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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Call Super – Arpo

Imagine a planet of warm woodwind tones, humid, echoing percussion, and laser-etched neon synth shards, settling like confetti over a rubbery techno landscape. The second Call Super album zooms all over this place, restless as a pinball, crossing and recrossing the the edges of its established territory every few minutes. Arpo constantly shifts its appearance using only a handful of evocative elements, erupting in a parade of unexpected delight with every subsequent track, sounding as cohesive as it is unique.

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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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Robert Hood – Paradygm Shift

Robert Hood is back with a new album that fires directly at his Detroit techno roots, serving as an evolved sequel to his iconic 1994 groundbreaker, Minimal Nation.

Unlike most examples of a “back to basics” album, this one hits just as hard as its inspiration, textured with two decades of stylistic evolution. Far beyond a throwback album, Paradygm Shift is a deep genre exploration, coloring the darkest corners of pure techno, highlighting the fresh pleasures this genre still has to offer.

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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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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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Boards of Canada – Seeya Later

Boards of Canada are one of the most unique groups in modern music. Even a casual fan could spot their sound in a matter of seconds. Since their first album, they’ve called Warp Records home, but they’ve never been comfortable in any of the genres that legendary label is known for.

Weaving between neon-drenched hip-hop and menacing techno throb, they’ve charted a singular sound that is utterly approachable from any angle. It’s weird electronic music that your mom, your little brother, anyone can instantly nod along to. With that in mind, I present their best early track, Seeya Later, with a beguiling fan-made video:

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