1. Ryan Adams – Prisoner
I went through a hugely obsessive Ryan Adams phase in the years leading up to Prisoner’s release, so to say that this one was highly anticipated is understating things a bit. A lot of Adams’ diehards tend to endlessly wish for the return of their alt-country hero in all of his Cardinals/Whiskeytown glory, but the great thing about Adams is that he’s endlessly evolving musically. Overall, Prisoner is a rocker, but with real peaks and valleys, lyrically, emotionally, and sonically. So, while the Alt-Country fans won’t entirely get what they want, Adams still churns out another installment of something he’s become an expert at – the break-up album. And this one might somehow stand as THE break-up album in his catalog. Check out the B-Sides album he released shortly after if you want more spectacular break-up tunes.
2. The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
The War on Drug’s 2014 album Lost in the Dream took them from lesser-known indie rockers to “how have you not heard of The War on Drugs?!” faster than you can buy tighter jeans and a knit hat. I definitely enjoyed Lost in the Dream, but outside of a few tracks, the album as a whole never fully clicked with me. A Deeper Understanding basically takes the sonic canvas they established in Lost in the Dream and expands it ten-fold, making it the audio equivalent of going from VHS to Blu-Ray. Everything is just bigger, crisper, and more refined in the best of ways. It’s a truly gorgeously produced and written rock album – enough said.
3. Queens of the Stone Age – Villains
Like my recent Ryan Adams obsession, I went through a recent deep dive into all things Josh Homme just before the release of Villains. So, I was fully ready to receive the new Queens album in all of its desert-rocking, gnarly glory. Then it was announced they decided to work with Uptown Funk pop producer Mark Ronson. Queens fans collectively gasped, cried foul, and changed their rock fists to middle fingers. Luckily, while Villains certainly is a more mainstream album, the new sound doesn’t diminish anything that makes Queens of the Stone Age great. The ‘bat outta hell” desert rock sound is still there, but now you can boogie to it a bit more. I’m all for it – hell, it may not have my favorite Queens songs on it, but Villains might be my favorite Queens album front to back.
4. The Killers – Wonderful, Wonderful
Unlike the bands above, I’ve always been a fan of The Killers. Like most of the world, their debut, Hot Fuss, hit me like a ton of bricks – but it wasn’t until the band’s second release, Sam’s Town, that The Killers became cemented as a band I would follow anywhere. So far, for my money, they’ve yet to make a bad record. Wonderful, Wonderful not only continues their tradition of solid pop-rock albums, but sees them opening up both musically and lyrically. Brandon Flowers is usually pretty heavy on characters and metaphors, but this time the lyrics are quite purposely more clear and personal. It’s the extra something that makes Wonderful, Wonderful truly special.
5. Paramore – After Laughter
Yes – it surprises me to put a Paramore album on my best-of list in any year, let alone 2017. I’ve always been fairly middle of the road with Paramore. I neither loved nor hated them. I couldn’t even tell you how the songs on their last couple records sound. And yet, here we are. I can see Paramore’s hardcore fans not loving After Laughter, as it ditches their former hard rock sound completely in favor of a far more retro pop-infused rock. I, personally, love a good pop record when it’s done right, and After Laughter is the epitome of a good pop record. Great dance-y hooks, vocally and instrumentally, backed up by some genuinely compelling and heartbreaking lyrics. I was shocked how good the album was when I first heard it. Somehow, many spins later, the feeling has not faded.
6. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Who Built the Moon?
It took me a while to appreciate Oasis, but when I came around, I really came around. Noel and Liam’s records since the break-up have been admittedly hit-or-miss; however, 2017 gave us two great albums from the estranged Gallagher brothers. Who Built the Moon? is the first record that finds Noel fully abandoning the Oasis sound altogether. It’s poppy, experimental, & lushly orchestrated – all while somehow still sounding distinctly like Noel.
7. St. Vincent – MASSEDUCTION
St. Vincent is hard to categorize. Does she make Pop? Art-Rock? Funk? Electro? The answer to all of those questions is yes – and then some. And the blend of the genres only becomes more and more interesting with each album. MASSEDUCTION may be her strange little masterpiece. It’s impressive on basically all levels – production, song-writing, instrumentation, lyricism. It rides the line of extremely accessible and experimental perfectly. It may be a cliché hipster choice, but it’s a damn good record.
8. Liam Gallagher – As You Were
While Liam's brother Noel’s record (see above) was experimental and completely runs away from the Oasis sound, little bother Liam’s first “solo” outing feels very much like an album that runs willingly toward all that was Oasis. I’d fault him for it, but the songs are still surprisingly solid. More straight-ahead rockers from one of the modern greats? Take it and like it.
9. Low Cut Connie – Dirty Pictures (Part 1)
Low Cut Connie consistently makes great rock n’ roll. Their last album, Hi Honey, was one of my favorites of 2015. Dirty Pictures (Part 1) takes the classic Sticky Fingers-era Rolling Stones vibe of Hi Honey and mixes in a dash of Elton and a bit of Paul to create an equally tasty old-school rocker.
10. Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile - Lotta Sea Lice
This one was a grower for me. Initially I was underwhelmed a bit because I wanted more of a rocker like Courtney's last album. After a long break, I returned to it with new expectations and had a completely different reaction to it. It's been growing on me with each listen every since. Give it a shot if you need a good, quirky album for a relaxing weekend morning.
Honorable Mentions/Other Straight-UP Bangers from 2017:
The Shins – Heartworms
John Mayer – The Search for Everything
Haim – Something to Tell You
Arcade Fire - Everything Now
Greta Van Fleet – From the Fires
Royal Blood – How Did We Get So Dark?
Cory Chisel & Adriel Denae – Tell Me True
MuteMath – Play Dead
Chris Thile – Thanks for Listening
Susto - & I’m Fine Today
Dan Auerbach – Waiting on a Song
LCD Soundsystem – American Dream
Father John Misty – Pure Comedy
Beck – Colors