Let us all rejoice, for list season has finally descended upon us!
Check out our favourite 50 records of the year below, and, if there’s any you think we’ve missed, chuck ’em down in the comments below, won’tcha?
50. Hurray For The Riff Raff – The Navigator
This album could be nothing but 11 tracks of silence and the penultimate song, ‘Pa’lante’, and it would still earn its place on this list.
Stand out tracks: ‘Pa’lante’, ‘The Navigator
49. Jess Locke – Universe
Few contemporary artists mix the mythic with the mundane in the way that Jess Locke does – Universe, her punky, astonishingly accomplished full-length, is both a telescope and a microscope. These are songs to dedicate your life to; to fall desperately, madly in love with.
Stand out tracks: ‘Sublime Anxiety’, ‘Border Security’
48. Spoon – Hot Thoughts
2017 has seen a number of oddballs take much criticised pirouettes towards the mainstream, but none have pulled off pop with as much panache as Spoon. The Texan weirdos haven’t had this much fun since Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga; haven’t reinvented themselves this boldly since Gimme Fiction. God bless ‘em.
Stand out tracks: ‘Do I Have To Talk You Into It’, ‘Hot Thoughts’
47. Marika Hackman – I’m Not Your Man
From our original review: “I’m Not Your Man is, above all else, a jubilant celebration of a songwriter at the very height of their talents. There’s no doubt that it is Hackman’s finest work. But time might also reveal it as one of the records of the year to boot.”
Stand out tracks: ‘Boyfriend’, ‘Violet’
46. Perfume Genius – No Shape
Perfume Genius’ early records were brittle things, assembled from bird bones, and his mid-career records were loud, large, heartfelt pop statements. No Shape is both, somehow; a collection of acutely realised bangers that make the intimate epic and vice versa.
Stand out tracks: ‘Slip Away’, ‘Alan’
45. Girlpool – Powerplant
Given the impossibly stripped down sound of their first record, Before The World Was Big, rather made it what it was, perhaps it’s unsurprising that some purists were shocked when Girlpool chucked drums into the mix with their second, Powerplant. But far from being the sound of a band selling out, Powerplant sees the two-piece leaning into their strengths, making something kind hearted and genuinely affecting in the process.
Stand out tracks: ‘123’, ‘She Goes by’
44. Julien Baker – Turn Out The Lights
From our original review: “It was wrong to underestimate Baker. She has neither turned in Sprained Ankle 2, nor sold out on what made her special. Instead, she has gone bolder, if not necessarily bigger; has doubled down, without duplicating.”
Stand out tracks: ‘Appointments’, ‘Happy To Be Here’
43. (Sandy) Alex G – Rocket
(Sandy) Alex G has spent his career making records the way people make patchwork quilts, and Rocket, his latest, is no different: stitched together from a thousand different influences and styles, no two songs resemble the other. It might be the best thing he’s released yet.
Stand out tracks: ‘Bobby’, ‘Witch’
42. The Preatures – Girlhood
The Preatures are one of Australia’s most important pop acts: a band capable of mixing great beauty with the slightest inflections of melancholia. One long string of perfect songs. Girlhood, sees them at their most clear-eyed, and their most wise.
Stand out tracks: ‘Girlhood’, ‘Yanada’
41. Alex Lahey – I Love You Like A Brother
A gorgeous mess of hooky riffs, wry lyrics, and profound insights into the everyday beauty and shittiness we all spend our lives wading through, I Love You Like A Brother is one of the most humane records of the year. Alex Lahey for PM.
Stand out tracks: ‘Let’s Call It A Day’, ‘Every Day’s The Weekend’
40. Mavis Staples – If All I Was Was Black
Don’t let that ever so slightly awkward to say title put you off – Mavis Staples’ If All I Was Was Black is the living legend’s most accomplished release in years; poppy, bold and resolute.
Stand out tracks: ‘If All I Was Was Black’, ‘We Go High’
39. Tyler, The Creator – Flower Boy
Flower Boy is the record Tyler, The Creator was born to make – a showreel custom built to show off his anarchic humour, and sonic forwardthinking, and unmistakable, raspy delivery. It’s not that he’s matured into some wise old man: it’s that he’s finally and fully embraced his distinct creative pubescence.
Stand out tracks: ‘Who Dat Boy’, ‘Boredom’
38. Algiers – The Underside Of Power
Algiers’ second full-length release, The Underside Of Power is unfettered, unbridled power; a murky wash of screams, fuzz, and gospel. A record that crawls on all fours.
Stand out tracks: ‘A Murmur. A Sign’, ‘Cleveland’
37. Diet Cig – Swear I’m Good At This
Stand out tracks: ‘Leo’, ‘Blob Zombie’
36. Sports Bra – Sports Bra
Impossibly tender, the debut release from Sydneysiders Sports Bra is so confident – so assured, and cohesive – that one could be forgiven the band had been around for years, rather than a matter of months. Masterful.
Stand out tracks: ‘Try Harder’, ‘Thank You For Being Alive’
35. Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory
One of contemporary hip hop’s clearest, most distinct voices, Vince Staples has made his masterpiece with Big Fish Theory, a record more melodic – more fundamentally disruptive – than even his breakthrough work Prima Donna. A trap-indebted record to show to your trap-hating mates.
Stand out tracks: ‘Big Fish’, ‘Yeah Right’
34. Mhysa – Fantasii
A collection of echoes. Proof that there is no excuse for making a derivative, lazy electronic record in the year of our Lord 2017.
Stand out tracks: ‘Strobe’, ‘You Not About That Lyfe’
33. Aldous Harding – Party
Unique is an overused word in music criticism: there are a lot of perfectly acceptable albums out there – great albums, even – that are far from ground-breaking. But Party really is a new thing under the sun; by avoiding binary notions of happy vs. sad, Harding has made something complex, cursed and truly cathartic.
Stand out tracks: ‘Horizon’, ‘Imagining My Man’
32. The Smith Street Band – More Scared Of You Than You Are Of Me
From our original review: “By the time it’s all done, one is left with a striking sense of accomplishment; filled with gratitude not just for the band, but for oneself. That is, after all, Smith Street Band’s great success – they make victories seem shared. More Scared is not a home run for the band that wrote and recorded it, but a roaring celebration for every single fan that has helped them along their way.”
Stand out tracks: ‘Death To The Lads’, ‘Suffer’
31. King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard/Mild High Club – Sketches Of Brunswick East
The most controversial record of the god knows how many King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard have released this year (“It’s jazzy, it’s not jazz!”), Sketches Of Brunswick East is distinct enough to be considered a concept record, but varied enough to avoid the limitations of that genre. If you’re gonna drop five albums in the course of 12 months, one better be as genuinely pattern-breaking as this one.
Stand out tracks: ‘The Book’, ‘Countdown’
30. Kelela – Take Me Apart
Like so much silk dipped in honey, Kelela’s Take Me Apart is the most textural RnB release of the year. It also happens to the best: a freeform, abstract piece, that mixes stories of defiance, arching choruses and impeccably woven together soundbites into something extraordinary.
Stand out tracks: ‘Take Me Apart’, ‘Blue Light’
29. Big Thief – Capacity
Capacity doesn’t just boast one of the songs of the year (‘Mary’), one of the guitar solos of the year (the twisty opening to ‘Shark Smile’), and one of the closers of the year (‘Black Diamonds’), it is packed from beginning to end with some of the finest lyrics contemporary rock has to offer. Adrianne Lenker is a poet laureate.
Stand out tracks: ‘Mary’, ‘Black Diamonds’
28. Alvvays – Antisocialites
Unlike the other bands that they frequently and unfairly get lumped in with, Alvvays don’t just dress up in the clothes of hip ’80s bands: they write songs, combining with the retro with the genuinely revolutionary. Antisocialites builds on the band’s debut and then some: it’s a big, tall, icy glass of lemonade and gin.
Stand out tracks: ‘Not My Baby’, ‘Plimsoll Punks’
27. George Maple – Lover
Since 2013, when she first dropped ‘Fixed’, we’ve been holding out for George Maple to make a big, glitz-draped record; something as fluid and epic as her exceptional live shows. Finally, with Lover, she has: it’s her Whitney, all perfectly structured pop bangers and glossy high production.
Stand out tracks: ‘Lover’, ‘Kryptonite’
26. Jay-Z – 4:44
Just when ya think Shawn is out of ideas, he surprises you – the man’s follow up to 2013’s dismal Magna Carta Holy Grail is his most personal record in decades. Equal parts braggadacio and brutalised home truths, it is genuinely galling to hear such a public figure bare quite so much. Lovely to have you back, Jay.
Stand out tracks: ‘Smile’, ‘The Story Of O.J.’
25. Gang Of Youths – Go Farther In Lightness
This record understands you. It is a quivering shred of empathy; a fragile, perfect thing in an outstretched hand, ready for you to take.
Stand out tracks: ‘The Deepest Sighs, The Frankest Shadows’, ‘Say Yes To Life’
24. Feedtime – Gas
Feedtime never really got the respect that they deserved during their original run, so it was predictable – if genuinely disappointing – when their excellent 2017 record Gas got only limited critical attention. But don’t let that silence fool you; it is an incredible collection of warbling bass-lines, and barked choruses, as good as anything the band released in the ’90s. Feedtime are fucking royalty. One day, eventually, they will be treated as such.
Stand out tracks: ‘Any Good Thing’, ‘Grass’
23. Paul Kelly – Life Is Fine
From our original review: “Listening to Life Is Fine, the first impression one gets is that Kelly is having fun; pure, unashamed fun; fun without boundaries. The album is packed with the ease and grace that Kelly just kind of naturally gives off these days – the kind of effortless precision that comes from a lifetime of effort’s expenditure. Something just clicks, things just fit, and the song creaks with the most uncomplicated kind of pleasure.”
Stand out tracks: ‘Firewood And Candles’, ‘Life Is Fine’
22. L.A. Witch – L.A. Witch
Every lyric on L.A. Witch’s excellent self-titled debut is uttered as though it’s a curse. Vicious, elegant perfection: as uncomplicated and abrupt as a knifing.
Stand out tracks: ‘You Love Nothing’, ‘Kill My Baby Tonight’
21. Courtney Barnett/Kurt Vile – Lotta Sea Lice
From our original review: “Although Vile hints at the big black clouds assembling in his periphery on ‘Over Everything’, Sea Lice is, in its uncomplicated beauty, a kind of salve. It is an album that requires nothing of you but that you listen. I am thankful for it.”
Stand out tracks: ‘Over Everything’, ‘Continental Breakfast’
20. Pissed Jeans – Why Love Now
From our original review: “‘Love Without Emotion’ is the sweaty, latex-clad gimp toiling around in a basement co-owned by Birthday Party-era Nick Cave and David Lee Roth, and ‘I’m A Man’ is Marquis de Sade rewritten by Andy Kaufman, all stilted porn dialogue and rising horror. It’s not nice. None of it is. Nor is it appetising, or ear-wormy, or likeable. But it is unstoppable – as unstoppable as a tumour, or the slow, thick spread of gout.”
Stand out tracks: ‘I’m A Man’, ‘The Bar Is Low’
19. Julie Byrne – Not Even Happiness
Stand out tracks: ‘Follow My Voice’, ‘Sleepwaker’
18. Noire – Some Kind Of Blue
Like a smoke-ring blown in a dive bar, Some Kind Of Blue is brief, precious and hazy. Distinctly cinematic, it belongs in the worlds of Wim Wenders and David Lynch – it’s a mysterious as a severed ear in a field; as tragic and as beautiful as a love between an angel and a trapeze artist.
Stand out tracks: ‘Real Cool’, ‘He’s My Baby’
17. Kendrick Lamar – Damn.
Ruined only by the misguided rumours that it was the first part in a two-pronged assault, Damn., Kendrick Lamar’s latest, is considerably less dense than To Pimp A Butterfly; more direct. That doesn’t for a second mean it’s derivative, mind you: in the space of some 55 minutes, Lamar touches on everything from reincarnation, to religion, to revenge. Moreover, it might be the best thing that U2 have had anything to do with for, y’know, literal decades.
Stand out tracks: ‘DNA’, ‘Element’
16. Two Steps On The Water – Sword Songs
From our original review: “Sure, Sword Songs is all those things critics like to moan on about – it’s emotional, and it’s compelling, and it’s honest – but more than anything else, it feels like an album that resists academic jabbering. It’s not about anything other than life itself, and it’s not for anyone but the people who will take every last one of its melodies into their hearts; the people who need it.”
Stand out tracks: ‘A Very Hot Shower’, ‘Bolt Of Lightning’
15. Lorde – Melodrama
Brian Wilson spent years trying to make Smile, his so called “teenage symphony to God.” Where he failed, a young New Zealander named Lorde has succeeded: Melodrama, for all its distinct youthfulness, has a grandness to it that is almost Biblical. This is a record about getting drunk and fucking up, but it’s a record about so much more than that too – a record about life; about the things we try and fail to put into words. It is a masterpiece.
Stand out tracks: ‘Liability’, ‘Green Light’
14. Jessica Lea Mayfield – Sorry Is Gone
From our original review: “Sorry Is Gone is no lullaby: it is a record about defiance, and pain, and independence, and what you can do when certain things you thought were owed to you get taken away. Mayfield is not putting up with anything anymore – on the titular track, she sings the line ‘I deserve to occupy this space without feeling like I don’t belong” with such force it’s like the words get tattooed upon her tongue.”
Stand out tracks: ‘Sorry Is Gone’, ‘WTF’
13. Fever Ray – Plunge
Eight years is a long time. But although the world might have changed between the release of Fever Ray’s eponymous 2009 debut and Plunge, Ray (AKA Karin Dreijer) hasn’t. Her music is still black as obsidian; still as cruel and beautiful as a sacrificial knife. That she surprise dropped it feels appropriate – Plunge is a natural disaster of a record; unpredictable and devastating.
Stand out tracks: ‘Plunge’, ‘Falling’
12. John Maus – Screen Memories
From our original review: “Screen Memories is a delirious, hysterical thing – one long fever dream, full of songs about nuclear war, and the apocalypse, and death. It is excellent. Listen to it now, before the world ends.”
Stand out tracks: ‘Touchdown’, ‘The Combine’
11. Mount Eerie – A Crow Looked At Me
A Crow Looked At Me will, on some deep and important level, alter who you are, and what you think. That is all that can be said about it, really.
Stand out tracks: ‘Real Death’, ‘Seaweed’
10. Jessica Says – Do With Me What U Will
Imagine if Kate Bush, David Foster Wallace and Randy Newman got together to write a full-length Broadway musical about depression. That’s kinda what Do With Me What U Will sounds like – although to be honest, almost nothing really sounds like the 10-track, lopsided masterpiece. Anchored by an excellent single, ‘Xanax Baby’, Do With Me pirouettes drunkenly about the place: its funny, then its sad, then its both. It is possibly the most original Australian record of the decade. If there is any justice in the world, come 2027, Jessica Says will be playing it at the Opera House, surrounded by a small army of diamante studded dancers.
Stand out tracks: ‘Xanax Baby’, ‘Rosemary’
9. Priests – Nothing Feels Natural
Like an entire four decades worth of punk distilled down into 10 impossibly sharp tracks, Nothing Feels Natural is exhaustive without ever being exhausting. These are old qualms updated to reference new names; ancient gripes picked out in pitch-perfect choruses, and nailed in asides barked out by lead singer Katie Alice Greer. “Magical psychology, deceptive anthropology / All the wing nuts got a haircut, bred and had babies,” she snaps on ‘Pink White House’, extracting the words like wisdom teeth. Critics have spent 2017 calling a small stable-worth of artworks “the perfect antidote to the Trump era”, but that’s what Nothing Feels Natural really, genuinely is.
Stand out tracks: ‘Nicki’, ‘Pink White House’
8. SZA – CTRL
It feels strange to call CTRL a concept album – after all, that term is usually reserved for drawn-out prog rock self-indulgences, or sub-par, double disc indie rock records. But, if not strictly one-concept, CTRL is still thrillingly one-minded. As it says on the tin, it’s a record about control: the misuse of it, on both a personal and societal level; about the power you have over your beloved, and that your culture has over you. Loaded with features – everyone from Kendrick Lamar to Travis Scott to James Fantleroy makes an appearance – it is a work of auterist pop of the highest order. Lose yourself in it.
Stand out tracks: ‘The Weekend’, ‘Supermodel’
7. Cable Ties – Cable Ties
There’s this old Raymond Carver quote on the importance of brevity: “get in, get out. Don’t linger. Go on.” It’s something that punk artists are generally good at – the form calls for speed, after all. But it’s rare that a band manages to write songs that creep towards the ten-minute mark and still somehow feel as immediate and urgent as a car crash; rare that any act can speak their mind without pontificating. That then is the genius of Cable Ties, and their self-titled record: songs like ‘Paradise’ and ‘Say What You Mean’ are a Tardis in reverse, smaller than they look on the outside. They are custom-fit for the exact shape of your heart, or your curled fist. They are perfect.
Stand out tracks: ‘The Producer’, ‘Paradise’
6. Mermaidens – Perfect Body
With the one-two punch of 2016’s Undergrowth and this year’s Perfect Body, Mermaidens have proved themselves one of the most exciting bands in New Zealand, veritable masters of strange tonal blends. Perfect Body is an orange sprouting mould; a rabbit dipped in mercury; a tangle of wool and wire. That they are set to close out their incredible 2017 by opening for Lorde feels extraordinarily fitting: they should be playing on stages that big for the rest of their career.
Stand out tracks: ‘Satsuma’, ‘Perfect Body’
5. Chelsea Wolfe – Hiss Spun
From our original review: “Album highlight ‘The Culling’ is all ’60s folk rock balladry and wide-eyed Wicker Man paranoia, while ‘16 Psyche’ is as crude and as debilitating a tumour. It always sounds like Wolfe’s songs are one minute away from collapsing into themselves – she is the master of maintaining balance; of brushing up against the very limits of destruction. Wolfe hasn’t dropped a dud record yet – hell, she hasn’t dropped a dud song yet – but this might be her greatest achievement to date.”
Stand out tracks: ‘16 Psyche’, ‘The Culling’
4. Torres – Three Futures
From our original review: “Three Futures is a hideous, beautiful thing, full of repetition and snarling choruses deployed as carefully as gaping, iron-jawed traps. Mackenzie Scott, the musician behind the moniker, has only buckled down on her talents in the two years since 2015’s Sprinter, and Three Futures is, in every conceivable way, more; more horrific; more inventive; more extraordinary. ‘Concrete Ganesha’ is a smeared, throbbing doctrine, blasted as morally clean as a Cormac McCarthy novel, while closer ‘To Be Given A Body’ is so precise and perfectly put as to resemble a mission statement.” (Read our interview with Torres here.)
Stand out tracks: ‘Concrete Ganesha’, ‘Helen In The Woods’
3. Wet Lips – Wet Lips
From our original review: “Wet Lips, a three-piece based out of Melbourne, Australia, are the future of punk. It’d be easy to call them the heirs apparent to bands like Fugazi and Black Flag, but they are more than that, and they follow in no lineage. Their debut release, a ten-track long masterpiece that time might well reveal to be the best album released this year, is so unindulgent – so singularly lacking in historicity, or the all-too common reverential hat-tipping that ruins so many otherwise great punk records – that it feels like little else.”
Stand out tracks: ‘Can’t Take It Anymore’, ‘Shame’
2. Mere Women – Big Skies
Big Skies is a collection of raw metals: a scraped, essential thing, so fresh and untouched as to feel pulled directly from the ground. It is also perhaps the most perfectly composed record of the year – songs fold into one another, themes as easy to follow as a character in a novel. And, indeed, in some ways, a novel is what it most clearly resembles: it has this clarity to it, this intelligence. It will change you.
Stand out tracks: ‘Big Skies’, ‘Numb’
1. Jen Cloher – Self-titled
There are some records you can imagine making – records that you can, rightly or wrongly, dream belong to you. Jen Cloher’s self-titled record, the album of the year, is not one of those records. In its confessional beauty; in its sparse, wrenching poetry; in its humour, and in its light, it could have been written by nobody but Jen Cloher. It feels like the summation of the career – the summation, almost, of a life. But that’s not to suggest that it is selfish, or self-involved. Somehow, perfectly, Cloher transforms her inner world into something genuinely accessible. Every song, every single line, makes you say: “yes, I know that; I feel it.” Cloher has never released anything like it. No contemporary Australian singer-songwriter has. It has the power to explain things about yourself that you did not know could be explained. All it asks of you is that you listen. (Read our longform interview with Cloher here.)
Stand out tracks: ‘Regional Echo’, ‘Forgot Myself’