Here are the 20 best albums of 2017 (so far).
- dvsn, “The Morning After”
Even though they’re signed to Drake’s OVO Sound label, singer Daniel Daley and producer Nineteen85 have established an independent identity as R&B duo dvsn. Their sophomore effort adds cinematic flourishes to their moody, bass-heavy lamentations on the uphill battles of love and lust.
- Alvvays, “Antisocialites”
It’s always dangerous borrowing heavily from an older sound, but Alvvays successfully informs their energetic sound with 1960s guitar-pop and 1980s synth-pop. “Antisocialites” is a delightfully sweet, expertly crafted collection of songs that, at a mere 32 minutes, doesn’t overstay its welcome.
- Rapsody, “Laila’s Wisdom”
From North Carolina comes a breath of fresh air. Rapsody is one of the most confident, skilled, and meaningful contemporary female MCs. The production might be based heavily in classic soul, but it also sounds refreshingly modern.
- Moses Sumney, “Aromanticism”
There are some soaring arrangements to be found on Sumney’s mesmerizing, soulful debut, but its true power lies in its simplicity. The moments where his breathtaking voice is paired with little more than gentle guitar are some of the most beautiful this year.
- Run the Jewels, “Run the Jewels 3”
The hardest-hitting duo in hip-hop is back, with metaphorical guns blazing, on their characteristically aggressive third mixtape. Killer Mike and El-P — an unlikely but highly enjoyable bromance — flaunt their bravado and advocate for radical social change with humor and bile.
- Slowdive, “Slowdive”
After 22 years, the famous shoegaze group Slowdive returns to prove that neither they nor the genre have lost their magic. The eponymous album excels at creating an ethereal atmosphere, and the reverb-y production makes the guitar lines positively soar.
- Thundercat, “Drunk”
The virtuosic bassist’s 23-track opus is an unfiltered dive into his weird and wonderful mind. Its playful jazz compositions and lyrics might seem humorous or facetious, but there’s enough depth here to keep the album engaging from one strange track to the next.
- Bjork, “Utopia”
Ten albums in, the experimental Icelandic songstress is in the clouds. “Utopia” tells tales of love and growth over flutes, harps and birdsong that complement and contradict each other in challenging yet beautiful ways.
- Syd, “Fin”
As an Odd Future affiliate and The Internet frontwoman, Syd Bennett has already proven her ability. Still, her solo debut is shockingly great; the pared-down R&B tracks are effortless in their catchiness and sensuality, and Bennett meshes splendidly with the deceptively simple production.
- King Krule, “The OOZ”
Hailing from Britain, Archy Marshall has a voice that can chill you to the bone — gnarly and grimy, vulnerable yet vicious, like a cornered dog growling in self-defense. His latest release as King Krule is a genre-less and captivating excursion in his strange creative mind.
- St. Vincent, “Masseduction”
St. Vincent has made a name for herself as a daring art-pop writer and guitarist. She continues that trend with “Masseduction,” which benefits from the retro production of Jack Antonoff but is really pushed long by St. Vincent’s forward-thinking vision.
- Big Thief, “Capacity”
The folk-rock group’s second LP crackles with intimacy. The album’s darkness and catharsis is amplified by singer Andrianne Lenker’s tender, beautiful vocals.
- Vince Staples, “Big Fish Theory”
EDM and rap have flirted with each other before, but never have they been married like on “Big Fish Theory.” A slew of excellent electronic producers stuff the album with bona fide bangers, and Staples flexes his rapping muscles with one fine-tuned verse after the next.
- The National, “Sleep Well Beast”
Although they never stray from their patented sad-sack rock, Cincinnati-based The National do liven up the formula with “Sleep Well Beast.” Peppered with looping drum machines and blaring guitar, it is their most dynamic LP yet, and Matt Berninger’s world-weary baritone remains as affecting as ever.
- The xx, “I See You”
The xx demonstrates astonishing musical chemistry on their third album. Singers Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim still sound incredible together, and producer Jamie xx borrows more liberally from his colorful electronic solo work. It is the indie pop band’s prettiest and most accessible release to date.
- Tyler, the Creator, “Flower Boy”
Hip-hop’s resident mad scientist tempers down on his revelatory and illuminating new LP. The album is not an apology or a compromise, but the sound of a standout talent maturing, without losing all of the absurdly comic edge that made him an alt-rap sensation.
- Sampha, “Process”
From paranoid, jittery electronic beats to delicate piano balladry, Sampha asserts himself as one of the best and most engaging emerging songwriters. Following his journey through sorrow and isolation is poignant, thanks in no small part to his immediately recognizable voice.
- Mount Eerie, “A Crow Looked at Me”
Last year, songwriter Phil Elverum’s wife passed away from cancer, leaving him with a toddler daughter. Instead of skirting around the pain, he chose to tackle it head-on. “A Crow Looked at Me” is the most blunt, honest and devastating collection of songs in recent memory. Don’t turn away; you will miss its vital potency.
- Kendrick Lamar, “DAMN.”
On his latest, the greatest rapper alive turns his ever-insightful and critical eye inward, putting his own insecurities and triumphs in the spotlight. It is also his most pointedly commercial endeavor yet. The combination of lyricism and trendy sounds works, and after years of putting out the best music in hip-hop, the world is finally recognizing him for it.
- Lorde, “Melodrama”
Lorde took a wrecking ball to the pop scene when she was only 16. It’s hard to imagine the pressure she faced to evolve her sound, retain her uniqueness and maneuver the pitfalls of young celebrity. Luckily, “Melodrama” is an absolute triumph. Jack Antonoff’s gorgeous production and Lorde’s emotionally and rhythmically nuanced songwriting combine for musical fireworks. In the landscape of pop, this stands firmly on its own.