2017 saw a lot of innovative art hit the scene. There were protests against Trump, brave new mixtures of musical styles, and soul-baring statements that dug into the core of what it means to be human. Amidst all this there were several albums that emerged from the noise and chaos to say something unique and beautiful, and through the power of their songs make us feel like we were listening to music for the very first time.
All five of these records created a distinct world all their own, summoning up times, places, and feelings that we could tap into through the magic of sound. Here are the best musical albums from 2017.
- Harmony of Difference EP – Kamasi Washington
Kamasi Washington has done the improbable by bringing jazz back to the masses. Over the last five years he’s gone from a behind the scenes player to a genre-breaking visionary. First, he provided arrangements to the breakout album “To Pimp a Butterfly” by rapper Kendrick Lamar, bringing jazz and hip hop together like never before. Then, his three-part album “The Epic” would set a new standard for jazz’s future, tapping into the vision, breadth, and sense of wonder present in the genre. Then, last year, his EP “Harmony of Difference” cemented his status as a ferocious saxophone player and a talented songwriter. Check out the thirteen and a half minute song “Truth” that closes out the EP, as well as the accompanying short film that will launch you off on a cosmic journey to the stars.
- Sleep Well Beast – The National
With “Sleep Well Beast,” The National made a bold statement. Refusing to fall comfortably into the familiar territory of their well-established sound, the band challenged themselves to evolve creatively. They built a new studio, used synthesizers and sound samples more heavily, and found new ways to save crumbling relationships and face the realities of growing old. The album that resulted is full of yearning for something you just can’t grasp, like the feeling that life is slipping through your fingers. Many of the songs here are full of bravado and hushed romanticism, wrapped up in a stubborn courage that seems intent on making things work, no matter what the cost.
- Aromanticism – Moses Sumney
“Aromanticism” is an ode to those who struggle with the romantic expectations of society, and a soundtrack for those who find themselves poised against the status quo. To address these feelings the artist weaves a world where sounds shimmer and sink into a musical collage that’s like nothing else you’ve heard before. Sumney’s falsetto weaves beautifully through his arrangements, breathing life into his reflections on stoicism and loneliness. “Aromanticism” is many things: a musical masterpiece that’s impossible to categorize; a meditation on love and alienation in the modern world, and a breakout album for an unique and innovative artist.
- ken – Destroyer
The ever-evolving Destroyer embraces goth and post-punk influence on “ken,” weaving together genres into a sound that feels both old and new. Saxophones flow in and out, drum machines churn in the background, and Dan Bejar’s signature snarl dominates the songs. The album takes us through the twisted, fantastic worlds that Bejar creates, and is at once anthemic, chilling, and darkly funny. Best songs include “Stay Lost” and “Tinseltown Swimming in Blood,” which is just as good as it sounds. For those looking for the dark side of “Kaputt,” “ken” is an album that will take you there.
- Twin Solitude – Leif Vollebekk
Leif Vollebekk left me breathless within the first few minutes of “Twin Solitude.” Rarely do I find an album that is so starkly personal, yet timeless and universal in its reflections on life, love, and loneliness. “Twin Solitude” is a record that demands your attention, and will reward your deep listening with songs that seem to never grow old. Through lyrics that match Leonard Cohen’s in their poetic wanderings, Vollebekk takes the listener on a journey of solitude, longing, and hope. And when you emerge on the other side, gasping for air, the album will feel like nothing short of a life-affirming journey, even as it moves you through Vollebekk’s memories of profound yearning and despair. I suggest finding this record, going someplace alone, and letting the music wash over you like the first warm wind of spring, finally come at last.