It’s hard to believe 2017 is half over, but here we are at the beginning of June. Although it has been a tough and heavy year so far, and one full of uncertainty, there’s been an outpouring of incredible music, both that directly addresses the current situation in America, and that offers escape or distraction. Here are our picks for the best albums of 2017 so far. Editor’s note: A list dedicated specifically to rap and hip-hop is coming tomorrow.
50. Meat Wave, The Incessant
“It’s a really good word to describe these hyper emotive situations that I would find myself in where I was just full of feeling and sometimes confusion and regret. It was just very oncoming and overwhelming. So that time in my life and those situations I would find myself in… that’s the incessant,” Meat Wave frontman Chris Sutter said during an interview back in February. The Incessant is the trio’s second album under the SideOneDummy imprint, and is nothing short of a staggering diatribe of palpable anxiety and confusion. To sonically capture the Sutter’s headspace, the band teamed up with legendary In Utero producer/engineer Steve Albini and together, they created twelve tracks that allow the listener to get into Sutter’s headspace to try and understand this period of his life that he now dubs “the incessant.” With pounding drums and explosive riffs, The Incessant is a rollicking effort that leaves everything on the table, and never lets you off the hook. The record closes with the intense, staggering track “Killing The Incessant,” which builds upon a cacophony of noise before a familiar melody reprise brings the track back to the center, then quickly and abruptly cuts out to reveal a light guitar line that beautifully ends the record.
49. Cashmere Cat, 9
Cashmere Cat is a catchier name than Magnus August Høiberg, the given name of the Norwegian producer behind one of the most lush and glitchy electropop projects of our current era. After working alongside some of the biggest names in the world — Kanye West, Ariana Grande, Tinashe — Høiberg has managed to preserve his own cotton candy, cloud-pop production for his own album. This may technically be his debut album, but Cashmere Cat has been impacting the world since as early as 2012 — he’s even been nominated for a Grammy already (For production on Tory Lanez’ “Luv.”)
9 proves that Cashmere Cat may be a go-to producer when it’s time for a pop smash, but he’s not afraid to run circles around everybody else on his own album, a record that’s sometimes radio-accessible with stars like Ariana Grande and Camila Cabello in tow, and others, too weird to function. Occasionally, the tracks trail off into a smattering of synths and beats that wind their way on for several minutes before finally drawing to a close. This may seem like a complaint, but that’s actually exactly what makes 9 so interesting; there are no other albums that so cleanly incorporate both the highest level of mainstream pop and the most inaccessible avant-garde. —Caitlin White
48. Brian Eno, Reflection
Before we dig into this album, a quick aside: how in the hell is Brian Eno not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? I mean, literally, what more does a human being have to do, how many more times does he need to change the game to get the recognition he deserves? It’s ridiculous. Anyway, for his 26th solo effort, Eno returns once again to the field of ambient music that he first helped pioneer in 1975 with Discreet Music, and some would say perfected three years later on Ambient 1: Music For Airports. Eno doesn’t even try to break Reflection down into a more digestible experience for the listener by imposing such dated concepts as tracks. Reflection is just one 59:32 long unbroken piece of music titled “Reflection.” It’s not meant to be engaged with. It’s hard to even pick apart. It might even be the ultimate example of “it is what it is.” Sounds come, sounds go. They swell and then they fade off to be replaced by something else. The moment you let yourself go however, when you finally manage to turn off your brain and let the music fill your mind, you’ll find you’ve transported to another realm of consciousness.—Corbin Reiff
47. Beach Fossils, Somersault
In the four year since Beach Fossils released the incredible, dreamy Clash The Truth, frontman Dustin Payseur formed his own record label and the band landed a starring role as a proto-punk band fronted by Mick Jagger’s son James in that wacky HBO show Vinyl. The extended break from Beach Fossils also gave the band time to think about their next directions. To help break out of the molds they had already set for themselves, Payseur let his live bandmates Jack Doyle Smith and Tommy Davidson in on the writing and recording process (which had previously been a private affair), and the three hopped in a car and headed to a cabin in upstate New York owned by their manager. There, the band crafter Somersault, the first Beach Fossils music since 2013, and also their most expansive. It features guest vocals from Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell and Payseur’s old friend Cities Aviv, and also sees the band experimenting with strings and even woodwinds. “I’ve always wanted to make a record that’s sort of like that orchestral thing, but not over the top orchestral,” Payseur said when Somersault was announced. “It still has a lot of human qualities to it… The only goal I ever set is that I’m extremely happy with what I’ve done.”
46. The Menzingers, After The Party
Released in February, the Menzingers’ fifth full-length effort sees a group of dudes almost or already in their thirties reflecting on their time as young men, and the changing responsibilities of adulthood. “Where we gonna go now that our twenties are over?” singer-guitarist Greg Barnett sings repeatedly on the album-opener “20’s (Tellin’ Lies), setting up the narrative for the remainder of After The Party. Though The Menzingers have yet to break through the barrier between punk and indie rock like some of their, After The Party embodies the best of both worlds. Like Canadian rockers PUP, it’s heavy; like scrappy Californians Joyce Manor, it’s melodic; and like emo quartet The Hotelier (well, on Home, Like No Place Is There, at least), the lyrics are straightforward and tell an incredibly relatable story. With the help of producer Will Yip, who is known for his work with the likes of Title Fight and Tigers Jaw, After The Party is emblematic of a band growing up and leaving their partying past behind, but never ceasing to write songs that reflect the lives they lead, even if they might be a little less “fun” than the years prior.