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Rob Sheffield’s Top 20 Albums of 2017

From Kendrick Lamar and Taylor Swift to Kelela and Japanese Breakfast

rob sheffields top 20 albums of 2017

Rob Sheffield weighs in on his top 20 albums of 2017, including Taylor Swift, Harry Styles and Kendrick Lamar.

What a glorious year for music – as opposed to, well, a few other things. In a rancid year, these albums were something to celebrate, music worth passing along and making noise about. These were my 20 favorites – too many greats to cut it down to a mere top 10. Musically, they’re all over the map: pop thrills, rock & roll animals, hip-hop ragers, soul survivors. But these albums kept me connected to the world, kept me excited for tomorrow, kept me feeling fascination, kept me moving on up. 

rob sheffields top 20 albums of 2017

The Courtneys, ‘II’

The most emotionally undemanding album on this list – three Vancouver women bashing out scruffy surf-guitar tunes, an album you can spin all day, with an almost automatic “press play, feel lifted” effect. Every song makes me think “right, I love this one” when it comes on. The inexplicably poignant “Mars Attacks,” despite the joke title, might be the first song ever to build on the elegiac nuance of the mid-period B-52s circa Whammy, while “Lost Boys” is a mash note to the ultimate “vampire teenage boyfriend.” 

rob sheffields top 20 albums of 2017

Angaleena Presley, ‘Wrangled’

The Pistol Annies cowgirl brings all her sardonic country realness, teaming up with guiding spirits like Wanda Jackson and Guy Clark (as well as her fellow Annies, Ashley Monroe and Miranda Lambert), yet belting wise-ass outlaw tunes that sound like nobody but her. “I thought I’d change the world with three chords and the truth I’d be like Elvis but with lipstick and boobs” – instead, she ends up with low-rent road tales like “Groundswell” and “Motel Bible.” 

rob sheffields top 20 albums of 2017

Jlin, ‘Black Origami’

Indiana producer Jerilynn Patton goes full Aphex in her electronic house of mirrors, each track popping with surprises. Biggest kick: “Holy Child,” where Jlin chops a churched-up singer’s high note of praise into cowbell rattles and air-raid sirens. 

rob sheffields top 20 albums of 2017

LCD Soundsystem, ‘American Dream’

Ten years ago in “All My Friends,” James Murphy yelped about rolling up at the rave looking like a dad, but as his Celtic soul brother Morrissey might put it, that joke isn’t funny anymore. The music on American Dream is full of utopian futures that didn’t come true – hey, remember when the world was going to be saved by acid house (“How Do You Sleep?”) or downtown loft-funk (“Change Yr Mind”) or smug Gen X irony (practically everything)? In “Emotional Haircut,” he says, “You’ve got numbers on your phone of the dead that you can’t delete/You’ve got life-affirming moments in your past that you can’t repeat.” I’ve got a couple more of those numbers than I did a year ago, but also more life-affirming moments; this album gave me a few of them.

rob sheffields top 20 albums of 2017

Vince Staples, ‘Big Fish Theory’

The Long Beach gangsta makes his Detroit techno move. “Yeah Right” and “BagBak” warp his rage into such grabbingly weird and undeniable sonics, you have to figure (and hope) this is an album everybody will imitate to death next year. 

rob sheffields top 20 albums of 2017

Japanese Breakfast, ‘Soft Sounds From Another Planet’

Michelle Zauner goes for sci-fi New Wave, expanding the introspective tunes she wrote on last year’s Psychopomp into trips like the six-minute “Diving Woman,” where she vanishes under the sea to be alone with her scary self, or the shoegaze doo-wop of “Boyish.” “I can’t get you off my mind/I can’t get you off in general” – could that be 2017’s answer to Lit’s “You make me come/You make me complete/You make me completely miserable”? (Probably not.)

rob sheffields top 20 albums of 2017

Migos, ‘Culture’

The North Atlanta trap trio hit new heights all year, showing up everywhere from Cardi B’s nails (mazel tov, Offset) to Liam Payne’s solo hit (stay strong, Quavo). “Bad and Boujee” and “Slippery” became signature jams, but Culture hits hardest in “T-shirt,” where they rewind from 2005 to 1995 to 1975 to remember what mama told them. 

rob sheffields top 20 albums of 2017

Randy Newman, ‘Dark Matter’

A year after Leonard Cohen signed off, Randy Newman seems to have drifted into his role as elder Jewish sage, yet another twist in their seemingly opposite yet weirdly linked careers. Like Cohen, Newman never sounded young – he was croaking “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today” in the Summer of Love. So he revels in his voice as the old dirty bastard, even when he opens up for the grief of “Wandering Boy.” There’s something inspiring about all the sarcastic bile on Dark Matter – this rich Hollywood piano man finished these songs because he felt they were worth putting out into the world, which means he felt the world was worth the trouble. In 2017, that was a welcome reminder.

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