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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Shigeto – The New Monday

The New Monday is an eclectic set of rhythm vehicles caught in traffic somewhere between hip-hop, spiritual jazz, and the psychedelic fringe of techno. It fully invests in several directions at once, offering a warmly disorienting maze in its ping-ponging structure. This is Shigeto returning to Detroit, trying on its signature sounds, and realizing they fit better together than anything he’s done before.

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Yume Park [mixtape]

Take a little journey into the digital forests of ancient Japanese video games and half-remembered dreams. This is Yume Park.

This mixtape takes a hard swerve into exotic space, bouncing rhythm, and funky groove. It’s a get-up-and-go sound for getting lost in the woods, resolute meandering after dark, a gateway into the balmy nights of summertime.

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MF Doom + Sade – Sadevillain

I’m not the biggest fan of mashups. Most of the time, they’re shallow gimmicks, the kind of party trick that’s more fun to make than to experience. Sure, it’s impressive when someone links two disparate artists in a catchy dance, but there’s usually nothing profound in the experience, no new light cast on the original pieces.

But sometimes, a mashup just lands in the fertile ground between illusion and revelation. Sometimes the sense of surprise gives way to genuine appreciation.

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Twin Peaks: James Hurley – Just You

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Ever catch yourself sliding into hypnosis while watching a movie or show? You hook right into the rhythm, the flow of the picture and sound and suddenly you’re not just along for the ride; you’re locked into it. You’re inside it, the same way you find yourself in a dream.

This is kind of a defining feature of a lot of my favorite cinema. Twin Peaks is one of the only television shows to have ever rolled into the same territory, for me. Witness:

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David Bowie Albums, Ranked

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I’m doing this. I’m ranking every David Bowie album.

This list is not ranked by historical importance or designed to guide a new listener through his vast discography. This is simply a list of every major album David Bowie released in order from worst to best. While I don’t believe he made any truly bad albums, he certainly had a range of quality to his recordings. I’m skipping the covers album, the soundtracks, and the Tin Machine stuff. This is pure Bowie, no filler.

I’ve seen other lists out there and I almost always disagree with their top picks. They’re always too safe, too obvious, compromised by committee. This list is an unvarnished look at one passionate fan’s embrace of the entire catalogue and will probably bring some surprise. If you’re curious to learn more about Bowie’s impact on my life, check out David Bowie Is Dead // This Is What He Means To Me.

I know that no two David Bowie fans are the same and that most people will disagree with my rankings. That’s part of his magic. In that spirit, I welcome all comments and suggestions, so share away. I had fun making this, and I hope you have fun reading it.

Let’s get on with the list:

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Martin Luther King Jr. Day // DJ Sprinkles’ Mountain of Despair

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I don’t often take note of federal holidays, especially when I’m not let off work, but Martin Luther King Jr. Day is perhaps the most important one in American history. It’s a modern holiday celebrating the life of a man whose passion for justice and equality changed the shape of our country undeniably for the better.

Unlike our other named holidays, nodding to historical figures with dubious or downright depressing impacts – can we end Columbus day already? – this one is an unquestionably good thing. King is one of the truest heroes my nation has ever produced. Recent world-shaking events have shown how vital his lessons continue to be.

Because this is a music site, I feel like sharing my favorite song that samples King’s words. This tune takes the fiery energy from his final speech, “I’ve been to the mountaintop,” and wrings every ounce of suffering from it. This is a harrowing but strangely soothing epic. It’s called Motorik Life (DJ Sprinkles’ Mountain of Despair):

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