Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie (Photo: Geneviève Elverum); Molly Rankin of Alvvays (Photo: Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Coachella); and Franklin James Fisher of Algiers (Photo: Dustin Condren). Graphic: Emma Mckhann.

The best albums that didn’t make our best-albums list

Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie (Photo: Geneviève Elverum); Molly Rankin of Alvvays (Photo: Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Coachella); and Franklin James Fisher of Algiers (Photo: Dustin Condren). Graphic: Emma Mckhann.

As we said in our list of the Best Music Of 2017—as we say every year—winnowing all the thousands of albums that are released annually down to a mere 20, based on trying to find consensus among our reviewers’ widely differing tastes, is a difficult and, ultimately, meaningless task. Music is among the most subjective of arts, and there are endless ways in which it can be performed and appreciated, but never satisfyingly ranked. So consider that list, and the attendant individual ballots, a starting guide for checking out some of the year’s best releases, of which there were many. In this list, you’ll find even more.

Algiers, The Underside Of Power

Some 50 percent of all albums released this year were deemed “timely” or “a response to Trump.” But few deserved that dubious weight of expectation—or lived up to it—quite like Algiers’ The Underside Of Power. The second album from the Atlanta group bristles with politically charged anger, but it rarely feels pedantic, instead channeling the protesting spirit of the Antifa and Black Lives Matter movements into a marching procession of invigorating soul-punk tent revivals. In his elastic baritone, Franklin James Fisher howls with righteous, gospel-preacher fury over an incredibly 21st-century mashup of industrial noise, hip-hop stomp, Suicide-derived post-punk, and Motown swagger. It sounds like a lot, because it is—because it has to be. This has been a heavy year; Algiers helped us shoulder it. [Sean O’Neal]

Alvvays, Antisocialites

Alvvays managed to meet—and vastly exceed—any expectations for its sophomore album. With Antisocialites, the Torontonian indie outfit delivered one of the most concise and consistent rock albums of the year, a collection of tracks that bounce between sugary punk and hazy dream pop. Holding those two sides together is singer Molly Rankin, who describes Antisocialites as a “fantasy breakup arc,” with much of it dedicated to sorting the flood of emotions that come along with ending a relationship. Rankin transitions between strength, elation, and remorse and longing with ease, often peppering her thoughts with sharp jabs at all the men who let her down. It’s alternately heartbreaking and brutally funny, and it cements her as one of the most versatile, witty, and exciting voices in pop music. [Matt Gerardi]

Joey Badass, All-Amerikkkan Badass

It’s unusual for such seething sociopolitical anger to find itself contained in such arena-ready hooks and production. On his sophomore album, Joey Badass lost none of the percussion-centric boom-bap that filled his debut, but instead expanded his music ambitions, going after the sound of appealing, spit-polished radio-friendly loops while maintaining the backpack-rap aesthetics that made him such an engaging figure in the first place. A smart and absorbing mix of those contrasting sensibilities between old-school indie vibes and contemporary top-40 production, All-American Badass ends up with a bit of the best of both worlds, whether he’s amiably exhorting us to our better natures or furiously declaiming the ongoing political crisis and psychological battle for the souls of young black men in this country. More often than not, both sentiments can be contained in the same couplet, let alone verse. But even under all that heavy material, All-Amerikkkan Badass is all about the bounce. [Alex McLevy]

Phoebe Bridgers, Stranger In The Alps

Can an album be filled with self-doubt while also massively self-assured? Phoebe Bridgers’ debut has both bases covered: She examines her own weaknesses on “Killer” and her own unstoppable melancholy on “Funeral,” but she does it with such clarity of purpose, it sounds like she’s beating them just by confronting them. A couple of songs on Stranger In The Alps, her debut, feel like Elliott Smith as rendered by Joni Mitchell—two comparisons Bridgers would almost certainly cop to (and perhaps feel unworthy of). [Josh Modell]

Brockhampton, Saturation/Saturation II

All year long, I ran across Brockhampton, the 14-member self-professed “boy band.” Various primers urged me to get to know them better. Viceland made a whole TV show about them. Spotify’s algorithms insisted upon them. The crew—guided by Kevin Abstract but also containing other rappers, producers, visual artists, and more—have an effortlessly zeitgeist-y feel that’s expressed across a pair of 2017 records, and they’re all the introduction you need, cramming together dozens of ideas, tracks, and verses into their respective 50 minutes or so. Abstract may be the breakout star—his story is the clearest told throughout—but there’s something glorious about a big, unruly rap crew, and these records find it pulling off nearly everything it tries: Miguel freak R&B; in-the-red Soundcloud-rap menace; smartass Das Racist fly shit; post-Kendrick, West Coast bump; shimmering, radio-ready pop-rap. According to their extremely 2017 origin story, many of the members met on a Kanye West fan forum, and—in the best possible way—it definitely sounds like it, with Kanye’s curatorial instincts serving as the connective glue between a whole bunch of talents. Sometimes more really is better. [Clayton Purdom]

Alessandro Cortini, Avanti

Although they are all inviting in their own way, Alessandro Cortini’s solo records can feel slightly detached—a byproduct of their creation, perhaps, which finds the Nine Inch Nails synthesist improvising on a single piece of vintage equipment, riding the crests of tonal dirges and twiddling knobs. But Avanti is another, more human beast entirely: Inspired by a box of old Super 8 home movies inherited from his late grandfather, Cortini created a soundtrack to accompany these lost, flickering, degrading memories, an album that folds in samples of his family’s voices over digital-choral swells and warm, burbling organ tones that were generated entirely on an old EMS Synthi AKS, its frailties and Cortini’s fuck-ups intact. Despite its completely synthetic structure, the music feels steeped in flesh-and-blood compassion, wistfulness, and personal loss. It’s one of the year’s most surprisingly emotionally affecting albums. [Sean O’Neal]

Luca D’Alberto, Endless

If you only engage this year with one neoclassical composer who’s as well known for his contributions to Lars Von Trier soundtracks as for his work with Berlin’s Jewish Museum, make it Luca D’Alberto. His new Endless is a restless and searching album, with cascading pianos and strings interlacing repeatedly in compositions that slowly insinuate themselves into your psyche. With minor-key motifs and mournful bridges, these pieces are united by their shared interest in the numbing effects of overstimulation, utilizing spare digressions and unexpected shifts in tempo and tone to pull the listener out of the normal paces of the day, both emotionally and physically. Despite the more lush orchestration, it’s a record reminiscent of Philip Glass’ Solo Piano—a singular work that, once heard, becomes almost impossible to forget. [Alex McLevy]

Elder, Reflections Of A Floating World

Bell Witch’s exhaustingly elegiac Mirror Reaper was rightfully named The A.V. Club’s favorite metal record of 2017, but for those who prefer flying-V virtuosity to depressive atmosphere, might this part-time metalhead humbly recommend the nonstop awesome that is Reflections Of A Floating World? Acrobatic shredding is a specialty of Boston three-piece Elder, whose prior releases (like 2015’s terrific Lore) brought a staggering, twisting technical prowess to the desert crunch of stoner rock. On Reflections, these electric wizards offer their most tuneful collection of anthems yet, crafting giant riffs and solos that don’t just get the head banging—they get stuck there, too. It’s an ass-kicking reminder that the heaviest of genres can be pretty damn fun, at least when it isn’t crushing you under the weight of death’s unstoppable, uncaring advance. [A.A. Dowd]

Grizzly Bear, Painted Ruins

Amid the sudden onset of mid-’00s nostalgia, and in a year dominated by “comeback” narratives for indie-rock groups barely a decade old and other, rapidly-aging-cool-kid kvetching, it was kind of easy to overlook that Grizzly Bear made yet another beautiful album. No blog-friendly hook here; no personal drama to be mined (not that some didn’t try). Painted Ruins is just more lovely, lovingly crafted songs from one of the most talented collectives working today—this time layering a few deeper grooves into the mix, allowing a spot of intriguing roughness to enter those once-pristine arrangements, and, most excitingly, giving equal time to all of its individually accomplished songwriting voices. It’s an album that demands repeated listens. Luckily, we have longer than just this news-cycle-driven year to do so. [Sean O’Neal]

Tee Grizzley, My Moment

In the space of 14 months, Tee Grizzley has gone from prison to one of the hottest up-and-coming MCs in hip-hop, a turnaround that probably surprised everyone but the Detroit-based rapper. As he says in the new “Win,” “Look in my eyes, nigga / I’ma win / I’ma get this money, nigga / I’ma live.” That single-minded focus permeates My Moment, in which Grizzley reflects on the missteps that landed him in jail, the havoc it wreaked on his family, the friends and family he’s lost, and his determination to succeed now that he has the chance. My Moment has plenty of the usual hip-hop posturing, but Grizzley shines best when he reveals the sensitive soul beneath it: “They wonder why my heart is so numb / I saw so much when I so young,” Grizzley sings at the beginning of the pensive “Day Ones.” Since My Moment dropped in April, Grizzley has stayed prolific, hitting the studio with Meek Mill, collaborating on a mixtape with Lil Durk due out this month, and recording a new album, Activated, expected any day now. He looks like he’s just getting started. [Kyle Ryan]

Guerilla Toss, GT Ultra

Guerilla Toss’ mix of danceable no-wave dissonance, spoken-word lyrics, and sludgy instrumentation made it one of the most intriguing acts to come out of Boston’s experimental music scene. Several releases into a deal with DFA Records came GT Ultra, which finds the band streamlining that sound into its funkiest, most digestible album yet. To listen to it in full is to let the band take you on a 29-minute-long cartoon acid trip, its chirping synths and merciless pace dousing the world with candy color while the ever-present slimy wah-wah bass melts reality away. It still isn’t exactly an easy listen, but the barbs have been sanded down to the perfect point, keeping Guerilla Toss’ work thrillingly weird while also letting it be thrillingly tuneful. [Matt Gerardi]

Japandroids, Near To The Wild Heart Of Life

Japandroids had a couple things going against Near To The Wild Heart Of Life come year-end list time. First, the album was released in late January—a lifetime ago after these grueling 12 months. Second, there is the long, considerable shadow cast by 2012’s classic Celebration Rock. The fist-pumping anthems that colored that album—and are still Japandroids’ forte—are eased up on somewhat with Near To The Wild Heart Of Life, which finds the band working with a broader sonic palette. That includes, for instance, “Arc Of Bar,” a seven-and-a-half-minute slow burn at the album’s midpoint and Japandroids’ most ambitious song to date, stacking keyboards, guitars, and vocals into a complex whole. The song rewards close, repeated listens, but it lacks the giddy rush of the album-opening title track, a worthy successor to the Celebration Rock’s incredible “The House That Heaven Built.” Even if Near To The Wild Heart Of Life can’t match its predecessor, it at least finds Japandroids avoiding complacency. [Kyle Ryan]

Kelela, Take Me Apart

Though it didn’t crack our top-20 list like SZA’s CTRL or Sampha’s Process, two of the year’s similarly anticipated R&B debuts, Kelela’s Take Me Apart is an incredibly self-assured album that has its own intimate appeal. Kelela is known for the kind of undeniable jams found on her EPs Cut 4 Me (2013) and Hallucinogen (2015), and Take Me Apart has its fair share of those: “Frontline,” “LMK,” “Waitin,” “Blue Light.” But it also lets the D.C. native stretch out with more atmospheric tracks like the Arca-produced “Enough” and “Turn To Dust,” and overall it allows the singer to luxuriate in the many different textures of its meticulous Janet-meets-Björk aesthetic. It’s an intoxicating experience. [Kelsey J. Waite]

Mount Eerie, A Crow Looked At Me

“When real death enters the house, all poetry is dumb,” Phil Elverum numbly croaks on A Crow Looked At Me, the album he made to mourn his wife, cartoonist Geneviève Castrée, who died of cancer last summer. The artist sometimes known as Mount Eerie will more than once insist that there’s no art to the grieving process—that when talking about his unspeakable loss, words fail him. But there is poetry in these blunt, wrenching folk dirges, so instrumentally unadorned that some critics seemed to approach the album less as music than therapy, too personal to even evaluate. And words don’t fail Elverum, who chronicles his uphill battle against grief in evocative vignette, soberly setting scene after scene: throwing out Castrée’s belongings, scattering her ashes, retreating to a nature that offers no comfort or commiseration. A Crow Looked At Me gives great pain a voice, and that’s almost unbearably beautiful, though it’s not exactly shocking that the album didn’t make our master list. In a year of such horror and heartbreak, reaching for a record this crushingly sad is borderline masochistic. [A.A. Dowd]

Not Waving, Good Luck

Alessio Natalizia is one of the best electronic producers working today, his Not Waving project girding a frenzied, wobbly smear of techno with post-punk grit, then making it all accessibly club-ready without ever coming off as pandering. As demonstrated on this year’s Good Luck—which follows directly on the heels of his 2016 best-of contender Animals—he also has a wicked sense of gallows humor. Good Luck is a clever, cathartic delight, a wryly futurist smash in which Natalizia fizzes through the electroclash existential crises of “Where Are We” (featuring an appropriately deadpan Marie Davidson), skewers the shallow and self-involved on “Me Me Me” and “Watch Yourself,” and hits a hypnotic high with the internal rave monologue “Tool (I Don’t Give A Shit).” It’s a collection of smart, snarky bangers for dance music skeptics to move to. [Sean O’Neal]

Ratboys, GN

GN is far from a record that grips you instantly, but for those willing to spend some time with its subtle pleasures, it becomes one of the year’s more rewarding. Part of that is due to Julia Steiner’s unaffected, measured vocals: Her delivery almost sounds apologetic for intruding, yet a closer attentiveness reveals an engaging, fiercely intelligent lyricist whose strain-to-hear-them style is indicative of the band’s music as a whole. Country-tinged alt-pop with a penchant for easy, rambling rhythms is a simple enough sound to let fade into pleasant mediocrity, but Ratboys has a tendency to flip standard, nod-your-head melodies on their side, injecting bursts of brash distortion and ambitious elements of harder-hitting rock and shoegaze into the mix. There are still the occasional acoustic nods to the group’s quieter, folksier past, but the band makes a confident stride forward into more arresting territory on GN, an artsy roots-rock that unabashedly makes a play for this-album-could-be-your-life emotional honesty. It succeeds. [Alex McLevy]

Sløtface, Try Not To Freak Out

There’s a common assumption that the more polished the production, the less kick. But in the case of Sløtface’s debut, Try Not To Freak Out, the opposite is true: These are slices of sunny-side-up pop punk (emphasis on the pop) that gain their power from the contrast of the edges-sanded-off music and the tart, sly vocals of singer Haley Shea. What initially comes across as a joyous, cleverly arranged set of hummable tunes gain depth and unexpected emotional force through repeated listening, as previously unnoticed dark elements start to peek out from beneath the sleek radio-friendly songcraft. Whether it’s Shea sharp evisceration of yet another faux-sensitive guy strumming an acoustic guitar, or simply the hearty rallying cry of “Patti Smith would never put up with this shit” from album opening “Magazine,” the record bubbles over with sing-along choruses that double as incisive statements of purpose. [Alex McLevy]

Slowdive, Slowdive

Who would have guessed that Slowdive’s first album in more than two decades wouldn’t only avoid sullying the legacy of the shoegaze greats’ perfect, abbreviated discography, but would actually rival it? Anyone who followed most of that group’s members over to Mojave 3, perhaps, where they kept intact the chemistry that fed a successful run of Slowdive reunion shows in 2014. Still, rehashing glory days is one thing; it’s quite another to extend them with a fresh collection of songs that dare to revisit one of the most rehashed sounds in modern rock, yet still find new shades and directions within it. Slowdive combines the celestial swirl of Souvlaki and the layered atmospherics of Pygmalion, then reshapes them with an unexpected, newly road-honed knack for crafting some surprisingly big pop moments. It’s the one thing a new album from a long-dormant band rarely is: essential. [Sean O’Neal]

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, The Kid

After breaking out with 2016’s excellent EARS, electronic composer Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith released her most ambitious and accessible album to date with The Kid. Written after the loss of a dear friend, it celebrates the life cycle across four distinct stages—a grand undertaking that Smith manages to richly explore in just 52 cosmic minutes. It’s territory rife with opportunities for sentimentalism, but she renders these 13 songs with the right balance of tenderness and frankness, along with a willful playfulness that lingers well after the album’s last pulsating signals fade. Against most modern listening habits, The Kid begs to be heard in one sitting, but poppier structures throughout give more casual synth-pop fans an in to her glorious, nature-inspired modular synthscapes. [Kelsey J. Waite]

Worriers, Survival Pop

When it comes time for future historians to collect the cultural artifacts that capture 2017, they should save some space for Worriers’ Survival Pop. It’s right there in the album title (and band name). But the album reflects less on the current presidential administration and its ripple effects than the experiences of singer-guitarist Lauren Denitzio, from grappling with sexual identity to health issues to personal tragedy. Denitzio still leaves plenty of room for what’s happening right now, particularly on standout track “What We’re Up Against” and the gender politics of “Best Fear/Worst Fantasy.” No matter the topic, Denitzio addresses it with hook-laden pop punk and insightful turns of phrase, helping the anxiety go down easy. [Kyle Ryan]