The 50 best albums of 2017

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31. Spoon — Hot Thoughts

Nine albums and nearly 25 years into an impeccable career, Britt Daniel and company remain one of the most most endearing acts in all of rock music. And while the Austin-based band’s latest release is more about refinement than reinvention — it tweaks the group’s tried-and-true formula only ever so slightly — it’s a welcome change. Daniel is still a dynamo behind the mic, but this time his small-stakes lyricism and penchant for vignettes are indebted as much to funk and electronica as they are his taut guitar work. The jazzy, instrumental bookends are just the icing on the proverbial, albeit unpredictable, cake that is Hot Thoughts.

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32. Converge — The Dusk In Us

After 27 years and nine studio albums, the entire heavy music scene takes a pause when Converge drops new material. Mixed and produced at guitarist Kurt Ballou’s iconic GodCity Studio once again, The Dusk In Us offers some of the most experimental material Converge has recorded yet. The album reveals a band that’s as comfortable with new ideas as they are writing some of the most savage songs out there, with every track tying together thematic ebbs and flows to create a cathartic listening experience.

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33. Camp Howard — Juice EP

Richmond, Virginia outfit Camp Howard use a colorful array of rhythms and guitar work on their Juice EP, a group of six well-thought-out songs that run the gamut from driving, ’80s-influenced pop to ragged ’90s grunge. Powerful beats are at the heart of this short and sweet work, with each song scratching a different rhythmic itch.

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34. Julien Baker — Turn Out The Lights

Gentle piano and guitar tones once again lay the foundation for songwriter Julien Baker‘s heart wrenching lyrics on her latest album, Turn Out The Lights. Sparse and lonesome, Turn Out The Lights offers the same intimate and graceful song structures as her 2015 debut Sprained Ankle, but this time there are even more developed arrangements to hold your attention. If you’re in need of an album to hold your hand when you’re down, this is it.

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35. Land Of Talk — Life After Youth

From thick drum grooves to succinct pop choruses, everything feels tight and polished on Life After Youth, the first album from Montreal-based band Land Of Talk in seven years. But this record is less a return to form than an intelligent reformulation, with frontwoman/songwriter Elizabeth Powell showcasing the same penchant for hooky pop that first garnered her critical acclaim at the height of the late-oughts indie rock era. All of that is now complemented by heady synthesizer tones and more mature lyrical explorations.

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36. Palehound — A Place I’ll Always Go

The sophomore album from Boston songwriter Ellen Kemper is a fuzzy work of indie rock that explores themes of love and loss with unabashed honesty. Written following the death of a friend, powerful lines like “Starting to count up to two/Another year of missing you/When the dust clears, where’s my body?” express deep personal pain in terms that anyone can understand, anchored by real experiences rather than tired pop-world projections.

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37. Chastity Belt — I Used To Spend So Much Time Alone

Punchy kick drum and jangly guitar lines slowly bring you into the first track of Chastity Belt‘s I Used To Spend So Much Time Alone, building up for over a minute before the opening lines: “You’re hard on yourself/Well, you can’t always be right/All those little things that keep you up at night/You should take some time to figure out your life.” What follows is a series of extremely relatable stories about self-examination and the anxiety of aging that are shaped into being by atmospheric guitars, warm vocals, and steady drum beats.

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38. Beach Fossils — Somersault

Polished production and catchy songwriting make every song on Beach Fossils‘ third full-length album stick in your head as a stand-alone single, helping its short, 36-minute runtime roll by with astonishing speed and grace. Whether balancing strings with digital drum sounds, or working in a beautiful jazzy flute solo midway through a funky rock jam, everything on Somersault exhibits expert placement and production choice.

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39. Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings — Soul of a Woman

The late soul icon Sharon Jones spent days between chemotherapy treatments recording this powerhouse of a final album, but sadly she died before it was released. A beautiful exclamation point on a long and powerful career, Soul of a Woman features the same funky horn arrangements and throwback Motown style that brought the singer much acclaim. She left us with an overtly positive musical message that is made more powerful by the difficult fight Jones was undergoing during its creation.

iTunes 

40. Japanese Breakfast — Soft Sounds From Another Planet

Despite having a sound that’s as expansive and otherworldly as the cosmos itself, Soft Sounds from Another Planet is an album rooted in the here and now. Japanese Breakfast’s Michelle Zauner uses her sophomore LP to investigate the many contradictions of life, often with gauzy vocals and brazen guitars that toe the line between classic indie rock (read: Modest Mouse) and the reverb-soaked shoegaze of the early ’90s. It’s the Philly transplant’s honest, bittersweet approach to indie pop that humanizes it, even when she sings about falling in love with a robot atop a bed of saxophones and dreamy electro.

iTunes 

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