Favorite albums of 2017

So, 2017 was either the best year for music this century, or we all needed it to be. Here’s the list.

🤩 A+ Records

  1. Diet Cig — Swear I’m Good At This

Apologies to Nietzsche and Jesus, but generally one of the best compliments you can give a writer is an incorrect reading. It might signal to them that they do in fact contain multitudes — as great writers do — but in the least it shows you care enough to think deeply about the intellectual traditions in their work, even though you’re wrong. Alex Luciano deserves all that praise and considerably than there’s room for. With Swear I’m Good at This she captures the decade between 16 and 26 so completely, and with care enough to balance its vast contradictions (the unmotivatable ambition, a sexual empowerment that erodes your confidence, a growing independence that somehow leaves you more reliant than ever on your parents), that she earns several readings she probably didn’t intend. My favorite, from “Bath Bomb:” when a millennial with literary gifts as considerable as Luciano’s sings “And these days / I could stay / In the bath til / I decay,” you should accept that she also means to say “And these days / I could stay / In the bath til / IDK.” The meaning of every other word in the song, and in this way the song’s emotional fabric, hinges on the difference between these two interpretations. Is this genuine suffering or some early-20’s melodrama? Maybe she’s not withering but literally just texting someone from the tub. If so, who? A guy? Her mom? You could keep listening and try to figure it out. You won’t. But that’s among the profound joys of this record. Well, that, and Noah Bowman plays drums like he’s holding two sticks of dynamite.

2. Zeal & Ardor — Devil Is Fine

I hate this project’s origin story, coming as it does from Nazi playground 4chan, where two anons challenged chamber pop, um, dilettante Manuel Gagneux to mash up black metal and, yes, “n***** music.” That this conversation took place in the corner of the surface web likeliest to have had a sinister hand in giving the presidency to Donald Trump is the only predictable aspect of this story. In the three years since, Zeal & Ardor has become the most controversial act in metal, and it’s not hard to see why: Devil is Fine is arguably at once metal and not, which I’m sure is nettlesome enough to the genre’s clan of purists, but it is also unambiguously a work of genius from an immigrant of mixed racial heritage. In this way, in this year, I suspect the full extent to which Gagneux’s genius is apparent pivots on (1) your political disposition and (2) your aesthetic biases — in that order. That’s why I fear Gagneux continues to get as many metal shows as he does because his genius (you know, inventing a new musical genre out of incompatible halves and making it seamless, thrilling, beautiful in less than three years) is being reduced to novelty, parody, or something worse by those in attendance. Here’s to hoping I’m very wrong, because Gagneux says he has more thoroughly-composed Zeal & Ardor material on the way. And metalheads, chamber poptimists, and all of us would be better off if the greatest innovator in metal since who cares kept making more of whatever the hell he wants to call this music.

3. Alex Lahey — I Love You Like a Brother

Alex Lahey says comparisons to Courtney Barnett are sexist, but I say I don’t know many Australians. Those I do know, however, are predictably worse at the whole capitalism thing than we Americans, which is why Vegemite costs $17.99 a jar — or can be sold in stores at all. But suppose Lahey didn’t have matters upside and backward like most Australians, and money meant more to her than principal. She’d still do well to reject such comparisons because they’d drag her down. She’s far better, and not just because she has the uncanny ability to turn songs about hugs into anthems you could demolish an arena with. She succeeds as a millennial rock star because she — this is so weird — seems like a great person. Yes, every song has a hook, and she can handle a guitar, but you’ll simply enjoy hanging out with her for an hour, and she’d probably say she likes hanging out with you too, even if you’re a “bit of a dick.”

😀 A Records

4. Jens Lekman — Life Will See You Now

It’s easy to underestimate the gentle white boy with a strange but endearing way of doing his English (in fact, you’re doing it right now) so you may have missed that Jens Lekman has spent his past thirteen years of professional life moving through profoundly different artistic periods in much the same way as, I dunno, Sonic Youth or Kanye West or Picasso have. If When I Said I Wanted To Be Your Dog is a new (kind of) artist’s raw hello, then Night Falls Over Kortedala is the grand overcorrection he took four years to properly recover from. An Argument With Myself then portraits the artist as a young man, bored with his accolades, turning to a calculated playfulness that does little to mask a politics he was then ready to declare. This emergence crumbles under the weight disaster because of (what else?) a girl, so he withdraws politically and musically in I Know What Love Isn’t. And now, the juxtaposition between Life Will See You Now’s hideous cover art and the sterling richness of its melodies does the work of telling us where this goofball has arrived in 2017: at a state of synthesis and acceptable contradiction. This, I am told, what it’s like to be in your 30's, a remarkably normal place for one Jens Lekman to be at 36. But don’t mistake this for complacency. Call it confidence. Listen to this record when you want to hear a weirdo bring to full flower (and I do mean flower) the strangeness of his gifts. May he continue to evolve for another thirteen years, and thirteen more after that. Or not. It sounds like he has everything he needs.

5. Kesha — Rainbow

If #MeToo proves to be the world historical foil to Trump’s shock victory that it appears destined to become, than Rainbow may grow in esteem in years ahead — not that it should have to. You can love this record the first time you put it on because it’s fun, and you’ll come to fall in love with it on repeated listens because it refracts a deeply personal and ultimately joyous story of self-love after tragedy through that fun. That year end polls have thrown a little love to “Praying” belies a mass failure to appreciate the fun and the larger complexity of the record’s narrative structure, which delivers a triumph even finer than her startling high note. So allow me to remedy matters by nominating to my own lifetime poll “Starship,” where an album’s worth of escapist fantasy (see: “Rainbow,” Hunt You Down,” and “Godzilla”) gets the payoff it deserves — and with a banjo no less! Try not to tear up as you hear a survivor ascend into a great, alien beyond of her own pained design. It won’t be out of sadness, but out of sheer appreciation of her power to create.

6. Burial — Subtemple / Beachfires

I’m at pains not to hear a record that captures a torture — or at best a lobotomy — followed by its desensitized aftermath. You can make out someone strain against a gurney, medical tools rinsed with the familiar cinematic plash of clinical hands, and an androgynous horror declaring “all that’s left is the procedure.” But despite the starkness of these noises, I’m not certain if ‘subtemple’ means “forced cranial surgery” or “drawn straight from William Emmanual Bevan’s consciousness.” That’s because, inasmuch as he paints the physical elements of the scene with terrifying realism, Bevan blurs out the edges with the startling specter of what I assume are his own dream sounds — sounds both benign and menacing, transitory and hotly industrial, and dramatic enough in their contrasts to inspire anxiety that lasts the whole time you’re listening. This is the closest thing to a nightmare I’ve ever heard awake. Think “Lady Godiva’s Operation” with all the levity of “The Gift,” and, worse still, none of the percussion. His achievement is twofold: (1) that he managed to capture this feeling at all and (2) that I want to hear it again (and again and again) without any goddamn drums. I guess my official advice is not to take drugs, but especially don’t before listening to this record. You might find it has a way of burrowing into, well, you know. For what it’s worth, Philip Sherburne says this record is about a man who goes fishing.

7. Fred Thomas — Changer

There are at least two ways to wring high tragedy out of workaday obscurity. You could do what Bruce Springsteen has done for 40-odd years, and impart a human touch to every wild, innocent Tom, Dick, or Harry born in this country — each with high hopes, busy working on that American dream, certain they’ll overcome. The kinda guys born down by the river in, say, Nebraska, who can work his magic every day with the local wrecking crew at the edge of town but runs by night from the devils and ghosts of a private past. Tunnel of Love. Or, you could be an actual Tom, Dick, or Harry, or in this case, a Fred, sing about the wistful bullshit of everyday life, most of which takes place at the mall, and enrich your otherwise ordinary rock and roll album with some existentially stirring arrangements: a choir of haunting women in “Misremembered,” a triumph of a guitar solo made pathetic because it’s recorded through the other end of a tin can in “Brickwall,” a desperate, troubling ska tribute in the middle of “Voiceover,” and, the real coup, a string section to end “Mallwalkers” that makes time spent sober, away from video games and your dog seem like the final pages of Hamlet. It isn’t, of course — it’s a lot realer than that.

8. Priests — Nothing Feels Natural

This thing is wrapped in so many layers of irony you begin to wonder if Katie Greer is brilliant or has absolutely nothing to say beneath it all. But with lyrics like “My best friend says ‘I want to start a band called Burger King’ and I say ‘Do it,’ / Make your dreams a reality / Achieve your dreams Burger King / Achieve your dreams Burger King / Achieve your dreams Burger King,” maybe that’s the point. Although it would’ve been funnier if she’d said ‘Have it your way.”

9. Nitty Scott — Creature!

Creature! would’ve been the intersectional specimen of the year even if Nitty Scott hadn’t the (richly deserved) confidence to declared it so already. That’s because — positioned between queer, Buddhist, female, Afro-Hispanic, and rapper — Scott would have fascinating things to tell us even if she didn’t have the unworldly literary gifts she deploys to say them so well. Part of what she has to say is that she recognizes these gifts, and trusts the world knows about them despite her somewhat anemic 52.3k IG followers: “I still don’t really know where I’m getting my next plate / So I’m offended when you ask me ‘Where the fuckin’ mixtape?’ / … Who gave you magic since 2008? / Created dialogue inside of ignorant space? / My story is known to spark a thousand debates / Imitating me so well they copy mistakes.” Okay, so she probably hasn’t sparked a thousand debates yet. But call it a wise prediction. She’s inevitable.

10. Ibeyi — Ash

You know how 808’s and Heartbreaks has come in the popular consciousness to mean “the most influential record of the past six centuries” or whatever hyperbole? Okay, well I once believed the same might come to be true of Jamie xx’s fascinating-if-not-great We’re Now Here, which refracts a spoken Gil Scott-Heron through the ten thousand shards of his broken life. Sadly, We’re Now Here is almost as old as 808’s and I haven’t heard too many of its children. Had I been right, I would’ve come across a track as astonishing as “No Man is Big Enough for my Arms” sooner — reinforcing Michelle Obama as it does with a powerful choir of woman who may well be American, French, Spanish, or Nigerian, but who are unmistakably lifted by a profound music that blends the cultures thereof. In this way, the song probably owes no debts to Jamie xx but to sources unknown to most dumb white guys like him and me. I’m at pains to thank Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Diaz for the introduction.

11. IDLES — Brutalism

I guess I don’t listen to enough barbarous post-punk to make a keener comparison, but damn does this gang of Kango operators remind me of the Sex Pistols. For one thing, the music is, you guessed it, brutal, simple, and heavy — and at times indifferent to the rotten flamboyance of the lead singer. It’s as if anyone could be singing about anything over these arrangements and you’d enjoy its swift savagery. But, crucially, it’s not just anyone singing — it’s Joe Talbot, whose wit is much finer and whose politics is markedly less, um, vacant than John Lydon’s. And you’re certain to miss both if you fail to indulge these guys beyond that brute muscality I mentioned. Consider, from ‘Mother,’ a stunning and unusually funny array of declarations: “My mother worked 17 hour, seven days a week / … the best way to scare a Tory is to read and get rich / … I know nothing, I’m just sitting here looking at pretty colors /… Sexual violence doesn’t start and end with rape, / it starts in our books and behind our school gates. / Men are scared women will laugh in their face, / whereas women are scared it’s their lives men will take.” “Bodies,” that is not. It’s smarter, gentler, and way more ferocious.

12. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit — Nashville Sound

My privilege is such that, no, you would never mistake me for one of the narrators who make up the choir of rural voices in Nashville Sound, but you may well mistake most of my relatives. So I speak with some degree of knowledge when I say, yes, this is a political tome, and its vision is as sure as its songs are thorough-crafted (not to mention as Jason’s voice is moving). That even the heroes in these songs disappoint us by just failing to satisfy minimum thresholds of political grace is a subtle and masterful feature of Isbell’s achievement, not a bug. These are real people, and they’re just as disappointing for it. Thereby, this record is not a roadmap to solutions, nor is it a lucid history of what exactly brought forth the administration that now hovers over everyone like a monstrous storm cloud. Instead, it is more accurately a crystallization of the Small Town that helped bring the world this wretched, farcical moment — with all its many contradictions, challenges, shortcomings, and, yes, charms. You can have JD Vance, who for all his self-regard and libertarian moralizing is closer to Trump than all the people he’s set out to blame for Trump. In case you weren’t sure, that would be these well-meaning, totally disappointing people.

13. Japanese Breakfast — Soft Sounds from Another Planet

You’d think Michelle Zauner could only convey so much in whispers, but you’d of course be wrong. When she’s not busy at work with Craig Hendrix making guitars talk Sonic Youthful on her behalf with that unmistakable and long-missed pop/fuzz fusion, she’s cajoling, inciting, insulting, intoning, imploring, seducing, and commanding with that whisper of hers. Plus, there’s an entire symphony of other noises, including a ukulele, a bunch of synths, vocoders aplenty, an actual symphony backing her on ‘Boyish,’ and something I can’t place in “The Body is a Blade” that sounds like a stringed xylophone. You hear ears thinking everywhere, and altogether it points to Radiohead more than even Sonic Youth, despite the fuzz. The difference is Zauner has more, um, sex and jokes… neither of which it’s clear Thom Yorke has ever had.

14. Old 97’s — Graveyard Whistling

Kids, pay close attention. Rhett Miller is, at 47, proof that it’s OK not to seek real help for your major depression as long as you self-medicate so much you can’t tell reality from a cliche Western and, failing that, you hate yourself so much it’s funny to other people — and maybe even funny to yourself in a sick metaphysical sort of way. There’s an important lesson for all of you there. He’s a rock star.

15. Holy Wars — Mother Father

If Evanescence had melodies. Six songs of that.

16. Arcade Fire — Everything Now

I don’t understand what happened here. It’s supposed to work like this. Every three years, Arcade Fire releases another loud middlebrow take on a Big Theme, the cool kids declare it a Definitive Statement, the rest of us Basically Like It, and after a fashion everyone returns to their Dreadful Postmodern Hellscap… uh, Normal Lives. But something deep and essential broke in 2017 (any guesses?), and the pop literari staged a revolt. Why this finally happened when our heroes made a dumb pop record is especially confusing, with luminaries in post-ironic mass market pop (LCD Soundsystem, The War on Drugs, Thundercat, and Father John Misty) and actual mass market pop (Kendrick, Lorde, Jay-Z, and Kesha) performing well in year-end polls. But befitting both the album and its detractors, I have a few stupid ideas. I’m surprised to say that maybe, when paired with an improved rhythm section , Win Butler and company prove a little too skilled at postmodern lit analysis for their own good! Hear me out. This record subsumes the hyperbole and phosphorescence of their baroque pop into 80’s rock, funk, country, and — Christ — hip hop successfully enough that if you aren’t the kind to pay attention too closely, you might mistake it for some real stoopid shit. And if you’re actually a fan of these genres, forget it; who the fuck is Arcade Fire? If, however, you’re an Arcade devotee and the kind to pay some attention, their brand of techno-burlesque is a little too on the nose in both content and in form, which is a real problem. Take, for instance, “Creature Comfort,” with its ruminations on panopticon self-loathing — drowning as it is in synths, power chords, and a sprightly chorus of women. Remember how I said something deep and essential broke in 2017? Yeah, it’s that fetid Cheeto who took up permanent residence in your frontal lobe. You have no room for music this dark and complicated. Put on something actually stoopid, like Jay-Z or Father John Misty. …Anyway, where does this leave us? We’ve now eliminated all casual and most informed listeners — and that’s the killswitch. Who’s could possibly be the audience for this record? Judging by every poll I’ve seen, the answer is Win Butler and me. Why me? Well, speaking of “Creature Comfort,” if “God, make me famous / If You can’t, just make it painless / Just make it painless” doesn’t tell you all you need to know about that racist tumor in your frontal lobe and the culture that put it there, you, um, aren’t listening. Not that I blame you.

17. Burial — Pre Dawn / Indoors

This is almost as good as the one without drums. I guess what I’m saying is: if only it had more torture.

18. Jaden Smith — SYRE

This wasn’t supposed to happen. Sadly, it did.

19. Major Lazer — Know No Better EP

Jonah Bromwich’s tepid 6.4 Pitchfork review of this EP commits some sneaky and unforgivable dialectical sins. It admits, sure, Major Lazer returns with its signature miasma of cultural signifiers and stadium pretensions, but you’re not going to have fun with it. Why not? Follow with me here: (1) diplo and co. are cynically mining the same tract of inspiration that produced the undeniable Peace is the Mission and its smash number 4 song-of-summer hit “Lean On,” (2) the record’s VIP guest list of club-wise features get swallowed by the music itself, and (3) for all their drive and fun, these songs are conceptually bankrupt — whatever the fuck that means. With an escalation in premises like that, you might already have guessed the payoff, which Bromwich throws in so casually you almost think he’s embarrassed: (4) diplo is our “appropriator-in-chief.” QED. There it is! So, diplo isn’t merely another thieving white guy, but by hamfisted declaration, he’s the thieving white guy — arrayed by implication with the very worst person to ascend high office in half a century. Now look, I am not going to deny diplo is a thoughtless dumbass, nor am I qualified to determine what is and is not a sinister kind of appropriation (there are good kinds! e.g. every song by MIA, who, don’t forget, became an international megastar with diplo’s help, just as he did with hers). But here’s what I can say: I know that Bromwich didn’t actually listen to this record. He looked at it, drew shallow from the well of liberal ideology, crafted an equally shallow conclusion, turned the music on, and worked backwards until he had something nominal to say about the music. So, I’m going to do the movement of his stupid argument justice and dispose of it in reverse. (4) diplo is not Donald Trump, even if he has no idea why, (3) ‘conceptually bankrupt’ doesn’t mean anything, (2) where the features are swallowed by the music, they are swallowed because Diplo, Jillionaire, and Walshy Fire are uncommonly skilled musicians who can — (1) as Bromwich admits himself — synthesize dancehall, afrobeat, samba, soca, (I had to look this up) bashment soca, hip hop, Nigerian hip hop, R&B, trap, and, you know, dubstep and turn it into an 18-minute EP millions of people pay gobs of money to hear live — including, importantly, several million white kids who would do well to look up ‘bashment soca’ themselves. Is diplo profiting off the riddims of poor people of color? Yes, definitely. Is his existence, inasmuch as it distributes these sounds where they don’t normally go, a net positive? I don’t know. I hope. At the very least, to support this final premise with its own conclusion, it shows diplo definitely isn’t Donald Trump, who is guilty of precisely the opposite: shoving his particular brand of grotesque whiteness down the throat of everyone, everywhere. But I’ve digressed from the real point that Bromwich missed. Does this music sound good? Yes. It sounds astonishing, just like Peace is the Mission — and the Know No Better EP is license enough to keep mining the same tract inspiration that delivered it, if such a tract even exists. I don’t know how you repeat yourself when you create a new genre everytime you write a song. Oh, and PS: To blame all of this on diplo, Jonah, is to erase the intentionality of Jillionaire and Walshy Fire, which is — big surprise — awful.

20. Body Count — Bloodlust

It’s 2017 as hell that the year’s most uplifting song is called “No Lives Matter,” and is sequenced on a record called Bloodlust after a, um, let’s call it late capitalism picaresque about a young man who wakes from a blackout declaring “Dismemberments is all that I’m remembering / Bloodstains, pieces of brains under my fingernails.” But this is the future you voted for, America, and Ice-T is out here making lemonade. But really, “No Lives Matter” is the song of the year because Tracy Lauren Marrow is one of the few people in contemporary memory who has inhabited the extremes of class, media, popular music, civilian life (I forgot he was in the Army), controversy (did you know he hosts a podcast now?), and most of all race (when you actually consider the lives this man has lived, the fact that he doesn’t drink is basically a miracle). So when he of all people contextualizes Black Lives Matter into broader considerations of wealth, power, historical inequity, and poverty — and moreover he saves a tight, competent band’s most explosive song for the occasion — you and the family down the street and the woman next to you on the bus and the president all have ample cause to listen. Here’s to hoping the song’s merely great and not timeless genius.

21. The Magnetic Fields — 50 Song Memoir

Observational, yes. Deadpan, of course! Dispassionate, ugh, please. Critics, you can do better than googling other reviews and herding the delusion that this gruff little weirdo’s life’s work isn’t of course dripping with kind of emotional turmoil one might expect from a famously eccentric (and let’s not forget, um, famous) introverted gay autodidact. Case in point: the 1990’s sound exactly how they must have felt for poor 20-something Stephin Merritt. But he can be forgiven because (A) your twenties can kinda suck! (B) his twenties culminated in, oh, just the most unique pop album ever and (C) I can listen to the other 40 songs on this unbelievably generous (and, yes, rather emotional!) sequel.

22. Danny Brown — Accelerator

Last year I worried that Atrocity Exhibition was Danny Brown pulling a Gertrude Stein, who in her Oxford lecture series, Composition as Explanation, devotes two of the most convoluted paragraphs she’s capable of (saying something!) belaboring the idea that inventive art is wildly irritating to everyone until everyone, later surrounded by other work that draws influence from the original, changes their mind about the definition of aesthetics. At such a time, tragically, the author is almost always dead, but! — nice consolation prize — everyone starts to think their book is pretty. I drew this conclusion because (A) for a semi-popular rapper, Danny Brown is into weird shit just enough that he might read Gertrude Stein, (B) Atrocity Exhibition, as a clause, is, you know, a much cooler update to Stein’s original statement, “a thing irritating annoying stimulating,” and (C) compositionally, the record is more or less a genuine innovation in hip hop (oh, and (D) I know it’s a goddamn Joy Division reference, shut up). It’s about 80% of the way to a dense rock album overdubbed with flow deft enough to survive such tempestuous waters — and for that alone, it’s a little genius. I stress it is that alone. Maybe this makes me one of Stein’s shitty, myopic readers, but last year’s LP sounds distinctly like an album less than the sum of the grand thinking and design that Danny Brown and Paul White put into it. Accelerator does not. In fact, so explosively does it exceed the upper bound of its compositional framework, Accelerator lands near the top of this list despite featuring only four songs — two of which are the karaoke versions of the other two! My take is doubly strange because you might say this castoff EP, um, accelerates some of the more dangerous tendencies underway in Atrocity Exhibition. These songs test if rock can actually go to eleven; they borrow from the psychedelic tradition, prog, some French stuff I had to research, other rocks I didn’t know enough about to even begin researching, plus there’s a damn flute… Really, the fact that Danny Brown appears metaphysically incapable of singing is the only thing that keeps this record within the blearing stable of hip hop. In fact, it’s so good I’m tempted to give Atrocity Exhibition more time before Danny Brown dies and we all realize a hair too late it’s actually Sgt Peppers. Whether it is or not, I’m happy to call Accelerator his (tiny ass, four song/two song) White Album.

23. Conor Oberst — Salutations

History is littered with young men who entered a decade-long slump after making the regrettable decision to become a version of Bob Dylan. We’re in the midst of Chris Martin’s, who claims to have listened to Blonde on Blonde religiously while recording Mylo Xyloto (isn’t that funny?). Jake Bugg’s whole professional existence is another good example, and he’s only 23! Just imagine how long his slump could last. Bob Dylan even did this to himself a few times. So it’s a minor miracle that Conor Oberst gave us a genuine counterexample in pulling himself out of a decade-long slump by becoming the (it’s unbelievable) 1960’s version of Bob Dylan. And we have proof that’s what happened: these same songs sucked just one year ago on Ruminations, when he was still just regular old Conor Oberst. The only downside here is generational. It’s official: the closest thing millenials have to Newport 1965 is the guy from Bright Eyes suffering a midlife crisis. 😢

24. Ross from Friends — The Outsiders

I wonder if I’m the only person I know who’s picked up on this so-called lo-fi house thing. It could be because the people I know are too embarrassed to say “DJ Seinfeld” or “Ross from Friends” aloud (or even online) and I don’t exactly blame them. I do however blame rock critics, who may be the actual reason no one I know talks about these acts. They don’t exactly love this music. A few of them have even said things like “there’s a limit to how good it can be.” I can’t decide if that’s the stupidest or the most blasphemous thing I’ve ever heard, so I’ll settle for Stuphemous, which, come to think of it, is a better stage name than Ross from Friends. Anyway, this record features the aesthetic pretenses of someone like Aphex Twin, the negative sublime of Burial, and the cultural range of Four Tet. That doesn’t do it for you? Imagine DJ Shadow got more out of Aesop Rock than Biggie. Listen to “Suzinak” first if you don’t believe the hype. It’s good enough to make one forgive the stage name… nearly. He couldn’t have picked Chandler?

25. Brad Paisley — Love and War

Don’t fall for the marketing. Unassuming cornball Brad Paisley is the appalling inherent vice of popular music criticism, and not just because he’s started acting in those grievous chicken-parm-you-taste-so-good State Farm commercials with Peyton Manning. No, he’s problematic for a different reason. If the field is gonna have any aesthetic credibility at all, the only arena-ready pop country musician with mostly sympathetic politics can’t also be the act we recommend at the exclusion of all the skillful fascists, “Red Solo Cup” notwithstanding. I think the hive mind is wise to this, which is an even bigger problem, because no one’s “liked” anything he’s done since he had the chicken nuggets to suggest he wasn’t voting for the white guy. That’s a decade of getting the shaft so a bunch of freelancers can keep up pretenses. Yet like most of his other records, Love and War is only easy to dismiss if you’re a conservative, a bad person, or deeply unfun. Who wouldn’t love to see that Venn diagram?

26. Macklemore — Gemini

I read a Buzzfeed article this year that simultaneously argues that Macklemore’s career is problematic because he appropriates blackness and because he doesn’t appropriate blackness enough. I don’t know what the hell this well-intentioned artist is supposed to do — and if I were him, I’d have essentializing doubts about my art. Luckily, I am not Macklemore. It looks like his answer to the question is “Continue making enough stupid music people can dance to that I can periodically make woke music a smaller group of people can complain about.”

27. Code Orange — Forever

Okay. What?

28. Radiohead — OK Computer OKNOTOK (20th anniversary edition)

Pretty OK. But not as good as this tweet.

29. Monster Rally — Flowering Jungle

Critics seem to think this dude’s at work making escapist music for raver millennials and a few of their overworked parents. But I hear something else lurking inherent in Ted Feighan’s brass and ukulele. To know why, we need to do a little biographical work. The guy grew up in Cleveland, which, as a Pittsburgher, I am obliged to declare the darkest and most woe-begotten experiment of a city in the world. At writing, it‘s about 6 degrees Fahrenheit there. Second, he’s a 30-year-old DJ, and not a terribly popular one at that. I’m not sure he’s had the time or the scratch to even vacation at the kinds of places this music recalls. So where does this leave us? Let’s be charitable and call it a simulacrum instead of a fraud. This goes some distance in explaining why I sense a kind of exciting problem with the arrangements. It’s not so much a fly in the sunscreen as a tarantula in the bananas or an axe murderer on the veranda — a barely perceptible but decidedly tropical horror you catch peripherally and too late to do anything about. I mean, he did call himself ‘Monster Rally’ after all. And if you think I’m being mean or indulgent, note that’s the only reading I can offer that makes this music less creepy. Otherwise it’s just a dude in his basement in Cleveland, inventing beach music from samples of 1950’s brass ensembles.

😊 A- Records

30. God Colony — Where We Were

31. Miguel — War & Leisure

32. Paramore — After Laughter

33. Charlotte Gainsbourg — Rest

34. Tyler, The Creator — Flower Boy

35. Orchesta Baobab — Tribute to Ndiouga Dieng

36. Waxahatchee — Out in the Storm

37. Injury Reserve — Drive It Like Its Stolen

38. They — Nü Religion: HYENA

39. Leikeli47 — Wash & Set

40. Vince Staples — Big Fish Theory

41. John Maus — Screen Memories

42. Logic — Everybody

43. Yotam — Avni Tehillim

44. Anti-Flag — American Fall

45. Gogol Bordello — Seekers & Finders

46. Fever Ray — Plunge

47. Youssou N’Dour — Seeni Valeurs

48. Ross from Friends — Don’t Sleep, There are Snakes

49. Ross from Friends — You’ll Understand

50. Naaahhh — Themes

51. Khalid — American Teen

52. Withered Hand & a Singer of Songs — Among Horses I

53. Dawn Oberg — Nothing Rhymes with Orange

54. Ed Sheeren — Divide

55. Various Artists — HOWSLA

56. Sharam — Collecti, Pt. 1

57. Collin Strange — How I Creep

58. The National — Sleep Well Beast

59. Apanhador Só — Meio Que Tudo É Um

60. Emptyset — Borders

61. Rolling Blackouts Coastal — Fever Tight Talk

62. Hard Working Americans — We’re All In This Together

63. LCD Soundsystem — american dream

64. Populous — Azulejos

65. Tinariwen — Elwan

66. Mr Lif & Akrobatik — Resolution

67. Mura Masa — Mura Masa

68. Botany — Raw Light II

69. D33J — Death Valley Oasis

70. Everything is Recorded — Close But Not Quite

71. GoldLink — At What Cost

72. Run The Jewels — Run The Jewels 3

73. Lil Wayne & T-Pain — T-Wayne [2009]

74. Porcelain Raft — Microclimate

75. The Paranoid Style — Underworld USA

76. Kendrick Lamar — DAMN.

77. Lee Ronaldo — Electric Trim

78. Vagabon — Infinite Worlds

79. Tribalistas — Tribalistas (2017)

80. Various Artists — Gold Digger (Full Tracks)

81. Scott Gilmore — Subtle Vertigo

82. Jonwayne — Rap Album Two

😌 B+ Records (in no obvious order)

83. Arca — Arca
84. Nnamdi Ogbonnaya — DROOL
85. French Montana — Jungle Rules
86. Grandaddy — Last Place
87. Mr Tophat / Robyn — Trust Me
88. Ravyn Lenae — Midnight Moonlight EP
89. Sinkane — Life & Livin’ It
90. Syd — Fin
91. The xx — I See You
92. Wavves — You’re Welcome
93. Allison Crutchfield — Tourist in this Town
94. Amine — Good For You
95. Angles 9 — Disappeared Behind the Sun
96. Anti-Flag — Live Vol. 1
97. DJ Seinfeld — Sunrise EP
98. Future Islands — The Far Field
99. GAS — Narkopop
100. Hamell on Trial — Tackle Box
101. Lorde — Melodrama
102. Odesza — A Moment Apart
103. Slowdive — Slowdive
104. Washed Out — Mister Mellow
105. Mr Muthafuckin’ eXquire — Brainiac
106. Oneohtrix Point Never — Good Time Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
107. DJ Seinfeld — Time Spent Away from U

😐 B Records (in no obvious order)

108. Arto Lindsay — Cuidado Madame
109. Future — HNDRXX
110. Juice — Post Interview
111. Migos — Culture
112. The New Pornographers — Whiteout Conditions
113. Vanbot — Siberia
114. HEALTH — DISCO3
115. Jlin Black — Origami
116. Thundercat — “Drunk”

😒 Notable B- and worse records (in no obvious order)

117. Brian Eno — Reflection
118. Cloud Nothings — Life Without Sound
119. Sampha — Process
120. Steve Aoki — Kolony
121. Visible Cloaks — Disassembleges
122. Future — FUTURE
123. Chief Keef — Two Zero One Seven
124. Dirty Projectors — Dirty Projectors
125. Pharmakon — Contact
126. Cashmere Cat — Nine
127. Grizzly Bear — Painted Ruins
128. Japandroids — Near to the Wild Heart of Life
129. Woods — Love is Love
130. Kelela — Take Me Apart
140. King Krule — The OOZ
150. St. Vincent — Masseducation
151. Yung Lean — Stranger

😖 Albums I listened to more than half of but couldn’t finish (in no obvious order)

152. (Sandy) Alex G — Rocket
153. Amber Coffman — City of No Reply
154. Charli XCX — Number 1 Angel
155. Mark Kozelek and Sean Yeaton — Yellow Kitchen
156. Oh Wonder — Ultralife
157. Phoenix — Ti Amo
158. Tory Lanez — Chixtape 4
159. Tory Lanez — The New Toronto 2
160. Various Artists — Mono No Aware
161. Mount Kimbie — Love What Survives
162. Pink — Beautiful Trauma

💩 The Worst Album in the Universe — 2017 Edition

163. The War on Drugs — A Deeper Understanding

I can’t play the piano, but a friend once taught me to hold down the sustain pedal and strike only the black keys. Any combination of notes you play under these conditions will produce a simple, ethereal, um, melody that fades gradually to nothing. You actually can’t mess it up if you just stick to the formula. Is it music? I don’t know. But try it at your next holiday party. If those who stop to listen have had a little wine and don’t know or care what the fuck you’re up to, what the hell. Keep playing.