It’s time to talk about my favourite albums of 2017.

In many ways, 2017 and 2016 were quite similar in terms of my music-listening habits – still mostly alt-rock, punk, and indie. There were some subtle changes – I listened to less synthpop and hip hop, and more J-rock and experimental rock – but for the most part, my tastes didn’t shift much. Still, I think there will be quite a few surprises for you on this list.

I was a little more lax than usual on my “no EPs, compilations, or live albums” rule this year; there is an album on this list that is essentially a compilation of tracks previously unavailable in the West. But I did decide to add a “no soundtracks” rule; otherwise this list would have filled up with film and video game soundtracks, and that wouldn’t have been much fun.

My full list of 136 albums is available here.

Without further ado, here’s my top 20!

20. I The Mighty – Where the Mind Wants to Go / Where You Let It Go
With their fourth full-length, I The Mighty completes the transition from late-aughts post-hardcore to Anberlin-esque electronic rock. It’s a much more refined sound for the band, and though some might lament the lack of aggressiveness on display, I think it’s a sign of maturity for the band and proof that they still have some tricks up their sleeve.
Best tracks: “Degenerates”, “Symphony of Skin”, “111 Winchester”

19. Polkadot Stingray – Capacity
After a string of EPs and singles, Polkadot Stingray finally released their debut LP in 2017, and it was worth the wait. Mixing high-octane J-rock with elements of pop and jazz makes for an exciting listen, and lead singer Shizuku’s vocals are in top form.
Best tracks: “Blue”, “Synchronisica”, “Rem”

18. Steven Wilson – To the Bone
When it comes to a new Steven Wilson album, you know almost exactly what you’re going to get: some classic prog that is heavily indebted to pop rock, with tinges of psychedelia at the edges. That’s exactly what To the Bone delivers. It’s perhaps not the most adventurous record Wilson has ever made, but there’s plenty of guitar wankery that should convince skeptics he’s not turning his back on progressive rock anytime soon.
Best tracks: “To the Bone”, “Nowhere Now”, “Permanating”

17. Matthew Good – Something Like a Storm
Something strange happened between Matthew Good’s solid but relatively anodyne 2015 LP, Chaotic Neutral, and 2017: Good found a reason to get political again. Perhaps it was the feeling of being burned from the broken promises of the governing Liberals in his home country of Canada, who had brought hope upon their election in 2015, or maybe it had something to do with the election of Donald Trump south of the border. In any case, Good’s lyrics have taken a turn back toward political issues, using the imagery of war and battle that he’s so fond of. Musically, he hasn’t gotten any heavier – he’s still operating in the same adult alternative territory as his previous two records – but he sounds newly energized here, even as he edges ever closer to his fifties. The elder statesman of Canadian alt-rock has still got it.
Best tracks: “Bad Guys Win”, “Something Like a Storm”, “Bullets in a Briefcase”

16. Slowdive – Slowdive
22 years: that’s how long Slowdive went between releasing their previous album, Pygmalion, and this one. Shockingly, it feels like they haven’t missed a beat. If anything, they’re better than ever before. The soundscapes are gorgeous and ethereal, the tunes are memorable, and the whole affair is brimming with a confidence that belies the fact that this is a reunion album. More of this, please.
Best tracks: “Slomo”, “Star Roving”, “Sugar for the Pill”

15. Vagabon – Infinite Worlds
Laetitia Tamko, better known by her stage name Vagabon, is a talented multi-instrumentalist. She also has a knack for writing catchy lo-fi indie songs that worm their way into your brain. Her lyrics are simple, but heartfelt, and her tunes sound like they were crafted by someone much older than she is. She’s definitely a force to be reckoned with.
Best tracks: “Fear & Force”, “Cleaning House”, “Cold Apartment”

14. Wax Fang – Victory Laps
This Kentucky duo has been all over the place musically, from folk to prog to electronica to alternative dance. Victory Laps demonstrates more of that trademark eclecticism, careening wildly in genre from track to track. But the album never sounds incoherent; Wax Fang is completely in control of their sound – wiry guitars, staccato synths, and all.
Best tracks: “Pusher”, “Do the Math”, “Serenity”

13. Citizen – As You Please
As You Please is a welcome return to form for this Ohio band after the grungy, almost deliberately off-putting Everybody Is Going to Heaven. The band’s third LP is a more subdued affair; there are no screams, and the dissonance is kept to a minimum. But Mat Kerekes & Co. have crafted 12 songs that are no less powerful than before, brimming with pain, anger, and self-loathing.
Best tracks: “Jet”, “In the Middle of It All”, “World”

12. Circa Survive – The Amulet
At this point, you know what you’re getting with a Circa Survive album. Yes, they’re all slightly different from one another – Descensus was the “raw” one, and Blue Sky Noise sounded “mainstream” – but six albums in, Circa Survive have perfected their brand of emo-tinged experimental rock. Anthony Green’s voice still modulates between a gentle croon and a high-pitched snarl. He still sings about drugs and religion. His bandmates still display excellent musicianship. The Amulet is in no way surprising, but it’s almost unbelievably consistent, and sometimes that’s enough.
Best tracks: “Lustration”, “Never Tell a Soul”, “Stay”

11. DREAMCAR – DREAMCAR
Despite the music press’s efforts, No Doubt have always sold themselves as a band, not Gwen Stefani and Those Other Guys. But with Stefani pursuing her solo career yet again, Those Other Guys were left without a vocalist. Enter Davey Havok of AFI. Havok’s sensibilities have always tended more towards punk, while Tony Kanal, Adrian Young, and Tom Dumont have favoured ska and pop. However, their interests overlap at new wave, and thus DREAMCAR was born. It’s shocking how well this supergroup works. Havok sounds like he’s been jamming with the boys from No Doubt for his entire life, and the whole album is suffused with a sense of fun; you can tell that these guys hella enjoyed their time making music together, and I hope that they continue to do so.
Best tracks: “After I Confessed”, “Kill for Candy”, “Slip on the Moon”

10. Tigers Jaw – spin
Shortly before the release of their previous full-length, Charmer, Tigers Jaw essentially collapsed. 60% of the band left, leaving Ben Walsh and Brianna Collins to continue as a two-piece. This is the first record they’ve released as a duo, and shockingly, it might be their best. Sonically, it’s not all that different from their previous work, but the songs are better crafted, and with Collins now handling more vocal duties than ever before, the band is playing to its strengths with a lot of male/female vocal interplay.
Best tracks: “Follows”, “Guardian”, “Window”

9. Fulusu – Old House #1
Technically a compilation of two 2017 EPs previously released in Japan, Old House #1 is this Japanese math rock band’s first release in the West. In contrast to the brighter, more pop-inflected work of a band like Tricot, Fulusu strikes a bit of a darker tone, almost like a midpoint between that band and Ling Tosite Sigure. And they do it extremely well, more with tight songwriting than with noodly nonsense.
Best tracks: “Consideration: Rain”, “52”, “Lachrymal Gland”

8. Looming – Seed
Dark, atmospheric indie rock has always struck me as a bit of an underserved niche, with dream pop on one side and bright, poppy indie rock on the other. Looming sounds a bit like what Eisley would if they upped the distortion, and their musicianship is equally solid. Each of Seed‘s 11 tracks is an earworm, and lead singer Jessica Knight’s unique vocals lend them a strange but endlessly compelling quality.
Best tracks: “Tried & True”, “Smoke”, “Lace”

7. Sinai Vessel – Brokenlegged
Much has been made over the emo revival of the past few years, and while it seems like we’re due for another paradigm shift in the punk scene soon, for now emo revival is king, and bands like Into It. Over It. and The Hotelier have occupied a lot of listeners’ attention. Unfortunately, that means lesser-known emo revival bands like Sinai Vessel can fall through the cracks, and that would be a mistake. On their sophomore effort, Sinai Vessel demonstrate why they deserve to be the ambassadors of the genre. With dense lyrics, catchy riffs, and tight songcraft, these guys know what they’re doing.
Best tracks: “Looseleaf”, “Ramekin”, “Down with the Hull”

6. Japanese Breakfast – Soft Sounds from Another Planet
Japanese Breakfast occupied the top spot on last year’s list, and Soft Sounds from Another Planet is another stellar entry in Michelle Zauner’s solo catalogue. She gets even more adventurous on this record, covering everything from dream pop (“Diving Woman”) to synthpop (“Machinist”) to boisterous guitar rock (“12 Steps”). Zauner navigates all these genres with confidence, poise, and grace.
Best tracks:
“Road Head”, “Machinist”, “12 Steps”

5. Brand New – Science Fiction
After the allegations of lead singer Jesse Lacey’s predatory behaviour broke late in 2017, I debated whether I would include Science Fiction on this list. Does the confessional nature of “Can’t Get It Out” or “Same Logic/Teeth” still hold up once we know the truth about Lacey? Sort of. I can’t help but feel a twinge of discomfort every time I hear a Brand New song now. However, the songs work almost as a window into a sick mind, full of self-loathing and regret. Lacey has ruined Brand New’s legacy for good, and I don’t plan to support them financially as they go into their final year as a band. However, I will acknowledge that this album is really good, discomfort and all. Science Fiction is an excellent record, and Jesse Lacey was (and might still be) a monster. We all have to live with that.
Best tracks: “Can’t Get It Out”, “Same Logic/Teeth”, “Batter Up”

4. Paranoid Void – Literary Math
Move over, Tricot; a new all-female Japanese math rock trio is in town! And man, they’re excellent. They shift metres, rhythms, and even genres at a moment’s notice (even delving into lounge music out of nowhere in the opening track), and while their music is mostly instrumental, there are some sung passages and occasional forays into spoken word. This is exactly what I want out of a math rock act. Japan, please produce more bands like these!
Best tracks: “Karma No Inu”, “Utakata No Sora, Eien No Machi“, “Gestalt No Hakoniwa”

3. Manchester Orchestra – A Black Mile to the Surface
Manchester Orchestra’s previous full-length, Cope, was a monochromatic effort, all muscular riffs and wall-of-sound production. For their fifth album, the band didn’t decide to return their previous sound, though. Instead, they went off in a completely new direction, crafting a concept album about life in small-town America – specially Lead, South Dakota, the site of an underground neutrino lab – that draws from folk rock, alternative rock, and even occasionally industrial rock. The imagery is poignant, potent, and specific (“In the blink of an eye, there’s a hole in your belly / Your body recoils ironically into the family-planning aisle”), and the music is both surprising and endlessly listenable. I’m not sure if this is the band’s best record, but it’s their most essential.
Best tracks: “The Gold”, “The Moth”, “The Wolf”

2. San Fermin – Belong
Chamber pop can often feel dull and ponderous, drawing from the worst aspects of classical music to create boring songs that impress a handful of music critics but few others. But San Fermin are rockers through and through, and for them, horns and strings are just additional instruments in their arsenal, not excuses to turn the tempos down and put listeners to sleep. Over the course of its 13 tracks, San Fermin almost never let the energy ebb, and the result is one of the most purely, unabashedly fun records of the year.
Best tracks: “Open”, “Perfume”, “Palisades/Storm”

1. The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die – Always Foreign
Few albums this year felt timelier than Always Foreign. Whereas TWIABP’s previous full-length, Harmlessness, was a statement of hope in the face of mental illness, Always Foreign is a statement of resistance in the face of oppression. It is at once an expression of righteous anger (e.g. “Faker”) and a raucous celebration of humanity (e.g. “Marine Tigers”). This is not a record with the edges sanded off. But if there’s a thread connecting these two albums, it’s defiance: the will to stand up to a force that’s trying to keep others down. In 2015, that was the band members’ personal issues. In 2017, it’s the Trump administration and everything it stands for. Always Foreign was perhaps the most of-its-time record released in 2017, and for that reason, it deserves a berth at the top of this list.
Best tracks: “Hilltopper”, “Faker”, “Dillon and Her Son”

Well, that does it for 2017’s best albums. A list of the best songs of 2017 will follow at some unspecified point in the future. (I’ll get to it before February this time, I promise!)

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