There wasn’t much to be happy or optimistic about in 2017, a time when we’ve become more divided as a society than ever. But amid all the rage, tragedy and heartbreak, music provided a much-needed moment of both escapism and critique of the real world. We were fortunately treated to some much-anticipated albums from both critically-acclaimed artists (Father John Misty, The New Pornographers, Courtney Barnett) and the works of promising newcomers (Katie Von Schleicher, Jade Jackson, Jen Cloher). I’ve had the pleasure of listening to most of those records while also deliberately staying away from the blockbuster releases by the likes of such stars as Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, Lorde, and Katy Perry. (The only exception was Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN, which was recently nominated for two Grammy awards, including Album of the Year). This year’s helpings also ranged in emotion, from the gorgeous indie pop of Alvvays and Tennis; to the sexy electropop of St. Vincent and Goldfrapp; and to the turbulent and emotional music of Julien Baker and the National. It was also a year for comebacks like the Dream Syndicate’s first new album in 30 years. Even more heartening was that some of the outstanding albums of the year were made by two female Asian-American musicians (Jay Som and Japanese Breakfast). And gospel/soul legend Mavis Staples’ latest work, a hard-hitting yet hopeful commentary about these current times, is what we all need to hear.
So here, in no particular order, is my list for the notable records of 2017. By no means is this a definitive rundown—there are definitely some omissions– but this to me is the best of the bunch.
DAMN. – Kendrick Lamar
Antisocialites – Alvvays
Jen Cloher – Jen Cloher
Out in the Storm – Waxahatchee
Pure Comedy – Father John Misty
Masseduction – St. Vincent
Yours Conditionally – Tennis
How Did I Find Myself Here? – The Dream Syndicate
Soft Sounds From Another Planet – Japanese Breakfast
Everybody Works – Jay Som
Turn Out the Lights – Julien Baker
Gilded – Jade Jackson
Shitty Hits – Katie Von Schleicher
Skull Mountain USA – FAITH/VOID
If All I Was Was Black – Mavis Staples
Night Night at the First Landing– Madeline Kenny
Silver Eye – Goldfrapp
A Flower You Would Like to Eat – Miserable Chillers
Whiteout Conditions – The New Pornographers
Tourist in This Town – Allison Crutchfield
Sleep Well Beast – The National
Stitch of the World –Tift Merritt
Whole Lotta Lice – Courtney Barret and Kurt Vile
Certainly one of my favorite types of releases are reissues, in which archival works by artists are repackaged with bonus tracks and other extras. This year was very exceptional when it came to revisiting the past: from the 50th-anniversary edition of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (whose remastering by Giles Martin, son of legendary producer George Martin, reveals a new way of hearing that record) to Bob Dylan’s misunderstood gospel phase from the late ’70s to early ’80s on the latest installment of The Bootleg Series. Alternative rock was also given the reissue treatment, from the Smiths’ brilliant 1986 album The Queen Is Dead, to Sharon Van Etten’s arresting debut record from 2009, now called (It Was) Because I Was in Love and contains two bonus songs.
Again in no particular order, here are my favorite reissues of 2017:
Trouble No More: The Bootleg Series, Vol 13 – Bob Dylan
(It Was) Because I Was in Love – Sharon Van Etten
Automatic for the People – R.E.M.
Flowers in the Dirt – Paul McCartney
The Queen Is Dead – The Smiths
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Beatles
Ends With And – Helium
I Am the Cosmos – Chris Bell
Looking Forward: The Roots of Big Star – Various Artists
Tango in the Night – Fleetwood Mac
Emergency Third Rail Power Trip – Rain Parade
Hotel California – Eagles
On a side note, most of my listening takes place on Spotify for both work and pleasure. Recently I tried out Spotify’s 2017 Wrapped feature, which rounds up the data of the music and artists that I listened to this past year. Based on my results, I’m not sure whether to be proud or slightly embarrassed—it’s interesting but not entirely representative of my music-listening tastes (They’re also not from 2017).
So here is what Spotify came up for me, and hopefully you won’t be traumatized or bored to tears.
The Dream Syndicate
Baby Don’t Go by Katie Von Schleicher
The Side I’ll Never Show by The Dream Syndicate
In Heaven by Japanese Breakfast
Crystalline Green by Goldfrapp
Out of the Grey by The Dream Syndicate
Mellow Gold (what is mellow gold?)