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Nozdordomu's Top 10
I didn’t find much to get excited about in 2017, and unfortunately, music wasn’t the exception. Most of my favorite artists from earlier years were either completely inactive or on autopilot, and most of the acclaimed albums were in genres fairly unfamiliar to me, like modern electronica and R&B. I’m not saying this was necessarily a bad year for music, and I should shoulder some of the blame, since I didn’t hear nearly as much and missed a lot of potential favorites. Nonetheless, this year’s list will be a bit shorter than usual.
Kendrick Lamar - DAMN.
Any year where Kendrick Lamar puts out an album is a good year for hip-hop. True, Kendrick might have streamlined his approach and worked with Mike Will Made It for a few tracks this time around, but that doesn’t mean the music’s any simpler. DAMN. is as much of a journey as his earlier, more obviously conceptual albums, taking the listener on a grand tour of the rapper’s insecurities, grievances, roots, and hopes, most of them race- and culture-related. As always, the personal and the political are never far apart for Kendrick, who uses the power of speech to bridge them effortlessly. “LUST.” and FEAR.” really stand out in that regard, particularly the line “all worries in a hurry, I wish I controlled things,” something a lot of people can relate to. And there’s still room for plenty of other surprises throughout, like the surprisingly successful Rihanna feature on “LOYALTY.,” the almost Mac DeMarco-sounding “PRIDE.,” and the clever ending-beginning song “DUCKWORTH.,” which ties the whole album together perfectly. If anything, the less cluttered production and more straightforward structure only help Kendrick’s points to better reach the listener. He might as well be talking directly to you, even at his most self-absorbed or self-loathing, that’s how immediate DAMN. sounds. Most rappers would kill for a record as cohesive and purposeful as this one, not to mention Kendrick’s gift for storytelling and unforced social commentary. (On “DNA.,” he only has to quote Fox News directly to make his point against them.) I could trot out some clichéd thought and say that no record feels so 2017 as DAMN. does, but that would be an insult to Kendrick. As far as I’m concerned, this record will still be relevant – and sound incredible – for a good long while.
Favorite songs: “FEEL.,” “LOYALTY.,” “PRIDE.,” “LUST.,” “FEAR.”
Least favorite song: “GOD.”
Fleet Foxes - Crack-Up
I’d been looking forward to the next Fleet Foxes album for six years, but no amount of hype or backlash could hide how amazing Crack-Up truly is. More than anything, this is the album where frontman Robin Pecknold’s talents shine the strongest, and not just because he plays so many of the instruments. His melodies stick deep in the mind, taking unexpected turns before resolving in completely natural ways. His arrangements work incredibly well, much denser than on Fleet Foxes’ earlier songs, yet never cluttered in their sound. His lyrics are perfectly crafted, full of beautifully abstract imagery, but also given much-needed weight by the issues addressed within. “Cassius” denounces police brutality in a thoughtful, unexpected manner, while “Third of May” charts a long friendship through an epic tapestry of gorgeous metaphors, guitars, and harmonies. Every song on this album feels tangibly personal and entirely free of pretension, although the exact meanings might escape the listener. That’s the mark of a great songwriter, and I believe Pecknold has fully grown into that title by this point. You only need to hear something like “Kept Woman” or the title track to recognize the music’s inherent maturity, even if folk-rock isn’t your thing. Crack-Up somehow succeeds as both a marvelous return to form for the band, and a graceful outgrowing of their old identity, making it feel both refreshingly familiar and pleasantly surprising. It’s the best kind of comeback an artist can have, especially for one that never really went away in the first place.
Favorite songs: “Cassius, - ,” “Third of May / Ōdaigahara,” “I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar,” “Fool’s Errand,” “Crack-Up”
Least favorite song: “I Should See Memphis”
Run the Jewels - Run the Jewels 3
Run the Jewels finally won me over with their third album, the first one I could confidently call one of my favorites of the year. In some ways, it’s their most consistent release so far, and the first where both members pull equal weight. Killer Mike’s lyrical prowess is truly outstanding, and El-P is no slouch himself, though he still does his best work on the production side. Together they make a perfect duo, and their combined skills are what really make RTJ3 worth hearing. Just look at “Thieves! (Screamed the Ghost),” whose central conceit (racism as a present-day specter) rivals Get Out in its clever power, and which wouldn’t sound nearly as powerful without the dramatic, bass-heavy beats behind it. Not only are the duo in peak shape, but they get the best out of their guest rappers and singers, too. (Zack de la Rocha’s surprise turn on the final track is a real standout.) For me, though, “Thursday in the Danger Room” is the album’s greatest achievement, an excruciatingly personal song about the loss of a loved one for each member, only lightened a little by Kamasi Washington’s saxophone. It almost didn’t get onto the album at all and I totally understand why, but I’m glad it did. That one decision sealed RTJ3’s already good standing as one of the year’s best rap albums, and one of its best albums, period.
Favorite songs: “Thieves! (Screamed the Ghost),” “Thursday in the Danger Room,” “Panther Like a Panther,” “A Report to the Shareholders / Kill Your Masters”
Least favorite song: “Hey Kids (Bumaye),” but more by default.
St. Vincent - MASSEDUCTION
Like the similarly capitalized DAMN., St. Vincent’s MASSEDUCTION looked like a bit of a sellout before revealing itself to be anything but. Think of a knife that’s been well-polished without being dulled, and you’d have a good idea of what this album sounds like. You’ll hear a quirkily epic tune about addiction, a disco-happy ode to bisexuality, and breakup songs that could’ve well been about the apocalypse, all from the twisted genius mind of one Annie Clark. St. Vincent barely has any truly bad songs, and Clark brings the same consistent songwriting to her new sound, pumping out catchy hooks and cutting words on every track, even the less abrasive ones. The title track is sure to get you grooving along (in a twisted kind of way), while “Happy Birthday Johnny” can destroy you if you’re not in the right mood. Producer-of-the-hour Jack Antonoff adds touches of pop and electronica throughout, but thankfully doesn’t sand off the edges of Clark’s personality, which comes through in every distorted guitar riff and frank lyric. Lots of rock artists jump on the electronic bandwagon with varying degrees of sincerity, but few can do it as effortlessly as St. Vincent, although the earlier records were pretty electronic already. This album doesn’t sound all that different, and the songs still rock, so how can I help loving it? I can’t turn off what turns me on.
Favorite songs: “Pills,” “Masseduction,” “Los Ageless,” “New York,” “Young Lover”
Least favorite song: “Savior”
P.S. Did anyone else keep misreading it as “Mass Education”?
Lorde - Melodrama
Lorde intrigued me right from the start, when “Royals” blew up on the radio just as I was starting college. Try as I might, though, I could never get into Pure Heroine. The songs were okay, but they seemed empty, lacking, like their minimalism wasn’t doing them any favors; I wanted Lorde’s unusual voice to have something stronger to stand against. Enter Melodrama, which does everything that Heroine didn’t and much more. Antonoff’s production is spare but tasteful, lacking both the emptiness of her debut and the bombast of so many Top 40 hits. Lorde’s vocals are consistently strong, whether channeling anticipation, regret, resolve, or any of the conflicted emotions between. For me, though, Lorde’s lyrics do the most work in selling those emotions. All of her words are in their right places, lamenting her “loveless generation” with simple and direct language, achieving maturity without the impression of trying. “What the fuck are perfect places?” she asks on the closer, the best example of this skill. Melodrama is so much more than mopey dance music for millennials; it’s Lorde’s most fully realized work yet, and one that’ll be hard for her to match with or without the right sound behind her. (It’s a good thing Antonoff worked on two of my favorite records this year, otherwise I’d never forgive him for “Look What You Made Me Do.” Just don’t do that kind of thing again, okay, dude?)
Favorite songs: “Homemade Dynamite,” “Hard Feelings/Loveless,” “Supercut,” “Perfect Places”
Least favorite song: “Liability”
Vince Staples - Big Fish Theory
You’ll notice most of my picks this year were relative game-changers for the artists who released them. So too was Big Fish Theory, which has more in common with electroclash and Detroit techno than any of Vince Staples' rap influences, and sounds all the better for it. This short album is full of bangers, with several hard-hitting, distorted electronic beats that can easily get lodged in your brain. However, Vince clearly still has a lot on his mind, which keeps the songs from devolving into club prattle. His many, many diatribes feel just as heartfelt as Kendrick’s, especially whenever he falls back to his Long Beach past on tracks like “SAMO” and “Rain Come Down,” or when he aims right at the big players on "BagBak." The only difference is his grievances come in even tighter packages, getting straight to the point and never letting go. And it’s not like DAMN. was long-winded, mind you, it’s just that Vince uses the short song format so well. Nothing is wasted, no words, no synths, nothing. Big Fish Theory manages to be both a big downer and a huge banger in just 36 minutes, and it deserves a top ten spot for that alone.
Favorite songs: “Crabs in a Bucket,” “Love Can Be…,” “BagBak,” “Yeah Right,” “Rain Come Down”
Least favorite song: “Alyssa Interlude” (unfitting)
LCD Soundsystem - American Dream
I debated whether or not to put this on my top ten list, since it does have flaws that I’m not willing to ignore: a back-loaded track list, a few samey-sounding beats, and some unsuccessful lyrical ad-libs from James Murphy (“you’re just a baby now!” being the worst offender). However, American Dream’s virtues are even harder to ignore, the biggest being the album’s outstanding centerpiece “How Do You Sleep?” The title might be cribbed from a John Lennon song, but LCD’s version is arguably better, with a furious drum part, an instantly memorable synth bass line, a mountainous lead vocal from Murphy, and one of the best beat drops in their entire catalogue. The rest of the album isn’t shabby, either, with tight musicianship, cool riffs, and infectious rhythms all around. Murphy tackles political unrest and personal crises with equal aplomb, most poignantly on the title track and on “Black Screen,” a long, spiraling tribute to David Bowie. His album might not be the year's most perfect, but it’s likeably, compellingly imperfect, and a good reason for his band to stick around a little while longer.
Favorite songs: “How Do You Sleep?” (hands down), “Call the Police,” “Tonite,” “Oh Baby”
Least favorite songs: “Other Voices,” “Emotional Haircut”
Tyler, the Creator - Flower Boy
Like Run the Jewels, Tyler, the Creator finally won me over with his latest album, and he had a much steeper uphill battle than they did. I was never impressed by his early work, and I kept hoping that he’d grow out of shock value and mature lyrically, if not mellow out. He ended up doing both anyway, and nobody seems to be complaining, not that they should be. While the words gain a lot from Tyler’s newfound mellowness, I can’t forget how goddamn wonderful this album sounds. Most of these beats would make Flying Lotus (or even Stevie Wonder) proud, and Tyler’s intricate, relaxed flow sits very comfortably atop them. Whether he’s classily dissing his haters on “Pothole” or touchingly coming out of the closet on “Garden Shed,” he always seems genuine and self-assured, giving his lyrical chops some welcome depth. Flower Boy also boasts the most consistent track list Tyler’s ever had, with no huge gaffes to spoil the highlights. Mostly, it’s just nice to know that artists can still grow so much and change all of your expectations, and I’m glad I got past my initial dislike of Tyler before it stopped me from listening. Like Estelle says, don’t kill a rose before it blooms.
Favorite songs: “Garden Shed,” “Boredom,” “Foreword,” “Where This Flower Blooms,” “911 / Mr. Lonely”
Least favorite song: Too consistent to tell, maybe "Who Dat Boy" or one of the interludes
The Magnetic Fields - 50 Song Memoir
Stephin Merritt’s latest project was doomed from the start: good or bad as it might be, it would never measure up to his earlier double-digit musical achievement, 69 Love Songs. Did it ever need to, though? In reality, the Magnetic Fields’ latest record is strong (and certainly long) enough to stand up by itself. With one song for each year of Merritt’s life, the album covers outdated fads, failed relationships, mean stepdads, burgeoning sexuality, the aging process and more, all with the same level of lyrical detail and musical finesse. And it’s all really, really funny, too. I found myself laughing out loud pretty often while listening, despite how groan-worthy some of the punchlines are. The insanely catchy melodies and Merritt’s deadpan vocals help on that front, although the songwriter can just as easily be melancholy and introspective when he wants to. Most artists don’t make their most personal, introspective work until they’re older, and while I still wouldn’t call 50 Song Memoir the Magnetic Fields’ best, it truly benefits from Merritt’s wealth of experience and songwriting craft. Getting old might be just a big joke for him, but he makes it a joke well worth telling.
Favorite songs: “No,” “Hustle 76,” “Ethan Frome,” “Me and Fred and Dave and Ted,” “Lovers’ Lies,” “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”
Least favorite songs: “The 1989 Musical Marching Zoo,” “Surfin'”
Björk - Utopia
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was one of my favorite movies last year, and not just for the excellent writing and acting. I thought it had something a lot of great movies don’t have: hope. It wasn’t an unrealistic or dogmatic kind of hope, but a simple faith in the idea that people can improve and wounds can indeed heal. The same kind of hope breathes life and beauty into Björk’s latest album Utopia, another masterful work of art in a career full of them. Björk’s overlapping vocals are as wonderfully resonant as you’d expect, especially on the powerful opener “Arisen My Senses” and the pretty title track. Arca’s masterful production – alternately dense and minimal, electronic and acoustic – suits the music perfectly, suggesting that Björk and Arca could make music together forever and nobody would complain. Like Vulnicura, Utopia also makes very interesting use of specific instruments, in this case flutes, harps, and choirs. Unlike Vulnicura, though, Utopia has much more comfort and healing to convey, while it doesn’t avoid tragedy, either. It sounds like an odd choice for a feel-good record, but Björk’s made plenty of odd choices before, and they’ve all paid off. Count this hour-long-plus ode to joy as one of them.
Favorite songs: “Utopia,” “The Gate,” “Body Memory,” “Losss,” "Tabula Rasa"
Least favorite song: “Features Creatures”
Honorable Mentions: Neil Cicierega – Mouth Moods, Thundercat – Drunk, The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding, Future Islands – The Far Field, Mount Eerie – A Crow Looked at Me
Stray favorite songs from albums that didn’t make the cut: “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” by the National, “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano” by Sampha, “Saturnz Barz” by Gorillaz, “Quarrel” by Moses Sumney, "Drew Barrymore" by SZA
Most Disappointing: Arcade Fire – Everything Now (INFINITE CONTENT WE’RE INFINITELY CONTENT OH YEAH)
Crazy Luigi's Top 6
To go with my fellow peer Nozdordomu for a brief minute, I'm afraid that unlike 2016, there wasn't a whole lot in terms of albums I was looking forward to in 2017. While there were some albums that came out that looked to pique my interests, I ultimately didn't have the time or opportunity to enjoy them like I did with most of the albums I listened to here. Of course, that's not to say this past year was a bad year in regards to music. In fact, some projects that some people might have disliked for whatever reason, such as Gorillaz's Humanz, I actually did enjoy and find almost underrated at points. That's not even mentioning some other jewels that not only we liked, but we might have underappreciated or completely forgot about later on! It's just if this year underwhelmed you with our entries this year, remember we're all still human and we might not have the time to go through everything like we probably should. That being said, when speaking of jewels, it wouldn't make sense to mention this group to kick things off for 2017, now would it?
One thing that should be mentioned is that while yes, the album was "leaked" by the rap duo themselves back in Christmas 2016, the actual physical copies of the album officially came out on January 13, 2017, thus making it eligible for discussion here. And you know what? I've honestly been underrating the success of this rap duo for quite some time now, with Killer Mike's R.A.P. Music honestly sounding like it should have been on my Best Albums of 2012 list (yet wasn't for some odd reason), El-P having his own great sounding 2012 album himself, and Run The Jewels, in general, having some nice music under their reigns together, to the point where they've started gaining more attention within certain media outlets this past year! Not only did this duo start gaining further recognition by having their songs appear in movies like Baby Driver and the upcoming Black Panther, as well as video games like Gears of War 4 (with a trailer including a song that got remixed for this album) and FIFA 18, but they also even gained some mainstream accessibility thanks to their guest appearances on late night talk shows by Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, and especially Stephen Colbert. And after their latest album that this rap duo's released, you can really start to see why now more than in the past.
Now I'll freely admit that one of the reasons why Run The Jewels didn't seem to click with me completely before was how they sounded like they rap completely effortlessly at points, which does kind of make previous full albums of theirs hard to get into for my eyes, save for a select few songs. However, with this album, their effortless styles of rap look to have finally clicked with me for a full album, especially in regards to some of their content spoken. That being said, this is their most politically driven album yet, especially considering Killer Mike had full support for Bernie Sanders and essentially said 'fuck both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump' in our previous U.S. Presidential Election once they became our only candidates left, so if you disagree with some of the political aspects stated here (for whatever reason), this album might not be for you. Of course, if that's not a problem for you (either by you likely agreeing with the political sentiments from the rap duo or being more open-minded in that aspect), then you will be impressed by the rapping of the duo on songs like "Call Ticketron" and some of the themes displayed throughout the album with songs like "Thieves! (Screamed The Ghost)." Pretty much everyone that collaborated with the duo on this album, from the minor parts with Joi on "Down" or Trina on "Panther Like A Panther (Miracle Mix)" to the major parts with Danny Brown on "Hey Kids (Bumaye)" and the uncredited verse from former Rage Against The Machine vocalist Zach de la Rocha on "A Report To The Shareholders / Kill Your Masters," all managed to make themselves valuable on their tracks either through harmonies or something bigger, like in Kasami Washington's saxophone for the somber sounding "Thursday In The Danger Room." Much like Kasami Washington, El-P's production here is a thing of beauty, and if the rapping from either member doesn't sell you on them, then his production here really should. I don't know what else to say here besides go out and listen to this album if you haven't done so now!
Favorite Tracks: "Talk To Me," "Legend Has It," "Hey Kids (Bumaye)" (feat. Danny Brown), "Don't Get Captured," "2100" (feat. Boots), "Panther Like A Panther (Miracle Mix)" (feat. Trina), "Thursday In The Danger Room" (feat. Kasami Washington).
Least Favorite Track: After thinking about it for quite some time, I think it has to be "Stay Gold" for me.
Honestly, it really has to speak volumes of an artist where what some would consider one of his weaker projects by comparison to the rest of his discography (at least so far) is still a fantastic album to listen to in its own right! By now, you already know about this man, even if you've never heard any of this man's projects beforehand, so we can skip the formalities on him. That being said, Kendrick Lamar really is a man that truly had to rise above his peers like Drake or Kanye West, to name a select few examples, just to gain the recognition that he earned on this latest album. Not only is this the biggest rap album released in 2017 (with every song there charting at least once and it even topping Billboard's charts for multiple weeks if you follow that kind of thing), but it also looks to be the album that represents 2017 as a whole, in both the highs and lows relating to us (including some memes of its own, one of which revolves around the original album cover). And yet, if you listened to this man's earlier projects like Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City and especially To Pimp A Butterfly (like I had), you would almost find it to be a bit of a step down by comparison, especially if you heard some of Mike Will Made It's production at his worst in the past few years. However, while it might not be as fantastic as his previous two full-length albums, after a few more listens, this project really will resonate with you for the better, just like Mike Will Made It will for the songs he produced.
When it comes to Kendrick Lamar, you pretty much expect a certain quality of sound to him that makes him stand out in both lyrical and production standpoints. Luckily, this album isn't an exception towards those expectations at hand, as both remain on-point like they've always been on his albums. Granted, while the production at times doesn't quite stand out as it would in Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City or especially To Pimp A Butterfly, it still remains a key component towards what makes him stand out overall. Of course, when working with names like 9th Wonder and The Alchemist for a bit, there shouldn't be full-blown doubt in that regard. That being said, his lyrical mastery is still there like it would always be, and songs like "HUMBLE." (either the music video version or album version) and "DNA." helps further cement himself as the new King of Rap (even above the likes of Eminem, who he dubs himself as the Rap God). It also helps when guest acts like Rihanna, Zacari, and even U2 sound the best they've been in years (and in the case of Zacari, promote a potentially promising artist moving forward). Still, in regards to what makes this album not stand out like his first two full-length albums released to mainstream audiences, some of that kind of relates to the shout-outs from Kid Capri (which distracts a bit from moments like "YAH." or "ELEMENT." or especially "LOVE."), but it might be due to the themes not feeling as potent as they were in said albums... at least, when originally hearing the album when first released. However, the ironic thing is that Kid Capri himself helped give a key to helping the album stand out a bit more, having you figure out some of the answers you might not have had originally with this album. To me, when I did that, it not only helped enhance the project as being one of the best of the year but also helped give me a better understanding on what can go on with Kendrick's life a bit more.
Favorite Tracks: "DNA.", "FEEL." (feat. uncredited vocals from Chelsea Blythe), "PRIDE." (feat. uncredited vocals from Bēkon, Steve Lacy, & Anna Wise), "LOVE." (feat. Zacari (and an uncredited bit from Kid Capri)), "XXX." (feat. U2 (and uncredited vocals from Bēkon & Kid Capri)), "FEAR." (feat. uncredited bits from Carl Duckworth, B L S of Shahmen, & Bēkon), "DUCKWORTH." (feat. uncredited vocals from Bēkon & Kid Capri).
Least Favorite Track: As much as it may sound like sacrilege, I'm afraid the song "GOD." (feat. uncredited vocals from Bēkon & Yung Exclusive) is that by default of it sounding like the weakest track overall.
Look, I have to be honest when I say I really wasn't anticipating Tyler The Creator's latest project at all earlier in 2017. The reason why I say that is because when he released his Cherry Bomb album back in 2015, I thought that album was not only a massive disappointment to long-time fans of him but also looked to be the new direction that he was going towards moving forward, which I was quite against for various reasons. One of those reasons was obviously because his production was trying (and failing pretty badly) to be Death Grips inspired (due to it sounding too clustered, yet scattershot with poor audio quality when compared to even his Bastard mixtape (and for the record, I will not have a record from the Death Grips on my best of list this year for once for its own multitude of reasons)), but another reason was the direction that it looked like he was going for just didn't really fit the kind of artist he was altogether. Therefore, I had no reason at the time to be interested in his album in the first place. Leave it to Tyler himself to make myself and other people like me look really foolish in that regard, as going from Cherry Bomb to the tentatively titled Scum Fuck Flower Boy (before going with just Flower Boy on everything but certain editions of this project) really is a night-to-day transition that qualifies it as the biggest improvement from one project to the next I've seen yet!
If you're a long-time fan of Tyler's music, you'd already know that he continues the clever wordplay that's used in his previous albums like Goblin and Wolf. However, while his lyrics still remain a highlight of his, what's arguably considered his biggest highlight is his production when listening to songs like "See You Again" or "Boredom." Seriously, when comparing his production from previous albums he did (especially Cherry Bomb's scatterbrain sounds) to the lush sounds here, you'd almost be amazed that this is the same artist that we're speaking of! What Flower Boy does here is focus more on the sounds that did work from his previous projects (which in Cherry Bomb's case included "Find Your Wings" and "Perfect") and expand upon them more into a more funky, sometimes even soulful experience that benefits the entire project as a whole, especially considering the fact that it's Tyler's most personal album yet. While the number of guests on this project is almost as massive as his previous projects, Tyler managed to get both artists he knows well enough (like Lil Wayne, A$AP Rocky, Kali Uchis, and at least one Odd Future member in Frank Ocean (and Jasper Dolphin)) and newer artists you might not have heard of (like Rex Orange County, Anna of The North, and Steve Lacy) and make them work well, to the point where even someone like Jaden "How can mirrors be real if our eyes aren't?" Smith of all people actually sounds good in his track feature. Honestly, this entire album is filled with surprises all around, from the lyrics in some songs referencing his now questioning sexuality to the themes presented on the album and how they can resonate really well with the listener to even the climax presented in the last few tracks with its open to interpretation conclusion between "Glitter" and "Enjoy Right Now Today" arguably working in its favor. While there are some moments where I personally disagree with Tyler on a few things and while his "banger" songs aren't as banging as they were in projects like Goblin or Wolf, this honestly is not only Tyler The Creator's best album to date, but I'd argue my personal favorite album of 2017! Hopefully, he keeps up this new direction he's taking here and grows even further from there, regardless of sexuality.
Favorite Tracks: "Foreword" (feat. Rex Orange County), "Where This Flower Blooms" (feat. Frank Ocean), "See You Again" (feat. Kali Uchis), "Pothole" (feat. Jaden Smith and uncredited vocal bits from Alexander Brittin), "Boredom" (feat. Rex Orange County, Anna of The North, and an uncredited bit from Corienne Bailey Rae), "911 / Mr. Lonely" (feat. Steve Lacy & Frank Ocean, with uncredited appearances from Anna of The North, A$AP Rocky, ScHoolboy Q, Jasper Dolphin, and Lionel Boyce), "November" (feat. an uncredited opening by Kilo Kush).
Worst Track: Easily "Who Dat Boy" (feat. A$AP Rocky), due to it not only almost sounding completely out of place here, but its production sounds more fitting for Cherry Bomb than this album in general.
If you followed mainstream media throughout this past year, you'll have noticed that one trend that grew quite a bit was the rise of "Soundcloud rappers" taking over. Basically, instead of some of the usual suspects like Drake dominating the market throughout the time (although both Migos and the aforementioned Kendrick Lamar would cover that a bit), you'd see some previously no-name artists like XXXtentacion, Trippie Redd, Lil Pump, Lil Xan, or even 6ix9ine (formerly Tekashi69) suddenly rise up with little to no warning whatsoever and rise to fame almost overnight. And while I would wish respect for the recently deceased Lil Peep, who died from drug overdose via prescription pills, many of these artists were... let's just say less than stellar, to put it nicely. Of course, out of the doldrums of new names that somehow sounded more and more ridiculous the further you attempted to dive into such a place, there were one or two new artists that looked to have been a part of Soundcloud's reigns that honestly should deserve success, and this group is one of them (even though this is more akin to one Anthony Fantano spreading awareness of their existence this year). Of course, it goes without saying that this rap group of a lot of members that Mackenzie covered in her article on them earlier in 2017 had multiple albums released to their name this year, but I felt only one of their three Saturation albums had to make it this year. While the original Saturation is something that might take some time to fully get and Saturation III is Brockhampton at their most abrasive yet, I have to say that, to my eyes, Saturation II involves the best of everything that Brockhampton has to offer for me.
From the opening track alone, you can tell everyone from the group is looking to be more ambitious with their sequel project released earlier in April. Everyone in Brockhampton, regardless of whether they were a producer, a lyricist, or whatever else needed (in a group of 14-15 people) that was involved with the first Saturation managed to provide their A+ games into Saturation II and make it their most complete project yet, even in spite of it just being a middle of a trilogy that (spoiler alert) ultimately repeats itself. For the producers of the group (Romil Hemnani, Q3, JOBA, and bearface), they managed to make every song fit the mood needed between each song, from the deranged schizophrenia of "JUNKY" to the more reflective "SUNNY" and "SUMMER", not to mention the little details like the saxophone in "TOKYO" and the way the beats in "GUMMY" and "CHICK" grow the further they go on. Meanwhile, the multitude of rappers (and in the aforementioned bearface's case, vocalist) working on the meat and bones of the Saturation trilogy come up with what could arguably be their best, most introspective lyrics for each member yet (with the effects used on some of the vocals arguably being the easiest to get into in the entire trilogy). If you doubt me on that claim, listen to JOBA's part on "SWEET" or the entirety of "QUEER" and dare tell me otherwise! Even the tracks that might be considered not as good on this album still sound stupendous when listening to the entire album, which was more than I could say for either the original Saturation or Saturation III. Whatever faults I could hear from the original Saturation or Saturation III, I didn't on this album, which is honestly something for a group that I considered overrated at one point in 2017. Really, it's kind of ironic that in a year of great albums from artists that already had their marks in the music industry, my top two albums of 2017 were from an artist I thought was losing what made him work and a group I considered overrated at times.
Least Favorite Track: Honestly, this is the toughest to do yet! I guess if I'm excluding the two "SCENE" skits, I might say "JESUS" (I swear I'm not doing this on purpose), if only because it sounds like it should be longer than it is.
Honestly, I really did not want to leave all my entries to being nothing but rap, and yet, I felt like there were moments where I had no choice in that regard. I mean, all four of these previous albums I mentioned were all fantastic in their own ways, and there was also one last underrated masterpiece that I just plain had to mention the more and more I went into this guy's project, but I truly wanted to bring at least a little bit of variety in my actual choices at hand. However, when it came to most of the things I did listen to, they either just couldn't quite muster up the interest to rise up a bit (or at least grow a bit higher the more the really great projects came out) or didn't quite have that quality needed to rise up in the first place. In fact, I feared that I was going to be stuck with a decision that I felt like I'd regret doing a few years down the line when looking back at some of my choices, similar to omitting Killer Mike's R.A.P. Music in 2012. Thankfully, there was a project that slipped under the radar this year that honestly feels like it should gain more attention than it really has so far this year. In fact, I'd go one step further and say if you still disagree with my inclusion of Run The Jewels because of that little leaking technicality, this would be on my Top 5 for 2017 for sure.
The first thing I should mention is that Daniel Caesar is a soulful R&B singer akin to that of Frank Ocean, only he's Canadian instead of American. Unlike Frank Ocean, though, Daniel Caesar is more of an artist that wears some of the styles of past artists like Stevie Wonder on his sleeves and follows them with a bit of experimentation to help make it his own. Throughout the album, Daniel is focused on the feeling of love and the intricacies involved with it, both the good and the bad, akin to the psychological theories presented by Sigmund Freud. Honestly, the subject matter that he presents makes for what might very well be some of the easiest listens you could possibly ask for with an album in 2017. The vocals Caesar provides here sound almost divine with the lyrical presentation on songs like "Get You" and "Blessed." Then, with the production at hand, the mixture of soulful R&B with the experimental moments akin to what you might hear from Frank Ocean provide some more whimsical moments like in "Neu Roses (Transgressor's Song)" or "Take Me Away" with Syd. Speaking of which, there are plenty of songs that have a female's touch at hand with artists like Kali Uchis, H.E.R., the aforementioned Syd, Charlotte Day Wilson, and plenty of other uncredited vocalists that all manage to add their own unique charms and atmosphere to each song that they're on. This album is honestly something that I'd consider to be the perfect reflection of a love-struck mind that not only shows his pure appreciation towards his partner, but also looks into some of the easier to give up moments where something like miscommunication could lead to a break-up that might not have been needed in the first place. However, much like this album cover, you get back up and climb like Daniel Caesar's doing, not matter how steep it is, and you enjoy the time spent together while they're there. Because honestly, if that's not what Sigmund Freud had in mind in relation to this album, even if it's more straight in emotions than Frank Ocean is, then I don't know what would be.
Least Favorite Track: I'd have to say the title track "Freudian" (feat. uncredited vocals from Sean Leon), if only for the last portion of the song combined with the minute or so of dead air included.
Remember when I mentioned that there was another artist that looked to have started under the interesting world of Soundcloud as a rapper? Well, this artist known as IDK (formerly known as Jay IDK back in his earlier days) is that other artist that actually rose up to be someone to watch out for in his own unique way, thanks to the help of Adult Swim. You see, before September 2017, I had never heard of this IDK guy before, and even when Adult Swim first started promoting him with his "IWasVeryBad" album, I felt like I was missing something the first time around. Not only was this guy's album being promoted as something that looked to be for a limited time and not only was it easy to joke that his full name was "I Don't Know" like the Internet slang term, but his album was coming out around the same time MF Doom's "The Missing Notebook Rhymes" was trying to reach its halfway mark (which honestly looked more interesting to me than an unknown guy like him entering the scenes). However, once Adult Swim decided to cancel MF Doom's project, I figured why not give it a shot; even though the Chief Keef feature gave me some pause, I had to figure there was something to this guy if he managed to get both MF Doom & Del The Funky Homosapien together, especially on the same track. Luckily for him, not only did he manage to break through to me, but he also became an artist I can respect moving forward!
Before beginning my breakdown on the album, I should give fair warning that the Adult Swim link to his album has a few strange inconsistencies between titles on his album, not to mention his song "17 With A 38" with Chief Keef somehow has what sounds like an incomplete version of that song on there without the feature at all (and if I were grading solely on that, it'd be my worst least favorite track for sure). Now that this minor grievance has been taken care of, I can say IDK (known more colloquially as Ignorantly Delivering Knowledge) definitely has something to his style that could grow into something bigger like Brockhampton, only with more of an introspective side on his end. Going off of the release of each track via Adult Swim, the first three songs released on September 29 showcased the kind of menace Jay was in his youth, while the next four (technically three with an interlude) released on October 6 has him going for sexual jams that interestingly go from describing himself as a dog with sex to being more sensual and almost caring for his partner. However, it's the last five tracks released on October 13 that help this album go from just good to great, where IDK gets closer to the present reflects on his past with how he deconstructs why he was considered a bad seed in his youth and how it ultimately helps fuel him into bettering himself both as a person and as a rapper, even after knowing what happens near the end of the album. Seriously, not only does this album provide some fantastic production that resonates the mood of each track well, but IDK really makes good use of his lyricism here, as does every guest on this album (even Chief Keef himself on the full "17 Wit A 38" song and the relatively unknown Mother Marygold flowing surprisingly well on "Dog Love Kitty"). Combine all that with the potent, emotional pathos found on last third of the album, and this album is certainly one I can see myself coming back to even years after he likely surpasses this album and gains further recognition for that in the process.
Favorite Tracks: "Maryland Ass Nigga" (feat. Swizz Beatz), "Pizza Shop Extended" (feat. Yung Gleesh, MF Doom, & Del The Funky Homosapien), "Birds & The Bees" (featuring an uncredited female vocalist that I don't know who it belongs to yet), "No Shoes At The Door, Leave Them At The Rug," "No Words," "Black Sheep, White Dove."
Least Favorite Track(s): Excluding the skit known as "Mama Said "Respect The Venus Symbol" I Didn't Listen," I'd probably have to say the bonus track "Baby Scale" (feat. Yung Gleesh) if I'm going for the full, uncut release.
Honorable mentions that didn't make the cut, but deserve mentions from me anyway (also done in chronological order) include Gorillaz's Humanz (for making an album that showcases our current worldview in an eerily clear manner for this day, to the point where it was so close to being my other album to talk about instead of Daniel Caesar's Freudian), Joey Bada$$' All-AmeriKKKan Bada$$ (for being relatively similar to Humanz, only with a more urban approach in that regard), Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit's The Nashville Sound (due to it having moments that made what I said in 2016 about country being rather limited as a genre look rather foolish), Kesha's Rainbow (just because it's more of a triumph for her end over anything else), Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings' Soul of A Woman (for having a release of a posthumous person sound right this year), and Red Vox's Another Light (just for being an album that showcases nice improvements for a more serious sounding rock group moving forward).
Mackenzie's Top 5
Unlike Crazy Luigi and Nozdordomu, I was pretty excited for 2017 right from the beginning, with several favourites of mine having scheduled new albums for release after multiple years of no new material. This list of artists, including but not limited to, Paramore, Lorde, St. Vincent, Gorillaz, Shpongle, Carbon Based Lifeforms, Igorrr and Phuture Doom released albums, that I just ended up feeling "meh" about, in worst cases I straight out disliked them. I wanted an improved version of Paramore's self-titled album, they delivered a plastic, empty Pop record instead. I desperately needed a good Gorillaz record seven years after the flop that was The Fall, I was given a below decent album with thousands of features, that sounded more like a Parlophone compilation album than a Gorillaz record. St. Vincent delivered a stylistically different, but equally boring Pop record to Paramore's level. Shpongle went full-on gimmicky on their new record, bringing very little interesting, new elements to the table, instead just running their own river dry that was already gasping for fresh water after the release of their previous album, The Museum of Consciousness. Lorde, Phuture Doom and Igorrr thankfully all delivered solid albums, Lorde and Phuture Doom having released my top 2 albums of 2013 and Igorrr released my second favourite album of both 2012 and all time.
So, in the end, almost everything I had looked forward to fell quite flat. Thankfully, I was surprised by some veteran artists that I hadn't much cared about and some completely new, recent talents. I had a hard time narrowing my list down to Top 5, which, believe it or not, ended up showcasing the slightly above average quality of the year, after all. Without further ado, here's my list.
Igorrr - Savage Sinusoid
Igorrr, the French madman with a chicken, finally delivered a new album last year, a whopping five years after his last album and three years after a brief split EP with Ruby My Dear, another French experimental mastermind. What seemed like a change in audio and dynamics in the beginning, with the release of the debut single, ieuD, the album turned out to be a hectic bag of genres in the end, exactly what we've been accustomed to expect from him. The album is more traditional and metal, less experimental and electronic than anything he has previously released, so it is an unfortunate deal-breaker for worse to some older fans, while it simultaneously gained him a whole new metalhead fanbase. For me, personally, it was the album I didn't realize I needed from him. Had it been more similar to his previous album, Hallelujah, I probably would have liked this one a much less. While for Hallelujah, my second favourite album of all-time, an accurate description would be "Experimental Electronic with Metal elements", Savage Sinusoid would be more on point with "Experimental Metal with Electronic elements". But even then, those descriptions are just weak scratches on the surface. The atmosphere of this album drifts Igorrr away a bit from the generic Breakcore sound, into a whole, unseen, completely new dimension of fucked up "murder Metal and Folk". So, to put it short, Hallelujah is more of my cup of tea, but Savage Sinusoid is a very refreshing change in sound. Like a black dewdrop in the jungle of glitched up lights.
Not only are the album covers and musical elements disgusting, but he also keeps naming his songs in a very unusual way, revolving around grotesque things in both French and English. Some of the best ones on this album are Viande (Meat), Houmous (Hummus), Apopathodiaphulatophobie (The fear of constipation) and Opus Brain, with some earlier highlights including Moldy Eye, Melting Nails, Cruciform Dachshund, Lullaby For A Fat Jellyfish and Sueur De Caniche (Poodle's Sweat). The titles actually do suit the songs, which probably should not be a good thing. They are as disgusting and uneasy in their sound design and genre hopping as their names would give away. There are some songs that are just overblown Metal anthems with very subtle electronic influences, some songs where the Baroque elements really get a chance to shine through, while some songs jump from a genre to another once every fifteen seconds. Even Chiptune gets a few seconds of fame for the first time, so now I think Igorrr has finally touched, at least once, every single genre that has ever existed. What's probably my favourite song on the album, Cheval displays themes from European Folk music, Dubstep, Death Metal and Opera. It sounds like what carving your brain probably feels like. It doesn't make sense to like it. But you do. Opus Brain and Robert are more classic when it comes to the usual Igorrr standards, with all the Electronic sounds overpowering the Metal side. Va te foutre on the other hand is just a two-minute Grindcore-esque song based on a looped blast beat and a cheap sounding harp on the background, by far his worst song ever.
While Hallelujah had some ridiculously strong highlights, Savage Sinusoid is definitely more
Edited by Nozdordomu