Talk about Bitcoin’s growth and volatility has been all over the news cycle. As I am writing this, one Bitcoin is priced at around thirteen thousand dollars, but who knows where it will be by the time you’re reading this. Most people have very strong opinions about Bitcoin but very little understanding of it.
First things first, so…what exactly is Bitcoin?
Bitcoin is a digital asset with no physical backing, the latter much like the USD. However instead of having its value being manipulated by the monetary policy of the Federal Reserve, Bitcoin derives its value from market fluctuations like other commodities, such as gold. Bitcoin is a payment system that allows transactions to take place between users without an intermediary, drastically reducing the cost of transferring assets. Since Bitcoin allows transactions to take place without revealing identity, criminals have used this characteristic to their advantage.
To understand Bitcoin, it is necessary to understand the blockchain technology behind it. The blockchain is essentially a distributed ledger that makes all transactions public. and new ‘blocks’, a series of the most recent transactions are updated multiple times an hour. A massive network of different computers each store its own copy of the ledger. Since these records are public, it prevents the same coin from being spent twice, a common flaw with decentralized digital currency models, because their files can be duplicated.
Here’s a brief history of Bitcoin:
It was first publicized in 2009 by the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto who published a paper explaining the functions of Bitcoin. In July of 2010, it was only worth eight cents. By 2013, the price of Bitcoin climbed to $1000 before a crash sent the price to $300. And now it’s climbing again.
Today, most people are investing in Bitcoin because it’s a lucrative stock, but it was intended by the founder to to be an alternative to traditional banking. Unlike reserve currencies, which can be printed at will, making them highly susceptible to inflation, the bitcoin supply is capped at 21 million, which will be distributed gradually through mining. For instance, Venezuela, a country experiencing hyperinflation, has seen a growth in the popularity of bitcoin.
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.
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.
Ten weeks have elapsed since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico and wreaked havoc, while simultaneously generating a plethora of infrastructure issues, including a disastrous power shortage. Hurricane Maria has caused a loss of 1.25 billion hours of electricity supply for Americans, which makes it the largest blackout in U.S. history.
Unfortunately, this enormous number of hours will, without a doubt, continue to grow at this gradual recovery rate. Six weeks after the disaster, 70% of the island was still without power. As of this week, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) has only regained about half of its generating capacity. This sluggish growth has left many wondering about the reason for delay.
Typically, with a large-scale power outage, two U.S. groups will coordinate responses with mutual-aid agreements, the same contracts that were used in Florida and Texas. In Hurricane Harvey’s case, power company AEP Texas initiated a mutual-aid agreement with EEI and staged about 1,000 workers from 11 states before Harvey even made landfall.
With Hurricane Maria, challenges came up right from the start for power companies and these beneficial actions were not able to be taken. The American Public Power Association (APPA) was ready with a contract for the coordinated response effort but the call to initiate the help was never made.
Because of this lack of efficiency and coordination, power companies headed to Puerto Rico were already a few steps behind the usual response rate. Furthermore, Whitefish Energy Holdings, a small Montana firm, was given the $300 million no-bid contract with PREPA to serve as coordinator of all power companies headed to Puerto Rico.
The Whitefish Energy contract attracted intense scrutiny in Washington. While the Department of Homeland Security said it was investigating, The House Committee on Natural Resources demanded to see all of the agreement records. FEMA said it had “significant concerns” and warned that it might refuse to cover the costs, which led to the final decision to cancel.
On top of this distraction, Puerto Rico’s road to recovery is still being obstructed. Despite the contract cancellation, Whitefish Energy was supposed to continue its work but it delivered the latest blow on recovery efforts. A week ago, the company announced it would stop all work until Puerto Rico’s government paid the $83 million it was owed by the very same cancelled contract.
Although the legalities of the issues are not clear, Whitefish made problems worse. Compounded with the preexisting economic issues in Puerto Rico, the confusion, disorganization, and delays were bound to prolong this horrible blackout, which has left the individuals and small businesses in the region entirely helpless.
In times of persistent recovery, it is not only important to focus on future possibilities, but also essential to carefully examine mistakes or events that could have been carried out in a more suitable manner. By scrutinizing the recovery effort in Puerto Rico, we can ensure that the same mistakes never occur again and that we are better prepared for next time.
150 years after the 13th Amendment was added to the Constitution, slavery continues in the U.S. in a new form. The Amendment banned involuntary servitude and labor, except as punishment for convicted criminals. The prison system and wealthy corporations have used this loophole to profit from what many have termed “legalized slavery” under the radar.
Profit from this unethical system only incentivizes imprisonment and longer sentences, as it relies on having a mass number of workable inmates. This adds to the problem of mass incarceration with laws in place which unfairly target minorities.
Today there is more incentive than ever to lock people up, as it reels in profit for investors and private prisons. Though violent crime rates have gone down, the prison population of the U.S. has soared. One quarter of inmates worldwide reside in the U.S., despite the country containing only 5 percent of the global population.
Companies such as AT&T have utilized this mass incarceration in states where prison labor contracted by private corporations is legal. Prisoners are encouraged to work so that they can send money home, but they are also coerced by the threat of being locked in isolation cells if they refuse. And of course, they are ideal workers for large corporations.
They work full time, can’t go on strike, don’t get vacations, and never have family emergencies. Most importantly, in some states, they are only paid a fraction of the working minimum wage. Those residing in federal prisons in Colorado typically receive two dollars an hour; inmates in private prisons can sometimes be paid just 17 cents per hour.
Many would agree that this is exploitation and must be unconstitutional. But it’s all perfectly legal and in accordance with the 13th Amendment. And, even eerier, the U.S. has a dark history of manipulating its own laws to funnel minorities into prisons to work.
It all started right after the Civil War, when freed slaves were convicted of unproven crimes and hired out to work in mines, on railroads, or on farms. Then, Jim Crow laws were put into place, continuing the tradition of racist laws.
The war on drugs, with laws still in place today, is a subtler example of legislation targeting minorities. One example of this is the grossly longer sentencing of those found in possession of crack (usually found in poor black or Hispanic communities) than those found in possession of cocaine powder (which is typically used in affluent white communities).
Laws such as these, as well as the basic discrimination against minorities in court, have resulted in disproportionate black and Hispanic prison populations. These inmates, almost all of them convicted for non-violent crimes, are then put to work in the prison industry complex. They are paid too little and released too late, so the “rich men in suits” can profit as much as possible.
The U.S. never stopped exploiting the forced, underpaid labor of minorities. Slavery simply evolved into a legal, less-known system, all the while keeping its unethical and racist undertones.
The Federal Communications Commission has announced a “total repeal” of Obama-era net neutrality rules, a sweeping rejection of Obama-era rules meant to keep the internet a level playing field and prevent companies from charging additional fees for faster internet access. The FCC will likely vote on the rules Dec. 14, but the move will create a fierce court battle with parties already promising to pursue it to the Supreme Court.
“Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet,” FCC chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement. “Instead, the F.C.C. would simply require internet service providers to be transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them and entrepreneurs and other small businesses can have the technical information they need to innovate.”
The move has already set off a furious fight over how the government should regulate companies connecting Americans to the internet. No less than 21 million public comments were submitted to the FCC’s website when it originally opened for comments.
In theory, Republicans and Democrats agree on a free and open internet. In policy terms, the disagreement is bitter. Net neutrality is generally defined as ensuring internet service providers do not block, slow, or otherwise discriminate against specific content and applications. An internet without these rules could see customers pay more for certain services (such as Netflix), and internet providers degrade internet speeds unless companies agree to pay more, which could exclude startups from the web in favor of deep-pocketed incumbents.
Democrats want to treat all content equally with strict agency oversight based on a history of abuse by telecoms. Republicans argue that letting the industry rely on voluntary guidelines and arms-length regulation by the Federal Trade Commission for anti-competitive or abusive behavior is preferable. Federal authority to regulate the internet is seen as a potential abuse of power and could stifle innovation.
The rules proposed by Pai, an appointee of President Donald Trump, fall squarely on the Republicans’ wish list. The draft rules would lift a ban on blocking or slowing web traffic (so-called paid fast lanes), scrap regulatory authority to police behavior deemed unreasonable by the FCC, and overturn the FCC’s legal basis to enforce net neutrality provisions by dropping telecoms’ classification as utilities. The plan would require internet service providers to tell customers when they are blocking or throttling content.
Pai has pledged to protect net neutrality by handing enforcement off to the Federal Trade Commission, which has latitude to enforce “truth in advertising” commitments for public statements made by internet providers.
Pai told PBS the Obama rules will hinder investment to expand broadband. “My concern is that, by imposing those heavy-handed economic regulations on internet service providers big and small, we could end up disincentivizing companies from wanting to build out internet access to a lot of parts of the country in low-income, urban and rural areas,” he said.
That argument is still speculative. Investments by telecoms since the FCC adopted a stricter net neutrality stance have not changed much. The net neutrality advocacy group Free Press disputes the argument, saying that investment is affected by interest rates, competition, economic growth and consumer demand. “Net Neutrality and Title II are benefiting businesses and internet users alike,” its report argued. “The case is clear. ”
If Pai succeeds, he will effectively erase the 2015 Open Internet Order that categorized internet service providers as utilities. The 3-2 party-line vote gave the FCC clear legal authority to enforce the strongest net neutrality principles to date. The agency’s previous attempts to do so under a different legal designation had been rejected by the courts since 2009.
The move was fiercely attacked by telecoms and allies in the Republican Party. “Overzealous government bureaucrats should keep their hands off the Internet,” then House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement. “More mandates and regulations on American innovation and entrepreneurship are not the answer, and that’s why Republicans will continue our efforts to stop this misguided scheme.”
Washington is still waging the same battle today. As Jim Cicconi, AT&T’s head of public policy, prophetically wrote after the 2015 vote, the FCC’s partisan split (three Democrats defeating two Republicans) “is an invitation to revisiting the decision, over and over and over.” So it has been. The latest proposal will likely be approved this December in a 3-to-2 vote along party lines.
Yet Pai’s strategy may be to use the repeal of net neutrality rules to force the hand of Congress. Those familiar with FCC deliberations say abdicating its net neutrality authority could pressure Democrats into cooperating with Republicans on passing a bill. Republican Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) has offered to hammer out net neutrality legislation with Democrats in the past. Activists such as Berin Szóka, president of tech policy think tank TechFreedom, argue “only Congress can put net neutrality on a sound legal footing.”
If this is Pai’s strategy, it seems likely to fail. Congress has punted this question for years. Net neutrality legislation circulated in 2015 never made it to a vote, and the Telecommunications Act hasn’t been revised since 1996. Congress has failed to pass a single major piece of legislation since Trump assumed the Presidency 305 days ago, despite the GOP’s unified control of government. Few bipartisan bills of consequence have seen the light of day.
Net neutrality may prove to be yet another casualty of America’s spreading political paralysis.
A simple belief with a complicated name, net neutrality is the principle that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should treat all content equally. In other words, ISPs cannot charge premiums for internet access and block, throttle, or prioritize certain broadband. It sounds fair enough, but these principles were not enacted until 2015 and are already under attack.
During the ordeal of implementing net neutrality in 2015 under then President Barack Obama, political and legal battles emerged, signifying a future change that would revolutionize internet regulation. Ultimately, a Court of Appeals upheld the regulations that still stand today. However, this battle has re-emerged on an entirely new field with different players this time around.
Ajit Pai, the President Trump-appointed head of the Federal Communications Commision since January of this year, wasted no time in squashing net neutrality by introducing a proposal to rescind these regulatory oversights. Pai argues that continuing heavy-handed regulations could discourage companies from branching out Internet access to low-income areas.
Pai and other opponents of net neutrality further that “nothing is broken” without net neutrality. Allowing ISPs to charge more for services that use more bandwidth equates to more money for ISPs to invest in faster networks, indicating the belief that current net neutrality rules are stifling growth and innovation.
Despite their very public support of net neutrality rules, large Internet Service Providers such as Verizon and Comcast insisted that the government should not have the authority to implement these forceful changes in a series of lawsuits challenging the FCC’s authority in 2015.
However, not all Americans seem to agree with the views of ISPs on a free and open Internet. In fact, many postulate that the creation of multiple tiers of accessibility would have detrimental impacts on individuals and businesses because it would allow larger businesses to dominate the marketplace by paying for higher speeds, ultimately harming smaller entities.
The backlash against Pai’s actions is enormous. More than 800 startups sent a letter explaining that without net neutrality ISPs would have the far-reaching power of picking the “winners or losers in the market.” Beyond businesses, individuals also seem to care and have left more than four million public comments to federal regulators on this specific issue.
Dubbed with a high-tech sounding and geeky name, net neutrality may sound like a dull and uneventful issue, but the ensuing discussions over the next year will not only affect U.S. government regulation and businesses but also Internet access for individuals.