Turn of the Century host Rob Vera shares his 25 favorite albums of 2017:
25. Slowdive — Slowdive
Another giant of 90’s shoegaze returns with something fresh, yet something that feels firmly rooted in the ethos of the environment that brought them to our attention in the first place. Dream pop that burns warmly in your headphones.
24. AJ Davila — El Futuro
Former front man of Puerto Rico’s most brilliant garage rock import, Davila 666, this solo effort is an even more pronounced turn towards indie, glam, new wave and even shades of post-punk. Alternating (sometimes in the same song) between English and Spanish, it’s a stylistically diverse set of songs that really clicks and highlights a talented artist’s growth into himself.
23. Sylvan Esso — What Now
At times, jarring, caustic electronic beats that ultimately build into pop magic. An impressive collection of nuanced electronic compositions oozing with hooks and pop sensibilities that reveal themselves more with each listen.
22. Bonobo — Migration
Layers of lush rhythmic soul, jazz, and house movement form a collection of complex and yet ultimately groove-worthy songs. Bonobo acts as composer and conductor to a myriad of instruments and voices that come together to spill warm sound all over your brain.
21. Björk — Utopia
One of the handful of artists whose relentless commitment to finding new sonic boundaries never ceases, Utopia finds Björk creating even more of her signature dreamy soundscapes but with somehow even more vulnerability and contemplation this time out. She is as sincere and fascinating as ever here.
20. White Reaper — The World’s Best American Band
10 songs. 32 minutes. Pure classic rock joy in a contemporary package. If you can’t have fun listening to White Reaper, we probably wouldn’t get along.
19. BLOWN OUT — Superior Venus
The sound of a triumphant cruise into deep space that evolves into the sound of your realization that you’re being chased by another ship.
18. Drake — More Life
Regardless of whether or not you’re a fan of the cult of personality that is Drake, More Life is the most interesting MUSIC the artist has ever created as the rapper continues to evolve into a genre-flouting artist.
17. Johnny Jewel — Windswept
With 14 songs clocking in at 38 minutes, Windswept feels like a collection of sound sketches at times, but Jewel’s signature electro-ambient wizardry is on full display. The at times ominous longing and tension hangs like a neon glow over the entirety of the proceedings and creates a sense that the journey into the night is as equally affecting to the soul as the dawn itself.
16. Mac DeMarco — This Old Dog
Mac DeMarco looks and acts like an oddball cartoon character with a charmingly awkward stage presence to match, no question. It’s a bit that certainly helps him stand out from a crowded field of white dudes doing indie rock, but the work itself is seriously impressive. He’s a 70’s/80’s soft rock crooner of the highest order with enough synthy-flourishes to add color to an incredibly impressive, fuzzy mix of downright easy on the ears songs.
15. Vessels — The Great Distraction
Following up their pulsating, 2015 dark electronic masterpiece Dilate was always going to be a tough ask, but Vessels returned this year with an impressive album of arguably more colorful, stylistically ambitious tracks. Featuring more tracks with vocals this time around (including album highlight “Deflect the Light” featuring The Flaming Lips), Vessels seem intent on adding new, more epic dimensions to their work here.
14. Moses Sumney — Aromanticism
There’s a D’Angelo meets Thom Yorke vibe that comes from Moses Sumney that feels like both an apt descriptor and yet is wholly insufficient. His soulful falsetto flanked by a myriad of instruments ranging from harps to synths and everything in between create an album intent on tingling the parts of the brain that don’t tingle often enough.
13. Avec le soleil sortant de sa bouche — Pas pire pop, I Love You so Much
Don’t let the overly long, exceedingly French name fool you. Pas pire pop, I Love You so Much is an infectious, foot-stomping prog and krautrock exercise in raw emotion that pays off big time. There’s a surprise around every corner of the album, but at the end of the day, it simply rocks in a different way than you’re likely used to hearing.
12. Beach Fossils — Somersault
Graduating from their stripped-down chillwave origins, Beach Fossils have developed into a band that’s expanded their sound to include more soulful and even jazz-driven avenues of sonic exploration. These elements are compliments to—and not replacements for—their core dream-wave guitar sound and have combined to culminate in their most fully-developed album to date.
11. Brian Eno — Reflection
In true Brian Eno form, the album is a single track, 65 minute-long ambient immersion into a dream world where reality and imagination are blurred. And while you never feel in danger, you also never feel in total control, either. This headphone-suited album is the sound of surrendering control in the best way imaginable.
10. The Horrors — V
The insistence of England’s The Horrors to never stick too rigidly to a single genre or style could be off-putting to some fans, but their ability to pull it off so brilliantly each time out is what makes them such a great band. For their fifth album, a foreboding iteration of new wave industrial is deployed to generate a heavy and engaging sense of shimmering doom.
9. Roya — Roya
Perfectly-pitched female vocals and a psych-rock aesthetic from a bygone era combined with lyrics rooted in the type of post-punk lyrical tradition of the Buzzcocks or Joy Division. A hypnotic and addicting listen from a band that has flown far too under the radar in 2017.
8. SZA — Ctrl
Simply one of the most engaging and endlessly listenable R&B and soul albums of 2017. SZA’s lyrics feel incredibly authentic, highly personal, and are tied together with music so full of groove and life that the result is an album you can leave on repeat without reservation.
7. TOPS — Sugar at the Gate
A headbuzzy, smooth as 80’s silk, psych-jazzy, super romantic work of pop music art.
6. Oh Sees — Orc
(Thee) Oh Sees have created the most diverse set of songs to date with Orc—an album full of dizzying prog-rock ambition and scope built on a foundation of unrelenting psych rock that never loses sight of it’s mission to pound from the inside of your chest. The album manages to take a variety of turns without ever losing itself—all while managing to keep you hooked as you feel your way through the darkly engaging world they’ve created.
5. Alvvays — Antisocialites
Alvvays are a tremendously gifted indie rock band that may remind you a bit of a version of Camera Obscura that leverages their rock guitars a bit more. Antisocialites is an incredibly infectious collection of heartfelt songs that still manage to be carefree, tender, and a joy to listen to over and over again.
4. Spoon — Hot Thoughts
For a band that famously “never makes a bad album”, such labels can feel like a poisoned chalice in terms of having individual albums recognized for their unique brilliance. Simply stated, Hot Thoughts will stand shoulder to shoulder with the best work Spoon has ever produced—if it doesn’t ultimately stand alone at the top of their discography. It is the most complex, rewarding, intricately-woven tapestry of sounds the band has created yet with songs that demand multiple listens in order to fully appreciate the skill of a band who isn’t simply “still making” great music. Instead, Hot Thoughts is the work of a band that after two plus decades together has actually taken another step forward.
3. Queens of the Stone Age — Villains
Villains is Queens of the Stone Age’s In Rainbows. I had my doubts when I heard that this album would be produced by pop super producer Mark Ronson, but to his credit, he found a way to let QOTSA be themselves and to rock with the same fury, style, and controlled viciousness while managing to sharpen the sound into an even finer point. An absolutely brilliant, tight set of hard rock songs and their best work since Rated R.
2. The War On Drugs — A Deeper Understanding
Whether it’s a sequel or a spiritual sibling to their opus, Lost in the Dream, the bottom line is that with A Deeper Understanding, The War On Drugs have made some of the most exhilarating, gorgeously-crafted rock music to be found in 2017. The obsessive attention to detail is all about getting the artistic statement right and nothing else. The songs are long, yet never feel that way, and each one is meant to further the journey in a way that always feels classic, familiar, and yet completely unique all at once.
1. Brand New — Science Fiction
I’ve never heard a cocktail of shifting musical styles and moods wrangled onto a single album that shouldn’t work find a way to work the way it does on Science Fiction. I’d amazingly NEVER heard a Brand New album before 2017, since I’d always assumed they were simply another in a long line of fair to spare emo bands from the early 2000’s—a genre I’d never really had much interest in exploring in the past. Yet a friend recommended this album and I was blown away by its stylistic and emotional complexity, its lyrical explorations of what its like to live with depression, the peaks and valleys of a religious upbringing, and all the self-loathing that accompanies such things. But make no mistake, the music itself is the headliner here. The album is undoubtedly a rock album, yet pinning down a particular style proves elusive. Science Fiction soars and swells and plummets and rocks and gets weird from track to track, and yet never loosens its tight, foreboding grip.