Sunday, December 17, 2017

Favorite Albums of 2017


10. Ctrl by SZA

With personal tales of conflict, sexcapades, and self-loathing, SZA doesn't seem to have it all figured out as her debut album unfolds. And as a coming of age record, Ctrl is striking in the sense that SZA never does figure life out by the end: "Only know fear. That's me, Ms. 20-Something. Ain't got nothin', runnin' from love," she sings on the album's acoustic finale. It doesn't hurt, of course, that her malleable voice navigates well through her soundscapes, which color a bit outside the lines of the typical R&B artist's template, and that the album doesn't have any shortages of solid grooves or melodies. But what really drives this record home is the young woman at the center of it all: SZA, a charismatic, honest woman who isn't afraid to splatter herself, her insecurities, her mistakes, and her secrets across a damn fine record. (Read the full review.)


9. Crawl Space by Tei Shi

Capturing the essence of the narrow, dank space Tei Shi often visited at night as a child to combat her fear of the dark, Crawl Space is an echoing pop record adorned with mysterious shrieks and extraneous spurts of energy. Insulated by a cloak of anonymity within the darkness, her ambient dreams and disruptive tendencies clash unabashedly, translating into a schizophrenic, albeit revealing and enjoyable, product of experimentation. Although her voice and demeanor were shrouded in reverberation and behind a wall of blaring synthesizers on past extended plays, they take command and become the guiding forces to hone a consistent vision on her debut record – an eccentric, honest vision from an artist who just conquered all of her fears in one zealous swish. (Read the full review.)


8. Lovers by Anna of the North

It may be easy to write off Anna of the North as purely an aesthetics act, capitalizing on viral appeal for sharp cinematography and living in a world colored in pastel pink and baby blue. While that may have been a more accurate description in the days of "Sway," the disjointed breakthrough track recorded on GarageBand, today's Anna of the North has a clearer trajectory. They've found their place along the musical spectrum, nixing their initial nods toward hip-hop for feathery synthpop. Now to be considered the formal introduction to the duo, Lovers is a focused ten-track outfit with the sounds and substance to captivate. (Read the full review.)


7. Truth is a Beautiful Thing by London Grammar

When at their best, the members of London Grammar sound as if they make music while driving westward at dusk, forever chasing the radiant glow of the sun from under the impending cloak of night. A dark desperation looms over the trio's lyrics, but muggy undertones linger from the heat of the day, melting some of lead vocalist Hannah Reid's stern vocal impact. While the trio's debut operated on the successful creation of moods and vibes, their sophomore record, Truth is a Beautiful Thing, takes a more anthemic approach. The resulting product is a captivating record with stronger melodies that better exercise the skills of the dominating vocalist who delivers them. (Read the full review.)


6. Dua Lipa by Dua Lipa

With her eponymous debut album, Dua Lipa declares herself a conscious pop artist. She delivered a standard pop album in many aspects, ignoring the pressures of cohesiveness and albumwide storytelling. And spare perhaps a faulty moment of judgement when she thought it was a good idea to give a song the trendy acronym title "IDGAF," her unrestrained creativity doesn't lead her down any disastrous avenues. But more importantly, she proves to be a very human artist, with an alluring debut album that mirrors not only her musical interests that encompass every star and moon of the pop music universe, but also her exploration as to her place within that universe. She may not have found the answer to the latter just yet, but at least she knows that there are good chances that she could stick the landing no matter which way she jumps. (Read the full review.)


5. Lust for Life by Lana Del Rey

Despite the smile she wears on the cover of the strangely optimistic Lust for Life, Lana Del Rey still feels like Lana Del Rey – a happier one who has just entered a new chapter of life. In doing so, she adopts a socially responsible view of her music's place in the grander scheme of the world, realizing she shaped pop culture present as she wandered through memories of pop culture past. While she's still an escapist with a limited vocabulary of poetic language, she now wears the title as she ignores a real-life disaster – a striking change from just a few album cycles ago, when she would dream up an imaginary tragedy to transcend ordinary life. And it's this unspoken appreciation for everyday life that shows sincerity in her lust for it. (Read the full review.)


4. Something to Tell You by Haim

Haim's sophomore record is low maintenance, rhythm-heavy, and effortlessly rad. Juxtaposing its lyrics, which are tied up in a few love affairs, it rides a warm Southern California vibe and operates without any sense of urgency. Something to Tell You doesn't search for the enveloping climaxes that were scattered throughout its predecessor, but instead, it stumbles upon them by surprise. And through it all, the Haim sisters usher it all back into a singular vision – a vision of a warm, sepia-toned world – from behind their pairs of retro drugstore sunglasses. (Read the full review.)


3. Masseduction by St. Vincent

Though her most impressive outing overall to date, Masseduction undoubtedly finds its brightest moments in firecracker cuts like "Los Ageless" and "Sugarboy," when she commands her trusty guitar and zany synthesizers to unhinge around her soprano pipes. But sparse, surprisingly transparent ballads like "Smoking Section" and "New York," during which she seems more conflicted than corrupted, are equally important to the album's backbone. Because while her inner conflict is exposed only when St. Vincent comes down from the frantic highs to reflect on intrapersonal issues rather than on how widespread chaos affects her daily life, it is what hones cultural madness into a personal album that is much more socially aware than its master portrays it to be. (Read the full review.)


2. About U by MUNA

Fusing the best of pop-rock, synthpop, and contemporary alternative R&B without skirting through their contemporaries' narrow field of drum machines and dingy synthesizers, MUNA (like Lady Gaga with ARTPOP, they insist on all caps for their title) rests within a malleable niche that lends itself to every mood of the hour. The scope of their debut album's sonic horizon stretches from the dusky tones of "After" to the atmospheric euphoria of "Around U" and "End of Desire." In theory, it could seem like an overarching goal of a hyperactive group in a rush to show the world what they're capable of delivery; In practice, though, it's a well-executed display of every emotional turn in the trajectory of an ill-fated relationship. The songs of About U follow the organic fluxes and flows of a story arc that is more than intriguing enough to pull listeners into MUNA's gaze and lock them there from beginning to end. (Read the full review.)


1. Melodrama by Lorde

Lorde's sophomore record, Melodrama, paints the warm-toned portrait of a charismatic young woman who has cracked open her own reservations and granted herself the liberty to act her age. As the animated scrapbook of someone who dipped her toes into adulthood with the luxurious excesses attached to celebrity status at her disposal, the album's narrative reveals Lorde did a bit of it all in the four years between her studio albums: The drinks, the parties, the love. In fact, the only thing the album fails to mention is the secret Instagram account dedicated to onion rings. (Read the full review.)

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Maira Gall