Exclaim!'s Top 20 Pop & Rock Albums, 10 to 1

Best of 2017

BY Exclaim! StaffPublished Nov 29, 2017

This week, Exclaim! is rolling out our annual, genre-specific album lists for the Best of 2017. Yesterday (November 28), we kicked things off our Top 20 Pop & Rock Albums, Part One, which spanned albums 20 through 11. Today (November 29), we're going through albums 10 to 1.
Top 20 Pop & Rock Albums of 2017, 10 to 1:  
10. Gord Downie
Introduce Yerself
(Arts & Crafts)

Canada's beloved poet Gord Downie succumbed to brain cancer on October 17, yet his spirit endures. That can partly be attributed to Introduce Yerself, Downie's parting gift and posthumous sixth solo record.
The LP's 23 songs hear him singing of (and to) those who enriched his 53 years. He rocks his baby to sleep on "Bedtime," exchanges long-distance love letters on "Coco Chanel No. 5" and walks along Lake Ontario's wintery shores on "Snowflake." Downie effectively used what little time he had left to say as much as he possibly could; as he put it, "helping is transcendence."
Ava Muir
9. The War on Drugs
A Deeper Understanding

With their major label debut this year, Adam Granduciel's the War on Drugs made a rock'n'roll record that felt like a vintage classic as soon as the needle dropped. Their fourth album boasts a rich, classic sound that beats in your heart and feels like something you've known your whole life, then filters it through a shimmering, dreamlike lens that lifts you out of this world and into the unknown.
If people revered rock musicians as much as they did decades ago, the War on Drugs would probably be one of the biggest bands on the planet. Regardless, A Deeper Understanding is perhaps the strongest evidence yet that they're building a rock'n'roll dynasty for the modern age.
Adam Feibel
8. St. Vincent
(Loma Vista)

On MASSEDUCTION, avant-pop genius St. Vincent (aka Annie Clark) continues to operate from otherworldly planes, mapping her life over 13 tracks that pulse, strut and thrum with heart and heat. "I can't turn off what turns me on," Clark sings on the thumping, slinky title track to her fifth album, which tackles everything from sex and drugs to alienation and longing.
The record is a visceral, sonic interrogation of fantasy, power, queerness, desire and pain. And while every St. Vincent album has exhibited Clark's masterful control, within the framework of MASSEDUCTION, she explores vulnerability, passion and chaos, as well — to phenomenal effect.
Andrea Warner
7. Jay Som
Everybody Works

One of indie rock's most warm, satisfying moments in 2017 has to be the call-out response of "But I like the bus!" during the first verse of Jay Som's "The Bus Song," a track that later perfectly blends delicate guitars amidst warped tones with hushed vocals that exude playfulness and intimacy with a sense of muted realism.
Everybody Works, Jay Som's (aka Melina Duterte) fully-realized, proper debut is an incredibly vivid and articulate lo-fi pop album; from the tenderly intoxicating "(BedHead)" to the sleek "One More Time, Please," Duterte's introspective songwriting is refreshingly unpretentious yet aesthetically confident. She takes blurry snapshots of her life and washes over them with fuzzy distortion and blossoming guitar hooks, loosely banding the fragments together in a package that's somehow humble and sweeping.
Chris Gee
6. Julien Baker
Turn Out the Lights

No word in the music critic's lexicon gets overused like "cathartic," but it feels impossible to describe Julien Baker's Turn Out the Lights without it.
The sparse arrangements of her gently atmospheric, acoustic guitar and piano songs set the stage perfectly for her sublime voice — a pained but perfect wail that, at the climax of songs like "Appointments" and "Happy to Be Here," wraps around you and squeezes the tears out. I've yet to hear Baker plead, "I heard there's a fix for everything / then why not me?" in the latter without breaking down, but knowing Baker's right there feeling it with you makes it feel like you'll both be alright.
Stephen Carlick

5. LCD Soundsystem
American Dream

It might have seemed like a tough ask to expect a new LCD Soundsystem album to transcend the complicated reactions to the band's return, less than five years after James Murphy "ended" it with a big friggin' to-do at Madison Square Garden. But American Dream is no con — even if it is a bit of a ret-con, sounding less like a "comeback" than as if LCD never left in the first place. 
American Dream slows the pace and expands the band's sonic palette while maintaining its jittery-yet-hypnotic charm, standing proudly alongside Murphy's original "trilogy." Here's hoping his continuing conversation with age, culture and relevance — once thought final — has many chapters left to come.
Ryan McNutt
4. Lorde
(Lava Records)

Lorde mastered the art of a perfect pop record with her long-awaited sophomore LP Melodrama. The four-year wait proved worth it, and heard Lorde re-emerging as a stronger songwriter and producer.
The album takes listeners through a series of vignettes that beautifully capture moments of emotional intensity: museum-worthy young love ("The Louvre"); turning post-breakup heartache into drunken nights of dancing ("Green Light"); moving on and regaining a sense of self when that love fails ("Hard Feelings/Loveless"); grappling with the bizarre solitude of fame ("Liability"); and coming to the conclusion that partying might not actually be as transcendent as it feels in the moment ("Perfect Places").
Thankfully, Melodrama keeps that feeling alive long after the first listen.
Sarah Murphy
3. Slowdive
(Dead Oceans)

Since Slowdive announced their return in 2014 following an almost 20-year hiatus, shoegaze fans waited with bated breath for new material.  "Star Roving," the first single from Slowdive, was a harbinger of further majesty to come; each song here gives fans the familiar signifiers they craved for decades while managing to drift into territory heretofore untraveled.
Neil Halstead, Rachel Goswell and crew cleverly balance nostalgia and forward momentum, never tarnishing their legacy but emboldening it and polishing it for a new audience. Slowdive proves that this comeback is no shtick; these star rovers are bona fide artists, raising the bar ever higher with each consecutive accomplishment.
Bryon Hayes
2. Feist

The intimacy of Leslie Feist's search for pleasure on her eponymous fifth album is captivating. As she muses on the pleasures that others cause, we are, in the end, left thinking that maybe you can only feel genuine pleasure when you find strength in yourself. On the tender closer "Young Up," for example, Feist departs with a realization: "I got so stuck in my ways, that's no way to behave."
Feist described going through "foggy periods" as she was writing Pleasure, so perhaps the record's sonic imperfections are indicative of her life during that time. Yet, in the face of all the noise here — the unshakable hiss of amps, a scrap of Mastodon's "High Road," crickets, a door's squeaky hinges — there is Feist: open, eager and as radiant as the pink flowers on her album cover.
Laura Stanley
1. Alvvays
(Royal Mountain)

Following a scrappy, loveably rough-around-the-edges debut in 2014, Toronto's Alvvays upped the stakes on Antisocialites. They still love fuzz and reverb, but this time around they cleaned up the production quality and added spacious synth arpeggios to the familiar palette of jangling six-strings and Molly Rankin's mellifluously drawled vocals.
Most importantly, the songwriting is absolutely impeccable: from distorted twee scorchers ("Plimsoll Punks," "Lollipop") to mournful ballads ("Forget About Life," "Already Gone"), Alvvays have perfected their pop craft here. Anthems like "Not My Baby" and "In Undertow" are as emotionally touching as they are catchy, with the latter featuring devastating breakup observations like "Meditate, play solitaire, take up self defence."
Antisocialites doesn't rewrite the Alvvays playbook; with the exception of some lonesome synth breaks that vaguely evoke Boards of Canada, this isn't an album of curveballs or surprises. Rather, it's a collection of great guitar pop hooks, plain and simple. If you were looking for a warm, perfectly written indie rock record in 2017, it didn't get any better than this.
Alex Hudson

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