This year was a stellar year for music across all genres; here, I rank the top 40 albums of 2017. Feel free to rip this list apart!
In order to be eligible for this list, the album must have been released in the U.S. between January 1, 2017, and December 31, 2017.
#40. Shakira, El Dorado
Her first Spanish-language album in quite a while, Shakira amps up the sexiness, the giddiness, and the nostalgia on El Dorado. On an album chock full of guest artist, Shakira remains the center of attention with her inimitable voice and knack for melody.
Listen to: “Chantaje (feat. Maluma)”
#39. Foo Fighters, Concrete and Gold
At this point, the band can just phone in an album and call it a day, but with just enough new ideas and small guest surprises, Concrete and Gold remains interesting and great. The album isn’t innovative by any means, but it truly proves that the Foo Fighters are a band we can always depend on for solid rock tunes.
Listen to: “The Sky Is A Neighborhood”
#38. Imagine Dragons, Evolve
Imagine Dragons combined the experimentation of Smoke + Mirrors with the pop sensibilities of Night Visions to create Evolve. The album is chock full of stellar hooks and great instrumentation; it does everything it has to do and more
Listen to: “Whatever It Takes”
#37. Tamar Braxton, Bluebird of Happiness
This album is traditional R&B balladry at its finest. With an emotional vocal reminiscent of peak Billie Holliday and Ella Fitzgerald, you really feel what Tamar is singing about throughout the album. Though at times the album’s production feels a bit cheap, overall it’s a quality body of work.
Listen to: “Blind”
#36. Fifth Harmony, Fifth Harmony
A lot of people wrote this album off because of the drama and lack of commercial success, but it’s pure flames throughout. Taking a decidedly more R&B turn than their previous album, Fifth Harmony delivered stellar uptempo bops and beautiful languid ballads on their magnum opus.
Listen to: “Don’t Say You Love Me”
#35. Migos, Culture
What can I say? It yielded hits and it was a surprisingly quality body of work. Migos ran the culture for the first half of the year with this album and for that, they deserve a spot on this list.
Listen to: “Kelly Price (feat. Travis Scott)”
#34. Kesha, Rainbow
Kesha’s comeback has been phenomenal and the focal point, the comeback album, was nothing short of great. There were some low points, but they were counterbalanced by the insane highs she reached throughout the album. Think of it as Kesha reborn, a beautiful sight to behold. Read our full review of Rainbow here.
Listen to: “Old Flames (Can’t Hold A Candle To You) [feat. Dolly Parton]”
#33. Dua Lipa, Dua Lipa
It’s been a while since we got a solid pure pop debut/sophomore album, the last one I can think of is Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream seven years ago. The album is helmed by Dua’s dark rich voice and sharp lyrical wit. The album is decidedly youthful, it’s escapist and realist at the same time and perhaps it’s better off being so honest. Dua Lipa was also included on our best albums of the summer list.
Listen to: “Genesis”
#32. Rolling Stones, Blue and Lonesome
This is a formidable homage to the blues era. Chic and respectful, this album is an overall great listen.
Listen to: “Hate to See You Go”
#31. Thomas Rhett, Life Changes
This is the best country pop album since some Taylor Swift album. Thomas weaves his way through funk, folk, reggae, pop, and traditional country throughout the album. The album is an honest reflection of his life right now and it’s beautiful to see.
Listen to: “Marry Me”
#30. Vic Mensa, The Autobiography
This album was highly underrated. An interesting mixture of rap and rock, The Autobiography tells the story of the artist who came to be known as Vic Mensa. With earnest singing and rough rapping, Vic Mensa shows the beauties and the flaws of his life and his hometown of Chicago on the album.
Listen to: “Memories on 47th Street”
#29. Cashmere Cat, 9
This is the best DJ helmed album of 2017. With eclectic produced and perfectly chosen guest features. 9 is an album about young love, partying, and recovery. It’s warm and cold at the same time and still so universally personal.
Listen to: “Quit (feat. Ariana Grande)”
#28. Demi Lovato, Tell Me You Love Me
Demi Lovato finally broke out of her Disney teen-pop shadow with this spectacular album. At times her vocals can be a bit overbearing, but Demi has never sounded as self-assured and as in control as she does here. From soulful ballads to 80s throwback pop, Demi combines elements of the genres she loves and the genres she is good at it to create a great pop album. Read our full review of Tell Me You Love Me.
Listen to: “Daddy Issues”
#27. P!NK, Beautiful Trauma
There are few artists as consistent as P!NK, on her seventh studio album, her vocals are crisper and more powerful than ever before. P!NK’s commitment to authenticity is what allowed her to create an album as beautiful and as honest as Beautiful Trauma. From boom-bap to soul ballads, the album encompasses nearly every facet of P!NK’s musical history in order to properly portray the artist she has grown to become. Read our full review of Beautiful Trauma here.
Listen to: “Barbies”
#26. Khalid, American Teen
Khalid’s top ten platinum debut album notched him four Grammy nominations and two hit singles. We haven’t seen a new artist reach this level of success so quickly since Lorde. Being a new class R&B musician with a primarily teenage audience, Khalid had everything going against him. Nevertheless, his universally relatable and easily accessible lyrics captivated the youth of 2017.
Listen to: “8TEEN”
#25. Daniel Caesar, Freudian
Daniel Caesar has been the people’s new R&B champ. His silky voice slinks in an out of luscious instrumentals on this concise yet simultaneously sprawling album. With mainly new class collaborations with the likes of Kali Uchis and H.E.R., Caesar proves that traditional R&B music isn’t dead, especially in such a rap-heavy period of popular music. Freudian was also included on our best albums of the summer list.
Listen to: “Freudian”
#24. Lana Del Rey, Lust for Life
Lana Del Rey has yet to release a bad studio album. Lust for Life is simultaneously her most mature and most aware record. Finally emerging from the haze of her subconscious, Lana cements herself in a discussion of our political climate and the fear of age. With collaborations ranging from Playboi Carti to Stevie Nicks, the album weaves across genre lines with ease and passion. Lust for Life was also included on our best albums of the summer list.
Listen to: “When the World Was At War We Kept Dancing”
#23. Kelela, Take Me Apart
One of many stellar alternative R&B albums released this year, Kelela debuts with slinky production and soft and alluring voice. The irresistibly catchy “LMK” broadens and softens the dark alternative edge of Kelela’s earlier music. In a year that saw the breakouts out Khalid, SZA, Daniel Caesar, and more, Kelela holds her own and carves her own amazing lane.
Listen to: “Better”
#22. Bleachers, Gone Now
Jack Antonoff was mighty busy this year, he produced the megahit “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever,” and the majority of Melodrama and reputation. Somehow, he still found time to create a masterful body of work for his side project, Bleachers. Packed with big hooks and emotional lyrics of an 80s-rock slant, Gone Now is as fun as it is nostalgic. Gone Now was also included on our best albums of the summer list.
Listen to: “I Miss Those Days”
#21. Stormzy, Gang Signs and Prayer
While British rap and grime deservedly get their jeers, Stormzy makes a strong case for redemption with his debut album. Shifting between singing and rapping and slowly peeling away the layers of a gangster, Stormzy creates not just an album, but a narrative of perseverance and strength.
Listen to: “Cigarettes & Kush (feat. Kehlani)”
#20. Sampha, Process
To take one’s soul and bare it for the world to see while examining its scars and healing its wounds is one of the most difficult tasks to complete. Sampha completes this task with grace and calm on his debut album, Process. The album is the result of years of turmoil and featured verses, it’s so refreshingly honest that it hurts and then heals.
Listen to: “Nobody Knows Me (Like the Piano)”
#19. Ibeyi, Ash
Ibeyi’s soft, flowery tones carry their latest opus; they make the heaviest topics seem weightless with the sly power of their voices. Their layered harmonies compliment the intricate melodies throughout the album and their feminist message of pride is pure gold.
Listen to: “No Man Is Big Enough For My Arms”
#18. Tyler, The Creator, Flower Boy
Tyler, The Creator’s most recent album might just be his best. He uses his gruff tone to counterbalance softer production and some of his most introspective lyrics to date. The album is all-around great, and a true testament to his artistry.
Listen to: “I Ain’t Got Time!”
#17. Harry Styles, Harry Styles
The debut album from a former boy-bander is always a crucial moment and Harry Styles killed it with his eponymous debut album. From the head-banging wailing of “Kiwi” to the indie rock sensibilities of “Meet Me In The Hallway,” Harry displayed his respect and reverence for rock music while still creating something unique to himself and his artistry. Harry put in a real effort behind this album and his dedication is evident.
Listen to: “Ever Since New York”
#16. Sam Smith, The Thrill of It All
If there was ever any confusion as to what “emotional rollercoaster” means, look no further than Sam Smith’s The Thrill of It All. Sam’s sophomore album features a grittier voice and darker tone to accentuate his signature falsetto. Sam discuss his sexuality, love, reconciliation, and forgiveness with his parents, sadness, addiction, and religion on this. Sam laid his soul bare on this record, and the Amy Winehouse influence intensifies the sorrow of the album. The title of the record is truly what it’s about, the thrill of it all. Read our full review of The Thrill of It All here.
Listen to: “HIM”
#15. Paramore, After Laughter
Paramore delved head-first into new-wave instrumentation to create After Laughter, an album that humanely deals with depression without it feeling exploitative. Hayley Williams’ voice has never sounded so honest, so vulnerable, so frantic, and so urgent. It is evident that this album was a therapeutic device for the band and by extension, their fans. After Laughter is an achievement beyond the musical level, it takes a certain strength and power to acknowledge and explore such destructive forces as depression and anxiety.
Listen to: “Fake Happy”
#14. Kelly Clarkson, Meaning of Life
Kelly Clarkson has finally come into her own with her best album, Meaning of Life. A soulful album about love in all its forms, Meaning of Life cements Kelly as one of the top vocalists in pop music today. From sweeping ballads to spunky body-positive anthems, Kelly Clarkson has created the body of work she’s always dreamed of, and the body of work we always knew she was capable of. Read our full review of Meaning of Life here.
Listen to: “Medicine”
#13. Jhené Aiko, Trip
The product of a period of grief, loss, and drug abuse, Trip is a sprawling opus detailing the darkness, light, and cyclical nature of this crazy thing we like to call “life.” From funky uptempos to mellow midtempos, Trip includes some of the most honest lyricism of Jhené Aiko’s career. This album is a journey of restoration and a true artistic feat. Read our full review of Trip here.
Listen to: “Ascension (feat. Brandy)”
#12. Rapsody, Laila’s Wisdom
Newcomer Rapsody is the more mellow counterpart to the bombast of Cardi B. With an infectious voice and a genius flow, Rapsody helps anchor of sprawling and intelligent debut LP with her focus on lyrics. She is a top three rapper of the year, lyrically speaking and her personality shines through her vocal inflections on said lyrics. Some will call her album political, but I will call it realistic. Laila’s Wisdom is a realistic portrait of young black American womanhood, it is unabashedly truthful and funny while still being one of the most unique pieces of art this year.
Listen to: “Black & Ugly (feat. BJ the Chicago Kid)”
#11. The Killers, Wonderful Wonderful
The Killers have consistently delivered strong records for years, and Wonderful Wonderful continues the tradition. Brandon Flower’s gives a goosebumps-inducing vocal performance on tracks soundtracked by some of the most energetic guitar playing this year. Seeped in satire and irony and sprinkled with honesty and grit, Wonderful Wonderful earns its title and more. Read our full review of Wonderful Wonderful here.
Listen to: “The Calling”
#10. Little Big Town, The Breaker
Little Big Town arguably has the strongest melodies out of any music group today. Their sense of melody and willingness to tread across genre lines resulted in their best album yet. From the rollicking rock and roll of “Rollin’” to the gospel-tinged “Beat Up Bible,” Little Big Town delivered a collection of tracks that work well individually and even better together. While the Taylor Swift-penned “Better Man” was the talk of the album, there are so many other tracks with even better harmonies and more earnest vocal performances that deserve recognition.
Listen to: “When Someone Stops Loving You”
#9. Father John Misty, Pure Comedy
Pure Comedy dropped at the top of the year, but it sounds just as rich now as it did eleven months ago. Instrumentation is the star of Father John Misty’s most recent effort, scattered drums and solemn guitar and bass structure the album and provide a base for Misty’s lyrics. Lyrically, the album is fantastical with a hint of remorse, it’s a grandiose effort that is ultimately very rewarding.
Listen to: “Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution”
#8. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, The Nashville Sound
We laugh, we cry, we feel, and we die, thus is the human experience. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit use their sharp lyrics and overarching wit to anchor an album built on humanity. The instrumentation is rich and careful while the vocal performance is of the most earnest nature possible.
Listen to: “Hope the High Road”
#7. Chris Stapleton, From A Room: Vol. 1
Chris Stapleton’s gritty and soulful voice has captivated the nation since he performed “Tennessee Whiskey” at the CMA Awards. He improves his lyricism and eschews clunky similes for more focused metaphors on this album. With stunning vocal performances and a darker tone (musically and vocally), Chris affirms his star status. In a year of surprise country hits and even better country albums, Chris came out on top with Vol. 2 still to come.
Listen to: “Either Way”
#6. Miguel, War & Leisure
War & Leisure is carnal, political, personal, and otherworldly all at the same time. Miguel has matured so much as a songwriter; with his bluntness on “Now” and his psychedelia on “Pineapple Skies,” Miguel showcases his versatility and vulnerability throughout the album. With six guest artists featured on the album, Miguel still ensures that he is the center of the album. War & Leisure is a snapshot of the mind of an artist who finally feels free and is willing to fight to the death to keep his freedom. The lustful energy of “Criminal,” “Banana Clip,” and “Caramelo Duro,” ooze confidence, maturity, and self-awareness. Unlike his debut album, Miguel doesn’t take himself that seriously on War & Leisure, this allows him to more accessible and better than ever War & Leisure is an opus that looks inward to move forward, and it does it with grace, wisdom, and touch of sexiness. Read our full review of War & Leisure here.
Listen to: “Now”
#5. Lorde, Melodrama
As if it wasn’t already agreed upon that Lorde was a musical prodigy, she cements this notion with her stunning sophomore album. Melodrama is a perfect encapsulation of teenage lust and love and the highs and lows that they entail. It’s honest and self-aware. Even when she’s partying, the darkness and uncertainties of the inevitable low is the back of her mind. The production alludes to the sinister background of Melodrama, teenage life isn’t fun at all, and she’s not being melodramatic. Lorde’s sense of melody truly shines on this album and her songwriting is sharper than ever, especially on the gorgeous deep cut, “Writer in the Dark.” Lorde is a messenger of the most honest, and it’s time we all listen.
Listen to: “Sober”
#4. SZA, Ctrl
SZA’s debut album has been a powerhouse for many reasons: her infectious voice, her biting lyrics, and her irresistible charm. Above all, SZA creates speaks to the uncertainties of late teenage/20’s life; she creates anthems for a generation gripped by societal pressure and anxiety. Ctrl features generations of women’s definitions of “control” as SZA herself attempts to figure it out throughout the album. Ctrl is anchored by soul and grit, it’s a rare snapshot of pure unadulterated talent. Read our full review of Ctrl here.
Listen to: “20 Something”
#3. Kendrick Lamar, DAMN.
Kendrick Lamar has always been leaps and bounds ahead of his contemporaries in terms of skill, lyricism, and execution. On DAMN., his most commercial effort yet, Kendrick proves his pop sensibilities while doubling-down on the storytelling skills he flexed on good kid, m.A.A.d. city. From love songs to braggadocio anthems to origin narratives, Kendrick returns to the roots of why we fell in love with him. Kendrick can make the personal stories feel universal, it’s a talent few have and one that helped Kendrick created his third masterpiece in a row.
Listen to: “LUST.”
St. Vincent’s tour de force is stacked with dark harmonies that tackle and dismantle the current political landscape. Stacked with chunky guitar riffs and expert production, St. Vincent is emotional, sexy, hysterical, funny, observant, and predictive all at once. The real triumph of MASSEDUCTION, however, is the accessibility of the record. There is pop sheen that encompasses the album and it works to its benefit. St. Vincent created something special here, a political album that doesn’t feel preachy, but personal. Read our full review of MASSEDUCTION here.
Listen to: “New York”
#1. Jay-Z, 4:44
After twelve solo albums, four collaborative albums, and countless guest features, what more could Jay-Z possibly have to say? With 4:44, the answer is a whole lot. Candid discussions of ego, masculinity, marital strife, parenting, and economic independence in the black community shape this stellar album. Lyrically, Jay-Z is as strong as ever; he sharpens his pen for lethal truths and b punchlines. The key to 4:44’s excellence is the honesty of the album. 4:44 is a culmination of every iteration of Hov so far. Helmed by NO I.D.’s soulful and intricate production, 4:44 weaves its ways through gospel, soul, traditional rap, pop, and reggae to create a soundscape that commands the listener. An undeniable living legend, Jay-Z could have phoned in a middling album but he understands the value of art and respects it. Above all, 4:44 is a testament to the decades of history of hip-hop and its future, rap can be mature and grown while still being vital and necessary. Read our full review of 4:44 here.
Listen to: “4:44”