I no longer need to write this list, it seems, now that you could all go on without me and we would all be okay. And yet. It has become a real ritual for me, an annual checking in of how uncool I’ve become and a chance to redeem myself in my own eyes. I study up, trying to find the albums that came out in 2017, round them together and listen to them intently. It forces me to really ask myself: were these my favorite albums this year? What did I miss that came out? Am I an old mom with no musical taste? Should I still put this album on my list even though I will be made fun of in the comments? Why did I listen to “Sorry Not Sorry” by Demi Lavato and “Free to be You and Me” hundreds of times when I could have been using my time more wisely? Why did so many of those monkeys fall off the bed? How can I be more like Cardi-b? Will Vince get mad if I listen to “Despacito” ONE MORE TIME? What does it all mean, if anything at all?
Each year, I dig deep until I have something I can present to you, beloved reader, and each year my Spotify, my ears and my playlists are reborn and rejuvenated. Praise be the MetalSucks year end list and praise be metal itself.
12. Kelela, Take Me Apart (Warp Records Limited)
Kelela is a modern woman, a first generation Ethiopian American who grew up in Maryland. Her music merges pop and R&B slow jams with her jazz and prog metal (!!!) history. She dated Tosin Abasi from Animals as Leaders! She is a gorgeous woman with a hip Instagram who clearly has a vision and a say in the art she is creating, a pop artist with a futuristic sound for the current era. At moments she reminds me of Solange, and then suddenly she will switch gears and be channeling late-era Whitney, and next Janet. Yet she is also her own self, confident and different than anything else I’ve heard. If she sounds a little familiar, maybe it’s because you heard her song “Frontline” on my favorite show ever: HBO’s Insecure. Take Me Apart is so good; it has a fresh sound that feels pioneering and new as much as it is also feels familiar and intimate. Here is a video that exemplifies her preternatural, cutting edge style (musically and visually):
11. Father John Misty, Pure Comedy (United Studios)
Father John Misty (aka T. Tillman) is an extremely tall, good looking man. He comes from a strict evangelical Christian background where he claims he was prohibited to listen to any non-religious music and he completely missed pop music, including Michael Jackson himself. His first two albums were indie, fun and good. This last one, Pure Comedy, enters into a new territory of mocking himself and his ilk, but his clear, crisp voice, amazing lyrics and unreal songwriting ability make it extremely enjoyable to listen to, regardless of his intent. This album rules and I love it. Nick Paumgarten wrote a wonderful, in-depth profile on him in June if you want to learn more about the crazy, complicated person FJM is. The biggest takeaways for me are that Father John Misty can’t quite get over “the vain act of making art” and in the process becomes a subject of think pieces on the level of “Miley Cyrus for the clever kids.” Nevertheless he is so adept at this music-making thing that even if he sees it as a joke, his talent and knack for it are undeniable and he STILL, kidding or not, is JUST SO GOOD. It’s like he can’t help it! And why should he? FJM wanted him and his band to learn Pure Comedy so well that they could record the album on LSD so it would be more magical. Here he is performing Pure Comedy on SNL (spoiler alert: he was drunk and he is hot):
10. LCD Soundsystem, American Dream (Columbia)
I’ve heard about LCD Soundsystem for many, many years but only recently began to listen to them. They are my friend’s ALL TIME FAVORITE and the pressure was on to enjoy their newest album. This proved easier than I thought it would be because American Dream is a distorted, dreamy album that brings to mind Talking Heads and David Bowie. James Murphy, the multi-talented force behind LCD, sings calmly about aging and change, murmuring “I used to dance alone of my own volition / I used to wait all night for the rock transmissions / So where’d you go / You led me far away / And let me go.” He’s like a robotic but operatic poet, not fully singing but not quite talking over the electronic beats he creates. His lyrics are uncomplicated but wise. I adore the title “Emotional Haircut” and I love how on “Tonite,” he seems to be reflecting on how both long and short life is, which in my opinion is magnified when you have a child (Murphy is a new-ish dad at 47). They say about parenthood that the days are long but the years are short. Murphy sing-talks along to a ’90s-sounding synthesizer, “And all the hits are saying the same thing / There’s only tonight, tonight, tonight, tonight, tonight, tonight / Then life is finite / But shit, it feels like forever / It feels like forever.” Agreed, my friend! This year, 15 years after they formed as a band in my very borough, they got a new fan in me. Better late than never. Life is long.
9. Kelsea Ballerini, Unapologetically (Black River Entertainment)
Kelsea Ballerini joins Kacey Musgraves and Marin Morris in this young feminist style of comparatively liberal, pop-influenced trio of country singers, a welcome antidote to all the white dudes singing about Red Solo Cups and their high school sweetheart who gracefully became a doting mother of four. On “Miss Me More,” Kelsea sings about getting back to yourself after a break-up and how good that can feel. On “High School,” she sings about leaving high school and its parochial, rural ideas of popularity behind. Her themes are universal and her singing and songwriting is sharp and catchy. I almost feel like if Taylor had stayed purely country with zero pop and less celebrity driven Instagram posts she would be more of a Ballerini type. Ultimately, this album isn’t about lyrics for me, it’s just a classically good country album that is listenable and fun that I want to put on while getting cozy at home. She is great and this album is great.
8. Kendrick Lamar, DAMN (Top Dawg Entertainment)
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this smartie Californian who seems nearly universally loved or at least respected. The most popular song from the album, “HUMBLE,” is an irresistible mantra (“BE HUMBLE, SIT DOWN, BE HUMBLE, SIT DOWN”) while “LOVE” (feat Zacary) is a clubby pop hit but the theme of the album and what ties it all together is Kendrick’s irrepressible intensity, his prodigy-level way with words. I remember seeing his performance at the Grammys in 2016, an ode to Trayvon Martin and Black Lives Matter — where him and many other black men performed in chains — and thinking, “wow this guy is the real deal.” His music has an addictive quality where I just want to hear these songs again and again, a controlled and contagious energy that keeps me coming back. Kendrick is only 30 and he is already at borderline legendary status, poised to be the new rap royalty as Jay Z and Kanye gracefully (?) enter middle age. Here’s the amazing “HUMBLE:”
7. Taylor Swift, Reputation (Big Machine Records)
I tried to put up a fight this time. I didn’t buy the album, I didn’t rush to iTunes the minute it came out or fast-walk to Target in Atlantic Center like a true teen fan. I thought about it, yes, but I also thought I was over her. I thought I was strong and cool now, finally grown. And then this past Friday, Reputation was streaming on Spotify and I was like, “No harm in giving it a listen, right?” No harm in just tuning in for a bit. And here I am 72 hours later, having listened to it probably over 25 times wondering why this woman has such a power over me. TAYLOR, WHY?! I love this album against my own will, and oh boy do I love it. It’s like she finds teenager MetalGF and speaks directly to her. If I was a pop star like TS, I would have written a great song when I was 17 called “Too Cool” about loving an older boy who didn’t love me, another hit at 23 called “Hating You in North Dakota” about breaking up with my college boyfriend three-fourths of the way through our cross-country drive and then a whole concept album entitled Botanica about meeting Vince when I was 26. We all have this inside us. Taylor loudly processes her break ups and her fans are all here to listen and dance alongside her even if she’s made missteps. She is ours, in sickness and health. She went from a loved pop insta-queen to a truly hated celeb this year and she is as shocked as anyone. I relate deeply to this hilarious video of Cazzie David and Owen Thiele trying desperately to hate this album:
I love SO many songs on this album (“Gorgeous,” “Dress,” “End Game,” “Delicate”) and please note that the singles first released are actually the worst, but this is such a sweet ditty I’d love to share with you all:
6. Jay-Z, 4:44 (Roc Nation)
As you may recall, Lemonade “changed me” and it probably changed Jay-Z, too. I love how these two use even the most private elements of their lives as a fair game creative outlet and financial opportunity. Now Jay has bounced back with his own Lemonade one year later. My favorite song on the album, “The Story of OJ,” is fucking BRILLIANT. As someone who watched every single OJ series that came out last year, including the four-hour documentary, this song really sums it up. The first time I heard Jay say “OJ like, ‘I’m not black, I’m OJ’…Okay” I actually gasped! The timing, the sentiment, the calm and casual tone, the Nina Simone sample, the reference to NYC real estate — it is all just simple perfection. On 4:44, he apologizes to his wife, his past flings, his unborn children. He is growing up and looking back and by any and all accounts, at 47, he is one of the best living rappers and possibly the oldest (Busta Ryhmes and Eminem are both 45, DMX is 46). Jay Z is maturing and yet musically he’s still the same old guy, getting comfortable in what and who he loves: Beyonce, Blue and Brooklyn.
5. St. Vincent, Masseducation (Loma Vista Recordings)
Annie Clark (aka St Vincent) seems to be operating on a different plane than the rest of us, like a beautiful alien who has come here to spread her unusual music and sexy eccentricity. Like every other album ever, this one is produced by the omnipresent Jack Antonoff. And as always, I learned a lot from her New Yorker profile, most importantly that she named herself after St. Vincent’s Hospital — an NYC staple in the West Village that has since closed — where Vince and I unfortunately once spent much of one winter and also where Dylan Thomas passed away. I love this piece of lore! Clark’s creativity and appetite for finding newness, new outlets and new sounds seems insatiable. There are so many great songs on this album, both danceable and deep, sonically ambitious adventures and simple beauty. Here is one of my favorite jams “Los Ageless” (a brilliant play on words as usual!)
Also, I love New York so much too and like them together as a pair so here is also “New York:”
4. Lorde, Melodrama (Lava)
In 2013, Lorde was was 16 and amazed the whole world with Pure Heroine. That was my #1 album on my 2013 list, so allow me to quote myself here: “Lorde brings an authenticity and rawness back to pop that feels like you are listening to a teenager creating something real and truthful in her room, and you get to listen in and feel a tiny bit of what she feels. Girlfriend is only sixteen and this is just the beginning for her and I am so excited to see where she goes and how.” And here we are, watching her grow up. She is 20 now and her depth and talent has only increased. She seems almost otherworldly, her skill sharpening until it pokes you right in the heart. To me, this album is near perfect. When she desperately sings “I am my mother’s child, I’ll love you ’til my breathing stops, I’ll love you ’til you call the cops on me,” she corners me once again and I fall in love with her second album just as I did the first. She is still SO young and I still suspect we have far reaches ahead.
3. Maggie Rogers, Now that the Light is Fading (Capitol)
Maggie Rogers is a modern folk artist and songwriter from rural Maryland. It is clear immediately that Maggie is a special woman when you see and hear her, playing instruments and writing songs since she was a child, duetting with her mom and eventually merging her classical knowledge with electronic music. Rogers released a five song album this fall that you maybe heard in passing around town. At this point she is New York University legend: Pharrell Williams, while teaching a masters class at NYU’s Tisch, heard her play the song “Alaska” and the video of his awe helped her rise to fame. You can see him squirming and smiling in his seat as he realizes how truly great and unique she is. Pharrell spoke at NYU graduation last year as well, where I was in attendance, saying, “This is the first generation that navigates the world with the security and confidence to treat women as equal. You are the first ever. Our country has never seen this before. It makes some people uncomfortable. But just imagine the possibilities.” Pharrell is the perfect mentor for Maggie and I can’t get enough of this combo. Here’s “Alaska,” a true dream of a song if there ever was one:
2. Ed Sheeran, Divide (Atlantic)
God love this young ginger genius. So many of his songs immediately feel like pop classics. But more than that, Eddie is the most earnest, romantic songwriter, prolifically creating wedding songs, tear-jerkers and the occasional dance floor hit. This man feels things DEEPLY and is just so sweet and genuinely naive about love and marriage that I can’t help but love him. The world is crumbling around him, burning and rotting into the ground, but Ed Sheeran, he sings on. In “Perfect,” he painstakingly sings, “Well I found a woman / stronger than anyone I know / She shares my dreams / I hope that someday I’ll share her home / I found a love, to carry more than just my secrets / To carry love, to carry children of our own / We are still kids, but we’re so in love / Fighting against all odds / I know we’ll be alright this time.” LOL, sure, buddy! I’m sure you two are definitely fighting AGAINST ALL ODDS. But seriously this song is great and I love this whole album and I am too old to care what anyone thinks about that. I’m in love with the shape of Ed Sheeran and I know I’m not alone.
1. HAIM, Something to Tell You (Columbia)
I am the lost Haim sister. I was accidentally shipped from the Jewish LA hospital to the Jewish NY hospital and ended up in a different family with a different sister and no musical talent, but at least I still get to wildly enjoy their music. My dream in life is to listen to the entire Haim catalog in a large open space, and dance freely with a room full of other fans, doing what feels right with our bodies in loose-fitting, high-style clothing. I love every song on this album and I listen to it all the time. Their sound evolved from their last album, Days are Gone, but maintains their undeniable hip charm. It is ’80s, it is ’90s, it is modern and post-modern. I can not wait for these three gals to descend on NYC and play this album for me and my friends so that finally our family can be reunited. Their mom must be so proud. Here is “Ready For You,” a love song about how it’s really all about timing: