America may seem like the Land of Chaos – with ineffectual leadership, rampant gun violence, sexual misconduct, lost decorum – but they can’t mess with our music.
The headlines, sadly, were devastating throughout the year.
A suicide bomber blew himself up outside after an Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena on May 22, killing 22 and injuring more than 60. Two weeks later, stars gathered for a charity concert for the victims. “I love you guys so much,” a tearful Grande told the crowd of 50,000, “and I think the kind of love and unity you’re displaying is the medicine the world needs right now.”
It only got worse for music lovers … on Oct. 1, a gunman rained bullets down on concertgoers at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival in Las Vegas. 58 dead, more than 500 injured. The worst mass shooting in U.S. history. When will this madness end?
Meanwhile, Taylor Swift solidified her “Reputation” with another monster album; it sold more than 1 million copies in four days (see, it can still happen!). Selena Gomez had a quiet year, until she broke her silence in September, revealing that she had a kidney transplant a few months earlier due to her lupus, and Lady Gaga was forced to postpone her European tour this fall after revealing she suffers from fibromyalgia, which causes widespread muscle pain and tenderness.
In 2017, we lost Tom Petty, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Gregg Allman, Chris Cornell, Glen Campbell, Chester Bennington, Walter Becker, David Cassidy and so many others.
That was 2017, in a P&P nutshell. And these are 10 of our favorite albums from the past year, with a few extras thrown in.
DAMN., Kendrick Lamar
(Aftermath / Interscope)
Album of the Year? He’s the leading candidate. The rapper’s fourth album is everything you would expect from him, full of rhythms and tempos, aggression and attitude. It’s the odds-on favorite for Grammy Album of the Year.
Highlights: “Humble”, “Loyalty,” “Love,” “DNA”
Harry Styles, Harry Styles
Admit it, you didn’t know what to expect from a One Direction darling in his solo debut. Styles hinted early in his recording sessions that he was influenced by British classic rock and singer-songwriter folk. Those influences, along with psychedelic pop and Britpop (especially Oasis and Blur), came shining through on his first album. It was a bold move, shaking off the shackles of boy-band-dom.
Highlights: “Sign of the Times,” “Two Ghosts,” “Kiwi,” “Sweet Creature”
(Lava Music / Republic)
There was no sophomore slump for the New Zealand singer-songwriter, even though it was four years removed from her dream-pop debut album “Pure Heroine.” She took her time after her breakup with longtime boyfriend James Lowe; “Melodrama” isn’t her breakup album, it’s more about dealing with loneliness and heartbreak.
Highlights: “Green Light,” “Perfect Places,” “Homemade Dynamite”
(Top Dawg Entertainment / RCA)
The neo-soul singer-songwriter made a big splash with her debut album, snagging four Grammy nominations, including Best New Artist. Janet Jackson took “Control” of her life in 2016; SZA did the same in 2017, shedding all the barriers in confessional fashion. She’ll be a force for years to come.
Highlights: “Drew Barrymore,” “Prom,” “Love Galore,” “The Weekend”
Reputation, Taylor Swift
The girl next door has grown up; yes, she sounds pretty bitter, lashing out at the haters (again), but she has an undeniable lyrical style. Hats off to Jack Antonoff for his synth-pop production.
Highlights: “Call It What You Want,” “Look What You Made Me Do,” “… Ready for It?,” “Gorgeous”, “Delicate,” “End Game,” “New Year’s Day”
Third, Cait Brennan
Power pop is alive and well, thanks to this singer-songwriter’s second album, which was recorded at Ardent Studios in Memphis at the invitation of Big Star drummer Jody Stephens … the same place where Big Star glowed in its power-pop heyday. For more authenticity, Brennan and producer Fernando Perdomo used Alex Chilton’s Hi-Watt amps, Mellotron and Chris Bell’s Gibson guitar. If you love Crowded House, cue up “Third.”
Highlights: “At the End of the World,” “Bad at Apologies,” “He Knows Too Much,” “Benedict Cumberbatch”
American Teen, Khalid
(Right Hand Music Group / RCA)
Another Grammy nominee for Best New Artist, this 19-year-old Georgia-born R&B singer comes from a military family and got moved around a lot in his youth, which explains his carefree, noncommittal view of the world. He’s in no hurry, but his distinctive voice is on the rise.
Highlights: “Location,” “Young Dumb & Broke,” “Saved,” “8Teen”
Flower Boy, Tyler, the Creator
Mr. T’s album played like the soundtrack to the summer of ’17, with laidback rhythms and rhymes. Evolving as an artist and as a man, Tyler is at his most sincere on “Where This Flower Blooms” (featuring Frank Ocean), saying he wants to “tell these black kids they could be who they are.”
Highlights: “Who Dat Boy,” “911,” “Where This Flower Blooms,” “Boredom,” “I Ain’t Got Time!,” “See You Again”
(Young Turks Recordings)
This has to be the year of promising new R&B stars. This newcomer collaborated with the likes of Frank Ocean, Drake, Beyoncé and Solange Knowles before striking out on his own. His uniqueness is what stands out here: His lyrics are clever, his brand of electronica is soulful, his voice is moving.
Highlights: “Plastic 100°C,” “Timmy’s Prayer,” “Blood on Me,” “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano”
Crack-Up, Fleet Foxes
Nice comeback for the Seattle indie-folk band, which took a long hiatus after 2011’s “Helplessness Blues.” They returned with the nine-minute epic “Third of May / Ōdaigahara,” sounding like one of Brian Wilson’s complex, songs-within-a-song suites. Their harmonies stay intact, and Robin Pecknold’s lyrics have grown more sophisticated.
Highlights: “Third of May / Ōdaigahara,” “Fool’s Errand,” “If You Need To, Keep Time on Me”
THE BEST OF THE REST
Capacity, Big Thief
The Kid, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith
No Shape, Perfume Genius
The Navigator, Hurray For The Riff Raff
Big Fish Theory, Vince Staples
American Dream, LCD Soundsystem
Take Me Apart, Kelela
A Deeper Understanding, The War on Drugs