Tag Archives: best album of the year

The 60 Best Albums of 2017

Welcome to the 10th annual Everything Ecstatic Best Albums of the Year list!  What you’ll see below are a reflection of the 60 releases that resonated the most with me this year….all the way ’til the end of December, when this list published.

You’ll notice that the 10 album block of “Stellar Spins” is back this year to kick-off the countdown. These selections are included as they should positively be heard, despite being just outside of the Top 50. Furthermore, they add depth to the Spotify playlist that you’ll find at the bottom of this post (which you can also subscribe to on here. )

If you haven’t yet, make sure to peep our list of the 10 Best EP’s of 2017 and feel free to re-visit the Best of 2016 here. Previous years can also be perused by clicking the ‘Albums of the Year’ tab on the top of the page.

Each entry features a short blurb, some are longer than others and every 3-5  entries include an embedded audio track or music videos  so you can listen to something while you read through. Def click on some of the hyperlinks I’ve included to relevant stories written about these artists and albums, by either myself or colleagues. There’s a lot to enjoy in here!

Lastly, if you dig what you read/hear, hit me on Twitter. I also host the bi-monthly Noise Pop Podcast and share a lot of new music throughout the year (Subscribe on iTunes!) Much of that music is included in the list below. Cheers!

AS

60-51: Stellar Spins

60. Hundred Waters – Communicating
59. Phoebe Bridgers – Stranger In The Alps
58. Jonti – Tokorats
57. Caleborate – Real Person
56. Julie Byrne – Not Even Happiness 
55. Moonchild – Voyager
54. Milo – Who Told You To Think??!!?!?!?!
53. Jaime Wyatt – Felony Blues
52. Aldous Harding – Party
51. Ty Segall – Ty Segall

The Top 50: The Year’s Best Albums

50. Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile – Lotta Sea Lice

This is exactly what it sounds like. Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile on a record together. If you love either, this is up your alley. If you’re a fan of both, have a ball!

49. The JuJu Exchange – Exchange

JuJu Exchange is Nico Segal’s new band (fka Donnie Trumpet of The Social Experiment and Chance the Rapper fame). This is a cool spin on modern jazz and essentially a record of  jazz instrumentals that could easily end up on a Chance album.

48. Vagabon – Infinite Worlds

Laetitia Tamko garnered universal praise for her debut and it’s as pleasant of a listen as you’ll find this year. Shouts to SF-based Father/Daughter Records for putting this one out.

47. Jlin – Black Origami

I don’t understand Jlin’s music, yet that’s what keeps me coming back for more…this seemingly never-ending quest to make sense of these sounds, in all of their futuristic-yet-primordial glory.

46. The XX – I See You 

Jamie XX took a more heavy-handed role in producing the group’s sound on this one and it made for a welcome comeback following a dreary sophomore slump.

45. Japanese Breakfast – Soft Sounds From Another Planet

Michelle Zauner is one of the most interesting artists in indie as she begins to try her hand at directing music videos too. The auto-tuned first single, “Machinist,” didn’t do the full scope of this album justice. This is essential.

44. Gold Class – Drum

The best album from an excellent slate of releases by industrial music-based Felte Records. Singer Adam Curley will have you pining for Morrissey. Read more on this Paste premiere I did in August. 

43. TOPS – Sugar At The Gate

Montreal-based indie band brought it once again on their third LP on the stellar Arbutus Records label. This is no doubt their most complete effort.

42. Kelela – Take Me Apart 

Kelea cements her role as one of the prime forces in electro R&B. Opening track, “Frontline” is perfectly produced, mixed and performed. A standout if there ever was one.

41. Kamasi Washington – Harmony Of Difference

Harmony of Difference could easily be taken as an appendix to Washington’s seminal The Epic (Our #23 Album of 2015). It’s just six tracks, but the saxophonic bandleader leaves a lasting mark, again.

40. Ghosting – Reimagining Miyazaki

Producer Andrei Eremin sampled a slew of Hayao Miyazaki films in this gorgeous re-interpretation of the music within famed Japanese filmmakers works. The Melbourne-based Eremin made a name for himself as an engineer on records by Hiatus Kaiyote and Chet Faker and his Ghosting debut is a must-listen for Miyazaki fans (Listen to the album in full on Bandcamp.)

39. Weaves – Wide Open

Polaris-prize nominated Canadian indie band took the next step in their promising careers. Singer Jasmyn Burke is one of the best front-women in the business. She’s sinister and powerful, yet doesn’t take her self too seriously. Go see this band live. Do it.

38. Bedouine – Bedouine

The latest Spacebomb Records product is the project of Aleppo-born Azniv Korkejian. This is a beautiful record that adds to Spacebomb’s glowing roster of singers like Natalie Prass and Julien Baker. I edited this fine piece by Eric Danton on Bedouine, please dig in.

37. Ibeyi – Ash

I really thought Ibeyi would slump on their second XL Recordings release, but in a lot of ways, this shows more accessibility and direction than their debut. “Me Voy” opened up the world of featured vocalist Mala Rodriguez to me, a rapper from Spain who like Ibyei, can’t be missed.

36. Yellow Days – Is Everything Okay In Your World?

If you’re looking for the next King Krule, here he is.

35. Open Mike Eagle – Brick Body Kids Still Daydream

The next great hip-hop renaissance man.

34. Dirty Projectors – Dirty Projectors

While the lineup of Dirty Projectors has had some tough departures over the years  (first Angel Deradoorian and now Amber Coffman),  this has always been Dave Longstreth’s project. He pushes strong on what’s incredibly the band’s 8th LP and it’s time we give Longstreth and DP their praise due as one of the best long-running indie rock bands.

33. Daniel Caesar – Freudian

Canadian R&B singer/songwriter shows shades of Frank Ocean in this dashing debut. Remember his name.

32. Washed Out – Mister Mellow

The first Washed Out album on Stones Throw Records is producer Ernest Greene’s finest work to date. He successfully resurrected Washed Out out of the chillwave shell and this slots in nicely on the Stones Throw catalog. Peep the trippy and strangely hilarious visual album companion with SNL’s Kyle Mooney below.

31. BROCKHAMPTON – SATURATION II

The freshest breath of air in the music industry this year was a diverse group of 14 kids from Texas.  Saturation II stands as the finest of the self-proclaimed “boy band’s” three album’s released this year. They tackle topics from squashing haters to grappling with sexual orientation in the millennial generation. This is an important group.

30. Kllo – Backwater

Debut LP for the Aussie duo on the Ghostly International label. Shades of old school drum and bass are woven within nuanced beats and dancefloor ready electronica.

29. Sango – De Mim, Pra Você

Where Diplo has moved past the Brazilian funk sounds he popularized on a global scale, Sango has made them his hallmark. This is a respectful and aware spin on baile-funk infused beats and the best part is that there’s more coming on the imminent horizon from Sango.

28. Mount Kimbie – Love What Survives

English electronic band totally crushed it on this Warp Records release. Guests appearances from James Blake, Micachu and King Krule are just the icing on the cake of one of the year’s best electronic releases.

27. Jordan Rakei – Wallflower

Now signed to Ninja Tune, Rakei’s Wallflower is blue-eyed soul for a new generation.

26. Jay Som – Everybody Works

Bay Area singer-songwriter Melina Duterte’s Everybody Works was one of the most critically-acclaimed new indie acts of the year. This was one of the best album’s to come out of the Bay this year.

24. Rexx Life Raj – Father Figure 2: Flourish

My favorite Bay Area rap album of 2017 saw Raj’s smooth flow and refined perspective over beats from local producers like Mikos Da Gawd, Drew Banga and the Julia Lewis, all profiled in my Behind The Beats series for KQEDArts. 

24. Priests – Nothing Feels Natural

DC punk band led by Katie Alice Greer are out here to shatter the status quo. Pointed lyrics, a dynamic album and one of the best live performances I saw this year ( at Swedish American Hall)

23. King Krule – The OOZ

The highly anticipated follow-up to 2013’s 6 Feet Beneath The Moon is a complete package at 19 tracks. English singer/guitarist Archy Marshall is as impressive for his gravelly vocals as he is for his dexterous guitar playing.

22. Bonobo – Migration

Bonobo’s Simon Green could have easily gone the route of many other highly accessible electronic musicians and just loaded his next album with features. But Migration is modest in it’s collabs and sees Green further developing one of the richest electronic discographies of the last decade+.

21. Wiki – No Mountains In Manhattan

Wiki lives and breathes New York and No Mountains in Manhattan is bursting at the seams with the fabric of the city. He’s my favorite NYC rapper and this record is fun as fuck.

20. Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah- Diaspora

The best jazz album of the year comes from a New Orleans-based trumpet player leading the charge in a new urban jazz movement. I discovered Scott when I was sitting on the couch of the Paste Studio in New York hearing him play for the first time. I was floored. Please watch this:

19. Shigeto – The New Monday

Likely the professional highlight of my year, was heading to Detroit to document how some of the city’s artists were thriving among the city’s urban renaissance. Zach Saginaw (Shigeto) was the main driver for my narrative and The New Monday is a testament to how the city has infused his typical jazz/electronic drum-based fusion with hip-hop and Detroit house. Shigeto has been one of the most intriguing artists on the Ghostly label for a while and this release does the lineage justice.

18. Jacques Greene – Feel Infinite

Feel Infinite hit me out of nowhere in the same was Maribou State’s Portraits (our #15 Album of 2015) did two years ago. Both quickly became go-to electronic refuges throughout the year. “I’m proud of this album because I think it’s the best version of what I can do,” he told Chris Trenchard in a Paste feature earlier this year. And it’s damn fine work.

17. Rapsody – Laila’s Wisdom

One of the best rapper’s on the planet. Bar none. Few go harder and are as prolific as Rapsody and the album’s ridiculous features list includes Rapsody. Kendrick Lamar, Anderson. Paak, Busta Rhymes, Black Thought, Moonchild [inhales; exhales] BJ The Chicago Kid, Terrace Martin and more. There’s a reason why people want to be on the same track as Rapsody and I was totally floored when I heard her flow on the album’s opening title track:

16. Thundercat – Drunk

A 23-track revue of new-school funky bass tracks with Michael McDonald, Pharell AND Kendrick features? Hell yes.

15. Cornelius – Mellow Waves

Nobody makes music like Cornelius’s Keigo Oyamada and Mellow Waves is a flat-out beautiful collision of live instrumentation and electronic composition mixed with mild J-Pop undertones. This is an inspiring release.

14. Kacey Johansing – The Hiding

My favorite album to come out of the Bay Area in 2017. Johansing created the bones of The Hiding at her long-time home of Bolinas, along with Panoramic House in Stinson Beach and sessions in Portland. She made the move to LA where the record was finished and released on the Night Bloom Records label she co-founded with Real Estate’s Alex Bleeker, but it still sounds like a lovely and somber walk along the Marin County shore. “Hold Steady” is in the running for my favorite song of the year.

13. Gabriel Garzón-Montano – Jardín

Another excellent find for Stones Throw Records. Born to Colombian and French parents, the New York native Garzón-Montano made an album replete with call-backs to native South American music and groovy hip-hop rhythms.

12. Chastity Belt – I Used To Spend So Much Time Alone

The best release from the Seattle quartet harkens back to the PNW’s grunge roots. This is slacker music at it’s finest, with awesome melodies throughout.

11. Jonwayne – Rap Album Two

Jonwayne woke up one night in a pool of his own vomit. Alcoholism had consumed his life and it was at that moment where he realized he needed to take control of his life. He excommunicated himself from his social circle and stole away to a family cabin in Canada. Bridges were severed through his silent approach to rehabilitation and his justification letter for his actions, came in the form of this album. Bandcamp’s Marcus J. Moore lays it out in detail masterfully in this piece. 

10. Faye Webster – Faye Webster

A quasi-country, folk album released on eclectic Southern hip-hop label Awful Records, Faye Webster’s self-titled album is one of the stickiest records of the year. Dare you to not fall in love with her songs.

9. Moses Sumney – Aromanticism

One of indie’s most heralded hired-guns finally put out his own release and it saw Sumney at his most carnal, impassioned and vulnerable self. This is an album for lost souls trying to find their way in the outside world. It will fill you with purpose and touch your spirit.

8. Angel Olsen – Phases

Ok…Now THIS is what I’ve been wanting from Olsen following 2014’s Burn Your Fire For No Witness. Last year’s MY WOMAN was spectacular in the fire that Olsen found, but I like my Angel nice and sad. On this collection of B-sides and loose ends, Olsen’s damn near impossible staccato hits you right in the feels.

7. Lusine – Sensorimotor

Spotify says I listened to Sensorimotor more than any other album this year and that feels appropriate. I come to Lusine  for digital inspiration and to make my brain work. The long-time Ghostly International artist brings a refined electronic sound…it’s the maturation of musical movements, culminating on this incredible release.

6. Sampha – Process

Sampha was the strongest voice behind what I deem to be the most important album of the decade in SBTRKT’s self-titled debut. We knew he was destined for greatness; if not then, it was when Drake pegged him for a feature on “Too Much.” Then last year, Solange came calling for “Don’t Touch My Hair.” Now, Sampha Sissay finally delivered his debut LP and Process is a Mercury Prize-winning masterpiece.

5. Nick Hakim – Green Twins

From my Best New Artists of 2017 entry for Paste Magazine:

Nick Hakim is a dreamer. On his ATO Records-released debut LP, Green Twins, the Queens-based singer takes us along for the ride as he waxes philosophical on the muses who reside within his psyche. (“It’s been years since you came around these parts of my mind,” he sings on “Cuffed.”) Throughout the album, Hakim attempts to processes the memories that are beginning to come back to him and the new ones he’s attempting to create, all with an endearing meekness. Laden with tape machine-filtered psychedelic jazz, mellowed hip-hop drum beats and soul-driven vocals, Hakim’s music is meant to make you lose yourself and embark on the same blissfully existential train of thought as its auteur.

4. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – The Kid

When I needed it the most, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith lifted me up. The Kid gave me life in a difficult time and reached the inner-workings of my soul from the moment I first heard it. Smith uses the Buchla 100 synthesizer to create her music and it sounds like nothing I’ve ever heard before. Her music falls somewhere between Aphex Twin and Jessy Lanza and The Kid is perhaps the most intricate electronic release of the year.

3. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.  

Say what you will about the monotony everyone placing DAMN. at or near the top of their Top Albums of the Year lists, but at least we can all agree on one thing: Kendrick Lamar is the best rapper in the game. Period.

2. SZA – CTRL

I love everything about this album. I love that the original sessions were at a lake house in Michigan; the antithesis of a studio in LA, where most hip-hop-focused pop music gets made. I love SZA’s vocal melodies…how every “ooh ohh, ahh, ahh” or “doo doo doo” is a treat for my ears. I love little details like the background vocal stacking on the “Broken Clocks” hook (seriously, an audio engineering class oughta be taught around this record) or how she says the word ‘finally’ on “Go Gina” (It sounds like she says ‘final-le-le’ and it’s endearing as fuck.) I love how at a time when the prevailing trend for women in hip-hop is to prove that you’re tough or a ‘bad bitch’ in a male-dominated genre (the Cardi B, Nicki Minaj effect, if you will), but SZA delivers the other side of a male/female narrative with raw emotion, wit and vulnerability. She’s unapologetically secure in her insecurities and it comes across with a distinct authenticity. No line on the album illustrates this better than this one on ‘Drew Barrymore’:

I’m sorry I’m not more attractive
I’m sorry I’m not more ladylike
I’m sorry I don’t shave my legs at night
I’m sorry I’m not your baby mama
I’m sorry you got karma comin’ to you
Collect your soul, get it right

It’s a #rare display of empowerment without pandering to what’s already been accepted as a way of conveying it. And when we look back on 2017, we’ll remember how SZA established herself as a bonafide fucking star in a field filled with basic ass men.

1.  Kevin Morby – City Music

I’m such a sucker for a well-executed concept album and Kevin Morby executed the hell out it on City Music. These days, everyone seems to be in flux from one city to another (especially in the music industry) and City Music is about embracing where you are, wherever that may be. From “Come To Me Now”—the album’s opening track—Morby transports you into the periphery of America’s cities and towns. Characters gaze out the window of their somber living spaces into the hazy horizons before them. We move from town-to-town in a manner reminiscent of Modest Mouse’s A Lonesome Crowded West, observing their people with a humble desire to understand the backstories that shape our ideologies.

Recorded at Panoramic House in Stinson Beach, CA and at Richard Swift’s studio in Cottage Grove, OR, Swift oversaw City Music’s arrangements and production giving each track a distinct feel…almost like a thematic mixtape, as Morby explained to me on an episode of the Noise Pop Podcast. Morby’s guitar never sounds the same, but it’s always memorable: From the quaint reflection of “Dry Your Eyes” to the triumphant solo on “Aboard My Train” and on filling the guitar hook with life again-and-again on “City Music,” the album’s unforgettable title track. Backing vocals are meticulously littered throughout—often from Heron Oblivion’s Meg Baird—with varying effects, yielding a collection of tracks that feel like they each come from different regional styles. Simply stated, the production and delivery are symbiotically spectacular.

Much like A Lonesome Crowded West, this is a road trip album of the highest order, exuberantly painting the pictures that get taken at every mile. And while City Music is ultimately devoid of any political slant, you can’t help but feel that it’s thesis subscribes to the notion that seeing the country and experiencing new surroundings is the only way we’ll learn to accept the differences that make America unique.

Happy New Year y’all and here’s to 2018!

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The #1 Album of 2014: Run The Jewels 2

Run The Jewels 2 Album Cover

“We have done our job then my friend. Our work is done here.” El-P said when I told him of my desire to knock out my laptop cause I was so jacked when I first heard RTJ2. Wanting to punch my screen in excitement was just one of the many reactions the album elicited on first listen. There was jumping, there was bouncing, there were battle-rap hand gestures, there was eyes-closed-elbow-dancing…Some straight up groove shit. When an album makes you move & react with such passion and fervor towards it right off the bat, chances are you’re staring the Album of the Year in the face.

And with this, Run The Jewels 2 succeeds on multiple levels. It’s not just the explosive energy of the first half of the album into the deeply reflective and tempered honesty of the second half; it’s the genuine and rare cohesion of El-P, Killer Mike & the album’s multiple collaborators; it’s an album by the people and for the people, that was delivered for FREE MUTHAFUCKAH! FREE! And that’s an industry-tilting idea to consider: The Album of the Year was distributed to anyone who wanted it for free. I talked to Run The Jewels about this model back in October and El-P had this to say about it:

It’s our contribution to a relationship with a fan base that we want to continue for a long time. I feel that if you give someone something thats quality and heartfelt then you have a really good basis for establishing real support for people who appreciate it.

I want to control it. If I’m gonna give it away, if its gonna be out there and play the game of “hey everybody, buy my record when it comes out…wink, wink. you already have the record.” Id rather be like “Here’s this gift to you, here’s my gift and here are the ways that you can support and here are the ways that you can buy it”… and for us it works, its a career model and its working. I don’t know that that works for everybody. because we’re still healthy and young and able to tour and make money in different ways, but not everyone is always gonna be able to do that and not be able to make money on music because you’re older and can’t tour….But to us right now, its very workable. We can have a really good career and at the same time present somebody with something. A lot of people don’t buy music and just because you don’t buy music doesn’t mean you’re not a fan of this shit. Maybe you just wanna come to the show, maybe u wanna buy a t-shirt and thats fine… and if u wanna support, you have a lot of ways to do it and we’ll make you aware. We know from doing it like this last time (on the debut album) that it’s a real way to do it.

Real as fuck from my perspective. And that’s something that sets Run The Jewels apart. They’re El-P and Killer Mike, but they’re not trying to hide behind some hip-hop alias. On the album’s opener, “Jeopardy,” Mike shouts:

So fuck you fuckboys forever
I hope I said it politely
And that’s about the psyche of Jaime and Mikey

Jaime and Mikey are accessible dudes. If you’ve ever tried to tweet at them, chances are they’ve RT’d you, or maybe they read your tweet mid-blunt and you’ll have a back and forth about something random. As a music fan and a hip-hop head, that’s a #rare and refreshing approach that you gotta respect. There’s no enigmatic aura around these two, they come straight out and tell you what’s on their mind; on album, in person and on the internet. And they don’t shy away from the hot-button socio-political issues clouding our nation right now either. Killer Mike has long-since been an out-spoken figure against police brutality in America. In fact, before anything happened in Ferguson or in Cleveland, etc.. Killer Mike and El-P had an eloquent response to shitty politicians, the prison state, and race issues already crafted in the form of RTJ2. Most notably on “Early,” it’s an eerily clairvoyant re-count of the unjust use of force by NY police that led to the death of Eric Garner:

I said “Man, I’m tryin’ to smoke and chill
Please don’t lock me up in front of my kids
And in front of my wife
Man, I ain’t got a gun or a knife
You do this and you ruin my life

They’ve been a front-facing voice of the voiceless when we need it most. On “Lie, Cheat Steal,” Mike blares the repeatable query on who truly is pulling the strings of our society:

Like who really run this?
Like who really run that man that say he run this?
Who who really run that man that say he run this, run run run run this?

On “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry,” El-P refers to “these FUBAR rulers gettin rich!” When I asked El and Mike about the “FUBAR rulers” or who do they think is the the lowest of the low, El said “To me the lowest of the low is anyone who wants to control another man’s life” and Mike almost immediately chimed in with “Whoever is on the other end of that Donald Sterling call….whoever he’s referring to on that call. That’s the lowest of the low.”

Can’t emphasize enough how genuine, respectful, yet humble RTJ have presented themselves across all mediums.  They’ve created a record that’s a conscious hip-hop journey through and through. From the hard-hitting “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry” (best beat I’ve heard in years) and “Close Your Eyes And Count To Fuck” with Zack De La Rocha, to the more atmospheric “Crown” with Diane Coffee and album closing “Angel Duster,” RTJ2 is fluent in it’s phases and you feel their emotions on every damn note. Their performance of “Crown” (with Boots) on David Letterman is an emotionally riveting one from the moment Killer Mike opens his flow and El-P starts punctuating:

It’s a chill-inducing performance and it’s exactly what Run The Jewels are in the business of doing: “Making quality and heartfelt music.” This is shit you can feel and they’re having a damn good time doing it. El-P says: “About a year ago, we sat down and were like yo…“Let’s do this shit again. Fuck it!” We did everything we could to make it happen. I’m proud we got it done.” One love.