Charli XCX, Number 1 Angel (Asylum Records UK)
While we wait for her repeatedly delayed third studio album, globe-trotting British pop star Charli XCX kept fans’ appetites whetted this year with a handful of sugar-coated singles (including the giddy “Boys” and the Mura Masa collab “1 Night”) and two mixtapes, Number 1 Angel and Pop 2. Over glossy, high-definition beats courtesy of warped hitmaker A.G. Cook and his PC Music crew, she delivers 10 hook-heavy tales of love, sex and chemical magic. Knowing that it’s not a party without company, a handful of guests including French bloghouse survivor Uffie, Danish pop singer-songwriter MØ and sex-positive Chicago rapper CupcakKe leave their marks, but nobody’s having more fun here than Charli.
Listen to: “Drugs” (featuring ABRA)
Daniel Caesar, Freudian (Golden Child Recordings)
From appearing alongside Chance the Rapper on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert to selling out his North American tour to picking up two Grammy nominations for his debut album, 2017 saw Daniel Caesar staking his claim as the future of R&B. On Freudian, the 22-year-old singer-songwriter eschews the darker sounds favored by his Toronto peers in favor of church organs, bluesy riffs and swelling female backup choruses. The result is chicken soup for the modern gospel music lover’s soul. Caesar deftly navigates between his spiritual and sensual urges while humbly acknowledging his flaws (“Yes I’m a mess but I’m blessed to be stuck with you,” he sings on the standout "Blessed”). Is it any wonder that people have been proposing to their partners en masse at his live shows?
Listen to: “Get You” (featuring Kali Uchis)
Jlin, Black Origami (Planet Mu Records)
Hollywood veteran Hans Zimmer might have composed the soundtrack for Blade Runner 2049, but for music that sounds truly futuristic, look no further than Indiana electronic producer Jlin’s sophomore album Black Origami. Her take on footwork—the high-BPM, dancer-friendly genre that originated in Chicago during the 1990s—pushes the form to new extremes, layering militant drums, clanging bells, splintered vocal loops and other out-of-the-box sonics into a dizzying 12 tracks. Throw this one on while making your morning work commute but be wary of whiplash.
Listen to: “Nyakinyua Rise”
Kelela, Take Me Apart (Warp Records)
Plenty of artists sang about sex in 2017, but nobody sang about desire as well as Kelela Mizanekristos. On her critically acclaimed 2013 mixtape Cut 4 Me and 2015 EP Hallucinogen, the Washington-born, Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter paired breathy R&B-pop vocals with chilly, avant-garde electronic beats. Take Me Apart builds on this foundation with Kelela enlisting boundary-pushing producers including Arca, Kingdom and Ariel Rechtshaid and chronicling the dissolution of one relationship and the building of another. Balancing hot-blooded anthems capable of turning nightclubs out of basements and minimalist slow-burners, few debut albums this year sounded as confidant and fully realized.
Listen to: “LMK”
Oneohtrix Point Never, Good Time Original Motion Soundtrack (Warp Records)
Directed by New York City brother duo Joshua and Ben Safdie, and starring Robert Pattison as a bleached blonde, Ecko-wearing small-time criminal, Good Time is a gritty heist thriller that offers viewers few moments to catch their breaths. The Tangerine Dream-indebted score by electronic musician Daniel Lopatin, better known as Oneohtrix Point Never, is suitably urgent, full of arpeggiated synths, prog-metal guitars and uneasy white noise. Then there’s “The Pure and the Damned,” a sparse, mostly piano ballad featuring gravelly vocals from none other than punk icon Iggy Pop, which soundtracks the film’s emotional climax.
Listen to: “The Pure and the Damned” (featuring Iggy Pop)
Partner, In Search of Lost Time (You’ve Changed Records)
The best Canadian rock record of the year wasn’t made by Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene or Mac Demarco, but by two self-deprecating, 1990s-loving stoner best friends known as Partner. On their debut LP In Search of Last Time, Josée Caron and Lucy Niles deliver riff-packed, catchy-as-heck anthems about life’s simple pleasures, including weed, daytime TV, crushes and did we mention weed? Whether they’re extolling the virtues of rocker and activist Melissa Etheridge or singing about unrequited love, their heart-on-sleeve, hilarious songs will have you dancing around the house in sweatpants. Now pass the bong over.
Listen to: “Everybody Knows”
Thundercat, Drunk (Brainfeeder)
In a year that’s felt like one long-ass hangover, Los Angeles bass virtuoso (and go-to Kendrick Lamar collaborator) Thundercat’s Drunk is an appropriate soundtrack following our Dragon Ball Z-watching, cat-loving protagonist through cosmic jazz, funk and soul as he blearily recalls alcohol-fueled nights. While his lyrics frequently focus on weighty topics, including police brutality (“Jameel’s Space Ride”) and humankind’s obsession with technology (“Bus in These Streets”), the record also showcases the multi-instrumentalist’s tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, arresting falsetto and fleet-fingered solos. If that’s not enough of an endorsement for Drunk, how about a slow jam (“Show You the Way”) featuring both yacht rock legend Michael McDonald and Mr. “Danger Zone” himself, Kenny Loggins?
Listen to: “Them Changes”
Wiki, No Mountains In Manhattan (XL Recordings)
“Don’t do it for top 10 or radio,” Wiki declares at the beginning of his solo debut album, No Mountains In Manhattan. Coming from lesser artists, it’s a statement that would feel contrived but the Irish-Puerto Rican rapper and former Ratking ringleader has always made scrappy music for misfits and weirdos. After writing about tour life on his 2015 mixtape Lil Me, No Mountains finds him back in the five boroughs, getting high on the subway, loitering around Chinatown, and hitting up the nearest bodega for a bacon, egg and cheese. Over production from Kaytranada, Earl Sweatshirt and more, the raspy-voiced MC proves to be a racounteur in the NYC lineage of Cam’ron and the Wu-Tang Clan (fittingly, Ghostface Killah shows up on “Made for This”), while also not being afraid to show off a softer side (“Pandora’s Box”).
Listen to: “Mayor”
Various Artists, Twin Peaks (Music From the Limited Event Series (Rhino Entertainment)
Unquestionably one of the most anticipated comebacks of 2017, Twin Peaks: The Return didn’t disappoint fans of David Lynch’s cult classic, with plenty of beloved characters, new stories, realms and of course, a finale that raised more questions than it answered (“What year is this?”). Besides composer Angelo Badalamenti’s haunting score and cameos by the likes of past Playboy cover star Sky Ferreira and the late David Bowie, many episodes concluded with patrons of the Roadhouse taking in a musical performance. Heavy hitters including Nine Inch Nails, Moby and Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder graced the dive bar’s stage, as well as indie favourites Au Revoir Simone, Chromatics and Sharon Van Etten. And what kind of reunion would it be without an appearance from chanteuse Julee Cruise, who sang the original series’ iconic theme song “Falling.”
Listen to: “Shadow,” Chromatics
Also Worth Checking Out
Cousin Stizz, One Night Only (RCA Records)
Moses Sumney, Aromanticism (Jagjaguwar)
Open Mike Eagle, Brick Body Kids Still Daydream (Mello Music Group)
Sheer Mag, Need to Feel Your Love (Wilsun RC)
Yaeji, EP2 (Godmode)