ACRN’s Top 25 Albums of 2017

Tremendous year. 25 albums. The votes are in–here we go!

1. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN., [Interscope / TDE; 2017]

By Jon Fuchs, Music Director

DAMN. is only further proof that Kendrick Lamar is one of the greatest rappers of our generation. Instead of creating another concept record like good kid, m.A.Ad. city or To Pimp a Butterfly, the rapper’s fourth album is his own take on a more mainstream rap sound. From jaw-dropping bangers like “HUMBLE.” and “DNA.”, to his deep, introspective reflections on “XXX.” and “FEAR.”, Lamar and his team of producers, including Mike WiLL Made-It and James Blake, create an unforgettable listening experience that nobody else in the music industry could recreate. Even the eyebrow-raising contribution from U2 is unreal, taking a pretty uninteresting group and finally making them listenable again. The transformation from K. Dot to Cornrow Kenny to Kung Fu Kenny has been absolutely breathtaking to witness, symbolizing the stages in Lamar’s career that makes him so iconic.

Listen: Kendrick Lamar – DAMN. 

2. SZA – Ctrl, [Top Dawg / RCA; 2017]

By Eli Schoop, Copy Editor

SZA came out of nowhere to absolutely dominate 2017 with her brand of impassioned late-night pop. Whether it was talking about polyamorous relationships and the twists that they come with, or the feelings of inadequacy that stem from failed trysts and scornful men, Solana Imami Rowe perfectly reflected her emotions straight into our hearts. Ctrl is the ideal R&B for our time, a time-stopper toward the technological mania of modern living, and she’s just as much an old soul as she is a fabulous new soul in the vein of Lauryn or Brandy. Through all the trials and tribulations, SZA will be there, with a glass of cognac and an ear to lend.

Listen: SZA – Ctrl

3. Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up, [Nonesuch; 2017]

By Devon Hannan, Editorial Director

It’s not 2008 anymore. But even after six long years since Helplessness Blues, Fleet Foxes’ outstanding vocal harmonies can still pluck the heartstrings of the most calloused of listeners. Crack-Up loosely follows the story of Julius Caesar and along the way, frontman, Robin Pecknold, compares himself and his experiences to those of Cassius (“Cassius, -” and “- Naiads, Cassadies”), Brutus (“If You Need To, Keep Time On Me”), and Caesar himself (“Fool’s Errand”) – among many others.

Just as Shakespeare’s play immerses its audience into the story, this album does the same. There is almost no room for the listener to lose focus – once you’re listening, you’re listening. In that regard, Crack-Up restores the art of listening to a full album front to back; the transitions between tracks are absolutely flawless, the instrumentation booms and the lyrics tell a magnified, yet personal story. While this may not be everyone’s favorite Fleet Foxes record, Crack-Up is the band’s cleanest, most meticulous release to date in terms of production, concept, and execution.

Listen: Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up

4. Mount Eerie – A Crow Looked at Me, [P.W. Elverum & Sun; 2017]

By Sam Tornow, General Manager

Attaching a number to A Crow Looked at Me feels frail. I did it, Danny Brown did it and countless publications have and/or will in the coming weeks. We do it for clicks because it’s expected of us. What grandiose statement can we provide that isn’t already ingrained in the “verses,” or the interviews? Phil Elverum’s blunt words, penned over the weeks and month s after the death of his wife, leave little room for interpretation; death is real and so is the world after it happens: “It’s dumb / And I don’t want to learn anything from this.”

Phil Elverum sought an exhalation of feelings, knowing that he’d be inhaling the same air again. Let’s not sweep this one away or put it on a pedestal; let’s hold it, occasionally dusting it off and listening, not in search of answers, but in search of nothing: “When I take out the garbage at night / And then have to go back in and live on.”

Listen: Mount Eerie – A Crow Looked at Me 

5. (Sandy) Alex G – ROCKET, [Domino; 2017]

By, Connor Stroff, Contributor

On his second studio LP in collaboration with Domino, Philadelphia-based indie-rocker, (Sandy) Alex G, offers his most stylistically ambitious album to date; exploring a diverse range of genres from the grass-roots countrified ballad “Bobby” to the hardcore powerhouse of “Brick”.  The greatest thing about the album is that it doesn’t sacrifice order and meaning through its bold creative leaps. Rather, Alex G sustains a central narrative, a dreamy vision of contemporary America through an imaginary cast of characters.

While stylistically diverging from his bedroom songwriter roots, one very important component in Alex G’s discography remains – his sense of mystery. As he says, “you can only hurt a song by knowing everything about it” the delightful thing about his music is to be given the freedom to “decode” the language. ROCKET’s narrative blurs the line between fact and fiction, whether these characters represent real internal struggle faced by the artist, or if they’re devices used to discuss more broad issues such as class, one-sided love, and endless anxiety. ROCKET is Alex G’s most mature and fully-realized record to date.

Listen: (Sandy) Alex G – ROCKET

6. Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory, [Def Jam / Blacksmith; 2017]

By Jon Fuchs, Music Director

Vince Staples’ 2015 debut record, Summertime ’06, was a triumph in modern rap, creating a personal, disturbing concept record that was able to stretch 20 songs without ever getting tiring. On his second album, Big Fish Theory, the Long Beach rapper continues to surprise his audience by switching his trap beats with experimental, futuristic club bangers that pay tribute to the styles of Detroit house. Collaborating producers like Flume, SOPHIE, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and Christian Rich creates some of the most captivating beats of the year, pairing perfectly with Staples’ clever lines about ego, the problems with rap culture and the struggles of the African-American experience. Big Fish Theory is a record filled with memorable bars, amazing production and incredible features from artists like Kilo Kish, Kendrick Lamar and Ty Dolla $ign, easily making it the most ambitious project of Vince Staples’ career so far.

Listen: Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory

7. Brockhampton – Saturation II, [QUESTION EVERYTHING INC; 2017]

By Hunter Bych, Contributor

If there was a group this year that came out of nowhere and won everyone over it would be Brockhampton. Shortly after the successful Saturation released in June this year, it was not long before production of the follow-up began. One of the very few times in history when the sequel is just as good as the first, if not better. The 16-track album that is Saturation II has so much variety and emotion on this album that there is something for everyone. The production and beats of each song are all well-made, you just can’t help but vibe to all of them. Combine that with the excellent lyrics and it all morphs beautifully in an album that you can listen to over and over – always finding something new to love. The boyband has made a great name for themselves in a very short amount of time. With Saturation III completing the trilogy, one can only hope the best for them.

Listen: Brockhampton – Saturation II

8. Lorde – Melodrama, [Lava; 2017]

By Adomas Fabin, Contributor

Lorde’s sophomore album Melodrama is here in all its glory, and it is magnificent. Lorde manages to take her success from Pure Heroine and bring forth an album that refuses to give in to the cheapness of catchy, mindless pop songs. Instead, Lorde recorded an album that looked at the bright and dark side of being alone, crafting the experience into meaningful tracks that cannot help but make people dance. These songs are the type you let play out on the radio after you’ve already parked your car, with their exciting choruses and unique rhythms. With the help of Bleachers singer Jack Antonoff, Lorde has released another great album, with hits like “Greenlight”, “Hard Feelings/Loveless” and “Homemade Dynamite”. With the Grammy’s coming up and Melodrama nominated for Album of the Year, it’s incredibly exciting to see where Lorde may go moving forward.

Listen: Lorde – Melodrama

9. Paramore – After Laughter, [Fueled By Ramen; 2017]

By Marvin Dotiyal, Features Editor

Fueled by Ramen’s current roster is a compilation of bands that took a sharp turn into mainstream pop music as they strayed further from their original roots (like All Time Low and Panic! at the Disco), one of them being Paramore. However, that’s not to say that Paramore’s newer material shows a drastic change or decline in music. Hayley Williams being a pop-punk queen in the mid-2000s, her change in style can be somewhat uncalled for but her talent remains unchanged.

After Laughter is Paramore all grown up and being good at it. The album reveals a genuine, refined look at Williams’ take on more mature topics (“26”, “Caught in the Middle”) while still producing catchy anthemic hits (“Told You So”, Rose-Colored Boy”, “Hard Times”). This album is arguably Paramore’s most experimental, sprinkling various musical influences on an 80s pop cornerstone. Although Williams’ lyrics are a lot simpler due to its poppy hooks and singalongs, it’s still passionate and resonating with her outstanding vocal delivery. Without a doubt, After Laughter is the perfect follow-up to their self-titled.

Listen: Paramore – After Laughter

10. Tyler, the Creator – Flower Boy, [Columbia; 2017]

By Justin Cudahy, Columns Editor

There is no one more complex stylistically and psychologically than Tyler, the Creator. For many, he is remembered for his controversial and shocking visuals as well as lyrics (“Yonkers” being a prime example). He’s been accused of being a Satanist, homophobic, sexist… all of which is enough for your mom to ban him from being played in your house. However, being the self-proclaimed “walking paradox” that he is, Flower Boy is all the evidence you need.

Tyler has never been afraid to hold back on his personal struggles, from depression and self-deprecation in his debut album, Bastard all the way up until Flower Boy, which touches on themes of loneliness and even hints at his own sexuality. While thematically there may not be many differences, it’s the new and refreshing sounds and style that gives the album it’s superb standing. Hip-hop blends with soul and funk throughout on various tracks creating dancey instrumentals you would never come to expect from a Tyler, the Creator project. The feature-heavy record has support from all over the place, including long-time Odd Future, partner Frank Ocean, Kali Uchis, Estelle, Steve Lacy and others who only enhance the record. Flower Boy feels like a long car ride; except it’s the kind of long car ride that ends up feeling very quick because you were having such a fun time and enjoying yourself.

Listen: Tyler, The Creator – Flower Boy

11. Thundercat – Drunk, [Brainfeeder; 2017]

By Adomas Fabin, Contributor

Stephen Bruner (a.k.a. Thundercat, George Clinton incarnate) delivers his best performance yet with Drunk, an album that provides a solid fifty-minute groove as every song masterfully flows into the next. This flow should come as no surprise since Bruner’s true abilities are his bass guitar skills, which have been featured on albums for Erykah Badu, Mac Miller and Kamasi Washington. Speaking of features, this album includes notable appearances by Kendrick Lamar, Wiz Khalifa, Pharrell Williams, Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins (danger zone!). Drunk, produced by longtime contributor and friend Flying Lotus, has brought Bruner into the spotlight he has deserved since his last album. With jams such as “Drink Dat”, “Them Changes” and “Tokyo”, Drunk is easily one of, if not the best R&B albums of 2017.

Listen: Thundercat – Drunk

12. Angel Olsen – Phases, [Jagjaguwar; 2017]

By Emily Dialbert, Contributor

Seldom do B-side, demo, cover and rarity albums of even the most gifted artists live up to our high expectations, but Angel Olsen’s Phases far surpasses anything one could have anticipated from an album like this. Each track varies from the next, and each highlights the beautiful development of Olsen’s sound over the years. Phases will make you feel like you’re dancing through a field of wildflowers on a breezy spring day in the least cheesy way possible, as it induces a sense of complete and overall calmness. Olsen’s deep and sultry voice transmits raw, emotional lyrics aligned with simple-yet-dazzling guitar melodies. Phases does what most albums can’t—incorporates past and present into a rich, honeyed exposé of unsurpassable talent. Even though some of these newly-released songs are years old, it’s easy to see how important they are. Out of all the albums she’s graced us with over the years, Phases is arguably the best illustration of Olsen’s unrivaled talents and we’re so thankful for it.

Listen: Angel Olsen – Phases

13. King Krule – The OOZ, [True Panther / XL; 2017]

By Jon Fuchs, Music Director

The OOZ is by far Archy Marshall’s best project under any of his pseudonyms. Coming off the rapid success of albums like 6 Feet Beneath the Moon, King Krule’s newest record is a cold, dark, isolating approach to his jazz-influenced, post-punk sound. From the opening, strangely funky atmospheres of “Biscuit Town”, to the depressingly soothing “La Lune”, Archy and co. successfully stride to create a lonely, foggy world around the listener that holds them tight and reminds them it’s okay. This is especially apparent on tracks like “Logos”, “Lonely Blue” and “Czech One”, which are wonderfully and vividly haunting. The OOZ constantly gives you the existential feeling of an antidepressant withdrawal in the best way possible, thanks to its ambitious style, incredible production and unbelievable instrumentation, especially the wailing saxophones that perfectly flow through the album.

Listen: King Krule – The OOZ

14. Machine Girl – …BECAUSE I’M YOUNG, ARROGANT, AND HATE EVERYTHING YOU STAND FOR, [Orange Milk; 2017]

By Eli Schoop, Copy Editor

A transhuman album for the transhumanist age. No longer are we content to suffer through the pains of the mortal flesh, for now we have augmentations and plastic wizardry. Hark, Machine Girl comes with a great gift; the intersplicing of the mind and body with the automaton. But this fusion isn’t orderly–all the dirt and grime of the human fatalism has regrettably been tacked on, the product of such hubris in ambition. Genderless, fearless and fully aware of its surroundings, the apparatus springs to life in a blaze of glory and gruesome force. Let us rejoice! We are all for naught! Thank you, Machine Girl.

Listen: Machine Girl – …BECAUSE I’M YOUNG, ARROGANT, AND HATE EVERYTHING YOU STAND FOR

15. Show Me The Body – Corpus I, [Loma Vista; 2017]

By Hunter Bych, Contributor

One of the bands that really stuck out from the great show they put on at Station 116, Show Me The Body had a phenomenal headbanging underground vibe that made them an absolute blast to mosh to live. Corpus I reflects that wonderfully with headbangers like “Trash” and “Cyba Slam fif world dance party”. The calmer tracks like “Two Hands” and “Just a Slither” are also great mellow tracks that fit this dark tone that the album has. Percussion is what makes this hip-hop sludge metal combination blend so well as it gets you up to headbang and rave one song and then sit back and chill in another; an ebb and flow that is underappreciated in an album like this. This may make it harder for mainstream success, but if you want to listen to something with a good beat, you can’t go wrong with this album.

Listen: Show Me The Body – Corpus I

16. Xiu Xiu – FORGET, [Polyvinyl; 2017]

By Tanner Bidish, Visual Media Director

Experimental-pop outfit Xiu Xiu hits it out of the park again this year on FORGET. Between their latest venture and 2016’s celebrated Plays the Music of Twin Peaks, the group continues to prove a new found maturity. It’s not a Jamie Stewart star show, but an honest to God band with honest to God bangers on the latest LP.

Singles like “Wondering” and “Jenny GoGo” make FORGET an easily accessible entry in the Xiu Xiu catalog. There are loads new to enjoy here: the ebbing catharsis of “Hay Choco Bananas”, the existential breakdown that is “Petite”. Indisputably, the most iconic moment of the record is Vaginal Davis’s immaculate performance on the final track. Just as you can’t talk about FORGET without mentioning “Faith, Torn Apart”, we at ACRN cannot talk about 2017 without remembering Xiu Xiu’s contribution to the year.

Listen: Xiu Xiu – FORGET

17. Diet Cig – Swear I’m Good at This, [Frenchkiss; 2017]

By Marvin Dotiyal, Features Editor

I have two words for this record: fresh and underrated. Diet Cig’s Swear I’m Good at This will get you dancing with fun tunes that will enliven your experience with emotional ups-and-downs, meaningful anecdotes and nostalgic memories you’ve never even had. Don’t be fooled by Luciano’s gentle voice; as frail and vulnerable her vocal timbre sounds, she can make her lyrics scream without her actually screaming. Luciano challenges a series of issues such as male womanizer stereotypes (“Sixteen”) and the struggles of being in a marginalized minority (“Link in Bio”).

And of course, classified as an indie pop-punk outfit, the band has plenty of songs dealing with teen angst, social pressure, unrequited love, and memories of youth without resorting to its clichés. The production quality is also an honorable mention; it has a raw, genuine feel, which gleams with unprecedented melodies crafted so carefully along with Alex Luciano’s undeniable talent. For a debut full-length, Diet Cig has done an exceptional job, and this album will pave the way for the band’s future steps.

Listen: Diet Cig – Swear I’m Good at This

18. Perfume Genius – No Shape, [Matador; 2017]

By Eli Schoop, Copy Editor

In a perfect world, Perfume Genius would be dominating the charts as pop’s balladry savant, not Ed Sheeran. Alas, our world sucks, and Mike Hadreas is relegated to critical praise and idolatry by people who are struggling just like him. Hadreas is a musical harbinger of our time, easing the constant stress and providing songs of catharsis and mesmerism, belying the inexorable existence that is produced when living while gay. Queerness is at the forefront of this record, and it is by this method of dynamism that No Shape lives and breathes as a constantly thrilling record. Very few are making art this vulnerable, this revealing, yet so thorough and tender. It’s a stunning manifesto, one that proves Hadreas is a phenomenon of the highest caliber.

Listen: Perfume Genius – No Shape

19. Florist – If Blue Could Be Happiness, [Double Double Whammy; 2017]

By Sam Tornow, General Manager

Emily Sprague creates comely music. 2016’s The Bird’s Outside Sang, left a lingering warmth in the air after it’s time ran out; her YouTube page is home to a number of gentle modular synth videos, which now serve as the basis for her upcoming ambient album, Water Memory. If Blue Could Be Happiness isn’t different, but it is.

Reflecting on the loss of her mother, Sprague paints petite metaphors on top of snowy instrumentals, comparing colors to moods and simultaneously recreating the meaning of sublime over and over. Everything is refined enough to further elevate’s Sprague’s status as a songwriter, but not enough to lose what makes Florist such a special project: Imperfection. If Blue Could Be Happiness is a reminder of how brittle it can feel to be human, and how that’s okay. Okay?

Listen: Florist – If Blue Could Be Happiness  

20. St. Vincent – MASSEDUCTION, [Loma Vista; 2017]

By Adomas Fabin, Contributor

With the deaths of David Bowie and Prince, a massive void has been left in the world of music that St. Vincent lead singer Annie Clark has effortlessly filled. Her unique style and androgynous appearance connect perfectly with her powerful vocals strongly reminiscent of the late Bowie – her favorite artist. Clark is an incredible artist with skill exceeding most and seems only able to go up from this point.

Easily one of the best songs on MASSEDUCTION, “New York”, is a strong ballad about the end of a relationship and easily highlights Clark’s immense talent to shift from bold and loud tracks to soft ballads while still retaining her emotional connection with the listener. Another favorite, “Pills”, is an exciting track reminiscent of the pill-a-holic nature shown in the classic novel Brave New World. Clark’s MASSEDUCTION is the most exposed to her audience that she has been yet and it is a rewarding experience.

Listen: St. Vincent – MASSEDUCTION

21. Jonwayne – Rap Album Two, [Authors; 2017]

By Justin Cudahy, Columns Editor

At the end of 2016, Jonwayne had finally come clean to fans and family alike, detailing his ongoing struggle with alcoholism and past regrets in a typed-out letter that he posted on social media. While he has promised to receive help with these issues, Rap Album Two serves as his own form of self-medication; as if we are the ones helping him get through this by listening to what he has to say.

When it comes to creativity, Jonwayne is king. Each track off of Rap Album Two has its own personality, whether it’s in the form of a lullaby (“Out of Sight”), an 8-bit soundscape (“Rainbow”), a skit (“LIVE From The Fuck You”), or even a half-finished track that ends with Jonwayne repeatedly messing up the lyrics to (“The Single”). The album does a fantastic job toying with your emotions as a listener as well. Some tracks will make you laugh and smile, others will put you in a melancholic trance. Despite conflicting emotions, one thing that does stay consistent is the quality of the album. There’s no question that Rap Album Two is the most underrated LP of 2017.

Listen: Jonwayne – Rap Album Two

22. Sampha – Process, [Young Turks; 2017]

By Emily Dialbert, Contributor

Sampha’s debut studio album Process serves as a moving explanation of the conundrum that is human resilience. The musical autobiography is a work from deep within the soul, reflecting both the artist’s grief from the loss of his parents but also his empowerment from creating music. The album entertains various instrumental components ranging from melancholic classical piano to sanguine electronic synth. Process accentuates Sampha’s impeccable vocal ability, highlighting shifts from smoky lows to dulcet highs. “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano” stands as the pinnacle ballad of Process, both allowing Sampha’s silvery voice to shine and highlighting his talent in constructing touching works of art. The emotional album will likely serve as a staple in R&B for years to come, clutching the hearts of all who listen.

Listen: Sampha – Process

23. Khalid – American Teen, [RCA; 2017]

By Emily Dialbert, Contributor

Encapsulating what it means to be a fun-loving and carefree blossoming adult, 19-year-old Khalid tells the story of teens growing up in postmodern America with his debut album American Teen. There’s nothing more shitty-yet-incredible than being a teenager, and Khalid tells us to know his story through this instant classic. The upbeat and refreshing R&B album communicates all the stereotypical teen feels—love, grief, ecstasy and eagerness—through bouncy, relatable tracks. Not to mention Khalid’s fruity voice adds a striking dimension to the already definitive lyrics. American Teen gives every young-adult an outlet for dancing and screaming their hearts out to, making it a conspicuous musical treasure and staple album for the year.

Listen: Khalid – American Teen

24. Jay Som – Everybody Works, [Polyvinyl; 2017]

By Tanner Bidish, Visual Media Director

Elegance, bombastic fun, relationship pains, growing pains. It’s all here in a sweet, neatly wrapped package for your listening pleasure. Melina Duterte, better known as Jay Som, makes an official debut on Everybody Works, and oh boy–it’s a good one. 

Front to back, the record takes its time thematically as well as musically. There’s no rush to the end or over-eagerness for quick starts. Wistful and funky guitar work drifts in and out of your ears, Duterte’s soft vocals easing comfortably into each track. The songwriting and production are incredibly patient. It’s amazing how patient when you think about Duterte only being 23 and recording and mixing this project only in her bedroom.

Everybody Works might be the most technically deft DIY/bedroom-pop record you hear for a while – at least with such a receptive release. For a debut too, it’s incredible and sets the bar high herself. We’ll be looking forward many more Jay Som releases. 

Listen: Jay Som – Everybody Works 

25. Priests – Nothing Feels Natural, [Sister Polygon; 2017]

By Jon Fuchs, Music Director

Through previous demos and EPs, D.C. natives Priests have consistently proven themselves to be one of the loudest, angriest and overall best bands around in modern punk rock. Nothing Feels Natural, the quartet’s proper debut LP, only confirms this, as it beautifully showcases the band’s aggressive, energetic and at times upbeat perspectives throughout its over half-hour runtime. Through tracks such as the hellish opener “Appropriate”, the fast-paced spoken word piece “No Big Bang” and the album lead single “Jj”, Nothing Feels Natural uses its insightful lyrics, oddball instrumentation and frontwomen Katie Alice Greer’s amazing vocals to stand out as one of the best punk records this year.

Listen: Priests – Nothing Feels Natural

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