05. Jlin – Black Origami
Origin: Gary, Indiana
The Gist: Counting two of the biggest names in the footwork genre as major inspirations, Jlin’s vision of electronic music somehow never feels overshadowed by the specter of RP Boo and DJ Rashad. The producer born Jerrilynn Patton clearly learned the lessons of juke and footwork, but takes apart the tropes and rhythms of those genres and then interlocks them with her own innovative language.
Why It Rules: Jlin’s sophomore record, Black Origami, somehow both keeps the beat pumping to make sitting still impossible and demands thoughtful patience. You’ll want to sit down and think through exactly how her synths and drum patterns work, but then your feet will also be fluttering uncontrollably. Let it unfold and wrap itself around you, and it will then reform in unbelievable new shapes. –Lior Phillips
04. Spoon – Hot Thoughts
Origin: Austin, Texas
The Gist: With consistency comes expectation. And it also leads to being taken for granted. This is the plight of Spoon, a band that had released six consecutive albums to acclaim coming into 2017 and has managed to do so with each effort finding new avenues to explore within the band’s signature sound. At that, Hot Thoughts continues with what is expected from the band: groove-based flirtations with greatness that are as commendable for their big-picture cohesiveness as their detail-oriented precision.
Why It Rules: At a certain point, it feels a little unfair that Spoon have this many great albums up their sleeve and that they always offer their own slight twist on the formula. Hot Thoughts presents Spoon as less of a guitar rock band than ever, delving into more synthetic textures in an attempt to see where it takes them. The result is most remarkable in how it still manages to fit with their catalog rather than deviate from it. Sure, the six-minute experimentation “Pink Up” or the minimalist drama of “I Ain’t the One” stand as stunning outliers in the Spoon catalog, but often the record works as new maps to the same destination, proving you can teach a 20-year-old band new tricks without losing their uncanny ability as songwriters. –Philip Cosores
03. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
Origin: Compton, California
The Gist: Kendrick Lamar announced his ascension to the rap world pinnacle in 2015 with To Pimp a Butterfly and then stayed on top last year by showing that even his demos and castoffs (untitled unmastered.) could outdo the rest of the game. To keep the dominant streak alive, K-Dot released the muscular, propulsive DAMN.. The smoldering masterpiece screams truth to power — and power to power.
Why It Rules: Kendrick sampled Fox News and collaborated with U2 and James Blake and somehow not only ties it all together, but does it confidently as the newly anointed voice of his generation. DAMN. reins in his focus, loses none of the intensity, and delivers just as much catharsis and perhaps more repeatability. –Lior Phillips
02. Slowdive – Slowdive
Origin: Reading, England
The Gist: After a trio of albums in the ’90s, including the stone-cold classic Souvlaki, the shoegaze icons went dormant for a really long time. Then, in 2014, the five-piece reformed for shows, then tours, and now their first new album in 22 years. The self-titled record doesn’t fall into typical reunion pitfalls and avoids many of the expected narratives for an album of its type, thus transferring Slowdive outside the time and space from which they were previously known and into a timeless ether.
Why It Rules: For anyone that saw Slowdive perform over the last few years, it shouldn’t have been too surprising that their reunion album would feel so necessary. But in the greater context of music, this is a huge rarity, that a band could come back with a collection that feels worth every year that fans spent waiting for it. It packs legitimate singles, like “Star Roving” and “Sugar for the Pill”, that stand up to the legends’ greatest hits while other moments, like the breathtaking “Slomo”, dare to defy genre in favor of body-tingling, otherworldly experiences. In other contexts, Slowdive would still be a great album. But considering the expectations that come with such a long hiatus, the context makes it a masterpiece. –Philip Cosores
01. Ryan Adams – Prisoner
Origin: Raleigh, North Carolina
The Gist: Following his divorce from Mandy Moore — the two had been dating since 2008 and married in 2009 — Ryan Adams stopped covering Taylor Swift and got real serious. Like 80 songs serious. Eventually, he chiseled that overwhelming collection down to just 12 emotional songs and called it Prisoner, his 16th album and arguably his strongest since he began running solo with 2000’s Heartbreaker.
Why It Rules: Out of all the albums on this list, and of those released this year so far, none feel as cohesive and as affecting as Prisoner. From beginning to end, Adams never loses sight of what he’s singing about, and that sense of singularity is admittedly jarring. Let’s just say, Adams is a much better songwriter than he is an editor, and his catalog reflects that: a sprawling assortment of moods, ideas, and rhythms that he’s traditionally tossed on vinyl like a denim-loving Jackson Pollack.
And while that scatterbrained palette is one of the reasons why he’s long been one of the most unpredictable figures in rock and roll, that hallmark hasn’t always warranted the greatest records. Prisoner, though, is a great record. It’s a series of snapshots that feel both personal and affable, a blurry line that Adams toes rather precariously for a little under 43 minutes, and not one of them sounds underdeveloped or out of focus or overexposed. It’s an album in the purest sense. –Michael Roffman