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
(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."
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.
8. St. Vincent
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.
7. Jay Som
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.
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.