Aside from a series of exciting debuts, expansive game-changers, and awaited comebacks, 2017 was all about bypassing the sophomore slump. As genres continue to become more and more bastardized, the playing field is as even as ever, and clearly artists are eager to rise to the challenge. For all of the year’s major releases, here are the 50 best:
50. Wonderful Wonderful The Killers
On one hand, The Killers deliver, well, The Killers on their fifth studio effort, Wonderful Wonderful, but it’s possible that they’re far more self-aware than anyone gives them credit for. After all, the album is their finest in over a decade.
49. Low In High School Morrissey
Though he often keeps himself in the headlines for his outlandish comments and diva-like antics, Morrissey really reminded us why we even payed attention to him in the first place with his Low In High School LP, which is actually a soaring success.
48. Whiteout Conditions The New Pornographers
Indie pop mega-group, The New Pornographers, take a well-deserved victory lap on their buoyant Whiteout Conditions. While its lyrical content is often bleak, a sumptuous array of synthesizers, hypnotic beats, and engaging melodies eases the blow.
47. Concrete and Gold Foo Fighters
Dave Grohl and co. clearly feel like it is their duty to conserve rock’s authenticity. Concrete and Gold has backing roles from the likes of Justin Timberlake and Paul McCartney, which about sums up their esteemed confidence in their craft.
46. Powerplant Girlpool
By the sheer nature of their music, Girlpool will most likely always fly under the radar. Their sophomore LP Powerplant only further solidifies the duo’s ability to craft subtle punk-like jams with a folk twist; or is the other way around?
45. Dua Lipa Dua Lipa
On the whole, Dua Lipa’s self-titled debut is compiled as a typical pop record, but considering it contains some of the best bangers of the past two years, it, at worst, sets the stage for what could be the cusp of a huge career.
44. Ti Amo Phoenix
French rockers Phoenix have long been heralded for carrying new wave’s energy into the 21st century, at times fusing dance and rock in a more refined manner than their ancestors. Ti Amo is one of their poppiest efforts, yet one of their most creative.
43. SweetSexySavage Kehlani
With a title clearly drawing at least some inspiration from TLC’s iconic CrazySexyCool, Kehlani clearly has a level of audacity on her debut long player, which is usually a pretty necessary ingredient for success. SweetSexySave doesn’t disappoint.
42. Gone Now Bleachers
Gone Now‘s one major consistency throughout is its height. Even it’s more subdued moments don’t know how to resist the kind of bursting euphoria Jack Antonoff knows how to craft so brilliantly. Still, the album is pleasantly varied and never boring.
41. Culture Migos
Considering today’s popular musical landscape, Migos knew they had the perfect opportunity to solidify their prominence. Culture is trap at its most confident, most accessible, most creative, and most nuanced all at the same time.
40. Semper Femina Laura Marling
This wildly talented folk-songstress has done an incredible job creating something unique with each release, an unfathomable feat for her genre. Semper Femina is loaded with female perspective, lush compositions, and impeccable craftswomanship.
39. Lotta Sea Lice Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile
The collaboration is nothing short of an indie rock wet dream, even if the timing does feel a little premature; Barnett hasn’t even released her second album yet. Still, the love child of these two insanely talented singer-songwriters ends up as a success.
38. The Thrill Of It All Sam Smith
In a year saturated with highly anticipated second albums, Sam Smith made a fair decision sticking with what he does best. The Thrill Of It All is certainly a step forward for him, although not much of an expansion, but his vocals feel more refined.
37. Who Built The Moon? Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds
2017 saw the Gallagher brothers go head-to-head on their solo releases, and while both were expected successes, Noel and his High Flying Birds’ felt more like a continuation than a rebirth. That’s not to take away from it, but context does play a part in the battle.
36. Colors Beck
One of Beck’s most aptly titled releases, Colors is a varied inner-musical-monologue of one of alt rock’s most, well, colorful figures of the last two decades. Nothing seems to be off limits here, but it is incredibly endearing throughout.
35. Villains Queens Of The Stone Age
At this point in their career, Queens Of The Stone Age have nothing to prove to anyone, and whether they choose to expand their sound, or simply improve upon it is completely up to them. Villains opts for the latter, and it was a solid decision.
34. Everything Now Arcade Fire
While Everything Now isn’t the kind of seminal record we’ve come to expect from Arcade Fire, the album is a welcomed addition to the group’s catalog. It’s their biggest embrace of dance music thus far, but things are far more interesting though their lens.
33. What Now Sylvan Esso
On their sophomore effort, Sylvan Esso up the ante on their alternative approach to electropop. The duo’s ability to create peaks of euphoria simply through juxtaposition with the barest of productions is a clear nod to their folk roots.
32. This Old Dog Mac DeMarco
With every release, Mac DeMarco inches his way towards further prominence in the commercial realm, but he doesn’t particularly seem to want to leave the space he’s in. This Old Dog sticks true to his jangly pop perspective, but with complete faith in his talents.
31. More Life Drake
Drake’s playlist, not album, not mixtape, certainly helps to expand the concept of what a song-vessel could truly be. The collection feels more like a victory lap than a game-changer for an artist who now transcends both genre and trend.
30. A Deeper Understanding The War On Drugs
Through most of A Deeper Understanding, the listener is audibly transported back to 1980s commercially-viable rock, but to call it anything along the lines of a rehash, or even a tribute, would be a misnomer. The album is a masterpiece.
29. Mura Masa Mura Masa
The fact that an electronic artist was able to land collaborations with likes of Charli XCX and Damon Albarn on his debut album is nothing short of a coup. Mura Masa has put himself in prime position to become dance music’s hit-make du jour.
28. Reputation Taylor Swift
At this point in her career, Taylor Swift’s Reputation could have been a compilation of birdcalls and it would have sold by the buckets, but Taylor actually created something worthwhile. Although, the whole is far superior to the sum of its parts.
27. Run The Jewels 3 Run The Jewels
Yes, superduo Run The Jewels’ third LP was released in 2016, but so close to the new year that it needed a home somewhere. Predictably, the album is well-executed, and while it’s likely to be taken for granted as a result, it’d be hard to conjure a complaint.
26. Harry Styles Harry Styles
In contrast to his bandmates, Harry Styles opted to go the album-oriented route. His confident self-titled debut showcases his awareness that hits come and go, but good music sticks around. If this is anything to go off of, he’ll be around for a while.
25. Something To Tell You HAIM
It was a long shot that this LA trio of sisters was going to eclipse their phenomenal debut album with its followup. Something To Tell You sees HAIM doubling down on their genre-bending point of view, but the record is far from a rehash.
24. After Laughter Paramore
On their fifth studio effort, Paramore profoundly expands our perception of power pop’s range. Leaving any of their hard-headed pop punk-adorers in the dust, After Laughter opts for triumphant synth pop, but their aesthetic remains true to themselves.
23. Rainbow Kesha
For an artist with so much commercial momentum to essentially be forced into a five-year hiatus, there’s no way Kesha could come back with a collection of dance-pop bangers and get away with it. Rainbow is stunningly beautiful, authentic, and full of personality.
22. MASSEDUCTION St. Vincent
As an artist, St. Vincent knows no bounds, nor would she fear them if she did. The daringly introspective MASSEDUCTION presents a complex array of art pop through the lens of one of the genre’s most pivotal figures, yet it remains uncharacteristically human.
21. As You Were Liam Gallagher
It’s hard to believe that As You Were is actually the former Oasis/Beady Eye frontman’s debut solo album. His reckless wisdom pays off in spades here, though, considering the album is his best collection of material since Oasis’ heyday.
20. Relaxer alt-j
Just when indie rock experimentalists alt-j seemingly had nowhere to go but mainstream, the trio retreated in the completely opposite direction. Relaxer is a challenging, complex work, especially considering its brevity, but they undeniably make it work.
19. Sleep Well Beast The National
On their seventh effort, The National are more willing than ever to capitalize on their established sound by stretching it to its limits. Whether they’ve hit their limit, though, is to be seen, but Sleep Well Beast‘s diverse landscape is getting there.
18. Pure Comedy Father John Misty
Father John Misty is one of this generation’s greatest singer-songwriters from every aspect. His supreme ability to craft songs that somehow are fascinating, distinct, witty, pensive, and honest makes Pure Comedy a bonafide tour de force.
17. Painted Ruins Grizzly Bear
On Painted Ruins, Grizzly Bear further exemplifies their ability to create an embellished mosaic out of emotive, visionary compositions. It’s clear they don’t exist in a conventional paradigm, yet they have no qualms about making something pleasing.
16. Humanz Gorillaz
While Gorillaz has always been little more than an outlet for Damon Albarn’s extensive musical ambitions, the release of Humanz felt like a long awaited reunion. As “their” most collaborative effort to date, the record feels as fresh and it does reflective.
15. Lust For Life Lana Del Rey
Five albums deep and the former-Lizzie Grant is as committed as ever to her craft. Lust For Life feels like a consistent, comfortable record, but it’s only because the artist can take on pretty much anything and mold it into her sound.
14. No Shape Perfume Genius
The ever-creative Perfume Genius exemplifies sheer confidence on his bold, explosive No Shape LP. He’s long since proven his ability to craft a beautiful pop song, but he’s never attempted this much dynamic height. Naturally, he pulls it off flawlessly.
13. Gang Signs & Prayer Stormzy
Stormzy’s debut album, Gang Sings & Prayer proves that grime’s prominence is not going anywhere soon if he has anything to do with it. The record is confident, exciting, and so brilliantly executed that it will no doubt go down as quintessential.
12. American Teen Khalid
Khalid was one of the year’s most exciting newcomers, finding a rare balance between critical support and commercial success. His debut album will no doubt serve as a brilliant launching pad for an exciting career if he keeps it up.
11. Big Fish Theory Vince Staples
With Big Fish Theory, Vince Staples isn’t so much inching his way towards the hip hop elite as much as he is sprinting towards it. Between his razor-sharp lyrics and timeless beats, the record is a complete herald born out of sheer talent.
10. Visions Of A Life Wolf Alice
One of this year’s most under-appreciated sophomore efforts was Wolf Alice’s Visions Of A Life. The group followed up their well-received debut with a bold, invigorated work that not only expands their sound, but refines it, and will inevitably help define it.
09. I See You The xx
The xx have always had a modest underdog quality about them, but I See You exudes confidence. True to form, the trio thrives on the atmosphere created by sparsity, but they almost, almost, take a shot at building their way up to euphoria.
08. Flower Boy Tyler, The Creator
Up until now, you really either got Tyler’s whimsical insanity or you didn’t, but Flower Boy feels refreshingly palatable. It’s best aspect, however, is he how he doesn’t let his personality fall by the wayside, he just nuances it differently.
07. Ctrl SZA
Newcomer SZA certainly found her prominence in 2017, largely thanks to her impeccable debut studio effort, Ctrl. The album not only sees her bring a refreshing perspective to R&B, but it’s her confidence and sheer talent that holds our attention.
06. Crack-Up Fleet Foxes
It’s been almost 10 years since indie folk rockers Fleet Foxes released their incredible debut album, but Crack-Up, their third effort, could end up going down at their opus. It’s bold, experimental qualities expand their sound, without needing to abandon it.
05. American Dream LCD Soundsystem
After their big farewell to-do, the five-year interim prior to LCD Soundsystem’s “reunion” certainly should be classified as a hiatus than anything. Following a series of well-received massive performances, it’s no surprise that the James Murphy-led project’s reconvening begot one of their best albums. American Dream, LCD’s forth studio effort, is not only self-aware, it’s self-assured, gliding through peaks and valleys of emotive anthems and anti-anthems only the boldest of the bold could pull off so flawlessly.
04. 4:44 Jay-Z
Over 20 years into his legendary career, you have to respect the fact that Jay-Z is still as determined as ever to release important music. What can be viewed as the yin to wife Beyoncé’s yang, Lemonade, 4:44 dives into a personal space often evaded by artists of his caliber. Instead, Hov’s vulnerability, maturity, and audacity are injected into every nook and cranny of the record, resulting in his best release since The Black Album, or, one could argue, Reasonable Doubt.
03. Process Sampha
Following years of building a name for himself through collaboration, it was Sampha’s time to step into the spotlight all on his own. His debut LP, the aptly titled Process, astutely captures his innate talent and unique sonic perspective in ways most artists hope to realize on their third or fourth efforts. All the while, he openly grapples with the most human of experiences and weaves them into lush R&B soundscapes that craftily utilize negative space to create height.
02. DAMN. Kendrick Lamar
The absolute only reason DAMN. isn’t 2017’s best album comes down a contextual technicality. The record that beat it could go down as career-defining, and Kendrick Lamar (possibly) already had that moment two years ago with To Pimp A Butterfly. None of that is to take away from the necessary sonic shakeup that resulted in the rapper’s biggest helping of commercial success to date, including his first number one single as a lead artist. From top to bottom, DAMN. is as well a thought out album as you could hope for from any artist…of any tenure…in any genre. From vulnerable and introspective to empowered and invigorated, Kendrick reminds us just how much he has to offer, but it’s a safe bet that he’s nowhere near done showing us all he’s got.
01. Melodrama Lorde
There was more pressure on Lorde than most to avoid the often-unavoidable sophomore slump. She was only 16 years old when she first took the music world by storm, earning herself unheard of critical praise and commercial success across every platform imaginable… all with one song. It seemed nearly impossible that the now-21 year old would ever be able to live up the anticipation resulting from her debut, but Lorde isn’t your typical pop star. Opting to go the conceptual route, Melodrama takes us on a trip into the soul of the transitional teenage-to-young adult mind conquering angst, seeking escape, and celebrating naivety. That on its own is nothing new, but what Lorde does with it is stunning. She presents the material simultaneously in the present and in retrospect and makes it work from both angles. Whether the listener is in the thick of it or sitting on the other side, Melodrama is equally as relatable, as uncomfortable, and as celebratory. Musically, the record spans a range most artists wouldn’t try across several albums. From the euphoric club-ready “Green Light” to the sparse piano-led “Liability,” the artist challenges herself to seamlessly compile mismatched sounds, but she does so ingeniously. In the end, Lorde’s ability to create something so universal, yet so deeply idiosyncratic only solidifies her position as one of the most intriguing and important forces in pop music currently on planet Earth.