One would think that this buffoonery of a post-fact society we spent 365 days pushing on would have produced one of the most dense art reactions ever.

In many ways it did — Lyricist of the Year, Kendrick Lamar, wrote the most aggressively political albums of his career, and arguably the best of the bunch, here, certifying his voice in a timeless canon of luminaries exploring what it means to be black in America.

Meanwhile, a female-fronted group of punks from DC, Priests, addressed the absurd inequality of women’s equality that still exists, fellow DC-native, rapper Oddissee, held up a mirror toward other elements of humanity’s deterioration and Nashville country starlet Margo Price posited your existential choice in the midst of it all with one of two options: “You either came from an ape/Or the dad of a magic man up on a cross.”

Though for every political reaction there were a handful of other artists cooking up insular explorations in emotional beauty just the same, as with Kevin Morby‘s excellent metropolis lonerisms on City Music, or Thundercat‘s jazz journeys on Drunk.

So same as it ever was, left-foot, right-foot people, here’s to the album class of 2017 helping us get through it all.

Freddie GibbsYou Only Live 2wice

Few have had as difficult a year as Freddie Gibbs. At the height of his popularity and smack dab in the middle of his Shadow of a Doubt tour he was arrested on allegations of sexual abuse. He denied all charges and was eventually acquitted, but not without spending 37 days in jail and spending over $100,000 in bail. The experience was inspiration for the aptly titled You Only Live 2wice. Gibbs was already a prolific storyteller, but on his fourth studio album he takes his talents to the next level; divulging some of his biggest fears while fighting for his freedom. It’s not all about his court case either. The album also delves into his dreams, and how motivated he is to achieve them. Fame and fortune are not his primary goals anymore, it’s about immortality now; a man trying to become a god: [LISTEN] – Jeff Min

Kendrick LamarDAMN.

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, Kendrick Lamar follows up his highly touted To Pimp a Butterfly with another classic album in DAMN.. That makes three in a row, which in popular culture is an almost unheard of feat. With no drop off to speak of, Kendrick jumps right back into his highly stylized method of writing. He has a knack for changing the pitch and tone of his voice to match the intensity of his lyrics. At its best, DAMN. represents the frustrations, hopes and dreams of millions of young black men and women. Never does he succumb to didactic homilies or bland platitudes; always pushing the gamut and trusting his gut every step of the way. It’s been a magical run, and with every drop he gets one step closer to obtaining G.O.A.T. status: [LISTEN] – J.M.

Kevin MorbyCity Music

Most of his solo catalogue post-Woods bassist duties, as Morby corroborated earlier this summer to NPR, has a certain dark-wave folk-rock weight to it — “long and daunting if you’re not in the mood.” This holds true for LP4 here, City Music, saturated with the often tortured spirits and dreams he’s encountered on his own city adventures. There are sun-spots like the freewheelin’ Ramones tribute “1234” and “Aboard My Train,” the latter a cruising bar-room feel-good salute to everyone he’s known and loved bound around sweet-goodbye imagery with friends departing at different train stations, but the rest of the record is a more contemplative affair, wrought with a recurring recluse character who fears the sunlight (“Come to me Now,” “Tin Can,” and “Night Time”) and the loneliness you can feel sometimes in the largest of cities (“City Music”). That’s not to say it’s not beautiful ride, Morby using all the bitter-sweet tools folk-rock can afford. Or lacking humor, as with the crunchy, wood-block laced jam vibe on “Pearly Gates,” that envisions death as a party. And so goes why Morby has certified himself a force this year: [LISTEN] – Gavin Paul

OddiseeThe Iceberg

Oddisee knows all about timing. Over the past three years he’s dropped one critically album after another; a combination of instrumental projects, EPs and full lengths. Each one embodies a different dimension of the DC-native’s seemingly endless reservoir of creativity. He’s blue collar, but never dull. Provocative, but grounded in reality. A leader, but forever humble. On The Iceberg, he’s making a plea for humanity; asking that each and everyone of us take a long look in the mirror to determine where they stand. Many MCs took the bait and resorted to hateful finger pointing, which to some degree has it’s place. But Oddisee is a more enlightened individual, he asks that love and commonality, brotherhood and sisterhood be the foundation; because to build on anger is fool’s gold. Oddisee, an exemplary lyricist: [LISTEN] – J.M.

People Without ShoesUnquestionable Optimism

People Without Shoes is not a household name, but should be. Tempopmet is Shakespeare on the mic; able to craft stories and dramas that leave the audience spellbound. His delivery is unorthodox and his voice entirely unique, and on his latest album Unquestionable Optimism he finds an even higher plateau to ascend to. The album is a compilation of material, but it sounds just as fresh today as when he and DJ Logic recorded it to tape back in ’93. The storytelling is off the charts, and Tempopmet delivers each verse with the care of a seasoned veteran. One moment he’s telling you about life in the ghetto and in the next he’s talking about the ups and downs of courting a lady. There’s drama, comedy and romance; a cinematic album with no let down: [LISTEN] – J.M.

Margo PriceAll American Made

Nashville darling Price had one of those rides to acclaim and stardom every true country star would murder a lover for, her gritty, cathartic debut Midwest Farmer’s Daughter for one dropping on Jack White‘s Third Man Records and two supplementing an exorcism of inner-demons for marquee success, people mentioning her in the same breaths as Emmylou Harris and Loretta Lynn. With follow-up All American Made she made all the right moves and went much more topical than a rehashing of the woe-is-me narrative. Women’s equality (“Pay Gap“), the threat of nuclear war (“All American Made“) the absurdities of do-right society (“Loner“), all feel like last call 2 a.m. soul chats with a lap-steel ready to lull the pain away and Price to remind you of what you’re made of. Even when she dips a toe back in the personal and vindictive (“Cocaine Cowboys,” “A Little Pain“), she manages to make the narratives ubiquitous and healthy; all the hallmarks of a pillar in the making: [LISTEN] – G.P.

PriestsNothing Feels Natural 

It’s been an angry year for a lot of Americans who forgot how easy it is for society to take monstrous steps backward. DC quartet Priests were spawned from the belly of the administration beast, and took the opportunity like many of their punkish descendants in the same area code to make a statement out of the mess. It’s not all #resist movement parties though, with lead singer Katie Alice Greer’s writtens taking a more insular approach to her own struggles as a woman rallying against inequality — “I wrote a bunch of songs for you/But you never knew and you never deserved them” howls Greer about an ex-lover on “JJ” — but when she and the band do point the pistol outward (“Pink White House“) it’s a biting cacophonous release of the pressure valve we’re all the better for and absolutely craving right now, and done so in a way that marries a perfect trifecta of frenetic riott grrl aesthetics, sinewy NYC CBGB heyday punk and psychedelic jazz freak outs: [LISTEN] – G.P.

ProtomartyrRelatives in Descent

The greatest thing about these unassuming post-punk warriors of Detroit has always been frontman Joe Casey’s everyman feet-shuffling, as if perpetually coming to and from the shittiest corporate job in the world, though head about to explode with dissatisfaction of the state of absolutely everything and a library-like arsenal of citations to make a point. He is that sad looking suit on the train staring into the abyss for all of us. Casey doesn’t quit on the band’s LP4, delivering one of his most literate and dense journeys to-date. And where Casey is there to expound upon mythical talking horses and ghosts as “a metaphysical way to portray guilt that hasn’t been dealt with,” and generally questioning the whole meaning of this shit-show life, the band is there to match his deadpan shouts with a brilliant brand of white-light electric post-punk absolutely no one did better this year: [LISTEN] – G.P.


Despite what people think, jazz is not dead. Never has been. Luminaries like Kamasi Washington, Gregory Porter and basically everyone on the International Anthem roster have proven as much. One of the leaders in the new vanguard is Thundercat who has gone from bassist/vocalist on the rise to bona fide superstar. Drunk is another step in the right direction. Truly in a groove, he finds an even deeper comfort zone. As a result his vocals, which aren’t necessarily out of this world, soar to the highest they’ve ever gone. His lyrics are as colorful as his hair and his energy can be felt in every note of Drunk. As his confidence continues to grow, so will his ambitions. And at that point, the sky is the limit: [LISTEN] – J.M.

War on DrugsA Deeper Understanding

For all the bands that took this year to rally against the forces that are sending us back into the dark ages in more aggressive and acerbic ways, Adam Granduciel’s cinematic Bosswave crew served up a late summer jam cleanse that begged for a companion trip to your local dispensary and a long drive to access those deep-thought layers your gremlin machine is constantly distracting you from diving into. For months I thought ‘a deeper understanding’ was a ridiculously flaccid title, but once you’re nine minutes in to the celestial moonlight synths of “Thinking of a Place,” “just moving through the dark” with Granduciel and those Crazy Horse-ian guitar riffs, the meditative simplicity makes perfect sense, especially for a year so stocked with super moon sightings: [LISTEN] – G.P.