The Best Albums of 2017
December 22, 2017 | by NO RECESS! Staff
As the NO RECESS! staff honed in on our favorite albums of 2017, one thing was clear — the only thing that’s truly made any sense at all this year was music. Even though every day has felt like an endless, lifeforce-draining slog through a desolate political wasteland, new releases brought fresh insight, creative companionship, certainly much-needed fun, and for sure some all-out fury completely necessary to push us all through this cruel, odious chasm.
So, without further ado, here is our list of the best 50 albums, where you can find your fight again with Hurray for the Riff Raff, get whisky drunk with Sarah Shook, witness a ridiculously cool evolution of metal all over the place, dive deep into hip-hop and R&B’s continually expansive output, and discover fresh new outlets for punk, post rock, and psychedelia. And for what it’s worth, you’ll also notice Ty Segall and Waxahatchee have extremely similar album covers. Happy holidays! — Jocelyn Hoppa, Editor in Chief
50. The War on Drugs, A Deeper Understanding (Atlantic)
No rock album in 2017 sounded like A Deeper Understanding, The War on Drugs' major-label debut. The synthesis here of ‘80s synth rock, Americana, and Los Angeles haze resulted in an epic that has a touch of the mystic. With every spin you're taken to a different world: decelerated, melancholy, iconoclastic. The sounds in Adam Granduciel's head are almost as foreign as those in Kevin Shields, and just as wonderful.
Best Moment: The transcendent, 11-minute “Thinking of a Place,” Granduciel's masterpiece, keeps a steady beat while the dreamlike guitar and harmonica dive deep and come up for plenty of air. — C.M. Crockford
49. Oh Sees, Orc (Castle Face)
Oh Sees’ (no more “Thee”) 19th studio album is another notch in their ever-evolving psych-garage rock output, as they weave absorbing psychedelic jams with frenetic, madcap proto-metal. When the band picks up off a wave of trippy, soft prog explorations they bounce back with wild, seering, restless licks and riffs. This record is simultaneously reckless and refined, and also a concept album linked to Dungeons and Dragons.
Best Moment: “Drowned Beast” is a heavy, weird one about the insatiable hunger of mankind. — Jocelyn Hoppa
48. The National, Sleep Well Beast (4AD)
On Sleep Well Beast, Matt Berninger's cathartic lyrics chronicle both the personal undercurrent of his own searching discontent and that of our collective human experience, with a focus on the challenges and intimacies of his marriage (the album was co-written in part by his wife, former New Yorker editor Carin Besser). It may be the National’s seventh showcase of brooding grandeur, but they’ve never done it like this.
Best Moment: "The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness" has everything you could want in a National track, and more: the rich instrumental layers this band is so adept at crafting, topped with jagged guitar solos. It's a testament to the fucked up times we live in, with astute, despairing lines like, "We said we'd only die of lonely secrets" and "We're in a different kind of thing now / All night you're talking to God." — Angela Zimmerman
47. SZA, Ctrl (Top Dawg Entertainment)
Musically assured as it is, SZA's proper debut LP Ctrl (after a string of successful EPs) is a low-key art-soul record unafraid to reveal its raw insecurity. On “Drew Barrymore,” Solána Rowe subverts a power ballad with lines like, “I'm sorry I'm not more ladylike / I'm sorry I don't shave my legs at night.” On the acoustic closer, she ruminates on being “20 something, all alone still / Not a phone in my name / Ain't got nothin', runnin' from love.” But with five Grammy noms and running, SZA has nothing to apologize for.
Best Moment: “Doves in the Wind” is a Kendrick Lamar-assisted swirl of boom bap and electric sex that could make Dan Savage blush. “I'm really tryna crack off that headboard / And bust it wide open for the right one” might be the tamest line in the song. — David MacFadden-Elliott
46. Haram, When You Have Won, You Have Lost (Toxic Tracks)
Taqwacore is given new power thanks to this Arabic-singing Yonkers punk band, putting forth a vital bashing that stands with Reagan Youth, Bad Brains, et al. As bold as it is brave and bruising (and liberating).
Best Moment: "Your President, Not a President" sort of sums up the whole year, doesn't it? — James Greene, Jr.
45. The Replacements, For Sale: Live at Maxwell’s 1986 (Rhino Entertainment)
Bringing their special, drunken brand of Minneapolis charm to Hoboken’s famed Maxwell’s club, the Replacements mad-dashed their way through their catalogue’s hot spots on this live double before jettisoning Bob Stinson for good. His leads not only steal the show, but do so on every damn song, just months before he’d be ousted for good and the ‘Mats would never be the same. As it stands, there is something for everyone here, from the trainwreck cover of Sweet’s “Fox on the Run” to the full-band version of “Answering Machine.” This time, it’s not just the shit that hits the fans.
Best Moment: The poor chump yelling for “Color Me Impressed” in between songs multiple times throughout the night even though it was the second song of the set. Paul Westerberg: “I think we may’ve tried it once.” — Andrew K. Lau
44. Perfume Genius, No Shape (Matador)
Mike Hadreas’ newest triumph is this soundtrack to the liberation of love and body. Songs like “Slip Away” and “Alan” are strange, rousing alien pop filled with unexpected textures and patterns. A deeply moving work so good that I’m not sure how he can top it. But he will.
Best Moment: The opening track is a wonder, but then there’s the enormous outpouring of sound, feeling, and power on the chorus of “Otherside,” with harpsichord shimmering like a first kiss. — C.M. Crockford