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Best albums of 2017

The best albums of 2017

Here are our picks for the best albums to come out this year from big-name blockbusters to under-the-radar gems

Written by
Time Out editors

This year saw the release of exciting records in every weird corner of the music world. Unfortunately for us, that makes ranking a best of list difficult. How do you compare your favorite straight-forward indie-rock bands against experimental tape-loop noisescapes? All that ranking business aside, we're just excited about the amazing new songs we've heard. Some of the best 90s bands returned with surprise comeback albums (Broken Social Scene, Slowdive) while contemporary stars capitalized on their full potential (Tyler the Creator, Arca). Theres a lot of new records to wade through, but we've culled them down into our top picks for the best albums of 2017.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best of 2017

Listen to the best albums of 2017

Best albums of 2017

Kendrick Lamar, DAMN.

1. Kendrick Lamar, DAMN.

Where he was experimental on To Pimp a Butterfly and jammy on untitled unmastered, Lamar has pared down here to just the essentials: soul instrumentals, hard-knocking drums and his hungriest verses since he sent rappers running for their notebooks with “Control.” If “Backseat Freestyle” gave everyone including Taylor Swift a hype song, DAMN. is chockful of worthy follow-ups. Cue up the menacing crawl of “HUMBLE” if you need a jolt.—Andrew Frisicano

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Tyler the Creator, Flower Boy

2. Tyler the Creator, Flower Boy

It doesn’t take a big leap to read Flower Boy’s title as a reference to Tyler himself blossoming into a fully formed artist. For the rapper, still just 26, technique and creativity have never been weak points, and here he proves he can write a tender love song right along those of Odd Future compatriots Frank Ocean and Syd the Kid. Like his pals, Tyler favors lush, neo-soul-inspired production, adding a heavy dose of futuristic eclecticism and polyrhythmic mayhem. With Tyler as the sole production credit, it’s an impressive, replayable effort all around.—Andrew Frisicano

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Slowdive, Slowdive

3. Slowdive, Slowdive

The members of Slowdive felt so pigeonholed as a shoegaze band that they disbanded the group in 1995 and formed an entirely new band. More than 20 years later, a self-titled album from a newly-reunited Slowdive picks up where the group left off, with little regard for any purported genre revivals. Though the reverb-drenched guitars and majestic crescendos are still present, it’s the gorgeous melodies and thoughtful lyricism that continues to define this English group. When frontman Neil Halstead intones “I wanna see it, I wanna feel it,” on the album’s penultimate track, it sounds like an acknowledgement of the exhilaration of this unexpected resurgence.—Zach Long

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Fatima Al Qadiri, Shaneera

4. Fatima Al Qadiri, Shaneera

Al Qadiri's latest release is a realization of her life-long obsession with "villainy." Refer to the album art, which features her face transformed via makeup characteristic of early '00s Kuwait into the album's eponymous evil alter-ego. A cavalcade of sinister synth-lines, club beats and syncopated Arab percussion, these five songs play almost like soundtrack themes for a film protagonist's nemesis—or perhaps, what those nemeses might spin at the peak hours of a particularly nefarious rave. But like all of Al Qadiri's work, the album's project is a sharp, relentless attack on the status quo. A reclamation of sorts, the album speaks back to racialized depictions of "evil" in fictional tropes and the cultural narratives of moral indecency written on to queer people of color as a means of social control. It's not a statement, but a dance and celebration: yes, we are villains and we are out to destroy.—Ro Samarth

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(Sandy) Alex G, Rocket

5. (Sandy) Alex G, Rocket

For his seventh full-length (and second since signing to the influential Domino label), Philadelphia songwriter Alex Giannascoli doesn’t mess with the formula too much—whispered vocals, finger picked acoustic guitar and a home-recorded aesthetic that conveys a sense of looming dread. Where Rocket does stray from the path, with alt-country jams, noise-rock explorations and a few jazzy interludes, it’s just as intriguing, tied together by Giannascoli’s intimate world-building portraits that fragment at curious spots.—Andrew Frisicano

Read our interview with (Sandy) Alex G

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Lorde, Melodrama

6. Lorde, Melodrama

Faced with the unenviable task of following up her once-in-a-generation debut, Lorde returns with 11 personal, tightly penned songs that build on her moody oeuvre without mining it outright. Even the slight miscues are successes, from the car-commercial smoothness of “Green Light” to the mid-song left turn, surely worthy of its own track, in “Hard Feelings/Loveless” (featuring a Paul Simon interjection, “This is my favorite tape,” just to see if you’re listening). Breakup songs are great, sometimes a revenge song is even better. Melodrama, true to its name, has both.—Andrew Frisicano

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SZA, Ctrl

7. SZA, Ctrl

The much-awaited album from SZA almost didn't happen when she threatened to quit music last year, possibly while in the middle of working on the brilliant Ctrl. The brutally honest and personal record pulls from real life, from her admitting to cheating on her ex-boyfriend in “Supermodel” to owning her role as a side chick on “The Weekend.” The beautiful “Drew Barrymore” deals with insecurity and low self-esteem. And then there’s “Doves in the Wind,” a slow and catchy ode to vaginas with fellow TDE star Kendrick Lamar, which features the remarkable line “Pussy can be so facetious.”—Rozette Rago

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Paramore, After Laughter

8. Paramore, After Laughter

“For all I know / the best is over and the worst is yet to come,” sings Hayley Williams on one of After Laughter’s peppiest tracks. That relationship to pessimism and pop pervades the band’s fifth album, a collection upbeat downers that seem strangely applicable whether you’re looking at the world at the macro or micro levels. The onetime emo darlings have their own politics to contend with: This albums features the group’s third lineup change in as many records. Now with founding member Zac Farro back on drums, the band catalogs the emotional toll of those breakups and other disappointments, crafting one of the first great Trump era pop albums.—Andrew Frisicano

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Broken Social Scene, Hug of Thunder

9. Broken Social Scene, Hug of Thunder

Hug of Thunder’s structure bears more than a passing resemblance to 2002’s You Forgot It in People, down to the meditative instrumental opener that transitions into a bombastic, anthemic follow-up. But, you know, it just feels right. Broken Social Scene is back after a seven year recording hiatus, and the Canadian ensemble’s latest effort captures its aptitude for expertly constructed rock songs. Full of pick-me-ups and commiseration, shout-along choruses and headphones confessions, it’s BSS at its best.—Michael Juliano

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Arca, Arca

10. Arca, Arca

Working with Bjork and Kanye apparently left an impact on Alejandro Ghersi. Though his sublimely eerie production initially seemed confined to the outré electronic underground, this self-titled latest proves he’s as much a star as the big names that dot his résumé. With the addition of his own vocals—as shadowy and haunting as his production—Arca’s music takes on new life.—Ro Samarth

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