USA TODAY's 10 favorite albums
Here's a look at USA TODAY's Top 10 albums of the year.
Good news was hard to come by in 2017, but great music less so. From hip-hop heavyweights to art-pop prodigies, here are some of this year's best albums:
The Grammys got this one right when they passed over all the other releases by big-name female pop stars and nominated Melodrama for the 2018 album of the year. The sophomore release from the New Zealand phenom is a dazzling follow-up to her 2013 debut, Pure Heroine. Released when she was 17, Pure Heroine cast Lorde as an android-like observer of adult emotions to which she was largely immune, matched in coolness by the album’s minimal beats.
Compare that with Melodrama’s crashing tidal wave of feelings, with Lorde's and collaborator Jack Antonoff’s lush pop compositions guiding the listener through her phases of heartbreak in all its wild nights and romantic obsessions and lonely mornings-after. It’s the very best kind of pop album, that’s maximalist in its high-drama storytelling, while personal enough in its songwriting to leave a stinging mark. — MM
Grizzly Bear, Painted Ruins
The Brooklyn-bred indie rockers returned after a too-long hiatus with some of their best music yet, weaving together a vivid tapestry of longing and regret that's reflective of the band members' own personal growth: going through marriages, divorces, kids and solo projects in the five years since 2012's Shields. Sonically, it might also be their most assertive effort, building on their lo-fi foundation with piercing guitars and thunderous percussion that might combust if it weren't for Ed Droste's and Daniel Rossen's pastoral harmonies. — PR
Kendrick Lamar, Damn
Damn is further proof to Kendrick Lamar fans of the rapper’s supremacy in his genre, completing a hat trick of breathlessly acclaimed albums alongside 2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly and 2012’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D City. Damn is an easier listen than the weightiness of To Pimp a Butterfly, a challenging album by design, and casts Lamar’s life in a wider focus than the Compton-centric Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, meditating on his relationships with his family, community and newfound fame.
The album has its engaging radio hits, from the hydraulics-bouncing Humble and Loyalty’s humble-braggy Rihanna collaboration to Love, as straightforward and earnest a song as its title suggests. Beyond the singles, there’s introspection and self-doubt and the occasional jab at adversaries ranging from Lamar’s rap peers to Fox News and President Trump. While Damn is more radio-ready than its predecessor, Lamar doesn't sacrifice the artistic quality that drew critics to Butterfly, sounding as musically imaginative and politically vital as he ever has. — MM
Haim, Something to Tell You
The three-sister band throws out the rule book on their adventurous sophomore outing, silencing critics who may have thought their deep-rooted '70s nostalgia was just a novelty act on debut Days Are Gone. Here, they lean further into those Fleetwood Mac comparisons while also charting new territory, trying out effervescent '50s doo-wop and simmering '90s R&B with genial, polished aplomb. — PR
From its very first listen, CTRL feels as worn-in as a favorite sweater, a loyal and comfortable companion to anyone fumbling their way through the frustrations of modern romance. And SZA, the 28-year-old R&B singer who nabbed a best-new artist Grammy nomination, has emerged as a poet laureate of Millennials’ sexual freedom, as she navigates disappointing men and half-relationships with all the introspection and self-love that listeners only hope to approximate in their own lives.
The album feels like a spiritual successor to Frank Ocean’s revelatory 2012 release Channel Orange, another defining debut from an astoundingly self-assured young artist making R&B with an ear for pop hooks and writing lyrics that articulate the perils of young love as if they were your own. — MM
Father John Misty, Pure Comedy
Former Fleet Foxes drummer Josh Tillman sounds off on modern-day concerns surrounding technology, consumerism and politics in this bleakly hilarious appraisal of the human race, which is fortified by his inventive metaphors and lofty ideas. Sounding like a cynical Elton John steeling himself for the apocalypse, no one tackles impending death with as much sarcasm and disarming honesty as Father John Misty on his delightfully strange third album. — PR
St. Vincent, Masseduction
Even its title sounds lethal. Annie Clark’s fifth album is the latest phase in the singer’s metamorphosis from an indie-pop guitar virtuoso to a peerless, genre-transcending auteur. If Masseduction had to be labeled with a genre, it’d be “terror pop,” executing its blown-out synth riffs, compressed guitars and icy melodies with all the warmth and precision of a razorblade. Clark cements her status as David Bowie’s next-generation successor, as she coolly assesses the states of New York and Los Angeles as she chews her way through lovers and clinically evaluates her own eventual death. — MM
Vince Staples, Big Fish Theory
One of the most glaring omissions from this year's Grammy nominations is that of Big Fish Theory in rap categories, where this 24-year-old Long Beach native should have been recognized for his continuous efforts to reimagine what hip-hop should and can sound like. He fully submerges his socially conscious rhymes in grimy bass lines and Detroit techno house beats, making a rap album that's equally at home on the dance floor of an underground club as it is booming through your car speakers. — PR
Waxahatchee, Out in the Storm
The project of singer-songwriter Katie Crutchfield has cycled through various sounds, from the lo-fi guitar strumming of her staggering 2012 debut album American Weekend to the Sheryl Crow nostalgia of 2015’s Ivy Tripp. Out in the Storm arms Crutchfield with a full band to chronicle the downfall of a relationship, where she finds herself alone yet possessed with a newfound power, balancing screw-you tracks that blast her heartbreak at full volume with more contemplative moments of quiet sadness. With Out in the Storm, Crutchfield’s nuanced guitar-rock has never sounded tighter and her songs have never been more tempting to scream along to, cementing her status as one of her generation’s most essential artists. — MM
The National,Sleep Well Beast
Trump-inspired music has been a mixed bag in the president's first year, with The National standing tall as one of the few artists who has managed to capture the fears and anxieties that many people are feeling right now. Calling the president's supporters and his late-night tweet storms into question, lead singer Matt Berninger diverges from his traditionally brooding persona and erupts into what can only be described as a primal scream: rallying the next generation to rail against injustices where they see them. With further musings on marriage and tested marriages, it's the rare album that's both of the moment and timeless. — PR