2017 Album Superlatives

Music can evoke so many different emotions and feelings. Often times albums just put you in a certain place, and make you feel or think about something specific. Other times, certain environments serve to elevate the music, and some albums are just better when listened to at a specific time while performing a certain action. Of course, 2017 brought a wide variety of music for a wide variety of experiences. Below you’ll find superlatives and our picks for each category, give them a listen next time you find yourself in these situations.

The party is over and everyone is standing outside talking
Alvvays – Antisocialites
Alvvays - Antisocialites cover

Bursting onto the scene with their 2014 self-titled debut, Alvvays mounted the top of the indie rock scene at breakneck speed. Straddling the line between jangly surf-rock and whimsical indie pop, the Toronto outfit meshed infectious, reverb-heavy guitar and tongue-in-cheek, witty lyricism to create impossibly catchy ballads that continue to linger on the cultural indie consciousness.

Following two years of sporadic recording sessions in the Canadian wilderness, the band broke their relative silence with single “In Undertow” at the top of summer 2017. While still leaning on front woman Molly Rankin’s charming wordplay and washed-out guitars, the single promised a fuller, synth-heavy Alvvays sound, a promise parent album Antisocialites paid forward upon release in September. Eschewing the self-titled’s lo-fi indie charm (save for Rankin’s delightfully reverbed falsetto), the band’s sophomore album gives way instead to lush, immersive soundscapes that encapsulate the listener in jangle-pop daydreams.

In leaving the core Alvvays formula untouched while keeping the overall sound fresh, the band somehow manages to amplify thee already overwhelming emotional undertones found on S/T to fever pitch. Packaged as a series of vignettes over relationships lost and found, the album welds ecstatic highs and crushing lows along common thematic and sonic seams. “Lollipop (Ode to Jim)” and “Your Type” present both joyful 3-minute epics that tell radically different romance stories, while “Dreams Tonite” and “Not My Baby” drip with undiluted melancholy over unrequited and lost love respectively. Whether celebrating getting that guy/gal’s number, grieving a particular nasty post-party breakup, or simply enjoying the company of friends, Antisocialites has you covered. -Benjamin Lunday

Most Soul-crushingly Depressing
Mount Eerie – A Crow Looked At Me
Mount Eerie - A Crow Looked at Me cover

The second I agreed to write about this album, I immediately regretted it, and I knew I was going to have to do it in sessions. Not because I dislike the album or think it doesn’t deserve the respect it’s been given; I truly believe this album to be one of the purest and truest pieces of art that’s ever existed. But it’s because of that purity, that raw power of its nature, that makes it one of the hardest albums I’ve ever listened to.

“Death is real.” That’s how it opens up, and the sentiment permeates every heart-shattering moment that follows throughout the rest of the 42-minute LP A Crow Looked At Me. Written in the wake of Phil Elverum’s wife’s death, the artist doesn’t reach into himself and pull out what he wants to share: he keels over and lets absolutely every single thing that resides within him pour out onto paper. Elverum doesn’t distract from the subject matter with lyrical hooks or entrancing rhythm, he uses nothing but a guitar, a piano, and a few percussion hits throughout. He makes no attempt to translate the pain in flowery words. “What was you is now burnt bones… you had cancer and you were killed.”

He doesn’t want to create art out of tragedy. “I don’t want to learn anything from this.” He wants to immortalize, for himself, the echo of Geneviève, an echo so powerful it pierced through the veil of mortality. A crow looked at him, and he knew. He loved, and he still loves. -Dawood Nadurath

Embodiment of love
Bjork – Utopia
Bjork - Utopia cover

Utopia showcases Björk embodying a lovestruck exuberance that we haven’t seen since 2001’s victory lap Vespertine. After her last album—arguably one of the most cutting breakup albums of the decade—she has found herself infatuated and joyously romantic in a way that may have never been laid on a record before. Her longest album yet at 71 minutes features unfiltered and unedited thoughts and feelings, rushing to and fro much like they would rush through one’s head as they experience a crush. This exhilarating feeling is no better encapsulated than on the opening track “Arisen My Senses,” where Björk literally sings about her senses heightening as a result of falling in love. Her attention to instrumental detail also plays into this feeling, with the choice of recording with an entire flute chorus elevating the sound in a heavenly fashion, like butterflies in the stomach. -Matthew DeVoll

Best warm-weather album
Sundara Karma – Youth is only ever fun in retrospect

Sundara Karma’s album Youth is Only Ever Fun in Retrospect is an upbeat indie rock compilation perfect for dancing around a campfire, jogging along a beach, or a cute movie montage of a summer romance. Oscar “Lulu” Pollock has a warbling British voice that he writes to uplifting poppy melodies, which makes it perfect for any atmosphere warm in temperature or happiness. – Jennifer Good

Cold, Rainy Day Music
King Krule – The OOZ
King Krule - The OOZ cover

Archy Marshall designed The OOZ to deliberately sound like what it feels like to wander down a drizzly English street in the middle of the night, and it works so well that if you play it in your car, you can almost see condensation forming on the windshield. The album conjures a brilliantly foggy blend of jazz, dub, post-punk, trip-hop, and more. King Krule’s voice wades through the sonic muck with despondent lyrics, his head hung low like rain clouds, as all the tracks wash together like dirt eroding down to mud. Yet, while feeling intrinsically buried in earth (“I was made for sublunary”), the record also feels ripped from the context of modern society, almost like Archy is crooning isolated on a distant planet. Wishing he “was people,” King Krule is a dejected outsider, who, thankfully for us, has provided a comforting aural escape for rainy days in the city. – Matthew DeVoll

Nighttime driving
Actress – AZD
Actress AZD Cover

For being referred to by the artist as an “ode to chrome”, Actress’s latest album sure sounds grimy. Like most of his previous work, AZD is deeply rooted in an urban environment, and its tracks are well-studied when pulling from classic Detroit and Brooklyn techno. Beyond this, though, Darren Cunningham’s low rumbles and searing static crackle can provoke images of anything from harsh rain to worn gravel. Since its release in April, this has been able to transform my nightly half-hour drive home from a monotonous slog into a hypnotic journey through electronic music’s dank underbelly. As I’m drawn in by the rich, dense textures of “DANCING IN THE SMOKE” and “FANTASYNTH,” the stripes on the road passing underneath me almost sync up with the synthesized kick drum. Trust me, if you put AZD on anytime other than after sundown, it just won’t feel right. – Matthew DeVoll

Best album to wake up to
Omni – Multi task

Normally when you’re waking up at around 8 in the morning to go to your bitcoin accounting class or what have you, you’re gonna feel pretty bogged down and obscenely heavy, as if earth’s gravity tripled in force. Lightweight and wiry Atlanta trio Omni aims to be just the opposite with Multi-Task, a commemoration of zigs and sharp angles in a world where its contemporaries have mostly smoothed out any hint of overt harshness or pointy edges. They do this without being trashy or inelegant, however. Philip Frobos sings in Supermoon “I just wanna smoke on the street at night, but I’m still hypnotized by the black and the white” as a testament to how the album never sits down for a second, not even for a water break or to grab a cup of coffee. Mornings are by far the hardest part of the day, no doubt, but Multi-Task serves as one of those albums that can stake the claim of being a viable caffeine replacement and do so with a straight face. – Daniel Keane

Best Debut Album
Rostam – Half Light
Rostam - Half Light cover

To start the discussion of Rostam Batmanglij’s debut solo album Half-Light by highlighting his departure from Vampire Weekend as the catalyst for his creative endeavors would be a massive disservice to him. Boasting a massive production discography that features, but is not limited to, the works of Carly Rae Jepsen, Frank Ocean, Charli XCX, and every album that Vampire Weekend has released, Rostam is easily one of the music industry’s biggest talents. Everything he touches turns to gold (or platinum), and on Half-Light, Rostam’s not afraid to flex his triple-threat status as a producer, instrumentalist, and writer.

Though the album may vary in intensity from track to track, there isn’t a moment that feels as if it doesn’t belong exactly where it is. Every track seems to have at least one sister throughout the album, all feeding beautifully into the over-arching theme of love, and the incredibly complicated emotional fallout that can follow. He digs so deep into himself and brings to surface experiences so deeply personal that you can’t help but force yourself to relate to whatever he’s saying at that particular moment in time, regardless of what personal experience you happen to be having at that same moment in time. Beautiful stringed instrumentals or mesmerizing beats are layered underneath dreamy vocals that sound as if they’re being pushed through a wry smile, like he realizes all this self-actualization we’re lucky enough to witness is tolling, but necessary.

Happily married or fresh out of a relationship, the title track is a piano ballad that will, without a doubt, thrust you deep into the throes of heartbreak. If heartbreak isn’t your thing, there are tracks (“Bike Dream,” “Don’t Let It Get To You”) that are beyond exciting enough to trick you into thinking they’re not also exuding unrelenting emotion. “It’s not gonna feel the way that you expected / And it’s going to hurt to figure it out.” – Dawood Nadurath


Nicest Cover Art
Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up

Fleet Foxes Crack Up has without a doubt one of the most beautiful covers to grace 2017. Though basic in subject matter, the cover image contains intricate details which further enhance the mood created by those violent waves against a stoic shore. From first look at this image, one can assume it is either a hyper-realistic painting or a professional photo, because the details are just so meticulous and masterful. Turns out, it is indeed a photo- and a professional one at that- shot decades ago by Hiroshi Hamaya.

To give a little more context, the exact photo is Hailstorm over the coast of Tojinbo (1960), and it was shot in the Fukui region of Japan. Fukui was targeted and ravaged by bombings in WWII, which gives this image in time even more power when looked through that historical lens. A previously destroyed area, due to human and material conflicts, is tranquil and gorgeous once again without any man or man-made creation disturbing its natural peace.

The selection of this photo and the emotion that accompanies it for this album was undoubtedly deliberate, as too with how the album’s title is based off a work by F. Scott Fitzgerald and historical references are speckled throughout its songs. The simple white header and border framing this scene gives the entire cover both a minimalist feel to it as well as dynamic one, which translates into how serene and complex the bands sound is throughout the entirety of this album. – Amanda Maceda

You shouldn’t drive to this unless you want a speeding ticket
Gucci Mane –
Gucci Mane - Droptopwop cover

Droptopwop was basically made to listened to while driving, preferably in a convertible, and more importantly, at high speeds. This makes it a dangerous album to listen to in the car, resisting the urge to slam your foot down on the gas is challenging. Metro Boomin’s explosive production coupled with Gucci’s pompous lyrics and laid back flow prove exactly why these are two of the biggest artists in the hip-hop scene at the moment. Although Gucci is loyal to a select few producers he frequently collaborates with, he adapted to Metro’s style well, making Droptopwop an excellent project. – Roman Soriano

Album that met expectations
LCD Soundsystem – American Dream
LCD Soundsystem - American Dream cover

2017 was a long year for many reasons, but the wait for american dream was definitely one of them. I spent too much time last year endlessly checking and refreshing twitter, subreddits, music licensing databases, and anywhere else I could get my hands on any news of new LCD music. Accompanying my excitement and obsession, though, was a tinge of fear. Ending on what eventually became a literally cinematic note with a near-perfect discography, could LCD Soundsystem continue the magic and justify their return to those understandably skeptical about their reunion? Thankfully, american dream was the perfect cure for any claims that this was a cynical cash grab or planned-out publicity stunt — the music speaks for itself.

American dream boasts all of the elements from the LCD we know and love: witty lyricisms, gorgeous ballads, dreamy synths, places for you to dance your heart out, and James Murphy wearing his influences on his sleeves. While the expected themes of age, creeping irrelevance, and political frustration populate the album, it features some of the most personal tracks James has ever pinned, further evidencing his talent of making the personal universal. His anxieties concerning his return, his lingering resentment toward former DFA collaborator Tim Goldsworthy, and his regret concerning his final days with David Bowie stand as proxies for our reconsidered choices, past feuds, and missed connections. And while the album may lack a generation-defining stunner like “All My Friends,” “Dance Yrself Clean,” or “Losing My Edge,” it stands as the band’s most consistent release in its discography.

Following up Sound of Silver and This Is Happening is no easy feat, but american dream sits quite comfortably in LCD Soundsystem’s legacy and fulfilled my sky-high expectations. The only question now is where they’ll go next. – Zachary Boullt

Album you put on while laying in bed, staring at the ceiling
Homeshake - Fresh Air album cover

There’s nothing quite like the intoxicating melodies and sounds found throughout Fresh Air. It’s an album that is laid back, funky, and relaxing. You’ll find yourself humming along to it without even really thinking about it, making it an album that’s perfect to put on whenever you don’t want to do any thinking and just zone out. It’s a truly unique project that doesn’t demand your attention. Even if you tune it out, you’ll still find the melodies ingrained in your mind, and songs will randomly get stuck in your head whenever you think about them. At the end of a long day, you can just lay down, stare at the ceiling, and let it take over, serving as the background music to your daydreams. – Roman Soriano