The Top Albums of 2017

Jacob Tate

Four of 2017’s most accomplished artists who linked up for Homemade Dynamite (Remix): Lorde, SZA, Khalid, and Post Malone

 

This year, we needed music. As a whole, the United States has descended farther into hostility and blatantly partisan politics. The world watches as global warming only gets worse.Personally, I watched my city get hit by a hurricane.

But we don’t just need music for the rough times. I listened to grainy reggaeton on a cell phone speaker in rural Panama. My friends blasted out their speakers to the latest Kendrick Lamar. The world needs a pick-me-up, sure, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun with it.

Without much further ado, here are my top albums of the year in reverse order. Unfortunately, I couldn’t listen to every album this year so some top cuts are probably missing. Specifically, I meant to get around to Syd, Ariel Pink, Mount Eerie, and Jamila Woods, but never did. Also, my deadline is tomorrow so that means any December 1st releases won’t be present (sorry, Miguel). Jay-Z misses the list due to not putting his music on Spotify. Please bring back Watch the Throne, and I’ll review your album, Jay.

Anyways. Lezzgo.

 

Iteration by Com Truise

Top Track: Dryswch

This album is straight vibes for a nighttime space trip.

FUTURE by Future

 

Top Track: Mask Off

 

While “Mask Off” owned the world this year, the rest of this album fails to deliver anywhere near where Future usually is.

Funk Wav Bounces, Vol. 1 by Calvin Harris

Top Track: Slide (feat. Frank Ocean and Migos)

 

Calvin Harris gave us two fantastic summer jams in “Rollin’” and “Slide,” but his album is just a hot mess.

Psycopath Ballads by jonathan leandoer127

Top Track: Hotel in Minsk

 

This album is as odd as the artist’s name implies, but provides haunting mood music for the softbois of the world.

Hopeless Romantic by Michelle Branch

Top Track: Fault Line

 

A remnant of the 90s girl rocker trend returns with an underwhelming album that still has its moments.

Herstory by Young M.A.

Top Track: OOOUU

Young M.A. may be the spiritual successor to Bobby Shmurda, but in only a couple songs (“OOOUUU” and “Hot Sauce”) is she able to capture the swagger and flex that made Bobby so good.

Without Warning by Metro Boomin, Offset, 21 Savage

Top Track: Ric Flair Drip

This album is like going to watch Fast and Furious. It’s not original, but you know exactly what you’re getting—pure adrenaline and fun.

Still Striving by A$AP Ferg

 

Top Track: Plain Jane

 

“LAMBORGHINI CHAIN REST IN PEACE TO MY SUPERIOR.” If only the rest of the album could match that litness.

 

Haiku from Zero by Cut Copy

 

Top Track: Standing in the Middle of the Field

 

This album is airy and majestic, floating between sustained chords and sevenths. However, behind this beauty is an album of lyrical inconsistency and mediocre songs with a few standouts.

Laila’s Wisdom by Rapsody

 

Top Track: Power (feat. Kendrick Lamar)

 

Rapsody’s sophomore attempt is a promising attempt, but it stumbles over the own weight of its haughty aspirations of “conscious” rap. It still moves in the right direction, though, especially the electric first half of the album.

Wonderful Wonderful by The Killers

 

Top Track: Wonderful Wonderful

 

Hot Fuss was the first album I ever owned, so I can’t help but root for The Killers, no matter how pretentious and insufferable Brandon Flowers. This album is the follow-up to the pleasant surprise Battleborn, but fails to continue the desperado vibes that made that album great to blast with the windows down. This just feels like an anthemic album without any anthems.

Whatever Makes U Happy by JMSM

 

Top Track: Drinkin’

 

This album surprised me. The cover is a white dude in a black turtleneck in front of a red background. I didn’t think it’d be the funkiest album of the year. Yet it is. JMSM delivers a neo-soul album groovier tan just about anything from this century.

I See You by the xx

 

Top Track: Dangerous

 

On their first, self-titled album, the xx captured lightning in a bottle with lyrics that read like furtive texts and minimalist instrumentals. Fortunately, their third album I See You doesn’t try to pull the same stunt twice, like the disappointing sophomore attempt coexist. Band leader Jamie xx took a break to foray into electronic music, an influence that shows in danceable tracks like opener “Dangerous” and first single “On Hold.” That’s not to say this album deviates too much from the tried-and-true; tracks like “Say Something Loving” sound like the xx we’ve grown to love.

 

Woodstock by Portugal. The Man

 

Top Track: Feel It Still

 

Portugal. The Man knows their strengths. When I saw their free show in June, they played “Feel It Still” a grand total of three times. If they had simply replaced two tracks of this album with “Feel It Still,” this album would probably rank higher. Calling an album Woodstock is already worn out, and eventually the music starts to feel the same way. Whereas past albums like Evil Friends struck a balance between repetition and variation, this record sticks more to the former. That’s not necessarily always a bad thing—Portugal. The Man still makes great-if-typical tracks like “Keep On.” It’s just a shame that this album isn’t more adventurous, because when it is, like on closer “Mr. Lonely,” the band shines.

blckswn by Smino

 

Top Track: Long Run

 

Smino uses the title of blkswn not to imply the darkness of the Natalie Portman, but instead to emphasize his own uniqueness. That’s debatable at best—there’s a lot of R&B-influenced rappers out there right now. However, blckswn still delivers as a surprisingly consistent performance, especially for a new young talent in the game. “Anita” and “Long Run” are the standouts here, but this album’s strength is its consistency, not its singles.

 

Everything Now by Arcade Fire

Top Track: Creature Comfort

 

Arcade Fire has never been afraid to do something completely wacky, but they fortunately decide to keep Everything Now in more familiar territory, making it the band’s most accessible album. Arcade Fire are also a band that makes albums, not just songs, meaning this record has remarkable cohesion between tracks. Some still stand out though. “Put Your Money on Me” has one of the best basslines of the year and “Everything Now” is joyous, even if it sounds a bit too much like “Dancing Queen.” Finally, there is “Creature Comfort,” a dark track that touches on our obsession with technology and self-harm with a degree of nuance rarely seen by any band.

Wins & Losses by Meek Mill

 

Top Track: Connect the Dots (feat. Rick Ross & Yo Gotti)

 

Everybody’s life is full of wins and losses, but it does seem as if Meek Mill has had more than usual. This is Meek’s first full project without the word “dreams” in the title, and that’s significant because it shows that now he’s moved past just dreaming into the phase of results. The results are displayed with the typical bombast of a Meek album. The standout title track begins with the line “as I walk through the valley with my ladder and flex,” over a beat reminiscent of all time GOAT track “Dreams and Nightmares.” Through seventeen songs with some of the best production he’s had, Meek Mill explores topics such as the effects of institutionalized racism (“1942 Flows”) to the cost of gang violence (“Heavy Heart”). However, “Connect the Dots” shines as the song to blast your speakers out to.

Soft Sounds from Another Planet by Japanese Breakfast

Top Track: Machinist

 

The warble of the simultaneously artsy and antsy Soft Sounds from Another Planet evokes 60s sci-fi, before dystopias and dreariness. The vocals and guitars are light on opener “Diving Woman,” transporting us into the titular planet. As a high school student who should probably be doing college apps right now, it provides a welcome escape from the noise and chaos of the world. The otherworldly groove continues into the oddly specific longing of “Road Head” and the avant-garde, futurist “Machinist.” This album is the opposite of 2017—cool, pretty, and laid back. It’s timeless music—suited for the present, but even better for the future.

Culture by Migos

Top Track: T-Shirt

 

It’s pretty telling that opening track “Culture” features DJ Khaled solely for the purpose of screaming. It’s also telling that one of the first lyrics is “Culture album coming soon,” even though this is quite literally the Culture album. But, as a long time Migos fan, I know that analyzing this is missing the point. “Bad and Boujee,” the album’s lead single, was the Migos jam that finally propelled them into the stratosphere  they’ve so long deserved to be in. They’re far from a one-hit wonder, though. “T-Shirt” and “Slippery” have been on constant rotation all year, and more songs have world-dominating potential (“Kelly Price”). All three members are at their technical rapping peak. Quavo kills hooks, Offset might have the best flow in the game right now, and Takeoff does whatever Takeoff does. Don’t worry about what “the culture” actually is, just accept the Migos into your heart.

 

Freudian by Daniel Caesar

Top Track: Blessed

 

My brother asked my dad about Freud to try and figure out what this album title meant, only to find no discernible connection between the two. The title is honestly odd. It’s unclear why an album so in love with the divinity of love would sully itself with a reference to a thoroughly disproved psychologist. However, once you sink into Caesar’s world, you forget the title entirely. His voice is hypnotizing, and leads you into his world of R&B duets (like the recently Grammy-nominated “Get You”) and slow jamz. Honestly, this album is the “emphasis on the ladies” that Jamie Foxx talked about all the way back on The College Dropout. The soft organs and choirs on songs like “Best Part” and “Neu Roses” make Freudian sound almost like a gospel album. And maybe it is, a preacher for the gospel of tender, picturesque love.

 

Lust for Life by Lana Del Rey

Top Track: Lust for Life (feat. The Weeknd)

 

The first two singles for Lust for Life had me immensely hyped. While typical Lana fare about vintage t-shirts and the Hollywood sign, they were really good songs. Then she dropped a song called “Woodstock/Coachella on my Mind,” which is quite possibly the cringiest title I’ve seen all year. The album wasn’t as bad as I’d feared, but it didn’t blow me out of the water either. This is truly a Lana Del Rey album, but almost to a fault. I can picture each of Lana’s three previous albums as particular eras, but Lust for Life seems to lack a defined character. It seems as if Lana Del Rey is running in place, having used every possible American cliché to its full extent. The fact that this album is too long and too often prioritizes beauty over hooks makes it seem like a drag. This isn’t an indict of this album, it’s actually mostly a reflection of how good past Lana albums have been. Lust for Life functions best when listening to a few songs at a time—the first two songs, “Summer Bummer,” and “When the World Was At War We Kept Dancing.”

Lany by LANY

Top Track: ILYSB

 

LANY’s three-year EP run prior to their self-titled debut album was amazing. While Lany fails to reach the same heights as Make Out or I Loved You, it proves that a band that has historically released songs in fours has the focus and cohesion to make a solid indie rock album. The chorus-driven “Super Far” and synth-heavy “Flowers on the Floor” are great soundtrack-to-the-summer cuts, but wispy love song “ILYSB” still towers above this entire album. “ILYSB” is that song that’s too high for most of your friends to sing, but everyone still tries.

 

Playboi Carti by Playboi Carti

Top Track: Magnolia

 

I didn’t expect this album to be so artsy. I mean, Playboi Carti is a rapper known more for his adlibs than his actual raps. On Playboi Carti, however, he continues to prove what these last two years have taught us: you don’t have to be able to rap to make a great rap album. Carti’s oddities add to the character, but real credit needs to be given to the producers, who turn in unique beats on “Location,” “wokeuplikethis*” and many other tracks. Finally, there’s “Magnolia,” a ridiculously simple and pointless song that we all know is a banger nonetheless.

 

The 1st by Willow

Top Track: Boy

 

Remember “Whip My Hair”? Willow doesn’t. This album is far from the trashy saw-heavy jams of Willow Smith’s past. Instead, this ends up somewhere between Courtney Love and Erykah Badu, with Willow strumming her guitar on songs called “And Contentment,” which is definitely not about being content. The lyrics can sometimes be extra, like on “Boy,” which opens with “Hey mom, I met a boy/He plays guitar.” However, any lyrical missteps are redeemed by the creative and stunning instrumentation placed in between.

 

Cry Cry Cry by Wolf Parade

Top Track: Lazarus Online

 

This album may have the most blatantly emo title of them all this year, but the music is actually hopeful. The opener “Lazarus Online” urges listeners to not fade away aimlessly and single “You’re Dreaming” features cheery synths Declan McKenna would be jealous of. There’s not a ton to write about here, this is just a good LP. These long term music veterans cooked up a solid rock album in a year where anything but rock dominated.

 

Something to Tell You by HAIM

Top Track: Want You Back

 

“Some things are long forgotten,” states the crystal-clear first lines of this album. That’s fair—outside of that one remix with A$AP Ferg, I’d forgotten HAIM even existed. That’s on me. Where their first album droned into repetition, Something To Tell You feels fresh and welcome. The hooks on the singles are insanely catchy, a guilty pleasure at first listen. “A Little of Your Love” will have you dancing around your room with a little bit of blushing. This isn’t vapid, though. The Haim sisters began keeping journals three years ago, and the autobiographical detail shines through on “Kept Me Crying” and “Right Now.”

 

Hug of Thunder by Broken Social Scene

Top Track: Halfway Home

 

Broken Social Scene has never again been able to capture the late-aughts-of-a-high-school-party like they did on You Forgot It In People. However, after a long hiatus, the Canadian collaborative/band has returned with an exceptional rock album. After the lovely instrumental of “Sol Luna,” the band comes down hard on heavy bass and cymbals for the airy-but-jammy “Halfway Home,” a song reminiscent of early Arcade Fire. The album continues with no narrative, but that’s perfectly fine. The songs are great as individuals and fit well together. The slow moody songs with male/female harmonies are particularly good on this album—look to “Skyline” and “Hug of Thunder.”

 

Swear I’m Good at This by Diet Cig

Top Track: Tummy Ache

 

The album begins with an acapella. “When I was sixteen, I dated a boy with my own name.” Slow guitars appear in the background and you almost wonder for a second if this is a new sound for Diet Cig. Then the pounding toms of the drums show up and you realize, nope, same old. That’s a good thing! The punk rock duo of Diet Cig has been killing it since they broke into the scene with their 2015 EP Over Easy and accompanying single “Harvard”. However, on Swear I’m Good at This, there is a noted improvement in the lyrics. The words feel deeply personal while also highlighting the mundane (“I go to the grocery store alone”). The lyrical peak arrives on album closer “Tummy Ache,” where lead Alex Luciano notes the lack of gender diversity in the scene and explains that she doesn’t “need a man to hold my hand.” The refrain concludes that it’s “hard to be punk while wearing a skirt,” but every aspect of this album vociferously begs to differ.

 

American Teen by Khalid

Top Track: American Teen

 

Much has been made of Khalid this year. You probably already know the story—he’s an 18-year old from El Paso, etc., etc. The narrative is tired at this point, and so are some of the songs (“Young Dumb & Broke,” I’m looking at you), but the hooks on American Teen are undeniable. So are the beats. No matter how much I think Khalid is an industry shill, I cannot deny this record. The instrumentation of this album is truly amazing—lead single and Kylie Jenner cosign “Location” is harp based, but also uses a choir, a trumpet riff, gang vocals, and a killer 808 line. Khalid’s crooning voice is also unique, and it shines through on the title track as well as “8TEEN” and “Shot Down.”

 

Number 1 Angel by Charli XCX

Top Track: Dreamer

 

Listen to the euphoric first song “Dreamer” and try not to get hype. You can’t. It’s literally impossible. Dreamer was my sleeper song of the summer, but unfortunately it never blew up. That doesn’t mean it was undeserving of the total though. Does this self-proclaimed “mixtape” get repetitive after the first couple songs, like all mixtapes tend to? Yes, but also like any good mixtapes it has straight bangers in “Dreamer,” “3 AM,” and “ILY2.” Charli’s had a fantastic three project run, so this is her victory lap celebrating her pop accomplishments but also aiming at a promising future. As she cockily boasts in her first verse on the album, “I went to get it, I get it, I got it.”

 

At What Cost by GoldLink

Top Track: Summatime

 

You know this album because rap radio is obsessed with “Crew.” At any given moment, someone in the United States has the hook for “Crew” stuck in their head. But this album isn’t about “Crew.” This album is about an oddity of a rapper from Washington DC honing his mainstream craft into a great traditionalist album. In a year where a lot of rappers are doing weird things, GoldLink is content to just outrap you. Which he does on opener “Same Clothes As Yesterday” as wells as on standouts “Herside Story” and “Summatime.”

 

I Used to Spend So Much Time Alone by Chastity Belt

Top Track: Caught In a Lie

 

This was a big year for grunge-inspired emo bands of the year (more on them later!). Even then, Chastity Belt stood apart from their contemporaries. The album opener, “Different Now,” opens with about a minute of guitar riffing—a common strength of this record that shows up particularly in “5 AM” and “Caught In a Lie.” The lyricism and vocals are also aptly haunting and hardened to the sadness to the world. While the album title implies a rosy present contrasted with a sad past, Chastity Belt still sounds very much sunk in its feelings.

 

9 by Cashmere Cat

 

Top Track: Wild Love (feat. The Weeknd and Francis and the Lights)

 

At the FPSF music festival, I was lucky to catch Cashmere Cat’s set. He performed with scenes of arctic caps behind him and didn’t say a word, just let the crowd go nuts to his hits and drops. I didn’t expect a lit show to translate to an impressively cohesive album, but he we are. Cashmere Cat is in the vein of producers like SOPHIE (who shows up for “9”), using individually odd sounds to create soundscapes. “Wild Love” and “Trust Nobody” are especially great bizarre-EDM tracks from this album.

 

BLUE LIPS by Tove Lo

Top Track: disco t***

 

If you haven’t been on the Tove Lo ride so far, I encourage you to get on ASAP. BLUE LIPS explodes with “LIGHT BEAMS,” a track that’s as fun and futuristic as it sounds, proclaiming “I’m the mother******* queen,” before transitioning into the “disco t***.” The album’s only single, “Disco T***” is its clear standout. With music that sounds like a combination of Jamie xx and 50 Cent, Tove Lo strings melodies on top of melodies in a song that celebrates female sexuality and sex as a whole. BLUE LIPS is, on it’s a surface, a sex album in its entirety. However, the presentation of outside of a negative and/or heteronormative context (as seen on songs like “b****es”) proves the album to be one of positive female attitudes towards sex and their own sexuality. Outside of the theme, every song is a unique 3-minute pop song with its own merits. On the album closer “you got drugs?”, the hook explodes with gated pads and Tove Lo singing “we don’t wanna go home.” If you have repeat on, there’s no need to.

 

Trip by Jhene Aiko

Top Track: Jukai

 

Jhene Aiko has been criminally underrated for years. Maybe it’s her association with Big Sean or the saturation of good female R&B artists, I don’t know. What I do know is I was concerned when I first saw this album. A 22-song concept album called Trip and a first song called “LSD”? We get it, Jhene, you do drugs. Wow. However, my judgement got blown out of the water by the second song, “Jukai,” which sounds like running through a forest in heaven. Jhene’s gorgeous voice soars and everything fits in just right. The rest of the ride through her psyche is just as awe-inspiring. Jhene has made great songs for almost a decade now, but now she has finally made a great album.

 

We Think We Alone by Deem Spencer

 

Top Track: There Was a Time Before Us

 

“There Was a Time Before Us” took my breath away the first time I heard it. The track has insane flow, a crazy beat switch, and lyricism between the deep and inane. The rest of the album never touched its first song, but still proved itself a great record as a whole. Deem Spencer falls generally into the avant-garde rap genre, with his garbled lyrics and odd beats. While some have denounced Spencer’s barely-present vocals, I take the approach of “feature-not-a-bug” and only saw the murkiness of his vocals on “Dirt” and “Moonflower” as adding to the moodiness of an album recorded in the wake of a death in the family.

 

SUPER SLIMEY by Future and Young Thug

Top Track: No Cap

 

I don’t think you can understand how happy I was when I heard that this was a thing. I’ve been bumping these artists since Monster and Slime Season 2, respectively. I even remember when these two were feuding for the longest time. I’m happy but that’s over, but that didn’t necessarily lead to the best music in the world. Future and Young Thug both do best in individual projects where they control the flow and tone. On a shared album, they simply are precluded from that. Both bring in fantastic verses, but this album feels like less than the sum of its parts. Then again, its parts are Atlanta legends, so it still works.

 

Good for You by Amine

Top Track: Caroline

 

I can’t tell if I love or hate Amine as a human being. He seemed like a cool dude when I saw him live, and his music videos look fun, but he starts this album with an acoustic song called “Veggies.” That said, he makes a Nelly feature work in 2017 on “Yellow,” mostly through some fun, melodic raps. Good for You is all about making things work that shouldn’t. Throughout, Amine’s hooks are killer. We knew this from the first time we heard “Caroline” last year, but “Spice Girl,” “Yellow,” and “heebiejeebies” are all super catchy. One standout is the Offset-assisted “Wedding Crashers,” which is great as a whole and acts as a microcosm of the whole album. It’s a killer hook with a dumb premise and cheesy beat, but it is so fun.

 

A Deeper Understanding by The War on Drugs

Top Track: Thinking of a Place

 

Making it through all 11 minutes of “Thinking of a Place” is worth it. I promise. I tend to associate albums with when I listen to them and this album has one of the most personal connections for me. I listened to it on a ratty couch at my great-grandmother’s house, staring at the ceiling and trying to make sense of my great uncle’s death. The ambience creation of this album is simply sublime, a beauty upon which to project your grief.

 

That’s not to call it a sad album, because it’s not. At its heart, it’s both a night album and a thinking album. The soundscapes of trippy tracks like “Pain” and “Holding On” are perfect to soundtrack your late night thoughts, be they about girls or existence as a whole.

 

Humanz by Gorillaz

Top track: Saturn Baarz (feat. Popcaan)

 

This album was billed as sociopolitical commentary on a changing world. It’s not. And thank god for that. We’ve had too many failed attempts to be woke (See Perry, Katy) this year as is. Fortunately, Damon Albarn sticks to the manic sense of fun that has made previous Gorillaz albums so good.

That’s not to say it’s not dark. Any time you start with a track with Vince Staples, as “Ascension” does, it’s not going to be gorgeous. But even Vince asks for his baby to “drop that a**.” Vince is just the first of many standout rapper features that never take the spotlight but still shine nonetheless. The De La Soul reunion on “Momentz” is, well, a moment and Pusha T shines, as he always does, on “Let Me Out.” Finally, “Saturn Barz” is still impossible to decipher, even on my hundredth or so listen, but it still screams fresh. Who knew I’d ever use that adjective to refer to an English dude who was in Blur. 2017 is weird.

 

What Do You Think About the Car? By Declan McKenna

Top Track: Paracetamol

 

This album was, admittedly, a slow grow on me. I thought Declan McKenna was just the next “aesthetic girl” obsession, with his vague pomp and preppy song titles. I was wrong. He’s the real deal. Between the annoying spoken word parts, Declan proves that he’s more than a pretty face. He has those British melodies that certainly sound like you’ve heard them before. You probably have, but this album executes them with the precision of crisp production. Melodic standouts include the bombastic hook of “The Kids Don’t Wanna Come Home” and the shamelessly 80s synth riff in “Why Do You Feel So Down.” It definitely feels like something you’d hear at Urban Outfitters (and that’s not a good thing), but hey, at least you can dance to it.

 

HNDRXX by Future

Top Track: Damage

 

Ever since Future’s insane 2015 mixtape run changed the rap game, there have been murmurs of a tape where Future only sings and doesn’t mumble rap. In 2017, we finally got it in the form of the followup to the Disappointing “FUTURE.” This album is emo Future at his best—“My Collection” begins with the line “She told me she was an angel” over a somber choir. But that doesn’t mean it’s still perfect—blatant misogyny soon follows in that song. The hits just keep coming, though. There’s an argument for the vast majority of the songs on this album to be considered official bangers. Songs are similar enough to have cohesion, but different enough to keep it interesting. This is easily Future’s best project since the game-changing Monster, and it further solidifies his legend status.

 

Family by Busu

Top Track: 116 RIP

 

It’s downright criminal that Swedish rapper Busu isn’t known even within the rap community. This album got a total of one article about it and I only stumbled upon it through my “Discovery Weekly” playlist (shoutout Spotify). What I found was a surprisingly cohesive and emotionally intelligent record full of unique, fantastic songs. The first thing that stands out from this is album is how unique the instrumentals are. While a lot of rap feels like it’s moving in the direction of generic trap beats, Busu’s album opener uses actual guitars. “Party 2night” is based off a bass riff that sounds straight out of the 80s. There’s also a distorted Blink-182 sample. And it works. Shoutout to DJ Haydn and Teo Sweden for creating such great beats.

 

This isn’t to discount Busu. He has an ear for tonality and melody. The hook on 116 RIP is simple enough—“I missed it all”—but is sung with deep emotion and catchiness. “I’ve been coughing blood” has been stuck in my head for days at a time. “Curse on you and the clique that you claim” is sung with all the vigor the title implies. It’s unclear, in the end, why this album is named Family, but it does feel confessional and, yes, familial.

 

Ultralife by Oh Wonder

Top Track: Ultralife

 

Don’t let the cheery title track fool you like it did me. I let “Ultralife” soundtrack summer drives and summer parties. When I picked up Ultralife¸I realized it wasn’t a happy album. Even if the lyrics were happy, the music sounded downright despondent.

 

The duo of Oh Wonder stuck to their tried-and-true formula of song harmonies over chill grooves. The references to VHS recorders feel forced and the album at times feels like the soundtrack to my 2014 tumblr. At times the production also feels excessive (“High on Humans”) so the best tracks come when Oh Wonder returns to their stripped-down roots (“My Friends”). Don’t get me wrong—this is still a fantastic album that largely avoids any indication of a sophomore slump. It’s exactly what you want from a sophomore album, actually. It builds on past successes but still innovates and moves forward.

 

Luv is Rage 2 by Lil Uzi Vert

Top Track: The Way Life Goes

 

The first track of this album shows off the worst of Lil Uzi Vert. His lyrics are untellable, the words you do understand mean nothing, and the beat is like the Walmart version of “Ps & Qs” (which is aready the Walmart version of “Accordion”). I was ready for another Uzi project that would be defined by a few good singles and nothing else. Once I got to the thumping 808s of the cringily-titled “444+222” I was ready to adjust my opinion. “Sauce It Up” was pretty objectively lit. “No Sleep Leak” was ‘ight. Then I heard Uzi scream “That’s true/That’s right” over an enchanting Oh Wonder sample. By the time he finishes his first verse and we are left only with pulsing synths, it sinks it that Uzi has made his classic in “The Way Life Goes.” The beat is perfect, the lyrics are poignant and hurt, and it’s Uzi at his peak. The rest of the album fails to reach the meteoric heights of “The Way Life Goes,” but they still prove far superior to any other Uzi project. “Early 20 Rager” and “UnFazed” are iconic late-party jams. “Neon Guts” is a top five Uzi song with a rejuvenated Pharell blacking out on the flow. Oh, and song of the summer “XO Tour Llif3” is also there.

 

SYRE by Jaden Smith

 

Top Track: U

 

Full disclaimer: I listened to this album in econ class after the girl I liked told me she didn’t feel the same. The fact that this moody, atmospheric album fits that situation exactly definitely contributed to my love for it. The opening quartet of “B” “L” “U” and “E” is truly breathtaking in their gorgeous riffs and thematic unity.

 

The quartet also provides a microcosm for the album. Jaden has a few interesting things to say, but his flow defines his rapping more than any lyrics. The album as a whole gets carried by its killer production. Lido, especially, combines edge and polish into some amazing instrumentals. This album shines with its long, moody album cuts. “Hope,” “Ninety,” and “Lost Boy” are all gorgeous tracks of over 6 minutes that flow with the desolation the album tries to convey. If Jaden hadn’t stuffed in some wannabe bangers into the LP, this album would be even more amazing. That said, Twitter meme to top 50 album isn’t a bad jump to make. Jaden has plenty of promise, and SYRE feels like just the beginning.

 

MASSEDUCATION by St. Vincent

Top Track: New York

 

As a Houstonian, I firmly believe that everything about Dallas sucks. Imagine my dismay when I learned that one of the most eccentric, creative, and downright fun albums of the year was from Lake Highland. But even that can’t dissuade me from enjoying the year’s weirdest pop albums. St. Vincent has long bordered on the edge of Arcade Fire art-alt and Lorde unique-pop, but this album finds her moving towards catchier hooks like on opener “Hang On Me,” as well as her two first dominant singles. “New York” and “Los Ageless” explode with bombastic but impassioned hooks. Annie Clark bares her soul in loud singing that almost borders on screaming.

 

That doesn’t mean MASSEDUCATION is boring, though. Not in any sense. Even the pop-ey singles feature distinct weirdness courtesy of Clark’s self-production. “Pills” sounds like a twisted lullaby that explodes from its simple hook to distorted guitars and just noise in general. “Slow Disco” sounds like an alien trying to emulate a ballad from the 1980s in the best way possible, but still feels raw emotionally. It’s the kind of song that makes you cry and you’re not exactly sure why. On closer “Smoking Section,” all the instruments cut away and all we are left with is an oddly joyful ballroom piano. It plays on and then fades.

 

Visions of a Life by Wolf Alice

Top Track: Don’t Delete the Kisses

 

It’s been a good year for women in rock. Ellie Roswell deftly leads the charge in Wolf Alice’s follow-up to 2015’s acclaimed My Love is Cool and delivers an amazing vocal and lyrical performance. The first track “Heavenward,” sounds as if it’s taking you straight to, yes, heaven, with gliding “oohs” and picking patterns. But this track, like many on the album, fully shines when the drone of guitars is replaced with the soft vocalizing of Roswell promising to remember a passed friend. That doesn’t mean this will be a soft album, the next song “Yuk Foo” is a channeling of the internal rage through screaming “I don’t give a s***!!!” Wolf Alice is channeling their inner riot grrrl.

 

The track placement is somewhat confusing though, since the following tracks are way more chilled out. “Beautifully Unconventional” channels pure brit rock, with its quick-but-hook-filled nature. However, this is just preparing us for the amazing ballad “Don’t Delete the Kisses,” a reflection on how love still feels adolescent even in the late 20s. It’s the perfect combination of cheesiness (“I’m typing you a message I know I’ll never send”) and the cheekily pragmatic (“You tell me to get over it and to take you out”). The rest of the album returns to the “punk rock but with weird synths” formula that still works. The 8-minute Tool-esque “Visions of a Life” is particularly impressive in its composition.

 

The Autobiography by Vic Mensa

Top Track: OMG (feat. Pharell & Pusha T)

 

Vic Mensa has been waiting for the day he could make album opener “Say I Didn’t,” which is simultaneously a middle finger to the hate and a massive “told you so.” He reflects on his success and dares anyone to defy his prediction abilities—“Didn’t I tell you we was gon make it to the top?” The album then becomes an exercise in worldbuilding. Over gorgeous No I.D. beats, Vic builds a legacy of a nerdy kid who picked up a mic to rap through his life and times. “Memories of 47th Street” chronicles his comeuppance in a measured way.

 

Vic is quite possibly only second to Kendrick this year in terms of sheer lyrical prowess. His lines are deeply though-out and deeply planned out. This usually reflects in cleverness, but sometimes it feels overwrought, with Gambino-level cheese. For example, “Heaven On Earth” is a beautiful song about death that’s also an accomplished narrative act, but Mensa uses a cheesy Macklemore line. In the end, The Autobiography is Vic’s attempt to take Chicago as his own.

 

Gone Now by Bleachers

Top Track: Goodmorning

 

Jack Antonoff must have spent the break between Strange Desire and Gone Now listening to Wagner, because this album is full of motifs. Jack is particularly fond of “rolling thunder” and saying good morning. “Dreams of Mickey Mantle” opens the album with those phrases in a Brandon Flowers-esque vocal style. Spoiler: the song has nothing to do with Mickey Mantle. But if you didn’t want eccentricities, why listen to Bleachers? The second track, “Goodmorning,” has even more oddities. The panning in the chorus puts the acapella in one ear and all the instruments in the other. Pianos and vocals stretch out of key. Saxophones show up. But, like a lot of oddities in this album, it works.

 

Antonoff does seem to retread the same themes—“don’t sell out,” “I love Lena Dunham,” “I’m weird”—but his maximalist production always keeps this album fresh. While there are some missteps (“Hate That You Know Me,” I’m looking at you), it’s glorious when everything clicks. First single “Don’t Take the Money” has production that sounds straight out of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. “Everybody Lost Somebody” integrates trap drum riffs into an alt ballad. The album doesn’t miss a beat between its switches though. The transition from Springsteen sound-alike “I Miss Those Days” to piano ballad “Nothing Is U” somehow works. Bleachers closes the album with sleeper “Foreign Girls,” which is the sound of self-discovery and forward progression.

 

Pretty Girls Like Trap Music by 2 Chainz

Top Track: Big Amount (feat. Drake)

 

Since 2 Chainz became a punchline about five or so years ago, something has been forgotten: 2 Chainz is one of the best rappers in the game now. Just spin “Big Amount” and hear him effortlessly flow over a flute riff. Pretty Girls Like Trap Music is a magnum opus from a veteran rapper old enough to proclaim, “Get up off my lawn, please” on the 80s-sounding “Saturday Night.” Even with sixteen tracks, the album never gets old due to 2 Chainz’s impressive versatility and lineup of guest features.

 

That’s not to say this album is reliant on features, like some albums are (coughcoughRodeocoughcough). 2 Chainz consistently brings out the best of his famous friends, like Travis Scott on “4 AM,” Migos on “Blue Cheese,” and Gucci and Quavo on “Good Drank,” but still manages to own every track with his distinctive voice and flow.

 

Ctrl by SZA

Top Track: Love Galore (feat. Travi$ Scott)

 

If there’s one trend in music right now, it’s that you should never sleep on Top Dawg Entertainment. I didn’t think much of SZA’s first release, Z, but Ctrl represents a massive step up. SZA has refined her sound into a sleek, modern R&B feel that shines through on singles “Love Galore” and “The Weekend.” That’s not to pigeonhole SZA as a typical pop R&B musician. She’s truly an artist. That vision shines through on the timely spoken-word parts of Ctrl that offer a unifying theme.

 

However, the real star is always SZA herself. Solana Rowe’s voice is truly unique. I’ve never been good at explaining voices, but she sounds like the late night drives you take when your heart is broken and you have too much to think about. Either way, it’s truly distinctive. As soon as she hops on the beats (that are made in-house but are still fresh), she makes herself known. She the real MVP. Well, her and whoever made the car-shaking bass on “Love Galore.” Really, give that dude a Grammy.

 

4eva is a Mighty Long Time by Big K.R.I.T.

Top Track: Big K.R.I.T.

 

“Forever is a mighty long time, so where should we begin?” Then K.R.I.T. goes off, as a soul groove turns to a sharp trap beat. Big K.R.I.T. has been a sleeper in the Southern rap scene, channeling the spirit of Outkast and UGK since his massively underrated Cadallictica. This is a classic third coast double album, full of subs to shake your car (See: “Subenstein”) and hooks to chant along to. The beats are particularly notable—“Confetti” and “Bury Me In Gold” are unique beats and “Ride Wit Me” is classic Houston. This isn’t to discredit K.R.I.T., though. He owns every song he’s on, even when he’s sharing the mic with legends like T.I. and Bun B. His lyricism is amazing—the Kendrick comparison he makes almost feels justified. The concepts are also fun—he has an entire song dedicated to the “Aux Cord.” What defines the album in the end, however, is its location. K.R.I.T.’s native Mississippi is halfway between Houston and Atlanta. 4eva is a Mighty Long Time is obviously a mix of the two.

reputation by Taylor Swift

Top Track: New Year’s Day

I was so ready to write a negative review for the biggest album event of the year. I hated the singles (“Oh why? Cuz she’s dead”). Three songs in I was turning around this phrase around for my review: “reputation is the Taylor Swift album for people who think “Better Than Revenge” is the best song on Speak Now.” That still probably applies—this is Taylor’s worst album since her self-titled debut. There are simply too many bad songs weighing down the rest. “End Game” and “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” are particularly egregious. The former decides it’s a good idea to have Ed Sheeran rap, the latter is a badly done diss track. But don’t that detract from the highs of the album, which, fortunately, exist. The cuts that simply feel like a more mature extension of 1989 are great, because 1989 was great.

 

The song that made me believe in this album is a pretty nondescript track of “Don’t Blame Me.” It’s not because it’s great, it’s because it’s the first song I could relate to. Taylor Swift, for me, has always been about turning universalizing feelings into music. I can’t relate to celebrity feuds and people hating me or whatever. “Echoes of your name inside my mind” isn’t the best lyric, but it was something I could latch on to. Once I got past that, I just had to tolerate “Look What You Made Me Do” to appreciate what is still a solid pop album. “So It Goes…” has a surprisingly solid drop on it. “Getaway Car” is classic Taylor and it’s awesome. This albums exploration of more mature themes sometimes seems forced, but it definitely makes Taylor feel human as opposed to the perfect, pure blonde. I especially appreciate “Dress,” not just because it’s amazing, but because Taylor Swift talks about sex for the first time. The album closes with “New Year’s Day,” a song any description would do injustice. Just listen to it.

 

Saturation by BROCKHAMPTON

Top Track: STAR

 

BROCKHAMPTON closed their Houston show by playing “STAR” five times in a row. They were going nuts, the crowd was going nuts, my throat was hoarse from shouting “IMMA GO INTERSTELLAR.” The energy that radiated from them live is still present for the entirety of their debut album. The beat drop on first track “HEAT” is best described as grating and the lyrics threaten breaking necks, larceny, killing a snitch, and general mayhem. This hyper-aggressivity is expected of a bunch of Odd Future wannabes, but the next track “GOLD” shows off the groups instinct for creating a catchy hook. The album then proceeds to jump all over the map. “FACE” is a pseudo-R&B croon. “BUMP” is a track that belongs in a SLAB. “MILK” is a reflective, pensive track seeped in sadness. “WASTE” is a guitar track featuring none of the rappers in BROCKHAMPTON. While this variety means the tracks can adapt to any kind of mood, it makes the album unsatisfying as a whole. Whatever. You can always listen to STAR on repeat.

 

digital druglord by Blackbear

Top Track: hell is where i dreamt of u

 

“My nose is burning, too much cocaine,” is hardly an inspiring first line, but you wouldn’t expect anything else from Blackbear. He plays up to his sad-boi genre while also bragging about his life of drugs and empty sex. While on one song he laments “if I could, I would feel nothing,” the next song is all about “f***ing on a California king size bed.” Take your pick of narratives.

 

Fortunately, we don’t turn to Blackbear for a cohesive method. We turn to him for lyrics like “do re mi fa so f***cking done with you” and the bass drops of “chateau.” This is a post-DJ Mustard album that combines the LA producer’s knack for club sleaze with the emo trends of modern day R&B. Maybe every song uses the same gated and low-pass filtered chords, but they all work, so does it even matter??

 

Flower Boy by Tyler, The Creator

Top Track: Who Dat Boy (feat. A$AP Rocky)

 

I spent the summer in rural Panama. On the one day we had Internet access, my partner used valuable broadband to download Flower Boy. When we returned to that community later that day, we huddled around her phone speaker and listened to the first bleeps and bloops of “Foreword.” We audibly gasped at his killer lines and turns of phrase. When we got to “Where This Flower Blooms,” I started jumping around after hearing Frank Ocean’s voice for the first time in over a month. When we finished the album, we sat in silence. “Dude,” she said. “That was weird.”

 

Weird is putting it lightly. This album is full of oddities—both lyrically (as always) and production-wise (as always but more). Strings appear in droves, but are used particularly effectively in certified banger “Who Dat Boy.” Outside of the singles, nothing sounds like anything in hip-hop, especially anything in today’s scene. The grooves almost sound like neo-soul, like early Kanye on acid. Tyler also settles into a role of facilitator on this album, picking out great talents and utilizing them perfectly. Kali Uchis, Rex Orange County, and Steve Lacy especially shine in their given roles. Even Lil Wayne coughs up a good verse, a veritable miracle. The star, however, is never in doubt. It’s Tyler, who cuts through the mixes with his distinctive voice that goes from braggadocious (“Pothole”) to nostalgic (“November”) to downtrodden (“911 / Mr. Lonely).”

 

RTJ3 by Run the Jewels

Top Track: Talk to Me

 

While this album technically came out December 31st, I didn’t have time to include it on my list of last year’s top albums, so it features here. This album represents a refinement of the aggressiveness the rap duo had perfected over their last album. Whereas other albums opened with high=powered rapping that borders on screaming, the first track “Down,” opens with an oddly somber Killer Mike proclaiming “I hope with the highest of hopes.” This is Run the Jewels in the post-Trump. On instant classic “Talk to Me,” Mike says the devil “wore a bad toupee and a spray tan” and “2100” wonders whether we are on the path to another Holocaust.

 

That said, this political edge doesn’t mean you can’t still turn up to this album. The drops on “Legend Has It” and “Don’t Get Captured” are typical El-P fare, but that only means they’re the best of the best. The 808s obliterate speakers and the raps sink into the grime of the potential mosh pits. This is Run the Jewel’s “Return of the Jedi,” the culmination of a legendary trilogy with a refined, grandiose album. Hopefully the next album doesn’t have Jar-Jar.

 

Process by Sampha

Top Track: No One Knows Me Like the Piano

 

The seeped-in-sadness opener “Plastic 100*C” starts with a beep reminiscent of an oven that’s finally done baking whatever it is. In a way, it’s a been a long time cooking for British R&B artist Sampha. Process is his first full length album, after owning features on “Saint Pablo” and “Hold On,” and promotion through EPs. Having an album allows Sampha to explore himself over the course of a full LP, using R&B as a vessel for true grief in a year when most R&B albums focused on love (Daniel Caesar) or drugs (blackbear).

 

The depths of misery on Process are explained by Sampha’s situation. Outside of dealing with the typical issues with relationships and existence, he had to watch his mom slowly succumb to cancer. Lead single “No One Knows Me Like the Piano,” explains how Sampha has poured his soul into the simple upright piano at his mother’s home. “Timmy’s Prayer” and “Reverse Faults” are not as slow and somber, in fact, they can even sound upbeat, but Sampha’s voice is always longing, fitting for the sad, sad words he’s uttering.

 

Pyramid Schemes by Space God

Top Track: Heavy Traffic

 

Who even is Space God??? I have no idea how I found the cloud rapper’s two hour magnum opus of Pyramid Schemes but I’m glad I did. This is a dude with less than a thousand plays on all his songs on Spotify, but he opens with a masterful soul sampling “Most High God” where he laments the double standards of society—“they tell me money the root of all evil/then how do I feed my people?” Listening to this 28-song album, I waited for it to drop off and it never did. Every song is unique but standouts include the 9-minute-long “Moon Walker (Light Body)” that features auto-tune and beat switches that sound straight out of Travis Scott’s Rodeo. This is followed by the straightforward but straightbangin “Heavy Traffic,” a hookless three minutes of Space God just going HAM over a chilling piano riff and sharp snares. “1000 Suns” shows Space God’s softboi side and the album closes with a 13-minute, saxophone-driven epic “Free (My Soul).” Space God boasts that “Metro ain’t the only n***a that can make the speaks beat,” and he lives up to it.

 

Turn Out the Lights by Julien Baker

Top Track: Turn Out the Lights

 

This is a tragic album that sounds like a tragedy. The piano and guitar riffs are slow, drawn-out, and all-too intentional. It’d be cheesy if Baker wasn’t such a good writer. The title track features killer lines like “I can’t tell the difference when I’m all alone” and “Is it real or a dream, which is worse?” As Julien Baker explained in an interview with Pitchfork, the title Turn Out the Lights refers to the times late at night where you end up inevitably confronting yourself. Even though, this album sounds like a Daughter-esque folk dirge, it is fundamentally a confrontation album. Baker turns her microscope inward, dissecting her demons on “Shadowboxing” and addressing her self-destructive tendencies on “Televangelist.” It’s heart-wrenching to hear, but its done with such precision, wisdom, and beauty that it is truly amazing.

 

Saturation II by BROCKHAMPTOM

Top Track: SWEET

 

America’s Best Boy Band is back and ready to prove Pitchfork wrong. Kevin and co. take everything from their first effort of 2017 and make it even better—the lyrics are sharper, the hooks are catchier, the beats are somehow even better. After hearing the album whiplash from the hyperagressive first song “GUMMY” into the self-aware “QUEER,” it becomes clear that BROCKHAMPTON are the new Odd Future, but instead of hiding their pain under rage, they let it seep through to their tracks. The comparison to OF is ironic though, because many members of BROCKHAMPTON are openly gay. In fact, Kevin touches poignantly on the topic in “JUNKY”—“Where I come from, n***as get called f***ot and killed.” The other members come to shine too—Dom demolishes “QUEER,” Matt, Joba, and Merlin all shine in “SWEET,” and Ameer is all around fantastic. The crazy part is that they’re only 21 and still on the up and up.

 

Near to the Wild Heart of Life by Japandroids

Top Track: No Known Drink or Drug

 

If we were ranking albums off of their top four songs, this would easily be the best of the year. The high points of “Near to the Wild Heart of Life,” are Himalayan—the resounding hook of the title track, the driving guitar riff of “No Known Drink or Drug,” the vicious turns of phrase in “True Life and Free Will.” The garage rock duo’s third album is by far their best, and not-so-coincidentally, their poppiest. Cleaning up the vocals allowed this group’s lyricism to shine through as it should. Just read this: “We ward off the winter with the witch’s brew /Of dominos and prose and delta blues.” The quotables sprawl in Near to the Wild Heart of Life an album that is only eight tracks long but packed with riffs, hooks, and clever wordplay.

 

You’re Not as _____ as You Think by Sorority Noise

Top Track: Disappeared

 

I’d never thought highly of Sorority Noise. In my current post-emo state, I saw them as the cheap suicide-fantasy fodder, the depressed without a cause. On You’re Not as _____ as You Think, they prove they have plenty reason to wallow in sadness. Lead singer Cameron Boucher has seen countless of his friends die to suicide and addiction in the last two years, and this album serves as catharsis, memorialization, and funeral dirge. The guitars still scream and so does Boucher, but the album works best when a balance is struck between the two, like on opener “No Halo” and standout “Disappeared.”

 

Big Fish Theory by Vince Staples

Top Track: Yah Right (feat. Kendrick Lamar)

 

I’ve been a fan of Vince Staples since he released his concept album Summertime 06, but Big Fish Theory is easily the most ambitious of his releases. Instead of sticking to traditional rap or R&B producers like No I.D. or James Blake, he turned to electronic artists like Flume and SOPHIE to make some of the most interesting beats heard in years. The first track, “Crabs in a Bucket,” builds tension and drops as Staples emerges with his typical cold delivery and candid words. Throughout, Vince pushes forward with dark themes of fame, suicide, and the death that surrounds him in Long Beach. While the rest of us dance to the club beats, he implores “How am I supposed to have a good time when death and destruction is all I see?”

american dream by LCD Soundsystem

Top Track: american dream

 

This was the hardest album to write a review for. Like any good artsy LCD Soundsystem album, it’s pretty inexplicable outside of “dude, you need to listen to this.” It’s everything we’ve come to expect of LCD Soundsystem since their self-titled debut—the metallic pulse on “oh baby,” the long dramatic build of “how do you sleep?” and so forth. But this album is even better than their past offerings. The title track—a contestant for song of the year—shows why. This album packs the emotional punch to go along with the gorgeous instrumentation. “You just suck at self-preservation,” laments frontman James Murphy, before making a tongue-in-cheek reference to the “american dream.” The song descends into synth-string chaos.

 

DAMN. By Kendrick Lamar

Top Track: LOYALTY (feat. Rihanna)

 

DAMN. Is Kendrick Lamar’s worst album, easily. That’s not a commentary on the album itself, but on the King’s discography. That’s why DAMN., even as the masterpiece it is, can feel underwhelming on its first listen. There’s no “m.A.A.d. City,” and no interviews with a dead Tupac, but there are bangers. Plenty of them. Whereas Kendrick’s previous albums could feature conceptually dense, hard-to-listen-to masterpieces, DAMN. keeps the songs trim and concise, while still having plenty of meaning (I’m just not too sure what that meaning is). “PRIDE” and “DUCKWORTH” are classic Kendrick raps—high technical level, plenty of allusions, deeply thought out. But more notable are the aforementioned bangers—“DNA,” “HUMBLE,” “LOYALTY.” The producers deserve credit for making monster tracks here, but Kendrick eats up beats like no other rapper in the game right now. GOAT confirmed.

 

Science Fiction by Brand New

Top Track: Waste

 

The album opens with a recording from MK Ultra, the top-secret government program from the 70s that attempted to achieve mind control through LSD. The track that follows, “Lit Me Up,” has the typical haunting Brand New riff and wispy Jesse Lacey vocal delivery. “Science Fiction” picks up steam as it goes on, but it’s not just Brand New retreading their traditional style. This surprise record is a compendium of all the best the band has done over their long career—the despondency of “Daisy,” the existential edge of “The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me,” the chilliness of “Deja Entendu,” and the anger of “Your Favorite Weapon.” In the end, we get a legendary band’s last hurrah, a final grasp at the immortality they so deserve.

 

EDIT: This review was written before the allegations of sexual harassment against Jesse Lacey. I stand with the victims of this horrendous crime, but still believe one can praise the art while condemning the artist.

 

Melodrama by Lorde

Top Track: Perfect Places

 

Lorde takes a breath, and the album starts. When I heard this album for the first time, I immediately listened to it for a second time. I knew this was my album, a new-era Transatlanticism, a concept album of ecstasy and loneliness. Maybe it was because of where I was in my life at that point, but I constantly listened to that album. The night before I left the states for seven weeks, I bought the CD at Target so I could listen to it.

 

The highs in this album are meteoric, the lows are crushing. The horns of “Sober” soar as Lorde proclaims herself the “queen of the weekend.” But only three tracks later, she’s “crying in the taxi,” on “Liability,” one of the most emotionally wrenching tracks of the year. The simple piano ballad builds on compounding despair that has been hidden by meaningless hedonism. Outside of this, there is not a bad track on this album. “Hard Feelings/Loveless” features two songs of post-breakup mishmashed, “Melodrama” is one of the hardest trap bangers of the year, and “Perfect Places” is the perfect final statement. The only constant throughout is Jack Antonoff’s impeccable production and Lorde near-perfect lyricism. Melodrama is the best album of the year, and, arguably, the decade.

 

Look What She Made us Do

Jacob Tate

Our treatment of Taylor Swift and her political activity (or lack thereof) is a microcosm of many greater problems.

           Sitting in the post-Harvey traffic gridlock, my father made an observation: “Taylor Swift is a lot like Hillary Clinton.” This didn’t come out of the blue—we had spent a while discussing why Taylor Swift gets so much flack—but the comparison shined a new light on our conversation. The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Two successful but imperfect women attacked by the internet meme culture for being slightly cringey or not doing “enough.”

           Ever since Taylor dropped her admitted iffy single “Look What You Made Me Do,” the mock-Taylor-Swift apparatus has come back full force. This is nothing new—she’s been criticized for everything from dating too many people to cultural appropriation—but that doesn’t make it justified in any sense.

           Why does Taylor Swift have to put up with this? The answer lies in a combination of sexism and the polarization of our political climate.

        Sexism

The sexism count is obvious. Ever since she showed up strumming a guitar, Taylor Swift has been crucified for writing songs about boys. How is she any different from the Justin Timberlakes of the world who have built a career off making songs about relationships? She isn’t. But tabloids and 4chan love to create drama around women, especially ones that are so successful. This is where the Hillary Clinton parallel comes back into focus. Sure, both Taylor and Hillary have flaws, but those are magnified by the intense societal spotlight placed on successful women.

One example of blatant sexism in both their lives are the repeated claims that they are not responsible for their own success. Taylor has had two claims of this regard. First is that her parents bought a record label so she could record her first album. I won’t go into details and bore you—but know that this is wrong. Even more wrong is its implication: that Taylor Swift bought her way to the top. Money certainly helps, but you can’t buy talent. Secondly, the Kanye West fiasco. While I’m sure he meant it as a joke, taking credit for Taylor’s fame by saying he “made that b***h famous,” is another sexist insult. Hillary, meanwhile, has had to deal with accusations that she’s only successful due to her husband, even though she was a successful Senator from New York before Bill’s presidency.

Even the accusations of Taylor being a “snake” or Hillary being “crooked” play off the negative stereotype of women as conniving and untrustworthy. Even then, our society is just looking for excuses to make a strong, successful woman fail.

        Politics

           Taylor Swift’s involvement in politics is murky. She rarely talks about her stances. While it should be perfectly acceptable for a celebrity (or any human being, for that matter) to keep their views to themselves, this has simply made for another conduit for people to attack her. Her silence has even led to ridiculous speculation. Google “taylor swift trump supporter” and you will find far too many articles claiming she supports Trump. Even this ties into sexism. Bruno Mars has never made a statement regarding his political views, but he does not get lambasted for it.

           However, Taylor can’t win. Even when she gets involved in politics, she gets attacked for not doing enough. For example, during the women’s marches, she tweeted out her support for the movement even though she did not attend. That’s perfectly fine. If your friend tweeted that she was proud of the people who marched, you wouldn’t bat an eyelid.

           Another example of political backlash to Taylor involved a recent sexual assault case. She took a radio host to court for groping her butt earlier this year and won. First of all, it’s notable that while celebrities such as Kesha have received much support from the celebrity community (including Swift), Taylor received nary a helpful tweet. Secondly, Taylor Swift was actually criticized for the sexual assault case. It was suggested that classifying groping as sexual assault, as she did, was an insult to rape victims. Others attacked her self-satisfaction in victory when she had done nothing for the real victims of sexual assault. Taylor Swift took a man to court for something that fits the definition of sexual assault, won the case, and got attacked for it. What was she supposed to do?

           This all comes down to a fundamental critique of Taylor Swift: her views on feminism. She’s long claimed to be a feminist and has actively promoted it as part of her persona. This opens her up to a lot of attacks, and frankly, some are legitimate. If she’s a feminist, why didn’t she attend the women’s march? Why did she go out of her way to attack Katy Perry? Is she using feminism as just a part of her brand?

           These are valid talking points. However, I think this points at a greater issue in the liberal sphere of thinking there is a right way to interpret an ideology. Feminism is an idea with no set definition that is open to interpretation by each individual. I’m a feminist, but I may see feminism as different from another feminist. We both might see it different from Taylor Swift.

           What becomes an issue is when you have groups that try to police what feminism is. They heap criticism on people like Taylor Swift, when they’re really on the same side. The fact is, not everyone will be a staunch feminist. And that’s fine, because even if you’re not all-in, you can still contribute to a cause. This policing of “feminism” will only lead to an alienation of those who are more mild feminists and a perception of the cause as extreme.

           The same goes for the idea of a “liberal,” this time in the context of Hillary Clinton. Especially since she was running against Bernie Sanders, Hillary was repeatedly criticized for not being liberal enough. This infighting only serves to weaken a cause by turning it against itself.

        Conclusion

           The saga of Taylor Swift can teach us two things that are more critical than ever. First of all, we can never count out sexism. It will always be there. Secondly, we don’t have the right to impose our views on anyone, especially when you and that person are on the same side. This only leads to a decrease in moderation, which does not bode well for our nation.

           This is not to say you should love everything about Taylor Swift and Hillary Clinton. I don’t. It’s just that we need to be more aware of the patriarchal and divisive elements at play before we retweet that meme. This isn’t just about these two either. Next time you want to mock a public figure, especially if it’s a woman, examine why you’re doing it before you do. The motivations may be more sinister than they appear.