Nedda Afsari

The 25 Best Albums of 2017
The 25 Best Albums of 2017

20

Father John Misty, Pure Comedy

Josh Tillman would sound magnetic reading the dictionary. On Pure Comedy, his third album as his debonair, smart-alecky alter ego Father John Misty, Tillman gamely tests that adage—not just by rattling off big words, but by combining them into a series of long, weighty theses about what he sees as the corporate-dictated technological “horror show” that is modern society. That’s up to and including a “10-verse chorus-less diatribe,” as Tillman himself puts it on the 13-minute “Leaving LA.” The album’s mostly stripped-down piano and acoustic guitar-based arrangements never distract from his rants, but they sure make them pleasant to listen to, from a eulogy for a social media-wielding warrior, “Ballad of the Dying Man,” to a vision of a collapsed society all too easily reborn in its former image, “Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution.” But even at the album’s poppiest (“Total Entertainment Forever”), Tillman is still singing about horrors: “Plugged into our hubs/Skin and bones.” This is “comedy” of the very blackest kind. Winograd

The 25 Best Albums of 2017

19

Valerie June, The Order of Time

Valerie June’s music doesn’t sound like that of her Americana contemporaries. She opens The Order of Time with little more than a whisper; later, she hums and scats to a droning banjo figure on “Man Done Wrong,” and disappears into spectral ambiance on “The Front Door.” Sonically, the album is out of step with the stark, affected twang that marks so many Nashville productions, and that sense of vibe makes her album richer, more distinct. She’s equally comfortable with formally precise blues and R&B numbers and with songs like “Astral Plane,” which shimmers and floats, airy and untethered. That tension, between songs with earthbound grit and songs of ethereal mystique, fits well with her lyrical concerns, which consider the concrete nature of love, loss, and hard work alongside a more mystic focus on inner light, connections to a spiritual realm that transcend place and time. Josh Hurst

The 25 Best Albums of 2017

18

Thundercat, Drunk

Before his third album, Drunk, multi-genre bass virtuoso Thundercat was best known for his work with Erykah Badu, Suicidal Tendencies, Flying Lotus, and Kendrick Lamar. Moving from the frenetic, Zappa-esque noodling of “Captain Stupido” to liquid funk (“Them Changes”), hazy R&B (“Walk on By”), and lo-fi synth-pop (“Jameel’s Space Ride”), Drunk pulls off its genre-straddling ambitions with a slacker’s nonchalance: Its 23 tracks are short but not fragmentary, seemingly effortless but never tossed off. And when yacht-rock icons Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald appear on the single “Show You the Way,” it’s both appreciably hipster-ironic and a bona fide match made in heaven. With Drunk, Thundercat unites the markers of late-1970s music geekery with the short attention span and absurdist humor of contemporary internet culture. And the result is one of the year’s most charmingly idiosyncratic musical statements. Hoskins

The 25 Best Albums of 2017

17

Taylor Swift, Reputation

In the run-up to the release of her sixth album, Reputation, Taylor Swift was excoriated by fans and foes alike for too often playing the victim. The album’s lyrics only serve to bolster that perception: Swift comes off like a frazzled stay-at-home mom scolding her disobedient children on “Look What You Made Me Do” and “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things.” But it’s her willingness to portray herself not as a victim, but the villain of her own story that makes Reputation such a fascinatingly thorny glimpse inside the mind of pop’s reigning princess. Swift has proven herself capable of laughing at herself, thereby defusing the criticisms often levied at her, but with Reputation she’s created a larger-than-life caricature of the petty, vindictive snake she’s been made out to be. By album’s end, Swift assesses her crumbling empire and tattered reputation, discovering redemption in love—only Reputation isn’t so much a rebirth as it is a retreat inward. It marks a shift from the retro-minded pop-rock of 2014’s 1989 toward a harder, more urban aesthetic, and Swift wears the stiff, clattering beats of songs like “...Ready for It?” like body armor. Cinquemani

The 25 Best Albums of 2017

16

Kamasi Washington, Harmony of Difference

Genuine uplift has been hard to come by in 2017, with the residual effect that media which manages to organically evoke such sentiment feels all the more essential. Created to soundtrack a piece in this year’s Whitney Biennial, Kamasi Washington’s soaring six-song suite certainly gains something from the visual pairing—soundtracking a crisply shot companion film that solidifies the album’s themes—but also functions just fine on its own. Mounting gradually across its 30-odd minutes, it delicately threads in one sonic motif after another, building steadily on this foundation while taking time to strike out onto various melodic side roads. This all comes together at the soaring apex of “Truth,” whose warm chorus of voices again communicates the power of diversity with wordless aplomb. A morsel of an album in comparison to Washington’s massive, sprawling The Epic, Harmony of Difference again confirms the tenor saxophonist as a traditionalist with a insistently modern approach, reworking tradition in grand, audacious fashion. Jesse Cataldo

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