- Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
Kind of an obvious choice, right? But it’s the right one! I honestly can’t imagine another album topping this one in 2017. After releasing the larger-than-life To Pimp a Butterfly in 2015, I don’t think many fans were expecting something as focused and singular as DAMN., but Kung-Fu Kenny has never been one to do what people expect.
The run Kendrick has been on these last few years is downright staggering. After dropping a solid debut, Section.80, in 2011, he’s gone on to release three straight classics that fans will be talking about for decades. There’s a legitimate argument to be made that Kendrick’s last three studio albums—good kid, m.A.A.d. City, To Pimp a Butterfly and DAMN.—are the three best hip-hop albums of the last five years. Nuts, right? And I have a feeling he’s just getting started.
Key tracks: “DNA.,” “HUMBLE.” “GOD.”
- Sampha – Process
Before Process dropped in February, Sampha was largely known for his appearances on tracks by artists such as Drake and Solange. Now, though, the world knows that he’s a complete artist who is worth listening to on his own. This album sounds like a mix of 70s soul, Björk and Radiohead’s last few albums. It’s raw, it’s powerful and it only gets better the more you listen.
Key tracks: “Blood on Me,” “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano,” “Timmy’s Prayer”
- Colter Wall – Colter Wall
Hey, look, it’s yet another excellent modern country album produced by Dave Cobb! Colter Wall is a young Canadian who I had never heard of until a few months ago. Now that I know the name, though, I won’t be forgetting it anytime soon. This is one hell of a record.
Key tracks: “Thirteen Silver Dollars,” “Codeine Dream,” “Kate McCannon”
- Joan Shelley – Joan Shelley
Joan Shelley is my favorite modern songwriter and I’ve absolutely loved all of her albums, as well as her work with Maiden Radio. 2014’s Electric Ursa still holds a special place in my heart, but her Jeff Tweedy-produced self-titled album is a true work of art that deserves to be heard.
She’s also extraordinary live! I saw her for the second time a few weeks ago, and I might have been a tad bummed she didn’t play “First of August,” but I’ll survive.
Key tracks: “Where I’ll Find You,” “I Got What I Wanted,” “Wild Indifference”
- Willie Nelson – God’s Problem Child
Released on the day before his 84th (!) birthday, God’s Problem Child is my favorite Willie Nelson album in decades. His voice and his fretwork are starting to slow down a bit, sure, but Willie can still knock you on your ass with a single lyric.
Key tracks: “Little House on the Hill,” “God’s Problem Child,” “He Won’t Ever Be Gone”
(Sandy) Alex G – Rocket
Roger Waters – Is This the Life We Really Want?
White Reaper – The World’s Best American Band