The best albums of 2017 as selected by the LYFSTYL staff, including Chicago editor Rupa Jogani and Vancouver editor Kevin Vanstone.
Most of us will agree that 2017 was a crazy, tumultuous year, however artists of all sorts still managed to produce an incredible amount of material during such interesting times. Despite political chaos and constant distractions beat-makers, producers, DJs, songwriters, and legends of hip hop dominated our headphones throughout the year, giving a welcome reprieve from the outside world. The following are the best albums of 2017 as chosen by members of the LYFSTYL Staff. Enjoy!
Chicago, IL Editor: Rupa Jogani
10. Various Artists – mono no aware
Ambient music often has the stigma of being pretty background music – of a subconscious idea expertly constructed by the genre’s greatest, best relegated to insomniacs. On the mono no aware compilation from Berlin-based experimental label Pan, the tracks aim to shift us over into personal stories rather than atmospheric artwork on display. Recent years have pushed lesser-known electronic producers to the forefront, releasing ambient music which seeks to speak for itself, rather than being a contrived idea. Each track on mono no aware, though from 16 different artists, all manage to connect themselves to tell a story about who created them. These aren’t tracks to simply fall asleep to – they already exist in our lives through these storytellers, who are asking us to sit with them over a cup of tea and get a glimpse of the story behind the lives of these non-strangers.
9. Hiroshi Yoshimura – Music for Nine Postcards
With compelling new releases this year from musicians across the board, the reissues which quietly crept into my speakers also made their way into my top albums for 2017. Hiroshi Yoshimura’s 1982 Music for Nine Postcards is a poignant reminder of peaceful electronic ambient music. The builds are deceivingly simple like on “Water Copy,” “View from my Room,” and “Rain out of Window,” weaving repetitive water-drop keyboard against silence, before breaths of cello and woodwinds drift in and out like spring clouds. Each track holds itself just short of wandering into full spirituality. It’s a walk through a forest, a leaf floating down a stream, the surf receding into the ocean. Music for Nine Postcards is everything and nothing, unbothered by the passage of time and firmly remains here, and then, and what will be.
8. Mura Masa – Mura Masa
Whether we mean to or not, our hometowns and the countries we spend large swaths of our lifetimes in manage to infuse themselves into the projects we create. Debut albums from musicians serve as a testament to the places they spend their lives in – Jamie xx and London with In Colour, Lapalux’s Nostalchic with the UK and Los Angeles, for example – and now we hear the UK in Mura Masa’s self-titled release. He takes us on a tour through London and its subcultures, sampling sounds of city buses on “Messy Love,” UK garage on “What if I Go?,” and heavily incorporating marimba, steel-drums and house, eagerly showing us how proud he is of the city which influenced him so intrinsically. Featuring collaborators like Bonzai, NAO, Charli XCX, Damon Albarn, Desiigner, and A$AP Rocky, he manages to keep his voice without being buried behind the artists he works with. Mura Masa a strong, jubilant debut from an artist who has shown us how capable he is of baring himself so that we may join him on this hometown tour.
7. Syd – Fin
Since 2011 I’ve not-so-patiently waited for Syd to release her solo project and after departing Odd Future in 2016, I knew I wouldn’t have to wait much longer. On her debut album Fin, Syd delivers her effortless sensuality while nonchalantly navigating social settings. Compared to her previous work with The Internet, Fin is a more straightforward pop album, dripping with contemporary R&B without letting the music overtake her singing. Fin is one of my favorite albums to play at mid-energy parties, with her vocals moving bodies subtly until songs like “Shake ‘Em Off” and “Dollar Bills” come on to perk us up. Then, when my favorite party-hazed “Nothin to Somethin” comes on, we turn to those around with heavy-lidded eyes wondering if they, too, will be our muse for the night.
6. Keiichi Okabe – NieR: Automata Original Soundtrack
The only scores companies and labels invest time and effort into seem to be for games. After the mid-2000s, there was a clear drop-off in recognizable scores from movies and now “stock scores” are used to fill out dramatic scenes. This changes with the immersive nature of games, and no soundtrack exemplified world-building better this year than the stunning arrangements used in 2017’s cult hit NieR: Automata. Even eight months after finishing the game I still find myself playing the soundtrack on active rotation. It’s a world where you play as androids, sent to investigate an alien robot invasion on Earth which nearly killed off mankind (currently rebuilding on the moon), and questioning what it means to be alive. Keiichi Okabe uses tertiary story-telling in his arrangements to complement Yoko Taro’s vision, through floating ambient tracks for when you’re in the bunker off Earth, the unrelenting piano churning unease in Copied City, the playful, childlike innocence when in a village of friendly robots, and evoking bitter memories of a past you can’t quite recall. Each composition is carefully crafted to transport us into the different areas of the game, the mindset of its characters, and is made for us to revisit and take us back into a time and space where we spent carefully considering why we are here, why now, where we came from, and where we’re destined to go.
5. Cornelius – Mellow Waves
The musician’s musician, Cornelius, released his most pop sensible album in his over twenty-year tenure. Mellow Waves, in its most simplistic terms, is an album about love and a call back into retro-indie-electronic-pop-rock while just stepping to the side of futurism. The yearning brimming through on the album’s opening song, “If You’re Here,” calls out to a person, or rather, the idea of person. This theme resonates throughout the entire album, making us want to take time for ourselves on rainy days to remember the relationships that were and could have been. Cornelius employs pauses, brevity, pointed synthesizer and guitar lines to pull from our memories into a collective dreamscape in each song’s composition. “In a Dream,” which also happens to be my favorite off the album, is a pure love song, gently drifting like the tides while also being the most pop-oriented song on the LP. Mellow Waves is an album enveloped in romantic nostalgia, worth revisiting over the years.
4. Jacques Greene – Feel Infinite
Since releasing his 2011 post-dubstep “Another Girl,” Montreal-based producer Jacques Greene released a myriad of singles, EPs, and collaborations before finally delivering his debut album Feel Infinite this year. It sports one of the best dance tracks of 2017, “Real Time” which is an absolute club crusher – a faraway vocal sample sits on top of a pounding house drum that shakes a room and rushes us to the dancefloor. Greene has always teetered the line between euphoric and sad dance music and we continue seeing this as he balances between tracks like “Dundas Collapse” and “You See All My Light.” Even when he offers a welcoming hand on “To Say,” with its warm bass synths and hand drums, there’s still an understanding that he wants you to get lost in feeling. Offering only a single featured artist with past collaborator How to Dress Well, Feel Infinite is a dance album about mood, our discolored memories, and letting us feel free in the only spaces we know how.
3. Shinichi Atobe – From the Heart, It’s a Start, a Work of Art
In its most rinsed down definition, the amalgamation of techno ambient minimalism guides Shinichi Atobe’s glimmering From the Heart, It’s a Start, a Work of Art. In the opening track, “Regret,” he uses the repetitiveness of minimalism to build into anti-climaxes, where muted synth lines move in and out of focus, like following a thought that keeps trailing just out of reach. As the album gains momentum, Atobe pulls us from rippling ambience into sudden intention – minimalism remains the framework for each composition, but stagnant intensity builds on “First Plate 1,” “First Plate 2,” and again to close the album on “First Plate 3.” Atobe created an album for the headspace of introverted electronic music lovers, finding us in a cramped dark venue with their heads down and feet continuously moving. He manages to encapsulate the raw feelings of those who seek the calm and the storm simultaneously.
2. Charli XCX – Pop 2
We can all agree that 2017 was one of the worst years on record for anyone who has any sense of awareness in the world. In fighting off the onslaught of unceasing stress and bad news on top of our normal, everyday qualms, I found myself turning increasingly to pop music to fight through it. On Charli XCX’s second mixtape of the year, released just before 2017 finally drew to a close, Pop 2 is an album we didn’t know we needed. With PC Music’s A.G. Cook helming the production of the entire album, it brims with his signature blips and slides while traipsing duality between the aggressive and sickeningly sweet. Charli XCX’s sincere lyricism brings a sense of desperate earnestness, where we not only want to cry-sing on the dancefloor, but we’re yelling into night “this is me!” Featuring impressive collaborators like Jay Park, Carly Rae Jepsen, Tove Lo, ALMA, cupcakKe, and Mykki Blanco, Pop 2 manages to bring every facet of weird culture together to scream and dance on the same floor.
1. Yaeji – yaeji & EP2
The only dance music that’s truly enjoyable is made by those who love to dance. Listening to Yaeji, the Brooklyn based Korean-American producer, reinvigorated my adoration for house music. Her two 2017 EPs – yaeji & EP2 – are fun and slick, the type of beats one reaches for on a night out. The pulsing bass and mellow melodic lines sliding with her utterly fun singable bars on “raingurl,” made me immediately find a club to go dancing the first time I heard it. Even on songs like “drink I’m sippin’ on” and “Full of it,” her fluidly blending of Korean and English lyrics and production imbues itself in your bones. And even in the EPs’ quieter moments found in “noonside” and “feelings change,” they draw you into the introspection only found when everything goes blank on the dancefloor and somehow you’re surrounded by loud silence.
SZA – CTRL
Arca – Arca
Mount Kimbie – Love What Survives
Baths – Romaplasm
Ryuichi Sakamoto – async
Jlin – Black Origami
Kelela – Take Me Apart
St. Vincent – Masseduction
Kingdom – Tears in the Club
Elliott Smith – Either/Or Expanded Reissue
Moses Sumney – Aromanticism
Honey Dijon – The Best of Both Worlds
Kiasmos – Blurred
Four Tet – New Energy
Lil Peep – Come Over When You’re Sober Pt. 1
Midori Takada – Through the Looking Glass Reissue
Corbin – Mourn
Geotic – Abysma
Trippie Redd – A Love Letter to You
Various Artists – Yu-tora!!! Yuri!!! on Ice Original Soundtrack
Vancouver, BC Editor: Kevin Vanstone
10. King Gizzard & The Wizard Lizard – Flying Microtonal Banana
It feels wrong to place King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard at number ten, however the ambitious Australian rockers certainly put the pressure on themselves when they declared they would release five studio albums in 2017. As they have in the past, King Gizz restricted themselves on Flying Microtonal Banana, playing only microtonal instruments. The result is arguably the band’s best album of the year, rendering the band’s strange brand of psych-rock in a tuning rarely heard in modern music. Tracks like ‘Billabong Valley’ benefit most from this new sonic palette, fitting the story of Mad Dog Morgan perfectly within the band’s unique instruments.
9. St. Vincent – MASSEDUCTION
St. Vincent has always had a talent for producing powerful art-rock anthems with an intellectual bend, but when it was revealed she was working with hit-maker Jack Antonoff I must admit I got concerned: would Masseduction retain the edge I’ve always appreciated in her music? Thankfully, the answer is undoubtedly yes. On St. Vincent’s fourth studio album the guitar heroine rips through infectious jams packed with stories of love, loss, libido, and libations, but underneath it all the prodigal guitar picker is still there. The solo on ‘Pills’ is worth the price of admission itself.
8. Idles – Brutalism
While artists like Father John Misty seem comfortable making comedy of political chaos, bands like IDLES seem to revel in it. This isn’t to say that lead singer Joe Talbot is pleased about recent political devolutions, however he sure has a talent from wringing it out into righteous punk rock broiled in British angst and frustration. Brutalism sounds exactly like it’s name suggests, and it’s fucking refreshing. Where Father John Misty has chosen to make jokes, Joe Talbot and his band of angry men have decided to voice their frustrations in a powerful way.
7. Father John Misty – Pure Comedy
It’s almost hard to imagine what John Tillman would have released if he had waited until after the 2016 election to write Pure Comedy, the third release under his smart-ass pseudonym Father John Misty. Firmly established as an unabashed misanthrope, Misty riffs on religion, politics, drugs, and depression with a ruthless ease that feels perfectly fit for our modern malaise. In a world that seems to have gone to hell, Misty’s answer is to muse along with laughter, but it’s hard to fault the guy. He’s got a knack for turning nasty realities into neat little truths.
6. Thundercat – Drunk
Like the aforementioned Harmony Of Difference, Thundercat’s latest release Drunk is a jazz offering worthy of its time, however Thundercat’s signature 8-string bass provides another unique layer to what is otherwise a fun and funky hip-hop album of its own accord. Add in a layer of Thundercat’s tongue-in-cheek writing style and you’ve got a fun jazz album sure to keep listeners bouncing around to his familiar fonky bass tones.
5. Jonwayne – Rap Album Two
Labels of “art rap” or “indie rap” fail to respect the balance artists like JonWayne maintain. In the midst of a consonant and soulful rap album the veteran musician and beatmaker bares his soul, thriving on the adversity that has informed his life and career to this point. Tracks like ‘Paper’ are wise beyond their creator’s years, but the closer ‘These Words Are Everything’ stands as the perfect encapsulation of a man dedicated to his craft, no matter the costs. Listen and learn.
4. BROCKHAMPTON – Saturation II
BROCKHAMPTON set out to saturate listeners with content in 2017, and after three respectable albums in one year the up-and-coming “boy band” have achieved their goal, in the process releasing at least two LPs worth of quality content. Saturation II serves as coming out party for the most skilled members of the group, allowing Kevin Abstract, Ameer Vann, Merlin Wood, Matt Champion, Romil Hemnani, and JOBA to establish their role within the group. Each have their own strengths, and together the ensemble has delivered some of the most interesting music of 2017.
3. Kamasi Washington – Harmony of Difference
Following up the legendary double-album The Epic in 2015(*), Kamasi Washington released another revelation of a jazz album in Harmony Of Difference. In hindsight, HoD serves as the appropriate entree to The Epic’s main course, but this is mostly due to the latter’s 3-hour run-time. At 30-something minutes, Harmony Of Difference is an accessible jazz album anchored by Washington’s brilliant saxophone play. It’s a go-to whenever I want to get lost in something without lyrics.
2. Alex Lahey – I Love You Like A Brother
Alex Lahey is likely to draw comparisons to popular Perth, Australia native Courtney Barnett, however the latest talent to come out of the pretty Australian city has her own style and energy to bring to the table, even if the accent is familiar. I Love You Live A Brother is a fun and affectionate rock album jam-packed with tight hooks and smart songs, all delivered with a spunk and sincerity that feels somewhat refreshing in 2017. There’s hardly a bad track on the album, and anthems like ‘Lotto In Reverse’ will leave you returning to the album again and again.
1. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
What do you do after releasing the most critically acclaimed rap album of all time? You do it again, and make them say “DAMN.” Kendrick Lamar’s follow-up to To Pimp A Butterfly will not receive the same positive reviews, but what is clear on DAMN. is that King Kendrick remains on top of the rap world. With patented precision K.Dot re-establishes himself as the top dog in hip-hop, taking shots at Geraldo Rivera in bangers like ‘DNA’ before changing the pace for a slow jam with Rihanna. At this point Kendrick is just showing off, and we’re all here to benefit from it. This is a master at work, sit back and enjoy it.
Sampha – Process
Benjamin Booker – Witness
Joey Bada$$ – All Amerikkkan Bada$$
Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory
Tyler, The Creator – Scum Fuck Flowerboy
Open Mike Eagle – Brick Body Kids Still Daydream
Colin Stetson – I Do This All For Glory
Jay-Z – 4:44
Remo Drive – Greatest Hits
Laura Marling – Semper Femina
The Menzingers – After The Party
King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Murder Of The Universe
Japandroids – New To The Wild Of Heart
Mac Demarco – This Old Dog