Despite the fact that the music business is a derelict husk of its former self, there are still a few stalwart artists out there who continue to release relevant, beautiful and occasionally exalting music — you just have to search for it. The following 25 albums represent the best of 2017. These selections may be challenging to the average listener, as they are not generic, wall paper dross. This, in fact, makes them great. Music, and all art for that matter, should push boundaries…expand horizons…change perspectives. These artists accomplish that, and bless them for it.
25. Glen Campbell – Adios
A poignant farewell from one of the greats, Adios is a sweet set of covers (Campbell’s favorites) that tells the story of his life. Listening to his true playing and ever strong singing, one would never imagine he was in the last stages of a ravaging disease. Get out your handkerchiefs and enjoy the ride
24. Ty Segall – Ty Segall
If hard hitting, straight ahead rock that sounds like a combo of the Byrds, Black Sabbath and T Rex is your thing then this is your album. Grimy, melodic and deep, this (mostly) concise collection (his debut on Drag City Records) went unnoticed this year, but not by us.
23. The Shins – Heartworms
A solid effort from the granddaddies of 21st century indie rock. Heartworms is a light hearted, eclectic affair that runs the gamut from baroque pop to new wave. Another record that flew under the radar.
22. Cloud Nothings – Life Without Sound
The Cloud Nothings lighten up with a decidedly softer approach to the ragged angst of their debut and sophomore albums.. and you know what? It works. Mixing an 80s pop sensibility with shoegaze guitar rock this album is a winner. I’m sure Dylan Baldi’s vocal cords appreciate the respite.
21. Squeeze – The Knowledge
One of the most underrated, underappreciated rock bands of all time releases an underrated, underappreciated album to little fanfare. WE were listening though. The Knowledge fits nicely in their excellent canon.
20. Surfer Blood – Snowdonia
Snowdonia continues the succession of stripped down, melodic, punchy records by a band who’ve had their share of tragedy and misfortune.
19. Lorde – Melodrama
Lorde goes full on Taylor Swift in this confessional “relationship” album. Only she has far more lyrical bite and musical ingenuity. Slick and overproduced by the ubiquitous Jack Antonoff, it still packs a youthful punch, especially with songs like the hit single “Greenlight”
18. Phoenix – Ti Amo
An effervescent homage to vintage Italian Pop, Ti Amo is a tasty morsel from France’s SECOND biggest group.
17. Guided by Voices – How do you Spell Heaven
How does Robert Pollard do it? Rocks most prolific elder statesmen turned out not one but two albums this year and either one could’ve made this list. Guitarist Douglas Gillard’s re-joining the lineup seems to have reinvigorated GBV with renewed energy.
16. Sylvan Esso – What Now
A worthy sophomore to their excellent self-titled debut, the pop duo continue to crank out danceable melodic synth-pop confections with a dark heart.
15. The Magnetic Fields – 50 Song memoir
In honor of his 50th birthday Stephen Merrit set about writing 50 songs, representing each year of his life. One of the most audacious self-portraits ever recorded, Memoir showcases Merritt’s impeccable pop songcraft and effortless ability to move within styles.
14. Father John Misty – Pure Comedy
The Former Fleet Foxes drummer does it again with this excellent effort that sounds like it could’ve been released sometime in 1974. The George Harrisonesque “Total Entertainment Forever” shines among the highlights.
13. Real Estate – In Mind
Guitar rockers Real Estate keep up their fine string of crystalline, riff-ready albums with In Mind. Every album of theirs is like a cool drink of ice cold water on a hot day.
12. Foxygen – Hang
Yet another funky, soulful offering from retro-rockers Foxygen. Hang is dripping with vintage goodness.
11. Grizzly Bear – Painted Ruins
Grizzly Bear returns for a romantic album full of 1980s twilight cool ambience and 21st century foreboding.
10. Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett – Lotta Sea Lice
This pairing of the OTHER Kurt and Courtney plays out like an intimate, late-night conversation between two good friends. The Millennial indie folk-rock heroes should think about making a habit of this.
9. King Krule – The Ooz
Pulsing beats and a jazzy melodic sense pervade The Ooz, yet another excellent effort from the underrated British group who are quietly putting together a terrific catalog.
8. Margo Price – All American Made
Margo Price proves her debut wasn’t a fluke with this boozy collection with a classic country feel, belted out with gusto.
7. Cherry Glazerr – Apocalipstick
Following in the footsteps of trailblazers like Sleater Kinney, Cherry Glazerr brand of slicing, angular rock stings like lemon juice on a paper cut.. in a good way.
6. Mavis Staples – If all I was was Black
Mavis Staples (with the help of Jeff Tweedy of Wilco fame) sounds as fresh as she did on the great Staples Singers LPs with this topical treat full of bristling energy that isn’t afraid to take on social and political issues.
5. Ariel Pink – Dedicated To Bobby Jameson
Demented, dark and always well-crafted with a fine tuned pop sensibility Ariel Pink’s homage to obscure cult-hero Bobby Jameson is as quirky as you might think but essential nonetheless.
4. Charly Bliss – Guppy
If Charly Bliss had released this album in 1994 they’d be superstars. As it stands it’s just a fucking kick ass record full of indelible pop melodies laden with hard rocking guitars. An instant retro classic.
3. The Lemon Twigs – Brothers of Destruction
More of an EP than a full length album, The Lemon Twigs, whose “Do Hollywood” LP was the highlight of 2015, clear the decks with this palate cleanser of a release. The tunes are typically infused with their vast knowledge of rock history and prodigy-level playing and arranging. They range from the merely good (Why didn’t you Say that?) to the sublime (the poignant Beautiful).
2. Mac DeMarco – This Old Dog
The third full length record from Canada’s Ambassador of Chill, Mac DeMarco, is a quieter affair than his previous outings, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t retain the sense of unease that permeated his previous efforts, nor his impeccable song writing chops. He trades in the nervous twang of Salad Days and off kilter rocking of 2 with a collection of tunes driven mainly by acoustic guitar, underpinned by fuzzy synths and delicate drums. Bookended by songs about his father, one may assume this is his confessional album, in the tradition of Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band.
1. St Vincent – Masseduction
St. Vincent pulls it all together; her flawless, haut couture style, innovative, buzz saw guitar work, and angular song craft and adds a poppy sheen that makes for her strongest and most accessible album yet. The songs are personal, yet universal, ranging from bombastic to gossamer delicate; a watershed moment for sure in her career, one that sets her apart from the pack as the reigning queen supreme among the music scene today.