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The Album Of The Year (#80-61): Run The Jewels, Chief Keef, More

December 4, 2017 | Posted by David Hayter
Run the Jewels Killer Mike

The list is progressing at pace with some big beasts (Jay-Z and Queens Of The Stone Age) having already fallen by the wayside. So let’s see whose next to emerge as we run through another 20 of the year’s best albums.

The Catch Up: Honorable Mentions Part One (#100-81)

[Disclaimer: As always, I’m only one man, I have not heard every record released in 2017, so if your favorite isn’t included, I may not have heard it, but please feel free to share you personal picks in the comments below]

80. Infrared Horizon by Artificial Brain 

Genre: Metal

The 411: It’s to Artificial Brain’s immense credit that, when they ease off and one of their intergalactic onslaughts of pummelling pedals and frayed fretwork concludes, the listener is able to sit back and appreciate the delicacy of their tonality, rather than merely gasping for air. Not that there is much reprieve, this could well be labelled an Infrared Holocaust for all the destruction that’s wrought. Strangely, for all its shrieking, wraith-like-intensity, the guttural foghorn vocal manages to find its mark just as the guitarists alight upon their most tubular and hypnotic grooves.

The Critics Say: “The final line on the album is eerily fitting: “for some, an ending unclear”. Not only is it impossible to tell what awaits our cyber-protagonist, it asks the question of whether or not this whole ordeal has even occurred to it. That’s the brilliance of Infrared Horizon – it depicts a catastrophe of a planetary scale and channels it through a perspective we’ll never really understand.” SputnikMusic

Metascore: 87%

79. Rule 62 by Whitney Rose 

Genre: Country

The 411: Route 62 is a love letter. Whitney Rose is cosplaying Americana. She is not a feckless imitator or a star-crossed fangirl, she’s someone devoted – mind, body and soul – to the sounds of yesteryear. Touring the United States and presenting the listener with an immaculately executed sonic smorgasbord, the record is held together by the simplicity and straightness of Whitney’s delivery as well as the carefree authenticity of her band. So take her hand and go with the flow, but good luck remembering the starting point when you arrive at your final destination. 

The Critics Say: “From Rose to her crack band, all the performances on Rule 62 are delivered with a casual assurance that gives the record a warm feel that, when combined with sturdy songs from a variety of styles, gives the record the feeling of an old favorite; it feels like a record that you’ve lived with for years, in the best possible sense” Allmusic

Metascore: 81%

78. Prisoner by Ryan Adams

Genre: Americana

The 411: “Adams is willingly stepping into Springsteen’s shadow with this release, but the sound and solemnity he has found is the product of his own hard work (see his 2014’s eponymous release and Jenny Lewis’ The Voyager). Prisoner is Adams’ water-into-wine party trick: introspective ache has birthed sweeping grandeur.”

The Critics Say: “Adams assembles a stunning scrapbook that captures heartbreak in an intimate array of snapshots, a collection that marks his most accomplished record since Heartbreaker.” Consequence Of Sound

Metasccore: 77% 

77. Sleep Well Beast by The National

Genre: Indie

The 411: The Baritone is back in town. The National return like old friends, albeit ones you only see at funerals. There’s a familiarity to Matt Berninger’s grave vulnerability and The National’s slow sweeping solemnity which threatens rob the album of its poignancy, but Sleep Well Beast thrives on a richly detailed lyric sheet that plumbs the depths of Berninger’s knotty psyche (with the help of his new cowriter and wife, Carin Besser).

The Critics Say: “It still feels like it’s holding charms that will unfurl with more listens. It is an incredibly cohesive album though – it operates in its own defined space and has an intense frostiness to, which, for The National, is saying something.” The Independent 

Metascore: 83%

76. Stranger In The Alps by Phoebe Bridgers

Genre: Folk

The 411: ““I woke up in my childhood bed, wishing I was someone else, feeling sorry for myself, when I remembered someone’s kid is dead.” No lyric better sums up Stranger In The Alps, a beautiful, mournful album concerned with conversational tragedies and personal, not communal, loss. Pheobe Bridgers has produced an album that feels tactless and overwrought in places, but knowingly so. Still, you can forgive her any indiscretion when her zephyr-like-vocal and eagle eye for anguished detail combine to make some of the year’s best pop songs.

The Critics Say: “Like the best sad-bastard music, Stranger In The Alps alchemizes sorrow into redemptive beauty. It’s never about wallowing, but about slowly moving through it. That difference, played out over some incredible, wise-beyond-her-years songwriting, makes it one of the best albums of the year.” The A.V. Club

Metascore: 81% 

75. Take Me Apart by Kelela 

Genre: R&B

The 411: Evidently Kelela didn’t get the memo: in 2017 music fans want banging singles not cohesive albums, because Take Me Apart is the kind of fully formed and seductively fluid LP destined to silence the critics that once labelled her patchy and underwhelming. Quite the balancing act, Take Me Apart manages to deliver both luxuriously deep balladry (replete with all requisite vibing) and snappy verses full of bubbling pop smarts. 
The Critics Say: “Nothing is as volcanic as “Bank Head” or as rush-inducing as “Rewind” — two past gems — but these hyperballads and zero-gravity jams always stimulate, covering a broader spectrum of emotional states with deeper resonance.” AllMusic

Metascore: 81%

74. Forever And Then Some by Lilie May

Genre: Country

The 411: Lillie Mae plays a mean fiddle. She also comes equipped with a voice that recalls Dolly Parton and a series of arrangements inspired by collaborator Jack White. The result is an album as diverse in sound (there’s as much rockabilly and pop as bluesgrass and country) as it is rich in songcraft (she has seen, survived and shrugged off hearbreak and loss). May doesn’t quite punch through to that elite level, but this debut is a delightful listen with grippingly dark lyrical themes. Mae is just getting started and Forever And Then Some is one hell of prologue.

The Critics Say: “That this life, its series of choices and circumstances no matter how happy or sad, right or wrong, cannot be apologized for, it just is. Forever and Then Some is as moving as it is auspicious. Mae is a singer/songwriter whose embrace of roots musical traditions bodes well for her as she articulates her own vision of Americana.” Allmusic

Metascore: 75% 

73. Hug Of Thunder by Broken Social Scene

Genre: Rock

The 411: It’s easy to remember Broken Social Scene as a co-operative that launched a thousand Canadian bands, a worthy enterprise to be admired, rather than enjoyed. Their thrilling comeback, Hug Of Thunder, puts lie to that dusty myth by being devastatingly enjoyable. This collection is brimming with life, creativity and color.

The Critics Say: “Hug Of Thunder most recaptures the communal triumph of 2002 breakthrough You Forgot It In People, which synthesized those many talented voices into a joyful, eclectic whole, before they began stealing bits of the spotlight for themselves.” A.V. Club

Metascore: 76%

72. Thot Breaker by Chief Keef

Genre: Rap

The 411: Who could have seen this coming? Chief Keef, the committed smoothy, singing songs of seduction and devotion. This is the album that hip hop so desperately needed, Chief is singing of love in terms that other rappers have been too gutless to use: “baby can you be my friend, I would like to tell you who I am, will you take me for who I am, I will hold the deal up on my end”. Proof that love and stability, in the right hands, can make for buoyant, wacky pop music.

The Critics Say: “Thot Breaker is a flex, an earworm of a reminder that were Sosa to set his mind to it, he could render the broader pop landscape irrelevant” TinyMixTapes

Metascore: 83%

71. Glasshouse by Jessie Ware

Genre: R&B

The 411: Jessie Ware continues to avoid categorisation. She is neither a vocalist simply fit for post-dubstep bangers nor a smooth groovesmith. Instead, Glasshouse focuses on individual pointed songcraft and boasts classic soul, 90s R&B, contemporary romantic (Miguel) and bolshy pop diva (think Mariah) influences. All in all, Jessie Ware has delivered a beautifully sung and sharply affecting LP. Her newfound embrace of the guitar proves an inspired touch.

The Critics Say: “Each song on Glasshouse has its own distinct aesthetic; unlike her previous albums, 2012’s Devotion and 2014’s Tough Love, there are no songs here that could be confused for each other, none that seem an afterthought carved from the greater mood of the album.” Pitchfork

Metascore: 72%

Late Addition: RINA by Rina Sawayama

Genre: R&B

The 411: Well this is a delight, Rina Sawayama has served up an album complete with R&B sexiness, hip hop swagger and, surprisingly, the rigid snap of manufactured 90s pop. Now if your scratching your head and wondering if that last point is a positive, that’s fair, but it is remarkable refreshing to hear a young artist who wants to write brazenly direct pop music. She can be mature and illusive and still hammer home a hook or lockstep rhythm. The end product is a surprisingly silky blend of era hopping influences that, however improbably, sounds like no one but Rina.

The Critics Say: RINA is bursting at the seams with bona-fide pop bangers and quirky interludes.” Line Of Best Fit

Metascore; 88%

70. Psychosis by Cavalera Conspiracy

Genre: Metal

The 411: I’ll admit to being higher on Max and Igor Cavalera’s work than most: hell, I’m down with pretty much anything the brothers produce that doesn’t have the world’s “Soul” or “Fly” on the cover. Psychosis is unlikely to revolutionize the metal world, but it designed to rip live venues to shreds. The grooves are as deliciously relentless as ever, while the licks and virtuouso showcases are more energized than in recent years. This is metal with, whisper it, an ear for pop – this is snappy, razor sharp, earworm stuff, albeit with nihilistic growling lyricism layered over the top – oh well, you can’t win them all.

The Critics Say: Psychosis delivers the goods that Cavalera Conspiracy fans expect with a new twist or two, and probably their strongest and most consistent collection of songs yet.” Loudwire

Metascore: n/a (mostly positive)

69. Out In The Storm by Waxahatchee

Genre: Indie

The 411: Consider me a convert. I had been sceptical of Waxahatchee stark aestheticism and found myself wondering what lied behind the fuzz shrugs and monochrome severity? Well, Out In the Storm answers those questions by stripping away all distractions as Waxahatchee sing sweetly and directly to her audience. There are oodles of nuances and plenty of smudgy allusions to be uncovered, but this heartfelt collection is designed to melt icy hearts and illuminate a series of isolated vistas.

The Critics Say: “Though the record is her most lyrically straightforward, Crutchfield’s skill as a songwriter lies in the elasticity and ambiguity of her writing, resulting in a cathartic work that can be applied to anyone who has experienced a bad relationship.” Pretty Much Amazing

Metascore: 81%

68. Rest by Charlotte Gainsbourg

Genre: Art Pop

The 411: Charlotte Gainsbourg is immune to the effects of gravity. This is the moment she should have fallen flat on her face: writing her own songs as she returned with her first album in six years. It wasn’t to be, the art house actress remains a pop auteur – Rest is darker in subject, but lighter in texture: a sorrowful and seductive triumph.

The Critics Say: “On Rest, Gainsbourg doesn’t just reveal her pain, but monumentalizes it, lays out a red carpet, and invites people to watch. Her refusal to be sequestered by grief is, quite literally, a death-defying feat.” Pitchfork 

Metascore: 78%

67. Turn Out The Lights by Julien Baker 

Genre: Folk

The 411: “All my prayers are just apologies”, sings Julien Baker on a traumatic album focused solely on healing in the wake of a break-up. The subject matter almost seems a little lightweight given some of the topics yet to be tackled on this countdown, but Baker’s record is a reminder that the artist’s job is to shine a light on distinct personal experience, however small. Baker’s starting point might be meager, but these ballads spread their wings in the dark of pitiless night sky. There is a bottomless well of resolve to be found on this record and Baker desperately needs it to keep her head above water.

The Critics Say: Turn Out the Lights is an immense record that runs a gamut of emotions, from distress to love, anguish to healing. These are songs that you feel more than listen to. Everyone has encountered some sort of mental illness, addiction or crisis of faith, whether in your life or another’s. Not only does Baker prove that you’re not alone, but she finds a way to make it better.” No Ripcord

Metascore: 83%

66. Everybody Works by Jay Som

Genre: Indie

The 411: “Melina threatens to sigh her way into oblivion on the wonkily oppressive “(Bedhead)”, but it is to the artist’s credit that, unlike so many of her bedroom pop peers, she continues to ease her way towards enduring pop hooks and sharply intimate verses. No amount of reverb or understatement can obscure the addictive charm of an album that promises that we’ll “sink for sure”.”

The Critics Say: “I’ll give her this much: she probably tricked a few people into thinking this was a full band experience even though, excepting some vocals, she composed, performed and produced the entire thing by herself. She certainly tricked me.” Pretty Much Amazing

Metascore: 79% 

65. RTJ3 by Run The Jewels

Genre: Rap

The 411: “EL-P’s production remains thrilling distinct: a nightmarish batasdardization of funk from an insular and distinctly white headspace that’s perfect for the duo’s pass the mic interplay. Despite the rise of Trump, RTJ3 is not a firebrand rebuttal; in truth it’s more of a party piece that revels in Mike’s technical prowess, EL-P’s laptop wizardry and the duo’s near symbiotic chemistry – or, as Killer Mike puts it, RTJ say; “hello from The Little Shop Of Horrors”.”

The Critics Say: “There’s tonnes of fun to be had from absorbing the duo’s fury, and El-P’s sci-fi beats are as thrillingly big ‘n’ bad as ever. But if 2017’s nightmarish status quo has you feeling powerless, anxious or alone, ‘RTJ3’ is the therapeutic rallying cry you need right now.” NME

Metascore: 86%

64. Slowdive by Slowdive

Genre: Indie

The 411: I can’t say I was thrilled at the idea of Slowdive’s return, but my scepticism, not for the first time in 2017, was misplaced. This eponymous LP is a breeze: a silky slow motion erosion of dream pop itself. Slowdive rattle and hum with an elegance fitting their veteran status and, when it’s required, the riffs pack enough propulsion to have us gliding through the sleepy haze that envelops the album. If there’s a problem, it’s that Slowdive have become so dreamy they’ve (almost) managed to erase any edge they may once have had.
The Critics Say:
Slowdive represents an awareness of legacy, and the importance of not pissing all over it; to that extent, it’s an essential addition to canon.” The Skinny

Metascore: 82%

63. Black Origami by Jlin

Genre: EDM

The 411: If 2017 has been a great year for rustic (and often acoustic) understatement, then no one told Jlin. Black Origami may be less dense than its predecessor, but this is big, dark, in-your-face dance music. These beats don’t so much bang, as thwack you across the back of the head and skip across your prone body in hypnotic rhythm. The synths have been toned down (a big improvement) and the rhythms, which have a wonderful improvised and worldly quality, have been thrust into the foreground. The results is daring music that practically glares at the listener, but make no mistake: Black Origami isn’t obvious, it’s a refined delicacy.

The Critics Say: Black Origami can be intimidating: it’s dark, relentless, and makes substantial demands on the listener. But it’s also powerful and distinctive. In the world of rhythmic electronic music, nobody else is doing it quite like this.” Resident Advisor

Metascore: 86%

62. Need To Feel Your Love by Sheer Mag

Genre: Rock

The 411: Sheer Mag are a rip roaring riot of retro guitar licks and swaggering power pop bravado, but for some reason I had been resisting a band that seemed tailor made to plaster a smile all over on my face. Well, no longer, Need To Feel Your Love stormed my barricades and silenced my cries of “tried” and “indebted” – Sheer Mag have done it, they’ve converted the last hold out to their rollicking seductive 70s rock show.

The Critics Say: “Energy, desire and that indefinable cool that any great rock band must have burst from every angle. This album feels like a celebration, and Sheer Mag sure deserve one.” NME

Metascore: 84% 

61. Memories Are Now by Jesca Hoop

Genre: Americana

The 411: “Hoop is imbued with a natural nonchalance that disguises the serious misgivings about the modern world underlying her songwriting: she might be a labelled a Luddite were she not having so much fun. Her tone can wither as her accent hops between rootsy warmth and witchy-woodland-malevolence without an eyelid being batted. “I’m living the dream, in the dream I’m buried alive”; Hoop’s darkest moments shocking spring forth out of the ether. Just when you think she’s lighting a charming campfire, the camera pans out to reveal a wild eyed woman setting Silicon Valley ablaze.”

The Critics Say: “What always chills my blood and ties my tongue is Hoop herself, no longer a spider but a monarch butterfly, louder and brighter and stronger than she’s even dared to sing before.” Drowned In Sound

Metascore: 83%