Banner design by Stephanie Prior
2017 was an exciting year for music. We got the return of stars that haven’t been in the limelight for a while; some amazing debuts and breakthroughs from must follow artists and the return of great protest music. All in all the Live in Limbo team submitted a whopping 318 albums for consideration for this year’s list. Of those albums 139 of them received enough votes to be in consideration for this list. This truly is a team effort, and much like last year I think the final 50 albums below reflect our diverse taste in genres and styles ranging from quiet folk music from legends to in your face rap from artists at the top of their game to pop stars going in new and exciting directions.
Much like last year I think it is important to highlight the albums made by artists from north of the 49th parallel. Just for fun the bottom five albums that qualified for the list were in order (from least worst to worst) Coldplay- Kaleidoscope EP, The Chainsmokers- Memories… Do Not Open, Katy Perry- Witness, Taylor Swift- Reputation and DJ Khaled-Grateful (which had a shocking low score of 2/10).
Just to show I’m not biased as the Music Editor, some personal favourite records of mine this year that didn’t make the cut include albums from Chris Stapleton, Hiss Golden Messenger, The Districts, Algiers, Calvin Harris, Nick Hakim and (Sandy) Alex G, all of which you should totally check out too!
I want to give a very special thanks to Brooklyn Doran, Alec Taylor, Evan Sue-Ping, Gemma Mastroianni, Mark Milner, Matt Forsythe, Mehek Seyid, Mike Gallagher, Ryan Watson, Sammy Feilchenfeld, Shannon Ruzgys, Tashana Billey, Cole Leuthel, Connor Beck, Joshua Chia, Josh Rosen, Moe Yang and Roger Cullman for all writing contributions to this post. Thanks to Stephanie Prior for making the banner graphic, can you spot all the album references (hint there are 13)?
Let me know what you think, what was your number one album of the year? Do you agree with our list? Hit me up @dgapa.
50. Bleachers- Gone Now
Bleachers (Jack Antonoff) returns with an eclectic collection of interwoven Indie-Pop tunes offering views into his fascinating imagination. Standouts include “I Miss Those Days,” “Hate That You Know Me” and “Don’t Take the Money” (co-written with Lorde, who provides uncredited vocals as well). Taken together, the album is a journey through the good mornings and goodbyes everyone experiences, but with wit, passion and some good humour thrown in.
49. Vic Mensa- The Autobiography
Raw, real, and powerful, Vic Mensa proved himself to be one of the most vivid story-telling rappers in the game right now on his full-length debut. The Autobiography takes you into the depths of Mensa’s struggles and triumphs with the opening track, “Say I Didn’t” addressing his musical accomplishments over the recent years, and the songs “Memories on 47th St.” and “Rollin’ Like A Stoner,” where he dives into the topics of growing up on the Southside of Chicago and his battles with drug addiction.
48. Broken Social Scene- Hug of Thunder (Canadian)
Broken Social Scene is a pillar of the Canadian Indie-Rock realm. Hug of Thunder is their newest release, after a seven year pause between recordings. The album’s sound is quintessentially Broken Social Scene, but tailored for the 2017 audience. Check out the single “Halfway Home” if you need a quick refresher.
47. The xx- I See You
The London-based trio regained their footing with I See You, finding new and innovative ways to create atmospheres for the lonely, lost soul. No band does minimalist quite like The xx, and it’s hard to believe anyone will again: from the perfect harmonies of “Replica” to the bass and percussion interplay of “Dangerous”, this record exemplifies The xx’s Indie-Electro vibes.
46. Logic- Everybody
Logic’s third studio album released earlier this year entitled Everybody where he rapped from multiple different perspectives and the focus of the album was to promote equality for everybody. The first half of the album focused mainly on race with songs like “Killing Spree,” and “Take It Back,” then began to talk about mental health on “Anziety,” and “1-800-273-8255.” Like on his previous two commercial albums, this one came with a concept that follows the afterlife process of a man named Atom as he interacts with God, who is voiced by Neil deGrasse Tyson. On this album was Logic’s first radio hit, “1-800-273-8255,” the actual phone number for a suicide hotline, and catapulted his success to new heights.
45. Gord Downie- Introduce Yerself (Canadian)
Gord Downie was a legendary performer and musician whose music has made an incredible impact upon the lives of Canadians. His final album Introduce Yerself was recorded over two four-day sessions in January of 2016 and February 2017 and is some of the last work produced by the late icon. As such, much of the album, produced by Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew, reflect a simpler production quality- including many tracks that are first takes. Listening to Introduce Yerself feels like being a part of history. Gord Downie’s final musical offerings have left an indelible mark on Canadian listeners.
44. The Shins- Heartworms
James Mercer has breathed new life into The Shins with their fifth album, Heartworms. While some may lament that Heartworms is no Chutes Too Narrow, the unabashed Pop sounds refreshing and Mr. Mercer has obviously been reinvigorated with his most enjoyable tunes so far.
43. Sampha- Process
Process meditates on many things; but even amidst the mix of reverberating synths and gentle piano notes, it’s primarily driven by aching loss. Sampha, who lost his mother in 2015, uses Process to navigate the web effect of such loss; self-doubt, loneliness, and encroaching fear. The result: an album that, as much as it overwhelms with rich, cascading vocal and sonic ranges, ultimately heals you.
42. Vince Staples- Big Fish Theory
Big Fish explores new territories with a futuristic sonic sound accompanied by Vince Staples classic swagger and wit. Though Vince Staples is a great rapper, he had help from people like: Justin Vernon, Kendrick Lamar and Kilo Kush, just to list a few. Vince Staples brings out some quality verses on tracks like “Crabs in a Bucket” and “Big Fish”.
41. J. Cole- 4 Your Eyez Only
Following the massive success that came with 2014 Forest Hills Drive, Cole followed up with 4 Your Eyez Only, where the majority of the album was him talking to his deceased friend’s daughter for whom he now cares for. The album keeps a consistent low key tone with Jazz Hip-Hop beats coinciding with dark, spacey beats, the most energy coming on the second track, “Immortal.” The last track on the album explains the entire story about the girls father as he tells it to the girl, for her eyez only.
40. Daniel Caesar- Freudian (Canadian)
Gospel and age-old tendencies of the R&B genre ground Freudian as Caesar explores the semantics of conscious and subdued love. It’s some of his most soulful work yet that infuses feminine energies with features from H.E.R., Syd, Charlotte Day Wilson, and Kali Uchis. Freudian is a soft, warm, and reflective body of work catapulting Caesar from Trinity Bellwoods to the world’s radar. Kick back, throw on the record, and revel in that beauty.
39. Future Islands- The Far Field
Some wondered how Future Islands would follow their breakout album, Singles, and the band delivered the goods with 2017’s The Far Field. You can feel Samuel T. Herring’s raw emotion through the speakers, an intensity complemented by driving Synth-Pop melodies that inspire Herring’s enthralling and inimitable dance moves. This album stands among the band’s best work and is one of the top offerings of 2017.
38. METZ- Strange Peace (Canadian)
Loud has never sounded so tuneful. METZ’s legacy grows with each collective speaker throb and their third threatens to destroy your cones completely. With assistance from Steve Albini, they are starting to realize their full potential. Though noisy and abrasive as ever, METZ manages to show evolution in their craft, keeping the tried and true from feeling stale and used.
37. Wolf Parade- Cry Cry Cry (Canadian)
Indie rockers from the aughts, this one’s for you. Wolf Parade’s first post-hiatus full-length is a throwback to 2005 when they got their start, topped up with timely subject matter: making art in the time of Trump (“The King of Piss and Paper”), income disparity (“Artificial Life”), the loss of Leonard Cohen (“Valley Boy”) and more. Raw guitars, synths, and the Krug/Boeckner vocals…the essential pieces are in place. If this is new to you, it’s a good start, but promise to work your way backwards to Apologies To The Queen Mary.
36. Liam Gallagher- As You Were
As You Were represents a return to form as it were for perhaps the more outspoken of the Gallagher brothers. The recruitment of a high class song writing team propelled Gallagher past the pitfalls of Beady Eye allowing him room to concentrate on what he does best, lead a Rock ‘n’ Roll band. While not quite a match for any of the best Oasis albums the familiar formula allows Gallagher to display his vocal swagger and bite.
35. Kesha- Rainbow
Kesha returns at long last with an album of celebration, freedom and discovery that shines through the voice of someone who has faced (and continues to face) her demons. Anyone who has doubted Kesha’s ability as a singer (not to mention songwriter) need only look at standouts “Praying,” “Bastards,” and the titular track for clear evidence that this Pop singer knows what she wants out of her career.
34. London Grammar- Truth is a Beautiful Thing
The British trio returns with an emotionally charged sophomore release. The album is explored with vulnerability and grace, which goes well with the group’s Indie sound. Songs like “Big Picture”, “Rooting for You” and “Truth is a Beautiful Thing” showcases Hannah Reid’s rich vocal delivery. The record really gets under the skin, which makes it unforgettable.
33. St. Vincent- MASSEDUCTION
Annie Clark’s fifth album as St.Vincent, MASSEDUCTION, is a clear picture of what happens when an artist is brave enough to make bold changes and bare it all. Working with current “it” Pop producer Jack Antonoff and employing synths and drum machines Clark lays the foundation for a collection of deeply personal and stellar Pop songs.
32. Ryan Adams- Prisoner
Ryan Adams tackles the loss of his marriage on his latest and most compelling album since his debut. Some of his most devastating lyrics (“Shiver and Shake”) are paired with Smiths-like guitar tones resulting in his most enjoyable and emotional album and an easy highlight of the year.
31. Bonobo- Migration
Simon Green has been making the most sophisticated sounds for 17 years now and he’s showing no signs of letting up. Migration stays in formation with a hefty dose of airy Jazz and Soul. Too reckless to be considered downtempo, his forward-thinking approach aligns him more with the strides post-millennial R&B has been making. Smooth but never typical.
30. Maggie Rogers- Now That The Light Is Fading EP
Maggie Rogers became one of the most exciting breakout artists to watch this year with the release of her EP Now That the Light Is Fading. The young singer songwriter manages to capture your attention on completely on tracks like “Alaska” and “Color song” with her ghostly soft vocals.
29. RALPH- RALPH (Canadian)
In just six short songs Toronto Neo-Disco singer Raffa Weyman, known as RALPH, introduced herself to the world in a big way. The groovy synths, the infectious hooks, the fashion and aesthetics were all part of a larger package. RALPH has a lot to say about the so called modern man from the cheating man anthem “Crocodile Tears” to girlfriends sharing secrets in “Tease” with delicious lyrics like “But my friend got the same text, cut and copied/Cause you’re writing love notes to every girl on the block”. If this is what is offered to us on only an EP, a whole album better have every non-monogamous man running scared.
28. Cloud Nothings- Life Without Sound
Cloud Nothings released a pretty seminal Post-Rock album this year as they hit a career high with their fourth album. The band experimented with new sounds making a pretty accessible album for new listeners, while still keeping their edge. There are some beautiful piano flourishes that accent the album that showcases front man Dylan Baldi varied influences.
27. SZA- Ctrl
SZA proves that you can be confidant yet insecure with her debut, Crtl. The album fuels the fire on growing pains as SZA talks about self-doubt and relationships. Her road to self-discovery is met with compelling hits like “Love Galore”, “Drew Barrymore”, and “Supermodel”. Overall Crtl has to be one of the most relatable albums in recent memory.
26. Queens of the Stone Age- Villains
After delivering their most unique album of their career in Like Clockwork…, the band returns with their danciest album yet and while that sounds like an oxymoron, it utterly works. The Blues infused guitar licks and R&B bass lines make songs like “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now” a promise and lead single “The Way You Used to Do” makes you just want to boogie. Played alongside their other hits you realize all along that QOTSA has always been a Dance Rock band.
25. The National- Sleep Well Beast
“The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness” was one of the biggest alternative radio hits of the year and the lead single off Sleep Well Beast. The band has refined their sound once again adding in electronic elements while still keeping the beautifully sad aura that has always been a huge part of their magic. The stylistic range of songs like “The Day I Die”, “Turtleneck” and “Carin at the Liquor Store” are proof of their continued evolution as a band. Sleep Well Beast is easily one of the most complete and unique albums in their discography.
24. Thundercat- Drunk
A wonderful, roaming record, which sounds like everything Thundercat’s been influenced by and like nothing else I heard this year. “That’s okay, I’m kind of bored,” he sings as the album opens, and before long the bands kicked into a rollicking Funk rhythm, like a drum machine that keeps breaking down, only to kick into another gear on the double-time “Uh Uh,” which has some of the most exciting bass playing I’ve heard in years. Elsewhere, Michael McDonald makes a cameo, as does Wiz Kafala, and Thundercat sings about blowing all his royalties on anime after eating too much fish. It’s a wild ride, arguably the funkiest thing Brainfeeder’s ever released and left me wanting more.
23. Kamasi Washington- Harmony of Difference
How do you follow up a triple record? A set that some argue has kickstarted jazz again? A record literally years in the making, packed with ideas, instruments and even a choir? Well, if you’re Washington, you do it with an EP – albeit one as long as most Jazz records were back in the day – that takes simple ideas and filters them through influences: Coltrane, Stan Getz, Pharaoh Sanders. And you cap it off with a finale that pushes the music into further directions. It’s captivating music that grabs the listener and keeps their attention for the whole ride. If The Epic was a little too much of an epic for you, this is as good a place to discover Washington as any.
22. Lorde- Melodrama
From the beginning of her career Lorde constantly set herself apart for the masses; you can try to label her Indie but she’s not, you can try to label her Pop but she’s not, she’s more than the box you try to place her in. Her second LP Melodrama proves that Lorde is a powerhouse and she’s just getting started. Melodrama is everything that it should be; it’s antsy, it’s heartbreaking, it’s hopeful, it’s exactly what falling in and out of love in your teenage years is. She portrays being a millennial in the most tongue and cheek way while both embracing and mocking the culture she’s absorbed in. From breathtaking ballads that drip heartbreak to dynamic anthems that scream “I’m free”. It’s a journey from self-doubt to self-care and everything else in between.
21. Foxygen- Hang
For their fifth full-length album Foxygen decided to crank everything up to an 11. The glam, the glitz, the rock, the pageantry, the hedonistic nature of it all were all put on display. Combining the theatricality of Freddie Mercury and ragtime of Scott Joplin, Foxygen hit a sweet spot heard on tracks like “Avalon” and “Follow the Leader”. If you aren’t feeling this album on the first track you won’t like it, but if it clicks, boy does it ever hit you hard.
20. Alvvays- Anti-Socialites (Canadian)
I guess Molly Rankin never got the memo about the sophomore slump. Indeed, her and the rest of Alvvays build on their debut LP’s strengths – tight, fuzzy melodies and Rankin’s compelling vocal delivery – and craft a strong second record out of them, perhaps one even better than their first. Personally, I like duelling guitars of Rankin and Alec O’Hanley, but Kerri MacLellan’s the band’s secret ingredient: without her keyboards and backing vocals, it’d be hard to isolate Rankin from fellow shoegazers like Land of Talk singer/Apple Annie’s barista Liz Powell.
19. Slowdive- Slowdive
The much-heralded Shoegaze revival has been going on for what seems like a decade. Perhaps the “gaziest” of the bunch released their first after a 22-year absence. Showing peers and fans alike exactly what a comeback should sound like, Slowdive redefines the genre with an update that seems too obvious to have missed.
18. Leif Vollebekk- Twin Solitude (Canadian)
Listen to this album carefully, and you might hear Leif Vollebekk quietly marking out a drum line that is immediately taken up by Olivier Fairfield. One of the most beautiful moments on the album, showcased in the live recording. Later, the drum weaves back into vocals again on the refrain of “All Night Sedans.” Leif Vollebekk departs from the acoustic guitar in “North Americana” album to build an album around beautiful Wurlitzer arrangements, accented with drum & bass, giving each song the space to breathe. Each arrangement is a dance, and holy fuck this album is incredible.
17. Joey Bada$$- ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$
ALL AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ paints the picture of a day in the life of black person in the United States. The sound of the album portrays that as the first half feels very uplifting, even though the messages of the songs are about the oppression of black people in America, and the second half of the album becomes very dark and grimy. On the final track, “AMERIKKKAN IDOL”, the final three minutes of the song is more spoken word than Rap as he calls for an uprising against white America and explains everything he was talking about on the album is a very vivid light.
16. Jessie Ware- Glasshouse
Jessie Ware teaches it is an incredibly powerful thing to be in love. Almost every song is upbeat and wrapped in excitement. “Your Domino” oozes with a lust for life and well… lust, while “Selfish Love” is cloaked in a sexy Spanish rhythm that makes you want to shimmy over to the bedroom. The album feels both made entirely in the present and steeped in past R&B arrangements. Listening to this album makes you yearn for such a sensual experience.
15. LCD Soundsystem- American Dream
After a successful tour headlining festivals all over the world in 2016, LCD Soundsystem released their first new album in 7 years. They proved that they hadn’t lost a step after a long hiatus and American Dream washed away any doubt that remained. The mixture of songs found on the album could easily fit anywhere into their discography and not feel out of place. Quirky Dance hits like “tonite” and “other voices” are surrounded by beautifully dark tracks like “oh baby” and “american dream”. The result is a gorgeous combination of music that tugs at your heartstrings, whilst also keeping your legs and feet moving on the dance floor.
14. Feist- Pleasure (Canadian)
Feist is a force to be reckoned with in the Canadian music scene. So many Indie bands attempt to emulate her iconic sound to no avail. It has been 6 years since the release of Metals in 2010 but Feist’s newest offering was completely worth the wait. Pleasure is a gorgeous album that will melt into your heart and stay there forever.
13. Fast Romantics- American Love (Canadian)
Filled with hummable, anathematic tunes, Fast Romantic’s American Love is the strongest, most consistently listenable Canadian album in some time. It’s bursting with uplifting melodies and love songs. Every song’s a winner including hit singles ”Why We Fight” and “Julia”, while “Get Loved” and “Everybody’s Trying to Steal Your Heart” brim with catchy hooks that get you dancing and singing along. Destined to become a Canadian classic.
12. Foster the People- Sacred Hearts Club
Sacred Hearts Club is the most daring Foster the People album to date, breaking out of the Indie box they’ve been trapped in since their debut Torches has led to them producing arguably their best work yet. It’s Techno-Pop with a mixture of Hip-Hop and their ever present Indie appeal, the album feels as if it has an air of new found artistic freedom and creativity. Radio hits like “Pay the Man” and “Doing it For the Money” are catchy enough to capture attention and the hidden gems “Loyal Like Sid & Nancy” and “Harden the Paint” are captivating enough to keep your attention.
11. Kendrick Lamar- DAMN.
Damn. It’s been a tough year, and we can all hope to be around long enough to see the suggestion of DAMN. as the subject of college courses become reality. The depth hidden behind the bold, one-word song titles (“HUMBLE.”, “FEAR.”, “LOYALTY.”, etc.) is vast, and deserves to be dissected over a semester and not a paragraph. Kung Fu Kenny delivers another masterpiece, equal parts head-nodding and -scratching.
10. Godspeed You! Black Emperor- Luciferian Towers (Canadian)
The Montreal collective have had their most prolific decade so far. Luciferian Towers is their third album since reuniting in 2010 and sixth overall. Immense, majestic and thrilling, often at the same time, the four-track album continues to reveal with repeated listens.
9. Grizzly Bear- Painted Ruins
This is potentially Grizzly Bear’s strongest album. The band is known for carrying unique atmospheric feelings to their music, but this one is perhaps their most atmospheric yet. They take risks, focus on branching out with instrumentation, and one song flows into another. It was a 6 year wait, but boy was it ever worth it.
8. Jens Lekman- Life Will See You Now
His undeniable storytelling prowess in full form on this album, Jens Lekman continues his musical journey with a set of tracks that instantly take you somewhere else (maybe that perfume you’re wearing is helping too). The Swedish Indie-Pop/Rock/Folk singer delves into his own story more deeply than ever before with vignettes from his life with more hope and vibrancy than past outings – and it results in an engaging musical voyage.
7. Tyler, the Creator- Flower Boy
Flower Boy is the 4th LP released under Tyler Okonma pseudonym Tyler, the Creator. While his other albums are predominantly Hip-Hop, Flower boy seems to delve more into a hybrid of smooth R&B, Fusion Jazz and Hip-Hop. It’s 14 tracks of sincere and emotional passion that not only seamlessly blends from beginning to end, but also lets Tyler bloom into something bigger and better than anything he has done before.
6. Gang of Youths- Go Further in Lightness
From “Fear and Trembling” to “Say Yes to Life”, Go Farther in Lightness is an album of loss, resilience, hope and victory. The album itself is masterfully tied together by three instrumental interludes, symbolizing the end of one chapter in life, and the beginning of another. Go Farther in Lightness can easily be the soundtrack of your life, it will make you cry, inspire you and finally remind you that life is worth living.
5. Perfume Genius- No Shape
Three years after Too Bright, Mike Hadreas returns with another Art-Pop winner. This time, the big moments are bigger, the quiet, introspective ones introspective…er – you get the idea; there’s more of everything, and it’s incredible. Pounding pianos and distorted synths are matched with persistent back beats and twinkling keys that give depth warranting multiple listens. Without much digging you’ll find the spirits of Enya (“Just Like Love”) and Sade (“Die 4 You”). And I’d be remiss to not mention “Slip Away”, the ‘biggest’ song on the album. We can only hope Hadreas willfully decides to write more anthems, because this one is huge (hear all about it on his episode of Song Exploder).
4. The War on Drugs- A Deeper Understanding
This was a highly anticipated album. The band’s prior album, Lost in the Dream was so good, that the outcome of this album was questionable – and they made an album even BETTER than the prior. This album digs deeper into emotion, and speaks the feelings we often don’t know how to put into words when undergoing relationship struggles. Does that sound cliché? Perhaps a bit, but it’s the truth. In terms of stylization, it is highly influenced by Bruce Springsteen, and Bob Dylan, in terms of vocals.
3. Protomartyr- Relatives in Descent
Post-Punk has made giant leaps in the last few years with acts like Parquet Courts and Preoccupations making waves both nationally and internationally, but Detroit rockers Protomartyr may have just made this decades defining Post-Punk record. The guitars are melodic and the drum beats hypnotic. The lyrics are dense and sometimes utter nonsense, while still being easy to listen to. An album that rocks this hard shouldn’t also be so damn infectious, but it is just a ton of fun to listen to.
2. Kelela- Take Me Apart
Much like Kelela’s Cut 4 Me and Hallucinogan, her debut album finds her rich voice navigating love, relationships, and everything in between upon a mix of Trap and deep Electronica-infused production. But on Take Me Apart, her storytelling and sonics are more confidant, direct, and vibrant than her predecessors. It’s a collection of female narratives deeply reflecting that in-between, tightly wrapped in progressive R&B, and smoothly self-assured every step of the way.
1. King Krule- The OOZ
A record that almost defies description, Archy Marshall known as King Krule casts off all Billy Bragg Jr. criticisms with one desolate strum of his guitar. Stark, yes, but in the most beautiful way. Equal parts Jazz, Dub, Trip-Hop and Punk-Rock attitude, there isn’t a record this year that comes close to being this unique. Songs like “Dum Surfer” are highlights, but picking out any individual track does a disservice to the album as it needs to be experienced in full. While the runtime is long, it takes on a journey and Marshall is one of the most unique and creative forces in music today. At this point it doesn’t matter what names he releases music under, he is a must watch figure in the industry.