WRBB’s Top Ten Albums of 2017

In a year that saw the rise of your favorite meme and the death of that other meme you hated, WRBB is still the only one who will call you back after blacking out on your first tinder date. Hopefully you’ve survived all those 2017 thirst traps and have come out hydrated. For those of you that are still parched, we’ve compiled a list of the best music to soundtrack the end of the year and reflect on what you played when that one kid you sat next to in marketing class said hi and you had your headphones in but you didn’t want to — you get the idea.

10. (Sandy) Alex G – Rocket


Genre
Alternative/Indie · Label Domino Recording Company · Released May 19, 2017

“With 7 previous album releases under his belt, Alex Giannascoli is not a new face in the indie music world. Rocket is compelling evidence of the experience he has gained over the years. Despite the beachy vibe exuded by his new moniker ‘(Sandy) Alex G,’ this album feels like a trip through the Appalachians. Rocket is described on G’s bandcamp as ‘effortlessly jumping from distorted sound collage to dreamy folk music to bouncing Americana’ —a description that paints a vivid picture of the scope of genres represented on this album. With a sound best summarized as an eclectic combination of yeehaw and sadboi, Rocket illustrates G’s musical versatility in all the best ways, rightfully earning its spot at number 10 on our list. Plus, any indie album that manages to integrate a banjo and fiddle in a way that doesn’t come off as a sad attempt at being unique and quirky is a success in my books. Despite the broad scope of the album, Rocket does an impeccable job at remaining a cohesive album that gets better with every listen, as new details stand out in the words and tunes. If our Top Albums ranking or Pitchfork’s chart-topping score of 8.7 aren’t convincing enough that Rocket is an album deserving of recognition, give it a listen and see for yourself.” – Jason Crouse

9. Mount Eerie – A Crow Looked at Me

 

Genre Rock · Label P.W. Elverum & Sun · Released March 24, 2017

“A Crow Looked At Me starts with the words ‘Death is real / Someone is there and then they’re not / And it’s not for singing about / It’s not for making into art.’ And yet, this is exactly what you’ll find on A Crow Looked At Me, a concept album which serves as an unflinching account of the death of Phil Elverum’s wife of pancreatic cancer shortly after the birth of their daughter. The album details, in startling realism, the pain of losing a loved one and the jagged path of mourning. The musicality of the album takes a backseat to Elverum’s lyrics and the sobering subject matter, which is sad to the level of becoming brutal to listen to if you aren’t prepared to shed a few tears. Albums made for the sole purpose of meditating on death have been fairly present in the critical eye over the past few years– I think of Nick Cave’s Skeleton Tree, as well as Sufjan Stevens’ prolific Carrie and Lowell— but nothing, in my opinion, hits as hard as this. This is an album I can barely listen to, it’s so devastating: Elverum’s words place you exactly in the chokehold of grief; seeing his wife’s presence in everything around him and not knowing what to make of the fact that she’s really gone. But, in thoughtful fashion, he doesn’t try to make meaning out of any of it. What is created instead is a meticulously crafted atmosphere of living in the shadow of death that leaves the finer points up to you to put together, making for an album that is deeply personal to every listener. We have all been touched by death: we can all make our own connections. The instrumentation is stripped down the very bare minimum, with little focus on traditional song structure or choruses. Often times, Elverum’s voice slips out of singing into what sounds more like talking, sparking some debate about how to classify the album– does it really fit under the somewhat meaningless label of ‘indie folk,’ or is it something closer to spoken-word? Elverum himself acknowledges this, calling the album ‘barely music.’ Whatever it is, it’s gorgeous, thoughtful, and more than deserving of a place on this list.” – Caroline Smith

8. Dirty Projectors – Dirty Projectors


Genre
 Alternative/Electronica · Label Domino Recording Company · Released February 21, 2017

“There was a sense of uncertainty surrounding Dirty Projectors’ future after the release of 2012’s fan favorite Swing Lo Magellan — one that saw frontman Dave Longstreth and incomparable former collaborator Amber Coffman reach news heights of critical acclaim in their effort to fuse stark and complex vocal harmonies with the insistence of a mostly-acoustic timbre. In many ways, the pairing didn’t last, and the once legendary group seemed to ease into the background of indie lore. That is, until Longstreth came in from left field to introduce the world to his version of ‘The Bachelor’, almost completely ditching his supporting cast in favor of reviving the project’s core as a solo project it was from 2002 up until 2007. On relaunchDirty Projectors still shows signs of heartbreak and its forlorn reverberations. Cradled in warm, yet distant synth patches and the scattered bits of 100 copies of 808s and Heartbreaks, the S/T is a garbled take on post-relationship life. Longstreth balances providing the listener with perspectives of both comforting insights and narrow-minded self-destruction. While it’s clear who he is speaking of, efforts to role-play and comprehend make this record unique in narrative. As much as Dirty Projectors seems to ooze resent, there is an element of fond retrospection that carries through beneath—Longstreth is putting the pieces of his life together, developing new takes on old memories as he does. Even if the album’s sound presents a distance from the likes of Bitte Orca or The Glad Fact, Longstreth doesn’t falter in his ability to produce those vintage Dirty Projectors idiosyncrasies we can’t live without. The S/T finds comfort in pitched vocal pad layerings, syncopated and crunchy drum patterns, as well as some heart-wrenching self sampling on the stinging opener, ‘Keep Your Name’. In an effort to blur the lines between musician and producer, he has created a dense and dynamic account of falling out of love—using a heavy dose self pity and indignation to underlie the electro-angst that had been plaguing him for the past 5 years.” – Andrew Goldberg

7. Father John Misty – Pure Comedy


Genre
 Alternative · Label Sub Pop · Released April 7, 2017

“Of Father John Misty’s three studio albums, Pure Comedy most accurately solidifies the caricature that he has painted of himself throughout his solo career. Full of references and criticism toward media indulgence, environmental abuse, religious feuds, and the overall deterioration of humanity, the album seems to point out everything wrong with the world and the people on it while expressing it with a confusing beauty supported by Misty’s passionate words and intricate musical arrangements. In ‘Total Entertainment Forever,’ he paints a picture of a paradise where everyone is constantly being entertained in order to blind themselves from the realistic horrors of the outside world. The trudging piano and boisterous brass section inject the question ‘Could this paradise truly exist?’ until the listener finally realizes that Misty is unsurprisingly being ironic in his message; the paradise he’s portraying is a realistic depiction of modern society that is just hell in disguise. Public recognition of Misty’s character and message became prominent after he performed ‘Total Entertainment’ as well as the title track ‘Pure Comedy’ on SNL in March (while on acid, he later admitted). By the way he flamboyantly flailed around on stage and nearly brought himself to tears in singing lines like “I hate to say it, but each other’s all we’ve got,” viewers instantly saw what Father John Misty could convey most significantly: passion. Without music behind him, Misty would just be another Xennial ranting about how too many people are addicted to cell phones. However, Pure Comedy conveys the many preachings of Father John with an elegance and beauty that makes listeners want to actually stick around and hear him out.” – Jason Ebbs

6. BROCKHAMPTON – SATURATION II


Genre
 Hip-Hop · Label QUESTION EVERYTHING, INC. / EMPIRE · Released August 25, 2017

“BROCKHAMPTON has taken the world by storm. The hip-hop collective exploded onto the scene with SATURATION early on in 2017, a project that elevated the group beyond the popularity and skill set of each individual member to create something greater than the sum of its parts. But just when the hip-hop community thought they’d gotten the freshest project of the year, BROCKHAMPTON out did themselves and dropped SATURATION II. The third installment in the series is set to release before the year is over, and the message is clear. BROCKHAMPTON is setting out to literally saturate the zeitgeist with their sound. A sound that combines elements of mainstream hip-hop, industrial instrumentals, and even lo-fi indie rock. Whether it’s Kevin Abstract delivering a catchy hook, Matt Champion charming us with his clever verses, or Merlyn Wood showing off his unique and energetic flow, every member of the group has their specialty. And they aren’t afraid to touch on difficult topics in their music either. Take Kevin’s intro on ‘JUNKY’ which tackles the lack of an LGBTQ presence in hip-hop, or Ameer and Dom’s verses on ‘FIGHT,’ a song which details the experience both artists had growing black in America. Not only are the members of BROCKHAMPTON charting new sonic territory in the genre, they’re doing so without sacrificing any lyrical quality or overall focus. If the group continues to produce projects that are even half as good as what we’ve seen from them so far, they’ll continue to make their way into the ears of hip-hop heads everywhere for years to come.” – Isaac Shur

5. Hippo Campus – Landmark


Genre
 Alternative/Indie · Label Grand Jury · Released February 24, 2017

“Hailing from Minnesota, Hippo Campus made their mark in the indie rock scene this year with their debut album, Landmark. After creating buzz for their catchy, fresh sound in a series of EP’s and hit singles, Hippo Campus did not disappoint in their new album release. In fact, it was an incredibly satisfying exploration of what the band’s vibe and sound could be. In an album of 13 tracks, Hippo Campus explores the emotions of young love and hunger for exploring the world in an eclectic mix of rock, pop, and indie energies. The hit song off the album, ‘Way It Goes,’ was released as a single (and a very big tease for the album release), and tells the story of clarity. As frontman Jake Luppen explained, our lives revolve around social media, materialism, and how others perceive us, and ‘it’s the rare moments when we can escape from this artificial reality, that really matter.’ This overarching theme connects the tracks together in a beautiful way as the band conveys maturity and personal conflict within the album. This emotional rollercoaster of an album takes your spirits high with upbeat songs like ‘Boyish,’ slower and softer songs like ‘Monsoon’ and ‘Poems,’ and even the dream-pop influenced ‘Epitaph.’ Landmark is the album for a rainy night, a long road-trip, and a beach day with friends. This album succeeded to combine new influences into indie-rock, and Hippo Campus should be on the radar of any progressive music listener.” – Juliette Paige

4. Tyler, the Creator – Flower Boy


Genre
 Hip-Hop · Label Columbia Records · Released July 21, 2017

“Tyler, the Creator has been making a name for himself in the hip-hop scene since co-founding Odd Future in 2007. His radical antics and controversial lyrics (some of which have gotten him banned from the UK and Australia) have made it hard for critics to take his previous records seriously, calling him creative yet obnoxious. Flower Boy marks a new era for Tyler. The record, completely produced and written by Tyler himself, is his most genuine and mature album to date. It’s a complete departure from his last album, which earned a lot of criticism for being too obscene and offensive. Tyler explores themes of love, isolation, and growth with self-aware and deeply thought out lyrics. The songs within the record all fit together beautifully, but also vary greatly with everything from loud, nearly abrasive songs like ‘I Ain’t Got Time!’ to soft, smooth, and introspective ones like ‘Garden Shed.’ Features from musicians like Frank Ocean, Estelle, Rex Orange County, and Jaden Smith manage to add more layers to an already colorful album. The entire album is incredibly well-thought out and intricate, showcasing Tyler’s musicianship and ability to successfully combine a variety of influences into one solid piece of work. 2017 is the year Tyler, the Creator is proving himself as the creator he’s always known he was, even earning a Grammy nomination for best hip-hop album of the year. For anyone who’s doubted Tyler because of his controversial past and disliked his previous releases, it’s time to give him a second chance. Flower Boy is easily his best work to date and deserves all the critical acclaim it has received.” – Ingrid Angulo

3. Lorde – Melodrama


Genre
 Electropop · Label Lava / Republic · Released June 16, 2017

“After four years since her debut, Ella Yelich-O’Connor, better known as Lorde, blessed us with her second studio album, Melodrama. Her debut album, Pure Heroine enshrined teenage glory, but Melodrama captures the gravity of adulthood setting in, and all the inelegance and emotional turmoil that comes with the new territory that everyone can identify with. Though Melodrama marks Lorde’s return into the spotlight after ending her long-term relationship with James Lowe in 2015, it isn’t just a breakup album: it explores solitude and self discovery through grappling with loneliness. With upbeat dance-pop tunes like ‘Green Light’ and ‘Perfect Places’, and slower ballads like ‘Liability’ and ‘Writer in the Dark’, Melodrama comes alive with all the dynamics of a breathing creature. Lorde encompasses the vulnerability of youth, like a drunk girl you meet at a party that confesses her deepest fears and struggles, and the next thing you know you both are running through the streets, dancing, laughing, crying, or just feeling the wind through your hair.” – Jasmine Chan

2. SZA – Ctrl

 

Genre Hip-Hop · Label Top Dawg Entertainment / RCA Records · Released June 9, 2017

CTRL is what happens when you get a Scorpio pushed to her limits while at the top of her dang game. After three stunning EPs and songwriting for all of the women taking over the music world, she finally gave us the album that we have been waiting for. The product of four straight years of work, CTRL is SZA’s ode to herself and her creative needs, but hits the chord of the universal. It’s soul, it’s R&B, it’s pop, it’s hip-hop, it’s indie, it’s rock – it’s SZA, but it’s also everything. The musical landscape has slowly been shifting towards the sound she has been creating in its collage nature but the production value and vocal technique that SZA brings are leaps and bounds ahead of her competition. She bided her time and gave us what is a testament to SZA in all of her excellence. She represents a side of production value that is daring and knowledgeable, grounded in reinterpretation while bringing innovation to a genre that is rooted in it. I mean damn, girl, you even got the Grammy committee to wake up (at least slightly) from the nap they’ve been taking. Thanks for taking us on this ride with you.” – Kara Kokinos

1. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.

 

Genre Hip-Hop · Label Top Dawg Entertainment / Interscope · Released April 14, 2017

“Two years after the divisive, jazzy, experimental To Pimp A Butterfly, followed up by the even more offbeat untitled unmastered., Kendrick gave us a record that brought it back. ‘It’ could be many things; commercial viability, a cleaner sound, a more classic macho rapper attitude. Compared to the past two albums, the musicality of which many fans had felt alienated by, DAMN. felt like it was made for the masses. Some see this as a simple coincidence, that Kendrick made the album he wanted to make, and it ended up being a more ‘normal’ album. Others, who had grown to love the weirdness and artistry on the past two records, felt like Kendrick ‘sold out’ with DAMN. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if Lamar purposefully shaped his album to be more widely successful or not — any way you look at it, even if you don’t think it is as good as his past albums, DAMN. is a damn good record. Fact of the matter is, Kung Fu Kenny is still Kendrick. DAMN. is still Kendrick. A ‘not as good’ Kendrick album is still unavoidably a work of art, because Kendrick has always been a rapper deeply dedicated to his craft. And there are many things that counter the complaint that DAMN. is ‘not as good.’

Yes, DAMN. is not as political as To Pimp a Butterfly (a shock to many), as it was released after the election of Tr*mp. It’s far more spiritual, more wide-reaching than TPaB. On tracks like ‘DNA.’, ‘ELEMENT.’, and ‘HUMBLE.’ Kendrick demands his deserved respect as a badass artist. ‘FEEL.’, ‘PRIDE.’, ‘LUST.’, and ‘FEAR.’ shine the spotlight on Kendrick’s demons: the fear he’s felt throughout different parts of his life, the depressing repetitiveness of his life, and the struggle with his own spirituality, to name a few. Woven through the entire record is an intriguing storyline of the past and relationships between TDE and Kendrick’s personal life, and everything is set against a backdrop of pure, crisp production and carefully chosen beats and samples. The hidden details of Kendrick’s past and personal life point us closer to an answer to the question of why he made DAMN. — he made it for himself, and we’re just lucky enough to hear it.” – Clio Fleece 

Honorable Mentions

Big Thief – Capacity

Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up

J.I.D. – The Never Story

Top Ten Albums Nominees

‣ (Sandy) Alex G – Rocket
‣ Arca – Arca
‣ Arcade Fire – Everything Now
‣ Big Thief – Capacity
‣ BROCKHAMPTON – SATURATION II
‣ Cigarettes After Sex – Cigarettes After Sex
‣ Dirty Projectors – Dirty Projectors
‣ Father John Misty – Pure Comedy
‣ Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up
‣ Harry Styles – Harry Styles
‣ Hippo Campus – Landmark
‣ J.I.D. – The Never Story
‣ JAY Z – 4:44
‣ John Maus – Screen Memories
‣ Julien Baker – Turn Out the Lights
‣ Kehlani – SweetSexySavage
‣ Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
‣ Khalid – American Teen
‣ King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Sketches of Brunswick East
‣ King Krule – The OOZ
‣ LCD Soundsystem – american dream
‣ Logic – Everybody
‣ Lorde – Melodrama
‣ Mac Demarco – This Old Dog
‣ Migos – Culture
‣ Moses Sumney – Aromanticism
‣ Mount Eerie – A Crow Looked at Me
‣ Phoenix – Ti Amo
‣ Slowdive – Slowdive
‣ St. Vincent – MASSEDUCTION
‣ SZA – Ctrl
‣ The World Is A Beautiful Place – Always Foreign
‣ The xx – I See You
‣ Thundercat – Drunk
‣ Tyler, the Creator – Flower Boy
‣ Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory
‣ Vulfpeck – Mr Finish Line
‣ Wu-Tang Clan – The Saga Continues
‣ Xiu Xiu – FORGET
‣ Yellow Days – Is Everything Okay in Your World?

Listen to our Top Ten Albums of 2017 Playlist:

 

 

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