When it came to determining the album of the year, Street Beats were up in arms about everything except for one thing: it wasn't Reputation by Taylor Swift. But that's as far as we got in crowning the best of 2017. Baby steps.
Ahead, Street Beats name their top picks for the album that made this year bearable.
Freudian by Daniel Caesar
The debut album of the Canadian R&B singer ushers him into the mainstream music scene. As in his previous EPs, Caesar’s angelic voice is on full display. Caesar’s beautiful love ballads are candid and unembellished, successfully depicting his near–childlike affection. His tender lyrics paired with his warm and comforting voice make it easy to absorb yourself into each of his songs. The features from other up–and–coming artists, such as Kali Uchis and H.E.R., perfectly complement his gentle sound. The straightforward R&B style is quite refreshing when contrasting him with other more experimental, contemporary R&B artists such as Frank Ocean. The album primarily deals with love, examining Caesar’s experiences with its ups (“Best Part”) as well as its downs (“Loose”). This culminates with the final song of the album, a ten–minute psychoanalysis dubbed “Freudian,” on which Caesar explores his relationship with those important in his life, particularly a lover and his own mother. In opening his psyche to his listeners, Caesar exposes his most raw emotions, giving us an honesty that is quite mature for such a young artist.
Process by Sampha
Sampha’s “Process” is one of the most hauntingly beautiful albums to come out in 2017, where the British singer/songwriter's 10-track album provides an unflinching tale of grief, uncertainty, and insecurity. The opening track, Plastic 100c, is a masterpiece of emotion, where Sampha sings on the evocative chorus, “I've been melting, melting down here/I'm made out of plastic out here/You touched down in the base of my fears/Houston, can–can–can you hear me now?” This chorus likely acts as a stirring, solemn nod to Sampha’s well–documented personal struggles, as he lost his mother to cancer in 2015.
Blood on Me is a paranoia–laced ode to vulnerability as Sampha exhibits his technical ability to evoke a sense of stress and urgency throughout the song with his use of heavy breathing between lyrics. Blood on Me’s chorus is a frenetic cry of, “I swear they smell the blood on me/I hear them coming for me/I swear they smell the blood on me/I hear them coming for me, for me” as the pace of the track picks up, furthering the atmosphere of intensity on the song.
While the opening two tracks are brilliant examples of Sampha’s emotive ability, the album seamlessly continues on as a poignant piece of sorrow and distress. “Process” is not an album one wants to listen to if they’re looking to feel heartened, but that does not mean it is an album worth ignoring. What Sampha achieves with the album is a reminder that everyone struggles with their own demons of sadness and insecurity, and that above all else, it’s worth acknowledging that overcoming your demons is a Process.
American Dream by LCD Soundsystem
I want to say A Deeper Understanding by the War on Drugs, but I kinda–sorta already did. Plus, LCD Soundsystem's epic return to music–making simply can't be topped. The leading band in all things dance, indie, electronic, rule–breaking graced us yet again with their epic return in the form of American Dream. After launching a wine bar, running a record label, and embarking on other projects I wish I could take on, frontman and musical mastermind James Murphy moved on to celebrating songs with ice cream, announcing tour after world tour, and finally releasing arguably the most anticipated album of the decade.
Thanks to American Dream, it's clear that LCD Soundsystem is showing no signs of a slowdown or creative lull after their seven year hiatus. This album features James Murphy and crew experimenting with unforeseen levels of cacophony that somehow work way too well and obscure yet way too relatable lyrics. Predictability is nowhere to be found on a single track. They're calling you a baby in "other voices", calling you out your BS for what it is on "tonite" and seemingly calling the police on "call the police".
What's more is that this album isn't just for listening—its danceability is unparalleled, rendering it a better soundtrack for your night out than any remix of Havana could. So for all you new–to–LCD listeners out there, give each song a listen, another listen, and another listen after that—this art form only gets better with age, take my word for it. And in case you were wondering: no, we are not worthy of this album, and yet here we are. So go on and dance yrself clean. (Ed. note: The Grammys agree on this one.)
Lovely Little Lonely by The Maine
Throughout their decade–long career, The Maine have released at least three albums that were hailed as the peak of their musical and lyrical talent. With a perfect blend of the energetic indie–pop and alt–rock sound that characterizes their past music, the Phoenix–based quintet hit that peak once again with this year’s Lovely Little Lonely. The album is best listened to in order—like on previous albums, each song blends seamlessly into the next, and interludes “Lovely,” “Little,” and “Lonely,” from which the album obviously takes its name, tie the album up into an essentially perfect listening experience. With an impressive discography that includes seven albums and four EPs, The Maine manages to do something different with each album—2015’s American Candy shines in its playfulness, 2013’s Forever Halloween in its darkness, 2011’s Pioneer in its classic rock sound, and so on. Lovely Little Lonely stands out in a deep maturity that comes only with age. The effort that went into its seamless execution is apparent, making for one of 2017’s can’t–miss listening experiences.
Last Young Renegade by All Time Low
All Time Low’s seventh studio album accomplished a lot.The band took a big leap in their stylistic progression, experimented with production, took risks with sounds and pulled it all off. Not only that, but they told a story with the band’s first concept album. With all of these steps into new territory, there was a real risk of changing too much and alienating the band’s dedicated fan base. But despite all the growth and change, the band still managed to put out an album that sounds distinctly like the same All Time Low we’ve known since 2007’s So Wrong It’s Right. Last Young Renegade is hard to grow tired of – it sticks with you, begs multiple listens and asks you to pull it apart and put it back together again. An intensely layered, dynamic and intricate body of work, this isn’t an album we’re getting over any time soon.