The 20 Best Albums Of 2017, So Far

On June 12th 2017 » By Amileah Sutliff and Andrew Winistorfer

2017 so far header

It’s natural to view any “so far” list with a healthy amount of skepticism. “How can you judge that already?” you’ll ask, as you click the link. “Isn’t the end of June a more appropriate time for this?” you’ll think, as you scroll down. “This list doesn’t have [album of the year to you], this list is trash,” you’ll Tweet when you finish. And that’s part of the accepted process when it comes to lists; we expect it, and you know it’s expected of you.

But I’ve never bought the inherent distrust of list making as a process. It’s a brutally efficient way to take stock of a year. Given that every day brings a torrent of news that makes it feel like mere existence is on the brink of being cancelled, why not stop, this clear June day, and think about our favorite music of the year so far? We hope this list will remind you of some great music that came out this year, or, even better, finally convince you to take the plunge on listening to something you’ve put off.

Arca: Arca

Arca’s an expert in intergalactic travel. The Venezuelan electronic artist traveled on Xen, again on Mutant, and all of his catalogue preceding it. More familiarly, he’s taken some of the finest minds and makers of our generation with him too (Bjork, Kanye, FKA Twigs). But Arca, more than anyone, knows that this planet to which he takes us looks strangely like our own on Arca. Arca is his most “human” work, in terms of familiarity, with its heavy use of vocals, and even occasional slip into pop-y or traditional (at least for Arca) sounds and progressions. It’s a naked look at everything we are—yesterday, today and, most importantly, tomorrow—in its most intimate and unfamiliar context. And as with most of Arca’s work, in order to listen most effectively, as viscerally as Arca was intended to be, it requires you to surrender yourself to him, to reach a level of vulnerability you didn’t know you could reach as a listener. —Amileah Sutliff

Charli XCX: Number One Angel

Charli XCX has always thrived in her status as an Outlier It Girl—still undoubtedly and unapologetically pop, but a pop that sits on the outside cusp of mainstream. Presented as a “project,” rather than a mixtape or album, No. 1 Angel is her second project produced by PC Music and affiliates. It shares the same unique electronic production, the same “Is she serious?” dry cynicism and the same “It doesn’t matter!” clapback that garners favor more selectively than most mainstream pop—it’s not for everyone—but also gives it a distinct flavor. In classic XCX style, Angel’s content is best paired with low-grade vodka, a white-knuckled grip on your youth (“Dreamer”), and a general disregard for consequences or foresight beyond tonight (“3AM”). But what pushes it from just a delicious pop album to “Best So Far” is the flawless squad of features she’s rallied: Starrah, MØ, Abra, Uffie and the queen herself, CupcakKe, whose verses alone should be reason enough for you to turn this album on. —AS

Chris Stapleton: From a Room Vol. 1

There were Titantic expectations for this album, Chris Stapleton’s sophomore solo effort. After all, he’s the guy praised for helping “kill” bro-country from outlets as vast as Deadspin and (insert every country publication that had to cover Luke Bryan’s comings and goings obsessively the last 10 years). That was a caricature Stapleton couldn’t live up to—he writes for Bryan, and even wrote the best Thomas Rhett song—and this album proves it’s one he won’t live up to either. Promising part two later this year, Stapleton’s From a Room Vol. 1 is a low-stakes album, with a song about running out of weed (“Them Stems”), a heartbreaking Willie Nelson cover (“Last Thing I Needed, First Thing This Morning”), and a song that massacres The Black Keys songbook just for fun (“Second One to Know”). The lack of THIS IS MY MASTERPIECE flaunting makes Vol. 1 Stapleton’s best album; from his vocal performances, to his guitar playing, to his clever songwriting, Stapleton cements his status as country’s finest craftsman. Nothing more, nothing less.—Andrew Winistorfer

Dirty Projectors: Dirty Projectors

The Dirty Projectors’ break-up story has been one of the best undercard music stories in 2017, with Dave Longstreth, the band’s founder, essentially going it alone on the group’s new LP—a wounded, searching breakup album—while former member, and former Longstreth romantic partner, Amber Coffman launches her own solo career via her winsome break-up album (the also very good City of No Reply). Longstreth’s album gets the slight edge here, for the way he was able to reinvent the sound of Dirty Projectors from the ground up, expanding the group’s palette in weirdo R&B (“Cool Your Heart”) and chronicling the break-up so that it stands as maybe the most minute and complete breakup album you’ve ever heard (he remembers specific car rides here). The end of the album finds Longstreth moving on to whatever is next—both musically and romantically—which will have a long road to top this.—AW

Read our full review here.

Father John Misty: Pure Comedy

Forget the adversarial interviews with Pitchfork on acid. Forget the clickbait headlines about crucifixion in music videos and Taylor Swift. Forget the acerbic comments at concerts and the Twitter beefs with music writers. Those things are part of the giant performance art concept around Pure Comedy, but they’re not what’s important: This is a stunning concept album that imagines human existence in the moments before extinction, which seems closer and closer every day. It sounds like Randy Newman playing as Rome burns. He might be an asshole, but Father John Misty makes vital, important indie rock that swings for much bigger than what the Twitter stories will tell you.—AW

Read our full review here.

Fleet Foxes: Crack-Up

Taking most of the ’10s off was probably the smartest career move Robin Pecknold could have pulled after his 2011 album, Helplessness Blues. It allowed Fleet Foxes, like a mosquito stuck in amber with dinosaur blood in its proboscis, to increase in importance and esteem. No matter the quality of album three, the return of Fleet Foxes was going to be a collective YAAAASSSS! on the indie Twittersphere; Crack-Up being as musically daring and pushing as it is of the constrictions of the Fleet Foxes sound is going to get buried in the hype around the album’s release. Lyrically, this is the best Fleet Foxes album, and the way that it changes styles and sounds on a dime, pushing songs past the six-minute mark makes it their strongest musically. “Third Of May” is going to be such a jam when fall comes.—AW

Read our full review here.

Future: HNDRXX

Even the most ardent pro-Future fans would tell you that there were some cracks forming in the Future musical monolith at the beginning of 2017. Too many mixtapes in the same Super Future mode that sounded like tone poems to drinking syrup, fucking indiscriminately and feeling like you’re dying in a row left those of us who still ride for Pluto hoping Future would don the astronaut suit and do trap&B again. After FUTURE, it felt like Future would not be doing that, but then he dropped HNDRXX the next week and delivered what is in the running for his best album yet. From the stutters on the chorus of “Incredible,” to his duet with Rihanna (“Selfish”), this was like catnip for those of us who think Honest caught a bad rap. Of course, “Mask Off” is the biggest hit from either Future album so he might go back to being dark, but HNDRXX makes that inevitable return to the dark side more acceptable.—AW

Gabriel Garzón-Montano: Jardin

Every once in awhile a vocalist comes along who’s so purely and objectively incredible, so dynamic, they span the bridge of taste and genre. Gabriel Garzón-Montano’s voice is undeniably intoxicating—the kind of vocals that would stop you in your tracks if you were walking down the street and heard them coming out of a second story window. But Jardin is beyond just being “pleasing.” Garzón-Montano meshed his ability will breath-like fluidity and sings in warm colors that don’t even exist, more saturated than anything you could imagine. Each track basks in its brilliant pacing; hang on, slow down, stay a while, they say, as one leads into the next. It’s the sensation of remembering what sun feels like on your skin after it’s been cold for so long and never wanting to move from its warmth again.—AS

Girlpool: Powerplant

Much of Girlpool’s relatively quick rise following their 2014 self-titled album and 2015 Before The World Was Big might be attributed to their punk-y stripped-down simplicity. Their work is always a beautifully intimate conversation, honest harmonies over minimal guitar that somehow managed to raise the hair on your arm quicker than a chamber orchestra could if they tried. With all that stock and success in the beauty of their own sparse clarity, the addition of a full band was a risk, of sorts, but one that undoubtedly paid off. They kept every inch of intimacy and vulnerability that constituted their undeniable pull, and had only fullness to gain. Powerplant has higher highs and lower lows—ebbs and flows you wouldn’t expect in a trip to the corner store or throwing away a bowl of soup—but instead of completing their writing, Girlpool made an album with mountains of space for their gorgeous concision to fester.—AS

Read our full review here.

Jay Som: Everybody Works

File this one under “Indie Rock That Actually Matters In 2017.” In addition to being a breezy Bandcamp dreamsicle of an album, Everybody Works expertly boasts being somewhat of a sidekick to the inevitable crushing quarter-life crisis that comes with being 22, like Melina Duterte, in a world that makes less and less sense every day. The chorus of “For Light” repeats “I’ll be right on time / Won’t be blind to light / Won’t forget to climb.” Avoiding the cliches that often come with art that can be described “inspirational” or “confessional,” Duterte reminds us with grace that it’s alright to believe in something, to work toward something; because after all, everybody’s working toward something and sometimes that’s all we can do.—AS

Read our full review here.

Jlin: Black Origami

While most artists are out here thriving in and around their genres, moving audiences through pre-existing forms, language and morphemes, Gary, Indiana, producer Jlin has created an entire masterpiece out of her own complex auditory language. This isn’t to say she’s free of inspiration or genre; she heavily draws from and adheres to much of the groundwork laid by her Footwork predecessors, favoring the digital sounds of drum machines and structural ordered chaos. But, even further than her 2015 Dark Energy, Black Origami births new interpretations and, ultimately, a reordering of everything you thought was familiar about sound and its humanity and the world around us. It’s the kind of uncanny human soundscape that’s born from a fresh auditory language, an alien sound sculpture, one without words but never devoid of meaning. Every sound—every snap, every pause, every silence, every chime, every crack, every sample, every piece—exists because Jlin put it there and, when you listen to the whole, introduces you to an altered perception in a way that feels both foreign and familiar at every turn.—AS

John Moreland: Big Bad Luv

There’s not a lot hidden with John Moreland: He’s just a dude making rock-solid, hauntingly sad, largely acoustic folk rock. His songs are usually straight ahead; he’s not gonna waste your time with much metaphor since neither you nor him have much time for that, especially when the feelings are so big. His last two albums were sad sad, without much narrative redemption in their tales of heartbreak and woe. This one, his best, is more happy sad, a newly married guy who’s suddenly found himself on the other side of darkness, newly happy, looking back on the sad times. This year has been a tough one for me emotionally, and I return to this record as a salve, a reminder to embrace the good while keeping the bad at bay.—AW

Read our full review here.

Kehlani: SweetSexySavage

A current generational obsession with ’90s pop nostalgia either sets the table for empty, reductive attempts at R&B pop or originally relevant tracks that draw from R&B and bring it smoothly into our current cultural moment. The latter’s infinitely more scarce and harder to pull off, but Kehlani’s mastered it with style on SweetSexySavage. With a fine mix of sex and poise on every note, and killer production to boot (THE DROP ON “IN MY FEELINGS,” JEEZ), 22-year-old Kehlani made an album of catchy, fun bangers that don’t succumb to pop monotony, but fit snugly into 2017. Just roll down your damn windows, turn this on and don’t over think it.—AS

Kendrick Lamar: DAMN.

A True Science Fact is that the amount of collective excitement sweat we shed as a nation the first time we all listened to “DNA” is enough to fill the Atlantic Ocean. Twice. Kendrick’s done it again, duh. Kendrick, forever the keenest, wittiest observer of the human race, took our wild current political and cultural moment and strained it through a lens of his impossibly distinct artistic eyes, rich biblical references, tightly knit narrative and flawless production decisions—all neatly packaged into a brilliant and addicting concept album. Despite legitimate comparisons to his unbeatable To Pimp A Butterfly masterpiece, the sheer amount of car and apartment windows through which you can hear DAMN.—even two months after its release—is proof that Kung Fu Kenny’s forever on top. Also, it’s worth noting here that RIRI’S GOT BARS, GOOD GOD.—AS

Read our full review here.

Kevin Morby: City Music

Recorded shortly after he finished his 2016 critical breakthrough, the rural and back-to-nature Singing Saw, City Music is Kevin Morby’s ode to being lonely in a city, and how empty it feels to walk the streets without knowing anyone. It was written mostly in isolation in L.A., yet musically it sounds like so many great New York rock records from The Velvet Underground to Horses. It’s Morby’s best album, and one that bookmarks him as the forefront of the new wave of indie songwriters. Yes, it’s our Record of the Month, but it’s also one of the records of the year.—AW

Read our Liner Notes here.

Marika Hackman: I’m Not Your Man

Marika Hackman brought a hefty load of steam to her previously chilling twee sound, but left the rock-solid, hook-laden songwriting she’s always been able to boast. The result is sticky hot perfection—gritty, grunge-y, beautiful anthems for waste-away summer days that drive you to the brink of insanity. Hackman takes an excruciating look at hot and passionate romance—not the kind of pastel rom-coms, but the kind that keeps your mind fixed on nothing but your lover’s mouth for five days straight, makes you yell in a parking lot, drives you wretch up a bottle of wine, and almost never ends well. But I’m Not Your Man, with its alluring movement and hair-raising molasses lyricism, convinces you it might all actually be worth it to begin with. That, and I’ll fight to the death for any album with a track about a girl stealing a dude’s girlfriend from right under his nose and mocking him for it (“Boyfriend”). Pure gold.—AS

Read our full review here.

Migos: CULTURE

There have been few cultural experiences more incredible this year than being literally anywhere—the public library, the grocery store, church, Nigeria—and having the beat to “Bad and Boujee” drop. Offset rode from the northside to the subconscious of every breathing person between the ages of 5 and 85 this year, which is more than you could have predicted from Migos, who have had a knack for shooting themselves in the foot virtually every time they seem poised for a national breakthrough. That the album which accompanied “Bad and Boujee”’s ascendance is as good as it is is almost unnecessary; it’s charms are as varied as Tity Two Necklace bodying a verse on “Deadz,” “T-Shirt” being secretly the best song on the album, the way Gucci Mane pronounces “water” on “Slippery,” the fact that their is literally a guitar solo on this thing (“What the Price”), and all three Migoses being so magnetic they even pulled off a catchy reading of a kid’s book.—AW

Read our full review here.

Perfume Genius: No Shape

Mike Hadreas understands the value of chills, and knows how to make you get them. Not just goosebumps, either. Full-body chills, hot ice from each follicle on your scalp to the last sliver of your toenails. On the opening track “Otherside,” the still of his lone, androgynous voice sings “Rocking you to sleep…” a distillation of gentle, carnal beauty and soft human intimacy, but then it bursts into choral beauty that reaches to the sky and back: “…from the other side,” an ode to all the beauty that exists beyond what we are, beyond what we can see. The chills on every track on No Shape are as small as the deepest corner of your lover’s mouth, as grand as a basilica, as large as the atmosphere itself. No Shape is the opposite of dull cynicism; it’s feeling everything in the face of nothing, and the album we need to make us feel again, even when it isn’t easy.—AS

Power Trip: Nightmare Logic

There’s been no shortage of metal worth your time this year (peace to Andy and Deaf Forever) but all of that has felt like second place to this neighborhood-demolishing album from the Dallas bashers Power Trip. I pressed play on this the first time, blacked out and came to 20 feet under the ground, using my size 13 New Balances to dig my way into the White House (I was in Wyoming). Inexplicably, I was accompanied by a white rhinoceros piloted by an orangutan named “Mitch.” The rhino was named Fidel, and he had Bowie’s Aladdin Sane face paint and talked to me about refinancing my credit card debt. Which is to say the Power Trip album totally owns.—AW

Sampha: Process

If we judged albums based solely on how easily they can turn you into a puddle of tears, emotions and #feels, Sampha’s Process would win in a walk. Created under a cloud of sadness and grief around his mother’s death a couple years ago, Process is named after the grieving process we all go through as those close to us fall to cancer, life decisions or whatever else keeps them from being part of our lives again. Sampha’s process was fueled by spending time at his piano, which as he says here, knows him better than anyone else. It takes all of six seconds of “(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano” for me to get wet behind the eyes, and start thinking about my own losses. It’s an emotional, shattering album, but it also has moments of towering bombast, like when the beat drops in “Under” and the chorus of “Blood On Me.” Sampha took his time to make his solo debut, but when the results are as peerless as Process, he can take as long as he needs for album two.—AW

Read our full review here.

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Amileah and Storf

Amileah Sutliff and Andrew Winistorfer

Amileah Sutliff is Vinyl Me Please's Editorial Assistant. Andrew Winistorfer is Vinyl Me, Please's Senior Editor. They can be found at Midwest HQ eating cheeseballs.

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