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The Best Albums of 2017

The Best Albums of 2017 by NO RECESS!

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

43. Khalid, American Teen (Sony)

Atmospheric R&B anthems for the Xanax Generation, courtesy of a teenage newcomer with as heavy a case of nice-guy syndrome as Drake (but a better knack for memorable choruses). Plus, this time he may actually be a nice guy.

Best Moment: Along with the hit singles “Location” and “Young Dumb & Broke,” there’s also “8Teen,” in which Khalid delivers the sage advice, “Let’s do all the stupid shit that young kids do.” — Melody Danielle Rice

42. This Is the Kit, Moonshine Freeze (Rough Trade)

This Is the Kit use horns, synth, banjos, guitars, percussion, bass, and more to back Kater Stables' Maddy Prior-esque vocal delivery of a set of songs containing many elements of children's games and stories. However, defying the cacophony that description implies, John Parish's super dry and close production allows Stables' multi-instrumental arrangements the space to breathe and lends them a deceptive simplicity. What appears to be simple isn't quite as simple as it first appeared, and children's songs instead become mantras that prepare us adults for the consequences to our actions.

Best Moment: The spell-like effect of the title track's vocal repetition over the bass groove and mystical synth right before the horns come in. — Heather Batson

41. Waxahatchee, Out in the Storm (Merge)

Katie Crutchfield's fourth studio album is satisfyingly anthemic in all the best singalong ways, as well as reflective and intimate in all the best holed-up-in-your-basement ways. Out in the Storm achieves the most satiating of musical hybrids, with themes and lyrics that you can wallow in but also feel galvanized by. Crutchfield makes you feel empowered, and understood, and self-assured enough to weather the storm.

Best Moment: The twangy, strumming rock of "8 Ball" showcases the songwriting prowess of Crutchfield through a metaphorical journey that leaves you feeling quietly triumphant by its closing verse: "I'm your diversion, I am the wind blowing down your tree / It's plain, I lit the groundwork up in flames / We watch the smoke rise / You wanna name my weakness / You wanna be the rain." — Angela Zimmerman

40. The Afghan Whigs, In Spades (Sub Pop)

Reunions hardly ever work out this well (okay, Dinosaur Jr notwithstanding). Somehow the Afghan Whigs build on their legacy with fresh, vital material instead of retreading old tracks down into the ground. In Spades is just as hardcore, gritty, and beautiful as anything the band has ever done, and Dulli’s lyrical delivery is still a gift worth cherishing.

Best Moment: “Toy Automatic” is a stunner and navigates space the Whigs’ sound has not previously spanned. Thirty years down the road, the Whigs still choose dare. — Jocelyn Hoppa

39. Jens Lekman, Life Will See You Now (Secretly Canadian)

In 2017, Jens Lekman finally released a full album worthy of his best songs. There’s more genre-bending on Life Will See You Now than with previous releases, as seen on the tropical “What’s That Perfume That You Wear?” and the disco “How We Met, the Long Version,” while his storytelling is tighter than ever. “What’s That Perfume That You Wear?” may be the greatest song ever written about the sense of smell and its connection with memory, and on “Evening Prayer,” he grapples with how to feel when a friend he’s lost touch with gets cancer.

Best Moment: The opener, where a Mormon missionary in Gothenburg, on the day of Princess Di’s death, helps young Jens himself discover his reason for being. — Melody Danielle Rice

38. Tera Melos, Trash Generator (Sargent House)

Tera Melos’ decade-plus career has been fascinating, from their roots as a big fish/small pond math rock band to their current iteration as some perverted combination of the Pixies, King Crimson, Converge, and Aphex Twin. Trash Generator is their catchiest record to date, a collection of quasi-pop tunes interrupted by avant-shredding that becomes infinitely weirder the closer it veers towards normality. Tera Melos was once defined by niches and clumsy descriptors requiring infinite hyphens. Trash Generator is another step towards simply becoming the planet’s most fearless rock band.

Best Moment: The devious chorus of “Men’s Shirt” and its subsequent pseudo-solo show that frontman Nick Reinhart’s ability to write a vocal hook is on par with his bionic guitar heroics. — Ryan Wasoba

37. Run the Jewels, RTJ3 (Run the Jewels, Inc.)

The third entry in a trilogy is not always a disappointment, as this napalm-rap duo prove. Brimming with fire, fury, and fun like no one else could provide in the past 365, Killer Mike and El-P’s rage is a renewable resource.

Best Moment: “Call Ticketron” goes hard like a vintage Crazy Eddie commercial. — James Greene, Jr.

36. Sleaford Mods, English Tapas (Rough Trade)

In a calendar year where wretched politics have been all but completely unavoidable stateside, 2017's most cathartic musical statement may have ironically happened by way of England's nihilistic Sleaford Mods. Jason Williamson and Andrew Fearn’s fusion of punk and hip-hop is at its gritty, minimalist best on English Tapas. But it’s the gleeful potshots they take at politicians, Brexit, and other aspects of British culture that make the Mods’ latest their most fun and effective outing yet.

Best Moment: Williamson calling out all the “pretentious little bastards on social medias” on “Just Like We Do.”Ryan Bray