1. BROCKHAMPTON – ‘SATURATION III’
What is most striking about BROCKHAMPTON is not the colorful and varied production that quickly worms its way into listeners’ heads, or the effeminate vocal melodies that often play a central role in tracks such as “BLEACH.” Nor is it that it rocketed out of obscurity in 2017 to release three albums in the “SATURATION” series, each packed with creative musical ideas. Rather, the most captivating feature of the group is the diversity of flows and lyrical approaches it presents on every song, from boisterous Ghana-accented staccato hooks to smoother rhymes recounting personal history. BROCKHAMPTON excels in every dimension, and this is most apparent in its December release,“SATURATION III.”
2. Jonti – ‘Tokorats’
“Tokorats” marks the third studio album from Australian electronic and alternative artist Jonti. Although the album meanders from one sound to another, it never loses its way, maintaining an airy dream-pop tone throughout. Numerous samples slide between sections of live instrumentation and digital details, all delicately arranged with the attentive touch of the album’s loving curator Jonti of electronic music group The Avalanches. Difficult to dislike, “Tokorats” serves as the ideal soundtrack for a cruise down a lazy river.
3. Kendrick Lamar – ‘DAMN.’
One of the year’s most highly anticipated projects, “DAMN.” is a masterpiece that showcases rapper Kendrick Lamar’s sharp lyrical skill and gift for album-length conceptual architecture. Lamar proves himself to be an adept storyteller on the twists-filled “DUCKWORTH.,” while on tracks like “FEAR.,” he reveals his inner demons. Bold and raw, “DAMN.” fully cements Kendrick’s place at the forefront of the rap world.
4. King Krule – ‘The OOZ’
Stamping London musician King Krule with a genre label is difficult, as his work blends elements of punk rock, hip-hop and jazz together into a melancholy melange of noise and emotion. Breaking through the mix is the vocalist’s distinctive deep murmur that evokes extraterrestrial landscapes, leading to one of 2017’s most unique and memorable projects.
5. Hoops – ‘Routines’
“Routines” is immediately charming and reverberates with warm familiarity. The album is saturated with layered guitar licks and has a fuzzy, faded sound that grants the project a nostalgic tone, positioning the Bloomington, Ind., band as an exciting new indie-rock group.
6. Jay-Z – ‘4:44’
With his 13th studio album “4:44,” Jay-Z returns to a simpler style, eschewing guest rap features, radio-friendly hooks and current trap-influenced musical trends in favor of 10 short tracks produced by his longtime associate, No I.D. The result is triumphant and authentic: The rap legend sounds perfectly in his element on the soulful “Smile” and pens an open-hearted apology to his wife Beyoncé on the title track with compelling spirit and thoughtfulness.
7. Mac DeMarco – ‘This Old Dog’
As likeable as ever, Mac DeMarco strums and croons his way through his third album, “This Old Dog,” spilling out some of his most mature and enjoyable songs yet along the way. Although the music has a lackadaisical, carefree tone, DeMarco has a knack for crafting both cheerful afternoon romps and pensive pieces best listened to at sunset.
8. Sampha – ‘Process’
As moody and foggy as the South London streets from which singer-songwriter Sampha hails, debut album “Process” is an ethereal journey through the up-and-coming artist’s anxieties and malaise. Sparse ballad “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano” puts Sampha’s breathy murmurs center stage, while “Under” is carried by bold basslines and bright notes.
9. Rostam – ‘Half-Light’
The debut solo studio album from former Vampire Weekend singer Rostam, “Half-Light” features a refreshingly diverse range of instrumentation. The mix of acoustic guitar to noisy distorted vocal samples to Indian tabla drums shows the ambition of “Half-Light.” Remarkably, the album’s varied influences come together seamlessly to create a cohesive project with a hazy, dreamlike tint. The key? Rostam’s delicate voice and easygoing charm.
10. Tyler, the Creator – ‘Flower Boy’
Rap oddball Tyler, the Creator has always been a wild card, but on “Flower Boy” he channels his boundless creativity into a refined and cohesive project. Jettisoning the shock humor that marred earlier projects, Tyler instead delves deep into his struggles with depression and his confusion with sexual identity. These musings are underlaid by sleek synth notes and smooth vocal performances by guest stars Frank Ocean and Rex Orange County; yet just when the syrupy-sweet singing makes heads begin to loll, jarring rap-heavy tracks like “Who Dat Boy” jolt the listener awake, resulting in a compelling mix of soft and rough sounds.