music / Columns

The Album Of The Year (#40-21): Paramore, Lana Del Rey

December 6, 2017 | Posted by David Hayter

The penultimate edition has arrived, but it’s not to late to catch up and see where the likes of Jay-Z, The Killers and Ryan Adams placed.

The Catch Up: Honorable Mentions Part One (#100-81) – Part Two (#80-61) – Part Three (#60-41)

[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]

40. Cost Of Living by Downtown Boys

Genre: Rock

The 411: Victoria Ruiz is fast becoming this generation’s essential punk vocalist: her voice is jarringly angular (like the great punks of yesteryear), really sticking in your craw, while her lyrics are inflamed with riotous outrage and scornful distain. It’d be easy to dismiss the band as another in a long line of atonal agitators, but the joy of Cost Of Living comes in its relentless grooviness and undeniable danceability.

The Critics Say: Cost of Living is the kind of album that must be appreciated in its entirety for the songs to really make sense. Listening to individuals tracks, as superb as they are, doesn’t necessarily pack the same punch as the songs lined up after one another. That’s a testament to the impact of this record as a complete body of work.” Gods In The TV

Metascore: 79% 

39. Sorry Is Gone by Jessica Lea Mayfield

Genre: Indie/Country

The 411: The addition of Sonic Youth producer John Agnello proves shrewd as Jessica Lea continues to drift from rootsy country to fuzzy indie. Her twang still hangs deliciously in the air, but now she’s content to brood and linger in the haze, making Sorry Is Gone both a richer and more illusive listen. Fear not, the directness of old remains; these detailed ditties retain a sorrowful imploring quality even as the edges blur and blend.

The Critics Say: “The backstory leading to Sorry is Gone may not be the type you’d wish on anyone, but in the hands of Jessica Lea Mayfield, it has resulted in compelling art.” American Songwriter

Metascore: 82% 

38. Plunge by Fever Ray

Genre: Electronica/Art Pop

The 411: Didn’t Karin Dreijer get the memo? The avant garde artiste is supposed to deal is subtle illusion, smeared snapshots and provocative metaphor. Nah she scoffs, forget all that, this Swedish superstar is going to walk right up, grab her lover by the pussy and exclaim her lust to the world. (Perhaps, she’s planning a Swedish prime ministerial run?). In all seriousness, Plunge picks up where its predecessor left off: bringing the personal into these glorious synthetic surroundings. The music is uniformly glorious, if less intoxicatingly odd than her work with The Knife, but the elements of anxiety and the prospect of love, however freaky, makes Plunge infinitely cherishable.

The Critics Say: “She is now alive, raw, and unmistakably human, and she revels in all the desires and tribulations this implies with a radical bluntness that, if Shaking’s subject matter is anything to go by, is meant to explode any old-fashioned societal norms for how women should love, live, and express themselves. And of course, she’s going to do it while completely defying any assumptions we may have about her music.” A.V. Club

Metascore: 82% 

37. Eternity, In Your Arms by Creeper

Genre: Rock

The 411: “Learning the lessons of My Chemical Romance and Panic At The Disco! this sextet know how to knowingly overwrite a one liner, dropping the instrumentation to ensure these ludicrously ornate lyrics gain iconic status. The trick has worked wonders for both The Horrors and White Lies in the indie context and they are just as effective when delivered atop arrangements more readily inspired by The Misfits, Meatloaf, Power-pop or AFI. Ultimately, Eternity, In Your Arms is an album that understands that great rock music requires dirt under its fingernails, but also a great big dollop of spectacle and pomposity. Creeper have their feet on the ground and their head in the storm clouds.”

The Critics Say: “They are as fun as they are dramatic, combining lovely melodies with stampeding choruses. Eternity, In Your Arms could very easily be a musical score as much as it is a step forward for abrasive punk.” Alternative Press

Metascore: 82%

36. Visions Of A Life by Wolf Alice

Genre: Rock/Indie

The 411: After delaying their debut till they had garnered plenty of live experience and explored a host of differing sounds in the studio, Wolf Alice made quite the mark upon arrival. Their second album, Visions Of A Life, is thrilling because it both surpasses its predecessor and possess an utterly reckless energy. The band throw themselves into new soundscapes without a second thought, sounding bratty, then stately, then withdrawn, then pugnacious and even puckish, but always utterly assured. Wolf Alice feels as though butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths and, hell, in this form, maybe it wouldn’t.

The Critics Say: “Wolf Alice, as fantastic bands tend to, have completely disregarded the idea that a second album should be difficult and turned out a genuine masterpiece.” Drowned In Sound

Metascore: 82%

35. I See You by The xx

Genre: Indie

The 411: “The sensuality that was hinted at, but repressed, on their debut has flourished with age as the trio stretch outwards without losing the insular synchronicity that made their music so unashamedly romantic in the first place. Jamie xx is free to fill space with shimmering amorphous sound that (yes) still echoes with cavernous aplomb, but is now imbued with warmth and delicate complexity. This embrace of the technicolored shades of the dancefloor should not be seen as a rejection of the past, The xx remain frightening unguarded as they dwell on personal bereavement and substance dependency respectively.”

The Critics Say: “The payoff is the boldest work yet from a band famous for subtlety—the sound of the xx hitting the caps-lock key.” Entertainment Weekly

Metascore: 80% 

34. Lust For Life by Lana Del Rey

Genre: Pop

The 411: Lana’s transition from the soulful siren of the wicked and irredeemably hedonistic rich to a doomed romantic, shatteringly-in-slow-motion against the great American landscape is complete. Lust For Life picks up where Honeymoon left off and, while this collection is unwieldy by comparison, the compositional skill here is simply staggering (and at times full of quirk and humor). The biggest shock is Lana’s sudden universality. There are still sordid snapshots into a slumbering alien lifestyle, but now Lana sings for baristas dreaming of escaping their daily drudgery and for politically bewildered escapists the world over. This blend of preposterous dark romanticism, brooding eroticism and mundane, earthly frustrations is a perfect fit for these murky molasses masquerading as pop songs.

The Critics Say: “Where once Lana Del Rey’s world was a small as the circumference of the muscular arms that encircled her, now it’s as big as the fears that rattle us all – and it’s this widening of her vision that makes Lust for Life her most compelling LP yet.” Crack

Metascore: 76%

33. Relatives In Descent by Protomartyr

Genre: Rock

The 411: Protomartyr are out for blood on their fourth LP, sounding like Nick Cave on a mission to decapitate the most despicable politicians or The National if they’re gloom bypassed despair in favour of a frothing rage. The comparisons are obvious, but unfair: this is rip roaring, sneering, skewering music – thumbing eyes, turning up noses and spitting at injustice and idiocy wherever it may be found. Protomartyr are their own men and this is their first great record.

The Critics Say: “It really is about time we all sat up and started to take Protomartyr seriously. Their quality of music and precision is outstanding, and while referencing so many of our favourite artists from eras been and gone, they perform and compose in a new light with such integrity that makes them a step above the rest.” The Line Of Best Fit 

Metascore: 83%

32. Drunk by Thundercat

Genre: R&B

The 411: Drunk is a welcome reminder that making music is one of life’s great joys and, whether your discussing politics, seducing your lover or warping reality, it’s hardly a matter of life and death. Thundercat, aka Stephen Burner, understands this implicitly and, even in his worthiest or bleakest moments, he makes music with a smile. After all, there is more than one way to have soul, and boy does Thundercat showcase soul on this virtuoso, multi-instrumental thought cloud of an LP.

The Critics Say: “While its warm, buttery, lovingly produced sound suggests it will make the ideal accompaniment to a summer barbeque or beach party – and it most certainly will – Thundercat has, by skirting around the edges of darkness, created a moody, magnificent, endlessly replayable record that also makes sense in late February.” MusicOMH

Metascore: 81%

31. Semper Femina by Laura Marling

Genre: Folk

The 411: “It often feels like an insult to say that an artist is displaying “grown up songwriting” – as if it were a byword for boring – but it truly is the best way to describe an singer who can seemingly blend any sound or tempo into her aesthetic and who has a truly adult understanding of emotion. Marling avoids the peaks and valleys of impulsive reaction, but rather than taking the edge off her music, by understanding and exploring the tension between these extremes, she is producing profound songs that reveals more than any amount of visceral bellyaching ever could hope to.”

The Critics Say: “It all adds up to the most serene, stylistically varied album Marling has ever created – and that’s surely the point.” NME

Metascore: 84%

30. Try Not To Freak Out by Sløtface

Genre: Rock

The 411: There’s a wonderful disharmony to this pairing of bristling pop-punk guitars and a cooly detached lyric sheet, full of detached putdowns and anxious narratives. The result is a kind of carefree neurosis – if such a thing were even possible. Haley Shea is too flippant to be vulnerable, but too detailed in her indie-like observations to really be letting this all go. The end product is a guided tour through a maelstrom of conflicting emotions and booming guitars.

The Critics Say: “Handling pop punch with the same rightful care as punk rebellion, Sløtface aren’t indebted to any of their touchstones. Instead they’re mashing them to new, distinctive effect.” DIY 

Metascore: 77%

29. After Laughter by Paramore 

Genre: Pop

The 411: “After Laughter is the sound of life passing you by. The insight of age is not that this tragedy happens in the wink of a young girl’s eye, but in gruelling slow motion: this drift from youth and expectation to age and reality occur in the purgatory of plain sight. Paramore are aware of every opportunity and privilege that has passed them by, but why mope and, hell, why rebel? When you can plaster on a fake smile and dance to the beat of progress with a tear in you eye.”

The Critics Say: “An undeniably hooky record that strays from its grunge-rock roots and finds the band in a place where they’ve found the fun in their craft once again.” Paste

Metascore: 81%

28. Kelly Lee Owens by Kelly Lee Owens

Genre: Art Pop

The 411: There are times when Kelly Lee Owens eponymous LP sounds like Grimes on Quaaludes. There’s a hyper-energetic mind at play here, but Owens is blissed out beyond belief, revelling in each electronica burble and synthetic pulse. So shuffle up alongside her, sit cross-legged, exhale and begin swimming in slow motion across this reflecting pool of shimmering sonics.

The Critics Say: “Owens’ attraction to the emotive potential of sound is a theme that perhaps runs up against the Daniel Avery influences on the record, yet she has still produced a debut that is full of depth and one that exposes the scope of electronic music beyond just the club.” Clash

Metascore: 81%

27. Order Of Time by Valerie June 

Genre: Americana

The 411: Valerie June is another artist really putting the entire United States of America into Americana. This record has deep roots that creep up and outwards from her native Tennessee to make music that is both knotty and sticky. It feels as if these diverse sounds are decomposing in the night air. Her vocal lingers and stalks the skyline. The result is a feast for the ears; every note is rich and weighty, on an album nourishes as much as it delights.

The Critics Say: “Valerie June follows-up a highly regarded debut with a stronger, tighter set of songs around the theme of time and its passing. The Order of Time is unique and presents a confident and dynamic songwriter and performer with a rich background in stylistic and regional influences.” PopMatters

Metascore: 86%

26. Process by Sampha

Genre: R&B

The 411: “ Sampha might drift atop a selection of beautifully shattered and artfully discordant arrangements, but, at its core, Process is a straight soul record. One man ruminating on grief and tentatively processing an array of personal ordeals: the alien electronic soundscapes – in this setting – only add to his dislocation rather than marking him out as an auteur of the in-crowd.”

The Critics Say: Process is an exercise in catharsis, a deep breath in that lays Sampha’s soul bare through gorgeous vignettes of his life. He worries, he regrets, he aches. He’s human.” The Skinny

Metascore: 84%

25. Pure Comedy by Father John Misty

Genre: Folk

The 411: “He is wholly aware of how self-righteous and symptomatic of the larger problem his rants are: “Oh great, that’s just what we all need/Another white guy in 2017 who takes himself so goddam seriously”. This tension – between the Tillman who wants to right our wrongs (spitting in the eye of a rotten culture) and the man he sees staring back at him in the mirror  (another sanctimonious know-it-all, solving the world’s problems by scolding his compatriots from behind a keyboard (or in his case a mic-stand)) – charges Pure Comedy with electricity. It’s a joke. All of it. And no one is laughing. It’s a goddam tragedy.”

The Critics Say: Pure Comedy is the perfect name for an album like this; one that trades in seemingly serious evocations, but ultimately reveals itself to be a farce. After 74 minutes of self-congratulatory back-slapping, proselytising, hand-wringing and relativising, Tillman reinforces his belief in man’s ineffectuality and weakness amid cosmic indifference.” The Skinny

Metascore: 83%

24. Science Fiction by Brand New

Genre: Rock

The 411: LCD Soundsystem did it (albeit temporarily) and now Brand New have followed suit, they have gone out on top with a masterful end note that expands upon and occasionally surpasses their most lauded works. Having teased us with huge, rip-snorting singles in the past year, Brand New sidestep expectation by serving up an astringent, occasionally remorseful, endnote. Rather then departing the stage soaked in sweat with a fist punching the air, Brand New spiral and twirl their way towards the exit sign in a beautiful stupor.

The Critics Say: “Regardless of the odds, Science Fiction is a bold, legend-making statement well worth the eight year wait. If it ends up being their swan song, then we can rest assured that Brand New is going out on their own terms: in peak form, bearing no regrets.” Sputnikmusic

Metascore: 85%

23. The Kid by Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith

Genre: Art Pop

The 411: Synthetic galaxies unfurl on The Kid, an album that seeps outward into the endless expanse, while somehow retaining a homely quality. Kaitlyn’s soft vocal is resolutely terrestrial and inward looking (despite being heavily processed), a feeling reinforced by the charming choices of instrumentation and quirky, squelchy sonics. As The Kid unfolds and morphs place and time are routinely lost; fortunately, the humble beauty of woman at work behind her synthesiser, imagining a world ever-so-slightly beyond our reach, endures.

The Critics Say: “The album’s third act in particular holds its boldest statements, focusing on a time in life when you’re finally confident enough in yourself to start giving back to the world. But The Kidis truly an album to experience beginning to end, one with a knack for making you feel—as Smith sings on “An Intention”—“everything at the same time.”” A.V. Club

Metascore: 81%

22. Not Even Happiness by Julie Byrne

Genre: Folk

The 411: “It hardly feels fair to describe Not Even Happiness as an album, that’s far too contrived. No, this collection of softly structured skeletal folk songs feels entirely organic, more like an earthly entity than product. There’s plenty of scope to be found on this record, but the abiding image is that of Julie Bryne gently rocking in whicker chair or slowly traversing an endless American expanse by starlight, whispering these ditties with a quiet spontaneity.”

The Critics Say: “Whereas she once allowed the listener to seek out their own space within her songs, this music feels confidently, deliberately, hers” The 405

Metascore: 81%

21. The World’s Best American Band by White Reaper

Genre: Rock

The 411: There’s no doubt about it, if you close your eyes an imagine what The World’s Best American Band would sound like, this, most definitely, is it. Of course, the real best American bands don’t sound so contrived, crisp or glossy; their eccentricities override their raw American rawk nature (Tom Petty was never this self-assured, The Boss never so contented and The Ramones never could keep a straight face). So White Reaper might be too tight for their own good, but I’ll be god dammed if this isn’t a simmering slice of star spangled guitar music.

The Critics Say: “And besides, whether it’s a high school dance or a garage rock festival, Esposito makes it clear on “The Stack” what he’s learned about how rock becomes pop: “If you make the girls dance, the boys will dance with ‘em.” Pitchfork

Metascore: 79%