Politically, technologically and socially, 2017 was an unprecedented year. It makes sense, then, that such a year would produce unprecedented music. Here are The PHOENIX’s top-five picks for the most noteworthy albums of last year.
- “Melodrama” — Lorde
New Zealand artist Lorde impressed die-hard fans and casual listeners alike with the June 16 release of her sophomore album, “Melodrama.” Released four years after her debut record, “Pure Heroine,” “Melodrama” faced high expectations which were quickly exceeded when it debuted at number one on the Billboard Top 200 Chart. The 21-year-old showcased her incredible singing and songwriting talents effortlessly through every song, most notably in the upbeat piano-led single “Green Light” and the more melancholy “Liability” — a song that’s best listened to on an overcast fall day while gazing forlornly out a rain-streaked window. Hopefully it won’t be another four years before the world gets new music from this young bombshell of an artist.
- “After Laughter” — Paramore
When the popular alternative rock trio Paramore announced its fifth studio album in early 2017, fans expected more of the same: Heavy but catchy guitar riffs, angsty lyrics and the incomparable voice of neon-haired lead singer Hayley Williams soaring above it all. What they got instead was “After Laughter” — an uncharacteristically upbeat-sounding record full of synthesizers and poppy percussion. The band managed to pair cheerful music with lyrics that speak candidly about depression, anxiety and feeling misunderstood. Tracks such as the lead single, “Hard Times,” are almost comical in their contrast — a catchy, happy melody accompanies lines such as, “Hard times gonna take you down and laugh while you cry / And I still don’t know how I even survive.” Each track will leave listeners tapping their foot despite tears rolling down their cheeks, and that’s what makes “After Laughter” one of 2017’s most noteworthy albums.
- “Flower Boy” — Tyler, the Creator
Ever the comedic entertainer, 26-year-old rapper Tyler Okonma — better known as Tyler, the Creator — wasn’t always known as the most accepting, open-minded individual in the rap community. His 2011 album, “Goblin,” featured homophobic slurs 213 times throughout its track list, according to British music magazine New Musical Express.
Six years may have changed Okonma’s stance, however — his latest release, “Flower Boy,” offers a much more accepting message and even raises questions about Okonma’s own sexuality. Lyrics such as, “Tell these black kids they can be who they are,” in the song, “Where This Flower Blooms” and, “I’ve been kissing white boys since 2004,” in “I Ain’t Got Time” have led some to believe that Okonma may turn out to be the first openly non-straight artist in the rap scene. Even if that’s not the case, the progressive message within “Flower Boy” is still a game-changer for rap.
- “Rainbow” — Kesha
The Los Angeles-born artist had plenty of tragic inspiration from which to craft a record, and she delivered in a big way. One only has to listen to the soulful lead single, “Praying,” to get a sense of how far Kesha has come in her personal and professional life. Not only are her vocals stronger on this song than they’ve ever been, but the message of unrelenting hope and perseverance is enough to change even the most deeply-held opinions of the pop singer. Strength in vulnerability is a theme throughout “Rainbow,” epitomized by the nude portrait of Kesha on the album’s cover. If this is the new Kesha, there could be a lot more to look forward to from her.
- “A Deeper Understanding” — The War on Drugs
Although the Philadelphia-based indie rock band The War on Drugs has been around since 2005, there’s a chance many people haven’t heard of them. However, their fourth studio album, “A Deeper Understanding,” released Aug. 25, has been regarded by NPR and Billboard as one of 2017’s best albums. Full of poignant, thought-provoking lyrics, folk-rockish acoustic guitar and lead singer Adam Granduciel’s earnest vocals, the album is a collection of songs that are impossible to only listen to once. Something about them makes listeners hit the replay button over and over, inspiring feelings of nostalgia and memories that might just be dreams in disguise. The lead single, “Pain,” sums up the record’s central vibe with one plea: “Give me a deeper understanding of who I am.”
After a tumultuous year, “A Deeper Understanding” puts words to the feeling of disillusionment many may have after 2017 while also providing reassurance and hope for the future. It’s because of this depth of emotion and the skill with which this album was constructed that makes “A Deeper Understanding” arguably the best album of 2017.