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15 Great Albums You Probably Didn’t Hear in 2017

Rolling Stone critics choose LPs that flew under the radar

15 Great Albums You Didn't Hear:

These albums – from lesser-known but more-than-worthy artists – may not have burned through your playlists in 2017, but a Rolling Stone editor or contributor thinks at least one should have.

Ratboys, GN

Ratboys, ‘GN’

This Chicago band calls its sound “post-country” but “cuddlecore country” might be a better way to sum up their mix of friendly guitar swirl and cozy jangle and twang. Julie Steiner’s songs are full of shakily proud unburdenings and fun imagination. The gently rocking “Molly” gets big points for being about a person, not a drug (even if the Molly in question sounds like a bit of both); on “Elvis in the Freezer” horns and steel guitars stripe a goodbye to a beloved family pet; and “Crying About the Planets” is Pavement-worthy guitarscaping with lyrics about an Antarctic explorer that serve as a casual metaphor for real-life peril and survival. A few songs here might’ve had a shot at alt-rock radio back in the old days but, like all the good neo-Nineties rock, GN reimagines that sound if bands back then never had to waste a second wondering if their dreams would eventually add up to owing some record company money. As Steiner sings on the dreamy, dyspeptic, Liz Phair-ian “Wandered,” “rock & roll is my escape.” Indeed, this works rock & roll’s best myth: that the freedom to become whatever you are is all you’re ever going to need. Jon Dolan

Saicobab, 'Sab Se Purani Bab’

Saicobab, ‘Sab Se Purani Bab’

Though rooted in Indian ragas and partially driven by the sitar of Yoshida Daikiti, the percussive art-punk of Saicobab sounds like no fixed point on the map, at times reminiscent of American noise-rock and jazz, Arabic folk music, German psychedelia and the underground sounds of the quartet’s native Japan. The percussive vocals come courtesy of Boredoms drummer/OOIOO leader Yoshimi, whose gymnastic performances – often distorted and distended – recall everything from Yoko Ono to Aphex Twin to the Stooges. Riffs cycle and a riq jangles well outside the world of of 4/4 time signatures: Playful and mesmerizing. Christopher R. Weingarten 

Cécile McLorin Salvant, 'Dreams and Daggers'

Cécile McLorin Salvant, ‘Dreams and Daggers’

Bob Dylan has spent recent years demonstrating the Great American Songbook’s greatness – however, he’s hardly the only one re-animating it for a new era. Salvant, regularly and rightly, is considered one of the greatest jazz singers of her generation, but that label sells her short. She’s also a master curator, deconstructing American artifacts like a bomb squad technician (see her 2013 cover of Valaida Snow’s “You Bring Out the Savage in Me”). This double LP is less about crate-digging cultural critiques than re-imagining classics hiding in plain sight. A mix of live recordings made last year at the Village Vanguard with her sharp trio and studio recording backed by strings, it’s a showcase for her jazz bonafides: her playfully cocky, abstractly virtuosic swing on Irving Berlin’s “The Best Thing for You (Would Be You),” her sexy time-warping on Rodgers and Hart’s “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was.” She also finds humor and tragedy in the queer subtext of Noel Coward’s “Mad About the Boy” and smirking, simmering anger in the double-standard of “If a Girl Isn’t Pretty.” And with Salvant, 28, now writing her own stuff – including “Fascination,” a chamber-music setting of Langston Hughes’ writing – it also shows a fully-formed artist still evolving. Will Hermes

Sneaks, 'It's a Myth'

Sneaks, ‘It’s a Myth’

Playing solo under the moniker Sneaks, D.C. post-punker Eva Moolchan dresses down her own songs and lets her bass and synthesizers do the talking, while her voice, charmingly disaffected, floats along for the ride. Produced by Mary Timony (Helium, Ex Hex), Moolchan’s sophomore LP is dense when compared to the cool austerity of 2016’s Gymnastics; the saunter of her past songs races to a sprint in the freestyle-centric opener “Inside Edition,” and slows to a power strut in the cutting “Hair Slick Back” and “Future.” S.E.

Tyminski, 'Southern Gothic’

Tyminski, ‘Southern Gothic’

The vocal turn of Dan Tyminski on Avicii’s 2013 EDM smash “Hey Brother” seems to have been more than a one-off. The bluegrass guitarist and vocalist’s 2017 solo album Southern Gothic plays around with a similar palette of sounds, mixing traditional acoustic instrumentation with buzzing electronics and programmed drums. The title track slithers along to swampy dobro riffs and beatboxed percussion, while Tyminski ruminates on crooked preachers and politicians, infidelity and the shadowy corners of prim Southern towns. These skittering beats and top-shelf picking accompany Tyminski’s brooding looks at his world, from toxic relationships (“Perfect Poison”) to confronting pain (“Hollow Hallelujah”), culminating in the stunning, all-build-no release album closer “Numb.” It’s a wild clash of sounds that proves traditional sensibilities don’t have to be covered in dust. Jon Freeman

Billy Woods, 'Known Unknowns'

Billy Woods, ‘Known Unknowns’

Rapper Billy Woods is a familiar but under-appreciated name, with a catalog dating back to the early Aughts and New York’s pre-Beast Coast underground. Known Unknowns alludes to Woods’ unheralded reputation while also announcing his intentions to finally reach a wider audience. He casually raps about “zero merch sales,” clueless undercover cops and diehard fans who “know every verse” on the whimsical “Police Came to My Show.” He flips the names of rap icons like Nas and Kool G. Rap into a lament of fading hip-hop values on “Superpredator,” and trades bars with fellow NYC heads Aesop Rock and Homeboy Sandman on “Wonderful.” He rhymes in knotty language and makes twisty narratives, and producer Blockhead adds a muddy boom-bap element, making sure the music bumps even as Woods’ verses whizz past. Mosi Reeves