The best albums of 2017: Yahoo Entertainment staff picks


It’s that most wonderful time of the year, which means we’re making our lists and checking them twice — our year-end best album lists, that is.

2017 was a wildly diverse year, featuring strong women in pop like St. Vincent and Lorde; career reinventions for Harry Styles and comeback queen Kesha; and zeitgeist-capturing hip-hop opuses from Jay-Z and our No. 1 artist, Kendrick Lamar. Listen to those wide-ranging album picks below, from all of our individual writers and editors plus our overall top 10.

Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. tops Yahoo Music’s year-end albums list for 2017. (Photo: Universal)

Overall Yahoo Music Top 10
1. Kendrick Lamar — DAMN.
2. The National — Sleep Well Beast
3. Slowdive — Slowdive
4. St. Vincent — Masseduction
5. Lorde — Melodrama
6. Jay-Z — 4:44
7. Harry Styles — Harry Styles
8. The War on Drugs — A Deeper Understanding
9. Kesha — Rainbow
10. Aimee Mann — Mental Illness

Lyndsey Parker, Music Editor-in-Chief
1. Dreamcar — Dreamcar
2. The Drums — Abysmal Thoughts
3. Harry Styles — Harry Styles
4. Drab Majesty — The Demonstration
5. Beck — Colors
6. Kesha — Rainbow
7. The Darkness — Pinewood Smile
8. Noel Gallagher & the High Flying Birds — Who Built the Moon?
9. Phoenix — Ti Amo
10. Gorillaz — Humanz

While the two acts that spawned this supergroup, No Doubt and AFI, got their start in the alt-rock ’90s, Dreamcar are pure big-’80s New Romanticism — all jangle-funk ragged-tiger guitars, slapped bass, hyperspeed synths, cheeky Blitz Kid posturing, Ant-rapping, Bow Wow Wow beats, and even a couple saxophone solos that wouldn’t be out of place on an INXS or Spandau Ballet album. Actually, Dreamcar basically sounds like a great lost Duran Duran album. And that’s a good thing. — LP

Wendy Geller, Senior Editor
1. Chris Stapleton — From a Room, Vols. 1 & 2
2. Angaleena Presley — Wrangled
3. Willie Nelson — God’s Problem Child
4. Lee Brice — Lee Brice
5. Kip Moore — Slowheart
6. Lee Ann Womack — The Lonely, The Lonesome, and the Gone
7. Kelsea Ballerini — Unapologetically
8. Luke Combs — This One’s for You
9. Lauren Alaina — Road Less Traveled
10. Sara Evans — Words

Stapleton’s two-part release for 2017 — both volumes at a compact nine tracks each — does an admirable job of completely ignoring current trends in country music while bringing out the genre’s best qualities: flexibility, economy, ragged emotion, and dazzling precision. — WG

Kevin Polowy, Senior Correspondent
1. Oddisee – The Iceberg
2. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
3. Grieves – Running Wild
4. Joey Bada$$ – All-Amerikkkan Bada$$
5. Otis Junior & Dr. Dundiff – Hemispheres
6. Big Boi – Boomiverse
7. Open Mike Eagle – Brick Body Kids Still Daydream
8. Quantic & Nidia Góngora – Curao
9. Jay Z – 4:44
10. Various artists – Baby Driver (Music from the Motion Picture)

Filling the void left in hip-hop previously occupied by the likes of Black Star, the Roots, and Common (heirs apparent to the alt-rap sound originated by Native Tongues, et al.), Oddisee once again brings striking craftsmanship and visceral lyricism to an unskippable LP, with highlights including the drum-heavy “DMV” anthem “NNGE” and the Afrobeat-inspired “Rights and Wrongs.” Backed by the band Good Company, he also continues to prove the best live act in the genre, which you can experience on his endless tours or on his other 2017 release, Beneath the Surface (Live). — KP

Ken Tucker, Critic-at-Large
1. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
2. Kesha – Rainbow
3. Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory
4. SZA – CTRL
5. Angaleena Presley – Wrangled
6. Lana Del Rey – Lust for Life
7. Margo Price – All American Made
8. Lily Hiatt – Trinity Lane
9. Menzingers – After the Party
10. Low Cut Connie – Dirty Pictures (Part 1)

There have been a lot of fame-is-messing-with-my-head albums in pop music; this is one of the best of them, thoughtful, grateful, and defiant. The year’s biggest beats, augmented by Lamar’s pinpoint-precise vocals. — KT

Chris Willman
1. Taylor Swift – Reputation
2. Aimee Mann – Mental Illness
3. The New Pornographers – Whiteout Conditions
4. Lorde – Melodrama
5. Chris Stapleton – From a Room, Vol. 1
6. St. Vincent– Masseduction
7. Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer – Not Dark Yet
8. Mavis Staples – If All I Was Was Black
9. P!nk – Beautiful Trauma
10. Sam Smith – The Thrill of It All

It’s not always inexplicable why someone is on top. Even as she more fully clothes herself in Max Martin and Shellback’s of-the-moment urban electronics, and adopts a more rhythmic lyrical phrasing that makes her confessionals feel more contemporary and playful, Swift remains pop’s most skillfully transparent songwriter. — CW

Jon Wiederhorn
1. Mastodon – Emperor of Sand
2. Chelsea Wolfe – Hiss Spun
3. Queens of the Stone Age – Villains
4. Full of Hell – Trumpeting Ecstasy
5. Slowdive – Slowdive
6. Code Orange – Forever
7. Dead Cross – Dead Cross
8. Converge – The Dusk in Us
9. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
10. Foo Fighters – Concrete and Gold

Tragically, three of the four members of Atlanta-based prog/psych-metal band Mastodon had their lives directly altered by cancer over the past few years. Instead of letting the affliction destroy them, they mustered up their creativity into a masterful concept album filled with metaphors about disease, faith healers, charlatans, and cosmic journeys. And rather than deliver the message in a morbid, scattershot package of rage, they crafted songs that were equally catchy and complex, coping with loss and hardship the way they always have: through innovative music and trippy art. — JW

Paul Grein
1. Harry Styles – Harry Styles
2. Ed Sheeran – ÷
3. Sam Smith – The Thrill of It All
4. Lorde – Melodrama
5. Kesha – Rainbow
6. Chris Stapleton – From a Room, Vol. 1
7. Khalid – American Teen
8. Logic – Everybody
9. Portugal. The Man – Woodstock
10. Haim – Something to Tell You

Harry Styles’s solo debut represented a big jump from his One Direction music. The title song — a nearly six-minute power ballad — was one of the year’s most ambitious hit singles. — PG

Lori Majewski
1. Aimee Mann – Mental Illness
2.
Lorde – Melodrama
3. U2 – Songs of Experience
4. Harry Styles – Harry Styles
5. Dreamcar – Dreamcar
6. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – The Punishment of Luxury
7. Beck – Colors
8. Fergie – Double Dutchess 
9. The Killers – Wonderful, Wonderful
10. Living Colour – Shade

Aimee Mann declared her ninth studio album to be her “slowest, saddest, and most acoustic,” but it’s also her absolute best to date. Months later, I can still recall my inaugural listen. As snowflakes tumbled from the grayest of skies, the record played in my car while I marveled at how Mann had made a collection of songs that is, in essence, the musical equivalent of a late-winter’s day: melancholic, lonely, introspective. And yet it’s a wonderful wallow. Even in Mental Illness’s darkest moments, if you look hard enough, you’ll find a wry smile and a hopeful heart. — LM

Dave DiMartino
1. Michael Head & the Red Elastic Band – Adios Señor Pussycat
2. The Clientele – Music for the Age of Miracles
3. Howard Ivans – Beautiful Tired Bodies
4. Lindsey Buckingham & Christine McVie – Lindsey Buckingham & Christine McVie
5. Bibio – Phantom Brickworks
6. The Drums – Abysmal Thoughts
7. The Blackeyed Susans – Close Your Eyes and See
8. Momus – Pillycock
9. Yumi Zouma – Willowbank
10. Nick Garrie – The Moon and the Village

Michael Head meets every possible definition of major pop cult figure, his records have been dribbling out extremely sporadically since his days with the Pale Fountains and Shack, and there isn’t a one that isn’t quietly spectacular. Just like this one is. — DD

Jim Farber
1. Hurray for the Riff-Raff – The Navigator
2. Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer – Not Dark Yet
3. Jade Jackson – Gilded
4. Floating Points – Reflections: Mojave Desert
5. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
6) Benjamin Booker – Witness
7) Fleet Foxes – Crack Up
8) The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
9) Margo Price – All American Made
10) Sampha – Process

On her earlier albums, Alynda Segarra (a.k.a. Hurray for the Riff-Raff) explored the raffish sounds, and troubadour musings, of Americana music. For the 29-year-old’s latest work, she brought it all back home, reconnecting to a New York Puerto Rican heritage she had long buried. Drawing inspiration from Ziggy Stardust, she conceived The Navigator as a sci-fi-tinged concept album ready for staging. The music, fired by Segarra’s resounding vibrato, struck an original balance between Bomba rhythms, doo-wop pop, Brill Building hits, and ’70s New York rock, along the way connecting the dots in a half-century history of Latin influences on popular music. — JF

Craig Rosen
1. Daniele Luppi & Parquet Courts – MILANO
2. Filthy Friends – Invitation
3. The National – Sleep Well Beast
4. St. Vincent – Masseducation
5. The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
6. LCD Soundsystem – American Dream
7. Father John Misty – Pure Comedy
8. Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings – Soul of a Woman
9. Bash & Pop – Anything Can Happen
10. Chicano Batman – Freedom Is Free

Previously best-known for Rome, his 2011 collaboration with Danger Mouse featuring Jack White, Daniele Luppi enlisted Brooklyn’s Parquet Courts and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O for this year’s most refreshing album. There are echoes of the Velvet Underground, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and the B-52’s on MILANO’s short, nine songs, and yet somehow it still manages to sound fresh and vital. — CR

Billy Johnson Jr.
1. SZA – Ctrl
2. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN
3. Jay-Z – 4:44
4. Miguel – War and Leisure
5. Derek Minor – High Above
6. Logic –  Everybody
7. Tyler, the Creator – Flower Boy
8. Gucci Mane – Mr. Davis
9. Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings – Soul of a Woman
10. Joey Bada$$ –  All-Amerikkkan Badass

I love SZA’s slow, steady evolution, the way she enunciates, the unique tone of her voice, her vulnerable lyrics … and her hair. — BJ

Steve Baltin
1. The National – Sleep Well Beast
2. Afghan Whigs – Do to the Beast
3. Rationale – Rationale
4. Lorde – Melodrama
5. Miguel – War and Leisure
6. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
7. John Mayer – The Search for Everything
8. Lindsey Buckingham & Christine McVie – Lindsey Buckingham & Christine McVie
9. Foo Fighters – Concrete and Gold
10. Vic Mensa – The Autobiography

Once again proving they are among the best songwriters in rock today, the National deliver songs that are both cerebral and cut to your heart. — SB

Lina Lecaro
1. Lana Del Rey – Lust for Life
2. St. Vincent – Masseduction
3. The Regrettes – Feel Your Feelings Fool
4. Gary Numan – Savage (Songs From a Broken World)
5. Jay Z – 4:44
6. Slowdive – Slowdive
7. Kesha – Rainbow
8. Marilyn Manson – Heaven Upside Down
9. Ty Segall – Ty Segall
10. The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding

Admittedly, I had a problem at first with Lana Del Rey borrowing a title from Iggy Pop. But after many listens, Lust for Life not only held its own, but created an entirely new connection to the phrase, transforming it into something feminine and fierce. Melding torch-song moods, a little twang, and more emphasis on soulful groove and even rock references than she has in the past, this guest-packed record was a lush and layered alternative to both Katy and Taylor’s galvanizing grinds this year. It was a great year for women in music (recording-wise, anyway), and though it might have been coincidental, the bold lyricism and experimentation by Del Rey and others (Kesha, St. Vincent) mirrored the cultural climate in a way that made listening to them not only enjoyable, but empowering as well. — LL

Chuck Arnold
1. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
2. JAY-Z – 4:44
3. SZA – Ctrl
4. P!nk – Beautiful Trauma
5. U2 – Songs of Experience
6. Sam Smith – The Thrill of It All
7. Miguel – War and Leisure
8. Harry Styles – Harry Styles
9. Khalid – American Teen
10. Kesha – Rainbow

Really, this came down to a straight-up battle between K-Dot and rap’s elder statesman, Jay-Z. But in the end, Lamar was the younger and nimbler, bolder, and beastier man at the top of his game, making his third hip-hop classic in five years after 2012’s good kid, m.A.A.D city and 2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly. His mantra may have been “Sit down, be humble,” but damn if he didn’t have bragging rights to 2017. — CA

Laura Ferreiro
1. St. Vincent – Masseduction
2. Beck – Colors
3. LCD Soundsystem – American Dream
4. Austra – Future Politics
5. Gary Numan – Savage (Songs From a Broken World)
6. Laura Marling – Semper Femina
7. Marika Hackman – I’m Not Your Man
8. Moses Sumney – Aromanticism
9.The National – Sleep Well Beast
10. Slowdive – Slowdive

The fifth album by the artist born Annie Clark packs a punch like an iron fist in a velvet glove. Underneath its slick pop melodies and Clark’s virtuoso guitar and vocal performances lie scathing social commentary and fearless experimentation. Stellar tracks “Pills” and “Los Ageless” offer bleak pictures of contemporary society, which are all the more haunting because of how true they ring. — LF

The Reverend Shawn Amos
1. Jason Isbell and the 400 Foot Unit – The Nashville Sound
2. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
3. Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm – Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm
4. Father John Misty – Pure Comedy
5. The National – Sleep Well Beast
6. Mavis Staples – If All I Was Was Black
7. Robert Plant – Carry Fire
8. Paul Weller – A Kind Revolution
9. Lalah Hathaway – Honestly
10. Van Morrison – Roll With the Punches

In 2017, Jason Isbell saved Nashville, country, and America from itself. — SA

Rob O’Connor
1. The Replacements – For Sale: Live at Maxwell’s, 1986
2. Slowdive – Slowdive
3. Mount Eerie – A Crow Looked at Me
4. Dead Man Winter – Furnace
5. Strand of Oaks – Hard Love
6. The Suburbs – Hey Muse!
7. Spoon – Hot Thoughts
8. Julien Baker – Turn Out the Lights
9. Neil Young – Hitchhiker
10. Robyn Hitchcock – Robyn Hitchcock

There’s something anticlimactic about choosing an album that was recorded one night in 1986 as 2017’s best, yet the Replacements’ live album skewers the results in the same way that a major performer from any era would when releasing material from their prime. The songs themselves — “Answering Machine,” “Left of the Dial,” “Hold My Life” — are indestructible and straight from the heart, resulting in the same kind of chills that “Gimme Shelter,” “A House Is Not a Motel,” and “Radio Radio” always deliver. — RO

Robert of the Radish
1. Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile — Lotta Sea Lice 
2. The National — Sleep Well Beast
3. LCD Soundsystem — American  Dream
4. The War on Drugs — A Deeper Understanding
5. Fleet Foxes — Crack-Up
6. St. Vincent — Masseduction
7. Slowdive — Slowdive
8. Robert Plant — Carry Fire
9. Alison Moyet — Other
10. Mount Eerie — A Crow Looked at Me 

Lotta Sea Lice is rock ’n’ roll roots music at its pinnacle. Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile team up to deliver the best parts of themselves, in what for me is the best album of 2017. The pair weave their spirits loosely into a warm, comfortable blanket. But in a bright, alt-psychedelic pattern that will be forever in fashion. — ROTR

Tristram Lozaw
1. ACME — Thrive on Routine
2. Preservation Hall Jazz Band — So It Is
3. Aimee Mann — Mental Illness
4. Pere Ubu — 20 Years in a Montana Missile Silo
5. Faust — Fresh Air
6. Daughter — Music from Before the Storm
7. Songhoy Blues — Resistance
8. Joan Shelley — Joan Shelley
9. U2 — Songs of Experience
10. Kendrick Lamar — DAMN.

I easily could have filled three 2017 top 10 lists with different albums, but American Contemporary Music Ensemble’s transcendent Thrive on Routine would have topped each of them. The new music collective boasts a long list of collaborations with artists including Grizzly Bear, Caroline Eyck, Matmos, and Jim Jarmusch, but Thrive is the first ACME self-portrait. On it, they flex their ability to bring eclectic “outside” music “inside,” steeping reimagined concepts in contemporary appeal — call it indie-classical. From a sublime sway of melancholy strings and echoing piano percolations, through playful chamber mashups, to somber vibraphone-fueled minimalism, Thrive lures us in with its striking beauty, even when it’s making us uncomfortable. — TL