Here’s our Top 50 best albums of 2017 along with our thoughts on them. Each of our writers and editors submitted their ‘Top 20 albums of 2017’ lists and we worked out the top albums to put together this awesome list.
2017 was another strange and turbulent year, actually we’ve said the exact same thing about 2016, it’s quite strange that humans keep fucking things up and our society is all messed up.
We’re going to put 2017 behind us and enter 2018 in the best way possible, with high hopes that it will be a challenging and promising year that will bring change for the best. Happy new year to you all!
50. PVRIS – All We Know Of Heaven, All We Need Is Hell (Rise Records)
All We Know Of Heaven, All We Need Is Hell, follows on from White Noise, a record which solidified PVRIS as notable and significant. The record was paved in wonderful bashfulness at times, with Gunn squaring off with her demons. And White Noise contained many hard-hitters too, emotional thrusts, deep agony, restless breakdowns. But, it was a debut layered in gold.
PVRIS are a band coping under the weight of stardom, and their music isn’t drenched in happiness, but it’s emotionally impactful, and that’s what we all need when we’re looking for a sound to fall into and to heal us.
49. Creeper – Eternity, In Your Arms (Roadrunner Records)
Creeper are a band which have lit up the punk scene with a brand of honest, story driven, songs put together beautifully. The Southampton act, serve up Eternity, In Your Arms, an album solidifying their impact and genuine talent. It’s also a record of masterful substance, layer upon layer showcasing belief and song-writing excellence. There’s dark fables bubbling throughout the opus too, with words building scenes and love creating drama. And love seems to cause havoc, burning hope kick-starting niggling pain.
To be truthful, the album is stunning, and the punk edged guitar lines intertwine wonderfully with the sneering vocals on tracks including “Suzanne” and “Darling”. But, it’s a soft track that burns brightly. “Crickets” is the song which cools the album down and bursts open the banks. Truly astounding!
48. Mastodon – Emperor Of Sand (Reprise Records)
The aftermath of 2012’s epic Crack the Skye revealed Mastodon more willing to keep things more or less direct. Emperor of Sand, the 3rd album post–Crack The Skye, sees the Atlanta quartet operating in a balanced world that takes cues from the colossal sounds from the band’s “classic era” and the directness of the two previous efforts, with a clearly refined take on it.
In the reunion with producer Brendan O’Brien the band tackles mortality and does it strikingly with huge melodies, crushing riffs, and their inimitable signature sound. In a way, Emperor Of Sand seems like the “end of an era”, closing the circle thematically and sonically. The present is thrilling and the future couldn’t be more exciting.
47. BIG|BRAVE – Ardor (Southern Lord)
Montreal three-piece BIG|BRAVE are more than they appear. You would be tempted to recognize what they have been doing as mere heavy rock, but additional explorations on their work reveals something rather more complex and deserving of our most capable attention. Ardor – that counts with special guests Jessica Moss (playing the violin) and Thierry Amar (playing the contrabass) – is at the core a fairly impressive exercise of dynamics from a band that not only has mastered the usage of a certain dichotomy (soft vs. loud) but, perhaps most importantly, has masterfully applied the notion of space into their music.
Their sound, that is more often than not morphing and adding interesting layers and turns or even the marvellous vocal performance of vocalist Robin Wattie that gracefully walks in a tight-rope between weird folk and avant-pop, is just the tip of the iceberg because on all three tracks we’re invited to step into a world that is filled with freedom and open to interpretations – the listener is granted a sort role making a magnificent experience.
46. Xiu Xiu – Forget (Polyvinyl Records)
Written during a period of superhuman productivity, Forget is Xiu Xiu’s 13th studio album since their debut Knife Play, released back in 2002. Synth-driven, highly experimental and Suicide influenced, Xiu Xiu is as prolific as dark, exquisite and, to lack of a better word, weird. Forget might be one of Xiu Xiu’s most ambitious and, I’d risk saying, introspective albums to date, but also the one that comes closer to pop territory – well, at least by Xiu Xiu’s standards.
Rather danceable, Forget encloses the tension and dark aura ever-present in the bands back catalogue – plus, it also seems to be Jamie Stewart’s most personal and exposed effort in a long time. This, despite its overall avant-pop feel, makes Forget one of the heaviest, but delicately crafted, records you’ll be hearing this year. Needless to say it will definitely be among our favorites.
45. Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory (ARTium/Blacksmith/Def Jam)
Vince Staples’ new album sees the rapper push the boundaries of hip-hop to create a rich and diverse musical journey. It features a huge list of guests, including Justin Vernon (a.k.a. Bon Iver), Kendrick Lamar, Ty Dolla $ign, Damon Albarn and A$AP Rocky, among others. However, this album is all about Vince Staples, showcasing his ability to explore house and Detroit techno influences while maintaining a rap identity. Challenging, sometimes almost avant-garde, but always exciting.
44. Bully – Losing (Sub Pop)
On their second full-length album, the Alicia Bognanno-fronted band, sound way more confident than with their debut, 2015’s Feels Like. The most noticeable element of that confidence can be found in Alicia’s vocal performance, which doesn’t seem too concerned with stopping or even work around any sort of barriers. For fuck’s sake, it’s even the most audible element in the mix.
Their sound is doubtless informed by the alternative rock scene from the 90s, but more importantly is the way the 90s informed Bognanno to write sort of openly and honestly about her. Because with the ravishing, crunchy, and raging loud guitars of Bully, there’s also a soothing side for all the angst and frustration.
43. The Movielife – Cities In Search of a Heart (Rise Records)
Long Island band The Movielife have reignited after going on a hiatus. And the act are back with a new record which is their first outing since 2003’s Forty Hour Train Back To Penn. The band disbanded 14 years ago, but after a few shows in 2015, they’ve officially returned to make their mark on pop punk once again.
The band’s new record Cities In Search Of A Heart, is dark, arresting and highly infectious, bolstering a wonderful catalogue of heartrending songs. And with this opus, The Movielife power through thoughts, darkness, and images of danger, to bring forward tracks as complete as “Mercy At The Wheel” and “Lake Superior”.
42. Neck Deep – The Peace and the Panic (Hopeless Records)
Neck Deep are becoming a powerhouse band. Their influence on the pop sector is gratifying and many acts are truly trying to emulate them. And it is a hard fought process, trying to storm through the music industry and not become undone. On their new record, The Peace And The Panic, the band haven’t lost their urgency.
The album is a fast-paced, pop punk treat, constructed with care and attention from Ben Barlow and co. The singer, bellows about a crumbling world and broken relationships. Songs such as “Happy Judgement” and “Critical Mistake” showcase his credentials as a songwriter. They’re pop punk all over, written with sneers and intent. The riffs are pleasing, but simple in their execution, although this doesn’t impair the album in anyway.
41. Björk – Utopia (One Little Indian Records)
At 52 years old and with nine solo studio albums under her belt, Björk has nothing to prove, yet still acts as if she does, always trying to reinvent herself with each new release. Many artists reach a point in their careers where they feel comfortable in their own bubble, but not Björk; she insists on challenging herself and even her own listeners, creating complex and beautiful pieces of music which need to be carefully analysed to be understood and appreciated.
Utopia is yet another bold chapter in her sonic explorations and, in many ways, an evolution of the concepts explored on the previous Vulnicura. If that album dealt with sadness, confusion and loss- the result of the disintegration of a long relationship with American plastic artist Matthew Barney (with whom she has a daughter) Utopia sees the Icelandic artist free herself from that negative energy in an attempt to move on. While its predecessor was rooted in pain and suffering, the new record is all about rising above those feelings, healing the wounds and starting a new chapter in life. After going through hell emotionally, she feels ready to once again enjoy her journey on Earth, and one can look at this whole process as some sort of rebirth, almost as if all the grief she endured was necessary to achieve true happiness. This is, according to her, an album about the rediscovery of love, but in a non-romantic, deeply spiritual manner.
40. Grave Pleasures – Motherblood (Century Media)
Teeth-rattling, dreamy and devastating, Grave Pleasure’s Motherblood will invade your life and will spread like an infection that you definitely don’t want to cure. Filtered through the band’s post-punk influences and a love for the macabre, these ten tracks perfectly balance musical excellence and emotional lyrics. Play it loud, you won’t regret it.
39. Full Of Hell – Trumpeting Ecstasy (Profound Lore)
Full of Hell set out with their ambitious, third full-length attempt to redefine the current musical extremity. Recorded at the God City Studios with Kurt Ballou and featuring guest appearances from Aaron Turner (Sumac/Old Man Gloom/Mamiffer/Isis), Nate Newton (Converge/Old Man Gloom), Andrew Nolan (Column Of Heaven), and Canadian singer/songwriter Nicole Dollanganger, Trumpeting Ecstasy is devastating, epic, and utterly mesmerising.
The Maryland/Pennsylvania experimental death-noise terrorists have delivered an astounding effort: involving and sonically breathtaking, and it’s a shame that not more bands sound this challenging, but that only makes Full of Hell’s listening experience even more immersive and even more effective.
38. Kissing Is A Crime – Kissing Is A Crime (Don Giovanni Records)
“This is the band I’ve been trying to do for a long time” says singer/guitarist Matt Molnar, and it’s fair to say that this makes a lot of sense, just think about Soft Black, Friends, and Pagan Rituals, projects that he co-founded. Setting their roots in punk, Kissing is a Crime’s self-titled debut album is a sunny, dreamy and moody guitar pop driven gem, that will make you feel nostalgic and emotional.
At times this album sounds utterly sublime and cerebral, but it’s the simplicity punk and urgency of the band’s confrontational spectrum of emotions that gently stands out in this unique, multi-faced triumphant delivery. This is elegant and bloody intelligent art.
37. Arca – Arca (XL Recordings)
Alejandro Ghersi, better known as Arca, was already famous for his strange and futuristic electronic soundscapes, but with his third album, he added another ingredient: a strong yet fragile voice. Encouraged by Björk to sing, the Venezuelan artist communicates mainly in Spanish on this record, the language his parents “fought and divorced in”- according to him. Both intimate and open to the world, it finds beauty in its vulnerability.
36. While She Sleeps – You Are We (Sleeps Brothers)
While She Sleeps return with another bold statement to perforate eardrums and prove how a band can produce stellar results when it truly becomes one with its fans. Through crowdfunding, the band self-produced and independently released their third full-length album You Are We raising the bar even higher. You Are We isn’t confined by any rules as it plays with catchy melodies and vocal hooks, but at the same time it’s devoid of any unnecessary, show-offy technicality.
You Are We explores political themes without losing its personal character or trying too hard. As the album unfolds, you can feel all of the love and energy that the band devoted to its creation. This album is unapologetically angry and melodic; we dare you to listen to it without tapping your foot along to its infectious grooves.
35. Blis. – No One Loves You (Sargent House)
Deep breath. A whirlwind inside of my head as I scatter my brain to find the right words to capture your attention with so few words. Because that ends up being the mission you end up signing up to when listening to something as undeniably brilliant as Blis.’s debut album, No One Loves You.
Centred on frontman Aaron Gossett’s parenthood, his “tumultuous relationship” with his son’s mother, and with a bunch of religious themes surrounding it, the record truly sounds like a project that took decades of development. No, it doesn’t sound too clinical or robotic… au contraire, it’s highly emotional, even appropriately reckless with its manifestations. It is the level of congruity, understanding, and solidarity, in a world that thrives not only with the highly emotional catharsis, but also with a sonic richness that can’t possibly be overstated.
No One Loves You is more than a post-hardcore/rock/whatever-you-want-to-label-it record, and that’s the reason for its genius. It’s an honest expression of four individuals that seem extremely keen in approaching life above all things. Absolutely dazzling.
34. Chastity Belt – I Used to Spend So Much Time Alone (Hardly Art)
There is a very specific brand of melancholia that goes hand in hand with being young, a sense of ennui that has been covered time and time again in music, but rarely well-articulated. Enter Chastity Belt like a group of cool older siblings with their own take on it, entitled I Used to Spend So Much Time Alone. The Washington band’s third album finds them in an introspective mood, churning out thirteen songs that are as sincere as they are beautiful, hitting right at home.
With smoother arrangements and lighter riffs, Chastity Belt shed the humor that saturated their earlier work to finally come into themselves with this tender, relatable exploration of growing up.
33. Hurray for the Riff Raff – The Navigator (ATO Records)
Our society is really fucked up at the moment and, now more than ever, there is a need to do something about it. Luckily, there are still bands out there making a change. Alynda Segarra, the creative force behind Hurray for the Riff Raff, made a powerful and strong concept record that goes beyond her own personal narratives.
She created a character (the teenager girl Navita Milagros Negrón) that is kind of a heroine to our days, to our generations, to our society. It’s about equality, freedom and making a stand. Her urgency to speak her mind is notable, adding Latin rhythms into her palette of folk, country, blues and rock’n’roll tunes.
32. Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes – Modern Ruin (International Death Cult)
What’s more important to understand Frank Carter nowadays? Gallows or Pure Love? No need to get mad but it’s probably Pure Love. That’s kind of the tipping point, where everything was redesigned and refocused.
If the band’s debut Blossom seemed to bring back a glimpse of good ol’ Frank then the new album, Modern Ruin, makes things even more complicated with its unrestrained will to make things more melodically appealing and allowing itself to slow down innumerous times, intensifying all the bursts of energy. You see, Modern Ruin is a rock album to the bone and between its addictive hooks, heart-pumping riffs, sexy moves, and eclectic nature, there’s the “birth” of a truly great rock singer that is as versatile as dynamic.
In a time where seems to exist a strange tendency to ignore rock-based acts, Modern Ruin is another great “FUCK OFF AND DIE” response.
31. Circuit Des Yeux – Reaching For Indigo (Drag City)
On Circuit de Yeux’s new album, Reaching For Indigo, each track seems to exist on top of the previous one, taking something from it and adding something for what’s to come. At first you can perceive it as a pure exercise of freedom in experimentation, but as you watch and hear closer the sounds start to take a shape and form that not only coexist harmoniously but also are a part of something bigger. And in the middle of this fantastic 35-minutes sensorial/spiritual experience we have the chance of experiencing what at this point feels like undeniably one of the most amazing voices of our generation – Fohr’s four-octave range is just the tip of the iceberg, if you can believe it.
More than a fantastic record, Reaching for Indigo adds meaning and value to the human experience.
30. St. Vincent – Masseduction (Loma Vista Recordings)
MASSEDUCTION is the kind of record where every single track on it has the potential to appeal – whether lyrically or just on a more primitive sonic level – to a different kind of person, and in doing so it can serve the ultimate purpose of pulling people into the intricate and dazzling world that Annie Clark and company have so masterfully crafted.
The album is indeed a very complex and hard-to-fully-digest work, but it was designed in such a shrewd way that allows us to have fun while assembling the puzzle. It’s bleakness and darkness in a beautiful pink wrapping – and there’s much to be said about that achievement.
29. Girlpool – Powerplant (Anti-)
There’s an instant appeal and gratification to Girlpool’s compositions, which seem to come out effortlessly. The entire experience becomes quite rapidly overwhelming, and it’s much because of the sense of unity, between Harmony Tividad and Cleo Tucker, that exists and transpires throughout the entire album.
Making good music, as much as it is an undeniable accomplishment, doesn’t compare with the connection these two have – just imagine the connection that Elliott Smith and Nick Drake had with their guitars, but in Girlpool’s case that otherworldly connection happens between two people who while in sync deliver some of the most poignant, sensitive and fresh-sounding music. With the addition of drummer Miles Wintner, Girlpool found a whole new sense of dynamism and a way to amplify the weight and height of their vulnerabilities, but also enhance their strengths.
Powerplant is a grappling master and it doesn’t take long until you willingly accept the submission.
28. Quicksand – Interiors (Epitaph Records)
Quicksand perfectly blend the blistering beauty of chugging guitars and powerful vocals. The act, pulverise the norm, adding their unique slant, partaking in a reinvention that must stick, a reinvention of rock music. We need new bands to come through and create ground-breaking records, records which make us feel their wrath. And on this evidence, Quicksand may pat themselves on the back, as their record Interiors pulsates, blossoms and draws first place.
It manages to create an eventful ride into extraordinary realms too, as those guitars grind away, as those vocals raise hairs. The songs which matter most are “Warm And Low” and “Sick Mind”. These contributions almost create a psychedelic input.
27. Foxygen – Hang (Jagjaguwar)
For an album sharing its release date with Donald Trump’s inauguration, Foxygen’s newest effort is oddly fitting to a world where fact is consistently getting stranger than fiction. Engulfed in light – sometimes stage lights, sometimes LA sunshine – Hang is the perfect brand of theatrical folly America needs to counteract the growing shadow cast by its new presidency.
Recorded with a 40-piece orchestra, it is an invigorating, beautifully composed homage to the maximalism and theatricality of 70’s glam rock that is as ostentatious as it is self-parodying. Unlike the 24 tracks of its predecessor …And Star Power, Hang presents a more cohesive vision in its 8 tracks while presenting Foxygen at their best; unapologetically flamboyant, a touch dramatic, and always fun.
26. Marika Hackman – I’m Not Your Man (Sub Pop)
With the release of her sophomore album I’m Not Your Man, Marika Hackman proves she has lot more to offer than her folk laden debut album, 2015’s We Slept At Last would suggest. Hackman’s latest release introduces a bold new collaboration with London band The Big Moon.
Signing on to Sub Pop and enlisting the talents of The Big Moon has proven a step in an impressively sharp, yet charming new direction for Hackman. I’m Not Your Man boasts an edgier set of grungier tracks with songs like the fabulous “Good Intensions”, yet makes a point to return to songs more reminiscent of Hackman’s folk roots like heart-breaking “Cigarette”. Outside of the impressive new soundscapes Hackman and The Big Moon bring to the record, the lyrics prove especially fresh, witty and honest.
Sandwiched between oddball bodily descriptions, tales of lost love and pleas for an honest relationship, Hackman’s whit is razor-sharp. Lead single “Boyfriend” is fabulously tongue and cheek, and the self-deprecating second single “My Lover Cindy” displays a wonderfully confident songwriter at the top of her game.
(Jamie Page Beveren)
25. Brutus – Burst (Sargent House)
Hailing from Leuven, Belgium, Brutus deliver a mean line in jagged, disjointed, angular alternative rock. Stealing beats from bands as diverse as Queen Adreena, The Distillers and Truckfighters – they create a cacophonic noise of guitars that are designed to shred oxygen to ribbons, machine gun drums and bass that is as dense as it is heavy, as booming as it is thumping.
Vocally, it is a punky, angry howl of banshees screams and wails. Burst is an inch away from pure hardcore, filtered through alternative rock and delivered through a doom bands PA. It’s a soup of sound, a giant, cosmic headfuck of an album, and one that penetrates into the core of you and beats you bloody and blue.
24. Oxbow – Thin Black Duke (Hydra Head Records)
The soul and feeling have always been more important that the shapes of the body when it comes to Bay Area-based Oxbow. It’s not exactly what they use or look like – experimental, avant-garde, blues, hardcore, etc. – but what they achieve with it, which has always been way more significant, even if the end result can exist on an entire spectrum and be menacing, violent, and dangerous, but also incredibly gentle and precise.
Their first album in ten years, Thin Black Duke, takes all the awe-inspiring, delightful dynamics to a whole new level and it ends up existing as a sort of living organism with an extremely captivating personality. Thin Black Duke thrives with its perplexing arrangements, and in the midst of it there’s a band making use of baroque pop and delivering one of their most intricate and touching records to date with an impeccable flow, a completely matured vision, and a masterful execution.
23. Amenra – Mass VI (Neurot Recordings)
Amenra’s Masses have always leaned more towards the apocalyptic side of the spectrum, not entirely pitch-black but definitely dimly-lit, yet their sixth installment glows with the light of rebirth. Part of this comes down to Colin H. van Eeckhout, whose screams haven’t gotten any less scathing, but whose softer moments display a tenderness that is matched by the exquisite control of momentum and tempo they exhibit on the likes of “Plus Pres de Toi”, sliding so easily between fury and solemnity. Elsewhere, “A Solitary Reign” pairs intricate melodies and sparse bass work in a way that will leave Tool fans wondering what they’ve been missing out on for the past decade, and the ascendant rage of “Diaken” may see it come to be one of Amenra’s signature works.
Though their influences may shine through a little stronger than on previous works, this is a sublime album from a band in command of their sound, continuing to strive, refine and perfect.
22. Idles – Brutalism (Balley Records)
It seems that punk rock, whilst going through something of a renaissance, has taken a wander from its original roots. Edges have been dulled, years of abuse and miss-use have lefts its blade-like intensity rusty and jaded. Thank God then for bands like Idles, who have taken a look at the state of the world and written music that is as dangerous, angry and blunt as Punk deserves and needs to be. This is music that slices flesh like a straight-razor cutting a Chelsea grin – targeting the injustices and inequalities that surround us and hammer home ironic and lacerating truths with not a second thought for the well being of the victim or themselves.
Hard, angry, violently impulsive and utterly necessary. Brutalism is a modern disasterpiece of Punk noise, its snotty heart worn brazenly on its sleeve. Unashamedly English, succinct, meaningful and most importantly relevant. A goddamn revelation.
21. Cavalera Conspiracy – Psychosis (Napalm Records)
For better or worse, Sepultura were one of the most innovative and surprising metal bands of the late 80’s and 90’s, brothers Igor and Max Cavalera were and still are a key and influential part of what today’s heavy music stands for. Igor and Max return with Psychosis, Cavalera Conspiracy’s fourth installment and for sure their most strong, diverse and crushing album ever; the riffs are sick and ultra-fast, full of the good old 80’s thrash and death metal. It’s an irresistible headbanging affair with that Nail Bomb industrial touch.
Featuring top notch guest appearances including Godflesh’s Justin Broadrick, Cold Cave’s Dominick Fernow and Eternal Champion’s Jason Tarpey, it’s fair to say that Psychosis is a masterful album, undeniably fresh, strangely weird and full of contemporary methods of sonic brutalization.
20. Cigarettes After Sex – Cigarettes After Sex (Partisan)
After the phenomenal online success of 2015’s epic song “Affection” and the subsequent re-discovery of an earlier Cigarettes After Sex EP, we’ve already knew that they were aiming for something big, but we were definitely not ready for this kind of immersive, romantic and heart-stopping cinematic approach, probably the most lyrical stripped down effort in ages.
Mainman Greg Gonzalez’s arresting and simultaneously vulnerable voice is like a dreamlike journey that guides us into memories of past loves, life itself and cinematic experiences. Perfectly balanced between Mazzy Star’s abrasive and poetic romantic dream-popesque, Red House Painters’ Down Colorful Hill sonic avalanche of emotions, Angelo Badalamenti’s edgy obscurity of Twin Peaks soundtrack and Leonard Cohen’s Chelsea Hotel raw and moving direction, Cigarettes After Sex self-titled debut is addictive, boldly dark, striking confessional and audacious sexualised.
Clearly influenced by The Smiths and Morrissey’s lyrical approach, Gonzalez’s words makes you think they are very straightforward and detailed, like cinematic stories of adult life with an imaginative and intellectual twist.
19. Alvvays – Antisocialites (Polyvinyl Record Co.)
Antisocialites is the the second full-length released by Alvvays. The Toronto-based indie-pop outfit led by Molly Rankin surprised and amazed with their self-titled album, but this time around they level up their songwriting consistency. Produced by Alec O’Hanley and John Congleton, Antisocialites is more dynamic, bold and dreamy.
With a much darker and melancholic lyrical content, the upbeat tunes and fuzzy pop riffs make everything sound powerful and magical. Rankin gets out of her comfort zone and sings with much more passion.
Antisocialites is an album that takes time to appreciate its whole potential, but after a couple of listenings, it will engage you and make you want to listen to it over and over again.
18. Wolves In The Throne Room – Thrice Woven (Artemisia Records)
After the strange beauty of Celestite, Thrice Woven sounds like a redirection of Wolves’ original blueprint – to create a strain of black metal true to themselves and no-one else.
Progressive without fussiness, majestic but blessedly free of pomp, it’s a curious joining of neo-folk introspection and the cold brutality of the second wave, shifting woozily from icy blastbeats and roaring flurries of tremolo to campfire acoustica and back.
It’s an incredibly strong work, but what is truly remarkable is how well they have utilised the album’s guest appearances, with Steve Von Till (Neurosis) adding a brooding air of solemnity to “The Old Ones Are With Us” and Anna Von Hausswolf’s strangely formless voice adding delicacy and power to opener “Born From The Serpent’s Eye”. It’s executed with such organic flair that even the Coil-leaning tranquillity of “Mother Owl, Father Ocean” fits the album’s curious flow with ease. Even for iconoclasts like Wolves…, Thrice Woven is a brave move that never falters, never stumbles – it simply strides proudly forward.
17. Rise Against – Wolves (Virgin Records)
Tim Mcllrath is truly at one with his song-writing. The Rise Against front-man, writes with an urgency and a rage fiercer than a wild animal ripping through a rib-cage. He’s also a crusader on a mission to air his views, his political angst. And the rest of the band are with him on this journey, saluting his wishes and his grievances. With a new record in the form of Wolves, the act carry on fighting for reason and hope, and they don’t abandon the musical influence, as the instrumentals are always spot on and distinctive. Well they’re warriors of a destructive scene, a Chicago savior of the broken, a punk rock group not hiding inside a bubble, but embracing the world and trying to offer their well worked music as a token of belief.
Wolves is a reminder of Rise Against’s rally for purpose. The world is a broken place, a war-zone, and the band have written these songs with surging grace and intelligence. The album is a compendium describing destruction and poisoned feelings. It’s like a book of truth and bluntness, offering an insight into what these musicians are clawing for.
16. Jay Z – 4:44 (Roc Nation/UMG)
Everyone was expecting a direct response to Beyoncé’s acclaimed Lemonade album… but how many of us were expecting and hopeful that Jay-Z would deliver such a monster of an album? Yeah, its title, 4:44, is a reference to its center piece, which not only is a response to his wife’s album but also one of Jay’s most strong statements to date. But 4:44 goes beyond that – mostly because you don’t need an entire album when you have a song like “4:44″. This is what we needed from Jay, this is what the culture was craving for (even if it can’t admit it right now). With No I.D producing the entire album (straight up classic shit made by the Chicago-born producer), Hova was able to climb to the top once again.
4:44 is an album with a lot of answers, but the questions asked are as important. The words “Let go your ego over your right shoulder” on the opening track are a pivotal piece to understand where Jay is coming from. An effort from a man that, at the top, dared to be humble and look not only to himself but also to what’s important around him. The consciousness of Jay on 4:44 can be undervalued by many but time will make sure to make things right. In the future when the present becomes clearer and you realize that the culture was running wild, reckless, and without any conscience, you might remember that one of the biggest raised his voice to tell us so.
15. Thurston Moore – Rock n Roll Consciousness (Caroline)
Rock N Roll Consciousness marks a new chapter in Thurston Moore’s creative path. With the same creative line-up since 2014, Deb Googe (of My Bloody Valentine, Snowpony) on bass, James Sedwards (Nøught, Chrome Hoof) on guitar and Steve Shelley (Sonic Youth, Crucifucks) on drums, Rock N Roll Consciousness is an abrasive and spontaneous effort. It combines Moore’s noisy experimental side with his unique way of making pop anthems sound adventurous, dirty and orgasmic.
Thurston Moore’s prolific art statement is still relevant and fucking impressive and his refusal to settle into the rock n’ roll cliché world has over the years opened up a world of beautiful possibilities in his unpredictable musical invention.
14. EMA – Exile In The Outer Ring (City Slang)
Artists like EMA – a.k.a. Erika M Anderson – are definitely needed in our lives. EMA’s third album is a neat and powerful effort about political alienation. She goes deeply personal on her new songs and points out what’s really happening in our society right now. Heavy guitar riffs, pop noise and folk melodies are the perfect soundtrack for the honesty and tenacity of her words.
After releasing two incredible albums – 2010’s Past Life Martyred Saints and 2014’s The Future’s Void – EMA is more confident about expressing what’s on her mind and challenges the listener to get more involved with what’s really wrong in today’s world. It’s a strong and bold move, a statement to make people think and act.
13. Father John Misty – Pure Comedy (Bella Union/Sub Pop)
In the past, Father John Misty has been compared to the late Jim Morrison. The pair have created intelligent, humorous and relevant characters who are as captivating as their music. Pure Comedy is the record that will solidify Josh Tillman in the annals of music alongside Tom Waits, James Taylor and Carole King as a master of the written and spoken/sung word. As an entire package, the new era of Father John Misty is necessary; in an age of chaos and lies, his latest thirteen tracks are sincere, sarcastic stories of the modern state of humanity.
“Just wait until the part where they start to believe they’re at the center of everything and some all powerful being endowed this horror show with meaning…” Covering topics ranging from love and politics to religion and Taylor Swift, the lyrics of Pure Comedy are standalone poetry to be revered and read with an analytical eye. The instrumental background of strings and keys on which he paints his words are simple and lighthearted compared to the complex, meaningful lines he sings. The smoothest, most serene moments are those which are the most sardonic upon second listen. Father John Misty’s intentionally pretentious and strangely humorous Internet presence coupled with his latest creation are proof of his genius – there is purpose to every social media post, piece of merchandise and convoluted combination of words.
Pure Comedy is the epitome of wit, truth and incandescent beauty. It is the finest work Father John Misty has offered thus far and it is a work of importance and of the present.
12. Ulver – The Assassination of Julius Caesar (House of Mythology)
The fact that Ulver have created a synthpop masterwork that feels like a relic of neon-strewn nights and Cold War chill is probably unsurprising for those who have followed the wolves’ erratic evolution, but the fact remains that The Assassination Of Julius Caesar’s blend of New Wave panache and gothic theatrics is nothing short of perfect.
11. Julien Baker – Turn Out the Lights (Matador Records)
Turn Out the Lights, Julien Baker’s second studio effort, is a groundbreaking album -one that really establishes the Memphis-born artist as one of the most talented songwriters of this generation. Throughout this collection of delicate indie folk songs, she finds herself wrestling with her inner demons and insecurities, but always in a tireless attempt to find the light at the end of the tunnel. Extremely moving and unquestionably brilliant.
10. The Menzingers – After the Party (Epitaph Records)
The Menzingers boost their musicality with their new record After The Party, shooting clearly for the stars. They’re making punk great again too, offering songs beaming like a hyperbolic smile, but they never fall into a repetitive sequence.
There’s great riffs to behold, there’s quips about drunken nights and dark days. It’s all arresting and compelling, beautifully intertwined by the searing vocals and melodies. And punk music is changing, it’s becoming a battered force, losing its famed statements of intent, its patches peeling off the jackets that were worn by the punk travellers. But, After The Party relieves the pressure. Songs such as “Thick As Thieves” and “Midwestern State” offer optimism and strength.
09. Sorority Noise – You’re Not As _____ As You Think (Triple Crown Records)
It’s strangely fulfilling when a band conveys thoughts and feelings that one has, even in the rawest way possible. Sorority Noise are one of those kind of bands; they dig deeper into the soul and open their hearts quite bravely. When life makes you crawl and bleed, music can offer the much needed healing process required to rise up to life’s adversities.
You’re Not As ____ As You Think… is emotionally heavy, but at the same time, it’s a safe haven. Singer/guitarist Cameron Boucher is just fantastic at writing his deepest experiences into words, combined with intimate and visceral punk emo tunes that are quite addictive. A very human and brutal record.
08. Algiers – The Underside of Power (Matador Records)
The fact you can talk for hours about Algiers ignoring the fact that they are sonically one of the most adventurous, exciting, and challenging bands around is a testament to their importance and vitality. Their self-titled debut album was very clear in that regard, but on their second album, the Atlanta-formed gospel/folk/industrial/punk/soul/experimental quartet seems to have found new ways to reinforce the strength of their messages, both sonically and lyrically.
In a time where the political and social landscape in the US has Trump as the leading and dominating subject matter, Algiers make an effort to broaden the scope to whoever is listening by enabling a sort of understanding that these dark times are a persistent symptom in our history – nothing new. But The Underside of Power isn’t completely cynical or pessimist as one of its main influences can attest – Albert Camus’ novel The Plague, which “It’s about people finding themselves in very dark times”.
For all the unpleasant subject matters and fucked up/dark sounds, there’s a counterbalance made up with beautifully crafted melodies and chants, and a huge and reassuring scream that says (and feels): THERE’S HOPE!
07. SZA – Ctrl (Top Dawg/RCA)
After releasing three EPs (two of them self-released) and writing for other artists (including Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj, and Rihanna with Anti’s opening track “Consideration”), SZA (aka Solána Imani Rowe), the first lady of Top Dawg Entertainment (house of Kendrick Lamar, ScHoolboy Q, Isaiah Rashad, Ab-Soul, Jay Rock, etc.), started working on her debut, ending up with two hundred songs and an album (with fourteen tracks) that’s at the very least astonishing. Ctrl goes beyond R&B and neo-soul, in fact it makes it very easy to its listeners forget to mention any sort of labels.
With SZA’s voice and words at the center, an album that’s a work through anxiety issues and some frustration breakthroughs with what feels like unfiltered pieces of mind scattered through a sonic palette that can be unfairly overlooked. SZA’s debut is an undeniable triumph, but it’s an all-around one. There’s a reward at each listening session, Ctrl grabs like a motherfucker… it’s easy to love it but extremely difficult to not obsesses over it.
06. Code Orange – Forever (Roadrunner Records)
Code Orange have deconstructed the definition of hardcore and rewritten it for themselves. In 2014, I Am King placed the band on a pedestal that seemed insurmountable, but their Roadrunner Records debut dethroned its predecessor with ease.
Unafraid to explore with their sonic palette, Forever is risky, strange and explosive. With sinister electronics and the trio of vocals that accompany the kidney punch of every abysmal breakdown, Code Orange are propelled beyond any pre-existing genre confines. The opening title track is pure, unbridled hardcore/metalcore/punk Code Orange, but by the closing tracks, “Hurt Goes On” and “dream2,” they’ve wandered into an experimental, 90s-esque territory that is unexpected, yet completely in line with the whiplash that Forever causes. In spite of the surprisingly catchy, radio-friendly “Bleeding In The Blur,” the group manages to avoid cliches or mainstream predictability.
Most impressively, this album displays the skill with which Code Orange can alter their sound and still keep their identity. Forever exists at an intersection of genres that have been skillfully melded to yield a powerful, innovative and massive auditory assault.
05. King Woman – Created in the Image of Suffering (Relapse Records)
Created in the Image of Suffering is an abysmally powerful testament to the beauty generated by pain. Kristina Esfandiari’s unearthly voice has the ability to manifest an environment of inescapable fog; even at its most uplifting and light, it is charged with an underlying sense of unforeseen destruction.
Harkening to her past experiences with religion throughout the record, the lyrical content is as hefty as the droning, sedated doom that her bandmates facilitate. The captivating fluctuations between Esfandiari’s husky and delicate vocals mirror the instrumental movement from shoegaze to King Woman’s brand of metal; the fusion of the sublime and the dreadful present on their 2014 EP Doubt is even stronger and more intentional now.
Without resorting to blasphemy, Suffering is emotionally stirring, thought provoking and laden with the honest observations Esfandiari has made of theism throughout her life. King Woman have delivered the most poignant and profound heavy record of 2017 thus far and, likely, the entire year.
04. Chelsea Wolfe – Hiss Spun (Sargent House)
Anyone who heard Unknown Rooms and figured that they knew where Chelsea Wolfe was heading must have been left plenty confused by the last decade; Hiss Spun takes her heavier side further still, now pushing it fully into noise rock territory.
This is a distorted, abrasive and truly unsettling collection that becomes even eerier when Wolfe’s voice enters the fray, and though the heavy-dense dichotomy is something that has been toyed with extensively over the past few albums, Hiss Spun’s strength is that it no longer just feels like a vessel for Wolfe’s voice. It works almost entirely as an ensemble effort, the clatter of drums and searing, metallicized guitarwork surging to seemingly overpower their master before sinking back to let her take the fore, matching and switching with uncanny ease.
It packs just as much punch as Unsane or Jesus Lizard but with a presence as enrapturing as this at the helm, Hiss Spun cuts even closer to the bone.
03. Converge – The Dusk In Us (Epitaph Records/Deathwish Inc.)
There’s a reason for the Massachusetts-based band Converge being considered one of the benchmarks in terms of quality within extreme and aggressive music. Actually, there’s more than one, but perhaps the most undeniable is how they are able, time and time again for a ridiculous amount of time (formed in ’94 and it’s been 26 years since they released the classic album that’s ‘01’s Jane Doe), to release not only mind-blowing albums but also albums capable to create an emotion and human connection with its listener while being highly cathartic. In that sense, Converge remain the same with their 9th studio album, The Dusk In Us. But it’s never really the same with them, right? Well, on this one they seem to have strengthened even more that human side, that connection. So, with their usual abrasiveness and pummelling sound comes the beauty, melodies, and even melancholy to embrace that said catharsis. “When I held you for the first time/I knew I had to survive.” (“A Single Tear”) is just an example of vocalist Jacob Bannon working through “the complexities of those things [experiences in his life] through song,” as he puts it.
The Dusk In Us is wonderfully fulfilling lyrical but as per usual, its sonic side is as fulfilling, managing to please and captivate a handful of different audiences across the heavy-music spectrum. Riff upon riff of untamed brutality and harshness, the drumming that threatens to pierce even the coldest and hardest stone, and even Bannon’s vocals that with ease transform from the most frenetic hardcore to a soft-spoken and more contemplative/calmer approach. But Bannon is hardly the only one capable of such transformation and mutation, the band follows him all the way through and just like his voice, the instruments find ways to be effective in the most distinct ways – not being completely blown away, for example, by the contrast offered with a combo like “Cannibals” and its follow-up “Thousand Miles Between Us” might be very well one of the hardest tasks for whoever listens – even someone who has never heard the band – to The Dusk In Us.
There’s also something to be said regarding the final seconds of a song like “I Can Tell You About Pain”. How a band manages to use such a noisy, abrasive and piercing sound to emulate and accompany their emotional manifestation is, in a way, what Converge signify and are capable of. Brilliance on so many different levels. The Dusk Is Us is another testament to Converge’s greatness and their magnificent personal manifest.
02. Zola Jesus – Okovi (Sacred Bones Records)
Taiga was a statement, a strong one, which inspired confidence, strength, and a sense of power and control. It can even be argued to be Zola’s definitive step towards finding her own identity in a way. Okovi recognizes and embraces its predecessor, even though its nature is rather different.
Okovi changes the spotlight, and instead of the self the attention mainly goes to what’s around. It’s about what keeps us always around, the shackles (Okovi is a Slavic word for shackles) – “(…) life, to death, to bodies, to minds, to illness, to people, to birthright, to duty.” And it’s from that deep state of reflection and introspection that is born what’s arguably the most accomplished album of Zola Jesus’s career.
More fulfilling in terms of how is constructed, arranged, layered, and beautifully designed sonically, Okovi wouldn’t probably be as imposing and captivating if it wasn’t for the work previously developed with Taiga. But that’s how Nika Roza Danilova operates, one step informing the next one, always moving upward. From one of the most gratifying pop experiences from 2014 rises something even more gripping and enthralling.
The lushness of the productions feels, at times, unreal, and Zola’s voice exudes an exciting flexibility and control even with the record being as deeply emotive and humanly complex as it is. Wonderful and extremely rewarding.
01. Kendrick Lamar – Damn (Top Dawg Entertainment)
There is an intimidating aura surrounding Kendrick Lamar – the erstwhile Kung Fu Kenny; his last album To Pimp A Butterfly succeeded in not only capturing a weird and conscientious zeitgeist, it also became the defining soundtrack of a particularly ugly period in America’s history. Along the same lines as Bob Dylan during L B Johnsons reign, Lamar became the voice of the Black Lives Matter generation, the disassociated African American population – both the layman and the celebrities of colour, all grasped and held it in stupefying and lofty heights of praise. It wasn’tjust an album anymore, it became a slice of history. So, with whispers coming fast and furious about his new release being ready to drop – both the music industry and fans who had followed his every move since good kid, m.A.A.d city held their breath eagerly awaiting to find out what new cut would be. I confess, I was one of them and I was not disappointed, however I was surprised by it. Very, very surprised.
DAMN. is a very different beast compared to To Pimp A Butterfly. Butterfly… was a jazz infused, poetic album of tactical lyrical precision, while DAMN. is a lot more scattershot, a lot more organic, a rougher, rawer release. Don’t think for a second though that Kung Fu Kenny has lost his edge, his razorsharp delivery is still there – in fact – it’s clearer than ever, it’s more versatile, it’s more contemplative, more thoughtful but no less abrasive and penetrating. This is a man who isn’t scared of any topic, any subject matter. A man not scared to turn his magnifying glass from the outside inward and explore his own demons and struggles.
DAMN. is a revelation of ideas, function and form. This is an album of a man who has been turned into this messianic figure by his fanbase and followers and now has no idea who or what he is supposed to be, an intricate, explorative and forensic disassembling of the man, by the man, to find out what kind of man he really is. It’s fascinating, daunting and bleak – in the most extraordinarily optimistic ways – an album of songs, rather than singles. An album of ideas and introspective thoughts rather than retrospective views. The tracks in bold capitals as statements of his point by point manifesto – his treatise on who Kendrick Lamar is, was and will be from this point forward.
He never tries to inflame the feeling of disassociation, of detachment and of solitude. He tries to positively highlight the importance of ownership of the idea of self, and self-awareness, of taking responsibility for an idea, thought and action.
DAMN. is great. A solid, near perfect album. It challenges, it questions and it pushes boundaries. Where Butterfly… was a bold musical and lyrical exploration, DAMN. is a reaction to the former, and a treatise on letting your reputation run away with itself. His tongue is firmly in his cheek in “HUMBLE.”, but don’t think for a second he doesn’t know how important he is right now.