Nedda Afsari

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

5

JAY-Z, 4:44

The most socially conscious album of the year comes from rap’s premier elder statesman, a formerly welcome guest at the White House who anticipated 2017’s most important trend: how the court of public opinion would overturn the cultural regression of the 2016 election by finally waking up to the realties of bigotry, misogyny, intolerance, and hate. But that’s only half the story, because JAY-Z’s 4:44 is also a response to fellow White House exile Beyoncé, whose 2016 album, Lemonade, publicly pilloried Jay for infidelity. The twinned purposes of a political and a personal manifesto lead to an outpouring of knowledge, whether it be the suggestion that the best way for successful black people to escape the pervasiveness of institutionalized racism is by investing in the future of their culture, and their family, or the dedications to the women in Jay’s life, including his closeted mother, the wife he knows he wronged, and the daughter he’ll one day have to explain his actions to. The album ends with “Legacy,” delivering a universal message: The desire to see beyond the present troubles and plan for what comes next. Mac

The 25 Best Albums of 2017

4

HAIM, Something to Tell You

It may seem like a low bar to clear, but when was the last time a pop-rock album managed to keep the tempos upbeat, the percussion driving, and the melodies memorable for over 30 minutes? Haim’s second album, Something to Tell You, manages the feat. Move its pristine opening sequence to the late 1970s or early 1980s and watch it compete convincingly with the Pretenders’s go-for-broke debut, or 1975’s Fleetwood Mac, or even Blondie’s Parallel Lines. But HAIM’s album came out in 2017, a time in which pop albums aren’t especially known for brevity, so the group tack on an extra few tracks, including a soberingly self-satisfied lead single, and a cavernous hymnal of a coda—both lovely but decidedly slower. Thankfully, the level of craft never wavers: With an amount of help that shouldn’t be too overstated from producer Ariel Rechtshaid, the Haim sisters have come up with a well-tooled sound, one that’s immaculate and immediate, chockfull of vintage keyboard patches, slap bass, and Linn drum—and that uses all of its affects in service of the songs. Mac

The 25 Best Albums of 2017

3

Vince Staples, Big Fish Theory

Addressing both the swagger and hints of guilt that arise from achieving fame and fortune, Vince Staples continues to deliver his incisive, nihilistic rhymes in a grim deadpan on Big Fish Theory. But whereas his debut, Summertime ’06, backed his caustic bars with sparse, moody production, here he stitches together an eclectic swath of electronic influences that range from techno to industrial. Whether it’s the shuffling Burial-esque dubstep of “Crabs in a Bucket,” the pulsing electro-funk of “745” or the glitches and stutters of “Homage,” Staples’s electronic experimentation—assisted by the likes of guest producers Justin Vernon and Flume—results in an album that’s perpetually changing shape, aggressive and urgent one moment, finessed and introspective the next. Though he’s an artist who rose to fame on vivid retrospection, Staples uses futuristic production to fully engage a present cultural landscape that, despite his individual success, he still finds dark and unnerving. Goller

The 25 Best Albums of 2017

2

St. Vincent, Masseduction

St. Vincent’s Masseduction has all the hallmarks of a big, glossy chart-topper, but all the polish in the world can’t mask the manic desperation that churns just beneath its gleaming surface. Make no mistake: Although this is the most polished and melodically direct album Annie Clark has made to date, it’s still plenty weird and frequently sad. It’s an album about desire run rampant, unquenchable and unfulfilled; “I can’t turn off what turns me on,” she sings on the title track, a prisoner to her own flesh. That tension provides the emotional grounding for songs that overflow with humor and imagination. “Pills” subverts the peppy language of TV advertisements to highlight chemical dependence; “Savior” embraces Prince-style kink, but a role-playing savior can’t bring real redemption. “Los Ageless,” the booming first single, is the key to the whole album, riding along on a steely beat, chronicling love that’s soured into obsession and control. Eventually, Clark breaks down screaming: “Oh, my Lord, we really did it now!” Her anguish is recognizable to anyone who’s ever felt like they’re drowning in their own need. Hurst

The 25 Best Albums of 2017

1

Kendrick Lamar, Damn

Kendrick Lamar’s fourth album is less grandiose and novelistic than 2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly. But it’s still a Kendrick Lamar album, which means that it’s packed with lyrically dense meditations on death, God, fame, responsibility, and the African-American condition—and it’s also sequenced so you can listen to the tracks in reverse order. Even if Lamar remains the biggest overachiever in hip-hop, though, he’s also thrown a bone to those listeners who miss the more straightforward hooks from 2012’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D City. “Humble” and “DNA” are among his most club-ready bangers to date, pairing Mike Will Made It trap beats with the tireless flow of “Kung-Fu Kenny”; the Rihanna collab “Loyalty” fits right in with R&B radio while also expanding the genre’s thematic and emotional palate. Beyond the singles, Lamar narrows his focus from To Pimp a Butterfly’s dizzying kaleidoscope of styles to craft songs that sneak up on the listener, their solid construction belying layers of intricacy. At once accessible and demanding, a work of literary complexity with a mixtape-gritty presentation, Damn is Lamar’s third consecutive masterpiece. Hoskins

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