Music in 2017 continues to soundtrack turbulent affairs in the world around us, as well as the spectrum of experiences and emotions in our own lives. It acts as our balm, a way to center our lives, a means to filter the haze of our environment through a tangible medium. What we choose to listen to, and that which buries itself in the depths of our craving psyche, possibly defines our times better than any other media that accompanies our days. In that vein, these are some of those albums that impressed themselves on the messy canvas of my year.
#25. War & Leisure, Miguel
Miguel is perhaps the trust successor to the legacy of funk-infused, deeply sensual R&B that the legendary Prince pioneered. For Miguel, lust and love are the lenses through which he views the decidedly unerotic state of our world. The result is a rich, contemporary distillation of the aggression of war and the peace of leisure into the battlegrounds of our bodies and hearts. The man’s vocals find a sweet spot between seductive and soaring, an oasis of auditory pleasure in a dreary desert seemingly losing its grip on the joys of sexuality. Thankfully, Miguel makes it his mission on War & Leisure to remind us of that most raw desire of life.
#24. Painted Ruins, Grizzly Bear
Grizzly Bear has making music for over 15 years, and they have assembled a veritable collection of musings on the seemingly pedestrian parts of our seemingly pedestrian lives. These thoughts are front and center on Painted Ruins, peeling back the mundane every-isms to reveal our bloodened lives. The words are painted on a canvas of familiar sounds, embellished by vibrant strokes that find the grooves in between the larger pieces, brightening the whole. This is an album that frontman Ed Droste has made a career of making – but every time, it works beautifully. “It’s chaos, but it works.”
#23. No Dope on Sundays, CyHi the Prynce
This is the album I’ve waited on since CyHi the Prynce delivered one of the best verses on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy on So Appalled. I’ve been waiting on this album since CyHi proved himself capable of crafting a cohesive, thoughtful body of work on Black Hystori Project. And he finally presents his debut album – and how. Over gritty, purposeful production, CyHi delivers street sermons that go deeper than the punchlines. Hell, even the punchlines often land a sharp thought unadulterated by forced cleverness. This is an MC who’s carefully honed to his craft to a level where he just needs to concentrate on laying his thoughts bare, and you’re listening. Whether he’s on the block or in the pews, with No Dope on Sundays, CyHi proves he isn’t going to be preaching to the choir.
#22. All-Amerikkkan Bada$$, Joey Bada$$
Honestly, I’ve typically been ambivalent about Joey Bada$$. 1999 was a grimey, lofi debut that nevertheless announced the arrival of a shockingly talented young rapper on the scene who harkened back to the glory days of New York hip-hop. But there’s only so much you can rap about rapping, trying to show off technical proficiency while skimping on musical quality, as was the case on later releases. But Joey has evolved into an artist on All-Amerikkkan Bada$$, creating a thought-provoking examination of USA 2017, in the voice of a young man with the soul of an old head. His lyrical acrobats are just as impressive as ever, often outshining his previous skills, but they’re employed towards greater goals – storytelling, introspection and analysis of a harsh world. This is a focused project with enjoyable meanderings, establishing Joey as not just an MC, but a musician. It’s no wonder Cole gifted him that stellar verse on Legendary – it’s a recognition of maturity from an elder rapper who’s been through this journey himself.
#21. Take Me Apart, Kelela
I love the resurgence and evolution that R&B has undergone in the past half-decade. Kelela personifies of a brand of Afrofuturism that is bold and alluring, an inescapable vortex of electrifying music. The blend of crystalline vocals and spacey production is assured send chills through your very soul – it’s a transcendental experience. If Gambino looked to the stars from our planet on Awaken, My Love, Kelela effortlessly travels to the cosmos and creates music infused with the stars themselves. Close your eyes, and let her silken voice elevate you. Take Me Apart is beyond music.