Best Music of 2017
By John Corry
December 11th, 2017, 11:22 am ET
First off: if you actually got through it, my sincere ‘quasi-apologies’ for this list last year. I say ‘quasi’ because I’m honestly not sure if I really mean that or not yet (like, the apology I just gave #PoliticiansArePeopleToo ), because I did do it–I just don’t think it was very good. Like, I may have gone a little ‘off’ (about 5000 words 'off', approximately). I keep hearing people say that people just need to ‘shut off’ their emotions, and it's as simple as that... I think the fact that I’m not even sure I should apologize for this–let alone what I think about it, in a social context–says, among many things (one of which is the onbivous fact that ONLY MY OPINION MATTERS (<3 #ThisIsAJoke )), that not only is that ability to simply shut emotions off apparently more easily attained for some than it is for others (kinda like how some people are naturally better at math than others, or sports, or whatever), but also, and much more relevant here (fa sho), that maybe emotions can’t be simply ‘shut off’, or: that maybe you’re actually doing something else when you think you’re doing that, something subconsciously something else, but consciously the same?
Like, for example, writing or listening to music (or 'playing sports or doing math or whatever')?
Anyway, please don’t take this list as absolute. Lists like this are meant to be fun, and if you’re looking for new things to listen to, they’re not always a bad place to start.
Opinions are all but my own, as should be yours.
<3 <3 <3
Quick Disclaimer: I suspect there are some records I have either not heard yet or I haven’t had time to digest. I suspect these include, but are not limited to: Forever by Code Orange, MASSEDUCTION by St. Vincent, All-American Bada$$ by Joey Bada$$, Painted Ruins by Grizzly Bear (among, potentially of course, others). Laura Marling’s Semper Femina, Fiest's Pleasure, War Moans by Mutoid Man, and Thrice Woven by Wolves in the Throne Room were all very good and difficult not to include. In addition, Eminem’s new album, Revival, comes out in several days, and this is why I bring this up: I am EXTREMELY torn over whether or not my first impression is that it’s at least decent or TERRIBLY BAD (I’ve been a big Eminem fan since The Slim Shady LP in 1999; Recovery was ok, Marshall Mathers LP 2 showed some degree of promise, and I don’t know what I’m saying here, I’m very confused–)
10. Emperor of Sand, Mastodon
I don’t get it.
Is it as good as Once More Round the Sun? Maybe, maybe not. Crack the Skye? Hell no, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. In fact, it’s better than a lot of other stuff I’ve heard this year. ‘Show Yourself’ and ‘Steambreather’ are probably the two poppiest songs in Mastodon’s wildly varied, genre-wise, career, but the former is catchy-as-appropriate and its solo is great, and the guitar tones and soundscapes in the latter are only possibly beaten by ‘The Czar’ (Crack the Skye) or ‘Stargasm’ (The Hunter). The album as a whole has a way of sounding simultaneously both more poppy and more proggy than any other album Mastodon’s done (and, as far as I’m concerned, pop and prog are, like, total opposites), but as far as heaviness goes, I guess there is a way to be a dick about that.
‘Jaguar God’? ‘Scorpion Breath’? Some of the riffs in ‘Andromeda’ and ‘Word to the Wise’ rival any other Mastodon has ever written.
‘I was to blame for all the rain,’ Brann Dailor sings in that last one.
Damn straight, haters.
9. Reputation, Taylor Swift
I’ve already admitted how great I think Swifty’s records are. Trying to be as objective as I can, however, Reputation is both everything I wanted, and everything I feared. Aesthetically, it’s better than 1989, more consistent than Red, and it’s difficult to compare it to anything before that. Either way though, she’s retained her penchant for honesty, which is fantastic, and more than enough to make something she does worth listening to. It takes balls to sing about the shit she sings about–perhaps never more so than on Reputation–but the Focus is what I think makes it make EVERYONE’S best-of list.
There’s a consistency here to that ever-allusive bi-polarness she’s so ‘known’ for (haters), which she seems to finally be starting to learn how to keep under control, and then she still has the balls to continue pushing it. And we have yet to get to her obvious ability to write hooks and lyrics. ‘Dancing With Our Hands Tied’ and ‘Dress’ are currently my two SOLE contenders for BEST POP SONGS EVER WRITTEN (okay, I’ll admit it, it’s ‘Dress’, no question at all). She may occasionally get cheesy and borderline cliché/caricature–even perhaps a little too often (keyword: PERHAPS)–and I personally think an artist as emotionally honest and inherently on display as Taylor Swift fairs better singing over actual music (as far as music is a display of human emotions (computers don’t have human emotions)), but come on, ‘please don’t ever become a stranger whose laugh I could recognize anywhere’?
You write something like that (yea, okay, it’s possible that she didn’t write that, but I know for a fact that she did used to write her own songs, so I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt here).
8. Heaven Upside Down, Marilyn Manson
I was pretty into Manson when I was younger, back in his heyday when he was putting out records like Mechanical Animals and Antichrist Superstar and scaring the fuck out of anyone dumb enough to think that pop culture had more to do with raising kids than parenting. It didn’t take long for me to say ‘fuck this’ however (sometime around, say, 2006), and ever since then I’ve barely looked back. That changed with his new record.
The first single, ‘We Know Where You Fucking Live’ is the weakest song on the album, and ‘Say10’ is not only totally vintage Manson (like, *TotallyVintage ), but points at something new, while retaining the good of the old, and is among the best songs he’s ever recorded. 'Kill4Me' is fun and groovy, 'Je$u$ Cri$i$' has the line, 'I write songs to fight and to fuck to, if you wanna fight then I'll fight you. If you wanna fuck, I will fuck you, make up your mind or I'll make it up for you.' Altogether, Heaven Upside Down is the most consistent, focused, and all around potentially endearing record he’s ever made aside from Mechanical Animals (Antichrist has some weak spots).
To-be-fair though, I’ll see how it grows on me; seems I may currently be having a bit of a moment :/.
7: Crack-Up, Fleet Foxes
Fleet Foxes were a big deal for hipsters like myself (apparently) when their last album, Helplessness Blues, came out in 2011. It was their second record, and it expanded on their promising debut. It also introduced a much darker element, which I was personally very stoked on. Then six years went by, and I don’t want to be just like everyone else, so I needed somewhere to put my anti-Tool angst…
Then Crack-Up came out and it’s better than the others, by quite a lot. Folky, but less in your face about it. Much more concise, and the songs stick out for being good songs, not just for being good folk songs. Plus it’s much riskier in its songwriting. It works out.
6. 4:44, Jay-Z
I’ve never much liked Jay-Z. The Blueprint, of course, is great, and there are certainly songs here and there that I put on all the time (like ‘Monster’–no wait…), but overall, I always thought he was overrated, and more into flaunting his money (or his want of it?) than actually saying anything real (or at least anything that felt real).
4:44 is not that way at all though, and it's not just because of the 'mystery' surrounding the record's name. He’s actually keeping thought together for decent amounts of time on this one, and all the way through it too. Plus the beats are surprisingly badass. At only ten songs it’s much shorter than most hip-hop albums, and that usually works for the better, just as a formulaic fact (see Nas’ Illmatic, Wu-Tang’s 36 Chambers, and, ironically, Jay-Z’s aforementioned The Blueprint), but it works here not only because it leaves you asking for more, but because it goes by in like, a second. Flow is on point.
Is it an absolute that marriage problems always create good art?
I don’t want to know…
5. Villains, Queens of the Stone Age
QOTSA have yet to disappoint, but Villains is especially a treat because, aside from Era Vulgaris (which is a little more obviously transitional), it’s the most distinct in the band’s catalog. ‘Feet don’t Fail Me’ is groovy, ‘Fortress’ is happy and borderline sentimental though far from being indulgent, and ‘Head Like a Haunted House’ is one of the most fun things one of the most fun bands ever has ever done. ‘Un-Reborn Again’ is, like, thoughtful n’ shit. ‘Hideaway’ is borderline disco. ‘The Eagle Has Landed’ is borderline Led Zeppelin.
4. The Dusk in Us, Converge
Speaking of never being disappointing, Converge is among the top five coolest and most important artists of the past quarter-century. This is for many reasons: their music and lyrics are real, fun, technical, emotional, and never sounds forced; their sound is instantly original and innovative; singer Jacob Bannon’s artwork and art design are almost as integral, and certainly as awesome and original as their music is, to their shtick; and guitarist/producer Kurt Ballou has the most original production sound in all of metal, and he’s producing many other top-rate artists right now (Old Man Gloom, Code Orange, Nails, among more), just as singer Jacob Bannon’s record label, Deathwish, is helping on the money side of things, in its own right.
But The Dusk in Us is cool for just that: it’s fucking cool. ‘A Single Tear’ is what you’d hope it would be. The riffs in ‘Eye of the Quarrel’, ‘Under Duress’, and ‘Reptilian’ are fun, technical and instantly memorable, and ‘Cannibals’ is one of the craziest-yet-still-makes-sense songs the band has ever made. ‘Arkhipov Calm’ is my personal favorite (like, for the guitars, man!), but ‘Thousands of Miles Between Us’, and the title track prove, as Converge always does, why the band is as revered as they are in metal circles: their albums flow as both full albums and unique collections of songs, they’re new and fresh on every record thus far, and they retain their sound without rehashing old tricks (at least seemingly).
If someone were to ask me which album I’d give to get into them, I’d only go with Jane Doe because that’s the consensus. Currently I’d say either this or Axe to Fall, and both for the same reasons: they’re fucking great, dude, all around.
I guess: which artwork do you find the coolest?
3. Damn., Kendrick Lamar
As with last year, I’m very torn over these last top four, and the reason is most likely because of Damn.. This thing is so politically charged yet not-swayed-by-it that it’s easy to overlook Kendrick’s natural ability for flow, beats, and writing style.
I hear people bitch that he’s too political, and, probably much more so, that his politics are wrong, to which I would totally disagree: I don’t think he’s trying to have an argument over politics at all (or make any political point for that matter (or any argument)). When he’s ‘talking politics’, he’s not really ‘talking politics’, it’s just what he’s thinking in that moment; it only comes off as political, given the nature of what he’s thinking, and how good he is at articulating it. Dude talks shit on, and praises, ideas from either side of the aisle, if looked at a certain way (which is the way we should be criticizing any art), but he’s smart enough–and talented enough of an artist–to know which side of anything he inherently understands better. He seems to do this with no conscious thought, though I’d certainly say he thinks about it before and after the writing process; it wouldn’t feel as honest as it does if he were going into it with that agenda. And, realistically, honesty is everything here.
‘DNA.’, ‘Element.’, ‘Humble.’, ‘God.’, ‘Fear.’, ‘Duckworth.’ are all standouts. Every song is good, although ‘Love.’ might be the best, and dare I say it, even the best hip-hop song all year (but SOMETHING came out???) (I swear he’s trolling Drake just with his flow and the way he uses autotune on this track (and, more so to the Drake-trolling aspect, on ‘Loyalty. (feat. Rihanna)’)–am I crazy for this?).
It’s not as innovative as To Pimp a Butterfly, nor as lasting as Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, but it holds up absolutely in its own right–as of right now, I can only see it getting better in time–and is far better than most of that mindless crap you hear on the radio nowadays.
2. Arcadea, Arcadea
The aforementioned Emperor of Sand haters, as much as I may hate to admit it, may have been right in at least one aspect of their sentiment: the best Mastodon album to come out this year wasn’t by Mastodon, but was by Mastodon’s drummer/co-singer Brann Dailor’s debut 'side project', Arcadea.
Don’t mistake me for saying that Arcadea sounds much like Mastodon, however (though I guess they kinda do a little). Joined only by two synth players, Dailor sings and drums to songs more memorable and interesting than almost anything else put out this year, and perhaps even in the past few years. Just the concept is interesting; a metal drummer/singer is joined by two synth players to play what sounds to me like a hybrid between new wave, mainstream thrash metal, and traditional pop-prog music (;D), but that’s the thing: Arcadea have one of the most original sounds I’ve heard in a while. Dailor’s voice is distinguishable, especially the way they produce it on this record, their songwriting is impeccable (see ‘Infinite End’), and I’m still hearing things I didn’t hear before in the production, the synths, the drums–everything! They may sound somewhat similar to Mastodon, but I’d say that has more to do with the vocals than anything.
At first, it’s almost overwhelming (*SoOverwhelming ), but it grows over time, and it’s pretty obvious, no matter who you are, upon first listen that it is different, but also that it’s interesting.
The hooks stick like pop hooks, but it’s actually, like, real.
P.S. To the members of Arcadea, PLEASE DO A TOUR.
Love, your friendly neighborhood asshole (music snob)
1. After Laughter, Paramore
Paramore’s After Laughter is fun-as-FUCKING Hell, it’s groovy, it’s memorable, Haley Williams is my soulmate, every moment on every song is as good as every other, plus it’s different than anything Paramore has ever done previous, but it doesn’t sound like a huge leap the way similar albums by other artists do (perhaps even Radiohead’s Kid A? #NoWay ). The hooks are fun not because they’re catchy, but because they’re actually fun, and the music is simple, but never comes near close to having to strive to get its point across.
All of that pales in comparison, though: the songs are great, and the album flows, front to back, perfectly. Not a bad moment. Not a bad song. Not a single cliché after several listens, much more than most records ever made can say.
One of the most listenable–if not the most listenable–records of the decade thus far.
Revised list from 2016:
3. Run the Jewels III
4. You Will Never Be One of Us
5. A Moon Shaped Pool
6. Great is Our Sin
9. The Madness of Many (Animals as Leaders) (I fucked up on that one)
10. We Got it From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service