Jake and Michael’s Top 10 Albums of 2017

Banner credited to Michael Lane

You didn’t think we’d leave you without a 2017 albums recap, did you? Yes, this entry is a little later this time than previous years, with this posting in early January rather than mid-December. But that just means our lists are better and more refined than ever before, right?

Anyways, yesterday, Jake and I compiled our 50 favorite tracks of the year and actually ranked them together! With this post below, we have our separate top 10 album lists, which are built off of our mid-year lists back from June. And if you’re looking for even more album recommendations, last month, Music Blogger Dan Fiorio updated us with his own albums list that featured 45 of his favorites over three posts (Part 1; Part 2; Part 3). Also, sometime in the near future, I hope to have a list written up chronicling my favorite films of 2017.

Now, with that out of the way, let’s get back to what this post is really about: Jake and Michael’s Top 10 Albums of 2017.

Year Retrospective:

JakeIn a year marred with political turmoil, it’s understandable that many musicians would be more emotional than ever. What’s amazing, though, is that the audience was there to respond to said emotion. 2017 saw many artists opening up like never before; establishing themselves like never before. With uncertainty plaguing almost every choice and every turn, music served as the perfect vessel for personal and societal woes. It was incredibly hard to even pick albums for this list, simply as so many artists delivered. But nonetheless, I conquered. As per usual, females dominated (who’s shocked?) — but each artist is highlighted for their own reason, just as each artists respective album highlighted my year for a different reason. This is my 2017.

Michael: Over the three years that Jake and I have been doing this together, 2017 probably presented us with the most great music. It’s always hard to come up with these lists, but this year was especially tough. There was truthfully just so much incredible music from every facet of the industry this year, and the worst part is that I didn’t even find the time to listen to everything that I wanted to. So, perhaps the list you’ll find below is incomplete, but as of right now, these are for sure my 10 favorite albums of the year.

Honorable Mentions:

Jake’s Picks:

Michael’s Picks:

Jake’s #10 Album: Tove Lo – Blue Lips

Disco. Tits. Tove Lo’s third studio album starts with a song titled “disco tits,” which is the most accurate representation of the Swedish singer I could find. Tove Lo has never been one to hold back — may it be talking about eating twinkles in a bath tub, or simply talking bodies, she has never been one to shy away from what others deem taboo. Blue Lips serves as the sequel to Lady Wood (my #9 album of 2016), and continues to touch on femininity within relationships. “Bitches” turns hyper-masculinity on its head, while “shedontknowbutsheknows” portrays what women will turn an eye to in the name of love. Blue Lips is more focused and cohesive than its predecessor, and easily became one of the most overlooked albums of the year.

Michael’s #10 Album: Sampha – Process

It takes but one listen through “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano” to immediately understand why Sampha is one of the year’s best and most criminally underappreciated artists. Following collaborative works alongside some of the world’s biggest musicians (like Kanye, Drake, and Solange), U.K.-based singer-songwriter Sampha Sisay finally released his debut full-length album, Process, to well-deserved critical acclaim in February. Each song on the album highlights his superb singing ability as well as his remarkable songwriting skills, with the previously mentioned ballad as well as “Blood On Me” standing out among a tight tracklist of incredible, innovative R&B.

Jake’s #9 Album: Katy Perry – Witness

I think Katy Perry, more than anyone else, is ready for the new year. 2017 brought the release of Witness, her fourth studio album, but also brought a storm of criticism for the singer. Witness itself is a collection of sleek electronic-tinged pop, exploring Perry’s life as a 33 year old woman. With lead single “Chained to the Rhythm,” Perry begged listeners to open their eyes. But it ended up being Perry herself that had her eyes opened to her questionable ways, with a miscalculated collaboration with Migos on “Bon Appetite,” or through off-brand comments about Britney Spears.

But Perry is aware she is still learning, asking for a “witness to get [her] through this” on the title track. “Mind Maze” also explores a troubled Perry, questioning her own life choices. Of course, the album isn’t all plagued with crises. “Roulette” is the track most reminiscent of the fun, exciting pop we’re used to from the singer, while “Pendulum” shows that even in our lows, we’ll always return back to the top — a message that Perry is likely counting on to come true on her next album cycle.

Michael’s #9 Album: HAIM – Something To Tell You

Perhaps the most divisive choice in my list this year is HAIM’s long-overdue sophomoric release from this past summer, Something To Tell You. It seemed inevitable that the follow-up to their incredible debut from 2013 was bound to disappoint, and my first few times through, I honestly wasn’t a huge fan of the new LP. Eventually, however, in returning to the album a number of months post-release, a newfound appreciation had manifested. I realized that Something To Tell You is actually comprised of 11 glossy pop-rock tracks full of funky flourishes, graceful harmonies, and featuring some of the year’s best songs, like the disco-inspired detour, “You Never Knew.”

Jake’s #8 Album: Dua Lipa – Dua Lipa

Have you seen any memes about following “the rules” on Twitter? Yes? Then you are seeing the impact of Dua Lipa, the artist behind “New Rules.” But Lipa is far more than just a rule maker. Her self-titled debut is one of the most promising in years, with her soulful voice making her someone to watch. The album is filled with breezy, confident recounts of a breakup. “Be the One” is a heartfelt plea for her ex-lover, while “IDGAF” is kiss-off to a man who wasted her time. Of course, the topics aren’t anything new, but what makes Lipa so special is the fact she is able to captivate listeners with her unique approach to pop music. You’d be hard-pressed to find songs that sound like Lipa, and for that to already be said about the budding songstress says a lot.

Michael’s #8 Album: Joey Bada$$ – ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$

Joey Bada$$’ aptly-misspelled album, ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$, is a tremendous piece of protest hip-hop, and the best output the young rapper has had yet. Joey’s poignant writing successfully paints the picture he’s attempting to portray here, offering up relevant themes regarding African-American life in a post-Obama era. While the first half is far superior than the latter — with “Temptation” and “For My People” being among my favorite singles of the year — the album as a whole is still an important revelation for the hip-hop genre in 2017.

Jake’s #7 Album: HAIM – Something To Tell You

HAIM had very big shoes to fill on the heels of Days Are Gone, their flawless gem of a debut album. With such big expectation, the Haim sisters almost didn’t even make another album, being plagued by writers block and insurmountable pressure. Out of that stress, however, came Something To Tell You. A mature and experienced sibling to their debut, Something To Tell You is an honest, open recount of love and loss. What makes HAIM so special is their ability to convey emotions through melody — the warm longing of “Want You Back,” the anger-fueled “Nothing’s Wrong,” or the cathartic “Night So Long” are true testimonies to their songwriting abilities. Something To Tell You is admittedly not a record that strikes on first listen, but only grows stronger over time, and you can truly tell the sisters enjoy what they’re doing on the album.

Michael’s #7 Album: Kesha – Rainbow

By far the most baffling choice within my list is Kesha’s Rainbow, which triumphs as being among the most eclectic and fun pop albums of the year. Kesha’s long-awaited return — following the crippling abuse by her former producer and the legal battle that ensued — chronicles her maturation as a singer-songwriter while she genre-hops across 14 spectacular tracks. Surprisingly, some of my favorite songs on the album are her multiple country and punk-inspired ones, especially her duet with Dolly Parton, “Old Flames (Can’t Hold A Candle To You).” But her hit ballad, “Praying,” which addresses her abusive relationship with Dr. Luke, is for sure the album’s greatest strength. Kesha is back, and better than ever.

Jake’s #6 Album: Taylor Swift – reputation

Say what you want about Taylor Swift — no, really, cause that’s what she expects you to do. It’s obvious that in 2017, you either love or hate Swift. Infamous feuds with Kanye West, Kim Kardashian, and Katy Perry, as well as past romances with Calvin Harris and Tom Hiddleston have practically haunted her name for the past year and a half. And with reputation, Swift is finally giving it back to the public.

The album is far more aggressive than her previous output, kissing goodbye the ‘Old Taylor’ on the polarizing “Look What You Made Me Do.” Tracks, such as the Future and Ed Sheeran-assisted “End Game” and the stadium-ready “I Did Something Bad,” take on Swift’s public perception head-on, almost with a vengeance. However, the album is far from being a pretentious, self-serving fest. Quite the contrary, actually. “Getaway Car” shows Swift is able to admit when she’s wrong, and tracks like “Delicate” and “New Years Day” show that she is not the girl to jump right into a relationship. I know writing this tidbit for reputation may not ever persuade you to give it a chance, but I assure you this: Swift is one hell of a pop craftswoman, and if you can separate her from her reputation, you may be surprised.

Michael’s #6 Album: Paramore – After Laughter

If, in 2010, you would have told me that I’d later go on to write a Top 10 Albums list that prominently featured either Paramore or Kesha, I never ever would have believed you. But here I am looking like a big fool, with both artists landing back-to-back on my list among a year in which dozens of great albums were released. Like Rainbow, Paramore’s After Laughter is a bold new step for the band — one they desperately were in need of. Once an emo pop-punk band synonymous with tween/teen millennials, Hayley Williams and Co. have redesigned themselves as an 80s-inspired pop trio. The revision in genre is so drastic, but gives way to the greatest setlist of songs that the band has ever produced in its 10-plus year tenure.

Jake’s #5 Album: Demi Lovato – Tell Me You Love Me

For the longest time, Demi Lovato was undeservedly cast in the shadow of her fellow Disney peers. Ranging from acting to music, Lovato could never seem to not be compared to the Mileys or Selenas of pop. It wasn’t until 2017 that Lovato was able to truly breakthrough, and all credit can be traced to Tell Me You Love Me. Following 2015’s disappointing Confident, Lovato had a lot to prove as a musician, as though her talents had always been undisputed, it had seemed she had a hard time finding her identity as an artist — something that Tell Me You Love Me solves with ease.

While first single “Sorry Not Sorry” is an exciting, Kehlani-eque track, it’s the album cuts that really highlight Lovato’s soul. “Hitchhiker” and “Ruin the Friendship” are subdued tales of love and lust that are worthy of being singles. Ballad “You Don’t Do It For Me Anymore” also lets Lovato take the wheel, showcasing her vocal range like she never has before. “Everything I need is standing right in front of me” sings the ex-Disney act on the titular track, and for the first time, it’s believable.

Michael’s #5 Album: Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory

At just 36 minutes, Vince Staples’ Big Fish Theory is the shortest album on my list, but it’s better for it. The rapper’s previous full-length effort suffered due to its bloatedness, but his new LP over here is compact, featuring only the most essential tracks that push the hip-hop genre into the future. The production is stellar, as well as unlike anything you’ll hear this year in rap, and Staples continues to be one of the most exciting rappers in the game.

Jake’s #4 Album: SZA – Ctrl

One of the biggest releases of 2017 didn’t come from a big-named artist. In fact, before 2017, not many people had likely heard of SZA. It wasn’t until the release of Ctrl, SZA’s debut album, that people really took notice. The album is one of the accurate glimpses into what love really means in modern time, diving into hookup culture, stresses with being “the other woman,” and finding guidance from our parental figures. In a sea of mellow R&B, SZA was able to truly separate herself from her peers by just unapologetically being herself — scars and all. “Drew Barrymore” is an album highlight, tackling the issues of jealousy and insecurity, while “Anything” questions the validity of jumping all into love. Ctrl may just be the starting point for SZA, but as the album closes with “20 Something,” SZA discovers that it, sometimes, is okay to not have your life completely together, and that sometimes control isn’t all what it’s cracked up to be.

Michael’s #4 Album: Syd – Fin

Although it’s lost a couple spots since we last checked in mid-year, Syd’s incredible debut album, Fin, is still probably the smoothest listen featured on my list. From beginning to end, the vocalist has compiled 12 tracks that ooze bravado unlike any other. Syd is so confident in her delivery and lyrics here, that you wouldn’t be crazy to think she’s a storied veteran with endless clout in the rap game. But again, this endlessly enjoyable album is but her first solo release, and she’s only 25 years old. Syd is bound to have a successful career, which I’ll be closely following from here on out.

Jake’s #3 Album: Paramore – After Laughter

The last artist one would associate funky pop-rock with would be Paramore, the Fueled By Ramen-signed band that has dominated the pop-punk scene for over a decade now. But with the release of After Laughter, the band’s fifth studio album, a new era for the now-trio has arrived. The album serves as a colorful, therapeutic journal for the band, led by Hayley Williams, detailing struggles with mental health, relationships, and public perception. Never has Paramore been more honest than on “26,” which even includes an easter egg to an earlier cut from 2009, “Brick By Boring Brick.”

After Laughter is by no means a happy record; in fact, songs, like “Fake Happy,” touch on forcing oneself to give up on pretending to be fine. Paramore’s history is long-winding and complicated, and at some points it has become an asterisk next to their name. But with this record, the band is able to shift the conversation to the music — and boy is this conversation worth the attention.

Michael’s #3 Album: St. Vincent – MASSEDUCTION

St. Vincent’s MASSEDUCTION — which, by the way, she’s adamant is pronounced “mass seduction,” not “mass education” — was the album I was most looking forward to this year. Since I first discovered St. Vincent (which is the stage name of musician Annie Clark) in early 2014, with her fourth and self-titled album release, St. Vincent has become one of my all-time favorite musicians. Her entire discography — which is now five records long with her 2017 release — features near-perfect records of experimental indie rock, and MASSEDUCTION is no outlier.

I will admit I was a little hesitant going into this album, unsure about the new pop-inspired sound she had adopted this time around in the singles leading up to the full release. But even with Jack Antonoff producing (who has made a name for himself working with new-age pop icons Taylor Swift and Lorde), MASSEDUCTION thankfully remains a St. Vincent album through and through. Her indie appeal isn’t gone, and neither is her experimental sensibilities. Sure, it may be her most mass-appealing album, but that doesn’t detract from everything it does right. To no one’s surprise, MASSEDUCTION is a gorgeous album, and easily one of the year’s best.

Jake’s #2 Album: Kesha – Rainbow

“I’ve got too many people / Got a lot to prove wrong,” sings Kesha on the opening track, “Bastards,” on her new album. It’s no secret that Kesha has certainly been through the ringer in the past few years, and I could write an entire paragraph on the situation she’s in. However, what makes Rainbow so magical is that Kesha chooses to take all the negativity surrounding her personal life, and let it fuel her creativity.

“Praying” served as more than just Rainbow’s first single; it was a career reinvention. Long gone are the gimmicks of albums past (no more glitter, and the dollar sign in her name has been removed). Now, more than ever, Kesha wants her voice to be heard, and that it is. Album highlights, including “Learn To Let Go,” the anthemic “Let Em Talk,” and “Spaceship,” display Kesha’s genuine desire to be happy and to enjoy herself. Rainbow is not the album anyone would have wanted from Kesha in 2011, but that exact reason is what makes it her best album to date — it’s what she wants.

Michael’s #2 Album(s): BROCKHAMPTON – SATURATION Trilogy

In a lot of ways, BROCKHAMPTON epitomized 2017 for me. The self-proclaimed “Internet’s first boy band” — which is actually a hip-hop outfit made up of a dozen-plus members — had so much to say this year. Spanning three full-length LP releases in their SATURATION trilogy, which released periodically from June to December, BROCKHAMPTON was on constant rotation in my playlists over the entire second half of 2017.

In the half-year list I submitted back in June, I ranked their first release of the year, SATURATION, as a mere honorable mention. It’s a great record that’s full of catchy hooks, incredible production, and impressive rapping. However, at the time, I hadn’t given it enough time to fully digest, and it really didn’t begin to truly grow on me until further into the summer season. Still, it wasn’t until SATURATION II that my fandom for BROCKHAMPTON really bloomed.

In just a few short months, they had done it again, releasing another remarkable album late in August — one that I found to be even better than the first. And not only would I have never expected yet another entry in the series by the end of the year, but BROCKHAMPTON secured this penultimate spot on the list thanks to the exciting and experimental finale in the trilogy, SATURATION III. This latest album’s quality exceeds both its predecessors, quickly becoming my favorite of their prolific output.

What BROCKHAMPTON has accomplished in just these past six months is truly astonishing, and they have easily gained my top spot regarding artists to watch keep an eye out for in the near future.

Jake’s #1 Album: Lorde – Melodrama

To the surprise of no one, there was truly no other option for my top pick, as Lorde’s Melodrama is simply one of the most exhilarating pop releases in recent times. After a noticeably long hiatus following Lorde’s explosive debut album Pure Heroine, expectations could have not been higher for the 21-year-old — and of course, she delivers. If there is one thing to focus on with Melodrama, it’s easily the breathtaking detail to lyricism.

Lorde approached her sophomore album with a unique vision, interweaving tales of woe and heartache with ideas of self-repair. “Liability” discusses the pain that comes with the realization that being alone isn’t always peaceful, while “Supercut” paints a portrait of a lover who knows the best memories aren’t always what they seem to be. I could go on about how amazing this record is, but words aren’t really even able to describe it. There’s nothing more complex than losing someone yet finding yourself, but that is exactly what Lorde did. And that is why Melodrama is the best album of 2017.

Michael’s #1 Album: SZA – Ctrl

With its release in June, SZA’s debut LP Ctrl very quickly became my favorite album of the year, claiming this exact spot on my half-year list. And honestly, there was no possibility that any other album could have claimed the top spot here. According to my Spotify statistics for the year, SZA was unsurprisingly my most played artist. This album was on almost constant rotation throughout the second half of 2017. While it became a very respectable once-a-week listen by the end of the year, closely following its release, I was listening to the entirety of Ctrl almost daily — and sometimes even multiple times a night.

I was actually addicted to this album’s sound. It comforted me in a way that no other album could do this year. From its stunning opening track, “Supermodel,” through its mega-hit bangers like “Love Galore” and “The Weekend,” to even its interlude, “Wavy,” SZA’s album demands your attention and never lets go for a second until its ending monologue on the affecting and relatable closer, “20 Something.” For 49 minutes, anything and everything wrong with 2017 just seemingly disappears as the blissful production engulfs you. So just turn this on, and allow SZA to take complete control.

— Jake Johnson, Music Blogger
— Michael Lane, Blog Editor

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