Mr. Wavvy's Top 20 Albums of 2017
2017 was an upsetting year in too many ways. From political turmoil, drug crisis, and of course, The Emoji Movie, disappointment could be found at just about every corner. Luckily, one thing that has stayed consistent no matter the time is many magical musical moments. This year saw both a multitude of new artists stepping onto the scene in major ways, along with established acts finding clever ways to reinvent themselves. All this to say, here are the Top 20 Albums of 2017:
20. Dear Criminals - Fatale
There’s no place like home. Having formed somewhat of a Montreal supergroup, Dear Criminals finds seasoned locals Charles Lavoie, Vincent Legault and Frannie Holder partaking in the ultimate side endeavor. The band’s second project of the year finds the trio delivering a compelling mixture of synths, juxtaposed by some rather sporadic live instrumentation. Equally, Holder’s vocals are an apt pairing with Lavovies, the end result haunting, to say the least. The project is a slow burn despite its fleeting duration, with songs often dragging its listeners into wonderfully uncomfortable territories.
19. Charli XCX - Number 1 Angel
English pop-princess Charli XCX is back with a new mixtape that is sure to please fans old and new. The project is the follow-up to last year’s ever-experimental Vroom Vroom, with XCX offering a more mainstream-friendly version of many similar avant-garde sounds. Although pop at its core, fans of electronic music may also find enjoyment in the mixtape’s production, which is entirely produced by members of the PC Music family such as A. G. Cook, and of course, Sophie. With Number 1 Angel, Charli assures the world she is just warming up, delivering a scorcher of an appetizer before the release of his second studio album later this year.
This review originally appears in Cult MTL's April issue.
18. Big Boi - Boomiverse
Big Boi is arguably the only rapper with over 20 years in the game who continues to show substantial growth with every project he releases. Such a sentiment holds true regarding his third solo outing, a funky, feature-filled ride into another galaxy. The OutKast emcee does a tremendous job at proving why he is not to be overlooked in “Greatest of All-Time” conversations, a whimsical wordsmith who never fails to keep things consistent. The fact that this is probably the weakest of Big’s post-Andre albums, yet still such a strong body of work, says wonders about the caliber of the rapper’s craft.
17. SZA - Ctrl
TDE’s First Lady is at long last having her moment. Ctrl is an open book. In similar fashion to last year’s Blonde by Frank Ocean, SZA examines the highs and lows of young adulthood over the span of this tightly-knit body of work. From the trap-infused “Love Galore” to the borderline alt-rock “Drew Barrymore”, the singer exhibits her versatility through an array of intensely vulnerable lyricism. Although taking the major label route, releasing the project through RCA Records, the Missouri-born songstress never compromises, gracefully maintaining the avant-garde quality found on her fan favourite S and Z EPs.
16. Tyler, the Creator - Flower Boy
On his latest offering, it is evident that the rambunctious persona Odd Future’s founder introduced to the world at large in 2011 is long gone. Instead, the 26-year-old ditches shock value gimmicks of his past for something far more potent; a personal journey further exploring his own flaws, all while expanding his creative horizons. Clocking in at 47 minutes, the project is both Tyler’s shortest and most concise body of work to date, its length resulting in the absence of any filler tracks. It was time for the rapper to grow up, and Flower Boy truly seems to be Tyler blossoming into one’s own.
15. Vince Staples- Big Fish Theory
After breaking onto the scene with 2014 double disc smash, Summertime ‘06 the Long Beach native returns to flip the script entirely. In a move nobody could have seen coming, Staples’ latest offering finds him rhyming his way into more avant-garde styles, with heavy electronic influence gushing throughout every track. Despite the change in pace, Staples stays true to himself, delivering the same self-aware, delightfully dark lyrics that got him to his current stature. This guaranteed summer smash is an album nobody could have expected from Norf Side’s finest, in the best way possible.
14. LCD Soundsystem - American Dream
LCD Soundsystem return to the scene was met with much scepticism, to say the least. Following a monumental “final bow” in 2010, fans and critics alike could not be certain whether this comeback was genuine or simply a quick cash grab. Fortunately, the comeback was anything but insincere, with these alternative rock superstars clearly having plenty of unfinished business since escaping the spotlight at the turn of the decade. The shortest track on American Dream clocks in at just under five minutes. Like many of the band’s past material, the album relies heavily on slow builds that lead to pure euphoria. Highlights include the devilishly playful “Call the Police”, as well as the Bowie-dedicated closer, “Black Screen”
13. IDK - IWASVERYBAD
IDK managed to quietly dominate 2017 in his own right. From opening Isaiah Rashad’s sold out “The Lil Sunny Tour”, to scoring a deal with cult-culture mecca Adult Swim, the Maryland emcee is at long last reaping the benefits after years of paid dues. His debut album is one of Hip-Hop’s most cohesive concept albums in recent memory, a flawlessly sequenced journey of a bad seed with a guilty conscience. The “Episode” structure of each song allow for tracks to be enjoyed just as much individually as they can be together. Sure, there may be moments that feel eerily similar to Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city, any of which are undoubtedly a salute to the Leader of the New School rather than a bite. With an imminent part 2 slated for the coming year, we can’t wait to see what’s next for a vibrant young IDK!
12. Mac DeMarco - This Old Dog
2015’s mini-album, Another One bared a rather self-aware title. The project served as nothing new from the B.C.-born musician, simply just another good Indie Rock release. Luckily, DeMarco’s fifth studio effort seems to have triggered a musical rebirth of sorts. This Old Dog finds Mac drifting away from his lo-fi ways into a matured, polished sound. While the previous aesthetic was suitable for earlier endeavors, there comes a time where every artist can either evolve or slump. DeMarco understands this, along with the elements of his music that fans love. Although there is a significant sonic evolution this time around, Mac stands firm in maintaining the honest lyricism that people have grown to enjoy from him.
11. Khalid - American Teen
Creating a popstar may just be one of the biggest gambles in the music industry. Trends are constantly shifting, leaving artists with no set “step-by-step” of how to conquer the game. In a world full of uncertainty, a teenage Khalid found a way to silently pave his own lane to the top (though a little boost from the fittingly teenaged Jenner sisters never hurts). The R&B-inspired talent feels genuine, the singer flowing as jubilantly as any young person in their prime should feel. The album is packed with anthems that satisfied summer soundtracks across the board.
10. St. Vincent - MASSEDUCATION
St. Vincent is alternatively from both the past and the future. Her most recent offering finds Alt-Rock royalty continuing to take pages out of Talking Heads and Bowie’s respective playbooks for better, not worse. With a little bit of behind the boards help from Bleachers’ mastermind Jack Antonoff (who proves to be one of the year’s finest producers between contributions here, along with Taylor Swift, Banks, and Lorde collabs), Annie Clark laces tracks with the fearless melodies, guitar solos, and lyricism that have helped define her success over the past decade.
9. Playboi Carti - Self-Titled
Mumble Rap was without question the year’s most polarizing genre. As its popularity rises, debates about the quality of its artists increases. If there is any album this year that quintessentially represents such a genre, it’s Playboi Carti’s Playboi Carti. With the help of heavyweight producers such as Hit-Boy, Jake One, along with the frequently-featured brilliant newcomer Pi'erre Bourne, Carti teleports listeners into a new dimension. Here, lyrics are of little value, and flows reign supreme. You couldn’t hit a single club, block, or house party in the second half 2017 without hearing “Magnolia”, or some other track from this dazzling debut. It’s an unstoppable force that is sure to have you Milly-Rocking, whether or not New York is where you are.
8. Thundercat - Drunk
If likened to an actual drink, perhaps Thundercat’s Drunk could best be compared to a cocktail with Brandy: Bold, festive, and certainly not for everyone. Those who do choose to consume, however, can expect yet another euphoric journey into the mind of the Brainfeeder bassist. The addition of a few famous friends (everyone from Kenny Loggins to Kendrick Lamar) does not mean he has gone Hollywood, but rather allowed some of the elites to drift into his world of luscious funk. With a clear stream of self-awareness towards his own brilliance, Thundercat has crafted his most masterful studio album to-date.
This review originally appears in Cult MTL's March issue.
7. Kendrick Lamar - DAMN.
In July 2016, I engaged in a heated debate with frequent Kendrick Lamar producer Terrace Martin over how Interscope may have influenced some of their directional decision-making on Lamar’s first major label offering, Good Kid, m.A.A.d City. He immediately retorted:
“It’s about just being an individual and loving everything you do. There was no pressure from no label or nobody. We did a Good Kid, m.A.A.d city, we turned around and did a To Pimp A Butterfly. And we’re gonna do a third one.”
Flash-forward to nearly a year later, Lamar’s third offering arrives, and a lack of pressure seems undoubtedly present. By having a more open-ended album, DAMN. allows listeners to form their own unique theories on what may is being conveyed. This also opens more doors for Lamar’s own process, the album finding the emcee testing new waters such as trap-heavy or pop-oriented tracks.
While dabbling such contemporary territories may seem uncomfortable for core Kendrick fans at times, the rapper ultimately approaches these tracks with grace, expanding his own potential to even further heights. All this to say, DAMN. is another tour de force from Kung-Fu Kenny, who has yet again karate chopped his way into our ears and heart with this body of work.
6. Steve Lacy - Demo
Each year since I’ve been creating these year-end lists, I make an exception that one EP is allowed to appear. These EPs must be exceptional, and have the ability to achieve the same top-quality as the year’s top albums have despite a significantly shorter runtime. This is exactly what Steve Lacy accomplished on his debut solo project.
Branching off from The Internet allows Lacy to get in touch with his inner-self, taking his own artistry to soaring new heights. These iPhone-recorded jams are sure to set the mood for any late night endeavor, a unique blend of Mac DeMarco’s grimy aesthetic and Prince’s sultriness. The project served as the perfect precedent for the 19 year-old’s outstanding year. He would go on to produce standout tracks for the likes of GoldLink, Jet Age of Tomorrow, and of course Kendrick Lamar, later in 2017.
5. Daniel Caesar - Freudian
Daniel Caesar is next up. Anyone who was lucky enough to catch his Osheaga 2017 performance could endorse this, his debut only serving as further confirmation. Caesar brings some much needed soul back into R&B, ignoring the trap-influenced trends of today in lieu of a sound that calls back memories of a young Bilal. Using both sparse instrumentation and vulnerable lyricism, the Oshawa native offers something refreshing to a much-loved genre without sacrificing any integrity.
4. Jay-Z - 4:44
Throughout his 21-year career, Jay-Z has inadvertently established himself as rap’s sociopath. Indeed, one of Mr. “Big Pimpin’” only flaws throughout such an illustrious run has been his lack of ability to explore his own sensitivity. That all changed this year, when Hov returned from a four-year absence with his most revealing project to date. 4:44 finds Mr. Carter pulling back all the curtains, opening up about everything from fears of failing his family, to childhood with a closeted mother.
No I.D. provides all of the beats this time around, delivering sample-heavy beats with plenty of breathing space. It’s a perfect pairing for this point in Hov’s career, much like Kanye West was many moons ago. For a man whose last album was far too braggadocios, it’s nice to see the emcee come down to earth for a project to better suit his 48 year-old self.
3. Lorde - Melodrama
Despite Lil Yachty being the one to release an album titled Teenage Emotions, it was in fact New Zealand’s finest to put out the 2017 project that best conveyed such ideas. With less than a handful of songs released by Lorde since 2013’s Pure Heroine, anticipation was high for this long-awaited follow up. Luckily, the talented 21-year old does not fold under pressure, offering what is indubitably the year’s greatest pop offering. Knowing herself is Lorde’s greatest strength. The singer’s staggering self-consciousness translates into songwriting abilities wise beyond her years. Whether you’re looking to dance your heart out, or cry your eyes out, there’s something for everyone on this impressive sophomore effort.
2. Sampha - Process
Anxiety can be best described as the fear of things one cannot control. It is a true burden to bear. It is crippling, and can often leave people in spaces of self-doubt. These are motions that Sampha has gone through, yet was able to use to his advantage for his very own masterpiece. After stealing the spotlight on a couple of Drake collaborations in 2013, the South London singer-songwriter at long last comes into his own. Sampha’s chilling vocals further emphasize his pain, leaving listeners with sunken hearts from start to finish. Great things take time. Process is a testament to how self-doubt could never conquer one’s gift.
1. Rex Orange County - Apricot Princess
The Album of the Year comes from a pasty, UK-based 19-year old with 17,000 Facebook likes. Yes, you’re reading this correctly! Following three ear-gripping features on Tyler, the Creator’s Flower Boy, Rex Orange County gives his formal introduction to the world at large with this spectacular freshman outing. The musician, born Alex O’Connor, dives into profound themes of heartbreak, agnosticism, and the future over an eclectic span of lo-fi instrumentals. Apricot Princess is a perfect example of conciseness working wonders for artists, delivering a profusely emotional voyage that manages to convey immense depth in just under 40-minutes. If there’s one artist you should keep an eye on going into 2018, it’s Rex Orange County.