Best of 2017: St. Vincent, Lorde, SZA lead the year’s 10 best albums

St. Vincent. Photo by Getty Images.
St. Vincent. Photo by Getty Images.

This is my third year making a Best Albums list, and it's probably the most fun I've had.

Unlike 2015 (Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly) and 2016 (Beyonce's Lemonade or David Bowie's Blackstar), there is no overwhelming critical consensus for No. 1. That made this a great year for listmaking, as you're seeing a little more diversity of choice than in the past.

Here are the 10(ish) that defined the year for me.

10: Ryan Adams, Prisoner: Once again, Adams' prolificacy dings him — if I could combine and condense the 29 songs of Prisoner and its follow-up Prisoner B-Sides into one tighter LP, it might contend for No. 1. But on its own, Prisoner is a sonic and lyrical triumph — a painful breakup album that lovingly and painstakingly recreates the sounds and textures of early-'80s FM guitar rock.

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9. Calvin Harris, Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1: Harris's talent for shape-shifting with the winds of dance music is fascinating. Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 pulls more from vintage electro-funk and soul than any Euro-disco trend, and as a result is the year's most consistent party album. Cameos from a who's who of pop and hip-hop —Katy Perry, Ariana Grande, Nicki Minaj, Frank Ocean, Migos, Future, the list is endless — doesn't hurt.

8. Spoon, Hot Thoughts: The blog-rock boom of the mid-2000s returned in a big way in 2017, with new albums by LCD Soundsystem, the Shins and the Killers making waves. The best of the bunch was Hot Thoughts, a caffeinated collection of crackling dance-rock calibrated to score your most primal urges.

7. Kendrick Lamar, DAMN.: DAMN. falters only in comparison to Lamar's previous conceptual masterpieces, To Pimp a Butterfly and Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City. Otherwise, the furious power of HUMBLE. and DNA. and epic storytelling of DUCKWORTH. and FEAR. are classic, incomparable K.Dot.

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6. Khalid, American Teen: With his sleepy, mumbly croon, Khalid doesn't fit the mold of a traditional R&B star. Which is perfect, because he's not. American Teen details the complicated business of falling in and out of love when you're penniless, phone-bound and still figuring out who you are.

5. Haim, Something to Tell You: Alana, Este and Danielle Haim proudly flaunt their influences — Fleetwood Mac (Nothing's Wrong), Wilson Phillips (Want You Back), Bruce Springsteen (Little Of Your Love), George Michael (Ready For It), Annie Lennox (Found It In Silence). But rather than sounding imitative, the sisters infuse each song with their signature enthusiasm and unmatched vocal chemistry.

4. Lorde, Melodrama: From the euphoric rush of Green Light to the acute self-awareness of Perfect Places, Lorde again proves wise beyond her years, detailing the sensation of being "19 and … on fire" at a party where she's no longer certain she wants to be. It's an assured, audacious and auspicious leap forward.

3. SZA, Ctrl: SZA knocks out flawless slow jams like Broken Clocks and Wavy (Interlude), while her jazz-inflected voice turns Love Galore and The Weekend into something dreamier and more captivating. And songs like Drew Barrymore, Prom and Supermodel push listeners out of any preconceived notion of how R&B should sound.

2. Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, The Rest of Our Life: It took 21 years for Nashville's king and queen to drop their first dual album, but this pristinely produced collection was worth the wait. Its best moments harken back to the pop power balladry of the early '90s — you can hear Celine Dion or Diane Warren on Speak to a Girl, Break Free and The Rest of Our Life — while pushing the boundaries of how mainstream country can sound. An album this anticipated had to be nearly perfect to live up to expectations. Amazingly, it was.

1. St. Vincent, Masseduction: It's all been building to this. The glitchy metallic glint of St. Vincent, the thundering depth of Strange Mercy, the luminous melodies of Marry Me and Actor — St. Vincent's fifth and best album funnels it all into a electric panorama of lust and loss that challenges your sense while sticking to your eardrums. "I can't turn off what turns me on," she wails on the title track, co-written with co-producer Jack Antonoff — nor should she try. There is ache in her voice as she sings about exes ("New York isn't New York without you, love"; "How can anybody have you and lose you and not lose their minds, too?") and fury in the fingers that fuel her churning, industrial guitars. There are echoes of David Bowie, INXS and Nine Inch Nails — with hints of Erotica-era Madonna slinking just below the surface — but fusing them all into Masseduction is all St. Vincent.

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DieAlps!, Our City: Comparing local and national albums always feels a little apples-and-oranges, but the debut LP from Tampa's DieAlps! is as good as any indie rock record you'll hear this year. Largely breaking from the waltz-inspired alt-pop of their early days, husband-and-wife singers Frank and Connie Calcaterra commit to a joyous rush of guitars, pianos and melodies that sound pulled straight off mid-'90s college rock radio. If your best-of-2017 list includes the National, Waxahatchee or Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile, you should make room for DieAlps!, too.

— Jay Cridlin