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The 25 Best Albums of 2017 (So Far)

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The 25 Best Albums of 2017 (So Far)

This tumultuous year around the sun is more than halfway over, and luckily there’ been a ton of great new music to keep us going. Regardless of genre, the best albums released from January through August have seemed to reflect our current range of emotions—angry to ambivalent, bloated to bombastic, sentimental to sardonic. So from the highly anticipated to the surprise released, here are the 25 best albums of 2017—so far.

25. This Is the Kit, Moonshine Freeze
After three previous offerings, Moonshine Freeze is the peak of an uphill path that This Is the Kit’s Kate Stables has traced since her earliest recordings at the turn of the decade. Although this record features legendary producer John Parish (PJ Harvey, Perfume Genius) and The National’s Aaron Dessner (who produced TITK’s previous album, Bashed Out), Stables’s impressive singing and highly mulled-over songwriting ensure that her creativity remains front and center. Pensive, banjo-driven delicacies like “Bulletproof” live comfortably alongside and sturdy grooves like “Hotter Colder.” With so many intricacies, even if you don’t immediately find a light in the relative dusk of Stables’s best album to date, consuming her songs in a near-frozen state of relaxation—perhaps even contemplation—might just do the trick. The rewards to be reaped are immense. —Max Freedman

24. The Cairo Gang, Untouchable
A contemporary of fellow fuzz-punk collaborators Ty Segall and Mikal Cronin, The Cairo Gang’s Emmett Kelly has returned with a new project under his own moniker. There’s an unmistakable confidence in his voice, and it’s a primary focal point throughout this record. While the band’s 2015 LP Goes Missing utilized a nomadic recording process to help shape a record that sounded equally as mired in wanderlust, Untouchable revels in a generally lo-fi mix that sits well with its found-sound ambiance—another nod to Kelly’s nomadic muses. Overall, Kelly has raised the stakes on this album, fully embracing some of the more outwardly power-pop sensibilities he’d hinted at in previous records. —Ryan J. Prado

23. Priests, Nothing Feels Natural
Together since 2011, this Washington, D.C. quartet spent their first few years releasing a handful of tapes and 7-inches before recording 2014’s Bodies and Control and Money and Power. Their full-length debut turns out to have been worth a minute. On Nothing Feels Natural, the band’s scattershot punk tantrums congeal into a more ambitious LP outfitted with deep post-punk grooves and anti-corporate screeds. It’s a weightier, more cerebral collection that succeeds without sacrificing the raw force of this group’s chemistry. By chance or by design, Nothing Feels Natural might well be the first great punk album of the Trump presidency. —Zach Schonfeld

22. David Bazan, Care
Throughout the synth-soaked invitational of Care, David Bazan (Pedro the Lion, Headphones) continues to masterfully represent and wrestle with his Walt Whitman-esque “I contain multitudes” creative arc. Between Bazan’s breath-close vocal performances and a sparse sonic palette of uncluttered keyboards and minimalist drum loops, fans will find continuing strands of familiarity throughout—most notably from his equally intimate solo releases from last year (Blanco and the holiday compilation Dark Sacred Night), and the electronic pulse of Headphones’ 2005 self-titled album. While those artistic echoes pop up here and there on Care, the album showcases its individual genius through the bitingly fresh nuances found in Bazan’s instrumental, melodic and lyrical approaches. —Will Hodge

21. Valerie June, The Order of Time
Through the first 11 of 12 songs, something seems different about Valerie June’s latest effort, The Order of Time. It’s not something that’s easily noticeable, like the lyrics (which poignantly address the death of her father, her grief and how we keep living) or instrumentation (maintaining a foundation of banjo and acoustic guitar). Rather, June exudes a confidence that ebbs and flows in its pervasiveness—from the subtleties of the sparse, pedal steel-steeped opener “Long Lonely Road” to the electric, hand clap-laden single “Shake Down.” But by the closing tune, “Got Soul,” that previously indefinable, pervasive difference becomes clear: Valerie June refuses to be categorized. “I could sing you a country tune / Carry the name Sweet Valerie June,” she sings in the first verse. “I could play you, play you the blues / to help carry the load while you’re paying your dues,” she chides in the second. “But I got soul,” she declares in each chorus, “Follow your soul, sweet soul.” It’s a motto and a mentality for herself and for anyone listening. —Hilary Saunders

20. Diet Cig, Swear I’m Good at This
Swear I’m Good at This is almost like 21-year-old Alex Luciano’s coming-of-age story. It’s an engaging one at that, full of awkward moments, breaking hearts, insecurity and a discovery of power. The album begins in her past, but quickly moves to New York City, where we spend most of the rest of the story, listening to Luciano try to find her way around her beautiful, chaotic life to the tune of ravaging punk jams. Another major strength on Swear is Luciano’s singing, which has improved markedly since Diet Cig’s debut EP, Over Easy. She’s developed far more confidence, bringing her voice to the forefront and showcasing emotions beyond earnest teen angst and youthful rawness. —Zach Blumenfeld

19. Kevin Morby, City Music
Singing Saw, the debut solo album from Los Angeles singer-songwriter (and former Woods bassist) Kevin Morby, was one of the great growers of 2016. Dusky and unassuming, it revealed its considerable charms slowly but surely, reflecting the patient ways of the man who made it. Morby’s follow up, City Music, mines a similar aesthetic, though its songs in general seem to endear themselves more quickly. Whereas Singing Saw was inspired in part by Morby’s sleepy neighborhood in the hills northeast of L.A., City Music is about cities: city life, city noise, city people, a city’s pace and so on. But City Music doesn’t hustle and bustle. Morby has said Singing Saw was Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, while City Music is Lou Reed and Patti Smith, and you can’t draw a much brighter line between two things than that. —Ben Salmon

18. Algiers, The Underside of Power
The title of the electro-rock band Algiers’s second album, The Underside of Power, attacks current political crises in the Western world the same way Donald Trump attacks American democracy with each passing executive order. Throughout the record, Algiers blends rock and electronica in the shadows of Nine Inch Nails, condemning government injustice with the precision and fury of Rage Against the Machine. The most overtly punk “Animals” has elements that defined Washington D.C. hardcore bands like Minor Threat and Bad Brains, and “Death March” highlights the band’s penchant for noise-rock experimentalism. The title track is the most accessible, with taut riffs contracting a foundation for Franklin James Fisher’s strong vocal melodies. With The Underside of Power, Algiers not only provide a soundtrack for the revolution, but for the moments in the resistance when it seems too hard to keep going. —Hilary Saunders

17. Laura Marling, Semper Femina
Taking its title from a Virgil line about how women are “ever fickle and changeable,” Marling’s sixth full-length release represents a new type of writing about women. Political without being polemical, she filters her narrative sketches through a personal lens that neither over-idealizes nor under-romanticizes her subjects. Instead, the characters in Marling’s songs feel like real people—often restless, frequently viewed from afar and almost uniformly mysterious in their motivations. Despite all her growth over the past decade—which has included adding a soulful bounce to her occasionally brittle hooks and orchestral heft to her simpler arrangements—Marling remains at heart a folksinger who uses the foundational elements of songcraft to express abiding truths. And like any great folk singer, she has created an album of songs whose sounds and sentiments are much weightier than they might appear. —Matt Fink

16. SZA, CTRL
As a 20-something woman who’s been single in the age of social media, SZA’s confessional debut album CTRL is strikingly relatable. But what’s remarkable about it is that she has spun her personal experiences into a soulful, touching R&B record with broad appeal beyond her particular demographic. Fittingly, the name of the album is spelled like a keyboard command, but on a deeper level, CTRL speaks to the simultaneous scariness and liberation of opening ourselves up to others who are equally afraid to be hurt. The album includes elements of indie rock, R&B and hip-hop that don’t fit squarely into one genre, just like the artist herself. SZA is neither a good girl nor a vixen; instead, she happily dances in the grey area, laughing at frivolous fuckboys every step of the way. —Nastia Voynovskaya

15. Sheer Mag, Need to Feel Your Love
The first official full-length album by Philadelphia-based punk/DIYers Sheer Mag finds the band trying to navigate the leap from underground heroes to rock ‘n’ roll rat-race. They picked killer cover art for Need To Feel Your Love, gave the thing an actual name and released 12 songs that match the fire and quality of the band’s three EPs, even as they’ve shed some lo-fi grime. Resistance and love are common themes across the LP, each with their own vibe. Tunes like “Meet Me in the Street” decry “silver-spoon suckers” against serrated AC/DC-style guitars, while “Turn It Up,” with its brick-thick riffs and shout-along chorus, basically sounds like Sheer Mag turned a room full of pumping fists into a song. Overall, Sheer Mag broaden their horizons without losing what made them so promising in the first place. That’s always a tricky line to walk, and they do it with gritty grace. —Ben Salmon

14. Grandaddy, Last Place
Much will be made of the fact that Last Place is the first record of new material from Modesto fuzz-poppers Grandaddy since 2006’s Just Like the Fambly Cat, and for ostensibly good reasons. Everyone likes a reunion story, as least in the beginning. The most fans can hope for is a modicum of the magic through which the band drove its creative fancies. The focus ought to be on how satisfyingly true to the Grandaddy aesthetic Last Place sounds—full of experimental bents, meat-and-potatoes lo-fi and happy/sad vignettes—despite the decade-long absence. —Ryan J. Prado

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