1. The National - Sleep Well Beast:
Usually the choice for my top album of the year is a particularly tough one, but this year it was actually a pretty easy choice. I'm relatively delayed in my realization of the National's brilliance, but this year was a beautiful education - with their whole album history yes, but particularly with the project they've pulled together in Sleep Well Beast. This album is both weary and refreshing, managing to be brooding and inspiring in the same layered space. The strategic inclusion of synth with the more traditional orchestral tones is complex to say the least. But it gripped me and keeps doing so every time I listen. Carin at the Liquor Store is among my top songs of the year, but the full project is simply phenomenal. Bonus notes: The LP is physically beautiful: this one truly feels like unwrapping a treasure every time.
2. Fleet Foxes - Crack Up:
Fleet Foxes' third album had my attention from its first released single, which admittedly, is an unusual things for me, as I'm an album girl first. This one is textured and complex, but there's a depth and dimension to the whole thing that that made it a project I kept coming back to. And, in reality, the full album is the true treasure: a complete package of density: from the layers of sound to the comtemplative lyrics to the sweeping orchestral components that weave throughout. This was another 2017 concert gem too (on a clear night in Stanley Park with my dear friend, Chandler) and the show was, as expected, phenomenal. The craziness & brilliance of their band is certainly obvious (the amount of instruments being played is unreal), but it's also the best show I've ever seen when it came to transitions throughout their entire set - and Robin Pecknold was even sick that night. That's just impressive.
3. Vancouver Sleep Clinic - Revival:
Vancouver Sleep Clinic was my best music discovery of 2016 (I instantly fell in love with the emotive sound that could best be described as a a combination of Bon Iver, Sigur Ros, & James Blake) and when Tim Bettinson released his first full album in 2017, I was beyond excited. Revival is beauty from beginning to end: packed full of Bettinson's ambient and ethereal sound, but with some bigger moments and dramatic builds that serve to give compelling substance to the whole project. Lung is among the most beautiful songs I've ever heard. Not joking. And Unworthy? That string build still gives me chills. Now just to get this Aussie to come to Canada (and the city for which he named his band!) for a tour...
4. Novo Amor, Ed Tullet - Heiress:
This album. Is it a cop-out to just say it's wildly beautiful and 45 minutes of goodness? The combo of Novo Amor & Ed Tullet (recorded over an impressive 3-year period) doesn't result in a particularly unpredictable project if you've heard either of their previous work (and the Tullet connections to Bon Iver are certainly obvious in the sound), but it's still sweeping and atmospherically stunning. From Silvery to Alps to Terraform to Dancer: this one is gold.
5. James Vincent McMorrow - True Care:
I think JVM and I have a pretty simple and long-established relationship that goes something like this: I love everything he releases. True Care is no exception and was the best surprise since he released another (phenomenal!) album in 2016. I love that JVM continues to reach for new dimensions and sounds as an artist. Also, a group of my friends chipped in for my birthday to buy me tickets to his show in Vancouver in August (a truly amazing gift!) where he played the entirety of this album from beginning to end. It was simply incredible. This album has never sounded the same since.
6. Taylor Swift - Reputation:
I know, I know. The old Taylor is dead. And I love.love.love old Taylor. And I'll admit, when the single of LWYMMD first came out, I was skeptical and a tad nervous for how the new album would unfold. But I kept listening. And her creative genius became more and more evident. And when the full album finally dropped, I quickly knew that TS6 was not only a great album, but possibly Taylor's most mature, risky, and creative album to date.
Also, the history keener in me is still in awe of the French Revolution imagery (alluding to Eugène Delacroix's "Leading the People") in her LWYMMD music video. And New Years Eve - the quietest and most powerful track on album - joins Last Kiss and All Too Well as definitive evidence that no one writes a emotive and narrative-driven ballad quite like Taylor.
7. Oh Wonder - Ultralife:
Oh Wonder is a cheerful and yet thought provoking mix of R&B, singer/songwriter, electronic, and minimalist sounds, with deeply thoughtful lyrics. Ultralife, even more so than their first album, is a melodical and lyrical exploration into what it means to be human and to be human together. It's comforting and compelling and I've only come to appreciate these two Brits and their sound more with every new project.
8. Iron & Wine - Beast Epic:
Sam Beam was one of my first Indie-folk loves and in Beast Epic, he reminds me of all the reasons why. This project is a return to the acoustic instrumentation and romanticism of his early work, a certain element of lyrical whimsy that is notably introspective. It's warm and welcoming and yet defiant in a way that comes with the tenure and boldness of an artists' 6th project. In the record’s forward, he writes an incredibly accurate description of what this project looks like:“The ferris wheel keeps spinning and we’re constantly approaching, leaving or returning to something totally unexpected or startlingly familiar.”
9. Grizzly Bear - Painted Ruins:
Painted Ruins is an expansive and harmonious project that's truly engaging the entire way through. It's a visionary album: pulling on far-off imagery and deep-rooted emotions, but almost sporadic in the way it dreams big. And the percussion on this album? It's rare for that to be something worth noting on its own, but the layered harmonies, creativity, and almost counter intuitive consistency of the percussion throughout is truly something noteworthy. Tracks I can't get enough of: Three Rings and Neighbors.
10. Feist - Pleasure:
I fell in love with Feist's work early on, when her music felt like sunny days and sweet innocence (1234, anyone?). Like any phenomenal artist, however, she's grown immensely and expanded beyond the sound that first gave her her start. Her newest project, Pleasure, presents a gritty bluesy rawness that's gripping. In some ways this album is messy and dark and seems almost unfinished, but the more I listened to it, the more I came to see that those are the very realities that made it so good.
Sylvan Esso - What Now:
Sylvan Esso is one of my favourite musical contradictions. I was thinking of how to best describe her music a few days ago and I think I said something like folksy-synth-indie-pop with a romantic soul and introspective mind. It's hard to describe, but if there's a project well suited to introduce you to Amelia Meath's narrative-driven contemplative lyrics and the quirky contradiction (and yet it works!) in the complexity, curiosity, and coziness of her sound, What Now is it.
Kendrick Lamar - Damn:
I ventured into the world of Hip Hop (beyond my go-to's in Chance and Macklemore) more in 2017 than any year prior. I have my persuasive hip-hop loving boyfriend to "blame" for that one. But really, I'm pretty thankful, because I learned to listen to these songs and artists in a different way after hearing someone rave about the depth of the skill and artistry in their work. And it's so true. Damn is compelling and heartbreaking and, quite honestly, just phenomenal.
Henry Jamison - The Wilds:
Switching gears significantly from the sounds of the two previously describe albums, The Wilds is a simple stunner, reminding me countless times throughout of the haunting comfort that is Americana done well. This project plays like Jamison's millennial reflections on life, love, place, and the entirely mundane beauty that make up our lives - and in his guitar driven ponderings, he gives us a deeply comforting soundtrack to our own memories and experiences. Also, any songwriter who can use words like "“elegiac” and phrases like “the fallacy of form” without an ounce of pretension deserves some significant credit.
Beck - Colours:
Beck is one of my go-to "doesn't fit in a box" artists. I feel like he's an all-over-the-place eccentric friend that loves to dance, but who is also a quiet genius and I can't help but be in awe of his confidence and the ease of his creativity. Colours is fun and easily the most danceable of all the albums on this list (oh hey there, electro-pop), and is certainly an even more electronically driven sound than this 2014 Morning Phase, but it still feels fresh and consistently interesting. Noteable tracks: Dear Life, Wow.
Zac Brown Band - Welcome Home:
ZBB is my favourite country band. Easily. And Welcome Home felt like a resurgence of the classic bluesy, home-grown sound that makes them so unique. These guys are the soundtrack to summer for me and their range - from country ballads to their hard-hitting rock & roll collaborations (with the likes of artists such as Dave Grohl) show a range that sets them apart in a genre that can, too often, be far too one dimensional. I also finally got to see them live this summer and we had pit tickets, which meant we were metres away from the stage - and the flawless performance - the entire time. It was easily one of the best shows I've ever been to. They're better live then they are recorded and I'd turn around and see them again in a heartbeat.
U2 - Songs of Experience:
U2 is U2. No album of theirs will ever be Joshua Tree (let's be real, no album by anyone anywhere will be Joshua Tree), but after a few slightly disappointing albums over the past few years, Songs of Experience was a pleasant surprise - coming back to the roots of a band that taught me most of what I know and love about rock. And the collaboration with Kendrick on the transition between Get Out of Your Own Way and American Soul: unreal.
Eric Church - 61 Days in Church:
This technically isn't a studio album, but it's a tour released album with 61 songs from the Chief's 2017 Tour. I'm including it here first, because it's just good and second, because I was at his Vancouver show in May and this takes me back. Church is rock & roll meets country meets soul and I'm always reminded that he is in a league all his own in the "country" world. Also, he closed his 3 hour (!!!) show with Loves Me Like Jesus Does and I just about lost my mind (and at that point, had already lost my voice).
Hillsong United: Wonder:
My words for 2017 were: Awe & Wonder, so when this album was released in the spring, I legitmately laughed because it fit so closely with what God was already stirring in my heart. The first single(s) of Wonder were released when I was on my way home from Nepal and I remember listening to them (and JVM's) album on repeat the whole (lonnnnnnng) trip home. When the whole album was released, the almost daily listen continued deep into the fall and it remains one of my most listened to - and influential - albums of the year. Also, So Will I (100 Billion X) was easily THE song of the year for me.
“Have we lost the Wonder?—the hope, the imagination to dream, to believe—the tenderness to listen and lead first with mercy—the grace to empathise—the courage to trust—the fearlessness to love, without pretence or condition. To see beyond the facts without dismissing them. To respond beyond the fear without reciprocating it. To sing beyond the noise, without adding to it. This is the challenge, and this is what worship—if worship can be summed up as an expression of art and music and story—is ultimately designed to do. To elevate the conversation, re-awaken the soul to something other, and lift our eyes to the wonder of a superlative Truth.” - Joel Houston
Will Reagan & United Pursuit - Tell All My Friends:
Will Reagan & UP albums are always beautiful in a deeply formative way. And always seem to become the soundtrack to a season of my life. Tell All My Friends was absolutely that, easily landing itself among my most listened to albums of the year. Particular noteworthy songs: Nothing Without You and Not in a Hurry.
Emilie Weiss - A Song of Ascent:
Technically, an EP, but a solid enough one that I'm letting it make the cut. The lyrics read like poetry and the melodies slow you down and draw you in. This one was the soundtrack to so many early morning walks by the ocean and many quiet nights at home.
Beautiful Eulogy - Worthy:
Beautiful Eulogy at it again, weaving together an album of beauty. These lyrics? The transitions? The narratives painted in the songs? This one has been played over and over and over and I don't expect to remove it from my regular rotation any time soon.
Jessie Early - Wild Honey:
Discovering Jessie Early was one of my top music discoveries this year. This album stopped me mid-work multiple times because I got caught up in the lyrics and sound: a unique electronic meets folk combination. "If you can raise Lazarus up from the dead, surely you can raise up the cynical graves in my head..."
Elevation Worship - Acoustic Sessions:
This album has to make the list credit the sheer amount of air time it received. A lot of my favourites released by Elevation Worship in the past few years revamped for an acoustic session with a slightly less polished sound than most of their studio albums.