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The 25 Best Albums of 2017 | Feature | Slant Magazine

Nedda Afsari

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

15

SZA, Ctrl

Few recent debuts have been as consistent as that of SZA, who accomplishes the even rarer feat of constructing an assured album around themes of anxiety and self-doubt. Sleek and sly in its production, cool and certain in its lyrical articulation of nagging insecurity, Ctrl manages to bundle dull, quotidian concerns into a shiny pop package. SZA refuses to replicate familiar subject matter or deal in well-worn clichés, instead offering confessional personal narratives that also sound universal. These compress sprawling, diaristic accounts of struggle and confusion into models of songwriting concision, collectively detailing a sustained battle against perception and expectations. Most of these come courtesy of the singer herself, as tracks like “Clocks” and “20 Something” describe in fine detail the self-applied apprehension of time gradually bearing down on you. In a year when so many pop albums are produced by committee, via boilerplate templates paying lip service to hot-button issues, the frank airing of emotional concerns carried off on Ctrl feels entirely refreshing. Cataldo

The 25 Best Albums of 2017

14

Tyler, the Creator, Flower Boy

Tyler, the Creator’s obvious talent has always been undercut by an insistent immaturity, with callow, prankish antagonism proving a continued obstacle to his artistic development. With Flower Boy, rap’s resident enfant terrible has finally found a way to channel his hostility, on an album that still retains his inherent unruliness and intensity. Tyler taps into the internal reservoir of insecurity and doubt motivating his anger, expanding his range and revealing new creative layers in the process. Building on the glimmers of tuneful sweetness found on 2015’s Cherry Bomb, the album finds existing horrorcore inclinations mixing freely with polished electro jazz, hard-edged psychedelia, and hazy R&B. Surprisingly smooth but still never easily digestible, its diverse palette provides insight into the wide variety of sources influencing a mounting wave of paradigm-fracturing rappers, helping to spearhead the genre’s fervent push into new modes of expression. Cataldo

The 25 Best Albums of 2017

13

Joe Henry, Thrum

Joe Henry has won widespread acclaim—and a few Grammys—for his sensitivity as an album producer, working primarily in the American roots idiom. He saves his wildest adventures and his biggest subversions for his solo work. Thrum may be his best, a wild and wooly collection that crackles with energy, tracing out familiar forms without ever feeling beholden to genre or convention. Ballads like “The Glorious Dead” sound like lost pages from the Great American Songbook, recognizable in their structure but a bit tattered around the edges. “The World of This Room” can only be described for how it moves: Each verse fades to silence before roaring back to life, a little pricklier and more explosive each time. Album closer “Keep Us in Song” sounds like an old railroad tune, at least until it opens itself up with symphonic sweep. The song’s lyrics sound a note of desperation but cling to love amid the ruins—hard-won hope to finish off a sprawling, demanding, and invigorating album from a true original. Hurst

The 25 Best Albums of 2017

12

Fever Ray, Plunge

Karin Dreijer dealt in abstractions and icy, brooding atmospherics on her eponymous 2009 debut, but Plunge finds her aggressively blunt. The Swedish singer-songwriter incorporates oddly playful beats—recalling her work in the Knife’s Deep Cuts era—into an album unafraid to tackle political and sexual themes head-on. She demands free abortions and clean water on “This Country,” while chiding desire in the distraction-prone digital age by singing, “Tell me something sexy and I’ll log off my whatever.” Dreijer largely abandons the disquieting pitch-shifting that gave Fever Ray its ominous atmosphere, and she doesn’t mince words on this album, her prurient boldness made most explicit on “To the Moon and Back” as she yearningly wails, “I want to run my fingers up your pussy.” On “Falling,” she calls for both a “queer healing” and a primal lust that makes her feel “dirty again.” At a time when disturbing news is rapidly delivered on a never-ending cycle, Dreijer insists that relief from mental anguish is best channeled through physical touch. Josh Goller

The 25 Best Albums of 2017

11

Björk, Utopia

Following her emotionally devastating 2015 breakup album, Vulnicura, Björk returns to bliss with the majestic Utopia. Stretching past the 70-minute mark, this sprawling album offers a sensory experience adorned with flutes and harps and propelled into sublime rapture by the Icelandic singer-songwriter’s intimate, otherworldly vocal in songs that appear alien at first blush but upon repeated listens convey profound truths that seem plucked from a collective field of consciousness. “Blissing Me” finds Björk reveling in the thrill of infatuation, describing a new lover as someone whom she kisses with her “whole mouth,” even as she maintains enough self-awareness to wonder, “Did I just fall in love with love?” And yet, in her euphoria, she doesn’t completely abandon the darker side of romance. The painful breakup—from husband Matthew Barney—that informed Vulnicura, manifests again on “Sue Me,” where she insists that no amount of legal wrangling and melodramatic discord should come before their daughter, a sentiment echoed on “Tabula Rasa,” in which she demands children break free from the “fuckups of the fathers,” a prescient notion for an era that’s at last reckoning with toxic masculinity. Goller

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