UNITED STATES—In a year with (it seems) scores of quality releases, it’s incredibly difficult to pick any five that stand above the others. That said, the following five albums are the ones this writer found himself coming back to the most:
- DAMN. – Kendrick Lamar
The fourth album by the Compton rapper recertifies him as, unequivocally, the best MC currently performing (and, perhaps, alive). Lyrically as deft and accessible as breakout album “good city, M.A.A.D city” and as musically impressive as 2015’s “To Pimp a Butterly, ” “DAMN. “ continues to establish Lamar as an unstoppable force in hip-hop. Each of the album’s tracks lends itself an episodic quality, coming across as both independent from and integral to the record as a whole. “Lust” and “Feel” are two tracks that offer targeted insight into just how difficult it can be to maintain honesty in the face of fame and fortune. Socially astute Kendrick remains as insightful as ever on songs such as “DNA” and “Element,” highlighting the fact that you can take the rapper out of the streets, but you might not be able to take the streets out of the rapper.
2. Melodrama – Lorde
The 21-year-old New Zealander delivers another pop knockout in the form of “Melodrama.” The proof that sometimes the darkest part of night truly does come before the dawn, “Melodrama” is a roster of moving anthems that come as a follow up to her split with her long-time boyfriend. Formed during a fraught and difficult writing process, “Melodrama” has its musical highs and its lows; simultaneously a party and the hangover that comes after. Sometimes regretful, other times exasperated, Lorde comes across in her second studio album as being honestly hopeful and –as cliché as it may sometimes be- hopelessly melodramatic. Stand out tracks include “Perfect Places,” “Supercut,” and “Hard Feelings/Loveless” – a high point of the album where a beat switch mid-way through signals that, yes, sadness and the reverse are just two sides of the same coin (or song, as the case may be).
3. American Dream – LCD Soundsystem
“Discordant unity” doesn’t seem like a phrase that would make any logical sense. Yet, as he has in past releases, James Murphy manages to pull it off once more, bringing the myriad talents of LCD Soundsystem’s various bandmates together in a way that produces a medley of tracks that are as internally complex as Murphy himself is. “Call the Police” and “Emotional Haircut” echo the difficulty that comes with trying to figure out how you became the person you are, while album opener “Oh Baby” proffers that the best way to find comfort is to find it in others. Each of the album songs is unrelenting and captivating – it’s hard to stop listening.
4. Antisocialites – ALVVAYS
Canadian indie pop group ALVVAYS delivered one of 2017’s best sophomore albums in the form of “Antisocialites,” an album where ethereality and indie pop come together (as they should more often if the quality of this album is any indication). At times evocative of the muted vocals and guitar distortion inherent to shoegaze, “Antisocialites” features a roster of highly catchy tunes that come as profound and interesting – a balance that is often hard to strike in the realm of pop. “Your Type,” “In Undertow,” and “Plimsoll Punks” are the best the album has to offer.
5. Sleep Well Beast – The National
After a four-year hiatus, indie rock’s The National arrive back on the charts with an album that is both a return to form (in singer Matt Beringer’s illustrious vocals that shift between dirge-like and hard rock in the blink of an eye) and a bold step in a new direction. The songs on “Sleep Well Beast” feature hints of a production type previously unseen in The National’s catalog. Tracks such as “Guilty Party” and “Day I Die” lament the struggles of growing old even as they’re performed with the gravitas that only age can provide. On “Turtleneck,” Beringer belts out fervently that confusion, insecurity, and paranoia (and the desire to hide from these inescapables) are never too far away, no matter how old you get.