I love this album and this band so much. Thoughtful lyrics, really robust arrangements, and the perfect tightrope of modern production and traditional country music instrumentation. They really are so stellar, and I’m glad they’re starting to encroach upon the consciousness of Nashville country fans, because they deserve to be there.
Kelly Clarkson – Meaning of Life
Hear me out, here. The reason Kelly Clarkson won American Idol is that she sang mostly Aretha Franklin covers and had a super-sassy delivery and a ton of soulful belting. But she was in an arranged marriage for SEVEN albums with RCA, and she never really got to make an album she wanted to. She was the pop/rock/breakup girl, and yeah, she was successful. But this album, her first since she signed with Atlantic, is much more along the lines of what I thought she’d make when she won Idol. It’s got a ton of horns and sass and just fun. By far my favorite pop record this year.
The Brother Brothers – Tugboats EP
This is just a really simple little duo based out of Brooklyn. Two guys with sort of willowy harmonies. “Cairo, IL” is the prettiest song I heard in 2017.
Taylor Swift – Reputation
To me, this is sort of the Order of the Phoenix of the T-Swift canon. It’s fun, but also whiny and bloated. I think it’s definitely a necessary album for her, in that it sort of provides a transition into her being a normal human. Having been through my own media shaming process in the last few years, I feel like I really understand her fears about her damaged reputation as she navigates relationships. Also, “Delicate” is my chill jam, and I hope it’s a single in 2018. (Side note: The “Look What You Made Me Do” video is another favorite piece of pop culture in 2017. It’s aggressive and fascinating and maybe even inspiring to destroy your former selves in a music video.)
Chris Stapleton – From A Room Vols. 1 and 2
Three things I love about Chris Stapleton: 1. His growly voice. 2. His simple songwriting style. 3. His bluesy take on country. I find myself playing these two albums all the time and frequently letting out an impressed exhale at moments of sheer vocal power. He’s the male Adele for me. Also: “Friendship” makes me happy.
The Lone Bellow – Walk Into A Storm
Definitely a return-to-form to the rich harmonies of the debut album. “Between the Lines” is a good lesson for life. And ‘Feather” rocks. And “Time’s Always Leaving” articulates my great fear.
Jason Isbell – The Nashville Sound
Level-headed, political, and often beautiful, whether or not you agree. “If We Were Vampires” is the best-written song this year in my opinion.
Lauren Alaina – Road Less Traveled
This is closer to pop than country, but it works well for a power-belter like Alaina who has such a bell-clear, earnest voice that handles heavy production better than people with thinner voices. I think this is a more thoughtful disc than it appears at first glance. Tons of great lyrics on songs like “Three” and “Think Outside the Boy.” Plus, “Same Day Different Bottle” is a true stunner — I think it’s a potential country classic tearjerker just waiting to happen.
Poppy – poppy.computer
She’s completely nonsensical and truly a waste of time. And yet, we propagate her fame for no reason. That is the message of Poppy, who traps us in her memedom and satirizes us for it at the same time. I’m wildly impressed by her subversion and coercion and complete parody of pop music. To outsiders, she is an internet trifle. To people who bother to listen, she’s making some witty claims about our addiction to technology.
AJR – The Click
According to Spotify, this was my most-played album of 2017, and that makes sense. This was my go-to music at the gym. It’s pure pop, full of samples and techno blips and bloops and vocoders, and it feels very adolescent in the best way. These brothers are thoughtful writers, and more than any other album I heard this year, AJR captures the confusion of growing up. “I’m Not Famous” and “No Grass Today” are pop nirvana.
Other Stuff I Loved This Year:
Zephaniah O’Hora – This Highway (Old soul country music)
Brandi Carlile – “The Joke” (Her best vocal since “The Story.)
Miranda Lambert – “Tin Man” (She stole the ACMs with her performance of this.)
Sam Outlaw – Tenderheart (So pleasing and light and lovely.)
Natalie Hemby – Puxico (A whole album of well-worn songs about small town life.)
Aaron Watson – “They Don’t Make Em Like They Used To” (A Texan call-to-arms for people to love each other across party lines.)
Angaleena Presley – “Dreams Don’t Come True” (A truly hilarious Pistol Annies tune.)
Kelleigh Bannen – “Church Clothes” (Honest take on marital strife.)
Zac Brown Band – Welcome Home (easy to enjoy)
Cody Jinks – The Adobe Sessions (I’m late to the party, but he’s amazing. The Rock actually tweeted at me about his music, and I’m so glad I listened.)
Lorde – Melodrama (“Liability” is a classic. I just wish “The Louvre” had a real chorus — b/c the second verse of that song is so thrilling.)
Piece of pop culture I thought about the most this year:
Katy Perry’s live-streamed therapy session where this illuminating exchange occurred. I thought about it for weeks. Still do. Fame’s effect on the brain is scary to consider.
So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed – Jon Ronson
Incisive, funny, and unsettling. The internet has brought back public shaming 200 years after public punishment was outlawed. This book is a big part of why I want to write again. Because I can’t be a victim my whole life!
From Weakness to Strength – Scott Sauls
My favorite modern Christian writer argues that it’s your shortcomings that are actually your strengths.