Basement Dwelling: The Top 30 Albums of 2017 (15-1)

Banner credited to Michael Lane

This is the fourth year I’ve published a top records of the year list. And honestly, making this one was maybe the hardest. I’ve never had a year where my choices have flip-flopped as much as they have here. Even in years prior, my number one was always a clear choice, but this time around it balanced between a solid five records that I would interchange to potentially be deemed my favorite.

I think that stands as a major testament to how good music really was this year (or perhaps how big of a nerd I am). The best part about making this year’s list was how much of a challenge it was, and I’d like to take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank everyone who had the audacity to pursue a life in music. From the struggling local act to the stadium fillers, thank you for making life so much sweeter for what you do.

I always say personal taste is like D.N.A., in that it’s all reactionary and a reflection of who you are; mirroring what you believe in. One type is never the same as another’s, and what works for one doesn’t apply to everyone, because it makes you who you are.

These next 15 albums are who I was in 2017. (Click here for my picks from 30-16, as well as here for my honorable mentions.)

#15 Album: Washed Out – Mister Mellow

Washed Out’s latest is not only a record, but a “visual album” at that, featuring an individual director or design company attached to making a video for every song on the album. Mister Mellow is an audio/visual concept record about the escapism of life in the form of drugs, and it looks and sounds blissful.

#14 Album: Machine Girl – Because I’m Young Arrogant and Hate Everything You Stand For

Everything about this new Machine Girl record is on the nose and that’s why I love it so much. From the ridiculous title and cover art to the record itself to the music on display here. This album sound like a cybernetic rave taking place in the lowest depths of hell. It pulls no punches whatsoever in its brashness and abrasiveness. Because I’m Young is pretty much a record that could only exist right now in the internet era. It’s ugly, it’s fun, and it’s one of the most original and mind blowing things I’ve heard this year. If you’re into hard dance music (industrial specifically), then this should be your album of the year.

#13 Album: Iglooghost – Neowaxbloom

Neowaxbloom is a neon-colored odyssey of jazz, dance music, j-pop, and house that fires off a new idea every minute, making for one of the most intoxicating and beautiful electronic releases, as well as top one of the top debut albums, of the year.

#12 Album: Perfume Genius – No Shape

Perfume Genius’ last record, Too Bright, showed a new side to Michael Hadreas’ project. It was still sad and confessional, but a little brighter — for lack of a better term — musically. This wasn’t the same lo-fi recorded singer and their piano seen in Perfume Genius’ previous attempts. No Shape is just that too, although you get glimpses of both sides of Hadreas playing off of each other beautifully. With No Shape, Perfume Genius is finally delivering in a manor that sounds hopeful, and along with that receive a sense of peace from Michael.

#11 Album: St. Vincent – MASSEDUCTION

MASSEDUCTION is one of Annie Clark’s boldest statements yet. It’s a record that is synthetic in its structure, highlighting sugary sweet indie-pop bangers, but at the same time is one of her most personal and human records to date. MASSEDUCTION is a deep dive into raunchy sexuality, ear candy, and guitar heroics of a level that would make Prince proud. MASSEDUCTION is further documentation of St. Vincent’s status in the indie world as one of the most engaging and important voices.

#10 Album: Sun Kil Moon – Common as Light and Love Are Red Valleys Of Blood

Indie music’s rambling elder statesman Mark Kotzelek has had a massive output within the last five years as either Sun Kil Moon, but also in records released under his own name. Some have been amazing, like 2014’s perfect Sun Kil Moon record Benji, while others are not so good, like Yellow Kitchen, his collaborative record from earlier this year alongside Sean Yeaton of Parquet Courts. Kotzelek literally spends 75% of this album talking about an impending prostate exam. I wish I was joking.

However, Light and Love is without a doubt a record that falls on the good half of the spectrum. Hell, it transcends “good,” and is almost the same caliber of being a 10/10 masterpiece like Benji was a few years back. Light and Love feels like an evolution and a realization all at once. An evolution in the sense that the style of instrumentation on display here, coupled with Kotzelek’s intriguing and entertaining as hell narrative. It feels like the version of Sun Kil Moon we were always meant to have, which is why it feels like a realization too. Will this version of Sun Kil Moon stick? I don’t know, but really it doesn’t matter, because if there’s something I’m certain of, it’s that Kotzelek still has many gems left in him.

#9 Album: Converge – The Dusk In Us

The hardcore veterans are back, and still proving to be one of the best acts of their genre. The Dusk In Us is an abusive yet uplifting examination of self set to some of the nastiest and most intense riffs of this band’s long career. “I Can Tell You About Pain” is a pummeling blast of fury and self-reflection. “Trigger,” with its slinking, evil baseline drives a similar point, being about a realization of the parts of yourself you want to change before actually enacting it. Likewise, this point is brought home at its best on the stunning post-rock inspired title track. This is Converge’s most uplifting record, and one of their most intense releases to date.

#8 Album: Priests – Nothing Feels Natural

Nothing Feels Natural is one of the most painfully honest and raw records of the year. Priests’ latest more than expands upon the potential shown on their debut from 2015. This is a fully realized and amazing post-punk/feminist punk record that will kick your ass and break your heart at the same time.

#7 Album: Fever Ray – Plunge

Fever Ray is the pseudonym of Karin Elisabeth Dreijer, who was one-half of the now defunct and sorely missed electronic duo The Knife, put out her first record as Fever Ray with 2009’s brilliant self-titled release. The first Fever Ray record was a dark, atmospheric release that relied heavily on soundscapes and textures to make it the affecting listen that it is. Plunge is a different story. Plunge is like the much more polished and accessible cousin to the first record. Heavily indebted to the writing style of The Knife’s 2006 classic Silent Shout, Plunge is an experimental electronic masterwork that brings as much brooding and introspection as it does absolute bangers.

#6 Album: Thundercat – Drunk

“I feel weird/ comb your hair, brush your teeth/ Still feel weird/ beat your meat go to sleep.” This is one of the first lyrics that greets you on Thundercat’s latest, Drunk. It should let you know what this album is immediately, which is a sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek good time by one of the most talented musicians and writers in experimental electronic music. Thundercat is such a beloved figure in music, and on Drunk, all of his best qualities are on display in spades here. This includes his idiosyncratic, jazz-like bass playing, groovy-as-hell song structures, and quick wit, which leads way to the smoothest album in his discography.

#5 Album: Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory

If there’s one complaint I have regarding Vince’s excellent debut, Summertime ’06, it’d be that the second half of that double album was a little lacking and unmemorable. It’s something that doesn’t work so much against that album, simply because disc one was so damn good. But Vince’s new release, Big Fish Theory, is a no-bullshit type of being. It comes in, does what it does, and leaves. But in its quick running time, Big Fish Theory delivers slick tracks one after another, going more in a slightly electronic/house stance on the beat selection. It’s a style that suits Staples perfectly, and he’s proven himself yet again with a rapid fire album of amazing flows and sticky beats. He is the big fish, stay out of his bowl.

#4 Album: Kendrick Lamar – DAMN. 

He tried to warn us. He tried to make us realize and keep in check our ignorance; to remember where we came from and be good to one another. But two years later, we’ve ended up in the position we’re in as a countryDAMN. is the response. It’s 14 tracks utilizing the stream of consciousness in America in 2017. It uses these varying feelings to highlight and pay homage to nearly every sub-genre of hip-hop over the last 30 years, while simultaneously being an examination of one’s life and where your choices can take you at the same time. DAMN. is almost just as high-concept and layered as it’s modern-classic predecessor, To Pimp A Butterfly. Just as personal and just as human, but far less peaceful.

#3 Album: Tyler, The Creator – Scum Fuck Flower Boy

Oh, the irony of it all. Tyler was a rapper once deemed a homophobic edgelord when he was in his teen years, and with Scum Fuck Flower Boy has gone on to create one of the most beautiful and tasteful concept albums in rap about coming out and being free with your sexual orientation. Tyler has grown up. To quote the second track on Flower Boy, “He blooms, he glows.”

#2 Album: King Krule – The Ooz

Suffering from a stint of writers block (though one wouldn’t be able to tell this, considering the dude’s previous project came out in late 2015), Archy Marshall’s second record under the King Krule name is a dark stream of consciousness joyride. It’s non-linear in structure, it’s a lot of ideas playing off the wall, and somehow, it works. This is some of the most densely layered music Marshall has ever made, and once you unpack everything in it and get accustomed to it, warts and all, The Ooz really sets in. It’s a rare case where an album connects with you just like a psyche. The Ooz is unrelentingly human, and beautiful because of it.

#1 Album(s): Brockhampton – The Saturation Trilogy

There was no other choice, really. In 2017, there wasn’t another artist that displayed the skills, energy, story, or moment to do what Brockhampton did. The story goes that a group of something like 15-20 misfits met on a Kanye West message board and then moved into a house together to start their careers. They started making music their way, generating hype their way, and very quickly selling out large shows their way.

Even if you don’t agree that the Saturation Trilogy is the best record of 2017 (it’s admittedly a project that is easy to make an argument against), you can’t deny that Brockhampton are without a doubt the most important artist of 2017. Brockhampton, with this string of three albums, is truly something important and revelatory for the rap genre.

Brockhampton encompasses the sound of so many different backgrounds: gay teens from the suburbs, gang-banging drug dealers, skater kids, etc. All troupes of individual rappers exist on the same tracks in these albums, each pulling from so many different eras of hip-hop sonically and allowing these balances of styles, lyricism, and skill play off of each other. Somehow it all works seamlessly. The Saturation Trilogy sounds like the future, but in reality it’s the present. It is the type of record that needed to exist in 2017.

It’s not intended to be perfect. Rather, it is perfect because of what it is.

— Dan Fiorio, Music Blogger

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