Rolling Stone Australia

 

50 Best Albums of 2017

50 Best Albums of 2017

50

All Our Exes Live In Texas
When We Fall


Four accomplished singer-songwriters deliver honeyed harmonies over a mix of folk, Americana and pop. The result? The ARIA for Best Blues & Roots Album.

49

Hurray for the Riff Raff
The Navigator


Alynda Lee Segarra's sixth album veers between rustic Americana, jangling folk-rock, doo-wop and rollicking roots, a wild sonic stew as classic as it is vital.

48

Holly Throsby
After a Time


The title was fitting, the album arriving six years after predecessor Team. A stunning duet with Mark Kozelek on "What Do You Say?" is but one of the album's many blissful treasures.

47

Caiti Baker
Zinc


Featuring samples of riffs her bluesman father recorded on his phone, the A.B. Original collaborator's debut remakes soul music in her own image, meshing big band with R&B cool.

46

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings
Soul of a Woman


The final work from the gospel veteran is, at its heart, a joyous album that makes you feel lucky we got to share a planet with her voice for as long as we did.

45

Aldous Harding
Party


The Kiwi singer-songwriter celebrates sparsity on her well-received second LP, with the gentle instrumentation giving equal space and variance to her stunningly haunting vocals.

44

The New Pornographers
Whiteout Conditions


The latest from the best power-pop band of the past two decades is steeped in the hypnotic headrush repetition of Seventies Krautrock and synth swirls.

43

Kasey Chambers
Dragonfly


The queen of Aussie country asserts her love of Americana on this career-defining record, owing as much to Ryan Adams and Steve Earle as she does to Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette.

42

Beck
Colours


After the mellow gold sounds of his folk-rock Grammy magnet Morning Phase, Beck's pivot into of-the-moment big-box pop locates the sublime in the music many love to hate.

41

Julien Baker
Turn Out the Lights


The Tennessee singer follows her 2015 debut, Sprained Ankle, with a majestic, haunting album built around her fragile-yet-thunderous vocals and harrowing examination of self.

40

Grizzly Bear
Painted Ruins


Grizzly Bear's first album since 2012 is an audacious pivot to synth-pop, using the band's most direct hooks ever to address break-ups and the end of the world, all spiced with plenty of jazzy weirdness. Fully charged and ready to break new ground, this is the kind of post-hiatus comeback most band's fans only dream of.

39

Japanese Breakfast
Soft Sounds From Another Planet


Michelle Zauner has always been the kind of songwriter who takes on the big stuff, but on Soft Sounds, her music has opened up with a grandeur worthy of her lyrical concerns. It's an expansively trippy album saturated in science fiction and Eighties shoegaze.

38

Gordi
Reservoir


Gordi's polarising, guttural vocal delivery comes from deep within her small frame, making for one of the year's most surprising and ambitious locally produced records. Resonating with both sadness and optimism, the songs on Reservoir established the country NSW artist as a definite player on the world stage.

37

The Smith Street Band
More Scared of You Than You Are of Me


While on fourth go around the pub-punk quartet take their rowdy/calm colloquialism to worlds far beyond Footscray — sampling everything from pop to noise-rock — it's the masterful lyrical prowess of frontman Wil Wagner that crashes us back down to Smith Street.

36

Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie
Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie


Fleetwood Mac's Buckingham and McVie make a revelatory pairing, yet their sound here doesn't depart from the Mac's style so much as it accentuates certain aspects, like a familiar landscape viewed from a different angle.

35

Bob Dylan
Triplicate


On the third album in his Great American Songbook series, Dylan doesn't shy away from tunes as familiar as "As Time Goes By". Backed by a small band, he sings with care and nuance, looking back on past loves and losses with a tone of brooding regret that eventually ebbs into a kind of reluctant acceptance.

34

Holy Holy
Paint


Continuing on from their stunning 2015 debut, this uniquely Australian-sounding indie rock duo refined their sprawling soundscapes without losing any of their epic quality, while tightening up their songwriting and injecting a distinctly danceable groove on songs like "That Message". Paint sees a band at the top of their game.

33

Dan Sultan
Killer


There's no doubt that Dan Sultan has a formidable voice and can play guitar like a motherfucker, but on Killer, he also shows that he can deliver soulful hip-swinging grooves, injecting breakbeats and gospel touches into his reliably solid rock numbers. At once classic and modern-sounding, Killer is Sultan's best record to date.

32

Robert Plant
Carry Fire


With a title that evokes primal discovery and heroic burden, the overall feel of Carry Fire is at once ancient and new. Cutting Led Zeppelin III's Maypole majesty with the Velvet Underground's careful guitar violence and the patient power of Plant's golden-god-in-winter singing makes for an astonishing listen.

31

Paul Kelly
Life Is Fine


After steadily releasing well-received records to his die-hard fans for decades, Paul Kelly pulled off a baffling feat, becoming relevant to a new generation of fans with an album full of dad-jokes and musings on becoming middle-aged. How? The answer lies in Life Is Fine's infectious optimism and humour.

30

The xx
I See You


On their third full-length, the British trio decide to let some light in. From the parping horns of opener "Dangerous" through to the sampling of Hall & Oates' "I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)" in first single "On Hold", Jamie xx, Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim expand their palette with chart-topping results.

29

Jen Cloher
Jen Cloher


Unflinching square-ups of the Aussie dream and the local industry's self-indulgence might be the immediate ear-grabbers, but they're merely two steps on the miles of thematic terrain covered here, with everything from lovesick odes to an absent partner to a self-analysis of privilege blessed by the veteran songwriter's pen.

28

Vince Staples
Big Fish Theory


If Vince Staples' album title suggested a life of fish-bowl containment and observation, his music outlined a break-out strategy, as the Cali rapper drew on house, electro and U.K. garage for a shifting set of thumpers. Big Fish Theory was a throwback to hip-hop's heyday, when the only rules were for breaking.

27

Drake
More Life


Part grime-experiment, part-trop house rendezvous, Drake explored a "playlist" with this blissfully voyeuristic 22-song project showing us many of the rapper's sides: the piña colada-sipping partier shines on "Passionfruit", the nostalgic heartbreak kid emerges on "Teenage Fever" and the boastful jetsetter traps on "Gyalchester".

26

Lana Del Rey
Lust For Life


"Part of the past, but now you're the future," Del Rey sings on Lust for Life's opening track, "Love", as the bass hollows out a cavernous space that connects Phil Spector to Atlanta trap -- Her fifth album drifts along on a sunset cloud so familiar and comforting, it's easy to miss how focused and quietly audacious this music is.

25

Paramore
After Laughter


The tension between Paramore's high-intensity hooks and Hayley Williams' withering lyrics explodes into fluorescent colours on After Laughter. Aiming toward pop's most hypermanic ideals, it's a mania resulting in despondent-yet-danceable jams, mirror-image synth-pop and heartbreakingly wise balladry.

24

Valerie June
The Order of Time


Valerie June perfected her handsomely idiosyncratic brand of Americana on this second LP, steeped deep in electric blues and old-time folk, gilded in country twang and gospel yearning — even tapping into Tuareg styles to map African sounds from the old world ("If And"). Who knew musicology could feel so good?

23

Nic Cester
Sugar Rush


Eight years after Jet's last LP, their frontman returned with an album that is a rush as rich as its title suggests. Harnessing the power of his Italian backing band Calibro 35, Sugar Rush is a freewheeling journey through soul, psych, prog, funk and rock & roll, topped off by Cester's inimitable vocals. A wondrous return.

22

Sheer Mag
Need To Feel Your Love


Having mastered the short form on three airtight EPs in as many years, scrappy punks Sheer Mag finally scaled the album summit, with the same boombox fidelity, garage-metal shred quotient and heavy-duty soul-powered hooks (courtesy of mighty-voiced singer Tina Halladay) that made their prior releases so much fun.

21

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
The Nashville Sound


On Isbell's sixth studio album he elevates relationships, discussions about privilege and the art of songwriting itself to a higher plane, as well as addressing nationwide blue-collar hardships, from the trap of addiction to crushed dreams. Proof he's a voice for all the people, not just the South.

20

Jess Locke
Universe


There's a whole galaxy beyond the bedroom, so it seems. Aided by full-band backing, the Melbourne-based singer-songwriter stretches out from her lonesome confine where, despite an economical edit, her often-unsettlingly blunt lyrics prove equally as powerful over the more prominent pop-facing palette.

19

Father John Misty
Pure Comedy


In which Josh Tillman updates the Seventies singer-songwriter tradition for our dystopian era: "Bedding Taylor Swift/Every night inside the Oculus Rift" was the most quoted couplet, from the culture-indicting "Total Entertainment Forever". But the most impressive writing is "Leaving L.A.", a 13-minute Dylanesque antihero epic.

18

St. Vincent
Masseduction


Annie Clark's fifth LP is both her most pop-savvy set and her most personal. Jack Antonoff assists on production, but it's Clark's wit and a newfound warmth in her songcraft that make this record so impossible to shake. See the chilling-hilarious "Pills", graced with Clark's awesomely seizure-­inducing guitar outburst.

17

Harry Styles
Harry Styles


Styles didn't follow his stellar run in One Direction with an album of glitzy radio pop. Instead, he staked his claim as a rock star, getting personal with a fantastic album of Seventies-style guitar grooves. He never sounds like he's sweating to be taken seriously — or loses touch with the euphoria he brought to One Direction in the first place.

16

Margo Price
All American Made


We knew Price was one of the sharpest songwriters in Nashville, but her second LP upped the ante. All American Made is a fierce protest album (see the feminist rallying cry "Pay Gap"); it's also a reverent tribute to music's past, featuring a tender duet with Willie Nelson. No other country act went nearly as deep this year.

15

The War on Drugs
A Deeper Understanding


On Adam Granduciel's fourth full-length under the War on Drugs banner he filters the drawled, Americana reflection with a synth-propelled urgency, in turn not only dialling up the hope of their heartland rock roots but also re-setting the course for the stadiums their future holds.

14

Waxahatchee
Out in the Storm


No songwriter handles the curves and swerves of modern romance quite like Waxahatchee's Katie Crutchfield. Her band's fourth album is like a punk-rock answer to Carole King's Tapestry, as Alabama-raised Crutchfield talks shit about the menfolk but mostly dishes the dirt about her heart-on-fire self.

13

Randy Newman
Dark Matter


Rock's sharpest wit delivers the hilariously mordant LP our era deserves — playing the Cuban Missile Crisis and Vladimir Putin for laughs, then transitioning to heartbreaking miniatures like "Lost Without You", in which a husband listens as his dying wife tells her kids to take care of him after she's gone.

12

JAY-Z
4:44


The year's best hip-hop confessional, delivered by a 47-year-old multimillionaire. Jay confronts his own failings as a husband ("4:44") and an egocentric jerk ("Kill Jay Z"), but rhyming over No ID's uncluttered beats, he hasn't sounded this spry in ages, reminding us of his unique ability to casually convey vivid life truths.

11

The National
Sleep Well Beast


The Brooklyn art-rockers cut their Cure-steeped gloom with dark humour, rich electronics and piercing guitars. Songs like "The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness" rage against our hellish cultural moment, not with sloganeering but by turning inward, taking stock of beauty and love, and gathering strength for what lies ahead.

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22.12.17
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