As a lot of us were sorely reminded Tuesday morning, hangovers are not very cool. Still, as Kanye West once wisely taught us, one morning of sunglasses and Advil is usually justified retribution for a night of fantastic memories and celebration, especially if that night was mad real.
And as far as music goes, 2016 was definitely mad real. After a year in which Frank Ocean, David Bowie, both Knowles sisters and even Mr. West himself all dropped records ranging from mind-blowing to reality-altering in terms of quality, 2017 was bound to be a letdown.
That doesn’t mean the year fully disappointed though, and some of the year’s very best albums brought incredible sounds to a year that, for many, otherwise felt, looked and smelled like a pile of heaping garbage. On that positive note, here are my favorite 10 albums of 2017, as well as a few that barely just missed the cut.
10. Vagabon – Infinite Worlds
Laetitia Tamko, known better by her stage name Vagabon, introduced herself to the musc world the same way she introduces Infinite Worlds—starting with a calm quiet and building into a powerful, triumphant roar. The 25-year-old’s debut album is a complete indie-punk power move, sounding both reverentially traditional and wildly experimental all at the same time.
The young songwriter knows how to pick her spots. Songs like “Fear & Force” and “Mal a L’aise” toy with bedroom electronic drums while tracks such as “Cold Apartment” and “Minneapolis” pull their instrumentation straight from the garage.
Tamko’s lyrics are equally wise in their exactness: “I’m just a small fish/You’re a shark that hates everything” she wails on “The Embers,” flaunting a full range of emotion as the instruments build and explode around her.
9. LCD Soundsystem – american dream
In a year of mostly quiet returns from indie rock staples like Arcade Fire and Fleet Foxes, LCD Soundsystem pulled off their long-awaited comeback with relative ease. With the band’s fourth album—seven years removed from 2010’s “This Is Happening”—James Murphy managed to remind fans of everything they missed about the dance rock legends.
Murphy’s lyrics pick up right back where they left off, crooning over loss and nostalgia on songs like “oh baby” and “america dream.” It’s clear the band hasn’t lost their electronic, weirdo-funk edge either, and “tonite” might be the greatest nine-minute jam the group has ever thrown together.
8. Migos – Culture
At the 2017 Golden Globes ceremony, Donald Glover called “Bad and Boujee” the best song ever. It really didn’t feel like an exaggeration either: Since its release in January, Culture was the year’s most relevant and present album, permeating clubs, sports arenas, TV shows and—maybe most importantly—YouTube memes.
Whether you agree with Glover or not, Migos owned 2017 from start to finish, and for that they should be rewarded.
7. Beach Fossils – Sommersault
With a spring release date for their new record and three albums worth of sun-kissed indie rock under their belts, Real Estate seemed to be entering 2017 in pole position to drop the album of the summer. The band’s fourth record ultimately fell flat though, and Beach Fossils managed to capture the season instead, putting out their strongest and most focused album to date.
Sommersault is poolside indie at its finest. Much like Real Estate’s earlier music, the record finds Beach Fossils moving lazily from guitar riff to guitar riff, dragging listeners through simplistic melodies, attention-grabbing bass jams and catchy vocal harmonies along the way.
6. Khalid – American Teen
There isn’t a single moment on American Teen that doesn’t feel authentic. The debut effort from Khalid Donnel Robinson (known simply as Khalid), a 19-year-old from El Paso, Texas, the album sounds beautifully like something only a teenager could make.
Throughout the record, the young singer’s concerns remain in the ordinary: the freedom of graduating from high school, the nostalgia of reminiscing over an intoxicated Uber ride, the uncertainty of falling in love via Twitter. Khalid is clearly talented beyond his age, but there’s something both relaxing—and strangely relatable—about listening to music that knows what it is, embraces it and revels in it.
5. Sampha – Process
Collaborating with powerhouse artists like Drake as early as 2013, it seemed like Sampha might have missed the boat on a high-profile debut by waiting until four years later to release his first album. From the earliest moments of Process, it’s clear that wasn’t the case though, as the South London songwriter’s debut is calculated, impeccably produced and deeply powerful in its emotions.
The record is jam-packed with talent: tracks like “Plastic 100°C” and “Reverse Faults” showcase Sampha’s full instrumental prowess, while “Incomplete Kisses” and “Take Me Inside” flaunt his impressive vocal range. That being said, the album’s best song is easily “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano,” a ballad so personal and moving it probably deserves its own spot on this list.
4. Waxahatchee – Out in the Storm
In a year marked by incredible female-led rock releases, Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield did it better than anyone else. Out in the Storm, the fourth album from the Alabama-bred songwriter, is the year’s best rock record, and it’s really not all that close.
Out in the Storm’s guitars hit you in waves, blaring in and out of speakers like a full wall of sound. Still, the Crutchfield’s vocals may be the album’s best quality: No song exemplifies this better than the wildly triumphant “Silver,” where the singer’s vocal harmonies—entirely made up of the word “ooh”—create a perfectly infectious chorus all on their own.
3. Tyler, The Creator – Flower Boy
The Grammys don’t give out a “Most Improved” award, but if they did Tyler would be the undisputed frontrunner. With Flower Boy, the same rapper who once rapped about chopping up the body of a girl who refused to go to homecoming with him finds himself in a persona unrecognizable from earlier tapes like Bastard and Goblin.
Just as Tyler’s lyrical interests have matured with age—he considers the complexities of loneliness, loss and purpose on tracks like “See You Again” and “911/Mr. Lonely”—so have the former Odd Future leader’s production skills. Fully realizing his peak Pharrell-ness (for lack of a better adjective), the Southern California-based songwriter’s fourth album is packed full of soothing clavs, bubbling synths and big, moving drum beats.
2. SZA – Ctrl
If Black Mirror had an official soundtrack, it would be written by SZA. Dealing with the complexity and dread of finding love in 2017’s technological, often detached dating landscape, Ctrl was more in tune with modern emotions than any music released last year.
In addition to the album’s “oh my god, same!” brand of romantic relevancy, it’s also just an altogether excellent record. No one is doing R&B better than SZA right now—her songs are groovy and catchy in a way that few artists within the genre can match.
1. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
We’ve always known that Kendrick Lamar was probably the greatest rapper of his generation, but in 2017 that fact became completely inarguable. With two generation-defining albums already under his belt, Kendrick put his talents on full display with DAMN., and asserted his hip-hop dominance in a way that no other artist could have been able to.
It’s hard to even analyze the album in any that feels helpful: its execution is undeniable, its raw power is overwhelming and its vision is perfectly clear. There’s something euphoric about watching a record this masterful come together right in front of you.
At its purest, DAMN. is the musical equivalent of watching Kevin Durant play with the Warriors—scoring with ease, elevating his game to new, incredible heights and showing us all that he really was as good as we believed he was. Much like Durant’s impending Warriors dynasty, Kendrick’s third album marks a career that will likely continue to dominate for years and years to come.
King Krule – “The Ooz”
Future – “HNDRXX”
Thundercat – “Drunk”
Vince Staples – “Big Fish Theory”
Stormzy – “Gang Signs & Prayer”