You all know that I enjoy making lists, but possibly fewer of you know that I also enjoy writing articles. I’ve decided to combine the two in a series of features for this site (or maybe I’ll abandon it after this one, who knows). For this first entry, I’ll be counting down what I believe to be the greatest albums of last year, or at least the ones I enjoyed most.
10. Lorde – Melodrama
While 2013’s Pure Heroine was a very promising entry exam, setting Lorde up as a pop prodigy with the world ahead of her, with her second album Lorde has already graduated. Melodrama is the sound of a pop star who knows the world is hers, and it’s a joyful noise indeed. The craftsmanship on every track here is remarkable, as is the vision—Lorde is making technically perfect music that’s still infused with energy and wide-eyed wonder.
Standout track: “Green Light”
9. SZA – Ctrl
The paradigm is shifting, but the place of women in music is still somewhat limited with regards to sex and relationships. Even those who eschew traditional gender roles tend to fit into a few archetypes. You have your sexless badasses, your vengeful women scorned, and your hypersexual artists with no boundaries. All of these archetypes have yielded great music, and none are inherently wrong, but SZA manages to escape every niche by virtue of sheer authenticity (or at least a very strong facsimile of it). On her debut studio album, the New Jersey R&B singer tells it like it is, faking neither strength nor vulnerability. She allows herself to express hurt and brokenheartedness, but she never blushes or faints. This is the most significant document in R&B since Channel Orange.
Standout track: “Drew Barrymore”
8. Bjork – Utopia
One might presume that Björk, one of the most accomplished artists in contemporary music, has run out of tricks by now. Indeed, maybe she has after this album (though I wouldn’t bet against her), but you couldn’t ask for a better sendoff. On Utopia, Björk achieves what can only be described as spiritual transcendence. Gone is the turbulence and heartbreak of Vulnicura. Björk sees the higher truth now. “Utopia / It isn’t elsewhere / It’s here” she sings on the title track. Lifted by heavenly woodwinds, Björk is finally at peace.
Standout track: “Tabula Rasa”
7. Poppy – Poppy.Computer
Poppy is a pop star for the age of memes. That might come off as dismissive, but it was intended as a compliment. Poppy is interested in the same type of layered, nuanced irony that typifies the surrealist humor found online today. She was a well-known YouTuber before even releasing any music, and the songs on this record are full of the same deliciously off-putting energy as her videos. Poppy has often been described as a cult leader, which is something of a hard sell for someone who makes PC Music-esque minimalist synthpop. But this record will have you drinking the Kool-Aid if you love the intersection of humor, horror, and hooks that Poppy represents. “Poppy is an object. Poppy is your best friend. Poppy will break your neck. Poppy will be your pet.”
Standout track: “My Style”
6. Charly Bliss – Guppy
With a cloying soprano lead singer and all kinds of blistering, bright guitar riffs, one might mistake Charly Bliss for a simple throwback to Letters to Cleo and their power-pop ilk. Indeed, they wear that sound proudly, but there’s so much more there. The hooks will have you doing air guitar, for sure, but Eva Hendricks’s lyrics are what really makes the band stand out. Could there be a more quintessentially millennial quote in rock than “I cry all the time, I think that it’s cool / I’m in touch with my feelings”? Charly Bliss are both of their time and of the past, and they have a great future ahead of them.
Standout track: “Percolator”
5. Lana Del Rey – Lust for Life
2017 saw a lot of music about Trump. To put it bluntly, most of it was boring. But Lust for Life is less a record about Trump and more a record informed by Trump. It’s not a defiant or inspiring record, at least not in the way music fans typically use those words. Lust for Life is a record full of sadness, vulnerability, nostalgia, and longing, and it’s Lana Del Rey’s most mature moment as a songwriter. It’s a necessary gap to fill in this age of widespread political depression, and this singer does so with tremendous emotional truth.
Standout track: “God Bless America”
4. The Mountain Goats – Goths
John Darnielle is one of the greatest songwriters of the 21st century. His gift for relatable yet novel narratives and instantly quotable epigrams is practically unique in music history; he’s like a funnier Dylan or a more resonant Bowie. But up until this record, he’s never crafted an album that hangs together this perfectly. Full of both laughs and tears, the first Mountain Goats album with zero guitar lives up to the legacy of the band’s best work. An hour-long description of the 80s goth scene might not sound like the most universally appealing idea, but Goths manages to be everything at once in the way only Darnielle can accomplish.
Standout track: “Abandoned Flesh
3. Tyler, the Creator – Flower Boy
This record was initially marketed with a much better title. Tyler envisioned his fifth studio album as Scum Fuck Flower Boy, typical of his provocateur image, before the powers that be intervened and removed the profanity. But the original title reflects a lot of what makes this album work so well. It still contains traces of the meanness and vulgarity that typified Tyler’s earlier work (Scum Fuck) but reveals a new side to Tyler, something gentler (Flower Boy), as well as being the record where he reveals himself as queer. This is the story of an unlikely hero coming into his own, a champion of the weird kids who get shoved in lockers. “Tell these black kids they can be who they are / Dye your hair blue, shit I’ll do it too,” he raps on “Where This Flower Blooms,” and all of a sudden Tyler, the Creator is reborn. Tyler has been creating for a long time, but on Flower Boy he’s finally created himself.
Standout track: “Who Dat Boy”
2. Jlin – Black Origami
Footwork is not a style of music with a lot of notoriety in the US, and I would imagine Gary, Indiana is not an outlier. Still, steel worker Jlin found that distinctive polyrhythmic sound, and she made it her own. Black Origami is a masterpiece of tension and anxiety. It’s an album that never allows you a moment of comfort or familiarity, choosing instead to keep you on your toes and moving, like a Western outlaw shooting at your feet to make you dance. “You’re all going to die down here,” says the Resident Evil sample used on “1%”, but Jlin is determined to make sure we all go out with a bang.
Standout track: “1%”
1. BROCKHAMPTON – SATURATION trilogy
What better origin story for the 21st century can there be? BROCKHAMPTON, a collective of 14 black, white, gay, and straight guys from Texas, met up on a Kanye fan forum, became a self-described boy band, and moved to SoCal in search of fame and fortune. In 2017, they released three studio albums under the SATURATION name, but the trifecta really forms one statement. This is a rap group of a caliber not seen in years. They are not concerned with eschewing rap tradition—they rap about drugs, sex, and violence—but they aren’t traditionalists either—they rap about gay sex and say things like “Some people have angels, what if only shadows follow you?” The beats are both deliciously groovy and wonderfully novel, and every member brings their own ingredient to the stew. This is hip-hop, past, present, and future. BROCKHAMPTON has come from below to save us, and they’re kicking ass every step of the way.
Standout tracks: “MILK,” “GUMMY,” “STUPID”
And that’s the end of my show! Let me know what you think, both about my picks and my writing (seriously, critique my writing; I wanna do this for a living).