50 Best Albums of 2017

2017 was easily the most definitive year of my entire life. This year, I became a father. I got married. Everything changed, including the way I appreciated music.

It wasn’t my tastes; I didn’t suddenly drop my love for techno and weird jazz to become a dad rock connoisseur, despite in fact making a dad rock mixtape. No, it was a subtle shift in weight, a slight refocusing on what aspects most affect what I love about music. I’m still largely into the same genres and artists as before, but I now feel drawn to facets of sound and meaning that I shied away from before. I’m more interested in peeling back the meaning behind what I’m loving, searching for a thread to pull, an arc to follow. Slowly but surely, I recognized the colors emerging from the stories that built these pieces of art.

It’s not that I wasn’t interested in the behind-the-scenes or the history before becoming a dad; it’s simply that I now find myself automatically working recursively when I’m emotionally struck by something, running down the fibers of time that brought it to my attention, trying to work out a map for my own journey forward in this new life role. I’m living for more than myself finally, and although it feels vulnerable to have my heart living outside my body, it’s incredibly rewarding. I’ve felt more energized, more creative than I have in years. I made five new mixtapes between winters. I began running for the first time. I started writing fiction again. Oh and, along with my wife, I’ve been raising a child pretty successfully for half a year so far. Even more than ever before, I can’t wait to experience what happens next.

Speaking of my wife, that’s her in the header picture above. I thought the image of her, pregnant, hiking in the late winter sunset, encapsulated the way I felt about 2017. All that nervous possibility and raw beauty surrounding the long shadow down the path ahead, feeling real warmth after too many frozen months.

This year, like every year, was bursting full of new, exciting, brilliant music. It only takes some effort and desire to find it all. In another first, I barely read any music journalism, kept up with no major release schedules, and missed out on most of the hype 2017 had to offer. I have only the faintest ideas about what other people hold up as the best music of the year. To me, these 50 albums mattered more than anything else I heard all year, give or take a few. I’ll be back with a list of 50 more albums to check out, but for now, here we go.

Let’s begin the countdown. These are the 50 best albums of 2017.

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Alessandro Cortini – AVANTI

Alessandro Cortini is a member of Nine Inch Nails and somehow I never knew it before the release of his latest and best album, AVANTI. I got on board with the Italian synth maestro when I heard his Forse series, but I admittedly hadn’t paid much attention to NIN since The Fragile. I gave each new album a listen or more, but I didn’t keep up with the band; I didn’t know anything beyond “Trent Reznor and some people.”

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Replicant [mixtape]

Replicant began as an imaginary soundtrack to Blade Runner 2049 – weirder, noisier, darker, and more futuristic than the music in the film. I watched it and loved it, but kept thinking that they played it safe with the score. I thought I could do better with a mixtape; rather, some of my favorite artists already have already mapped this sound out.

But then the mix gained a life of its own as it neared completion. It got more perseonal as it grew. Now I can say that it is simply my cyberpunk dream score for life in 2017 and beyond.

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Deep Future [mixtape]

I’ve been thinking even more about the future since my son was born. Considering that science fiction and futurism are some of my biggest passions, that means a lot. I’ve curated this focused mindset with the help of some very specific sounds along the way, and I decided it’s time to share them.

This might be my best mixtape yet. Each one has been a self portrait of a specific slice of my life, and Deep Future is no exception. It is simply the most accurate reflection of my own private future. This is an adventure under hazy cyberpunk sunsets and new age neon skylines. A glowing mesh of deep house beats and world music textures cocoon the listener. It’s the sound of tomorrow’s dreams.

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Garrett – Private Life

Private Life is an ambient funk masterpiece from a mysterious new artist named Garrett. This auspicious debut LP expands the dreamy palette of Music From Memory, adding a dose of earthbound swagger to the usually anti-gravity label. Who could produce such cloudlike beat sculptures?

The answer was obvious the moment I pressed play. This is actually a new project for funk legend  Dam-Funk. With a deep focus on the most dreamlike aspects of his distinctive sound, it just might be his best work yet.

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Chuck Johnson – Balsams

Chuck Johnson’s latest album Balsams was the first music I heard after my son was born. In its own low-key way, it was the perfect introduction to the world for a newborn baby. This is some of the most sumptuous, warmly crafted, undeniably human ambient music I’ve heard in years.

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Midori Takada – Through The Looking Glass

I started writing this two years ago, but couldn’t find the right words. Midori Takada’s debut Through The Looking Glass is an album that shrugs off description, flitting on dream logic like a hummingbird through a garden. I’m still not sure I can capture what makes this album special, but I’m happy to try and convince everyone to listen.

The quickest way to state the appeal for myself is this: the album sits at the perfect crossroads between my love of modern classical music and Japanese surrealism. There’s a lot more to it, though.

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