ALBUMS:

  1. Sampha-PROCESS (Young Turks)
  2. Run the Jewels-RTJ3 (self-released)
  3. National-SLEEP WELL BEAST (4AD)
  4. Dominowe-SIYATHAKATHA (Gqom Oh!)
  5. Big Thief-CAPACITY (Saddle Creek)
  6. King Krule-THE OOZ (True Panther/XL)
  7. Converge-THE DUSK IN US (Epitaph)
  8. Miguel-WAR & LEISURE (RCA)
  9. Bell Witch-MIRROR REAPER (Profound Lore)
  10. Rapsody-LAILA’S WISDOM (Roc Nation)

Well before Lil Peep’s death, 2017 seemed to be the year where music and drugs intersected in a way they haven’t since the ’70s. That connection isn’t new; what’s different is how normalized it has become. The National got to sing the chorus of “Turtleneck” – “keep the weed next to the bed” – with no edits on CBS’ “This Morning.” And lest you think this only applies to middle-aged white guys, a heavily edited performance of DJ Shadow & Run the Jewels’ “Nobody Speak” on “The Tonight Show” left in Killer Mike’s line “roll dope in a doobie.” On another late night show, Miguel and Travis Scott performed “Sky Walker” with all its drug references intact, even Scott’s “damn near OD’d.” As someone who was a teenager at the height of the ’80s “war on drugs,” this feels liberating. On the other hand, the rise of mumble rap and its tendency to glorify prescription drug abuse left and right makes me feel very old. What’s so fun about taking large amounts of Xanax and feeling numb and half-asleep anyway? If the members of Migos really began the day by washing down Percocet with several cups of lean, they would quickly pass out. When Future raps on HNDRXX that “no one takes more percs than me,” I thought “that’s not really something to be proud of.” At the same time, the connection between drug abuse and mental health issues that seems to have powered 100 hip-hop songs this year is quite real, even if it’s become a schtick, and we shouldn’t be too quick to moralize about it. “XO Tour Lif3” gives off the vibe that its evocation of depression, suicide and Xanax abuse is a grimdark pose, yet there’s still something thrilling about the bravado of its chorus, and I also find the video for Uzi and Nicki Minaj’s “The Way Life Goes,” where he raps tied to a tree with his eyes closed as a woman digs his grave while she performs in a cabin full of life, fascinating. He may be the one real artist to come out of SoundCloud hip-hop, unless Denzel Curry and the underground rapper Ka5sh count.

Rock music became very unfashionable this year, yet half the albums on my top 10 list belong to the genre. The National and Converge are still pursuing the basic sound they’ve been doing since the ’90s (although the National added more electronics on SLEEP WELL BEAST.) Big Thief draw heavily on the singer/songwriter tradition, but their singer/lyricist/guitarist Adrienne Lenker writes so closely about her own experiences – their best song documents the effects of an accident that almost cost her life as a child on her mother -‘ that she adds something fresh to it. And Bell Witch and King Krule break genre boundaries or act as though they don’t exist. For a “heavy metal” album, Bell Witch’s MIRROR REAPER contains lengthy passages of a bass guitar very slowly playing scales as the drummer hits a ride cymbal every 20 seconds. King Krule plays jazz chords, not power chords, usually without distortion and both his thickly accented vocals and taste in beats show the influence of hip-hop.

The funny thing is that just as white people are abandoning rock music as terminally unhip (look at the Pitchfork top 10 this year), rappers are embracing it. Lil Uzi Vert posted “XO Tour Lif3” to Spotify as “alternative rock,” and says he loves G. G. Allin and wants to collaborate with Marilyn Manson (who did a feature with DMX years ago.) Vic Mensa’s “Rolling Like A Stoner” says “Hennessy got me Dead Kennedys too drunk to fuck.” Mensa went on to sing and play piano on a cover of Radiohead’s “Karma Police” for the BBC. In theory, the mixture of punk and hip-hop should lead to something innovative and exciting; in practice, the fact that so many rappers’ idea of “punk” is Brand New and Good Charlotte rather than Stiff Little Fingers or Black Flag means that we get crap like XXXTentacion schizophrenically shouting inane bullshit over a low-fi dubstep sample on “Look At Me” and then rapping over a piano for barely two minutes with bad emo poetry about a friend who killed herself – his real-life behavior makes one wonder if he only respects dead women – on “Jocelyn Flores.” The latter song should theoretically sound smarter, but it really doesn’t. Death Grips’ THE MONEY STORE, Kanye West’s “Black Skinhead” and Kid Cudi’s INDICUD are far better examples of combining hip-hop and rock influences.

 

 

 

Runners-up:

Arca-s/t (XL)

Armand Hammer-ROME (Backwoodz Studioz)

Julien Baker-TURN OUT THE LIGHTS (Matador)

Bjork-UTOPIA (One Little Indian)

Buy Muy Drugs-s/t (self-released)

Charli XCX-NUMBER ONE ANIMAL (Asylum)/POP 2 (Asylum)

Daniel Caesar-FREUDIAN (Golden Child)

Dream Syndicate-HOW DID I FIND MYSELF HERE? (Anti-)

Gas-NARKOPOP (Kompakt)

Kendrick Lamar-DAMN (Aftermath/Interscope)

Kid Cudi-PASSION, PAIN & DEMON SLAYIN’ (Universal)

Khalid-AMERICAN TEEN (RCA)

King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard-POLYGONAWONALAND (self-released)/FLYING MICROTONAL BANANA (ATO)/SKETCES OF BRUNSWICK EAST (ATO)

Myrkur-MARERIDT (Relapse)

Anthony Pateras & Erkki Veltheim-THE SLOW CREEP OF CONVENIENCE  (Immediata)/Anthony Pateras-BLOOD STRETCHED OUT (Immediata)

Perfume Genius-NO SHAPE (Matador)

Space Captain-ALL FLOWERS IN TIME (Tru Thoughts)

St. Vincent-MASSEDUCTION (Loma Vista)

Vince Staples-BIG FISH THEORY (Def Jam)

Syd-FIN (Columbia)

Trad Gras och Stenar-TACK FOR KOFFET (Subliminal Sounds)

Roger Waters-IS THIS THE LIFE WE REALLY WANT? (Columbia)

 

SINGLES:

J Balvin & Willy Wiliams featuring Beyonce-“Mi Gente” (Universal Music Latin)

Childish Gambino-“Redbone” (Glassnote)

DJ Shadow featuring Run the Jewels-“Nobody Speak” (Mass Appeal)

Ghost-“He Is (Haxan Clock remix)” (Loma Vista)

Harry Styles-“Sign of the Times” (Columbia)

Huarotron-“Autocannibalism” (Last Gang)

Jay Electronica-“Letter to Falon” (Roc Nation)

Kendrick Lamar-“DNA” (Aftermath/Interscope)

Lil Uzi Vert-“XO Tour Lif3” (Atlantic)/Lil Uzi Vert featuring Nicki Minaj & Oh Wonder-“The Way Life Goes” (Atlantic)

Spoon-“I Ain’t the One” (Matador)

 

Runners-up:

Big Shaq-“Man’s Not Hot” (Island)

Bjork-“Blissing Me” (One Little Indian)

BROCKHAMPTON-“Junky” (Question Everything/Empire)

Burial-“Rodent” (Hyperdub)

Cardi B-“Bodak Yellow” (Atlantic)

Car Seat Headrest-“War Is Coming (If You Want It)” (Matador)

Drake-“Passionfruit” (Young Money/Cash Money)

Kesha-“Praying” (RCA)

KMD featuring Jay Electronica and DOOM-“Light Years”  (Adult Swim, withdrawn)

Loma-“Black Willow” (Sub Pop)

Marshmello featuring Khalid-“Silence” (RCA)

H. C. McEntire-“A Lamb, A Dove” (Merge)

N.E.R.D  & Rhianna-“Lemon” (Columbia)

Frank Ocean-“Chanel” (Blonded)/Frank Ocean featuring Jay-Z and Tyler, the Creator-“Biking” (Blonded)

Oneohtrixpointnever featuring Iggy Pop-“The Pure and The Damned” (Warp)

Queens of the Stone Age-“The Way You Used To Do” (Matador)

Ramesh-“The Fool” (self-released)

Space Captain-“Hours (alternate version)” (Tru Thoughts)

Underachievers-“Packs” (RPM)

 

EPs:

Denzel Curry-13 (Loma Vista)

Ka5sh-s/t (self-released)

Krallice-LOUM (self-released)

Prayer-I & II (Black Acre)

Sneaks-IT’S A MYTH (Merge)

Strange Ghost-STAGGER (Minor Artists)

Swet Shop Boys-SUFI-LA (Customs)

Syd-ALWAYS NEVER HOME (Columbia)

Kamasi Washington-HARMONY OF DIFFERENCE (Young Turks)

Yaeji-EP (Godmode)/EP2(Godmode)

 

Reissues:

David Bowie-LODGER (2016 remix) (EMI)

Can-THE SINGLES  (Spoon/Mute)

Alice Coltrane-WORLD SPIRITUALITY CLASSICS 1: THE ECSTATIC MUSIC OF ALICE COLTRANE TURIYASANGITANDA (Luaka Bop)

Isaac Hayes-THE SOUND OF MEMPHIS 1962-1976  (Stax/Craft)

Hamad Kalkaba-HAMAD KALKABA AND THE GOLD SOUNDS 1974-1975 (Analog Africa)

Metallica-MASTER OF PUPPETS (Blackened)

Pharcyde-BIZARRE RIDE II THE PHARCYDE (Craft)

Pink Floyd-1972 OBFUSC/ATION (Capitol)

Prince-PURPLE RAIN (Warner Brothers)

R.E.M.-AUTOMATIC FOR THE PEOPLE 25TH ANNIVERSARY DELUXE EDITION (Craft)

Replacements-FOR SALE: LIVE AT MAXWELL’S 1986 (Rhino/Sire)

Jackie Shane-ANY OTHER WAY (Numero Group)

Skatalites-INDEPENDENCE SKA AND THE FAR EAST SOUND (Studio One/Soul Jazz)

Various Artists-STUDIO ONE MASSIVE (Studio One/Soul Jazz)

Sun Ra-EXOTICA (Modern Harmonic)

Neil Young-HITCHIKER (Warner Brothers)

 

Not reissues, but revelatory music I heard for the first time this year:

Amboy Dukes-JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE MIND (Mainstream ’68)

Bar-Kays-BLACK ROCK (Stax ’70)

Big Country-THE CROSSING (Mercury ’83)

Gary Burton & Chick Corea-CRYSTAL SILENCE (ECM ’73)

Dream Syndicate-s/t (Down There ’82)

Gravediggaz-SIX FEET DEEP (Gee Street/Island ’94)

Kid Cudi-INDICUD (G.O.O.D. Music ’13)

Moonshake-SECONDHAND CLOTHES (Too Pure ’92)

Prince-COME (Warner Brothers ’94)

Edwin Starr-INVOLVED (Motown ’71)

Temptations-ALL DIRECTIONS (Motown ’72) & 1990 (Motown ’73)