You have been inundated with "best of" lists for the past month as everyone offers their take on what has been the best in 2017. We are attempting our hand at that as well with our top 15 albums of the year, but with a catch. These are just the best 15 albums of the year, across a wide variety of genres, without any ranking. You can go in and rank your own, but the music speaks for itself at this point. With albums from Kendrick Lamar, to Bicep, to Arca, to St. Vincent, to Odesza, there was so much good music to represent. It was incredibly difficult to narrow it down, but we did our best.
Arca – Arca: Arca’s third album shows a new level of musical dynamism, vocal ability and songwriting from the Venezuelan’s previous work. It brought together a times harsh sounds with soft vocals in an innovative and fresh way. Arca delivered in a way that only Arca did and made one of the best albums of the year.
Bonobo – Migration: Our artist of the year, Bonobo, started the year with a bang. After 17 years, Bonobo is still growing and elevating his game on each release. Migration brings together many of the world music elements from Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere into his hypnotic and enthralling brand of soothing house music. Migration is his love letter to the world and everything it has given to him over the years and the love back is well deserved.
Future Islands – The Far Field: The American indie rock / synthpop band released their fifth album earlier this year that delivered one of their best performances yet. With one of the most recognizable voices in rock or pop, Samuel T. Herring delivers possibly the best performance of his career as the group continues to grow and get better.
Bicep – Bicep: The Belfast duo released their debut album this year, but their self-titled LP showed the maturity of a group who has been around for two decades. Widely considered one of the best house albums of the year, Bicep delivered on the promise that they have showed over the past 5-7 years. Fans have been itching for a slew of IDs at shows and put together in an album form, Bicep crafted one of the more melodic records of the year that sits right in the middle of club music and chilled at home songs.
Odesza – A Moment Apart: After the success of their second album, In Return, the pressure was on the Seattle duo to deliver on the promise they had shown three years prior. A Moment Apart kept some of the same sound that fans have come to love Odesza for and created their own festival bill-topping niche, but showed a lot more growth from it. They have softer ballads, songs that have pop leanings, but never get cheesy and plenty of big festival sized moments like on the track of the year candidate “Line Of Sight.” There is a reason this album was nominated for a Grammy.
Kendrick Lamar – DAMN: Widely considered the best rap album of the year, Kendrick Lamar put himself into the conversation of best rapper alive with DAMN. Even after the wildly ambitious To Pimp A Butterfly, Kendrick showed he still has so much more room for growth on DAMN. It was accessible, meaningful and lyrical. He told riveting and personal stories of his childhood, from people he knew and the city he grew up in, Compton. He spit his lines with the vigor that you would want from a superstar rapper. The singles have had staying power and the album is as memorable the first listen as it is the 50th.
Sampha - Process: Soft, sensual and personal -- that is the process Sampha is delivering. No song is more personal than “(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano” a ballad and love letter to the piano in his mother’s house, where he still writes some music and a tribute to what his mom has done for him. Sampha’s voice is not just another generic factory-made R&B voice – it is genuine and powerful and meshes with the piano-driven instrumentals.
Mount Kimbie - Love What Survives: British electronic music duo Mount Kimbie delivered one of the most interesting and electrifying electronic albums and music albums of the year. Drawing on all of their influences over the past decade, it brought together some post-punk, their brand of post-dubstep, pop and electronic all together into flowing LP that finds them collaborate with James Blake and King Krule.
The National – Sleep Well Beast: The band is well established at this point with their seventh album. On Sleep Well Beast the group continues to grow as they enter a new phase in their lives and start to reflect on the darkness that exists around them. The album has soft and contemplative indie rock with swirling and at times spastic electronics, but it is the range of frontman Matt Berninger that makes this album special.
The xx – I See You: It had been quite some time between albums for The xx, but their return made the wait well worthwhile. Though the LP is not lengthy, it provides an in-depth look into very personal topics on love, relationships and growing up. A lot of time had passed between albums, so there was a lot of life and experience to write about as they had ascended to indie stardom. The trio kept their signature guitars, but sound more mature, while Jamie xx is even more potent at the controls.
Maya Jane Coles – Take Flight: Maya Jane Coles released her most ambitious project to date in 2017 with Take Flight. The nearly two and a half hour, two disc album takes her 2013 effort Comfort and pushes it to the max. It is one thing to release an album of this length, it is another to actually use that time to tell a story and express yourself in a cohesive manner. She explores some of her more emotional and vulnerable music throughout the record and then some harder-hitting club tracks as she blends house, techno and world music all into one excellent LP.
St. Vincent – Masseduction: A pop album by general definition, but St. Vincent created one of the better albums of the year that transcended pop music. It had its upbeat moments, but also reveals herself to be a nearly broken person, dealing with heartbreak. “I am a lot like you / I am alone like you,” she sings. She longs for her friends and lover, medicating with sex and drugs, singing in slow ballads or tight riffs that echo in powerful and emotive pop songs.
LCD Soundsystem – American Dream: After breaking up “for good” in 2011, LCD Soundsystem returned in 2016 with festival tour dates around the world. From there it became clear they would release an album and American Dream was the product. The Grammy-award nominated LP is a new chapter for the group as they deliver a slow burn, like the last two 12-minute electronic songs, but also deliver some energetic tracks that have been a staple of their sets for years. There is a somber feeling to this LP as they give their own 2017 take on the idea of the American Dream.
The Midnight – Nocturnal: An under the radar selection for 2017, The Midnight’s Nocturnal is a blast from the past that works well in present day. Even at just seven songs, the album has a bit of everything that the electric 80s has with saxophone solos, searing guitar and synths to burn. “Crystalline” epitomizes all of those elements in one, but the album progresses with chugging, bass-y synths and hypnotic melodies. For some prime synthwave that you have missed get caught up in some of our other albums this year, this is a must-listen.
Kbit – Future Yesterday: Another under-appreciated album on our list, Melbourne producer Kbit put out his new album Future Yesterday earlier this year. As the album title indicates, the LP draws on influences from the past, tapping into 80’s synthwave, while also looking into the future with its sweeping and lush melodies. It has hints of downtempo, ambient and electronica with a steady current of synthwave for one of the smoothest electronic albums of the year.