Last year I had trouble finding 10 albums to write about in my annual favorite albums post, but fear not my music loving friends — 2017 came in like a lion and never stopped roaring. For me, 2017 has been a banner year, one filled with new albums from some of my favorite artists and new discoveries that made a huge impression on me. In fact, for the first time in a long while I had a real tough time picking just 10 albums to feature so this year we’re going to kick things off with a handful of honorable mentions.
- Hot Thoughts – Spoon. These guys have really grown on me over the years and this year’s effort was really great. Check out Do I Have to Talk You Into It.
- Ti Amo – Phoenix. This was one of my most anticipated albums of the year given how much I’ve loved their past two. I have to admit though I was a little underwhelmed. That said, I saw them in concert this summer at the Marquee and they were fantastic live. The title track is a standout.
- Soul of a Woman – Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings. As farewells go, this is as good as it gets. We lost Sharon too soon, but in her short time atop the music world, she sure made the most of it. She was working on Soul of a Woman at the time of her death and it was released in November. Sail On!
- Tennis – Yours Conditionally. My son introduced me to Tennis this year and I’m all in. Great sound from this husband and wife duo from Denver, who look (and sound) straight out of 1970s Los Angeles. They’ve toured with Spoon, The Shins, and Haim, and even played Coachella this year.
- ZZ Ward – The Storm. ZZ’s second album was a great follow up to 2012’s Til The Casket Drops which was one of my favorites that year. The Storm is a little more polished and a little more pop, but she’s so talented I don’t care what she sings. I’m all in. Check out this great live version of Cannonball.
- Declan McKenna – What do You Think About the Car? I heard McKenna’s Brazil during the 2016 World Cup and liked it, but I didn’t know anything about him. Turns out he’s barely old enough to drive and looks like it. But when his first full-length album came out this year I really liked it and I’m betting he’ll be huge one day.
- Barns Courtney — The Attractions Of Youth. I’ll be honest, I literally stumbled across this album while searching for Courtney Barnett! What a happy accident. I had heard Fire, which is a great song, but the whole album is really good.
And here’s my top 11 of the year (because, of course, 11 is one better than 10):
- Hearts That Strain – Jake Bugg. This 23-year-old blues rocker from Nottingham, England made a huge impact on me when I saw him live a few years back opening for the Black Keys. That year his music was all over the place, especially Lightning Bolt. So when Hearts that Strain came out I was expecting more of the same, which would have been great. But it’s nothing like his older stuff. In fact, it sounds like he’s channeling Stephen Bishop or Glen Campbell! And guess what? It’s freakin’ beautiful! Just listen to Waiting, featuring Noah Cyrus (yes, that Noah Cyrus). Holy cow! Jake can sing soul and country as well as blues.
- Human – Rag’n’Bone Man. Here’s more proof you can find good music anywhere these days. I kept hearing the song Human on an ESPN promo for NBA games and it really resonated with me. So I went to listen to the whole album on Google Play and it just blew me away. I really love the new wave of rock and soul, especially artists like Hozier and Kaleo. Rag’n’Bone Man is cut from the same cloth, but you sure wouldn’t guess it from the looks of him — check out the video for Human and you’ll see what I mean. Looks can be deceiving!
- Heartworms – The Shins. James Mercer is one of a kind and I’ve always liked his work with The Shins and Broken Bells. Heartworms is classic Shins and every song is great. Name For You is one of my favorites off this record.
- Colors – Beck. Beck has always been a bit of an enigma to me. He always seems to be trying out new sounds, which is cool I guess, but I really like his upbeat deejay sound. Two Turntables and Microphone! I was really optimistic when I heard the first track off Colors, Dreams, because it was upbeat. Needless to say, I fell in love when the whole album because it makes me want to get up and dance. Up All Night really sums it up for me.
- Sleep Well Beast – The National. The National has become one of my favorite bands over the past decade or so and frankly I could listen to Matt Berninger sing all day long. 2007’s Boxer will always be my favorite, but Sleep Well Beast will do just fine. If you haven’t spent much time with The National I highly encourage you to do so. You should start with The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness off the new album. Such a gorgeous song.
- A Deeper Understanding – The War on Drugs. I’m a little late to The War on Drugs, but better late than never. I stumbled upon them in 2014 when they released Lost in the Dream and I played the hell out of that album. This year I was really looking forward to the new record and it doesn’t disappoint. It’s definitely a deep record with luscious instrumentation and intense lyrics and it requires multiple listenings to let it sink in. I’m a sucker for piano-driven rock. Check out the video for Pain to get a sense of this deeper understanding.
- Masseduction – St. Vincent. Annie Clark (AKA St. Vincent) has been around for a while now, and truthfully I never “got her.” That all changed one night last month when I saw her on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert performing her new song New York. This song hit me like a ton of bricks and I swear I played it over and over for weeks and walked around the house singing “You’re the only motherfucker in the city who forgives me.” When the whole album came out I didn’t know what to expect, and it’s a little more electronic than I typically like, but I just love it. I love every song. And I seriously considered making it the top album on this list. Check out Los Ageless to get a better sense. And for what it’s worth, she always looked a little weird to me but her new look is hot.
- Low in High School – Morrissey. I’m unapologetic about loving Steven Patrick Morrissey and I was as excited as anyone to hear his new album (his 11th solo record by the way). Low in High School delivers, and seeing him live this month only brought that home. For a 58-year-old dude he can still bring it, on stage and off. Spent the Day in Bed was the first track released and it is a unique sound for him. But the message is all Morrissey, as is the rest of the record. Don’t miss I Bury the Living, my son’s favorite song on the album and a devastating attack on war and the soldier mentality. Oh Moz.
- Everything Now – Arcade Fire. It had been four years since Reflektor and like all Arcade Fire fans, I anxiously awaited the release of Everything Now. The album sticks with the winning formula that has made Arcade Fire one of the best bands in the world and one of my favorite bands as well. The title track is classic Arcade Fire. This album was always going to be near the top of my 2017 list.
- Whiteout Conditions – The New Pornographers. Keeping the Canadian theme going, The New Pornographers are a collective of artists that includes the tour-de-force that is Neko Case, who has found herself on my year-end list both as a solo artist and with the Pornographers. Neko is a renaissance woman and a great Twitter follow with a great sense of humor and political style. Most of all, though, Case is a wonderful singer/songwriter and Whiteout Conditions is a solid effort following on the heels of 2014’s Brill Bruisers (which made my favorites list that year). Whiteout Conditions kept me interested and entertained from start to finish. Check out High Ticket Attractions for a good example of this great album.
- A Kind Revolution – Paul Weller. For more than 40 years, Paul Weller has been making music and forging revolutions. The Jam merged the 60s soul sound with 70s punk and led a literal revolution of Mods in skinny suits, Army jackets, and Vespa scooters. Instead of building on that success, Weller created the Style Council and led a wave of new romantic artists into the next generation. And when it was time to go solo, Weller returned to his soulful roots and since 1990 the Modfather has been cranking out album after album, all of which have brought him tremendous success in England and the title of one of the country’s founding fathers of rock. Now on his 13th solo effort, A Kind Revolution may just be his best solo work yet. The album is a pure blues/soul goodness complete with Weller’s hard-charging guitar-driven rock and roll perfection. Here’s a taste of the entire album in one nice little YouTube sampler for your listening pleasure. And for a longer taste, here he is on Conan performing my favorite track off the album, Long Long Road. This song is classic Weller and an example of why he has always been among my all-time favorite artists.