in the world and simultaneously the scared depressed person he still is at heart. Of course, an album like this wouldn’t work if Kendrick wasn’t one of the best rappers, both technically and lyrically, in history. More than anything else, this album solidifies Kendrick as one of the all time greats. No need to be humble.
9. Saturation II, Brockhampton
Brockhampton is almost certainly the best groups to come out of 2017. With three albums released this year, you can think of this as a representation of the whole trilogy, I just chose II since it’s better than the debut, and I haven’t listened to III yet. Brockhampton is a beautiful declaration of music without having to answer to anyone else. For a group with eight rappers on any given album, it’s a remarkably cohesive release, with Kevin Abstract remaining likely the breakout star of the group. It’s looking back at the old greats and looking forward at the same time, carving its own paths no matter what the rest of the industry says.
8. Slowdive, Slowdive
The unsung heroes of the shoegaze movement, Slowdive’s first album in almost two decades shows how to do a comeback record right. Similar to My Bloody Valentine’s self-titled from 2013, what’s most startling is the sense of growth. While most bands either give in to modern trends in music or stay steadfast in old ideas, Slowdive’s self-titled paints a completely separate painting in its music, away from the lushness of Souvlaki and the emptiness of Pygmalion. Instead, this album finds a comic mix between the two, with beautiful dream pop that still feels skeletal and fragile. If only the new Ride was this good.
7. A Deeper Understanding, The War on Drugs
If anything, this album definitely holds a place as one of the best produced albums of all time. Adam Granduciel has made a name for himself with some of the lushest rock music of the last decade, combining the dreamiest of dream pop with the heartland comfort of Springsteen’s best. There’s a strong sense of knowing with Understanding, like a memory you uncovered a new perspective for. The songs naturally fill the room, until you feel like you’re in the same space. It’s a transcendent release, perfect for anything from driving away to a new home, to lying in bed in the embrace of the home you could have.
6. The Underside of Power, Algiers
Who would’ve thought Industrial and Gospel would work so well? Algiers stand out as one of the most one-of-a-kind bands of this generation, with dense musical backgrounds combining with the sheer power of lead singer Franklin James Fisher to create an almost dystopian vision of the world. So right there, you have a pretty perfect release for this year. And what better than to manage to work in trap beats underneath, along with classic Punk Blues like Jon Spencer? It’s disorienting, yet still hypnotizing, with a sense of sheer panic that could lead an uprising all on its own.
5. Big Fish Theory, Vince Staples
I think one of the things that defines my generation at this moment is a feeling of panic even when we’re supposed to be our most free-spirited. Which is why it’s so perfect that the best party album of the year feels this claustrophobic. With a sonic palette mainly focused on UK Garage along the lines of Burial (whose album Untrue, if you haven’t heard it — listen to it immediately!) Vince Staples shows everyone why he’s someone to pay more attention to in the coming years. He blends his lyrics masterfully to the beat, in a way where even his most prideful, there’s a sense of partying because of fear that this will be a feeling you can’t have otherwise. If you’ve seen the full cover to the album, you know the idea on display.
4. Crack Up, Fleet Foxes
If you’re like me and Fleet Foxes kinda slipped away after their S/T and you managed to not listen to Helplessness Blues, welcome to my very small boat, and check this record out. If there’s one thing that sticks to you about this group, it should be an almost bulletproof resistance to commercializing their music. Unlike other Indie Folk bands like Mumford and Sons or Iron and Wine, Fleet Foxes have stayed with music that perfectly captures the feeling of pastoral joy. You get the feeling that the whole band lives in the same tent and finds happiness in sunrise that we could only dream of. There’s something so powerfully open and beautiful, that reminds you of childhood dreams and hopes.
3. Mirror Reaper, Bell Witch
It may be my most genre-specific album on the list, and one that not everyone will like as much as I do, but no album managed to present itself as complete an experience as this album. A song in two parts that clocks in at an insane hour and twenty three minutes, Bell Witch creates a feeling not so much dystopian as post-apocalyptic, as the genre Funeral Doom never felt so apt a description. It’s a harrowing yet beautiful piece of music, that stands as a grand monolith of sorrow.
2. Sleep Well Beast, The National
I have always enjoyed the National’s music, but for the longest time, I had trouble describing myself as a National fan. While they consistently put out great albums, there always seemed to be an overall sense of malaise on it, with no major change in sound. Sleep Well Beast breaks the trend of that, with a set of songs that show how versatile a band they can be. There’s still a fogginess to their music, but for the first time, you can see lights starting to come through. There’s a sense of life in the music that hasn’t been reached since “False Empire,” and you have major reminders of just how skilled this band is.
1. 4eva is a Long Time, Big K.R.I.T.
No album this year created as powerful a statement of quality as Big K.R.I.T. did this year. Lagging in the trinity of conscious rappers exploding into the semi-mainstream in the early 2010s behind Kendrick and J. Cole, Big K.R.I.T. showed everyone that he wasn’t the person to sleep on with 4eva, a declaration of power for Southern Hip Hop that manages to equal Aquemini on the pantheon of regional rap. 4eva is, if nothing else, a celebration of what makes Southern Hip Hop as important a scene as Western and Eastern. Masterfully produced, with Big K.R.I.T. making a document for why he’s still one of the best in the game. An album that justifies its almost ninety minute runtime by never slowing down, it’s a classic rap album that should not be forgotten in the coming years.
And lastly, here are some honorable mentions that you should still check out, I just didn’t have enough space for all of them:
Phantom Brickworks, Bibio
Good for You, Amine
Volume 1: Flick Your Tongue, Bedwetter
Near to the Wild Heart of Life, Japandroids
Everywhere is Some Where, K. Flay
Emperor of Sand, Mastodon
The Death of Pablo, The Pablo Collective
Goths, Mountain Goats
Tomorrow: The Top 10 Worst Albums of the Year!