music / Columns

The Album Of The Year (#60-41): Tyler The Creator, Fleet Foxes, More

December 5, 2017 | Posted by David Hayter
Tyler the Creator

It’s time to crack the Top 50 on our Album Of The Year countdown, but before we do, don’t forget to catch up on the 70 LPs that have already come and gone:

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

[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] 

60. The Assassination Of Julius Caesar by Ulver

Genre: Synth Pop

The 411: Who could have seen this coming, Ulver complete their transition from Black Metal, through Noise, into full blown Synth Pop at the exact same moment Depeche Mode return with their most fired up and nihilistic album in decades. In this respect, the new pretenders are going head-to-head with the old masters and we can declare it a score draw. The Assassination Of Julius Caesar is a seething and soothing slice of dark pop that, at its best, feels like George Michael (at his most melodramatic and self-pitying) fronting the aforementioned Depeche Mode. Yet Ulver go a step beyond, their music is stately and elegant, unfurling endlessly into the icy abyss.

The Critics Say: “The lyrical concerns may be similar – fun stuff like nihilism, entropy and apocalypse – but the grinding drones have been supplanted by a morbid electropop in which dark matters are smuggled through via engaging melodies and vocals.” The Independent

Metascore: 84%

59. New Energy by Four Tet

Genre: Electronica

The 411: Does Kieran Hebden ever tire of releasing great records? Surely, at some point, he must want the rollercoaster onrush of plummeting to a low, only to rise again triumphant? Well it appears not, because New Energy delivers exactly what it promises: a fresh feel. The energy in question is more reflective and beautifully subdued, while still exploding into dancefloor killers when required. The lightness of touch on this record is simply staggering: there’s a rightness to this music that refuses to feel square or conventional, instead it soothes and seduces.

The Critics Say: “On this record, the club-orientated, dancefloor tracks that can be found on the likes of Beautiful Rewindand There is Love in You are gone. What’s left is a mature, ambient take that feels more reflective—and honest.” XLR8R

Metascore: 81%

58. Love In The 4th Dimension by The Big Moon

Genre: Indie

The 411: Well I’m a “Sucker” for Love In The 4th Dimension. Indie may have lost its zeitgeist-seizing mojo, but no one appears to have informed The Big Moon. The greatest compliment I could possibly pay to this wonderfully witty (Alex Turner influenced) debut is to say: I wish I could have heard this record in my teens and not my thirties. This is an album to be cherished by young souls looking for something to cling to and someone to aspire to be.

The Critics Say: “This whole album sounds like an attempt to seize and memorialise the giddy freedoms of youth. Like the best indie bands, the Big Moon sound like a gang you would want to belong to – whatever your gender.” The Telegraph

Metascore: 80%

57. Forever by Code Orange

Genre: Metal

The 411: “ Simply put, Code Orange – though they are unlikely to admit it – are a hardcore/metalcore band with some serious dance instincts. In recent years, the mere mention of dance has almost certainly referred to some ungodly tedious and forced EDM crossover; fear not, Forever is a straight rock record, but one that’ll have you itching to move. Just don’t be surprised if you find your self grooving like a marionette in the Pittsburgh band’s sway rather than careening into the nearest warm body (or, failing that, brick wall).”

The Critics Say: “With their latest offering, Forever, they’ve surpassed themselves on multiple fronts. By incorporating unconventional dynamics, sounds and structuring, the band have pushed their sound to new and interesting places.” Exclaim!

Metascore: 80% 

56. I’m Not Your Man by Marika Hackman

Genre: Indie

The 411: Marika is not your man, but she may very well steal your girlfriend. Such is her confidence on this spritely collection, which has a brooding veneer, but is too instinctively droll and pithy to ever bring the listener down. Tones and moods come and go, as Marika flits from feeling sorry for herself to exuding unflinching self-confidence in the space of a single lyric. Whether it’s soft silent folk, pastoral indie or washed out alternative rock, Marika Hackman music is sharply worded and beautiful composed.

The Critics Say: “Witty, sexy, confident, and charged with live energy, ‘I’m Not Your Man’ is the sound of Marika Hackman making the album she always needed to make.” DIY

Metascore: 82%

55. Ash by Ibeyi

Genre: Art Pop/R&B

The 411: Well this is unexpected: the sisters behind Ibeyi have managed to tackle racial politics and economic injustice while embracing a softer and more soothing set of sonics. This might sound strange, but it proves a masterstroke: Ibeyi’s insights cut so much deeper when delivered in an observational and slightly sorrowful tone. The misery they witness feels archaic in this light, something that should we should have moved beyond, but that stubbornly refuses to be ignored. It’s not that they are sick of dealing with this shit, it’s that they no longer need to explain themselves: if these plaintive siren songs don’t stir you, then, perhaps, you are a lost cause.

The Critics Say: “Their genre-agnostic musicality widens the aura of inclusion, twining downtempo electro-soul, hip-hop, jazz, and fervently slapped cajón percussion that nods to West African Yoruba culture. These are sage, heady dialogues, clearly years in the making.” Pitchfork

Metascore: 78%

54. The Dusk In Us by Converge

Genre: Metal

The 411: Nine albums later and I’m still excited every time I see Converge’s name atop fresh artwork. The sound remains a swarm of perfectly placed staccato stab wounds, The Dusk Is Us’s main evolution is themeatic: Converge now fret about violence in American culture and potential nuclear war. Harkening back to the Cuban missile crisis, Jacob Bannon endorses grown up contemplation and a cooling of animosity – in other words, these vicious noiseniks are calling for calm and hoping everyone simply stays alive.

The Critics Say: “Converge may be slowing down in their output, but this is perhaps the band’s best record since You Fail Me, keeping in mind the three albums in-between are not to be sniffed at.” The Skinny

Metascore: 83%

53. Halo by Juana Molina

Genre: Art Pop/Folk

The 411: Sneakily, this might just be the sexiest album of 2017. That is not a title Juana Molina is aspiring towards – this is a serious and brooding collection – but her whispered, occasionally craven vocals are paired so perfectly with a selection of border-hopping arrangements, that the seductive qualities of the music become impossible to deny. Part of Molina’s brilliance lies in her ability to close distance. One minute she’s an oddity, off playing alone in a dark; the next second she’s slipped beside you, ready to carve her crooked rhymes directly onto your cerebellum.

The Critics Say: “Completely free of genre restraints, ‘Halo’ is an album that exists purely on its own terms. It’s independently spirited but it’s certainly not indie. It’s buzzing with synthesizers though it’s anything but electronica and it has a gentle, acoustic sway at times despite being nothing like folk.” GIGsoup

Metascore; 83%

52. Infinite Worlds by Vagabon

Genre: Indie

The 411: With a sharp 28 minute run time, Infinite Worlds never puts a foot wrong as Vagabon traces a series of snapshot memories across of a variety sounds, from snarling rock (“Minneapolis”) to the ethereal soup of fading conversational snippets and lingering aches (“Mal a L’aise”). The question on her lips is not so much who, as where, do I want to be? And – by extension – where is anywhere anymore? By pulling memories in an out of focus Vagabon manages to show us both what she’s lost and left behind; while giving us a glimpse of the life, place and space she hopes to maintain.

The Critics Say: “Much like Solange’s A Seat at the TableInfinite Worlds offers several platforms for Tamko to navigate blackness, personhood, love and safe spaces on her own terms.” Exclaim!

Metascore: 84%

51. You’re Not You Anymore by Counterparts

Genre: Metal

The 411: Well this was a revelation: a razor sharp metalcore/hardcore record whose cascading grooves, blitzkrieg guitars and frothing lyricism are honed towards hugely satisfying scream-along hooks and bombastic beatdowns. Brendan Murphy doesn’t bury or waste a single lyric. His delivery is clear without sacrificing any of the feral violence fans would be expecting. You’re Not You Anymore is a breath of fresh air (albeit one blasted at the listener at a million miles an hour).

The Critics Say: “There are some great records that require a few listens to fully appreciate. You’re Not You Anymore is not one of them. Like love at first listen, the album immediately captivates just as the band intended when they wrote the lyric “Carry me forever in your heart” on “Arms Like Teeth.”” Alternative Press

Metascore: 87%

50. Hiss Spun by Chelsea Wolfe

Genre: Rock

The 411: Wolfe has been on the right track since 2013’s Pain Is Beauty and Hiss Spun sees the singer strike gold as she spirals deeper into this realm of black metal fuzz. Wolfe’s vocal has a wonderfully illusive quality, appearing sharply in foreground one moment and lost in the deep haze of hypnotic reverb the next. She is free to oscillate and plunge, pulling the listener to and fro and leading them on a merry chase through beautiful gloom of Ben Chisholm’s production.

The Critics Say: “While Wolfe’s incredible vocals are the main draw, her long term collaborator Ben Chisholm deserves significant recognition too. Not only does his fuzzed-to-fuck bass make these songs feel genuinely threatening, his manipulation of sound and creation of washes and collages provides unsettling backgrounds for Wolfe to weave her magic over.” MusicOMH 

Metascore: 78% 

49. Crack-Up by Fleet Foxes 

Genre: Folk

The 411: Fleet Foxes are at the stage of their career where they can do whatever the hell they want. Crack-Up is an appropriate title for a spliced and splintered collection of resplendent naval gazing. The comparisons to Brian Wilson are unavoidable (and entirely intentional) on a scatter-brained and self-involved LP that is a staggeringly beautiful listen. The ideas are often wonky, but when all the elements of the Fleet Foxes’ sounds come together, Crack-Up proves undeniable.

The Critics Say: “Hot take: their third record is their best, a meandering, wild, untamable masterpiece from a front man who refuses to stop studying and refuses to be predictable.” Pretty Much Amazing

Metascore: 80%

48. Flower Boy by Tyler, The Creator

Genre: Rap

The 411: It’s hard to believe that Flower Boy is created by the man who released the implausibly immature Goblin – but then again, maybe it isn’t. The wild talent that veered from harrowing lyrical detail to brainless sloganeering, always displayed the potential for an introspective turn (see Bastard). Tyler admits to being a slow bloomer on “Where This Flower Bloom” and part of the joy comes from seeing the rapper expand his mind and embrace softer sonics in an effort to explore his own quiet anxiety. Still, there’s plenty of tension, because at any moment Tyler might roll his eyes, shoot a snot rocket and fire up his horror-rap chainsaw.

The Critics Say: “While most of these songs are rife with anxiety and isolation, the open-hearted lyricism and wide-scoped productions, put together by an artist in peak form, make them immensely engrossing.” AllMusic

Metascore: 82%

47. Nothing Feels Natural by Priests

Genre: Rock

The 411: Priests are one of those bands that make the impossible happen. Nothing Feels Natural exudes a loose and unkempt aura. Like their swaggering front woman’s vocals, the album feels utterly off the cuff, but that couldn’t possibly be the case. The raucous jazz-infused-punk that permeates this LP is so ferociously precise (and complexly layered) it must have taken endless consideration. And yet, like all the best bands, Priests sound as though they don’t have a clue what they’re actually doing as Kate Alice Greer saunters, stumbles, and vomits her way through ten joyously disrespectful tracks.

The Critics Says: “Priests’ debut expands into a rich diorama of stinging guitar, funk, yearning indie pop, and jazz; there hasn’t been a punk debut this certain and poised since Savages’ Silence Yourself.” Pitchfork

Metascore: 78%

46. Capacity by Big Thief

Genre: Indie

The 411: This is what a great American album sounds like. Capacity blows its predecessor out of the water by trading trauma for complexity. The themes remain dark and weighty, but on an LP that encompasses both domestic violence and the child rearing, the constant is Adrianne Lenker’s breathy narrative voice, which ushers the listener through a potential horror show. There’s a cyclical quality to the songwriting as mothering and being mothered merge into a single, eternal, genderless and communal act of resolution. Seen in this light, despair and elation can be comprehended in a more holistic and less immediate manner. 

The Critics Say: “This music comes from a great American lineage that goes back to the early folk revivalists, but that has been shaped by sounds fired in the kilns of Dylan, the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, et al. I do not say it lightly that with ‘Capacity’ Big Thief can proudly sit as worthy baton-carriers of such forebears.” Loud And Quiet

Metascore: 82%

45. Freedom Highway by Rhiannon Giddens

The 411: ““You can take my blood, but not my soul”. Rhiannon Giddens lays her cards on the table from the outset. Slavery, childhood rape and enduring resilience: they are all present on album opener “At The Purchaser’s Option”, a beautiful sung introduction to an album about the history of racism in America. Giddens is a folk revivalist with a wonderful control of tone and a flair for devastating understatement. Those seeking the sounds of the future will find little to excite them on Freedom Highway – this record is rooted firmly in the past, but anyone seeking to understand the existential ache that informs the experience of black Americans to this very day may want to listen up.”

The Critics Say: Freedom Highway draws upon deep American traditions, and while its form may be a throwback, it speaks to a time when the phrase “Black Lives Matter” can be seen as controversial and, in doing so, it illustrates how these issues are deeply ingrained in American life and cannot be forgotten.” AllMusic 

Metascore: 80%

44. Ex Eye by Ex Eye

Genre: Metal

The 411: Colin Stetson solo work has been stellar and he proved alongside Arcade Fire how formidable his Alto-Sax can be in the live arena, but few could have been prepared for this. Ex Eye make their mark on the world with a bombastic assault of seething metal, which serves as a perpetual motion machine for Stetson’s frenzied and schizophrenic sax to dart atop and across – as if possessed by a (decidedly jazzy) demon.

What The Critics Say: “These musicians understand that heaviness is most effective when balanced by some light, making their debut both inventively punishing and soaring.” Exclaim

Metascore: 82%

43. Laila’s Wisdom by Rapsody

Genre: Rap

The 411: “I never sign paper work without reading the clauses…my lawyer’s got a case load”, the two sides of Rapsody: the enlightened MC who can still brag, snarl and boast with the best of them atop retro-soul beats. Nicki Minaj and Cardi B have dominated the female rap headlines, but Rapsody is the wordsmith whose been rubbing shoulders with the elite literally (Kendrick features on this LP) and figuratively (other than Kendrick’s Damn, what could possibly go toe-to-toe with Laila’s Wisdom?). Shockingly, despite a deep knowledge of black heritage music that went into this record’s creation, Rapsody’s key weapon is flexibility. Her flow is wildly adaptive: mirroring Eminem in her ability to cram syllables into seemingly implausibly tight spaces one second, before embracing the slow roll of the golden era rap the next and showcasing Erykah Badu’s dreamy soul vocals towards the album’s end. If only this record were a little tighter, who knows where it might have ranked.

The Critics Say: “Even with some ideas that aren’t fully actualized, Laila’s Wisdom places Rapsody within the pantheon of Hip Hop freedom fighters whose grave urgency is a necessity while the world is in a chaotic state of flux.” HipHopDX

Metascore: 85%

42. V by The Horrors

Genre: Indie

The 411: The Horrors have long since evolved from the scrawny aesthete who appeared on the cover of NME in 2006 into a thoughtful and outright important band, but as I listen to gloriously seductive psychedelia of V, I can’t help but recall the ridiculous poses those horror punks struck. This is a lesson in perseverance; the great pretenders are now indie rock auteurs using their immaculate record collections to sculpt sounds that are as dreamy as they are droll. Whisper it: on V, The Horrors have become one of the great rock bands of our times.

The Critics Say: “There’s something really powerful and undeniable about V’s songs that suggests it could provide the most unlikely twist in an unlikely story: the Horrors actually becoming as big as the overheated hype announced they would a decade ago. Whether that happens or not, it’s a triumph.” The Guardian

Metascore: 82%

41. Okovi by Zola Jesus

Genre: Art Pop

The 411: 2017 was not a good year for Zola Jesus to release this malignant and deeply disturbing exploration of ennui. A selection of sublime albums have tackled death in such an earnest and forthright manner that they make Okovi’s artful posture and rich cathedrals of sound feel like shameless artifice. This is unfortunate and not remotely Zola Jesus’ fault, because on its own terms, Okovi is the kind of devastating album that stops the listener dead in their tracks, holding them in an icy grip and sending harrowing shivers down spines. Sadly, while this album is excellent, her misery isn’t even better than the real thing.

The Critics Say: “Perhaps one of the most macabre albums of the year, Okovi shines in its ability to beautifully illustrate a disturbing but ultimately shared human experience.” Pretty Much Amazing

Metascore: 80%