‘DAMN.,’ ‘Sleep Well Beast’ top 2017’s list of best albums

Aftermath/Courtesy

They say it every year, but it’s been a good year for music. Across all genres, 2017 has seen some new breakouts and returning heavyweights tackle the roiling social and political climate this year has brought — or help us escape it. Here are a few of the best.

1. DAMN. — Kendrick Lamar

Naturally, the end of the year is full of “best of” album lists, which vary widely from publication to publication, rearranging the same familiar names in different orders up and down the listicles. But if there’s one constant, it’s that Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. is consistently, invariably somewhere at the top of the list, if not in in the No. 1 spot.

Listening to it, it’s easy to hear why — a twisting, interconnected album that traces moments of Lamar’s life and builds on emotional dichotomies and confluences, DAMN. was immediately recognized as a strong frontrunner for album of the year when it dropped back in April. We wrote that it is “a testament to Lamar’s ability to simultaneously braggadociously spit rhymes destroying his haters while also crafting incredibly depthful, layered, cohesive albums.”

We gave it: 5.0 / 5.0

2. Sleep Well Beast — The National

Sleep Well Beast is an album that takes its time, not just sonically, but with its listeners as well — that is, it’s an album best appreciated after repeated listens, the rich, darkness-tinged tracks drawing us deeper and deeper into their depths with every repeated journey.

Though Sleep Well Beast textually mentions our sociopolitical climate only a few times (as in the Donald Trump take-down on “Turtleneck”), it is infused throughout with the troubled anxiety that has marked the past year. We wrote that it “does this not through any particularly complicated technique, but with an exceptional mastery of the elements filling the lower end of the sonic spectrum — blending bass and toms and humming keyboards and (frontman Matt Berninger’s) deep baritone as the iceberg-under-the-water on which the guitars and electronics rest.”

We gave it: 5.0 / 5.0

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Beggars Group/Courtesy

3. Melodrama — Lorde

Anticipations were at a fever pitch as fans waited for Lorde’s second album — the first real test of whether Pure Heroine was pure talent or simply a fluke of incisive, adolescent songwriting. Luckily, we were not disappointed. Melodrama still taps into Lorde’s personal life in sometimes-breathtaking fashion (such as the emotional bombshell dropped at the end of the first verse in “Liability”), but she is in a different place and trades much of her adolescent angst for more mature musings.

To tackle her second — this time, fully mainstream — release, Lorde brought on prolific songwriter, friend and Bleachers frontman Jack Antonoff. We wrote that “despite Antonoff’s distinct influence, Melodrama preserves the auteurism Lorde has always maintained since she began writing her own songs at age 13.”

We gave it: 4.5 / 5.0

Lorde Melodrama | Republic Records Grade: A

Republic Records/Courtesy

4. American Dream — LCD Soundsystem

It could’ve not happened: LCD Soundsystem, the indie band that defined indie and then dissolved in 2011 never made any promises to reunite in 2017. But reunite it did, and in good form, too. American Dream calls back to frontman James Murphy’s troubled 20s, and, perhaps more poignantly, to a dividing record industry.

We wrote that “where Murphy grapples with the unbelievable highs and lows of the music industry — the bipolarity of which makes him question which states are waking and which are dreaming — is where the ultimate genius of the album lies.”

We gave it: 4.5 / 5.0

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DFA/Columbia Records/Courtesy

5. Big Fish Theory — Vince Staples

In his second album, Vince Staples did what he does best — he defied expectations. Bringing in names such as SOPHIE, Jimmy Edgar and Flume, he meticulously assembled an album characterized by exuberant energy. And that energy is often directed at us, with lyrical constructions that scream “get out!” — in short, it finds Staples setting the boundaries on what space is his and not for us to intrude upon. That also applies to his songs’ structures and the

way he utilizes his guest artists. Unlike the now-standard practice of giving half the song away, blurring the line between primary artist and feature, Staples utilizes his guests decisively, bringing them in to make their point before letting them slide off the sonic picture.

We wrote “Staples cuts away at the conventions of behavior, song structure, album length and arbitrary artistic pressures that others working in his industry perhaps feel, and thereby gets to the core of his argument with an efficiency (and unrelenting, pounding drumline) unheard since Yeezus.”

We gave it: 4.5 / 5.0

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Def Jam Records/Courtesy

6. Masseduction — St. Vincent

Annie Clark, stage name St. Vincent, has mixed a smorgasbord of influences into her discography since she began as a solo artist, from soft rock and experimental rock to electropop and jazz. All of these make an appearance on Masseduction, which she stylizes “MASSEDUCTION,” a message from an artist who may at some point take over the mantle from Lady Gaga. Songs like “Los Ageless” highlight her ability to write radio-friendly funk with a bite, while on the other end, “New York” splits open a subtle emotional vein often lacking in pop music.

We wrote that “Masseduction works rather like a nesting doll — it fits snugly with the established and unestablished sounds of her past work, each song transitioning smoothly between the ones around it, each operating well on its own.”

We gave it: 4.5 / 5.0

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Loma Vista/Courtesy

Contact Imad Pasha at [email protected]. Tweet him at @prappleizer.