The contributors assigned for this list, fortunately, all have vastly different music tastes.
Each writer was assigned to include two albums, as well as listen to the suggestions by other writers, and contribute accordingly. The result is a shared collective view of ten albums in 2017 that provide the most evocative, genuine, and interesting listening experiences.
Due to the nature of the collaborative piece, albums are not ranked numerically. Each record is considered a number one, so to speak, and are presented alphabetically with the respective writer credited for their contribution.
Here's to a new year that's louder than the last.
A Crow Looked at Me
March 24th, 2017
Songwriting: Phil Elverum
Production: Phil Elverum
In the summer of 2016 Phil Elverum’s wife, Genèvieve Castrée, died of cancer, leaving him the sole parent of their young daughter. Revered in songwriting and indie circles for his work with The Microphones and Mount Eerie, Elverum has a reputation for creating sonically lush and complex treatises on nature and existence itself. But in A Crow Looked at Me, Elverum relieves himself of his familiar tools and instead goes for a bare and literal approach, combining the opaque high-context lyricism of Sun Kil Moon with brazenly sparse instrumentals. He charts the unending journey of grief with relentless honesty, chronicling death’s immediate aftermath, tainted domestic routines and unwanted tribulations. He also sings of the love he and Genèvieve shared, of its beginnings and the plans they made together as a family. The result is not just an remarkably moving and blunt documentary of grief, but also a monument to a deep and unbreakable love. - James
A Crow is painful and cathartic to experience, providing the most genuine perspective on death and love - perhaps ever. Elverum’s voice cracks and breaks and tears in trying to put into words the gravity of loss; the instrumentation barely supporting his hollow exhales. Yet, despite the hopelessness and futility of these recordings, the album is undeniably beautiful, perhaps because of the honesty. Something of this nature, as truly as genuine and open as this record, hasn’t really been attempted before.
There are no lies, no comfort, no hooks or bridges or choruses. In turn, hardly any replayability.
But there doesn’t need to be. A Crow is too rich of an album to be played often. It’s tremendous dreary weight, seemingly infinite in futility, is also a reminder of how vivid life can be. On the flipside of Elverum’s darkened moon there resides an equal, albeit obfuscated, amount of love and life to be cherished.
Somewhere. - Audrin
March 10th, 2017
Songwriting: Joe Talbot, Adam Devonshire, Mark Bowen, Lee Kiernan, Jon Beavis
Production: Paul Frazer (Space)
Highlights: Well Done, Mother, Divide & Conquer, Benzocaine
Post-punk, as a genre, has existed and endured for decades now. However, its primary challenge has been translating its dark and pummeling sound into a more modern sound. On their debut album Brutalism, the Bristol-based Idles achieve just that. The band possesses every facet required for a iconic punk rock band: a socially aware message, ferocious energy, unforgettably witty lyrics, and an enigmatic frontman in Joe Talbot. There are no shortage of bands recreating the sounds of Joy Division and The Smiths for a new generation. Idles, however, stand alone due to the sheer zaniness and razor-sharp satire.
On “Stendhal Syndrome,” for example, the band provides a hilarious take on those who try to label art as pretentious and meaningless. “Well Done” should be instantly relatable for every millenial trying to reckon what they want to be with society’s expectations. In the end, though, the most biting line comes on “Mother,” where Talbot directly confronts the effects of rampant conservatism:
The best way to scare a 'Tory is to read or get rich - "Mother"
Brutalism is a truly stellar release that will set the standard against which all future punk releases are judged against. - Kyle
June 9th, 2017
Production: Anthony Tiffith, Terrence Henderson, Dave Free
Highlights: Prom, Drew Barrymore, Go Gina, Love Galore, The Weekend
With just a few mix tapes, a handful of features (most notably on the opening track of Rihanna’s Anti), and a few back up vocals credits for Kendrick Lamar, not much was given as to what direction SZA would take her first full length album. Few records over the years have been able to capture what modern day love is like so accurately as SZA does with her debut: CTRL. Over 45 minutes of smooth true R&B, SZA plays the villain, the victim, the main chick, the side chick and everything in-between. SZA’s uncensored honesty, which is the heart of the album, leads to some of the most memorable lyrics of the year:
You’re like 9 to 5 and I’m the weekend - "The Weekend"
I been secretly banging your homeboy/Why you in Vegas all up on Valentine’s Day? - "Supermodel"
is one out of a handful of artists that could possibly outshine the
powerful features of Travis Scott, Isaiah Rashad, and Kendrick Lamar.
It’s undeniable that SZA is one of the most influential artists of 2017, considering she’s ending the year as the most Grammy nominated female artist. - Colton
If Blue Could be Happiness
September 29th, 2017
Songwriting: Emily Sprague, Rick Spataro, Jonnie Baker, Felix Walworth
Florist, the songwriting vehicle of New York-based sound designer Emily Sprague, has always been deceptive in its apparent simplicity. While using simple melodies, direct lyrics and unassuming folk structures, Florist consistently achieves a powerful emotional resonance that few other folk acts are capable of. Their well-received debut, The Birds Outside Sang, tracked Sprague’s path to healing after a debilitating hit-and-run accident. Similarly, If Blue Could Be Happiness charts the journey of grief and repair as Sprague remembers her mother who died unexpectedly this year.
Sprague’s lyrics throughout the album are bare and diaristic, describing the world in essentialist terms and ascribing meaning to the colors around her. She looks at the yellow beam of light on the wall and remembers childhood houses. She looks at the blue sky and wonders if she can ever translate her pain into hope. Sometimes the light makes her talk to her mother directly:
Mom I love you I still hear your voice inside my sleep
Next time you see me I will be glowing brightly
Outside with the birds in the middle of the yard
Sprague’s lyrics respond to death with a gentle gratitude for life and soft confessions of great weakness. And like The Birds Outside Sang there's also a sense of something greater and indescribable. A sense of ancient cosmic mystery and meaning without religious connotations.
Self-produced and recorded in a Catskill Mountains schoolhouse, the music here is even leaner than it was in The Birds Outside Sang. Returning to more guitar-based songwriting, it harkens back to Sprague’s earlier music on the Holdy EP and her own teenage demo anthologies. Despite its bare approach there are many rich moments where the music simply aches: The deep brass groan on “Understanding Light,” or the warbling synthesizer bird calls on the titular track.
The result is a sanctuary of peace in the space between your headphones. A steady salve to calm grieving, anxious hearts. "Healing" is a word that often comes up when people describe Florist's music. And this album is certainly healing. - James
Neō Wax Bloom
September 29th, 2017
Highlights: Super Ink Burst, Solar Blade, Infinite Mint, Peanut Choker
A maximalist concept album detailing the collapse of a universe as its outlandish inhabitants migrate elsewhere to avoid freeze-death by two bloodthirsty eyeballs. Conventionally, I could just end the explanation right there.
Iglooghost deserves more than that. This collection of frantic breakbeat and explosive drum programming is, quite literally, nothing like anyone has ever heard before. Brainfeeder made the right choice in signing 18 year old Seamus Malliagh, as I don’t know anyone else better suited to resurrect and immediately obliterate the nature of ‘90s UK breakbeat. This is what Aphex Twin, Autechre, and Boards of Canada created the landscape for, and I feel like they would smile if they could hear what Malliagh accomplished with Neō.
Quick sweeps of teething bass drums and 808s are somehow wrangled and forced inside of rap samples that have been modified to resemble nothing of their previous life. Almost every track is blisteringly quick, utilizing rhythm changes and drum fills that could probably be weaponized for global warfare. There’s a particular wailing female vocal sample, pitch-shifted and chopped up that recurs often, which I believe represents the main character of the narrative. In fact, there are many quick moments that reveal the story behind the chaos, but the information is still too cluttered to make any true sense of Malliagh’s intentions.
“Infinite Mint”, one of the best tracks off of Neō, is the only relatively tranquil and calming piece in the catalog. Cuushe’s vocals feel interdimensional in timbre, deservedly soothing the atmosphere after seven tracks of chaos. “Super Ink Burst”, another highlight, is a profound album opener that explains everything that’s about to happen in the upcoming forty minutes.
Malliagh has a bright future ahead of him, gaining a dedicated fanbase that will follow his artistry into the most inconceivable of realms. - Kyle and Audrin
Piety of Ashes
September 1st, 2017
Songwriting: Benn Jordan
Production: Benn Jordan
Highlights: Turning Alone, Starlight, Gray Pill, Cycles
An unprecedented blend of ambient, orchestral, glitch, cinematic, and 80’s synth-pop; enough genres to fill up a resume. Despite being credited as a singer, guitarist, pianist, and producer, Benn Jordan is first and foremost: a composer. His progressive orchestral blooms weave lusciously between indecisive LFO's and unwavering instrumentation.
The starlight is brighter when holding you tighter
October is colder without us touching shoulders.
He croons on the album's centerpiece: "Starlight", but vocals are a dime a dozen on this record. Piety is a showcase of three decades of knowledge in music production and Jordan has become truly unparalleled in scoring ambitious and esoteric noises from all across the map. In the middle of it all, the chandelier, resides a blurred line between the utilized acoustic and electronic elements. With advanced production techniques like additive synthesis and FM modulation Jordan literally bends the sounds to his will; forcing them into position with surgical precision.
Much like the Flashbulb’s 2014 release Nothing is Real, Piety presents itself more as an essay or narrative than a collection of singles and, despite the later half of the album slowing down considerably, is relentless in its goal. The difference now is that Jordan seems to be in a considerably happier place in his life, evoked onto the audience with grooves upon grooves. When the beautiful reverb drenched orchestra fades out, it is revealed underneath a dancey ‘80s electronica vibe, most eloquently exemplified on "Gray Pill".
The Flashbulb continues to animate the sonic landscape with elegance and professionalism, and Piety is another rabbit hole of arrangements that truly evolve after each listen. - Audrin
Sacred Horror in Design
July 28th, 2017
Songwriting: Ata Ebtekar
Production: Ata Ebtekar
Highlights: Bogzhe Esfahan, Holy Error
Dariush Dolat-Shahi’s 1985 album Electronic Music, Tar and Sehtar was the exhibition of a graceful dance between traditional Iranian folk music and newer, synthetic technologies, acting not so much as partners than as extensions filling each other out into a new, unprecedented whole. Though the latest from the ever-shifting Tehran-based composer and electronic musician Ata “Sote” Ebtekar, Sacred Horror in Design, builds towards more discordant ends, though that sense of fulfilled convergence remains - perhaps even more so given the more refined electronic tools with which he’s able to synthesize.
“Flux of Sorrow” drones a grounded but undefined center around which Arash Bolouri’s santoor and Behrouz Pashaei’s sehtar weave and carve a sense of ungraspable history; this dynamic morphs on the next track into a conflicting mountain of buildup that falls into emptiness, as if to say the chaos doesn’t need to be there to be felt. The relationship continues to change, with the sehtar and electronic whirr pushing each other over the santoor’s gallop on “Plural,” steady pumps of low end fuzz emphasizing the grandeur of the strings around it on “Plebeian,” a virtuosic dance between instruments becoming even more vertiginous with the underlining rush of sound on “Segaah.”
One might see this as being an upgrade of an older lineage of music, but they coexist, as on closer “Holy Error,” the most techno-oriented track here, the way traditional instruments (on which Ebtekar told Pashaei and Bolouri to also play on the wooden edges) fall at various angles into the electronic movement is as thrilling a vision for electronic music as it is for its older companion. The title of Sacred Horror in Design reflects both its discovery of latent qualities in preexisting designs and its existence as a blueprint of sorts, but there’s no mistaking it for anything but a monolithic work in its own right. - Eric
June 9th, 2017
Songwriting: Ian Simpson, Russell Boring, Dom McLennon, Ameer Vann, Merlyn Wood, Matt Champion, Ciaran McDonald, Robert Ontenient
Production: Romil Hemnani, Q3 [Jabari Manwa, Kiko Merley]
Highlights: HEAT, STAR, BOYS, FAKE, BUMP
Brockhampton is the biggest gamble in hip-hop's history. 15 twenty-somethings, most of whom met through a Kanye West fan forum, moving in together under the sentiment that something is bound to happen in such a creatively fertile environment. The Saturation series is a result as much as it is a celebration and, though the first one was clearly the most unpolished, I see a bit of each installment in this pick.
The juxtaposition between opening banger “HEAT” and the hormone-laced closer “WASTE” says more in itself than any essay on the vehemently self-proclaimed “boy band” ever could. Listeners are gifted these violent thoughts of angry kids who want nothing more than to bomb the local courthouse; 45 minutes later, one sways to a reverb drenched daydream of love lost, treading unashamed in cheesy territory.
“STAR” will influence lyricists for decades to come, with McLennon and Vann coming through on infectious quotes referencing famous/failed Hollywood celebrities, closed out by a ferocious verse by Abstract – momentous, considering hip-hop’s take on homosexuality only just a decade ago. "BUMP" is a reflection on the record as a whole, with Hemnani’s teething beat ablating speakers building the environment for collective leader Abstract to hum a solemn hymn as its chorus.
The relentless battering ram that is Brockhampton’s work ethic is fueled only by collective’s individuality and versatility. It’s very easy to get to know the members, either through lyrical exposition or watching their meticulously edited music videos/short films. Moreover, the group is a spider web of unseen talent: visual artists, app developers, and filmmakers. It wouldn’t be the least bit surprising to see retail Brockhampton products at Toys R’ Us next year. - Audrin
Tyler, the Creator
July 21st, 2017
Highlights: See You Again, Who Dat Boy, Garden Shed, 911/ Mr. Lonely
From Bastard (2009) to Cherry Bomb (2015), Tyler, The Creator hasn’t offered much progression on his music, or hasn’t really contributed anything worthwhile. To the surprise of many, Flower Boy was the first fully constructed, coherent, and sonically cohesive album Tyler has given the masses. Jazz and hip-hop have proven to be a winning combination, and with the immaculate production from Tyler exclusively he proves this to still be true.
Without compromising his signature sound, Tyler makes a move to add more personality and deeper meaning to his work. Love, friends, loneliness, sexuality, failure, success, and whatever else has been weighing on Tyler mind are explored in his most accessible album to date. Tyler has rocked, rolled, bloomed and glowed his way through 2017, and if Flower Boy is a tease of future music the future looks bright. - Colton
Where Are We Going?
April 5th, 2017
Songwriting: Maya Bouldry-Morrison
Production: Maya Bouldry-Morrison
Highlights: Preparation Rituals, Where Are We Going? Pt. 2; Bonus: Hidden Truth (see description)
Even without context, you can hear house music’s queer roots in its grooves, the way pockets of room are built between each beat, an enveloping space kept just taut enough by the rhythm: dancing is, after all, movement within a confined space. Where Are We Going?, the first set of tracks recorded by Maya Bouldry-Morrison, who records under Octo Octa, after coming out as a trans woman, and a bit longer after having suffered through a phase of extreme anxiety, is centered around this tenuity.
The album’s main and constituent titles reflect a fluid, realistic sense of optimism: “Fleeting Moments of Freedom” and “Until the Moon Sets,” lighter and more open tracks on which synth lines run jubilantly through bright clusters of percussion, into the Mimi-sampling “No More Pain (Promises to a Younger Self),” wherein her vocal signify an almost unparalleled freedom as a breeze of anxious dissonance forms underneath, adding a different connotation at its edges. The suite from “Move On (Let Go)” until the end seems almost a response to that, both a flip side and a path forward as Bouldry-Morrison digs further into the groove and the soft chilliness blowing through the otherwise warm timbres of earlier tracks to solidify a colder, more tangible lining of the beat.
Then, on “Where Are We Going? Pt. 2,” both a continuation from the beginning in its inviting pull and the preceding in tone, a voice multiplies underneath the mix, continually asking,
Do you feel better? Are you gonna feel better?
Which, yeah, is a load of a
question: Bouldry-Morrison still deals with daily anxiety issues, and
starting to live as an mostly openly out trans woman is, of course,
still far from freedom in a cis-normative society. But her choice to have
it fill up the track acts as a sort of re-framing from permanence to the
present. At a time particularly fraught with instability for the
marginalized, the comfortably deep house of Where Are We Going? provides
plenty of room in which to take cover, to provide a knowingly temporary
affirmative. - Eric
Audrin Baghaie is the music editor for the Daily Lobo. All contributors can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org