- Kendrick Lamar – Damn
I don’t think I fully appreciated Damn as much as I should have initially. After two storytelling albums—Good Kid, M.A.A.D City in 2012 and To Pimp a Butterfly in 2015—perhaps I’d expected Lamar’s fourth studio album to come with the same conceptual bow on top. Damn doesn’t have the thematic coherence of its predecessor or the narrative thread of Lamar’s sophomore project, but those are hardly shortcomings for an album this instrumentally dynamic and interesting on a track-by-track basis, from the watery “Feel” to the more radio-friendly Rihanna collaboration “Loyalty.” It seems like, with every anticipated release, the world is waiting for Lamar to slip. With Damn, his path remains steady as ever.
- King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Literally their entire 2017
Australian psychedelic rock outfit King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard presents something of a difficulty for me in placing them on this list. The band has released a whopping thirteen albums since 2012, and five of them dropped in 2017. What’s more, they’re all sonically unique and terrific in their own ways. Flying Microtonal Banana kicks off their 2017 pentalogy, a hazy, dreamy experiment with microtones (in this case, quarter tone tuning). Murder of the Universe, meanwhile, is an epic science fiction concept album reminiscent of Rush’s 2112, but with all of King Gizzard’s unique personality. Their third album—a collaboration with Mild High Club, entitled Sketches of Brunswick East—infuses the band’s acid grit with flourishes of jazz, amounting to their most relaxing and atmospheric work yet. Polygondwanaland hybridizes the soundscapes of their previous three albums, and Gumboot Soup returns to the Beatles-esque stylings of 2015’s Paper Mâché Dream Balloon. Certainly, King Gizzard isn’t the first artist to employ this kind of work ethic—hip-hop artists often drop multiple projects in a single year, for example—but so rarely is this level of quantity matched in its quality.
*Music video includes the track “The Balrog”
- Moses Sumney – Aromanticism
Chalking most of this album’s success to Moses Sumney’s delicate falsetto—one that imbues its dark themes and minimalistic production with a comforting warmth—wouldn’t be an unfair assessment. Indeed, the Los Angeles soul singer’s luscious vocals are the centerpiece on his debut studio album, memorable and intoxicating. Most of the songwriting, including the instrumentals, seems to be written around Sumney’s sumptuous singing, but the angelic ambience he creates is more than worth the occasional doldrums of the album’s back half. Because even when Aromanticism stagnates, Sumney is there to pick us up and glide us into bliss.
- St. Vincent – Masseduction
It’s never quite clear which direction St. Vincent is going to go with her music, so just as good as the albums themselves are the moments prior to unpacking them. Masseduction is decidedly more synthetic-sounding than the artist’s 2014 self-titled album, though it still allows its sharp lead guitars to pierce through. Here, St. Vincent gives us the best of both worlds, an album that’s notably different from its predecessor, and, simultaneously, quintessentially of its artist. For those worried St. Vincent wasn’t dancey enough, in Masseduction, the artist finds a happy medium between glitzy rock and stomping bangers.
- Igorrr – Savage Sinusoid
Combining the ogreish force of death metal with the disorienting warps of electronic and the delicacy of French baroque music, Savage Sinusoid by experimental music collective Igorrr sounds unlike anything released in 2017. “Cheval,” for example, bounces between an upbeat French accordion and pummeling blast-beat drums upholding primal screams, all peppered with digital glitches. But where most artists run into the obstacle of contradiction, founder Gautier Serre sees seams, beautiful commonalities across these seemingly distant styles.