Our 27 Favorite Albums of 2017.5
2017 has hit peak exhaustion. Supposedly. Our planet is cooking us and our politicans were the first eggs to crack, so pardon if this all feels a bit temporary. And if it sounds insular and escapist, well, there’s a lot to escape from. With the exception of the occasional protest record, or die-hard political allegory, our favorite records so far this year reflect a mix of hyper-personal world building and emotional ultra-sensitivity. That shouldn’t be too surprising. With the onset of banal and horrifying national politics across the globe, musicians and listeners alike are turning inward for meaning at a time when national bureaucracy has gone pear-shaped. These records reflect a wide pallet of sounds, but are drawn together by a shared sonic authenticity to which we responded. Representing the most accomplished work thus far of many veteran artists, it’s clear that global catastrophe has not yet squelched human imagination. We get it. We’re halfway through this garbage fire of a year. And as the smoke from that fire rises, and becomes poison smog, we at Eat Your Owner hope you’ll be listening to the merry melodies these folks made when everything went to hell.
A Crow Looked at Me by Mount Eerie
A great expressionist painting carved out from time. This is, truly, one of the best albums this year. A poetic expression of Phil Elverum’s grief and, inevitably, a fossil of life and love. While most albums in 2017 contend with the depressing geo-political state, Elverum epitomizes the cleavage between the personal and political, creating a work of immeasurable emotional solitude while still finding time to chastise our “fascist” political bubble.
Big Fish Theory by Vince Staples
Big Fish Theory has just begun to sink in (the album being one of the freshest of the lot), but we can safely declare that it is a strange one for a rapper of Staples’ esteem. The album is relatively brief for a highly anticipated sophomore hip-hop release, contains an over-minute long Amy Winehouse interview sample, commits multiple interludes to Staples’ intentionally discomforting singing voice, and, most prevalently, courses across relatively outré production from the likes of experimentalists SOPHIE and Flume. It’s as though for several years Vince Stapes has proven his prodigy-like lyrical dexterity by immediately entering himself into “best modern verses!” conversations [link to “Hive”], and now he’s letting us know that he’s willing to take his production aesthetic all the way out to the deep end.
Black Origami by Jlin
Since its release I have returned to Black Origami on a regular, almost regimented basis. It makes for the perfect soundtrack to a daily run. For anyone who takes part in this habitual routine, I’m sure you can understand the dedication to a particular piece of music. It must allow the freeing of psychological weight intrinsic to exercise (read: pain) while building from the energizing release of endorphins. Jlin’s vigorous footwork perfectly captures this mind/body propulsive charge, serving as one of the most unique and captivating electronic releases of the year, one that I will undoubtedly need to return to when it’s time to pick up the pace.
Common as Light and Love Are Red Valleys of Blood by Sun Kil Moon
Since the release of Common as Light and Love Are Red Valleys of Blood, Kozelek has also put out the Night Talk EP, another album with Jesu, 30 Seconds to the Decline of Planet Earth, and a collaborative album with Parquet Courts’ Sean Yeaton, Yellow Kitchen. He literally will not stop. Like the friend who continues to ramble for minutes long after you’ve tuned them out, Kozelek seems to pull endlessly from perspective and anecdotes that add up to a sense of self-importance many will find displeasing. Still, Common as Light is gorgeous, inventive, and epic – another milestone for his third wind as one of the most divisive musicians working.
Compassion by Forest Swords
A finite resource in 2017, British producer Forest Swords (AKA Matthew Barnes) extends his scraggly, mountainous compositions into the heart of the world. It’s the sound of total collapse, or perhaps a reference point for the implosion of self. A world of endless revision and musical discovery, Barnes unravels the dimensions between artificial and organic sounds to continuously reframe assumptions about the nature of humanity and the planet itself.
Contact by Pharmakon
For those uninitiated, Pharmakon’s work is not pleasant, its not even melodic – it’s punishing. It’s taking your favorite sad rock song cooked up by your favorite coke-addled millionaire and tracing it back to the source, back to the factory, back to the meat grinder, running you through the torturous death machine that is the corporate sandbox of destruction and showing you what all is sacrificed for your listening pleasure. Eat up and don’t you dare allow a drop to spill onto the concrete – we wouldn’t want those urchins getting to it would we?
Crack-Up by Fleet Foxes
Crack-Up has been critically considered a “difficult” piece of music to break into. But for an album that attempts to directly capture a crisis of self by chronicling its aftermath in abstractly fractured reflection, I’d say Fleet Foxes actually did quite well in making it as accessible as they have. From Pecknold’s intricate perspective-morphing lyrics to a band elegantly edging closer and closer to Radioheadesque full album sonic experiences, Crack-Up has proven itself an superbly intriguing direction for the group. Here is a band growing in cosmic porportions, deftly smashing milestones with the rigorous diligence of marathon running.
Ctrl by SZA
A stunner, surely. SZA soundtracks a world of modern ills and moderate idealism. Loves are won, lost, and thrown away with the aplomb of a life perennially in flux. TDE compadres Isaiah Rashad and Kendrick roll through on buoyant features, but the true stars are SZA and her mom discussing emerging adulthood, a poignant reflection of quarter-life soul-searching. Growing up often means learning to let go, but here SZA reminds us we choose when to hang on.
DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar
Even masters indulge in earthly delight. While just shy of the epic heights on previous releases, K. Dot’s 3rd album proper acts as a divining wheel for the many-splendored emotions of daily life, the seven deadly sins, or just the shit we’re all trying to get through in a day. That fabled dual-Easter album may never have materialized, but have no fear, DAMN. Is a fitting testament for 2017. And it was good.
Dirty Projectors by Dirty Projectors
Love is a blender. Dave Longstreth pushed puree on his partner, collaborator, previous relationship, and whipped up a gooey, earthy, bitter concoction drizzled with ample auto-tune. If it’s too indulgent, too messy, or even just a dick move – it still makes for a deeply engrossing experience, capturing the musical chairs quality of modern indie-pop and running circles around it. Dirty Projectors, firing on every cylinder imaginable, persevere with maximalist delight.
Drunk by Thundercat
Mellowing endlessly with time, Thundercat continues his odyssey in search of the perfect groove. Drunk finds him at his most playful, engaging the patronus of his favorite feline moniker and the fickle jealousy that tags along as baggage. Kendrick appears midway through as an olive branch to those intimidated by the term “jazz”, but Thundercat largely plays the docile, cuddly critter on this superlative 3rd album. The creamy outer texture belies a salty, compact core.
Dust by Laurel Halo
Dust is an album that dutifully reminds me how much of an amateur I am at this whole writing on music thing. It’s a confounding listen, sure, but tracing the emotions it conjures is much more complicated than usual. I’ll say this: Laurel Halo is an avant-garde electronic producer that a few years ago did that thing where she implemented her own vocals on an album and pissed everyone off. Then she stopped. Then, on Dust she did it again – but this time with a humor and charm and jazz-inflected tunefulness that infuses a bright personality into her twinkling electronica. Dust is light on its toes and wholly original, and for that reason, incredibly hard to pin down.
Goths by The Mountain Goats
Throw on your Linus ghost costume and start dancing awkwardly in the graveyard. John Darnielle moves for another musical tone shift, embracing loose electronics and ambient flourishes rippling with nostalgic affection for gloomy Sundays and forgotten goths of yester-year. Swelling, poppy moments meet their match in finely tuned narrative storytelling and labored craftsmanship. Darnielle proves, once again, the high praise for his lyrics transcends hype.
Life Will See You Now by Jens Lekman
Oh Jens, not so silent anymore. A fantastic 4th album from a veteran artist, the Swedish wunderkind finds himself at the helm of his most rounded and accomplished album to date. Finally transposing his quirky sampling and niche linguistic humor into a cohesive album package, Jens finds himself still deep in the gravity of momentary romance. Mooning over distant loves and far-off memories, Jens sends us deep down the rabbit hole of an ever-revolving door called love and memory. It’s worth falling, though, for such a charming man
No Shape by Perfume Genius
In a glorious culmination of Perfume Genius’ output thus far, No Shape captures the epic string-filled peaks and dissonant electronic valleys Mike Hadreas has been hinting at since debut LP Learning was released 7 years ago – and that’s just the sonic layer. Previously fixated on themes of the flesh, the art pop of No Shape expands toward transcendence of the soul and through the abandonment of dumb flesh finds Hadreas sounding, for the first time on record, cheery.
Peasant by Richard Dawson
Peasant feels either of another time, or completely out of it. Sure, the bohemian freak folk of the mid-to-late-‘60s is in tact, but many of those artists were already pulling from centuries’ old Gaelic shanties. Richard Dawson’s approach here similarly engages with British folk by fusing influences that stretch back to before direct recording methods had been invented with a postmodern approach exemplified by those horns in “Herald”, the messy guitar string assault at the end of “Scientist”, or the reverb and ambience scattered across the record. Dip this concoction into some kind of Canterbury-hellscape narrative that sees each song showcasing the perspective of desperate townsfolk, and you’ve got one of the year’s most transportative listens.
Pleasure by Feist
The Canadian indie rock high priestess returns with an album stark in its unbridled emotional intimacy. Examining pleasure – emotional, physical, intellectual – Feist happens upon hidden doors in everyday life, teleporting us with just a guitar into new worlds of feeling and discovery. Echoes of the quiet/harsh audio dynamics applied by a kindred spirit in sonic explorer PJ Harvey achieve full bloom on Feist’s 5th outing, a dynamic journey towards herself.
Pretty Girls Like Trap Music by 2 Chainz
Savvy, opulent, and celebratory, a crown prince of Atlanta finally makes a play for the throne. Moving beyond its cheeky, single-minded title, 2 Chainz finally expands on his life story in vivid, charismatic detail. He’s lined up production to match on his 4th album, with booming flutes, dancehall nods, and just the right amount of Travis Scott. Long live Tity Boi!
Pure Comedy by Father John Misty
Many people do not like Father John Misty, and I won’t begrudge them that. In interviews he’ll grace us with lines like, “If you take away my music from me, all you have left is a mustache and a bad attitude”, “When the ledgers of history are drawn up, I’ll be on the side of the smokers and the masturbators”, and, of course, “I get sick pleasure out of reading about how much people hate me” – it makes them squirm. While many argue this personality is a finely crafted amplified persona, performance art a la the equally despicable Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm, a recent New Yorker interview illuminates much of what makes FJM a genuinely unique act – that this character is, in fact, filtered only through Tillman’s sense of self-truth. The entertainment factor being Tillman alone. With Pure Comedy, the folk rock artist peels back yet another layer of his character by reflecting worldly, social, and political anxieties through dark cynicism. The album ends up a fairly depressing listen while containing much of his strongest songwriting to date. It’s either his best work or his worst…depending on whom you’re talking to.
Rocket by Sandy (Alex G)
The best metaphor I can muster for the quintessentially indie-rock Rocket is that it feels as though you’ve discovered someone’s worn and crinkled sketchbook. There’s an unfinished quality to each of the tracks, as though Sandy put the general idea down, figured “that’s enough”, and then moved to the next piece, wherever their muse led. But each image is evocative, personal, and captures an essence so different from the last that you can’t help but wonder what their true artistic leaning may be. And then you wonder if that question even matters at all.
RTJ3 by Run the Jewels
How can you mess up a formula like this? Dominant doubles team El-P & Killer Mike smash ace after ace across agro, political, defiant anthems and spacey, booming beat shifts as urgent as ever, and with Killer Mike’s ATL stock currently reaching Fortune 500 levels, it’s a good time to root for the champs. Killer Mike told NPR in 2014, “people leave, go to lunch break, listen to Run The Jewels, come back and don’t kill their boss”. From my cubicle to yours, it’s never been more true.
The Saddle of the Increate by Sun Araw
“A goooooooolden boot!”
Slowdive by Slowdive
Uncurling like an effervescent night sky, Slowdive’s latest release arrives after a 2-decade gap with gentle, exploratory urgency. Like watching a galaxy animate in slow motion, then rip apart and return, these dorsal-finned mumblers collide and diverge in stunning fashion. Vocalists Rachel Goswell and Neil Halstead spin hexagonally through space, watching time, distance, and emotion collapse around dreamy premonitions of lost love. Somewhere rain is falling heavily, the perennial dusk of distance.
This Old Dog by Mac Demarco
Leave it to the kid in the back of the class with the helicopter hat to churn out his most delicate, unassuming compositions to date while falling effortlessly into stardom. Cue the moody synthesizer and game-y, blissed out paeans to long walks solo post-breakup. Mac’s churlishly winking his way to late night television, and there’s no hiding his signature blueboi frown as he goes full on goon-troubadour. Call him the court jester and he’ll sing you a funny tune, but don’t be surprised if he’s laced his charming aperitif with a bitter pill.
Unfold by The Necks
For nearly three decades, Australian experimental jazz trio The Necks have been creating album-long exercises in answering the question: to what degree of expanse can we take a simple melody? This free-improv approach opens windows within their sound, allowing the trio to hypnotically ruminate within a space while gradually integrating tonal passages that build upon the root. It’s the kind of stuff that forces you to reinterpret your relationship with time. On Unfold The Necks occupy a tension-filled environment, and rather than offering cathartic release, they hang around and explore the tension itself. This result, if done correctly, is a spiritual tuning akin to the heightened state of ease and singular concentration brought with meditation or a long hike. How this is managed through an album as deliberately brooding as Unfold may end up saying more about the listener than the scientific effects of beautiful music.
When You Hear The Drum You May Speak by Sun Cop
“Praise the sun!” Or so goes the colloquialism uttered by the battered victims of the harrowing world of Dark Souls. It’s clearly a videogame for masochists with its gnarly beasts, rhetorically brutal and frequent kill screens, and non-playable characters utterly warped by the influence and abuse of their false deities. Sun Cop appears to adorn a similarly cynical/realist take on power structures, his namesake having been influenced by an essay encouraging us to boldly stare directly into the burning ball of dominance that hangs above us. On an album that could be termed “scorched-earth psychedelia”, there are even hints of marvelous monstrosities and grotesqueries that can be traced to the anguish associated with our modern political / social / human climate. Sun Cop tears into this otherwordly place, metaphor or not, like an avatar climbing the ranks of corruption. It should be no surprise that in my favorite video game series, after incrementally disposing of each level to the hierarchy of false prophecy and finally reaching God…the thing ends up being a slug.
World Eater by Blanck Mass
With a cover like that and an album title like that, you’d be surprised just how beautiful and varied World Eater can be. Fuck Buttons co-founder Benjamin John Power’s third solo-release under the Blanck Mass moniker is a surprising underhand toss of experimental electronica that only occasionally reflects the bared teeth the cover suggests. Mostly we’re treated to pulsing builds, skittering drum patterns, and chopped and screwed choral samples that make for a cathartic mass of release only fully appreciated at maximum volume.
And that’s the list. Thanks for tuning in as Eat Your Owner grows up. We don’t know what the next six months will bring, but we know this much: we’ll never be full.