The 50 Best Albums Of 2017 So Far

Lizzy Goodman’s new book, Meet Me In The Bathroom, documents an era in rock music that many of us remember well. It uses oral history to tell the story of the great New York rock boom of the early ’00s, the time when the Strokes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Interpol and the Rapture wandered the earth as larger-than-life avatars of sex and fashion and glamor and desire. It gives a long look at that moment, at all the drunken nights and cocaine hangovers and ill-advised major-label deals and long-festering grudges that helped it to happen, and helped it to end. If you care about music — and if you’re reading this website, you presumably do — it’s an absolute must-read. But once you get over the pure nostalgia of it all, you might find yourself wondering why we haven’t had a moment like that since. Where are all the exciting young rock bands?

Well, they’re out there. They exist. They’re releasing music, and a lot of the time it’s really great music. The main difference is that the exciting young rock bands of today are, by and large, not supremely stylish young deities. They’re not pretty snarlers who look like they just stepped off of a magazine cover. They look like rock bands. They look like rumpled-ass kids who have been sitting in a van for the past two weeks. They come from New Hampshire or Alabama or Cameroon, and they populate Bandcamp pages and basement shows. But they can be as great as anything that came out of New York City in 2001. And a lot of them are on this list.

On this list, those exciting young rock bands share space with exciting old rock bands and exciting rap stars and exciting doom-metal virtuosos and exciting experimental producers and exciting introverted singer-songwriters and a whole lot of other exciting but hard-to-categorize stuff. We’re living through an era when great music is all over the place, but it’s also an era when you often have to dig deeper, when the great artists don’t always just come right out and introduce themselves as great artists. (But, then, sometimes they do. A lot of the albums on our list, including the one up top, are among the most popular of the year thus far.)

We know the year isn’t really half over. But we also know that there is so much great music out there that it can be hard to keep up. And so here’s our cheat sheet: 50 new albums, from all around the map, that blew our wig back this year. There have been a lot of them, and there will be a lot more. And as fun as it can be to rhapsodize about the recent past, we shouldn’t forget that we’re living through some pretty great times right now, too. (At least for music. Everything else is garbage.) Any LP released between 1/1 and 6/30 was eligible for this list, excluding releases we haven’t heard yet (looking at you, Vince Staples). —Tom Breihan

50 Strand Of Oaks – Hard Love (Dead Oceans)

Following years of folky dalliances, Tim Showalter finally broke through with the hyper-confessional HEAL in 2014. After that, he wanted to trade all the singer-songwriter business for big, loud rock music in the vein of his ’90s childhood heroes. While the delivery mechanism might’ve changed, Hard Love is still a chronicle of everything that happened in Showalter’s life in those interim years: a marriage straining then piecing itself back together, a brother’s near-death experience, a nascent rockstar partying his way across the globe. It’s more of a collage than HEAL, appropriately psychedelic and loopy throughout (especially on centerpiece/turning point “On The Hill”) but anchored with anthems like the matured, self-aware nostalgia of “Radio Kids.” —Ryan Leas
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49 The New Pornographers – Whiteout Conditions (Collected Works/Concord)

Like fellow indie stalwarts Spoon, the New Pornographers are so unwaveringly adept at churning out hooks that we’ve started to take them for granted. Picking up where 2014’s synth-laden Brill Bruisers left off, Whiteout Conditions finds New Pornos ringleader A.C. Newman aiming for “bubblegum krautrock.” You can hear what he means in songs like “Whiteout Conditions,” “Avalanche Alley,” and “High Ticket Attractions,” where the band sticks to breakneck speeds and repetitive grooves, heaping infectious melody on top of infectious melody, crunchy guitars mingling with sugar-overdose synths. The result is one of the finest entries in the now-veteran outfit’s catalog. —Ryan
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48 Spencer Radcliffe & Everybody Else – Enjoy The Great Outdoors (Run For Cover)

Spencer Radcliffe has been putting out idiosyncratic music for years now, but Enjoy The Great Outdoors is the first album on which he’s invited others to collaborate and play alongside him, which only helped bolster the devilishly clever compositions and creeping sense of unease that have been hallmarks of his work since the beginning. Radcliffe treats the whole world as one big cosmic joke that’s inevitably going to come crashing down around us, but these songs are anything but cynical. Instead, they’re warm and inviting and encourage you to value the little things, like the power of friendship or a crisp, refreshing breeze. —James Rettig
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47 Tonstartssbandht – Sorcerer (Mexican Summer)

It’s pronounced “TAHN-starts-bandit.” Since 2008, brothers Andy and Edwin White have used that melted, abstruse moniker to crank out melted, abstruse music, reshaping decades of psych-rock history into their own Bandcamp stoner image. Their latest, Sorcerer, is their clearest, most fully realized statement yet, upping the fidelity and the song length without sacrificing any of the ramshackle charm. These three exploratory song-suites feel like living, breathing creatures, and you’ll want to follow them straight into the cosmos. —Peter Helman
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46 Blanck Mass – World Eater (Sacred Bones)

Leave it to global politics’ current disarray to let Benjamin John Power really find his groove on his third album as Blanck Mass. Power makes sprawling cinematic music as one-half of Fuck Buttons, but he’s never sounded as vital and timely as he does on World Eater. He translates breakdowns in communication and crippling frustration into dense and disorienting soundscapes, angry and demonic bursts of pure id that allow for a messy, cathartic rush. The noise helps to drown out the rest of the world’s chatter, if only for a little while. —James
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45 Arca – Arca (XL)

We have Björk to thank. Arca worked on her 2015 opus, Vulnicura, and she’s the one who suggested that he sing on his own songs, something he hadn’t done since his bright, bouncy synthpop days as a teenager. Alejandro Ghersi’s voice is a wounded, operatic thing, and it lends some humanity and some structure to the radical fluidity of his harsh alien soundscapes. What we’re left with is some of the most punishing music he’s ever made and some of the most beautiful; a cracked, bleeding paean to queer self-discovery. —Peter
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44 Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up (Nonesuch)

Fleet Foxes’ last LP, 2011’s Helplessness Blues, captured the sound of uncertain entry into uncharted adulthood in rich, redolent detail. Crack-Up is another masterfully crafted and lovingly labored beast by the chamber-folk ensemble, and it continues Robin Pecknold’s existential journey to discern meaning from experience. His conclusions are often heavy, exemplified by his assessment that working on the album found him failing to produce an “objective reason to live.” Pecknold arrives at the end of Crack-Up‘s inner-conflict narrative by forging his own reason to go forward. As usual, his expression of resolve yields some of the grandest, most yearning music you’ll hear in any year. —Pranav Trewn

43 G Perico – All Blue (Self-released)

The funky gangland rider music YG does so well apparently sounds just as good from the other side of the Crip-Blood divide. G Perico spells out his allegiances from the album title on down, and All Blue in turn demonstrates just how compelling he can be on the microphone when accompanied by the bounciest synths and 808s California has to offer. Every lyric is delivered with an exclamation point — even the ones that suggest subtlety, like “I’m complicated, ain’t no telling what I might be on” — and when all is said and done, you feel as revved-up as Perico sounds. —Chris DeVille
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42 The Mountain Goats – Goths (Merge)

This is easily one of the top-five easy listening concept albums about darkness-obsessed ‘80s subcultures that you will hear this year. John Darnielle writes about all the intricacies of Californian goth life — the sunshine beating down on black clothes, the rumors about a skinhead fight at a show in Pomona, the fond memories of the aging musicians who had to get real jobs — with an easy, eloquent empathy. And on his band’s first-ever guitar-free album, he’s found a lush, full-bodied cinematic sweep, an amazing come-up for a project that was once just one guy, an acoustic guitar, and a boom box. —Tom
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41 Future Islands – The Far Field (4AD)

Every big story about Future Islands’ new album led with something about Samuel T. Herring becoming a dancing meme on Letterman three years ago. That had something to do with the strange, memorable figure that Herring cut on that stage. But it also had something to do with the way the band has given us no narrative with this new one. There’s no big hook to The Far Field. It’s just another collection of lovely, graceful, sincere songs from what was once one of the underground’s best bands. Future Islands are playing on bigger stages these days, but they haven’t lost the romantic, evocative beauty of their early records. And now, when they step out on those bigger stages, they’ve got a whole new set of great songs to pick from. —Tom
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40 TOPS – Sugar At The Gate (Arbutus)

Montreal’s TOPS have quietly emerged as one of the most riveting and peerless acts in indie rock. Where 2014’s instantly-gratifying Picture You Staring was wizzy, lovelorn guitar pop, Sugar At The Gate is a lusher, more road-weary collection. It’s shrouded in glimmering synth work and wobbly guitar tones, all condensing around Jane Penny’s incandescent vocals. The band forgoes the theatrical riffs of their last album in place of a poised patience — forging forward with the minor-key crawl of the excellent one-off singles they released in the interim. Sugar At The Gate has a self-contained gravity, dancing dazzlingly unperturbed within its own orbit. —Pranav
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39 Palehound – A Place I’ll Always Go (Polyvinyl)

Love and loss are two of life’s eternals. Palehound’s Ellen Kempner uses her sophomore album to explore what happens when the rush of those two emotions are forced to intermingle — when you’re happy when you should be sad and sad when you’re supposed to be happy. A Place I’ll Always Go is more considered and mature than the twitchy rock of her debut; it’s a little less immediate, but so are the effects of what she’s writing about. Like the dull ache of absence on “If You Met Her” or the quiet solitude of closer “At Night I’m Alright With You,” her new album shows how difficult it can be to move on but how rewarding it is to find peace within life’s never-ending tumult. —James
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38 Tara Jane O’Neil – Tara Jane O’Neil (Gnomonsong)

Tara Jane O’Neil makes music that sounds like a sunrise and hits like a fine mist, permeating the air and casting everything around it in its golden light. She’s called Tara Jane O’Neil, her ninth solo album, her “singer-songwriter” record, emphasizing her vocals and lyrics and sharpening her impressionistic drift into a lovely, diffuse take on the classic Laurel Canyon sound. But more than anything, it’s a Tara Jane O’Neil record, which means it’s a thing of hushed, quiet beauty, an exercise in intimacy that rewards the patient. It’ll stay with you if you let it. —Peter
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37 Spoon – Hot Thoughts (Matador)

“Consistency” has always been the Spoon narrative, but that doesn’t account for the fact that they’ve been constantly experimenting ever since they achieved some platonic ideal of themselves on 2007’s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. Hot Thoughts is like a mutated extension of the lush romanticism of 2014’s They Want My Soul: still nocturnal, more synths and grooves, now dirtier and more synthetic. The aesthetic is sleazy, retro-futuristic robo-psychedelia, whether on the title track or in the synth breaks of “Can I Sit Next To You” or the zoned-out meditation of “Pink Up.” Where They Want My Soul found Spoon at their glossiest and poppiest, Hot Thoughts uses similar elements to conjure up some faraway, arid discotheque, finding them in new lands once more. —Ryan
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36 Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit – The Nashville Sound (Southeastern)

Anyone who saw Jason Isbell tour behind his triumphant 2015 release Something More Than Free — the one that found him achieving a greater mainstream prominence, (not entirely accurately) christened as one of the faces of an ascendant “real country” movement — knows he’d already started echoing his Drive-By Truckers days by incorporating more straight-up rock into his sound. That’s been the hook with The Nashville Sound, and it’s plainly evident in the highs of the near-breathless roots-rocker “Cumberland Gap” or the frayed highway rambler “Molotov.” But Isbell’s gift for acoustic introspection is still in abundance, especially in “If We Were Vampires,” a meditation on love and marriage and the inherent threat mortality poses to both. —Ryan
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35 Jlin – Black Origami (Planet Mu)

The world was introduced to Jlin when she quietly released her debut album, Dark Energy, back in 2015. Fast forward to Black Origami and Jlin is poised to be as big a superstar as a footwork producer can be in 2017. This album is a lot to listen to when you’re going about your day to day; the drums skitter and bump at such a rapid-fire pace, and upon first listen, that might be the only thing you notice. But when you’ve played Black Origami on repeat, small organic noises become the focal point. The ripple of running water, a shrill singing voice spliced in two, doubled and then looped on into infinity. It’s an intricate album that unfolds and reveals its complexities more and more with each listen — like, well, origami? —Gabriela Tully Claymore
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34 Bedouine – Bedouine (Spacebomb)

Azniv Korkejian writes with the poetic diction of Leonard Cohen, sings with the gentle confidence of Joni Mitchell, and wraps her songs in sighing folk-rock pocket symphonies worthy of Nick Drake, all while maintaining a subtle rhythmic oomph that eludes many of her singer-songwriter peers. Her debut album as Bedouine is downright stunning, a collection of tunes steeped in the classics but distinctly modern in content and presentation. To press play on it is to be transported somewhere wonderful; it’s as if, after relocating so many times in her life, she’s finally at home within these songs. —Chris
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33 Paramore – After Laughter (Fueled By Ramen)

Fans bring all kinds of conflicting expectations into a new Paramore album, but once you let go of those and approach After Laughter for what it is, what it is becomes deeply appealing. Whereas 2013’s self-titled LP gradually, confidently evolved beyond the Warped Tour emo anthems of their youth, Hayley Williams and friends have completely reinvented the band this time, building from the ground up as new wave revivalists with a taste for Afropop, reggae, and singer-songwriter confessionals. Yet it remains of a piece with Paramore’s discography because Williams hasn’t shed her razor-sharp lyricism and bright melodic intuition. —Chris
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32 Forest Swords – Compassion (Ninja Tune)

I made the mistake of listening to Compassion for the first time on the way to a meeting. I was walking down a sunny city street, and when the first astral drone rocketed in, the sky turned dark and every passing stranger became some kind of sinister villain. I quickened my pace and started straight-up running to my destination. Forest Swords’ sophomore album could soundtrack a chase scene or a night out at a club in Gotham. Compassion is a dark album, but it’s also a really beautiful one. Forest Swords created a mood piece so affecting that you can’t help but submit to it. —Gabriela
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31 Japandroids – Near To The Wild Heart Of Life (Anti)

The title says it all: Near To The Wild Heart Of Life is a quest, a journey. It opens with the Canadian duo of Brian King and David Prowse “all fired up to go far away,” and by track 2, they’re traversing the continent, “north, east, south, west, coast to coast.” It’s a road trip in search of Big Truths, and it uses big sentiments and big choruses to light the path. But there are plenty of dark passages along the way. “So many miles, so much to lose/ A devil by my side, and right between us two,” sings Prowse on “Midnight To Morning.” On “No Known Drink or Drug,” King is looking inward even while staring at the highway ahead: “Passport, past life, a drifter’s demons/ alone, lost, and fast running out of reasons.” There’s still plenty of celebration here, but this is expedition rock, and it rarely fails to find what it’s looking for. It’s at its best, though, when it’s just driving. And when it hits those straightaways, it ain’t “near to” nothing: It’s smack dab in the fucking center, all blood and beat and muscle. When Japandroids are in that zone, nobody else comes close. —Michael Nelson
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30 Fred Thomas – Changer (Polyvinyl)

“There was something I was trying to say,” Fred Thomas frantically repeats on Changer‘s opening track. The search for the “right” words in any given situation has long been a preoccupation for Thomas as a songwriter, and he’s gotten closer to finding them with his two most recent albums, 2015’s All Are Saved and this new one, which sees the Michigan-bred musician channel his existential musings into his sharpest hooks yet on the front half of the album. Those bleed into a more experimental side B that lets Thomas show off the production and mood-setting skills he’s acquired over his long and storied career. —James
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29 Vagabon – Infinite Worlds (Father/Daughter)

I’m sure Lætitia Tamko would’ve made an excellent career out of computer programming had she pressed on pursuing the avenues of her college major rather than detour and then throw herself completely into New York’s DIY scene. But there’s no doubt that she belongs in the role of a full-time musician. The stories that make up her debut album are almost intimidatingly personal, but Tamko strategically depicts them using potent, poignantly encapsulated details that reveal more broadly universal feelings of apprehension, loneliness, and self-doubt. On the album’s haunting, evocative opener “The Embers,” Tamko acquiesces to an anger directed at her and wearily relents that her accuser “run and tell everybody that Lætitia is a small fish,” but after listening to Infinite Worlds you’d be a fool to think she’s anything other than the biggest, most impressive creature in the whole pond. —Pranav
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28 Sampha – Process (Young Turks)

Sampha’s voice has long served as a luxuriant accessory for rap and R&B superstars, which is understandable: Given the opportunity, how could you not adorn your music with a sound so weathered and weary yet simultaneously smooth and iridescent? There may be no more effective shorthand for emotional weight in all of the music business. Process proves Sampha’s powers are only amplified in longform, when applied to his own vision. The richly expressive balladeer has perfected a synthetic soul music that serves as a marvelous launchpad for those peerless vocals — though as “(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano” indicates, he only needs 88 keys and a microphone to level you. —Chris
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27 Kreator – Gods Of Violence (Nuclear Blast)

The title track off Kreator’s Gods Of Violence dropped last November — arriving, as it happens, on the very same day as Metallica’s much-hyped Hardwired…To Self-Destruct. It was a neat little coincidence — two classic-era thrash bands returning on the same day! — that did absolutely nothing to flatter the more famous of those two bands. At one point during that day, the person who manages Kreator’s social media channels had to tell fans to stop making fun of Metallica in the “Gods Of Violence” Facebook comments. But there was no other way to compare the two things: While Metallica were giving us pretty-good-for-latter-day-Metallica songs about the pitfalls of celebrity and the life and death of Amy Winehouse, Kreator sounded like fire-breathing, face-melting riot-starters decrying “malicious titans” and “the forces of separatists.” When Gods Of Violence arrived in full two months later, it more than delivered on the promise of its lead single. The album is filled with coliseum-sized anthems that move at the speed of light, kick ass like Bruce Lee in Fist Of Fury, and serve up endless Earth Crisis/Bernie Sanders realness. That “thrash-revival” day last November came a week after Donald Trump was elected president. (Also fittingly, the advance single “Totalitarian Terror” was released the same day as Trump’s inauguration.) All these months later, Gods Of Violence feels even more essential, urgent, and thrilling. —Michael
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26 The Menzingers – After The Party (Epitaph)

The truly essential hardcore albums are great not so much for what they are but what they capture: youth in its magic hour; the evanescent moment at which confidence, curiosity, ambition, and ability have reached a convergence point, colliding there with outsize excitement, idealism, and naïveté. That last part is crucial. The young artists behind these albums believe they are at the beginning of something. In fact, they are at the end of something else. Philadelphia’s Menzingers aren’t old by any reasonable standard, but they’re old enough to know they’re not that young anymore, and they’re smart enough to know that it’s stupid to pretend otherwise. The band’s fifth album, After The Party, is a thoughtful meditation on that moment, delivered in ripping, riotously catchy, almost unfairly well-written punk songs. “Where we gonna go now that our twenties are over?” sings frontman Greg Barnett on album opener “Tellin’ Lies.” On “Lookers,” he’s nostalgic about the Jersey girls of his adolescence (“always total heartbreakers”), but what he really misses is the promise, the potential, the adventure always on the horizon back then. “That was the old me/ I was such a looker in the old days.” Now he’s got a stack of questions, regrets, bills, and memories, but he renders them in brilliant detail. On the album’s title track, he sings about the “little things” he remembers: “Your silhouette in high-top sneakers/ And hardcore from laptop speakers/ The classics to the more obscure/ From Minor Threat to your old roommate’s band.” The Menzingers’ own magic hour may be behind them, but After The Party still captures something pretty goddamn spectacular. —Michael
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25 Thundercat – Drunk (Brainfeeder)

It’s possible I love Drunk because it caters to my interests, with passing allusions to Dragon Ball Z and Mortal Kombat denoting shared touchstones between myself and Stephen Bruner, i.e. the LA bass virtuoso known as Thundercat. But even absent lyrical pandering, Bruner’s stoner-soul is intoxicatingly psychedelic, or perhaps his music is better described as psychedelia that’s improbably soulful. One could even argue that Bruner’s tapped into a genre he can call entirely his own. On Drunk he spools irreverent poetry across a splattered web of animated vignettes. There’s tales of cyclical mundanity (“Rabbit Ho”), frustrated romantic dead-ends (“Friend Zone”), and after-hours existentialism (“The Turn Down”) — all skillfully woven into a holistic collage by jazz’s most exciting young auteur. —Pranav
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24 Hundredth – RARE (Hopeless)

For some time, the highest compliment paid to any second-gen shoegaze band was “could seamlessly be sequenced into Loveless.” Such praise came to be understood as infallible truth, and this rubric largely guided the genre’s evolution. But in the early days, there was another school of shoegaze — heavier, sharper, more direct — highlighted by bands like Catherine Wheel and Swervedriver, bands whose guitars didn’t glide so much as chime, grind, and roar. Hardcore stars Hundredth made a distinct shift toward this latter style of shoegaze on their fourth full-length, and in doing so, injected new vitality into both sounds. RARE succeeds not because it moves away from Hundredth’s established approach but because it plays to the band’s foundational strengths — delivering visceral impact via behemoth guitars, stark arrangements, and hard, abrupt shifts. The expanded palette allows the band to explore a world of previously unavailable nuances, but doesn’t spare the amps or sacrifice the aggression. RARE isn’t trying to rewrite the history of either Hundredth or shoegaze; it’s immersed itself in both, and emerged to say something new. —Michael
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23 Syd – Fin (Columbia)

Fin delivers its thrills in gradual measures, like an IV drip of concentrated, unfiltered swagger. The production, whether by outward starmakers like Hit-Boy or Syd’s Internet bandmate Steve Lacy, is always casually kinetic; you can feel your shoulders slacken, your fingertips tingle as the low-end starts to simmer. When she saunters in with her flagrant come-ons and intuitively icy shit-talk, she blends right into the album’s murmuring pulse. That insouciant confidence is disarmingly charming, almost entrancing. Although Syd’s described her solo debut as just an “in-between thing,” a way to keep busy and get paid between Internet albums, her execution is nothing short of revelatory, suggesting all that’s standing against Syd becoming a household name is her own lack of interest. —Pranav
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22 Girlpool – Powerplant (Anti)

Girlpool grew up. There’s a kind of magic in simplicity, and on their 2015 debut Before The World Was Big, Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad worked some real magic, using little more than one guitar, one bass, and two voices to turn radical vulnerability into punk-rock intensity. Since then, they’ve gotten a bit older, moved back to Los Angeles, added a drummer, and fleshed out their sound, and the result is a Girlpool that’s a little less singular but a lot more dynamic. The world has gotten bigger, and Girlpool have gotten bigger with it. May we all age as gracefully. —Peter
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21 Juana Molina – Halo (Crammed Discs)

Halo is a universe of its own, a soundscape you can tune into and inhabit for a little while. On her sixth album, Juana Molina is at her most experimental, weaving together dark, atmospheric mood pieces with her own particular brand of folklore. Molina invited a band to record this album with her, and the collaboration shows. Drumbeats pitter patter in and out of focus, electronic impulses nudge tracks from one realm to the next. Though Molina sings in Spanish, her voice is often contorted beyond translation. Halo is a mood piece that pulls you into the depths of her daydreams and holds you there. —Gabriela
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20 Guerilla Toss – GT Ultra (DFA)

Over the last couple years, Guerilla Toss stopped making inscrutable, chaotic art-punk and started making some of the weirdest, most visceral pop music out there. GT Ultra is a post-apocalyptic dance party of the highest order — punishing and maximalist but always fun, even as they’re contemplating the end of the world as we know it. Kassie Carlson serves as a charismatic anchor to the band’s tightly-constructed and creeping grooves, portending breathless prophesies. “Will there be a warning? When the clock stops moving?” she asks on “Skull Pop,” a track whose title accurately captures the smacking clarity of Guerilla Toss’ latest exciting development. —James
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19 Feist – Pleasure (Interscope)

Pleasure reminds us that the voice is an instrument. Eschewing overblown arrangements, Feist coos and murmurs and yelps over sparse instrumentation designed to showcase her vocal abilities in their rawest form. In doing so, Feist demonstrates her writing and recording process in a way that even the least experienced listener can gauge. The static white noise of a tape hiss underscores every song, she harmonizes with herself upon layers and layers of vocal takes. Though this album spans a landscape of emotion, the feeling it gives you is one of overwhelming warmth — it recalls that age-old saying that sometimes the simplest things bring us the greatest pleasure. —Gabriela
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18 Dirty Projectors – Dirty Projectors (Domino)

Boy meets girl. Boy records several acclaimed indie-rock albums with girl. Boy breaks up with girl and records an album of freaky, glitched-out electro-R&B, looping and layering his own voice into a funhouse parody of the beautiful harmonies they once shared. That’s the basic premise behind Dirty Projectors, and it’s pretty much impossible to separate the album from that narrative. There’s something deeply uncomfortable about listening to these songs, and the whole thing sometimes feels like a too-public airing of musical dirty laundry. But it’s exactly that messiness, that self-indulgent deep-dive into ugly, ugly feelings, that makes the album so special. Sometimes, you just need to have a good cry into a vocoder. —Peter
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17 Drake – More Life (Young Money/Cash Money/Republic)

More Life is absolutely right. As if course-correcting after the stagnant, insular Views, Drake’s 22-track “playlist” bursts with inspiration via exploration — more fun, more friends, more feels, more everything, all adding up to a genuine creative progression from one of music’s reigning superstars. Drizzy’s reputation as a culture vulture may have cynics crying co-option, but there’s another way to understand this vibrant blend of grime, house, dancehall, Afrobeats, and whatever other global party music captured his imagination: as a beautiful collision of ideas, one that sounds absolutely spectacular when the weather is heating up and the sun is going down. —Chris
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16 Migos – Culture (Quality Control/300 Entertainment/Atlantic)

When these perennial Atlanta rap underdogs soared to #1 on the back of the sticky, hypnotic “Bad And Boujee,” it seemed like a fluke. It wasn’t. On their second official album, the Migos are sharper and more confident than they’ve ever been. All three rappers grew up together — they’re all related, cousins and uncles of one another — and their chemistry is undeniable. The way they toss syllables off each other, it’s like they’re speaking a secret language. Every track on Culture is a banger with an insidious hook and a few stray phrases that can and will bounce around in your skull all day. Their voices are like luxury cars, weaving in and out of each other on a deserted highway at night. It’s a beautiful thing to behold. —Tom
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15 Roc Marciano – Rosebudd’s Revenge (Quality Control/300 Entertainment/Atlantic)

This year, Future scored his all-time biggest hit with “Mask Off,” chanting mesmerically about drugs over a dusty, crackling, hypnotic flute loop. And based on that glorious beat, it was as if he, or producer Metro Boomin, had suddenly discovered Roc Marciano. For years, Roc Marci, the Long Island rap-underground veteran, has been steadily dripping seductive menace all over beats like that one, atmospheric flickers of woozy sound. And on Rosebudd’s Revenge, his already-uncanny writerly power has only grown. There isn’t a single person on this planet who sound cooler talking about snakeskin jackets and precision safe-cracking, especially over beats like these. —Tom
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14 Jay Som – Everybody Works (Polyvinyl)

“Bedroom pop” is a wholly inapt qualifier for the type of magic Melina Duterte casts on Everybody Works. Yes, Duterte recorded the entire project in her actual bedroom, and yes, the music most resembles the style of luminous jams perfected by none other than Carly Rae Jepsen. But the luxurious orchestral heft and precise tact of these songs betray any resemblance to their lo-fi, DIY origins. Jay Som’s Polyvinyl debut sparkles with the type of immaculate sheen that deceptively suggests a village of collaborators and months of meticulous tweaking, yet still twinkles with an unflinching, emotive intimacy. Duterte lives in these songs, whether in the details of her romantic appreciation or self-protective doubt. But even in times of anxiety, she retains her hard-earned composure, making resilience sound like nothing short of a daydream. —Pranav
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13 (Sandy) Alex G – Rocket (Domino)

The cult of personality surrounding Alex G is somewhat indescribable, and if you’ve ever felt a bit confounded as to where to start with his impressive catalogue, then Rocket might be your in. This is a patchwork of ideas that marries Americana with hardcore, acoustic balladry with Auto-Tuned vocals. Rocket is the work of someone who allows his imagination to get the best of them, a musician who lets his ideas run rampant. And though Alex G famously hates talking about the lyrics he writes, the ones on Rocket might be some of his most open-hearted and relatable to date. —Gabriela
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12 Pallbearer – Heartless (Profound Lore)

There’s a fitting symmetry — whether intentional or serendipitous — in the fact that Pallbearer’s third LP shares its title with that of the most iconic song on Kanye West’s 808s & Heartbreak. Both 808s and Heartless found celebrated young practitioners of heavily policed musical genres breaking with tradition and trying something entirely new: something that did not exist before. Heartless draws influence from a vast library of giants — Pink Floyd, Neurosis, Neil Young, Metallica, Smashing Pumpkins, Santana, Mercyful Fate, and on and on and on — but it doesn’t translate or update those texts. It consumes them, ruminates on them, and finds inspiration in them, ultimately manifesting in a work of art worthy of placement in the same vaunted collection. I could talk about the album for days and still find new things to say, but if I had to pick one thing to talk about today, it would be frontman Brett Campbell’s vocal performance, which is, honestly, without parallel. He evinces the flexibility, dexterity, power, confidence, and acumen of Mike Patton, but with none of Patton’s snideness or self-satisfaction. Campbell delivers every syllable with absolute sincerity, vulnerability, and commitment. I’ve never heard anything like it, and I sincerely believe Campbell right now may be the single greatest singer in heavy metal’s history. We can argue about that. I know this for sure: 808s was initially met with some confusion, but quickly (and rightly) came to be regarded and remembered as a classic. When we look back at Heartless, we will recognize it as a classic, too. —Michael
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11 Julie Byrne – Not Even Happiness (Ba Da Bing)

Julie Byrne came up with the title of her sophomore album while walking along the People’s Beach at Jacob Riis Park. Overwhelmed by the liveliness of the world around her, Byrne wrote a friend and told them she wouldn’t trade the feeling for anything, “not even happiness.” Byrne’s sophomore album explores that other feeling, which she describes as one of emergence. After traveling for years on end, Byrne settled into her childhood home to record new songs, and they bear the weight of someone who’s seen a lot of the world and has taken time to consider the relationships that keep her grounded. The result is Not Even Happiness, a collection of folk songs so gentle and intuitive that they’ll find a way to sneak into your heart and stay there. —Gabriela
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10 Father John Misty – Pure Comedy (Sub Pop)

Father John Misty did exactly what most of us feared he would. The genius of 2015’s I Love You, Honeybear was how Josh Tillman balanced personal reckoning with his acerbic worldview. Pure Comedy initially came across like that balance would be lost to a sprawling, album-length extension of “Bored In The U.S.A.,” a sometimes smug and self-satisfied laundry list of the world’s woes. But, damn it, this guy pulled it off again. The album is essentially that, an hour-plus journey through various contemporary societal plagues, with occasional interjections like “Leaving LA,” in which Tillman assesses his life, but now in the context of being a famous singer rather than a lout finally falling in love like on Honeybear. It would all be a bit much — and plenty of people do think Tillman is a bit much — if not for how achingly beautiful it all is, dominated by impeccable arrangements and one of the strongest voices in the indie sphere. —Ryan
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9 Elder – Reflections Of A Floating World (Armageddon)

The title of Elder’s Reflections Of A Floating World — the even-more-stunning followup to their 2015 LP Lore — is rooted in a specific reference to a time where culture might flourish as the world stands on the brink. It’s a fitting paradox for the album, a dense network of beauty and ugliness, darkness and transcendence. The word “reflections” is key — you could take it as shadow representations of the tangible, you could take it as distorted images that suggest something else. As much as the album could echo the increasingly unnerving State Of Things, it also paints some other place, something foreign. Six monolithic songs stretch past an hour, taking all sorts of shapes and directions — undulating, then roaring, then bursting and flying. It’s a record that takes its time unfolding, but once it does, it reveals as much a specific, bleak realism as it does a complete escape, whichever thing you need in that moment. —Ryan
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8 Allison Crutchfield – Tourist In This Town (Merge)

Allison Crutchfield has always shared the spotlight, whether with her twin sister Katie in P.S. Eliot or as one-half of the brains behind her former band Swearin’, but on her first solo full-length, she demands independence. Tourist In This Town is a loose concept album about the dissolution of a relationship — specifically, her breakup with romantic partner and bandmate Kyle Gilbride — but its pointed narrative is universal. Crutchfield reenacts heated dinner conversations, daydreams about moving across the country, and failed attempts at reconciliation in crystal-cut detail and, while it’s all unapologetically bitter, she uses that anger to fuel her own personal growth, finding strength in pain and learning from past mistakes. By the album’s end, she’s found someone else — someone who makes her feel good and always sides with the sun — and the whole messy journey that came before feels entirely worth it. But she’s won that happiness by standing up for herself fiercely and proudly, demonstrating that her voice is just as confident and powerful as that of her peers. —James
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7 Sorority Noise – You’re Not As __ As You Think (Triple Crown)

When discussing Sorority Noise’s appeal, people naturally tend to highlight Cameron Boucher’s lyrics. His stream-of-consciousness coping — in this case, with the death of several loved ones in quick succession — results in some of the most bracingly evocative lyrics in rock music today, whether he’s mistaking his reflection for the ghost of his friend or conveying the existential relief that can come from something as simple as taking a shower. What gets undersold is the band’s sheer guitar power, the way every shout-along chorus is bolstered by an awe-inspiring onslaught of power chords, as startling as that reflection and as cleansing as that shower. They’re more explosive than you think. —Chris
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6 Priests – Nothing Feels Natural (Sister Polygon)

2017 is the year of Priests. I’ve seen the band perform a handful of times since Nothing Feels Natural came out, and each set has been near-flawless and life-affirming. Their music is intellectual without being exclusionary, and it bursts with the kind of kinetic energy that makes punk music feel so vital during times like these. Katie Alice Greer’s voice is capacious; it shape-shifts over the course of 10 tracks. And whether she’s skewering capitalism on songs like “Appropriate” or bemoaning the challenges of a friendship on “Nicki,” no one song on this album sounds remotely similar. On “No Big Bang,” Greer trades places with drummer Daniele Daniele, who pummels the kit while declaiming spit-fire verses at a speed that seems near-impossible. The skill of every member is evident; bassist Taylor Mulitz and guitarist GL Jaguar play off of one another in a way that’s calculated and performative and, most of all, fun. In 2017, Priests are here to remind us that shit’s always been bad, and music has always had the power to be a force of good. Time to get with their program. —Gabriela
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5 Mount Eerie – A Crow Looked At Me (P.W. Elverum & Sun)

“Death is real. Someone’s there, and then they’re not. And it’s not for singing about. It’s not for making into art.” Those are the first words that Phil Elverum sings — well, not really sings, intones — on his newest album. And they’re also the album’s thesis statement, if such a thing can be said to have a thesis statement. Elverum wrote the album soon after the sudden death of his wife, and he recorded it in the room where she died, on her instruments. It’s a primal howl of pain and loss and uncertainty, rendered as a flat and spartan indie-folk album. The songs are barely songs; there’s not much in the way of melody or structure or instrumentation. And it feels immediate and raw and painful in a way that I’ve never experienced in a piece of art before. I still haven’t made it through the album without crying. I hope I never do. —Tom
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4 Perfume Genius – No Shape (Matador)

No Shape is Perfume Genius in widescreen, with the volume turned all the way up. Mike Hadreas commits fully to Too Bright‘s shift away from intimate piano balladry, throwing himself into rococo art-pop melodrama with a streak of fantastical weirdness. It’s Romantic with a big R, but it’s also romantic with a little r. Because despite all of the subtly erotic body horror and the yearning to transcend his physical form, Hadreas has made, above all else, an ode to the redemptive power of love, to being confident and comfortable, to going through the wringer and emerging on the other side imperfect but alive. “I’m here,” he sings on closing track “Alan,” a love song dedicated to his long-term partner Alan Wyffels. “How weird.” —Peter
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3 Charly Bliss – Guppy (Barsuk)

We should be grateful for the seemingly endless supply of great garage music constantly on the come up. But working in this field — where it can feel like your job essentially boils down to keeping straight the mess of Brooklynite rock outfits exponentially multiplying in the underground — this surplus poses its own kind of problem. You start to become numb to the noise, to the point that even the bands you would otherwise love begin to feel interchangeable within a 10-cent dozen, and just the sound of a distorted guitar can prove immediately exhausting. But every blue moon, a group like Charly Bliss emerges from the fray to restore your conviction in basement-bred rock n’ roll. Guppy, the band’s debut LP, is unreasonably excellent. It recalls the genre’s past (Weezer, Superchunk) but also sounds like what should be its future, presenting a signature brighter, bolder, and simply more fun than any other band working today. They’ve left their stamp, and it’s emblazoned with monstrous, sucker-punching riffs, sticky storytelling, and Eva Hendricks’ inimitable howl (some magnificent cross between Britney Spears and Grimes). The Brooklyn bands of the future are going to be working backwards to try and recreate this album’s thrills for decades to come, and we’ll be getting a whole lot more great music from listening to them try. —Pranav
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2 Slowdive – Slowdive (Dead Oceans)

At its best, music reaches us on a level deeper than reason, a level greater than appreciation, a level that is neither conscious nor subconscious. Such music — and it is rare — becomes a part of us. That connection is no less vivid than our own imaginations, and no less intense than any other form of love. Truly surrendering to those feelings, though, leaves us in a place of tremendous vulnerability. So if you loved Slowdive already, you knew the risks inherent in their return after 22 years gone. Consider: Slowdive were active for only six years before their initial split, and they exited the stage with balletic grace. They left behind three perfect albums that helped to define a genre, subtly altered the course of modern music, and have aged like Renoir masterpieces. There was surely a powerful financial incentive to reunite, but in the balance hung a singular legacy, not to mention the hearts of countless fans. With Slowdive (the album), though, Slowdive (the band) achieved something remarkable: They produced a work that transcended its context altogether.

Slowdive is not merely a gift to Slowdive fans; it is a gift to the universe. It requires no familiarity or formal introduction. It would be a great album if it had been released by a bunch of unknowns. It would be a great album if it had been released by a bunch of has-beens or hacks. Paradoxically, it could not have been released by any band except the one whose name it bears. That signature is inimitable and unmistakable; that chemistry cannot be replicated with any other set of elements. If you loved Slowdive already … I mean, my God, man, how fucking amazing is this? Alternately, if you are new to Slowdive … well, I mean, my God, man, how fucking amazing is this? Fixating on the band’s legacy seems quaint now, if not altogether irrelevant. Slowdive didn’t leave behind three perfect albums. They’ve released four. —Michael
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1 Kendrick Lamar – DAMN. (TDE/Aftermath/Interscope)

Kendrick Lamar tore down 2017 rap’s value system, and he made it look sexy. Where 2015’s To Pimp A Butterfly left the rap world behind, flying into the heart of the sun and giving a broad and complicated treatise on race and self-consciousness in late-capitalist America, DAMN. returned to earth and took on mainstream rap on its own terms. Granted, there’s a lot going on on Kendrick’s latest opus. There’s Bono, straining heavenward even as the song buries him. There’s Mike Will Made-It, offering up his hardest thunder-thunk beats so that Kendrick can tear them to shreds. There’s confusion and pain and an extended narrative in which Kendrick imagines an alternate reality where his label boss murdered his father. There’s only one guest rapper, and that guest rapper is Rihanna. It’s a lot to take in.

Mostly, though, DAMN. is Kendrick Lamar presenting a new reality, one where one of rap’s most restless and gifted and idiosyncratic minds can also be its biggest star, bar none. Kendrick exists very much in the context of 2017 rap. He’s taking Travis Scott and YG on tour, and he was happy to welcome Future onto his Coachella stage before jumping on the man’s “Mask Off” remix. But he’s also challenging that context, sometimes sneeringly: “Watch my soul speak, you let the meds talk.” And through example, he’s pushed rap, and music in general, to strive to become something more. The world is a much better place with him in it. —Tom
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