40. LCD Soundsystem – American Dream
Origin: Brooklyn, New York
The Gist: When David Bowie gives you the seal of approval, you can turn a permanent conclusion into a five-year hiatus and a stellar return album. James Murphy and co. ended all the rumors once and for all with American Dream and did so with a bang. The album feels incredibly present, addressing the pervasive existential loneliness and concern while bringing the family back together.
Why It Rules: American Dream retains all of LCD Soundsystem’s ability to fill the dance floor and bring tears to your eyes. There were plenty of fears that they’d lose the goodwill earned by a public exit, but with an honest, powerful record like this, LCD only further cemented their spot as dance rock’s best friend.
Essential Tracks: “oh baby”, “call the police”, and “i used to”
39. Power Trip – Nightmare Logic
Origin: Dallas, Texas
The Gist: Nearly four years since making shadowy underground moves with their brash debut, Manifest Decimation, these young lions of thrash step into the spotlight emboldened with furious purpose.
Why It Rules: While fellow crossover revivalists Iron Reagan mix horror with humor, Power Trip come across as grave and grim as their considerably more hardcore forebears, levying heaviness in a deadly whirlwind of shreds and shouts.
Essential Tracks: “Executioner’s Tax”, “Firing Squad”, and “Nightmare Logic”
38. Vic Mensa – The Autobiography
Origin: Chicago, Illinois
The Gist: After breaking through with 2013’s Innanetape and working closely alongside Kanye West, Vic Mensa finally delivers on his tremendous promise with his debut studio album on JAY-Z’s Roc Nation label with a major assist from legendary producer No I.D.
Why It Rules: Mensa sheds the mismatched sound from his scrapped album, Traffic, to rediscover the full range of his rapping and songwriting abilities. He takes listeners on a journey of his past several years struggling with drug abuse and dealing with a failed relationship while also addressing issues of racism and social inequality.
Essential Tracks: “We Could Be Free”, “Memories on 47th St.”, and “Coffee & Cigarettes”
37. Julie Byrne – Not Even Happiness
The Gist: After spending years on the road performing as part of a fiercely independent DIY music community, Julie Byrne stayed put in New York City and coalesced the thoughts and experiences of her past few transient trips around the sun into this unnervingly beautiful album.
Why It Rules: Not Even Happiness is a stunning combination of strong lyricism and technical skill. Byrne fingerpicks a guitar she inherited from her father and pours every ounce of herself into these compositions, laying her innermost feelings completely bare in the process.
Essential Tracks: “Sleepwalker”, “Natural Blue”, and “I Live Now as a Singer”
36. The National – Sleep Well Beast
Origin: Cincinnati, Ohio
The Gist: On their first album since scoring a Grammy nomination four years ago, The National have mastered their own sound, a brooding tunefulness they’ve streamlined into their prettiest batch of songs in a career of constantly topping themselves.
Why It Rules: Sleep Well Beast flexes this fairly grayscale band’s impressive range more than anything they’ve done in years. The quietude of the vaporous, Notwist-like opener “Nobody Else Will Be There” is driven into the red on the careening blues metal of “Turtleneck”, this band’s hardest-rocking song since 2005, and they plot points along their widest-cast grid ever on all 12 of these songs, which rank among their tightest and most surprising; check out those hypnotic synth pings on “Walk It Back”. You could even say they’ve finally made an album that won’t have to grow on you.
Essential Tracks: “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness”, “Turtleneck”, and “Sleep Well Beast”
35. Sampha – Process
Origin: South London, United Kingdom
Why It Rules: Process proved more than worth the wait, a masterclass in restraint built around minimalist arrangements that felt like a collection of private moments he had deigned to share, displaying a quiet strength.
Essential Tracks: “Blood on Me”, “(Nobody Knows Me) Like the Piano”, and “Timmy’s Prayer”
34. BROCKHAMPTON – Saturation 2
Origin: Los Angeles, California
The Gist: On their second studio album in the span of only a few months, the nebulous LA rap crew still sound like a hurricane barreling toward solid ground. But thrilling individual performances from ringleader Kevin Abstract and Ameer Vann show that BROCKHAMPTON’s quality is starting to match the dizzying quantity of their output.
Why It Rules: Coming hot on the heels of the first Saturation, Saturation II is the sound of a young group innovating on the fly. The beats are stranger, funkier, and more hypnotic throughout, and tracks like “Junky” and “Gummy” embrace the group’s status as quasi-revolutionary upstarts in a hip-hop world built on the twin pillars of ego and machismo.
Essential Tracks: “Junky”, “Swamp”, and “Sweet”
33. Thundercat – Drunk
Origin: Los Angeles, California
The Gist: After earning a Grammy for his work on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, LA bassist and producer Stephen Bruner (AKA Thundercat) wove a relatable oddball soundscape that drew equally from ’70 cratedigger soul, anime fan fiction, and the political hip-hop of his most famous collaborator.
Why It Rules: You mean beside the fact that it’s probably the only record that will ever feature guest spots from both Kenny Loggins and Wiz Khalifa? Try the woozy production from Flying Lotus, or the genre-hopping, existential nerdery that manages to cover everything from Dragon Ball Z to police brutality with the same beguilingly, tipsy energy.
Essential Tracks: “Bus in These Streets”, “Show You the Way”, and “Them Changes”
32. Tori Amos – Native Invader
Origin: Cornwall, United Kingdom
The Gist: On her 15th album, Tori Amos takes inspiration from the Smoky Mountains’ childhood of her mother, who recently suffered a debilitating stroke, and the election of Donald Trump, bringing listeners along for a powerful exploration of the glory inherent in nature, femininity, and vulnerability.
Why It Rules: On this surging, cathartic album of pop piano poetry, Amos’ giant voice and expansive imagination wrap you up tight and warm, giving you the space to bawl your eyes out. Together, the soaring vocals, complex arrangements, and vivid imagery offer a painful, inspiring, holy experience that could only exist in 2017.
Essential Tracks: “Up the Creek”, “Bang”, and “Climb”
31. King Krule – The OOZ
Origin: London, United Kingdom
The Gist: As King Krule, lifelong Londoner Archy Marshall trucks in darkly melodic trip-hop that never shies away from unearthing Marshall’s deepest emotions and fears. On The OOZ, he sifts through the detritus of daily life, bumping up against what he perceives to be his own artistic limitations as he examines the aftermath of a failed relationship.
Why It Rules: Marshall is a master of atmospherics, creating entire ecosystems within his work that operate by their own rules. The OOZ, Marhall’s second as King Krule, finds him strategically and periodically emerging from the murk he’s created to strike out in anger and pain, only to retreat again. It’s as immediate and compelling a listening experience as you’re likely to find this year.
Essential Tracks: “Biscuit Town”, “Dum Surfer”, and “Half Man Half Shark”