Albums are the most accurate way of interpreting where an artist or act is currently at creatively. Through an extended body of work, we’re able to experience the darker corners of an artist’s mind in addition to the sounds we already love and expect based off of previous records. In 2017, scores of artists from a multitude of genres opened up their worlds through the album format, and the 10 LPs below were the most successful in doing so.
Read on and listen in to the 10 best albums of the year, as voted on collectively by the NEST HQ staff.
NEST HQ’s Best of 2017: Albums
*10 albums listed in alphabetical order by artist
Bicep – Bicep [Ninja Tune]
A decade in the making, Bicep’s self-titled debut album represents the ultimate realization of the ethereal dance floor hi-jinks this UK duo set out to achieve, while also expanding their palette into new areas. After “Orca” preludes the world to come, the two-step breaks-inspired “Glue” jumps right into something off-kilter for Bicep, a slowed-down kick affair that continues on tracks like “Ayaya” and “Opal.” Ascendant, wavey jams like “Kites” are offset by ambient numbers like “Drift” and “Vespa,” the latter of which recalls early Burial soundscapes.
The album’s journey is grounded by vocals that stretch and reverb through its cavernous beats, with its midsection bridged by repeat sample appearances from Indian singing legend Late Mangeshkar. It all builds towards the album closer “Aura,” which reaches synth nirvana with gusto and ease, capping the band’s progression of transcendental rises. Bicep shows the band in full form for the first time, and it’s a hell of an album. — NR
Bonobo – Migration [Ninja Tune]
Bonobo is the musical project of Simon Green, known for occupying a space between electronic and organic sounds, with influences in downtempo, jazz, and trip-hop. His sixth album Migration is a significant departure from previous works, and his most sophisticated offering yet. He captures a mesmerizing depth of emotion among a remarkable, all-star cast which lifts the soul from this world, featuring collaborations from Jon Hopkins, Nick Murphy, and Nicole Miglis of OWSLA’s Hundred Waters, to name a few.
Still, the album reads like classic Bonobo, with his patchwork style of production bringing together influences with a touch of human warmth, building monumental landscapes through sound. Focused on subtle shifts and the slow build, rather than a dynamic, short attention span, he creates a cohesive body of work best perused front-to-back. Bonobo strikes a delicate middle-ground with Migration, perhaps why the album earned multiple Grammy nominations, including Best Dance/Electronic Album. — CS
Gorillaz – Humanz [Parlophone]
Every album the Gorillaz have ever put out have always struck me as strange at first, then ultimately had the effect of expanding my musical palate: Humanz was no different. Frenetic, high energy tracks like “Ascension” featuring Vince Staples (a guest spot that totally primed me to check out his Big Fish Theory album, another 2017 favorite) and “Submission” featuring Danny Brown and Kelela both stressed me out at first, but quickly became two of my album favorites. The apocalyptic nature of these songs does create an unsettling feeling, but all you have to do is dance it out – that seems like the whole point of the record.
Other favorites include the guitar-driven creeper “Charger” featuring Grace Jones, and of course the single “Saturnz Barz,” another highly tactile creeper featuring dancehall-style rhymes from Popcaan over Damon Albarn’s distorted, hauntingly monotone vocals. Big ballads like “Let Me Out” featuring Mavis Staples and Pusha T and the uplifting album closer “We Got The Power” featuring Jehnny Beth are testaments to the range of this album when compared to the rest of the songs. Somewhere in the middle of the Humanz spectrum are big-feels crooners like “Busted and Blue” and “Andromeda” featuring D.R.A.M. Even though this is by far the darkest, most peculiar Gorillaz album to date, it has a definite happy ending. — MH
Hundred Waters – Communicating [OWSLA]
Under canvas, Hundred Waters has dug a subterranean passage below the commotion of the industry for years. Reinforced by two full-length LPs, three EPs, and resounding dedication to themselves, they emerge from the crust in the middle of the battlefield. They do not come unarmed, but carry a weapon of beautiful potency: Communicating is the most introspective and immersive work from Hundred Waters, by some distance. They’ve made considerable leaps in songwriting, incorporating new radio hooks and bridges without sacrificing sincerity, and stapled down their distinguished ambient finish to percussion for the first time. All of these calculated actions pull them out from the left field, finally defining their voice within the pop world. – DN
Jacques Greene – Feel Infinite [LuckyMe]
After years of relative silence, Jacques Greene re-emerged forcefully this year with debut album Feel Infinite. It’s clean and possessed with a keen sense of self, traipsing between sentimental arrays of light and sound, teeming with an undercurrent of needling bass inviting you to dance. The only vocal feature comes from How To Dress Well, who take a journey with Greene for the soothing “True.” On “Real Time,” the album’s most aggressive single, the low end juts out like a cliff, imploring all its other elements to lean over the edge. In between, we find serene moments like “Dundas Collapse,” which trip-hops its way towards cathedral-scale soundscapes, and the neurotically bipolar “Afterglow.”
House music might be the foundation of this album’s heights, but its depths extend far beyond those constraints, finding Jacques Greene in a space of his own. Then, he went out of his way to allow other artists access to his creations by open-sourcing the album’s stems for maximal impact, being generous with his art. Feel Infinite is a master work, and even better seen live, where he restitches its elements on a custom set-up. — NR
Kendrick Lamar – DAMN. [Top Dawg Entertainment]
In an era where the top of the charts are filled with hollow ear candy versus truly soulful songs, Kendrick Lamar’s feats are all the more impressive. All 14 tracks from DAMN. charted the Billboard Hot 100, spending 21 straight weeks in the top five, and “HUMBLE.” was Kendrick’s first number one as a lead artist. Full with lyrical dexterity, captivating stories, a Steve Lacy (The Internet) guitar-driven beat on “Pride,” and the hardest bars of the year on “DNA” – this album makes the case that Kendrick is the most prolific rapper in the game right now. — MP
King Krule – The OOZ [True Panther]
If music is an ocean, undulating currents taking hold of anything without firmly planted roots, then King Krule is an island – firm and strong amidst the changing patterns of this sea. An account of profound sadness, The OOZ is a soul binge, a direct representation of everything King Krule is. There are no frills, no pop hooks, no radio singles, only music stemmed from the pits of Archy Marshall’s fiery core. It’s one of the best albums I’ve heard in the last decade. At just twenty-three years of age, Archy shows learned patience, and The OOZ is wonderfully balanced and thoughtful. Sonic trials bleed into ballads. Jazzy, spoken-word interludes rush into rusted screams more suited for abandoned venues than headphones. Archy guides us like a wasted but coherent veteran through stories that outline broken homes and grief stricken hearts. Still, the album achieves a tone of refinement – one of peeling dead skin or trimming overgrown nails. The album highlights this refinement, and the ooze that comes from shedding away filth. — DN
The War On Drugs – A Deeper Understanding [Atlantic]
It’s not as common these days for a rock band’s lead to take as much production involvement as Adam Granduciel does with his music, but it permits him a totality of vision with seamless execution. A Deeper Understanding sees The War on Drugs at their best, making rock music for today that fits forever. The more contemplative, upbeat moments, like opener “Up All Night” and the fleeting “Nothing To Find,” balance out the depths of emotional ballads like “Strangest Thing,” the twinkling “Holding On,” and eleven-minute epic “Thinking of a Place.”
The War on Drugs has often been described to me as a sunset band, and indeed, my first experience seeing them live took place at Coachella during a fading Indio sunset. A Deeper Understanding contains the wide range of colors they achieve during their live set, allowing them to shoot through the music like spotlights: no wonder it got a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Album. — NR
Thundercat – Drunk [Brainfeeder]
When you think of best albums of the year, it is impossible not to immediately think of Thundercat’s twenty-three track wallop of a release, Drunk. The bass prodigy/lyrical genius himself is the musical embodiment of Adult Swim style weirdness in the best way possible. Drunk is the perfect combination of world-class improvisational jazz music and a hilarious stand up comedy special. It’s like Seinfeld if they focused on the intro music instead of the show. It’s everything I’ve come to love and expect from Thundercat, and way more.
With hits like “Show You the Way” with Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins, “Them Changes,” and “Walk on By” with Kendrick Lamar, this album is absolutely one of the most unique funk/soul/acid jazz works of the 21st century. Hands down, no argument. He even won a Grammy for his appearance on Kendrick’s “These Walls” on To Pimp a Butterfly in 2016. Drunk, available through his home label Brainfeeder, is by far his best work yet and should be a go-to album for any funk, jazz, or comedy aficionado. — NB
Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory [Def Jam]
What made Long Beach rapper Vince Staples’ album Big Fish Theory so great was not the fact that it is good hip-hop, well-made, or thoroughly captivating (although it easily nails all three). It is the fact that Vince took a ballsy chance on taking hip-hop to a level it hasn’t been before (afaik): UK garage and club music. This was no accident, either. He knew exactly what he was doing, enlisting powerhouse producers SOPHIE, Flume, Jimmy Edgar, GTA, Alpha Pup’s Zack Sekoff, and Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon amongst others. The features cement Big Fish Theory’s impressive stature in the hip-hop space as well: Kendrick Lamar, Juicy J, Ty Dolla $ign, and A$AP Rocky to name a few.
If you want a Too Short-style track, hit “Big Fish.” If you want something to complement a Burial playlist, try “Crabs In A Bucket.” Feeling dark and twisted? “Yeah Right.” There is something for everybody on this album. It’s a risky Hail Mary for any artist to try something this left-field, yet Vince hits a massive game-winning touchdown, and with flying colors. I’ve been playing this album front to back since it came out. In fact, I bought it on CD three times. The packaging really ties it all together: clear case with a big-ass gold fish inside. — NB
Come back tomorrow for the 10 Best Videos of 2017, and then again Friday for NEST HQ’s 10 Best Producers of 2017 and Who To Watch in 2018..