The 50 best albums of 2017
It’s been a mighty year for the comeback.
We don't mean for cynical cash-grabs from artists past their prime, but the re-emergence of artists - many of whom exploded in the 2000s - who, for whatever reason, went quiet over the past half-decade or so.
Most of these comeback records were very good. Some of them were so brilliant they put their previous work in the shade. Many of the year's best musical moments have felt like being reacquainted with an old musical friend.
While the comeback is a strong theme that comes through in the best albums of this year, that's not to take away from the new players who emerge on this list.
Debut albums make up a reasonable percentage of the list, as do confident follow-ups to recent breakthrough records.
Most importantly, this is a list of excellent records that - viewed as a whole - suggests that we have enjoyed one hell of a year of killer music in 2017.
The Double J team has voted, and these are what we think are the 50 best albums of 2017.
50. Arcade Fire – Everything Now
The title track from Arcade Fire’s fifth album Everything Now sounds like a bouncy mash-up of ABBA’s ‘Dancing Queen’ and ‘90s Rusted Root song ‘Send Me On My Way’, with some unexpected but very welcome pygmy-flute. And somehow it works.
The album contemplates what it means to exist and feel and consume in a world of endless digital content.
There’s self-reflection, irony and a general sadness all wrapped up in 70s inspired disco funk, twinkling synth-pop, dance-rock and a stripped back dreamy ballad.
While the album doesn’t quite reach the triumphant heights of 2013’s Reflektor, it’s an excellent attempt. Give it a few listens and you’ll find there’s a lot on offer here. – Gab Burke
49. Angus & Julia Stone – Snow
The subtle but consistent evolution of Angus & Julia Stone’s sound is a compelling reason to stick with them if you’ve considered wavering at any stage since the band’s big break.
Everything is in almost perfect balance on album number four. Its songs are playful and mature in equal measure. Its production traditionally luscious with just enough little cutting edge adornments to keep it intersting.
It's a dark record, but full of heart. The siblings never claim to be best friends, but the combination of their considerable talents remains one of the most powerful collaborations in modern Australian pop. – Dan Condon
48. Big Thief – Capacity
Such beauty and sadness pervades Big Thief’s second record. Everything we loved about their debut of last year is retained on this swift follow-up, most notably Adrianne Lenker’s warm, personable voice and knack for such vivid storytelling.
Some of the songs are brutal; ‘Watering’ is terrifyingly in its portrayal of assault. Album highlight ‘Mythological Beauty’ is a retelling of an incident that left Lenker with serious head trauma and close to death.
Behind her, the band is sympathetic to Lenker’s stark poetry. Their sound is generally atmospheric, sitting somewhere between folk and indie-rock, both intimate and expansive when it needs to be.
At album two, you get a sense that this is just the beginning of big things for Big Thief. – Dan Condon
47. RVG – A Quality Of Mercy
The first time RVG released their debut album A Quality of Mercy, early in 2017, they did so with very little pomp and ceremony – basically, they didn’t really tell anyone. Later in the year they bought some highlighters and sharpies and got to the business of alerting us to its existence. And thank goodness they did.
Their debut album kicks off with the low hum of a tram and conjures some of the heartbreaking, guitar soaked sounds of Australia with a twist of UK melancholy. Listen to it on a hot summer night, as the sun sets over your hometown - it’s an album full of the romance of a runaway. – Jacinta Parsons
46. JAY-Z – 4:44
JAY-Z’s 2013 album Magna Carta Holy Grail was a rare misstep, preoccupied with conspicuous consumption and gaudy production and overshadowed by an inelegant Samsung deal. 4:44, his thirteenth studio record, is everything MCHG isn’t – unflinchingly personal and sonically laser-guided.
Helmed by Kanye West mentor No I.D. and clocking in at a taut 36 minutes, 4:44 addresses topics JAY-Z has never touched on – affairs, a damaged relationship with Kanye, and his mother coming out are just some of the diary entries opened for scrutiny.
Never has Jay been more relatable, nor his songs more age-appropriate. – Sam Wicks
45. Methyl Ethel – Everything Is Forgotten
Methyl Ethel have a knack for melody few bands possess (see ‘Ubu’, ‘Femme Maison/One Man House’, basically every song on this record). The vocal flow on ‘Drink Wine’, the way it falls all about the rhythm, is entrancing.
This is a beat-and-melody driven record that doesn’t just rest on its beats and its melodies.
The lyrics are solid, and the production has a lightness – drawing on lots of high-pitched, woozy synthesizer – that binds the 11 songs and makes for a cinematic listen. – Paul Donoughue
44. Caiti Baker – Zinc
Caiti Baker’s debut solo album doesn’t sound great on paper. A confluence of the big band jazz she loved as a child and the hip hop she fell for as a teen – all presented through a kind of indie/pop prism – it sounds like it’s going to be too much music that doesn’t really go together.
But Baker takes it all on with such confidence that, somehow, it all works. That is testament not only to her talent, but to her vision.
There probably aren’t any other artists who could make an album like Zinc, because it relies so heavily on Baker’s intimate knowledge and love of the genres she tackles. – Dan Condon
43. Beaches – Second Of Spring
Hell-bent on releasing a double album of epic, guitar drenched psych-rock jams in 2017? Go all in. Seriously. Throw everything at it. Turn everything up to 11. Drown me in it. Surprise me too.
Beaches’ know what I’m talking about, and have accepted this challenge with gusto on their captivating and freewheelin’ Second of Spring.
The Melbourne indie-quintet shred hard across a monstrous 75 minutes of primal jams, interstellar instrumentals and motoric-inspired distorted-pop gems. It’s a feast for guitar gluttons everywhere, served up by a band with big ambitions. – Ryan Egan
42. Nic Cester – Sugar Rush
After the demise of Jet, Nic Cester took time off to recharge his song writing batteries and rediscover his passion for music making. Sugar Rush, his first release since the band broke up, is a record of startling beauty and musical complexity.
Thanks to amazing Italian band Calibro35, Sugar Rush is strong on groove and melody, referencing classic ‘60s pop arrangements, filmic soundtracks and ‘70s funk and soul, all wrapped up in a thick psychedelic fuzz.
Lyrically, it seems a very personal album, exploring themes of life, love, regret, and surviving the rock’n’roll Dream. – Phil McKellar
41. Rapsody – Laila’s Wisdom
“This album is colourful, mad colourful,” says Marlanna Evans – aka North Carolina rapper Rapsody – of her second full length record.
It’s named and informed by her grandmother’s wisdom and delivered with the natural ease of a veteran in the game. But it’s not about speed or showiness, this is an album about versatility and genuineness of expression. It creates a dialogue between listener and rapper and you can easily become invested in the tales that unfold.
There are big names on board like Black Thought, Kendrick Lamar, Anderson .Paak and Busta Rhymes. But there’s no mistaking that these are Evans’ stories, unflinching observations conveyed with strength, thoughtfulness and soul.
It’s not just a superb hip hop album by a female artist, it’s a superb hip hop album period. – Caz Tran
40. Gang Of Youths – Go Farther in Lightness
Go Farther in Lightness is a sprawling, grandiose and deeply personal album that explores life, love, fear and making sense of the world in all its bleakness and brightness.
Frontman Dave Le'aupepe channels confusion, clarity, sorrow and hope in his brutally raw, poetic lyrics and powerful vocals.
The album offers something new to appreciate every time you come back. From its early, slow-burning builds to its uplifting, triumphant final moments, the album is an emotional pilgrimage of – to borrow a phrase – the deepest sighs, and the frankest shadows, that we all confront together.
You'll feel a lot of things during the record, but you'll leave with a full heart. – Luanne Shneier
39. Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit – The Nashville Sound
Jason Isbell is on a serious roll. He’s always been a great songwriter, but since 2013’s Southeastern, he’s really hit his stride, and The Nashville Sound is just further proof that he’s the voice that modern country music needs right now.
He’s as far away from the bro-country herd as you can get. He injects a feminist edge to songs like ‘White Man’s World’, encourages us to employ the basic concept of goodness in ‘Hope The High Road’ and looks at death in the most poignant and affecting way in ‘If We Were Vampires’.
This is a perfect record for 2017. If you don’t see a bit of yourself in Isbell’s lyrics, you’ll at least enjoy spending time inside his head and hearing just how brilliant he makes his enviably distilled worldview sound. – Dan Condon
38. Moses Sumney – Aromanticism
Moses Sumney is blessed with a supple voice that communicates beauty effortlessly. But underneath Aromanticism’s facade of beauty lies a set of complicated songs – existential ruminations designed to undermine the notion of romance.
Self-described as “a concept album about lovelessness as a sonic dreamscape,” Aromanticism marks the arrival of a razor-sharp commentator ready to take anything apart with scalpel-precision, hiding in plain sight as a crooner with a pretty voice. – Tim Shiel
37. The xx – I See You
What relief I felt this year to hear The xx broadening their palette on I See You. I was a massive fan of the minimalism of their debut album in 2009, and their knack for doing so much with very little. But 2012's Coexist felt pallid, despite its electronic experimentation.
Hooray for the backbone and spirit they showed in I See You, as Jamie XX’s brings his innovative production and solo dancefloor-ready beats to more confident sounding singers Oliver Sims and Romy Madley Croft.
Yes, it is still sparse and fragile at times, but it also feels more like a group investigating their boundaries and reaping the rewards. – Karen Leng
36. Broken Social Scene – Hug Of Thunder
Seeing Broken Social Scene live is the best way to make sense of how they work together so well as a utopian creative collective; a multitude of musicians – 15 in fact – leaving their individual starpower at the door to create a raucously good time.
Seven years after their Forgiveness Rock record (a reunion reportedly inspired by the Bataclan attacks in Paris) they return with arguably their most cohesive and emotionally earnest effort to date.
The durgy guitar and rolling drum of ‘Vanity Pail Kids’, the sweet-folk simplicity of ‘Skyline’ and the late-afternoon sigh of ‘Halfway Home’ are all contained within boundaries not normally exercised by this many people.
Their largess is instead demonstrated in their songwriting, tackling the state of the world; ‘Things are going to get better as they can’t get any worse’. – Tatjana Clancy
35. Lance Ferguson – Raw Material
Music obsessive, workaholic, maverick. These are all true of Lance Ferguson. But his first album under his own name demonstrates just how inadequate these descriptions are of The Bamboos leader.
The intricacies of this album’s making are mindboggling. Ferguson made 12 songs, pressed them onto vinyl, sent them to producers he admired and asked them to sample, rework and reimagine the tracks into new songs. The scope of the concept, the passion for collaboration and vinyl is evident and slightly staggering.
But it never gets heavy handed. Crisp, clean melodic lines pervade throughout. The huge community of musical cohorts he’s drawn upon for this record give you the sense of the esteem in which he’s rightly held but also, they give Raw Material an undeniable warmth and allure that delivers in abundance. – Caz Tran
34. Nadia Reid – Preservation
With a population of only a couple of thousand, Lyttelton in New Zealand is doing more than its fair share by creating some of the most extraordinary albums in recent time. The home studio of Ben Edwards has produced albums by Marlon Williams, Julia Jacklin, Tami Neilson and earlier this year, a precious gem in the form of Nadia Reid’s second album, Preservation.
From the opening lines of the title track opener, ‘…I am right behind you, I know I will find the one to hold onto’, Reid cements herself as one of the songwriters of our time. Her voice makes you long for the things only music can explain.
This is an album to play while the sun is setting on a Sunday evening. It won’t answer those big questions, but it will fill your heart with wonder. – Jacinta Parsons
33. Grizzly Bear – Painted Ruins
When a band who had previously been sticking to a steady release schedule disappears for five years, it's perhaps safe to assume they might be asking themselves, ‘Where to from here?’
In the case of Grizzly Bear, the answer to that question is Painted Ruins. Returning with a familiar sound infused with a darker energy, Painted Ruins proves that when your identity is as carefully and beautifully defined as Grizzly Bear’s, it would be a mistake to stray too far from that core formula. – Stephen Goodhew
32. Kardajala Kirridarra – Kardajala Kirridarra
The hypnotic debut from Kardajala Kirridarra is one of the most uplifting, enriching listens of the year. Sung in both Mudburra and English language, it’s a blending of sounds and cultures. It’s synths meets seed pods, a fusion of old and new, layered electronic and organic voice.
The songs take you on a journey through NT desert country, where the album was recorded, telling the story of women of all ages, across the ages and their importance as creators.
These tracks connect with such truth, you feel like you’re being let into a sacred world and space, a place of healing, and it’s a privilege to be there. – Meagan Loader
31. The Shins – Heartworms
There's something kinda comforting about knowing pretty much exactly what a good band are going to deliver on a new record, and James Mercer give The Shins fans exactly that on their fifth record Heartworms.
It isn’t completely predictable. There’s more attention to detail in the sounds and arrangements– it all gets very ambitious at times. But, for all his sonic experimentation, Mercer's finest moments are his least adorned, like on opening gambit ‘Name For You’.
Mercer makes great pop records. Like all pop records some people will just revel in the shiny hooks and instrumentation, while others will find something deeper emotionally. – Dan Condon
30. Queens Of The Stone Age – Villains
“Risky” and “uptempo” was how frontman Josh Homme described QOTSA’s seventh album Villains, and he wasn’t wrong. Yet again, Homme subverts the rules of rock music, this time by teaming up with producer extraordinaire and bona-fide hit-maker Mark Ronson. It was a bold move but it paid off. Villains is a thumping rock record you can dance to.
Their signature grungy guitars are there, but it’s the groove that really steals the show. It’s not like Homme to be predictable and it really shows on this record.
Villains is equal parts experimental, unexpected and delightfully surprising. Like most of their work it’s a dark album, but it’s full of stomping rock, killer riffs, and it’s a damn good time. – Gab Burke
29. Jordan Rakei - Wallflower
London based Kiwi/Aussie Jordan Rakei is on a hat-trick - debut album Cloak appeared on our 2016 list of favourites.
Wallflower is a more confident sounding album. Rakei builds on the future soul and jazz foundation of his debut adding sonic touches that reveal a love of Fat Freddy’s Drop and mid-career Radiohead.
There’s an endearing modesty to his work - a clue perhaps in both album titles. Crafting songs to allow his musical mates to impress but not overpower, he sings with conviction yet it appears so effortlessly delivered.
Signed to Ninja Tune, he’s hot property in a lowkey kind of way. I’m sure that’s how he likes it. – Dorothy Markek
28. Ryan Adams – Prisoner
Ryan Adams has written plenty of heartbreak records. But, on Prisoner, the voyeuristic curiosity takes on a whole new level for those of us without the decency to respect celebrities privacy.
While Prisoner does not feature any of Adams’ finest lyrical moments, it is still another brilliant set of dour pop songs. His melodies hit on a perfect blend of pop and Americana and his voice is that same old broken but beautiful croon. He’s Bruce Springsteen on ‘Haunted House’. He’s Tom Petty on ‘Outbound Train’. There’s shades of Don Henley, John Mellencamp and Billy Joel in Adams’ hard-edged vocal and glossy production.
Adams retains his spot at the top of the Americana world with Prisoner. It’s not a perfect heartbreak record, but it feels like an honest one and it sure sounds stunning on its surface. – Dan Condon
27. All Our Exes Live In Texas – When We Fall
Sydney quartet All Our Exes Live In Texas are one of those almost infuriatingly talented groups. You know, the type who just execute everything perfectly. Not a note out of place. Not a single shred of vulnerability in their voices. Not a moment where they’ve packed too much into their arrangement.
This record is kind of like those people who somehow look incredible, even though they’re in the midst of an emotional breakdown. You know there’s pain there, but it’s so hard to see it beyond the veneer of perfection that you just presume everything is okay. But the lyrics here tell us that it is not.
A band of any age would consider When We Fall a monumentally accomplished album, as a debut it’s astounding. Perhaps future records will see them inject a bit more grit into their sound, in which case they will be unstoppable. – Dan Condon
26. Thundercat – Drunk
Thundercat’s ethereal vocals, virtuosic bass playing and space-is-the-place production have made the LA native a go-to collaborator, so it’s only right he recalled some favours for his third studio LP.
On Drunk, the future jazz polymath draws up a guestlist that includes Kendrick Lamar, Pharrell Williams and the soft rock double threat of Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins, their divergent voices all bent in service to Thundercat’s gently eccentric funk vision.
And while he stretches multiple moods and textures across its 23-deep tracklist, Drunk loses none of its coherence, scanning as a 21st century Bitches Brew in its impressive scale and fearless experimentation. – Sam Wicks
25. Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up
Fleet Foxes' long-awaited return is complex, considered, dark and completely stunning. The music is often complex, the way the band moves between its regularly quite contrasting movements sounds effortless but no doubt presented as much of a challenge as the grandiose arrangements Pecknold put together for the musicians present here.
It’s a dark record. Neither Pecknold’s lyrics nor the music that complements them have much cheer. Just when you feel like there’s some light creeping in, you read a little more into the lyrics and find something sorrowful. Or the music turns, and you’re feeling down again. But, while darkness abounds, so does beauty.
It won’t hit you as immediately as some of their earlier work, but could well stand up as the band’s strongest work over time. – Dan Condon
24. Björk – Utopia
Björk’s 2015 album Vulnicura was a difficult listen. Her most direct and vulnerable album to date, it documented the traumatic dissolution of her marriage to artist Matthew Barney.
She cited Utopia as “paradise” compared to Vulnicura’s “hell”, and filled it full of flutes, bird song and airy, elemental electronics, co-fashioned with Venezuelan producer Arca.
More than just the yin to Vulnicura’s yang, Utopia is a lush and gorgeous record; one that celebrates love and hope and the promise of a better world. – Stu Buchanan
23. Bonobo – Migration
Migration is the kind of considered, carefully crafted work that’s best appreciated when you can give it the bulk of your attention.
Simon Green’s sixth record as Bonobo proves he’s a cut above. He’s not necessarily doing anything different – goodness knows we can’t get away from this chilled electro thing right now – he’s just doing it better.
His sounds shimmer more vividly, the way he combines them is seamless and his musical ideas inhabit the space between the comforting and familiar and the weird and experimental.
His great musical brain is an important asset throughout the record, as he pulls influence from a range of genres. Pop, house, Afrobeat and gorgeously cinematic passages all intermingle seamlessly. – Dan Condon
22. Holy Holy – Paint
Richard Kingsmill described their 2013 single ‘Impossible Like You’ as “close to perfection”, but the nostalgic rock vibes on Holy Holy’s second album Paint get them even closer.
Timothy Carroll and Oscar Dawson seem totally in sync on this record. Carroll’s cryptic lyricism and melting tones on tracks like ‘Elevator’ and ‘Darwinism’ combine perfectly with Dawson’s incredible guitar skills.
The influence of long-term producer and touring member Matt Redlich comes to the fore with cleaner production and some key synth elements.
Bring on album number three. – Gabrielle Burke
21. Four Tet – New Energy
On his ninth studio album, Four Tet provides a balm for our disruptive times by harking back to the peaced-out patchwork beats of his earliest albums. He pools jazz and new age sounds together with trademark shuffling beats for a masterclass in – dare I say it – folktronica.
Classics from the early Four Tet playbook are resurrected to create a feast of gentleness that’s a treat for any fan who was there from the start. But it’s also a record that acts as a perfect mental reset for anyone needing time out, a soundtrack for inner renewal. – Tim Shiel
20. Gold Class – Drum
Fresh from slaying music taste-making mecca SXSW, Melbourne post-punk outfit Gold Class released their sophomore LP, Drum – a name that lends itself to the often-primitive sound the band creates.
The Gareth Liddiard produced record picks up where their 2015 debut It’s You left off, bringing the same propulsive dynamic carried by frontman Adam Curley’s oscillation between deadpan baritone-drawl and desperate urgency.
‘Trouble Fun’ and ‘Mercurian’ show a greater sense of dark space and anthemic angst; while their angular guitar rock and distorted tension still shines in ‘Rose Blind’ and ‘Twist In The Dark’. – Tatjana Clancy
19. Land Of Talk – Life After Youth
Life After Youth, the third album from Canadia's Land Of Talk, is a record of incredible grace and beauty that was almost never made.
Early recordings for the album were lost when Elizabeth Powell's computer crashed, and caring for her father after a stroke meant Powell took a seven year hiatus from making music.
But with music comes healing, and you can hear both wisdom and yearning on 'This Time' as she sings 'I don’t wanna waste it this time'. Powell collaborated with Sharon Van Etten on the stellar 'Inner Lover', filling it with gently propulsive synths and and the kind of melody and purity of voice capable of stopping you in your tracks.
Definitely the best yet from Powell and Life After Youth. – Karen Leng
18. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
No matter if you listen to DAMN. from top to bottom or bottom to top, the album cements Kendrick Lamar’s place as his generation’s most gifted storyteller.
This time the Compton native swaps freewheeling flows for tightly focused self-examination (see ‘4:44’), and jazz-infused beats for rhythms stripped to their essence. It’s Kendrick’s voice though that’s front and centre, as he jumps between characters while losing none of the political conscience that saw ‘Alright’ adopted as Black Lives Matter’s unofficial anthem.
After being snubbed for his two previous albums, the smart money’s on DAMN. finally scooping the Album of the Year Grammy in 2018. – Sam Wicks
17. Mount Kimbie – Love What Survives
Mount Kimbie’s third album is thinking person’s dance music – textural, noisy, sparse, and liable to go in unexpected directions. King Krule’s cameo on ‘Blue Train Lines’ sees the British duo push further into an atonal punk sound they have previously hinted at.
You can enjoy these songs for the rush, or the beat, or the guest vocals, or just let them bubble away in the background, small moments of pleasant sound.
A top contender for most interesting electronic record of 2017. – Paul Donoughue
16. Aldous Harding – Party
When you arrive at Aldous Harding’s Party, it's probably not the get-together you might expect. No booze, loud music or bowls of chips. Instead, the title track describes a scene, alone on a windy, grass covered cliff-top with someone else’s thumb in your mouth.
The album is full of jaw-dropping, production twists and lyrical contradictions, laying the foundation for an incredibly satisfying puzzle. Creaky pianos, lilting vocals, distant chants, oddly timed guitar plucks all slot together seamlessly, where they shouldn’t.
Aldous Harding has transparently channeled her obtuse stage presence into an album of minimalism and razor-sharp edges. This is an album by an artist with a thrilling left-field vision, let loose, uncompromised. – Henry Wagons
15. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Flying Microtonal Banana
If my toddler could possibly get over watching the video clip for lead cut ‘Rattlesnake’ over and over again at breakfast, and would stop requesting it over and over and over again on car trips, he might actually enjoy the other eight sticky and tricky jams on King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard's Flying Microtonal Banana.
This ninth album from the globe-conquering garage/psych/metal collective is kooky, spooky and groovy. And, to think, they had the nerve to plonk down this package of microtonal tunes about bushrangers and nuclear fusion – which is suitable for cool kids of all ages – just months after winning our J Award last year. – Ryan Egan
14. Spoon – Hot Thoughts
Given we had to wait almost five years for 2014’s They Want My Soul, it’s nice to have Spoon back relatively soon for album number nine.
Thankfully, nothing about Hot Thoughts feels rushed. This is another collection of expertly crafted songs. Again they prove to be among the most dependable of bands making music today.
But just because they’re consistent doesn’t mean they’re boring. Their playful attitude to crafting quality indie rock remains.
At this point in time we can’t even fathom Spoon making a bad record. It just seems completely outside the realms of possibility. If they’re going to continue to make records as fun, adventurous and just plain palatable as Hot Thoughts then we hope they have at least another nine in them. – Dan Condon
13. Perfume Genius – No Shape
Artful, personal and brilliant. Perfume Genius is making music like no one else right now. Gorgeous piano, string and choral performances elevate the music beyond the sound of typical indie rock. Mike Hadreas’ voice is a powerful instrument by itself, his enviable range, sweet timbre and soulful twist is immediately disarming.
It’s sparse, though has its moments of enormity, thanks to the explosion of warm, engulfing noise on tracks like ‘Otherside’ and ‘Slip Away’. Lyrically, it’s raw, emotional and personal. ‘I wanna hover with no shape… I'm moving just beyond the frame’, he sings about his relationship with his body on ‘Wreath’.
No Shape is a sophisticated record that no doubt provides a mere snapshot of Hadreas’ life, but offers us a broad look at his considerable talents. – Dan Condon
12. Dan Sultan – Killer
Dan Sultan has always been a soul singer, but in 2017 he has the confidence, courage and creativity to take it outside of the rock’n’roll template in which he’s spent so much time. He has imbued something less vintage and more current.
Many hallmarks of quality neo-soul are present in these songs; synths, drum machines, gospel backing vocals and sparse-yet-affecting arrangements. It’s a brilliant context for Sultan’s voice and the expert collaborative songwriting on display here.
Killer is full of great songs. It gives more bang for buck than any Dan Sultan record so far, and the fact that it is an evolution in his sound is just a welcome bonus. – Dan Condon
11. Father John Misty – Pure Comedy
On Pure Comedy, Josh Tillman stands resplendent in his disguise as Father John Misty and completely folds in on himself as a songwriter, in the best possible way. He dives right inside his own psyche and then resurfaces, looking back out at our weird world, offering a full 75-minute blossoming expression of his own mythology.
Father John Misty summons all his powers as a distinctive melody machine and dramatic arranger, a grand sage and slithery entertainer. In planting his tongue firmly in cheek, he proceeds to reveal more truth about the surreal times in which we live than straight up confessional honesty. A postmodern masterwork. – Henry Wagons
10. Dirty Projectors – Dirty Projectors
There’s blood on the page on Dirty Projectors’ first album in five years. Dave Longstreth and Amber Coffman are no longer together, Coffman is no longer in the band, and Longstreth writes these songs as a heartbroken man.
In spite of the bleakness, it still sounds like Dave Longstreth has a lot of fun. While making music as complex, disjointed and just plain weird as his must be a hard toil, there’s a certain unfettered creativity that must be exciting and perhaps even liberating to purge from his psyche.
You need a couple of listens before you can judge Dirty Projectors. You must dig into the relationship's narrative and emotional journey. Plus, its music is so warped, multifaceted and challenging that it deserves close listening. Chances are you’ll come back to it far more often than that, though. – Dan Condon
9. Laura Marling – Semper Femina
Laura Marling has never made a rough sounding record, but there’s a crispness and vitality to Semper Femina that makes it particularly striking.
Her voice remains unparalleled. It is one of the great singing voices not just of this era but of any. Her sweet, soaring falsetto in ‘Soothing’ – a bona fide career highlight – and the Dylan-esque mumble of the aforementioned ‘Wild Fire’ show her versatility, and both are as affecting as each other.
There’s also a cohesion to Semper Femina that was missing on 2015’s Short Movie. While she continues to explore new ways of expressing her messages, the musical through line seems a little more pronounced. These songs belong together. They’re coming from the same place. Is it maturity? Is it a fluke? Whatever it is, it’s pleasing to hear. – Dan Condon
8. Paul Kelly – Life Is Fine
Paul Kelly is a restless fella. In the past few years he has taken a few musical diversions, always challenging himself by pushing forward in interesting musical and storytelling directions.
Life is Fine sees him making what he proclaims to be his most “normal” album in years. However, even when going back to basics, Kelly is still pushing himself – this time learning a new instrument (piano) on which to write the songs.
The result is an album that is full of the exemplary storytelling that we have come to expect, and enough hits to get under our skin, as so many of his songs have in the past.
There's a reason this record gave Paul his first number one on the Australian charts. Like the title itself, it really is darn fine. – Myf Warhurst
7. The National – Sleep Well Beast
It’s difficult to imagine The National sounding like anyone other than, well, The National. After six albums, they’ve perfected the sound of middle aged melancholia, documenting the literal and existential indignities life throws at us on our journey from the cradle to the grave.
For their seventh and arguably best album, Sleep Well Beast, the band have stayed true to that formula, depicting an alternate reality where the problems faced by frontman Matt Berninger and his wife result in the breakdown of their marriage.
What makes this album so enjoyable though is the band’s relentless pursuit of the perfection of their songcraft. Channelling a rawer energy that at times almost feels live in its delivery, Sleep Well Beast is the culmination of everything that has made this band so great. – Stephen Goodhew
6. Slowdive – Slowdive
Much like that other British shoegaze band of the early-90s, Slowdive’s return to active duty sounds like a band with something new to say. With a legacy as strong as theirs, it had to be.
Sweet, wistful melodies abound, while jangling guitars and serene sounding synths provide the washy backing for most of these eight long, beautiful sonic explorations. Rachel Goswell’s sweet falsetto sinks back into the arrangements comfortably, Neil Halstead’s everyman croon is more prominent but never intrusive.
There’s nothing overly complex about Slowdive, but their exquisite palette of sounds and the meticulous way in which they utilise them makes Slowdive’s first new record in 22 years damn near close to perfect. – Dan Condon
5. LCD Soundsystem – american dream
It’s terrifying when one of your favourite bands make a comeback. What if they can’t recreate what they had? Will it be same as it ever was? James Murphy and co didn’t make a return to form on american dream, they got better.
The album sees the band’s sound and voice evolved, darker, a bit sadder and even more self-aware. The production is urgent and compelling, with ‘How Do You Sleep’, the nine-minute opus in the middle of the record, one of the best things they have ever done.
Pondering change, aging, death and more, american dream is an emotional ride, but ultimately makes you feel like you got this… just keep going, and don’t forget to dance. – Meagan Loader
4. Sampha – Process
After a laundry list of guest appearances (SBTRKT, Kanye West, Drake, Beyoncé), London’s Sampha finally delivered his first solo record this year and didn’t disappoint.
There’s a lot of brilliant neo-soul/modern R&B out there right now, so it takes something special to stand out. Sampha does more than that with his debut album, he’s beaten a path to the top of the ladder. It’s only a matter of time before he takes the throne.
A dark palette of sounds, arranged sparsely, provides the backdrop for most of the record. With a voice as strong as Sampha’s the arrangements can afford to be sparse, though the charged up ‘Blood On Me’ is a welcome change of pace. – Dan Condon
3. St Vincent – MASSEDUCTION
This is the album where St Vincent’s slightly wild, intellectual and idiosyncratic approach to music finds a pop heart.
However, don’t be fooled; its crisp, incredibly crafted, beautiful melodies and irresistible choruses, belie occasionally dark lyrical content that delves into the territory of loss, longing and confusion.
This record reveals a brutal autobiographical honesty in Annie Clark’s songwriting, all wrapped up in a glorious, shiny pop casing. – Myf Warhurst
2. The War On Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
Philly indie rockers The War On Drugs expand on the ragged beauty of their critically acclaimed breakthough – 2014’s Lost In The Dream – with an ambitious and exhilarating classic rock album that is proudly romantic and true to it’s cosmic-Americana roots.
A Deeper Understanding is beautifully crafted, emotionally resonant and unashamedly anthemic.
And it’s the perfect soundtrack for almost any kind of road trip. Especially if you are leaving behind someone who broke your heart or escaping a small town under the cover of darkness with questions left unanswered. – Ryan Egan
1. Jen Cloher – Jen Cloher
Consensus. It’s elusive in music, but highly prized.
Tallying up the votes from Double J team, Jen Cloher’s self-titled album was the clear favourite.
Let’s not waste time expanding on why this is an essential album. You can read about it here.
Instead, I ask that you listen (again) and pay close attention to the first line of each song.
The insight and the incisiveness. The poignancy, the rawness and the bile in both her lyrics and her delivery. In just the first damn line. – Dorothy Markek
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