Saturday, January 6, 2018

the top 25 best albums of 2017

Of all the years I've put together year-end lists for albums, this might be the hardest it's been - and believe it or not, it's for the best possible reason: I covered an abundance of incredible music in 2017, arguably more than I ever have before! Even though I didn't give out any perfect scores, this year showed multiple genres giving us the goods, from a revitalized rock scene to several country gems to underground hip-hop making a major resurgence to pop putting forward its best showing in years - and that's not even getting to the genre-defying oddities that utterly blew my mind!

But what this also meant were cuts... in a year where I could put together a top 50 and still feel like I'm leaving stuff off, this was particularly brutal. Once again, I was very tempted to expand this list, but again, I'm highlighting the best of the best, and that means while these could have made it in a weaker year, for 2017 they didn't cut it. I won't deny that hip-hop got hit hard in this, as I really wanted to include records from Quelle Chris, Jay-Z, milo, Armand Hammer, Tyler the Creator, Rapsody, Yelawolf, and yes, Kendrick Lamar on this list and I can't. And queue the outrage by everyone that DAMN. is not making this list, but considering there are  five hip-hop records that beat him out to get here, there isn't room for complaining. And I don't want to hear anything from the indie set either than Father John Misty, Kirin J. Callinan, Spoon, The xx, St. Vincent, and Alvvays missed the cut too - all great records, to be sure, but not quite good or consistent enough. Honestly, the most painful cuts for me came in rock - where Creeper, Chelsea Wolfe, and Ayreon all missed it - and especially country, where Natalie Hemby, Angaleena Presley, Dori Freeman and Chris Stapleton all didn't make it - again, great albums, but limited slots. Finally, we have three records that would have sparked controversy had they landed on the list so there is a part of me they just missed the cut: Jhene Aiko, Brand New, and Niall Horan - although there is another part of me that would love to see everyone's expression if Niall made my year end list and Kendrick didn't.

But again, those are my Honourable Mentions... and now onto the list proper.

25. I think a lot of people tend to forget that the tagline for this show is 'music, movies, art and culture', and as much as I'd like to discuss all artistic works in a vacuum, when you remove them from historical or cultural context you can lose some of the nuance. And if there was an album that felt more prescient and resonant in 2017 and yet tragically overlooked, it was this one.

25. 'The Navigator' by Hurray For The Riff Raff
Best Song: 'Pa'lante'

So I have to stress that even outside of the cultural context that informs the concept album about a Puerto Rican immigrant to New York who sees her world crushed and bulldozed underfoot by rapacious and uncaring gentrification - and I should add this was released before Hurricane Maria - this album would have likely had a serious shot to make this list. Alyssa Segarra brought a new height of ambition to The Navigator in taking her folk-infused country sound and showing the complicated journey of self-acceptance to a disparaged heritage by infusing elements of calypso, salsa, and Latin protest music, all against production that intensifies the ragged, textured edge has always been Hurray For The Riff Raff's hallmark. And while some points might seem a little underwritten to tackle too much in its journey to make this feel like both a very human story and a clarion call for even just acknowledgement, in 2017 The Navigator's intensity and fury felt all the more resonant and cutting.

24. And speaking of highly textured records centered in New York with pronounced conscious text and subtext...

24. 'Written At Night' by Uncommon Nasa
Best Song: 'Gingerbread Hag' ft. Brzowski & C-Money Burns

I think it goes without saying that this is easily one of Uncommon Nasa's most ambitious projects to date, taking the structure of the late night creative process and the scattered voices of some of the biggest heavy-hitters in underground hip-hop, and then flipping it all into a layered, incredibly dense exploration of creative experimentation and risk. It's one of the few records where the warning early on that it'll alienate its audience actually has some teeth, between production that gets all the more twisted and abrasive while featuring some of his best melodic hooks, and the series of guest verses gradually revealing more and more uncomfortable truths that are rarely admitted aloud surrounding social change, an inflexible status quo, fickle audiences who can't comprehend the artistic process, and the necessary imperfections that come with evolution. This is the sort of thorny, crystalline rap you'll only ever get from the underground these days, and despite some claims otherwise is about the furthest thing from mainstream - and man, it was worth it.

23. So with the shift to my Patreon scheduling process I covered a fair few records that were outside of my comfort zone, went to strange places, touched on sounds that I definitely found challenging. And the fact that some of it actually clicked raised some terrifying questions - and if you want the most direct example...

23. 'Brutalism' by Idles
Best Song: '1049 Gotho'

Again, I'm not really a hardcore punk fan - I stick more with pop punk and post-punk, this isn't precisely my purview. But I do know quality when I hear it, and Idles brought a slice of white-hot, concentrated rage from the U.K. that was intensely intelligent, fiercely conscious, and with the riotous hooks to back up the insight, often far more layered than the guttural or bestial delivery implied. This is a record that embraces a purer sort of nihilism in targeting toffs that push gentrification and class as a refusal to engage with the harsher truths of their existence, and if the message must be delivered with unflinching brutality... well, there's certainly a place for it that Idles earns in spades. Just as smart as any public school brat yet pitching the pretense to the four winds, Idles is lean, ugly, intensely self-aware but far more aware of the power structures they're aiming to topple - easily one of the best debuts of 2017, can't wait to hear more.

22. And on the topic of power structures subverted and deconstructed with intense self-awareness...

22. 'Forced Witness' by Alex Cameron
Best Song: 'Stranger's Kiss' ft. Angel Olsen

Honestly, I'm a little amazed myself that Alex Cameron made this list with Forced Witness, but with every subsequent listen I couldn't deny it. A pop sensibility that stood head-and-shoulders above so many of his competition, and yet willing to slyly parody the hypermasculine posturing of so much of it, from a character who couldn't sell these songs straight if he tried. Cameron is smart enough to deconstruct modern masculinity, but he's empathetic enough to provide a counterweight with terrific songs that throw aside brainless posturing for something a little meatier. And not only does the 80s soft rock tones feel note-perfect to the time, they also don't feel like an anachronism now, making the joke cut even deeper. I'm thrilled that more are starting to take note of songwriters like Alex Cameron - for pop like this, he definitely deserves a lot more attention.

21. This is the record that'll make my list and pretty much nobody else's - deal with it.

21. 'All These Countless Nights' by Deaf Havana
Best Song: 'Happiness'

It's been nearly a year since I reviewed Deaf Havana's All These Countless Nights and if anything it's gotten even better the more I've heard it - a straightforward alternative rock formula that might not bring a tremendous amount of grit or heft but instead packs its punch with tremendous hooks, a powerful lead performance from James Veck-Gilodi, and the sort of direct, vulnerable writing exploring depression and addiction with nuance and care, a record about hitting burnout and then finding whatever you can to claw out of it, against factors both external and internal that would prefer you stay numb. I w. ill freely admit I was on the fence about this record for months, but at the end of the day, great writing, phenomenal hooks, and some of the more refined melodic compositions of the band's career won out - now I want to hear some of that colour come back.

20. I think this record has flown under the radar for entirely too many people all year, mostly because I don't think it was what they were expecting for this particular artist - it wasn't as focused on straightforward bars, it was more conscious and airy and dare I say accessible...

20. 'ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$' by Joey Bada$$

B4.DA.$$ might have been the project that put Joey Bada$$ on the map, but ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ was the record that put him over the top, taking his detailed knowledge of 90s hip-hop and infusing it to a record that captures a much more detailed picture of Joey Bada$$ as an MC and a conscious artist taking a sensitive and populist approach to its commentary. The bars might not have the same density but the potency of the hooks and the sense of conscious but wary altruism more than made up for it, along with some of the most consistent guest performances all year and some stunning melodic production. And yeah, it's genuinely exasperating that thanks to the close release proximity to Kendrick Lamar's DAMN. that this album will be forgotten by entirely too many - but not by me, or this list.

19. And speaking of records that really haven't gotten the full acclaim they deserve...

19. '4eva Is A Mighty Long Time' by Big K.R.I.T.
Best Song: 'Get Up 2 Come Down' ft. Cee-Lo Green & Sleepy Brown

When Big K.R.I.T. decided to leave Def Jam and return to independence, I don't think anybody was expecting this to be the result, a record that could have easily been pitched from a major label and do enormous numbers, even as a double album! And yet Big K.R.I.T. uses his newfound freedom to expand over two discs of intensely colourful, textured, and amazingly witty southern rap, bending across trap bangers, g-funk, soul, R&B, and gospel with amazing ease. And the fact that Big K.R.I.T. not only made a double album that feels accessible either with individual disks or together, but also managed to make it one of his most bombastic but also personal projects to date is a marvel to behold. And there are so many moments I absolutely adore on it, from the terrific homages to southern legends to the note-perfect moments of gospel to the best album skit I've heard in years - no joke, if it wasn't for Lloyd's contribution on '1999', this would be even higher and for damn good reason. Folks, when acts go independent like this, you definitely want to give them support, and this is a damn great way to do it - might have taken a mighty long time to get there, but I'm glad Big K.R.I.T. finally did.

18. This record snuck up on me, the sort of project that was bound to be overlooked by pretty much everyone, especially outside of Canada - and hell, I had no reason to expect this'd be interesting, the long-dormant side project from the frontwoman a middling indie rock band that probably got more attention for her other supergroup's reunion than this...

18. 'Choir Of The Mind' by Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton
Best Song: 'Irish Exit'

This is the big sleeper hit of 2017, a piano-driven singer-songwriter record where Emily Haines put together some of the most hypnotic melodies, gently enticing grooves, and genuinely beautiful vocal arrangements to tell her story of renewal. A simple formula, sure, but the layered complexity of these arrangements is genuinely startling and will only reveal itself after multiple listens, along with a sense of unearthly poise and control that are mindblowing in the subtlest way possible. And when you pair it all with writing that shows genuine wisdom and emotional pathos, it ranks among Emily Haines' best projects, even surpassing Metric and Broken Social Scene. Too many of you will have slept on this - fix that!

17. I'm kicking myself that I only got into this band this year - but really, given the artistic leap forward they made, it might have been the best possible time.

17. 'A Long Way From Your Heart' by Turnpike Troubadours
Best Song: 'Pay No Rent'

It seems like every year there's an act that makes this list for just cranking out rock solid, no-bullshit, remarkably sharp country music, but Turnpike Troubadours took the extra step and infused their writing with a level of gravitas and maturity that comes with having to grow up fast. The lyrics are the true standout here, showing the hard realization of one's own limits with age and yet finding some degree of comfort with it. And when you pair it with richly organic red dirt production and some of their best ever hooks, you can make a compelling argument how this could well be the Turnpike Troubadours' best album to date - all the more reason for everyone, indie country fans and otherwise, to get onboard!

16. Of all the artists I put on this list, there's a part of me that sadly feels this one will get the most backlash. They'll say I'm doing it because I'm just a blinded fanboy and that despite making a critically respected record it wasn't that good, right? 

16. 'Rainbow' by Kesha
Best Song: 'Let 'Em Talk' ft. Eagles Of Death Metal

This is the comeback record that Kesha had to make, and my god, I'm so happy she stuck the landing. Infusing elements of psychedelic pop, glam rock, punk, freak folk and even country into her formula and proving that she could handle them all, it was the genre-bending glitter of brilliance that characterized Rainbow, a pop record that blew past what so much of the mainstream has always wanted to Kesha to be. And when you pair it with a journey of personal renewal that feels genuinely earned and still lets her cut loose on the second half with a playful vivaciousness that was incredibly compelling, Rainbow is the organic slice of untapped potential that shows everything mainstream pop can be in 2017. Perhaps a shade weaker than Warrior overall - it does feel a tad transitional as she moves towards what ever bright horizon might come - but man, I'm thrilled to have her back.

15. I debated a lot whether I could put this on the list, and for a reason I don't often consider: length. At seven songs, barely a half hour, could I really rank it among the best full-length records of 2017?

15. 'Felony Blues' by Jaime Wyatt
Best Song: 'Stone Hotel'

Well yeah, because Felony Blues is the sort of raw, organic country that blew through all of my expectations, both in the richly organic sound and Jaime Wyatt's willingness to take real risks in her content. Drawing upon her experiences in prison to flesh out incredibly well-composed and emotive portraits - and then infusing all of them with a stunningly rich neotraditional tone that even is willing to indulge the sort of spacey tones you might hear on a Sturgill Simpson project - it's truly amazing how much sharp songwriting, amazingly sticky hooks, and real pathos Wyatt crams into these seven tracks - there isn't a dud among them! And when you factor in a song like 'Stone Hotel' as one of the best of the year, this was an indie country slam dunk that, again, deserves way more attention. 

14. ...yeah, it's on everybody else's list, you all knew it was going to be here... and for good reason.

14. 'Melodrama' by Lorde
Best Song: 'Green Light'

Look, you don't need me to tell you why Melodrama is the much-improved sophomore project from Lorde that got rave reviews from critics but not nearly enough attention from everyone else... but I'm going to say it again anyways! What I truly love about Melodrama is that it took the aura of dispassionate cool that infused Pure Heroine and set it on fire, revealing the white-hot intensity of a pop genius indulging in melodrama and mining very real pathos out of her self-awareness, self-limiting and self-destructive nature, and the populist spirit that has infused all of her writing, a millennial balm to salve the wound of faded idols, failed protectors, and society routinely castigating them for the same behavior every generation has done before if not worse. And when you pair with Jack Antonoff's best production since Strange Desire and Lorde's increasingly layered and dynamic delivery, it's damn near the best pop record of the year, and deserved all the acclaim it got.

13. So as I said at the very beginning - and it bears repeating - historical and cultural context becomes relevant when you're talking about art, and when you considering how starkly political and polarized the United States has become, it was inevitable that there would be an artistic response to the election. And yet while the conscious powerhouses surged to the forefront, in dealing with the emotional aftermath artists from The National to Katy Perry stumbled hard - that sort of psychological trauma can be hard to take and contextualize. And thus it fell to an outsider to do it - and man, he did it well.

13. 'ken' by Destroyer
Best Song: 'Saw You At The Hospital'

I said my inclusion of Kesha was bound to provoke the most backlash from the general public - well, my inclusion of Dan Bejar's obtuse, goth-tinged sophisti-pop here is bound to provoke the most response from critics. And man, I get why: in comparison with the more inviting melodies and gentle tones that characterized his last two critically beloved records, ken is atonal and uncomfortable and even more oblique... and yet with every single listen it clicked even deeper, the thousand mile stare of a Canadian seeing the deeply felt wrongness of what was happening south of the border, in particular a response among artists that saw some melt into the mist and others lose all coherency or feeling. And between the clammy synth tones, the writing that feels all the more pointed and incisive with every listen, and the choice to add more obvious rough edges to compliment hooks and progressions that stick in ways you can't quite comprehend or are even sure you like, Destroyer's ken was the record that most aptly captured the overwhelming emotion of 2017, and while it might not be something everyone wants to revisit, for me this year it was an essential mirror.

12. I'm not sure how many more times I need to put this band on my lists for people to 'get it', but you can bet I'm not going to stop!

12. 'Volcano' by Temples
Best Song: 'Mystery Of Pop'

Temples is probably one of the most underrated bands of the 2010s, a retro-leaning psychedelic rock and pop band that has all of the tonal balance and rich production of Tame Impala but far better melodic structures, hooks, and songwriting. Their sophomore record Volcano was a pivot to more synth-touched pop, but the textures remain as thick and potent, the melodies are just as memorable if not moreso, and the calculated introspection of the writing remains the band's biggest hidden asset. I don't know who they refused to blow in Pitchfork's marketing department, but my god, they deserve so much better than what they've gotten, especially when they've consistently proven they aren't just a 'nostalgia' act. It's damn excellent psychedelic music that shows increasingly more dimensions, definitely worth your time.

11. And speaking of retro-leaning acts who probably haven't gotten their fair share of time in the spotlight...

11. 'HEAVY META' by Ron Gallo
Best Song: 'Put The Kids To Bed'

Ron Gallo is the sort of artist I don't expect to appeal to everyone, but the fact that he hasn't gotten the same buzz as someone like Ty Segall can feel pretty annoying, especially coming out of his record this year HEAVY META. The fuzzed out garage rock was balanced with impressive hooks, great basslines, and the impressive personality of Ron Gallo himself, whose nasal, sneering delivery made the framing of his blistering commentary on modern millennial culture all the more incisive. It's a lean, nasty sort of record that for all of its Rolling Stones influence has the brains and wit that the Stones rarely brought to bear, as well as a sense of twisted self-awareness that pushes many of these songs into outright hilarious territory. It's a weird record, and while it could have been insufferable if it took itself a little more seriously - but the fact that it doesn't makes it an absolute riot - this was slept on by entirely too many people, you'll want to get this.

10. Yes, I said it earlier in the year and I'll say it again here: I didn't cover as much black metal as I wanted - hell, I didn't review as much metal as I wanted this year. Part of it was the way my schedule was initially set up where popular consensus dominated and it was a lot harder for me to vote up metal records given the tier structure and so much other material - hopefully with a fresh reset in 2017 and a few shifts in the rules I might be able to get around this. In the mean time, we still have this.

10. 'Winter' by Fen
Best Song: 'II (Penance)'

This is a monster of an album, and frankly I'm not surprised it's flown under the radar for so many - Fen's brand of intricately detailed but oppressively huge atmospheric and progressive black metal was tough to take in, their longest project to date. But it was also their most refined, with incredibly well-balanced grooves, a keen balance between clean and dirty vocals, huge potent melodies and writing that went the extra mile in describing the baroque nightmare of this death in slow motion. It's an unearthly behemoth of a record and definitely is not for everyone... but there was something about this toxic miasma that dragged me back time and time again, which is why it's this high on the list.

9. So this was the major label breakthrough for this indie band, and it seemed like in some circles that was the excuse they needed to launch the backlash - one I don't really think was deserved. And considering I reviewed them while I was on vacation, I'm not sure I was fully able to contextualize why this worked... and yet in a bizarre way, it was the vacation that made it click

9. 'A Deeper Understanding' by The War On Drugs
Best Song: 'Strangest Thing'

I don't think anyone will deny that the War On Drugs makes the sort of heartfelt, earnest, contemplative Americana that is not only stridently uncool, but also pulls upon an era of American history and culture that in retrospect is not aging well. And when combined with Adam Granduciel's increasingly oblique writing, it made the more glistening layers of A Deeper Understanding a much tougher sell... but if there was an album that had the tones that characterized my roaming across the southern U.S. damn near perfectly, it was this one. Yes, the writing is impressionistic in trying to find that hazy middle ground of place among one's memories and experiences to take the measured step forward, but when you pair it with the huge hooks, incredible solos, and amazingly well-textured mix, it leads to a record that earns its heartland swell time and time again - and man, even off the road, it's worth it.

8. So I said in my previous list that there wasn't much 'escapist' music on it, and while that is true for the individual songs that resonated the most, it's not quite true for the albums, even if you get the niggling feeling that the escapism won't survive complete contact with reality. And the most pronounced example of that...

8. 'No Shape' by Perfume Genius
Best Song: 'Wreath'

This is one of the most gorgeously produced in 2017 - I don't even think there's debate on that, even the critics who were hesitant have to acknowledge how goddamn beautiful this record is, with the embracing of classical textures to weave increasingly stunning tapestries around Mike Hadreas' wistful desire to leave his corporeal form and confront whatever might come beyond. But where No Shape takes a hard left turn is that he actually does see something beyond that veil that shatters the escapism, and thus is forced to return to grounded reality... and yet finds among humanity a sense of peace and beauty that is just as potent as the confrontational sheen that ignited off of Too Bright, a narrative arc anchored in the same thrumming electronics and guitars that have always been the rock solid foundation of Perfume Genius. It may claim no shape, but the core is damn near transcendent.

7. For many people this was the year that introduced them to this band. Some would argue it was their breakout year. I still will argue they deserved far more.

7. 'The Underside Of Power' by Algiers
Best Song: 'The Underside Of Power'

I have no idea why more have not gotten onboard with Algiers, and in 2017 everybody ran out of excuses. Taking their fusion of noisy post-punk and bluesy soul and gospel, Algiers tightened their songwriting, amped up their hooks, and while I'd argue The Underside Of Power is a shade less consistent than their self-titled debut, the highs were so much more potent. The writing was nothing less than a broadside against unjust power structures, be they race, class, and everything in between, delivered with the sort of fiery rage and uncompromisingly fierce intelligence that was intimidating to their targets and a necessary shot of adrenaline for everyone else. This was a year where Algiers felt more prescient and relevant than ever before, and my God, it was what we needed.

6. And speaking of starkly relevant music that hit a striking, genre-pushing high point in 2017...

6. 'Run The Jewels 3' by Run The Jewels
Best Song: 'Thursday In The Danger Room' ft. Kamasi Washington

The physical release was only available in 2017, I only reviewed it in 2017, it counts, and no, I'm not cheating putting it on this list! And yet there's a part of me that can't help but notice dropping this project so early in the past year means that critics aren't giving it the same hype they might if it came out, say, in mid-summer or the fall. And yet even while I'll still be the guy who says I liked Run The Jewels 2 more, this follow-up is still a titan of absolutely incredible hip-hop. El-P is at his absolute best here, infusing more of his underground tendencies in production and flows to bring a complexity to which he and Killer Mike feel increasingly comfortable, and when you factor in perfectly positioned guest performances, amazingly sharp verses, and a heartfelt intensity that gives the political and social commentary real weight, this was the blistering opening salvo 2017 needed, and for me was one of the consistent high points. Will this be the end of the trilogy or will we get more from this duo... honestly, what they gave us was so stellar I'll take whatever I can get.

5. This is going to fly under the radar for so many folks... and I get it. It's unassuming, it's independent Texas country that doesn't put on airs and relies on the refined, purified experience... and it's one of the best of the year, hands down.

5. 'Jason Eady' by Jason Eady
Best Song: 'Barabbas'

It almost becomes easy for me to forget how consistently excellent this record is, mostly because I'm not sure it hits the incredible high points of Daylight & Dark, at least not as consistently. But Jason Eady is the master at taking a pure country sound and refining it into its most effective form. Perfectly structured writing, hooks informed by maturity and pathos, and songs that take real world heft and complexity and make it all go down effortlessly, to the point you almost don't notice how much detail and character is infused into his storytelling and wordplay. It might be subtle, it might be reserved and almost tasteful, but I don't think anyone could doubt its quality.

4. This was another record I covered on vacation - and there's a part of me that wished I could talked about this more in detail, because when I make the following claim, it'll spark some controversy. So here we go: outside of Porcupine Tree, this is Steven Wilson's best record.

4. 'To The Bone' by Steven Wilson
Best Song: 'Pariah' ft. Ninet Tayeb

What I've always loved about To The Bone is that it finally shows Steven Wilson playing into his strengths: he's always had a tremendous knack for pop hooks, and with this album he embraced that brand of melodic songwriting and it worked better than I think even he expected, especially when infused with the progressive but accessible melodic composition that has always been his hallmark. Coupled with bringing in female vocalists who bring their own starmaking intensity to match Wilson's greater emotive presence, and the exploration of a rationalist theme that finds hope in conscientious self-interest in the face of not having all the answers, it's a project that shows Wilson at his most intelligent and nuanced, but also at his most emotive and human. Again, this is the sort of record I've been waiting for Steven Wilson for years - and it was worth it.

3. So I have put a lot of very political records on this list, but the truth about the majority of them is that they aren't really going to change the discourse. I love Run The Jewels and Hurray For The Riff Raff and Algiers and Joey Bada$$, but the unfortunate truth is that while they certainly fanned the flames of their audience, they probably won't get to the people that need to have their viewpoints challenged. No, if we're looking for the record in 2017 that was on the forefront of this fight, it's this one.

3. 'The Nashville Sound' by Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit
Best Song: 'If We Were Vampires'

I said this before and I'll say it again: country music more than ever was the frontline of the culture war in 2017 and often showed far more nuance than either side will give it credit. And if you're looking for albums that seriously challenged the political paradigm of mainstream America and actually had a shot of getting to that audience, Jason Isbell's newest alternative country project with The 400 Unit was that record, and it certainly helped that it was one of his best. Following the introspective and mature growth of his previous two records, Jason Isbell framed The Nashville Sound as the blisteringly hard confrontation with the reality beyond his own experiences, that you can't cure anxiety, that old vices linger, that the death of his loved ones lurks the wings and that while he might not be able to change the unjust power structures on his own that support his privilege, he's going to goddamn try. And with the slow motion collapse of country radio and the surging relevance of indie country, Jason Isbell made the biggest artistic gamble of his career, and it shook country music to its core. And yeah, it's also hands down the best country record of 2017, without question.

2. And speaking of artistic gambles... whoo boy, this was a big one

2. 'Brick Body Kids Still Daydream' by Open Mike Eagle
Best Song: 'My Auntie's Building'

Look, pretty much any year Open Mike Eagle has put out a full-length record it's wound up on this list, and yet I'm still a little in awe of Brick Body Kids Still Daydream. An absolutely haunting concept record surrounding displacement and lingering trauma in the aftermath of losing your home to uncaring gentrification, it shows Open Mike Eagle at his most conscious, his most serious, and by far his most vulnerable and emotive. But when infused with subtle touches of glitch and jazz to make his melodic and ingeniously structured bars all the more potent, not only does he provide some of his best ever verses, but some of his most melodically solid songs... only to rip the floor out beneath you for an album closer that remains one of the most artistically daring choices of his career. Layered, brilliantly witty, genuinely deserving of all the critical acclaim it has received, what could possibly be better in my books? Well...

1. This is not going to be a surprising choice to long-time viewers, especially given the review I made for this record. And what I've found kind of wonderful is that while some were on the fence about this album upon the release, folks seem to have come around. And while I'm thrilled it's getting the acclaim it deserves... for me, there was nothing else that could top this list.

1. 'Goths' by the Mountain Goats
Best Song: 'Rain In Soho'

Goths is the sort of record that is such a perfect microcosm and exploration of its central idea that it honestly leaves me wishing that John Darnielle would tackle more musical subcultures with this level of poise, respect, and insight. After delivering the best song of the year, he proceeds to not really indulge in gothic theatricality so much as show the reality around all of it, for both the musicians and the subculture at large, living in a world that has mostly forgotten them or passed them by, taking melancholic keys and textured bass and horns to make a soft rock record that's just dark enough to fit these outcasts and yet just bright enough to throw their alienation in sharp relief. Not a celebration, not a deconstruction, just honest and sympathetic with the level of precise homespun detail and meticulous framing that once again shows Darnielle as one of the best storytellers in modern music. Even if you're not part of the subculture you can still marvel at the attention to detail, the expanded themes of decay and getting older and treasuring a unique artform that never felt comfortable with any mainstream sensibility even as it drifted there periodically. But if you are... or adjacent to it, like I am, it resonates on a level unparalleled by anything else in 2017. As such, it's one of the Mountain Goats' best, and it's my album of the year. Thank you all so much for watching, I'll see you in 2018!

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