Skip to main content

Our Picks for the Best Albums of 2017

Image used with permission by copyright holder
As 2017 comes to a close, we’re taking a moment to look back at the standout records released over the year. Here are The Manual’s best albums of 2017.

Big Thief – Capacity

Big Thief - Mythological Beauty

Released barely a year after the group’s debut album, Big Thief’s Capacity is filled with intimate folk songs that explore dark sides of life with resounding empathy. Songwriter Adrianne Lenker describes lead single “Mythological Beauty” as a “conversation between parent and child; between child and child; the child within the parent and the child within the child; the parent within the child and the parent within the parent.” The song, which reflects on Lenker’s near-death experience as a five-year-old, focuses on her mother’s life and experiences filtered through the songwriter’s mind. (Saddle Creek)

Destroyer – ken

Destroyer - Tinseltown Swimming in Blood

Destroyer is the main project of Dan Bejar. The Canadian musician has been recording under the Destroyer moniker for over 20 years, and he is also a member of The New Pornographers, Swan Lake, and Hello, Blue Roses. After Kaputt’s (2011) smooth, sultry sound and Poison Season’s (2015) expansive soundscape, ken finds Destroyer reeling the sprawl back in for an intimate and often brooding album. “Sky’s Grey,” “Tinseltown Swimming in Blood,” and a “A Light Travels Down the Catwalk” all standout among the brooding tracks, while “Cover From the Sun” is unusually peppy and straightforward. (Merge Records)

Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up

Fleet Foxes - Fool's Errand (Official Video)

The release of Fleet Foxes’ long-awaited third album followed a six year hiatus, during which time bandleader Robyn Pecknold moved to New York where he studied at Columbia University. The time off worked out well for the band, and Crack-Up finds Fleet Foxes moving in new, more abstract direction. Where the group’s debut album was simultaneously nostalgic and innocent, Crack-Up is more jaded. The structures of the songs are more complex, and the lyrics express an existential and political confusion not found on the benign songs of Fleet Foxes or the angst of Helplessness Blues. Commenting on a Stereogum feature, singer-songwriter Robin Pecknold discussed the album’s political relevance, describing “Cassius, -“ as “explicitly about participating in protests following the murders of Alton Sterlin and Philando Castile.” (Nonesuch Records)

Juana Molina – Halo

Paraguaya (official music video)

Argentine comedian-turned-musician Juana Molina has been releasing her unique and delicate take on indie pop for over 20 years now. Molina’s music has become progressively more experimental, and Halo is no exception. Ominous strings open “Cosoco,” but quickly give way to a catchy guitar riff, while the eerie opening track “Paraguaya” comes across almost as a mission statement for the album. Its hypnotic beat ticks like a clock and draws the listener in even as the song becomes more unsettling. The capricious narrator tells the story of seducing a lover with a magic potion. The song’s accompanying music video is appropriately Lynchian, featuring a mug of viscous liquid stirred with a bone, ceramic heads, and a morphed image of the artist’s face singing. (Crammed Discs)

Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.

Kendrick Lamar - HUMBLE.

DAMN., Kendrick Lamar’s proper follow up to To Pimp a Butterfly, finds the rapper trimming down the winding avant jazz accompaniment featured heavily on the 2015 album. That is not to say that DAMN. is any less potent than Lamar’s earlier work. On the other hand, its shorter run time and more accessible sound mean the album is denser, packed with Lamar’s thoughts on violence, America, and suffering. Highlights include “DNA.,” “HUMBLE.,” and “XXX.,” which features U2. (Aftermath/Interscope; Top Dawg Entertainment)

Lorde – Melodrama

Lorde - Green Light

Lorde is a New Zealand singer-songwriter whose breakout single “Royals” hit the top of Billboard’s Hot 100 and launched her into superstardom. “Royals” focuses on the distance between the singer’s life and that of the song’s titular figures. Thanks to the song’s success, Lorde now finds herself part of that class, and Melodrama finds her dealing with that experience. The structure of opening track “Green Light” is incredible. It  begins slowly, with a piano hitting quarter notes and Lorde ranting at her ex-lover. The song begins to pick up energy around 30 seconds in and builds from there until the chorus arrives 45 seconds later. As the title suggests, many of the emotions and lyrics on the album are melodramatic, dissecting a failed relationship. Lorde, however, is able to shape the experience into an unbelievably well made album. (Universal Music)

The National – Sleep Well Beast

The National - 'The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness'

Sleep Well Beast marks a 14-year, five-album streak of brilliant, melancholy indie rock records from The National. The new album’s sonic template is hardly a sea change from the weighty, slow-moving songs and gravelly vocals the band is known for, but synthesizers, electronic sounds, and pianos accent the songs, helping to create the feeling of isolation so present on the album. “Walk It Back” opens with nothing more than a pair of synthesizers beeping out a rhythm before vocalist Matt Beringer’s voice enters. The song, like many on Sleep Well Beast, seems to center on a failing relationship. (4AD)

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings – Soul of a Woman*

The Dap-Kings Perform a Moving Tribute to the Late Sharon Jones

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings recorded Soul of a Woman during Jones’ final year between tour dates and the singer’s chemotherapy treatments. The group would often enter the studio after a show, and the energy they brought with them is palpable. The album’s first half is filled with upbeat tracks, including a tribute to the Golden Rule in the form of the horn-filled “Sail On!” Tempted to refuse to help someone who once refused to help her, the narrator is struck by a realization toward the song’s end: “If I do to you what you did to me / Tell me, tell me, where would we be? / Two people stranded, without a helping hand.” Jones died of pancreatic cancer in late 2016, and Soul of a Woman is the group’s final album. Recorded over the course of a lengthy tour and in-between chemo sessions, the album is a display of and a tribute to Sharon’s inimitable personal strength and power as a singer. (Daptone Records)

Spoon – Hot Thoughts

Spoon - Do I Have to Talk You Into It (Official Video)

Known for incremental changes in sound between albums, the Austin, Texas-based quarter switched things up for its latest album, Hot Thoughts. The record is danceable in a way Spoon’s music has not historically been and incorporates synthesizers more prominently than on previous records. Be sure to listen to “Do I Have to Talk You Into It?” and “Shotgun.” Both tracks emphasize their rhythm early on. Like the rest of Spoon’s catalog, Hot Thoughts is an artfully-crafted, catchy indie rock album. (Matador Records)

St. Vincent – Masseduction

St. Vincent - New York (Official Video)

St. Vincent’s follow-up to 2015’s Grammy Award-winning, self-titled album is an emotive, self-aware gem. Titled Masseduction, the record has more pop flourish than any previous St. Vincent album. Single “Pills'” bouncy beat is more prominent than anything else in the song, and the chorus is chipper. It belies a darkness in the lyrics. The chorus repeats, “Pills to wake, pills to sleep / pills, pills, pills, every day of the week / pills to walk, pills to think / pills pills pills for the family.” On the other end of the spectrum, is “New York.” While the former is ebullient and tongue-in-cheek, the latter is a mid-tempo lament for a ex-lover. St. Vincent’s sound has evolved in new directions on each album, and Masseduction is no exception. The album is an intense collision of pop hooks and Clark’s equally impressive guitar and vocal abilities. (Loma Vista)

Featured image courtesy of The Washington Post/Getty Images.

*Writer’s Note: In addition to contributing to The Manual, I work at a music promotion company, Distiller Promo, that is currently promoting or promoted earlier in 2017 any album marked with an asterisk.

Editors' Recommendations

Terence Praet
Terence Praet contributes to The Manual’s New Music Monday column. He studied Philosophy and History at Skidmore College…
The 9 best movies to watch over Father’s Day weekend
Watch these films together and bond with your dad or father figure
Family watching TV together

In between grilling burgers and brats and checking sports scores, celebrating fatherhood presents a chance for men (and masculine-identifying people) to enjoy the people who appreciate and support them. Bonding over a great story on the big screen that both dads and children can relate to brings the entire family together for some fun!
Sure, they’ll still have to take out the garbage and clean the garage. But when the paternal figures in your life get an opportunity to rest on their day, the best Father's Day gift you can give is quality time. If his favorite hobby is watching movies, then you're in luck! Here are some Father's Day movies to watch with dear old Dad (Gramps, or Freat Grandpa). 

Daddy's Home (2015)

Read more
How to turn your bedroom into a sleep sanctuary
These tips will help you sleep better and feel rested in the morning
A redesigned bedroom with hardwood floors and a wood ceiling

Of all the rooms you'll spend time in over the course of your life, one of the most important is your bedroom. It’s where you start and end your day, and your mood when you wake up can affect your performance and attitude as you head out to take on the day.

When getting ready for bed at night, if you take the stresses of work and life to bed with you, you’re just not going to sleep well. As the place where you rest, recharge, and recenter yourself, your bedroom should be a sanctuary, a calming place that allows you to fully let go, relax, and get a good night’s sleep.

Read more
This is how long a Tempur-Pedic mattress lasts – plus, how to extend its lifespan
Tips to help your investment last longer
Tempur-Pedic Tempur Adapt mattress

Buying a Tempur-Pedic mattress is a process that should be done with an ample amount of care and consideration. Not only can mattresses be quite a significant financial investment, but because they serve as your foundation for sleeping night after night for what should be many years, it’s extremely important to buy a high-quality, comfortable mattress. After all, a poorly made mattress will break down prematurely and may fail to provide the support, pressure relief, temperature regulation, and comfort you need to get restful sleep. A bad mattress can even cause back, shoulder, hip, or neck pain, and if it does an inadequate job of arresting the transfer of motion, you may find yourself constantly disturbed by a bed partner's restlessness.

Tempur-Pedic mattresses are among the upper echelon of mattresses in terms of quality, comfort, and effective design, which is why they are consistently one of the most popular mattress purchases every year and adored by nearly every customer. Each Tempur-Pedic mattress model is specifically designed to precisely adapt to the weight, shape, and temperature of your body to eliminate potential pressure points and intimately contour to your body to provide maximal cradling support and comfort. The materials and construction of each mattress minimize motion transfer and enhance airflow and heat dispersion.

Read more