The 10 Best Albums of 2017

The 10 Best Albums of 2017

The albums that tore us apart, refueled our lust for life, and filled our desire for the most extravagant melodrama.

The albums that tore us apart, refueled our lust for life, and filled our desire for the most extravagant melodrama.

Text: Jake Viswanath

Presented in no particular order...

Lana Del Rey, Lust For Life 

From 2016, it was pretty obvious that 2017 was going to be absolutely hellish. However, Lana Del Rey emerging as our beacon of comfort and hope this year was something that wouldn't have even crossed our minds back then. But lo and behold, here she is, with her cherries and wine, rosemary and thyme, and a shoulder to cry on. On Lust For Life, Lana takes a step out from herself and examines the outside world (from the H of the Hollywood sign)—and she truly got it, singing about her bad baby before learning and going after the bad baby in office ever-so-politely. Lust For Life exceeds tremendously as a narrative, an expansion of her repertoire, and a spiritual sequel to so many Lana gems, exhibiting the greatest growth in her career thus far. And if comforting closer "Get Free" is any indication, she's not stopping her journey anytime soon.

SZA, Ctrl 

The long-rising artist finally broke out of the shadows with Ctrl, a contender for the most raw, brave, and honest album this year. Solana Rowe beautifully captures her innermost desires, thoughts, and confessions in a cohesive unit of raw strings, whizzing electronics, and delicate riffs, with her soulful voice at the center of it all. But she doesn’t explore herself alone. The strong women in her life emerge as pillars, beautifully weaving her messages throughout and transforming the album into one of female strength, through the open display of vulnerability. Ctrl isn’t just the sign of a rising icon—it plays as the bonafide classic of a strong woman who has multiple masterpieces in front of her.

St. Vincent, Masseduction 

Masseduction has a lot to digest (the album cover, for starters). Annie Clark's simple but striking messages pack a big punch. Her vocals, effortlessly switching from fragile vibrato to wailing yelps, are stronger than ever. Her guitar still shreds just as devilishly, but meshed with an unapologetically loud pop palette. But if the record provides anything, it's the best kind of overwhelm. Each individual track, whether a twisted nursery rhyme commentary or a somber, orchestral ode to a lost lover, stands as a masterpiece in itself. When played in sequence, we see Annie at her most bombastic, vulnerable, and open, crafting the ultimate break-up record and an intense societal commentary through her own witty lens, with loads of dense one-liners along the way. We're still trying to process the whole thing, and it sounds like bliss every time we try.

LANY, LANY

Boy bands have a set pattern to follow: create fun and trendy pop that's just harmonious enough to gain the attention of teen girls and jaded pop fans, then take advantage of their sentimental and obsessive natures to capture their hearts for the next few years. But LANY (if you can even call them a boy band) has got fanatics for a different reason. The rhythmic dream-pop of Paul Klein, Jake Goss, and Les Priest conjures up nostalgia for 80s proms, Californian summers, and cheesy rom-coms you watch with your best friend at 2AM, while putting impressive craftsmanship and a dedication to pop above all else. You can claim your favorite member before their inevitable rise if you so desire, but with LANY, you get lost in the music first, as they fill the void for that melancholic and romantic soundtrack to your high school days.

Kesha, Rainbow

The fact that this album even happened is a miracle in itself; the fact that it turned out to be so good is just a bonus. Rainbow was the product of utter devotion, tears, and unfathomable pain, brought on after being restricted creatively and legally during her court case against former producer Dr. Luke. And yet, for most of the record, Kesha retains her glowing positivity, light-hearted defiance, and the unapologetic flirty-gone-crazy attitude that defined the spirit of her first two records, but filtered through a more authentic rock and folk-pop lens. It's an album that could've only come from Kesha Rose Sebert, with her fun-loving rowdy personality and open emotional wounds proudly seeping through each track, creating an optimistic journey for us and, most importantly, herself.

Charli XCX, Pop2

OK, Charli XCX's actual third album still remains to be seen, but the two mixtapes she's released this year in lieu of the proper record stand proudly as full bodies of work, both propelling her sound forward and distinguishing her place in the music world. But it's Pop2 that truly feels next-level, taking her PC Music experimentation to new heights and creating a futuristic plasticized soundscape that's unlike anything in pop right now. The sudden tempo switch-ups, melodic auto-tuning, and robotic synths on-and-off steroids are jarring in the best way possible — not to mention the bevy of collaborators on board. Charli acts as the gatekeeper for the rising who's who of pop, enlisting Carly Rae Jepsen, Tove Lo, Mykki Blanco, and so many more without losing the center of attention. The planet is about to turn into an XCX World.

Harry Styles, Harry Styles

Harry was always meant to be the shining star of One Direction. That's just the way it is. So the fact that Harry's solo album was a major success out of the gate was easily its least surprising aspect—what was found inside was a supremely confident and distinguished artist from Mr. Styles. He broke out of the boy band shadow not by rejecting his past, but by expanding their classic rock leanings and giving it some more rawness and authenticity, with his lyrics spanning everything from pregnancy rumors and unrequited love to the socio-political world. With his debut, Harry proves he was never restricted in the first place, but he's going to say what he wants to say regardless.

Taylor Swift, reputation

Taylor Swift's sixth studio album was always going to be divisive, even if she had played it ultra-safe and went back to her country roots. So what else is she to do in this position other than expand on her slithery scandal and address her many reputations head-on? Taylor delivered a pop record with storming synths, icy bass, and catchy one-liners that seem stone cold and defiant on the surface. But what reputation proves is that the old Taylor isn't really dead, as fun as that is to proclaim. The record exudes the same warmth and intimacy, the evocative detail, the fervor for all-consuming love, and the gum-smacking takedowns we've come to love from the pop star, just with a slightly more mature yet unhinged edge. And in a year like 2017 where everything's gone downhill, it's reassuring to have that continuity, even if it's wrapped up in a harsher (but still immaculate) soundscape. You can call it what you want, but we're calling it a great modern pop album.

Kelela, Take Me Apart

After years of build-up and experimental mixtapes, Kelela didn't just release her debut album this year—she constructed an entire world. Take Me Apart feels like its own self-contained universe built on intimate whispers, tender thoughts, and juxtapositions between warmth and ice, love and loss, and the deep mechanics that go into all of those things. She bares her soul throughout, but she also uses herself as a springboard for experimentation, letting her vocals shine and distort all at once. The contrast between her lush rhythmic stylings and blazing electronic takeovers glide together into one stunning and cohesive piece, a majestic feat given that it's still technically her debut album. Her future potential is astounding.

Lorde, Melodrama 

After nearly four years away from the pop scene after a breakout era for the ages, no one had a clue what to expect from Lorde. But from the first day of 2017, I had a feeling in my bones that whatever it was would be an utter masterpiece. Melodrama proved that my instincts are spot-on (sometimes). Lorde always had a penchant for turning regular everyday activities into relatable yet immaculate hits. This time around, she turned them into a theatrical spectacular, treating every party, hangover, fight, and crush as one act of an extravagant opera, just as our lost and hormonal selves treat them in real life. Whether she's opening every wound left from her heartbreak or capturing our simultaneous fascination and disgust with ourselves, she paints a more vivid picture than most, intensifying emotions with quivering synths and imaginative aggression, but letting them float into clouds of airy strings right before they burst, just as a great reflective storyteller should. I could go on for centuries about her craft, but this should suffice: with Melodrama, no one translates sheer feeling quite as well as our Kiwi sensation, both sonically and lyrically. And the most exciting part? Her true magnum opus may be yet to come—she only just turned 21 after all.

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