#20. American Teen, Khalid
Khalid is the breakout pop star of 2017. Capturing the millennial mood in a way few others in the mainstream have, Khalid effortlessly updates relics of romance and quarter life crises to the smartphone age. A large percentage of the songs live in a world shaped by the devices we hold in our hands – our source of joys, but a Pandora’s box just as often. Love and relationships are digitized, with their set of ups and downs. The top half of American Teen is an incredible run of pop anthems, while the second half ventures into upbeat R&B ballads – but the whole thing sounds like an album, an increasingly rare attribute. Despite Khalid’s voice being the only one on the entire record, he holds his own better than some seasoned musicians, thanks to his earnest vocals and production that winks at classic R&B while consistently maintaining a richly modern sound. He comes of age through the run of the album, a self-assured debut that lays an exciting base for Khalid’s growth as a person, and artist.
#19. Rainbow, Kesha
Kesha’s resurgence has been one of the greatest pop star transformations to witness in the last couple of years. A soaring, powerful record, Rainbow has an inspired Kesha shedding her Autotune-drenched party pop, instead placing her confident vocals front & center, her strife firmly behind her. She’s been vocally feminist in previous years, and that shows most evidently here. Her music here transforms the painful misogyny she’s faced over the years in the industry into boisterous, resilient pop music. She’s also retained her flamboyance, asserting that the Kesha we’re listening to now hasn’t lost the playful charm from when she first burst onto the scene. Rainbow thus has one of the most memorable pop stars of our time singing her heart out, and beautifully capturing ours in a way few others have.
#18. Pretty Girls Like Trap Music, 2 Chainz
Yes, a 2 Chainz album is one of my favourites of the year. 2017 has been strange. Pretty Girls Like Trap Music isn’t just arguably Epps’ best album, it’s an all-round great album – Chainz exudes cool swagger throughout, deftly detailing the street life and the rap life through some of his sharpest punchlines. The production is as 2017 as it gets, mixing melodic trap with luxurious Southern textures. And it all sounds surprisingly grown- up, with a snarl that asserts that Chainz expects the respect accorded to a rap elderman. The tracklisting is meticulously executed, with a good mix of guests who complement Chainz perfectly. Pretty Girls… is an album that ought to make 2 Chainz disbelievers question their biases – he’s clearly spent time poring over the minutiae of this record, and presented a body of work that commands respect.
#17. Everything Now, Arcade Fire
Indie darlings Arcade Fire take their time making music – it lends a sweeping timelessness to their albums. It’s easy for an LP made as such to suffer from a sense of being lost, displaced in the context of the time it comes out. It’s a credit to Arcade Fire’s strength as a band, then, that they are able to create a world here that is untethered to a time, delivering their sound from a towering view, raised on pieces fit together over the years of their lives. The LP effuses neon retro in the layered, impeccably produced soundscape, and earnestly contemplates the world from the perspective of a generation that’s seen relentless change. Even when they tread preachy grounds, it’s hard to fault them for it – frontman Win Butler’s winsome singing makes you want to listen to what they have to say. As the record winds down, closing in a loop back to the opening track, it’s evident that Arcade Fire are aware that the idiosyncrasies of our lives are forever – but maybe, it’s not all bad.
#16. Soft Sounds from Another Planet, Japanese Breakfast
Soft Sounds From Another Planet is an experience – the haze of sheogaze covers the album with cosmic dust, and Japanese Breakfast’s Michelle Zauner seems to construct her images through the same haze. Her lyricism ties the eccentricities of everyday life to abstract metaphors that land with the precision of a blade, such as on, if you’ll forgive the pun, The Body is a Blade. Michelle’s voice shines clear through the expanse, delivering a musical experience that feels like floating through a dream of vignettes from distant points in our lives drifting towards you. There’s a word in Japanese, komorebi, that transliterates to “sunshine filtering through leaves.” Zauner’s music often feels that way, the sign through our mess that there’s a way out.