The 40 Best Albums of 2017

This week, we brought you an end of year list detailing some special Australian albums released this year, the Top 20 in fact, that have made their mark. With Gang of Youths‘ Go Farther in Lightness taking the Number One spot, and the likes of Jen CloherEcca VandalWinston Surfshirt and more also featuring prominently, we revisited some of our favourite releases of the year as we looked forward to the final weeks of 2017.

Today, we explore the wider pool of music released this year, turning attention to international releases as well. From the latest Queens of the Stone Age album through to Aldous Harding‘s breakthrough record earlier this year, our end of year list showcasing The Best 40 Albums of 2017 is a diverse one – here’s to a brand new year of killer music!

THE BEST ALBUMS OF 2017: 40-21

40. THE KITE STRING TANGLE – Self-Titled
39. HAIM – Something To Tell You
38. BROCKHAMPTON – Saturation II
37. FUTURE – HNDRXX
36. ALDOUS HARDING – Party
35. KIM CHURCHILL – Weight Falls
34. ECCA VANDAL – Self-Titled
33. FLEET FOXES – Crack-Up
32. VINCE STAPLES – Big Fish Theory
31. GORDI – Reservoir
30. KEHLANI – SweetSexySavage
29. THE XX – I See You
28. QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE – Villains
27. MOUNT KIMBIE – Love What Survives
26. BENJAMIN BOOKER – Witness
25. HARRY STYLES – Self-Titled
24. SAMPA THE GREAT – Birds and The Bee9
23. STORMZY – Gang Signs & Prayer
22. KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD – Flying Microtonal Banana
21. GIRLPOOL – Powerplant

THE BEST ALBUMS OF 2017: 20 – 1

20. FATHER JOHN MISTY – Pure Comedy

Album Number Three from Father John Misty, Pure Comedy was quite to bring the passionate opinions out from fans, passing listeners and those critics already sharpening pitchforks. The album itself questions a many number of themes; from an obsession with pop culture through to a gloriously cynical output on the business he ironically finds himself wheeling and dealing in, and in his own unique way, Father John Misty constructed a soundscape all his own.

Part rant, part soliloquy, part excellently intelligent commentary, Pure Comedy challenged the listener and enticed them at the same time, making this one a memorable entry in 2017’s wider list of releases.

19. ST. VINCENT – Masseduction

The fifth studio record from Annie ClarkMasseduction saw St. Vincent head into the studio to make what was an album that would divide the audience. You either loved this one, or nitpicked it to death – as Justine McNamara wrote in her official review of Masseduction this year, the album provided a great entry point to Clark’s impressive discography.

MASSEDUCTION is, quite frankly, the best thing I’ve listened to in a while. The production (provided by Jack Antonoff and Clark herself) is of exceptional quality, and the arrangements provide more depth on each track. It’s the kind of album you can listen to a million times and still be surprised, or notice something new during your latest listen.

It’s not often an album comes along and has the ability to speak to you clearly, while also being enjoyable to listen to but St. Vincent has done it with MASSEDUCTION. If you haven’t listened to it, I urge you to do so immediately.

18. PAUL KELLY – Life is Fine

Ranking at #4 on our Top 20 Australian Albums of 2017 list, Kelly’s Life is Fine was indeed, a monumental release for the iconic songwriter. From our earlier feature:

Paul Kelly’s catalogue of music speaks for itself. Where his 2017 album Life is Fine fits in is definitely somewhere near the top as the revered Australian songwriter has released some of his best material to date with album Number 23. An upbeat and vibrant album filled with pop music already set up to be named classics in time, Life is Fine shows Kelly operating at some of his best songwriting strengths.

Powerful choruses and melodies are met with with the as-expected high level of talent of Kelly’s band of musicians, elevating the music to a bolstered level of excellence. Some may think that for a musician this far into his career, Kelly may be running on fumes of successful records already far behind him. Life is Fine is far from that, instead demonstrating that one of Australia’s best has broached a brand new chapter of a storied career and he’s thriving as ever.

17. JAPANDROIDS – Near to The Wild Heart of Life

The third album from two of our favourite Canadians, Japandroids’ Near to The Wild Heart of Life saw the duo return to radars everywhere after a considerable amount of time out of the spotlight. An intense amount of touring around the world had led the band to recalibrate and rediscover what it was they loved about making music in the first place, the end result coming in a passionate and ever endearing new collection of music that fans were quick to resonate with.

As Steven Morgan commented earlier in the year:

Though they’ve taken the foot off full throttle slightly, this is still unmistakably the Japandroids. No two piece artist right now can tough their consistency and pure joy in their music..

16. KELELA – Take Me Apart

Kelela had been stoking the fires of expectation in the lead up to Take Me Apart. EP and single releases had established her as an artist to watch, an artist of intrigue and with Solange Knowles’/Saint Heron’s backing, Kelela had a place in the R&B market well carved out before this album dropped. But when it did, holy shit.

Sultry, winding in its seduction and brilliantly catchy, Take Me Apart threw back to great R&B moments of the early 2000s, while her lyricism and take on production with Take Me Apart was brilliantly contemporary and sharp. An edgy release for Kelela, Take Me Apart proved to be an astonishing debut offering – a great snapshot of the sort of this artist is continuing to flourish into.

15. JAY Z – 4:44

A powerful statement of a record, Jay Z’s 4:44 was a long awaited release in the eyes of long time fans, while in the wake of Beyonce’s Lemonade, this album served as a great companion piece. Both albums shone in their openness and the brashness of their messages, though Jay’s venture with this album positioned one of America’s best back on top. As Felix wrote earlier this year:

Jay Z will always be one of the greats, without question. His achievements in the music, business and spousal world are extraordinary. Accumulating almost one billion dollars in one lifetime is an achievement worthy of a statue. It remains to be seen whether this album will be talked about in the same vein as Reasonable Doubt and The Blueprint, even though it really shouldn’t be. With how far Jay Z has come as an artist and as a person, the album is almost indistinguishable from any of Jay’s previous works. In reality, 4:44 isn’t a Jay Z album, it’s a Shawn Carter album. And a bloody good one at that.

14. PERFUME GENIUS – No Shape

A striking album from Perfume Genius, No Shape came to us in May, showing off the artist’s clear ambition and direction moving forward. Pop music experienced a great shift in tone and vibrancy in 2017, with more artists emerging and experimenting with the form. No Shape is a perfect collection of music to prove it.

As Felix wrote earlier in the year:

Here I was thinking nothing would ever beat Perfume Genius’ last album, then in comes No Shape, an experimental and overly grandiose album full of immense production.

13. THUNDERCAT – Drunk

This album is one that has kept revealing new and entertaining elements, even now. As we stipulated back in July:

Experimental, clever, endlessly entertaining and intelligent, Thundercat‘s Drunk album was anything but. Sinking back into its own groove and flair, Drunk is a masterclass in songwriting and genre bending, bringing some great musical concepts to a modern audience ready to take it in.

12. LAURA MARLING – Semper Femina

Released in March, Marling’s phenomenal Semper Femina album proved to be a solid entry in the British songwriter’s ever growing musical arsenal. As Dylan Marshall commented on the album earlier in the year:

Everything Laura Marling is brilliant. The stylistic growth she makes from her prolific output of albums is what’s going to make her one of the greats. Semper Femina is no different. While it took me a couple listens to get into it, it’s definitely one of, if not, her best album.

11. ALEX LAHEY – I Love You Like a Brother

At #10 on our Top 20 Australian Albums of 2017 list, Alex Lahey’s debut album has seen the artist turn from Melbourne favourite to international songwriter to be aware of this year. From our earlier feature:

Alex Lahey’s breakthrough debut album, Love You Like a Brother, built impressively on the foundations laid on B-Grade University and the shows Lahey had put behind her as 2017 rattled on out. It’s release back in October further showed off Lahey’s talents as a songwriter; the orchestration of these songs are fun, smart and evocative.

A clever lyricist, Lahey deftly weaves themes of love, rejection, gender norms and expectation like a goddamn pro and well, she is. Let’s be real here. There’s a reason why Australian audiences – and now, international ones alike – have been switching on to Lahey, her pop-punk melodies and insatiable choruses. She speaks for a lot of listeners and that sense of common ground and relatable content has been represented via I Love You Like a Brother brilliantly.

10.  RUN THE JEWELS – Run The Jewels 3

Run the Jewels are not a rap duo to rest on laurels, and their third offering is a perfect example of this approach to music. Continuing to rage and rally against all the fucked up things continuing to unravel in the world around us, Killer Mike and El-p crafted music that was not only entertaining to the ear, but punishing in its message too.

Another call to arms of a record, Run The Jewels 3 remains confident as ever from the duo. It’s in the title; this album doesn’t need to be exaggerated or over blown. The content in itself represents assuredness and a musical defiance that rap in recent years had been missing in different circles.

9. THE SMITH STREET BAND – More Scared of You Than You Are of Me

Coming in at #12 on our Top 20 Australian Albums of 2017 list, the Melbourne group turned a new corner in their musical career, furthermore cementing their position as one of Australia’s most beloved band. From our earlier feature:

The fourth studio offering from The Smith Street Band sees the Melbourne legends stepping further into the upper echelons of  Australian rock musicians infiltrating the wider consciousness of our hungry, eager young live music fans looking for more than a thrashing guitar riff to connect with.

Produced by Jeff Rosenstock, the album sees Wil Wagner utilise every single speck of space to the fullest extent. A wide range of emotion is explored and overall, More Scared of You Than You Are of Me is a brighter, less melancholic offering from The Smith Street Band. It struck a refreshed and exciting new direction for the group, while the unmistakeable sincerity and heart behind Wagner’s lyrics and their delivery remained as strong as ever.

8. ARCA – Self-Titled

The third offering from Venezuelan maestro Arca, this self-titled album was a sprawling offering of music that also boasted more musical intimacy than we had seen from him before on record.

Sounds crash in and around one another with great texture and vibrancy, while Arca’s fusion of pop music with off-beat, imperfect musical and vocal flecks provide an excellent palette that Arca operates and delivers music from. The listener has much to digest with Arca and if you’re willing to get taken away on a sonic journey you’re not going to regret, this album came at the most perfect time back in April.

7. THE WAR ON DRUGS – A Deeper Understanding

The Springsteen comparisons are still there, but on The War on Drugs’ A Deeper UnderstandingAdam Granduciel stepped further into his own spotlight as an introspective and brilliant songwriter continuing to refine his craft. Layered and gorgeously textured, A Deeper Understanding was not meant to just be chucked on in the background.

Best digested in whole, preceded by previous album Lost in a Dream, the latest offering from The War on Drugs is a gorgeous look at what happens when the evocative foundations set up on their last record are further ploughed; intensely emotional and jam-packed with great instrumentation, A Deeper Understanding is just that.

6. JULIEN BAKER – Turn Out the Lights

The sophomore album release from Baker, Turn Out the Lights gains more confidence as a songwriter and musician on record – the results on this album are simply gorgeous. The album is more fleshed out, musically, than her debut, yet the focus still remains on her strengths: that voice, guitar and piano combination that has proven to be arresting and just punishing on the feelings with each playback.

The themes Baker takes on with Turn Out the Lights aren’t necessarily the lightest in tone, yet the way she emerges is very much in the light; she is a defiant artist by the end of the album and the listener comes out of the experience feeling that set of emotions with her.

5.  JEN CLOHER – Self-Titled

Rated as the #2 Australian Album of 2017, Jen Cloher’s acclaimed self-titled record demonstrated the Melbourne-based songwriter’s talent in bringing earnest and incredibly open lyrical matter together with musicality that has marked her career as quite the esteemed on. From our earlier feature:

Easily one of Australia’s best songwriters, Jen Cloher presented one of her most candid offerings yet with her self-titled album this year. The honesty Cloher brings to her music is more than just open. She writes lyrics that look inward almost brutally in some places, while navigating childhood stories with an unfiltered frankness that has the listener appreciating Cloher’s body of work even more than before.

From enduring a long distance relationship with a partner that is also riding a journey of success, to the age-old opposition between musicians and music critics, much territory is covered with Jen Cloher that if you thought there was any room to hide out or take a breather, you’re dead wrong. Cloher pours love and an intrinsic appreciation for her craft into Jen Cloher that is undeniable, making the album one we’ve come back to time and time again.

4. GANG OF YOUTHS – Go Farther In Lightness

Our #1 rated Australian Album of 2017Go Farther in Lightness was released to an audience craving a suitable follow up to Gang of Youths’ impressive debut, The Positions. The end result was just as people expected – full of emotion, candidness and passion. From our earlier feature:

It’s the album that brought the Sydney boys out from under the shadow cast by “Magnolia” and into a new, levelled up light. Now a dual ARIA winning, J Award winning album, Go Farther in Lightness has proved that Gang of Youths are more than a one-triple j album band. And the international spotlight is only getting stronger. As Dylan Marshall said in his official review:

“Straight off the bat, Go Farther In Lightness is a victory album. It’s a victory of love and loss; a triumph for hope and life. It’s an album with many peaks and just as many moments that make you ponder and appreciate your existence. It’s a compass for those lacking direction. It’s the ‘I may not know what I’m doing, but I’m going to have a real crack at it anyway,’ moment we’ve all had. But most importantly, Go Farther In Lightness is an album that re-instills faith in the process called life.”

3. LORDE – Melodrama

Currently a Grammy nominated album, Lorde’s sophomore effort in Melodrama was an accomplished effort than demonstrated a great sense of maturity of the New Zealander’s songwriting talent. As we mentioned earlier in the year:

Melodrama may only be Lorde‘s sophomore album but considering how much territory and pop culture landscape the New Zealand songwriter and performer has managed to traverse since Pure Heroine‘s release, you’d be forgiven for thinking Lorde has been doling out records left, right and centre. A dramatic and gorgeous release of new music, Melodrama is a bright and sparkling snapshot of an artist truly coming into her own.

2. SZA – CTRL

The breakout album from SZA, CTRL was quick to wrap itself around R&B fans and those who were on the fringes too. If you were a Kendrick fan, chances were you’d like SZA. If you were into Insecure, SZA was the perfect soundtrack. Following on from a series of successful EP and single releases, CTRL was the perfect offering for SZA to introduce herself to a larger fanbase with.

The album proved SZA’s chops in the wake of her collaboration with Rihanna on ANTI, say, while her own collaborations with the likes of Travis Scott, Isaiah Rashad and Kendrick Lamar himself brought CTRL to wider acclaim. Proof was most definitely in the pudding, here.

1. KENDRICK LAMAR – DAMN.

It would obviously be remiss for this album to be missing from any end of 2017 list. Dropping over easter weekend, DAMN. quickly hurtled towards top of every passing Kendrick fan’s playlist.

“The biggest name in rap today delivered. While it may not be To Pimp A Butterfly, DAMN. is still a substantial album, which I often find myself replying quite a bit.” – Felix Pocius

“Having released two albums of a generation back to back, the sorts of releases which redefine the entire sonic spectrum of the years to come, it was great to hear Kendrick stop trying to change the world and just show everyone how damn good he can be. Though less ambitious, it’s the most listenable, fun release he’s put his name to and a reminder of why he’s the most exciting artist of his generation.” – Steven Morgan