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. For a more comprehensive picture of the year, be sure to check out 50 more must-hear albums of 2017.

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

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30 Best Albums Of 2016

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Looking back at what a shit year 2016 has been, it’s no wonder I published more music writing than ever before. As the months wore on I found myself swiping away more and more real news in my feed and just getting lost in Bandcamp and other music sources. I wasn’t really trying to bury my head; I was looking for a better way of thinking.

The world is what it is, but I can frame it and focus on it however I choose. Immersing in the toxicity of bad news and worse reactions changed my perception one way, so I aimed to change it another way. Art has been a life sustaining tonic all my life, a refuge sought in times of stress, loneliness, and most of all, deep frustration. If I’ve hit a brick wall, I know that obsessing about the problem won’t help. I need to detach, breathe, and follow something made to surprise. A good story or song is something to be lost in, sure, but it grants perspective. It can bend the light just so, showing me a new way to see.

Perspective also comes from travel. The simple but profound act of experiencing other parts of the world can never be overestimated. This is where the image at the top of this list comes in. It’s Greenland, as seen from my plane back home to the United States from Ireland a month ago. I happened to open the window shade during the brief window when we were passing over the very tip of the continent-sized island. It felt like magic.

I’m entering 2017 with hope that good news can happen and that we can press on, even when our heroes are gone. I look around and I wonder who the future heroes are going to be. Those people will be standing against the dark tide and risking everything. They’ve got new ideas to replace the scary old ones that never quite die.

Looking back on the past year of music, I see a lot of new ideas and new perspectives on old ones. The best kind of music always elicits surprise, even if it’s made in a familiar way. There’s a flash of feeling, a rush of blood, and it clicks. Everything on this list mattered to me and I hope some of it can matter to you.

Let’s begin the countdown. These are the 30 best albums of 2016:

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Kendrick Lamar x Rick and Morty

Rick Morty game

I’m not normally that interested in mashup videos, but this one combines one of my favorite musicians with one of the best shows on TV in expert fashion. It’s Rick and Morty synced up to Kendrick Lamar‘s breakthrough single, Swimming Pools (Drank).

Watch below. It’s kind of incredible.

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Beyoncé – Lemonade

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I was never a Beyoncé fan. Not really. Sure, I enjoyed some of the big singles, recognized her A-level game, but never actually enjoyed a full album. I’d honestly tried with Sasha Fierce, but her energy always felt constrained and compromised across the length of an album, only fully erupting on a song or two. I was never completely blown away by her artistry and passion.

Until now.

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Kendrick Lamar On Cereal

Kendrick Lamar eating Cereal

Kendrick Lamar is not only one of the best rappers of all time. He’s also a breakfast cereal aficionado with a depth of knowledge that impressed even this veteran breakfast fan.

I already knew he was deep into the stuff when he dropped his weirdest song ever, just a few years back. But then I had a discussion about how cereals could be ranked, and a friend showed me this video.

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What I’m Into This Week (3/6 – 3/12)

Solaris

This week brought one surprise obsession that pretty much everyone I know is into, plus a handful of real gems. Yes, I’m spinning the new Kendrick Lamar as much as anyone, but I’ve also been pressing a pair of incredible electronic albums you’ll want to hear. One brand new, one stone cold classic. During my usual detour into the past, I even watched one of the greatest science fiction films of all time. Hint: it’s pictured above.

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Surprise new Kendrick Lamar album: untitled unmastered

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I woke up to some really interesting news. Kendrick Lamar dropped an official collection of many of the songs he’s been debuting on Colbert, Fallon, and other one-time appearances over the last year. I’m just posting to share the new with any friends and readers who haven’t heard yet.

The whole brief album is streaming right here:

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