I don’t have a solid criteria for how this list comes about, but mostly it’s just about what lingers in my head at the end of the year. There’s so much great music out there if you put in the effort to find it, but these stood out in 2017 as great, fully formed albums. In no particular order:
Thundercat : Drunk
Funk and whimsy! You really can’t go wrong with Thundercat. The album feels a bit rough around the edges in a good way—it’s very loose and funky. Cameos from Kenny Loggins, Michael McDonald, Kamasi Washington, and Kendrick Lamar, among others.
Favorite Track: A Fan's Mail (Tron Song II)
LCD Soundsystem : American Dream
Talking Heads Remain In Light is probably my favorite album of all time. American Dream channels that album and then some—and I love everything about it. Makes you want to dance. It’s good to have Murphy & Co. back making music again.
Favorite Track: Other Voices
The National : Sleep Well Beast
No other band I’d rather drink bourbon to. They keep making what is essentially the same album over and over again and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Favorite Track: Nobody Else Will Be There
Moses Sumney : Aromanticism
I actually bought the Sumney EP called Mid-City Island with the song “Plastic” back in 2014. The song reappears here again on Aromanticism alongside a bunch of new tracks. Quiet, soulful, sad, and a bit sparse—and really great production.
Favorite Track: Plastic
Kamasi Washington : Harmony of Difference
I don’t listen to nearly enough modern jazz anymore for some reason, but occasionally somebody gets ahold of my earhole and I can’t ignore it. Kamasi Washington has been doing this for several years now.
Favorite Track: Truth
Gabriel Garzón-Montano : Jardin
R&B with plenty of funk and pop—reminds me a lot of D'Angelo and there’s a couple of songs that sound like they could have been written by Prince himself. I hadn’t heard of Gabriel before 2017, but I'm looking forward to more. If there was a Top 3 this would be in there.
Favorite Track: Crawl
Aimee Mann : Mental Illness
I love pretty much everything Aimee does, and this album is no exception. It’s just really good folk music, and we all need some—reminds me a lot of her earlier album Wise Up.
Favorite Track: Knock It Off
SZA : CTRL
Still working my way through this one, but it’s an obvious choice. Pushing the borders of the genre in the same way that Frank Ocean did with Channel Orange. Great stuff.
Favorite Track: Love Galore
Lana Del Rey : Lust For Life
Haters, are indeed going to hate. I’ve enjoyed a small handful of Del Rey’s songs over the years, but this feels like a solid album all the way through. Guest vocals from both Stevie Nicks and Sean Lennon are icing on the cake. I played this a lot over the summer—reminds me of California, natch.
Favorite Track: Heroin
Kiefer : Kickinit Alone
I spend a fair amount of time on Bandcamp and I occasionally find a gem. Kiefer Shackelford does really great jazz/soul with plenty of J Dilla inspired samples along the way. It’s instrumental hip-hop with a smokey lounge vibe. Kiefer should be famous soon.
Favorite Track: Tubesocks
Kevin Morby : City Music
I’m still pretty new to Morby’s stuff, but I like this album quite a bit (he was in a band called Woods a while back which I should probably listen to again). Anyway, just good songwriting all around.
Favorite Track: Dry Your Eyes
King Krule : The OOZ
I’ve been a huge Archy Marshall fan since I first heard The Noose of Jah City back in 2011. To be honest, I think this album needs some editing and refinement, but it’s still King Krule, and that’s all that really matters.
Favorite Track: Czech One
Sylvan Esso : What Now
I think this duo kind of found themselves by accident and the result is pretty great. Still listening to the old stuff currently, but I think I like it all. Feels like “electro-country” if that’s thing.
Favorite Track: Kick Jump Twist
Kendrick Lamar : Damn.
I think there has already been a lot written about this one.
Favorite Track: Loyalty
Father John Misty : Pure Comedy
Every Top Fifteen list needs a meta-ironic court jester.
Favorite Track: Ballad of the Dying Man
Valerie June : The Order of Time
Valerie was new to me as well, as I hadn’t heard any of the old stuff before. I like this quite a bit. Folk, country, gospel, blues, soul—all the good stuff.
Favorite Track: Astral Plane
Grimes : Art Angles
I didn’t find this album until late 2016, but it’s really the album I played the most last year. Grimes is probably my all out favorite thing of 2017. Claire Boucher deserves all of the accolades. Check out Kill V Maim or Venus Fly or even Oblivion from her previous album Visions. So good.
* There's actually 16 albums. Sorry.