In Brief: Björk’s longest album to date is one of her happiest and most peaceful. It’s also one of her most baffling and exhausting. Longtime fans will find echoes of some of her classic works here, and will also probably appreciate the more ambient/avant-garde new direction as well. But song-for-song, this may be her most difficult album to appreciate as a whole since Medúlla.
Artist: Tennis Album: We Can Die Happy EP Year: 2017 Grade: A-
In Brief: A worthy companion piece to one of 2017’s most blissful indie pop records. There’s a slight bit more bounce to a few of these, but still, the band could have slipped any of them on to Yours Conditionally and they’d have been right at home.
Artist: Christine Denté Album: Closer to Free EP Year: 2017 Grade: B
In Brief: A delightful morsel of mellow pop music from one of the very first pop singers I ever fell in love with. This is probably the closest that Christine as a solo artist has come to the classic Out of the Grey sound – just imagine more of a keyboard-based take on that, with the usual understated but smart songwriting, and you’ll have some idea of what to expect here.
Artist: Rina Sawayama Album: RINA EP Year: 2017 Grade: B+
In Brief: You can call it pop, you can call it youthful, you can call it a throwback… you can even call it teenybopper if you want. Just don’t call it shallow. While this isn’t a style I dabble in often, I appreciate Rina’s smart commentary on contemporary Internet culture, wrapped up in the popular sounds of her own childhood from before social media was even a thing.
Artist: U2 Album: Songs of Experience Year: 2017 Grade: B-
In Brief: While the message on several songs is more vital and relevant than anything U2’s done in years, and the callbacks to tracks on Songs of Innocence are much appreciated, the music itself feels tired and restrained, even sometimes on the tracks that are supposed to have a darker mood or a heavier crunch. For a band with the enduring ambition to keep reinventing itself four decades into its career, U2 still hasn’t managed to shake the overly clinical production and instrumentation that plagues a lot of their 21st century output. I’m always thrilled to have something new from these guys, but this one feels more like work and less like joy each time I try to process it, and that’s coming from someone with a high tolerance for U2 trying to subvert the sound of classic U2.
Artist: Barenaked Ladies Album: Fake Nudes Year: 2017 Grade: B
In Brief: I’m not gonna pretend any of this is super deep, or that the band could ever replace the unique voice of Steven Page, but it’s time for us to get over that. Fake Nudes, despite the awkward title, is a lighthearted, fun, and occasionally even beautiful pop/rock record with just enough curveballs to remind me that the group’s still got some of that old creative spark left.
Out of the increasingly eclectic list of albums that makes its way into my Spotify playlists (and eventually my physical collection, wherever possible), here’s the stuff that I enjoyed the most in 2017, and that I would absolutely recommend, with no reservations, to anyone whose favorite type of music can best be described as “stuff that challenges me in some way but that is always super catchy”. (Is that not a musical genre? it should be.)