- Damn. — Kendrick Lamar
On his fourth studio album, Kendrick Lamar brings us back to the golden age of hip-hop with smooth flows and incredible musicianship. Over the course of fifty-five minutes, Lamar explores his struggles with sin and society and his place in a nation that often seems to be against him. Damn. dazzles and will soon prove to be a generation defining masterpiece.
- Miami Garden Club — Kitty
For years, vaporwave lived in late night binge-friendly back corridors of the Internet—YouTube compilations, Soundcloud channels, 8tracks playlists and so on. Daytona Beach-based Florida Kitty finally busted it out into the music nerd mainstream with Miami Garden Club, a thirteen-track exploration of silliness, sadness and nostalgia. Kitty returned to her hometown from California to record the album, which is strewn with samples of the local fauna. Tracks like “Running Away” and “Sugarwater” sweep the listener away into a hypnagogic haze that feels at once sweltering and freeing.
- Flower Boy — Tyler, The Creator
I could ignore that Flower Boy was the first project by Tyler, The Creator I took seriously until Tyler prophetically contemplates on “November” whether all his “day ones turn to three, fours ‘cause of track seven.” I’ve since embraced my scarlet letter as a Tyler bandwagoner, but it’s no wonder he gained so many new fans on Flower Boy. While this record is far more sensitive and colorful than anything Tyler has previously put out, Tyler’s aggressive bars are still very much at the forefront, and somehow masterfully weave together a vibrant, soulful soundscape that is as reminiscent of Hiatus Kaiyote as it is Odd Future.
— Jesse Martens
- Melodrama — Lorde
Lorde had not released an album since Pure Heroine in 2013, when she was 17 years old. While Pure Heroine saw success, Melodrama is getting far more attention due to its more mature, controversial and conflicting content. In Melodrama, Lorde exposes not only her experiences and emotions, but sculpts a critique of societal standards and trends found within the group of people her age. In “Liability,” she sings about a girl — whom she reveals to be herself — that she loves and goes home to after someone else tosses her aside, which is an extremely personal but albeit important experience that is hardly ever discussed. “Sober,” on the other hand, deals with modern relationships. The lyrics “It’s time we danced with the truth” make way for the echoing line in the song: “But what will we do when we’re sober?” Lying, drugs and alcohol have turned relationships and social interactions into a hazy, unreliable space that needs clearing up, which is what Lorde is trying to do not only in this track, but throughout the album.
- American Teen — Khalid
Khalid’s debut album American Teen is vibrant and portrays the beauty of youth and hope. On the album, Khalid speaks from the heart about his life. He discusses love and relationships, experimenting with drugs, parents, parties and establishing himself in an uncertain society (all common daily thoughts and experiences of the American teen). Khalid impresses with his vocals and the production shines above that of similar albums.
- All-Amerikkkan Badass — Joey Bada$$
All-Amerikkkan Badass, Joey Badass’ sophomore project, demonstrates Joey’s prowess and maturity. The album explores racism, discrimination, and bias in Donald Trump’s America. Sonically, and thematically, the album resembles the golden era of hip-hop. All-Amerikkkan Badass potently addresses the issues of today and is clearly one of the year’s best albums.
- Crtl — SZA
SZA’s debut full-length album was well worth the wait. I was shook to the core by her raw, inflective vocals, and noticed an important evolution of her own self-confidence, reflected in the way she does not mask her voice with synthesizer and reverb like she did in her previous records. In this album there is range from her like never before, mirroring the intense emotion that every track is able to stir in the listener. Overall, Ctrl is a beautifully intimate masterpiece, perfectly encapsulating what it means to be trapped in the dangerous cycle of modern dating, but also what it means to to find empowerment in your vulnerability.
— Paula Gorniaczyk
- Powerplant — Girlpool
Powerplant was a risk and new territory for Girlpool. The duo introduced a drummer for the first time ever, which gave their music more substance and a fuller feeling, the opposite of their usual exposed, skeletal and extremely raw sound. This, however, did not keep Girlpool from creating a meaningful album filled with their signature magical and nostalgic feelings. The strong bond that duo Harmony Tividad and Cleo Tucker share gleams through their music. The two have combined their ideas, feelings and experiences to create their music, which is given a life of its own in each of their albums, especially Powerplant. Each track visits a different place that holds certain memories for each listener and for Girlpool, yet all of these places are connected in a way that varies for everyone, something seemingly impossible that the album has accomplished.
— Viri Garcia
- Rocket — (Sandy) Alex G
(Sandy) Alex G brought the lo-fi goods once again with his newest LP Rocket, a psychedelic and folky exploration through the mind of Bandcamp’s sweetheart. While some of the more aggressive cuts on this record, such as “Horse” and “Brick,” prove that (Sandy) Alex G can diversify his sound (and production value), on Rocket, (Sandy) Alex G mostly stays true to the jangly DIY aesthetic that makes him feel like your endearing college roommate even as he earns “Best New Music” from Pitchfork.
— Jesse Martens
- Beautiful Thugger Girls — Young Thug
Young Thug’s music always teeters right at the edge of absurdity, and with prominent themes like face sitting, dental hygiene, and being Bill Gates’ stepson, Beautiful Thugger Girls is no different. But the point of teetering is never quite giving in and falling flat, which this record — with its unsuppressable hooks (“You Said”), genuine emotion (“Oh Yeah”) and good verse from Snoop Dogg (“Get High”) — manages, against all odds and in spite of a slurping sound effect after a line that goes, “Ben and Jerry, ’boutta eat her ice cream,” to do.
- Let the Evil of His Own Lips Cover Him — Lingua Ignota
I only listened to this album twice — once when it came out and once while writing this blurb. That’s all I could handle. Culled from Kristin Hayter‘s conceptual art piece BURN EVERYTHING TRUST NO ONE KILL YOURSELF, its five songs sound like drifting asleep in a cathedral as it slowly smolders, beams and timbers crashing down with waves of heat and anguish. A stunning, crushing, punishing index of the pain which patriarchal societies — and the men within them — sow.
- Aromanticism — Moses Sumney
At times so thin and delicately orchestrated you feel that, like his already-mythic falsetto, it might just snap, Moses Sumney‘s debut bleeds a plaintive, tenuous, singular beauty. While every section floats, flutters, the album’s abdomen — “Quarrel,” “Stoicism,” “Lonely World” — is a 12-minute deliverance of steadfast, melting solitude second-to-none (at least in terms of affect and tenderness) in 2017.
- Harry Styles — Harry Styles
Harry Styles has abandoned the middle school pop sounds of One Direction and creates his identity in his solo album Harry Styles. He has left pop behind and proves that he can be a better rock star than pop star. Harry Styles has matured, and it is evident from the way he injected both lyrical and musical substance into his self-titled album. However, while he appears to expose who he is through both the album’s title and the personal experiences he shares through his songs, he doesn’t share much and leaves it all to listener’s imagination, revealing only that the new Harry Styles is still a mystery, willing to tease fans with a whole album of telling ambiguity.
— Viri Garcia
- Turn Out The Lights — Julien Baker
Julien Baker’s sophomore album is more confident than her first release, and she leaves very little unsaid. She puts everything on the line in 11 simple, heartfelt songs full of self-reflection, heartache and insecurity. Baker has a lot to say about religion, but her questions for God resonate in secular crowds too. The album is dark and sad and visceral to a point that it is sometimes difficult to listen to. But it’s masterfully done, impressively earnest and wholly cathartic. Towards the end of the album, Baker gets louder, leaving behind some of the fragility that has defined her solo music. This glimmer of sureness in herself is refreshing and empowering, ensuring that the album doesn’t leave you as dark or down as it started.
- I Decided. — Big Sean
From the darkly psychedelic cover art to the impressive consortium of featured guests, Big Sean’s senior release is an ostentatious announcement that signals his rebirth and solidifies his identity. Sean is notoriously known for his braggadocio bordering-on-cockiness and while he does not fail to boast, he acts less like a rapper with something to prove and more like one who has embraced his underdog status. I Decided. sees a wiser and more vulnerable Sean musingly reflect on his past mistakes and his determination to learn from them. There’s a hunger coursing through this project that characterizes earlier releases but it is backed up by a streamlined concept that organizes his energy. Yet at the same time, the album’s theme is wide enough to encompass a track list where club hits and radio-ready bangers like “Bounce Back” fit snugly next to “Sunday Morning Jet Pack.” His signature wordplay, visceral punchlines, and facetious one-liners all shine throughout even when he’s paired alongside names like Eminem, Migos, Jeremih, and Jhené Aiko, which serves as further testament to his ability and strengths.
— Zachary Lee
This list was compiled from a poll of the Arts and Entertainment staff.