The 36 Best Overlooked Albums of 2017
Illustration: Alex Gamsu Jenkins 


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The 36 Best Overlooked Albums of 2017

All the good stuff that might've flown under your radar in a very busy year.

More music was released in 2017 than any other year in human history. Probably. We’re not gonna look that up or anything, but that seems accurate to us. And with more music coming out than ever before (again, don’t quote us on that), some albums are bound to slip through the cracks. And while these releases might’ve missed those arbitrarily coveted spots on some year-end lists (including ours), we endorse them as being worth your time.


Don’t Be a Stranger is such a light and breezy burst of punky indie pop that you hardly notice you’re subtly being beaten over the head with several therapy sessions’ worth of neuroses. On the opener, “Bad Spanish,” singer Rachel Lightner describes “feeling like a fraud at my job, ‘cause I’ve faked my way into every good thing that’s ever happened to me.” Whomst among us has never felt a similar sense of professional insecurity, living in fear that our co-workers are on to how wildly underqualified we are and will expose us as the filthy con-artists we know ourselves to be? To borrow from the internet parlance of our time: “It me.” Don’t Be a Stranger fights kicking and screaming against self-imposed bad vibes and, in Lightner’s words, the sick mindfuck of unattainable love and dumb life goals. —Dan Ozzi | LISTEN

G Herbo is in an interesting place because, at just 22, the Chicago rapper is already a rap veteran and revered as a big brother-type to many of today’s rising street artists. This year, he confirmed why when he released his most mature project to date with his debut studio album Humble Beast. Herbo’s range of content (the love for abundance on “Everything,” the story of a young man on the road to destruction on “Malcolm,” and his own coming-of-age story with “Man Now”) makes for a complete listening experience that many of his peers have not shown the ability to put together. And if it weren’t for him not having a detectable mainstream hit, Humble Beast would have gotten the accolades it deserved. —Lawrence Burney | LISTEN


In terms of genuinely creative, lovingly lo-fi black metal, it’s impossible to go wrong with Portland label Vrasubatlat’s ever-expanding catalog. This year saw the release of a cracking debut from Adzalaan, the brainchild of a musician by the name of R., who runs the label and also moonlights in a half-dozen other projects (including USBM greats Ash Borer). The self-titled EP’s two tracks are genuinely hypnotic in the best way. Aggressively atmospheric opener “Tower of False Cleansing” gnashes away in an ice-cold mid-90s black metal furor, while “Morbid Oaths Fall From Wicked Tongues” is a mesmerizing dirge that snaps to attention midway through, charging headlong into discordant, howling chaos with a beautifully clean finish. —Kim Kelly | LISTEN

Go Farther in Lightness earned Gang of Youths a whopping four ARIA awards in their native Australia but largely fell on deaf American ears, which is strange considering it sounds like a Girl Talk-style mash-up album of every indie rock band popular in the US over the last decade. Over 77 minutes (it’s a long ‘un), the record packs in a healthy mix of the Gaslight Anthem, the Walkmen, and its most obvious comparison, the National. The band breaks into a Springsteen stride by the second track, which sees frontman David Le'aupepe questioning his Christian faith, and from there they never break their pace. It’s odd to describe an album that debuted at number one in Australia as “overlooked,” but for now, the US of A has some serious catching up to do. —Dan Ozzi | LISTEN


These German newcomers certainly know how to make a first impression. Ancestral Void, their full-length debut on Totenmusik, is slick, inventive, and remarkably coherent given the quartet’s whopping two years of existence. Their style is straightforward without being lazy, and minimalist without being boring. Musically, the album dwells at the shadowy crossroads where black, death, and doom metal meet. Its lethargic riffs come marked by a brazen, crepuscular guitar tone in the same unholy vein as Triptykon and Bolzer’s; vocalist F’s hoarse, staccato barks echo as the rhythm section pulls serious subterranean weight. It’s utterly desolate in the best possible way. —Kim Kelly | LISTEN

If you’ve ever had a shower thought along the lines of “I wonder what it’d be like if N*SYNC sang Madonna songs at karaoke,” then RINA, the 2017 mini-album by London-based pop zealot Rina Sawayama, is an album you should pipe into your ears immediately. Easily the most consistently inventive pop release since Carly Rae Jepsen’s genre-defying E·MO·TION, RINA is an album which revels in its references, with nods towards acts as diverse as Britney Spears and the Cardigans. That’s not to say it’s a copycat, though. These are eight of the most exciting and original pop songs made in recent memory. —Lauren O’Neill | LISTEN

If you’ve ever seen that tweet about a kid crying at an Avicii show, you know that big-tent electronic music can be a surprisingly effective vehicle for communicating outsized emotion. Porter Robinson’s long been one of the best at using big synth drops to grab at your heartstrings. But his new EP as Virtual Self goes even further, weaponizing wistful trance builds and lonely drum breaks as blissful nostalgia bombs that level the emotional defenses of all the sensitive kids who got into the whole electronic music thing through DDR and anime, just like Robinson did. There’s some overarching concept that involves A.I., alienation, and sentience in a technology-driven world—but even if you didn’t know that, you can sense it through the grand swells of this music. It’s the sort of stuff that makes you stop dancing and wonder just what all this means. —Colin Joyce | LISTEN


After a rough beginning to his career as Tinashe, a Zimbabwe-born and London-based singer-songwriter returned to singing as Rationale in 2015, garnering praise from the likes of Pharrell, Elton John, and Justin Timberlake. Two years later, we got his first album under his new moniker, a self-titled project full of energetic production and artful lyrics that have you feeling like you understand everything and nothing about the songs at the same time. For a prime example, look no further than “Into the Blue” halfway through the album, a dance-ready slapper that equates trying to leave the one you love to drowning. —Trey Smith | LISTEN

HIRS do not ask for acceptance, permission, assistance, or compromise on How to Stop Street Harassment. In fact, the trans femme collective only has one request. Strike that. They have one demand: To be left the fuck alone. It’s a primal scream against misogyny, catcalling, and male violence that gets wrought out over ten songs which show as much mercy as a switchblade to the gut. Their message is as deliberately inelegant as it is direct, as lines like “we don’t need you” and “you are nothing to me, leave me alone” become reoccurring mantras. Approach this EP with caution, or maybe just don’t approach at all. —Dan Ozzi | LISTEN

Denton, Texas’ noise-rock scene has a knack for colorful names. In an interview earlier this year, members of a queer no wave wrecking crew called Gay Cum Daddies listed off a few of the other projects they’re involved with, including, but not limited to, Avery Boner & the Blonde Dicks, Baby Blood, Bukkake Moms, and the Bozo Big Shit Garbage Band. Such a resume is a testament both to their work ethic and to their puerile sense of humor, both of which resulted in this year’s Crumbs, a collection of unraveled rock songs as upsetting and hilarious as their name is. Occasionally, as on “Tom and Sharon Get a Life / Medicine Artist” they’ll fuse two mutant songs together in a way that almost approaches song-like. But for the most part they play as if they’re in separate rooms attempting to use their instruments to punch through the walls and hear what each other is playing. One member described the Denton scene as “kinda lonely” but said that it offered a freedom to “do whatever we want.” You’d have to imagine that it’d be that way to produce a record this wonderfully fucked. —Colin Joyce | LISTEN


Cult of Fire’s 2017 untitled EP runs just shy of 11 minutes, but within those 11 minutes, the Czech iconoclasts manage to dish up some of the strangest, most genuinely intriguing music of their already outré career. Untitled is a ruthlessly inventive black/death maelstrom punctuated by flashy, wild-eyed slashes of orchestral rock ’n’ roll. Its two tracks channel the manic hedonism of both Deep Purple and the god of hellfire himself, Arthur Brown, even as viscous waves of black metal swell beneath it. A skittering keyboard solo comes tumbling straight out of the void, trailing flames; sonorous ritual chants arise from the mire, then disappear; orchestral bombast latches onto frozen chromatic riffs. It’s all so bizarre, and outlandish, and excellent. —Kim Kelly | LISTEN

About Time opens with a spoken word performance: “You’ve watched me open, bloom, wilt, rot / And start over,” intones the Miami singer Sabrina Claudio. Over the ensuing songs, she tears down walls, unlearning and re-examining her relationship with time. For all the existential questions, Claudio is sensual in her approach, with breathy tracks that invade your personal space in all the right ways. Her voice palpitates on “Unravel Me,” a song about a relationship that’s reached its expiration date. On About Time, moments are “measured in light, [and] final breaths,” but some moments don’t seem to move at all, like the passing of seasons she doesn’t notice in “Frozen.” All of which makes for some of the most pure and raw songwriting of the year. —Kristin Corry | LISTEN


New York musician Brian Esser took a moment away from his creepy clown blog to issue this collection of post-DEVO nightmares earlier this year. It’s a 12-track exploration of squirrelly synthesizer surrealism, coupled with jumpy, pitch-warping vocals as greasy and nauseating as a turkey leg on a tilt-a-whirl. With both head-spinning joy-bursts (“Nitwit of Gizmo”) and unsettling synth-rot (“Torim Pluk”), it’s one of the year’s more upsetting pop records, but with just enough sweetness in its harrowing melodies to make it all sit right in your stomach. It’s that old tidbit about how a spoonful of sugar quiets the demons in your belly, or whatever. —Colin Joyce | LISTEN

The cover of Chopping Block features the edge of a razorblade as it’s about to make contact with an eyeball. That pretty much captures the stress-inducing panic Civilized deliver. Thirteen tracks of ferocious hardcore that earn the distinguished honor of getting the Mark McCoy Seal of Approval with a release on cult label Youth Attack Records. —Dan Ozzi | LISTEN

2017 was an exciting year to survey the pool of female rappers who will likely become much bigger names in the next 12 months. That wave was obviously headed by Cardi B, but there is an abundance of others to get familiar with. One of the voices making the most noise was the DMV’s Rico Nasty whose Sugar Trap 2 mixtape is stocked with energetic, sometimes manic raps about establishing financial independence, letting it known that she’s the shit, and “looking mad rich.” When you need a pick-me-up, her music is the type of optimistic reassurance that will get you through. —Lawrence Burney | LISTEN


Cayetana’s 2014 debut, Nervous Like Me, was pretty much the definition of a no-frills record, and saw the Philly three-piece trepidatiously finding themselves as a band. On New Kind of Normal, they flex a bit of confidence in their musical growth. Things get slowed down a bit here, a change-up from the pop-punky speed they’ve kept things in the past, and much of the middle of the record creeps by at a Joy Division tempo. Cayetana is still a relatively new band, and New Kind of Normal showcases their eagerness to experiment with their sound, even before people have caught onto what it is. —Dan Ozzi | LISTEN

Dig past the marquee names of LA’s beat scene, and you’ll discover a cadre of talent pushing its jazz and electronic roots into more singular, experimental spaces. The most unsung among these artists might be Toy Light, the moniker of artist-producer Walker Ashby. The LA-based, Bay Area-raised musician studied art at UCLA, got drawn into Low End Theory, and by the time he graduated, had produced for Open Mike Eagle. As Toy Light, he has been quietly releasing some of the most strange and beautiful music to come out of the Airliner’s shadows. Ashby’s never been one for selling himself; he dropped Too Bright in November, sans press releases, interviews, or any other fanfare, but the work speaks for itself. The EP, which follows 2015’s standout LP Sightless, Unless, fuses plaintive guitar with frenetic beats, dissonant samples (think Burial, FlyLo, and a touch of Broken Social Scene), and layers of lustrous falsetto. Comparisons to Thom Yorke, in both form and style, are easy, but short-sighted. There’s really no genre that Toy Light belongs to, and that’s the point—it’s expression stripped of narrative, something conjured from the gut, at once surreal and deeply familiar. —Andrea Domanick | LISTEN


Before the release of Any Other Way, Jackie Shane had not been heard from in nearly five decades. The soul singer, who is black and transgender, grew up in the Jim Crow South in the 1940s and 50s before moving to Toronto where her singing career began gaining traction due to her powerful voice and charismatic stage presence. Often performing in a wig and makeup, she shared stages in the 60s with Etta James and Jackie Wilson. But in 1971, she disappeared from the scene without much notice or document of her brief musical career. Amazingly, Numero Group was able to track her down and get her blessing for Any Other Way, an official collection of all six of her much sought-after 45s and a recording of her live sessions at the Sapphire Tavern, featuring three unreleased songs. It’s a required purchase for record collectors and a vital archive of the pioneering Shane, the original trans soul rebel. —Dan Ozzi | LISTEN

Originally known as Anti-Freeze, Rampancy is the work of multi-instrumentalist Preston Lobzun, who has bopped around the Canadian underground for a number of years as a musician and audio engineer. The project is aligned with the red and anarchist black metal (RABM) movement, and its fourth release, The Sublime Conquest of Nothing, is packed with revolutionary zeal. Rampancy’s take on black metal is chilly and appealingly primitive, with a heavy dose of punk, a miniscule dash of screamo (see “Besieged”), and the odd guitar harmony for balance. Primal ragers like “Blood for Blood” and “Choose Your Side” snarl with crusty menace, while the melodic, clean-sung moments in “Thy Kingdom” hint at grander ambitions. For now, Rampancy is lying in the trenches, staring up at the stars. —Kim Kelly | LISTEN


“I got lots of swag and I be feelin’ hurt” is how Yung Lean opens “Skimask,” the third track on his 2017 album Stranger. You could quite feasibly suggest that in one line there, he summarizes the record’s mission statement (and indeed, to some degree, his entire project since 2013). Stranger is an album which has been to the depths of sadness, but which also knows it’s possible to rise through it. Introspective lyrics accompany perky beats, and a little of Lean’s Daniel Johnston fascination slips in on the album’s last couple of tracks, “Agony” and “Yellowman.” Stranger is his most nuanced release yet and its lack of fanfare is massively out of proportion with the depth of what it achieved. —Lauren O’Neill | LISTEN

Fluoride’s debut release is only 15 minutes long, which is probably a good thing. The universe likely couldn’t sustain more than 900 seconds of the grinding chaos the New Brunswick, New Jersey, band creates. It’s downright astounding how much blistering violence comes out of just three people. Don’t let the name fool you, it’s enough to make your fillings hurt. —Dan Ozzi | LISTEN

The tastes of Tokyo label/collective Trekkie Trax have proven to be pretty wide-ranging, taking on house, techno, trance, big-tent rave music, instrumental grime, festival trap, and more, uniting it all in a high-energy playfulness that’s impossible to deny. Earlier this month they released Carpainter’s album Returning, which seems to be a sort-of mission statement for the crew’s omnivorousness, chewing up all those genres and more over its 55-minute runtime, spitting it back up as an icily euphoric version of club music. The best bits are on songs like “Terrarium,” where all the reference points blur together, when rave airhorns accompany blurry ambience, chattery Jersey-ish vocal chops, and bass drops befitting big-tent performances. It sounds both like everything else and like nothing else, a true sign that Carpainter is onto something special. —Colin Joyce | LISTEN


Chronixx’s debut album is the result of over five years of work, and it shows. Capturing the soul of Jamaica like Beres Hammond, Bob Marley, and his father, Chronicle, his melodies bounce over drums and guitar strings, with a patois that adds texture to stories from his hometown in Kingston. In a world where “tropical house” masquerades as reggae’s distant cousin, Chronology is the sound that a host of Scandinavian EDM producers (and Drake) wish they had, an idea Chronixx isn’t afraid to explore explicitly on “Likes.” Chronixx journeys through his blackness on tracks like “Black is Beautiful,” with a message for skeptics: “But this is not a racist song / This is a song for the children who was never told about where their race is from.” Paying homage to those who shaped the sound of reggae, Chronixx uses Chronology to give credit where it’s due. —Kristin Corry | LISTEN

Les Chants du Hasard’s self-titled album is one of the oddest ostensibly “metal” releases in recent memory, largely because it manages to capture the starry, tarred essence of black metal without actually… playing black metal. The band's sole member, Hazard, is as big on classical composers Strauss and Mussorgsky as he is inspired by Summoning and Dimmu Borgir, and the results of his experiment are electric. As Noisey noted, “Les Chants du Hasard goes all in on neoclassical grandiosity, shunning traditional rock instrumentation like guitar, drums, and bass altogether in favor of orchestral instruments, coupled with the kind of unhinged, emotive howls that helped characterize 90s black metal genre-busters like Ved Buens Ende, Fleurety, and Arcturus… the cross-generational influences make the end result seem even less of this world.” —Kim Kelly | LISTEN


Chino Amobi’s debut full-length is framed as a radioplay for the end-times. It’s a product, as various booming IDs let you know intermittently, of NON WORLDWIDE Radio, the broadcast arm of the collective of African diaspora creators that Amobi and some friends cofounded with the aim of using sound to “articulate the visible and invisible structures that create binaries in society, and in turn distribute power.” On Paradiso, that means harrowing sound design—crushing synth drones, found-sound tumult, drums that hit like shattering glass, Auto-Tuned rapping, tortured screaming—twisting around apocalyptic poetry, resistance sloganeering (“You want democracy? / You want freedom? / You’re crazy), and speculative fiction about life long after our current moment’s turmoil. Orson Welles once incited a mass panic with a radio drama that’s far less incendiary, which makes you wonder what might’ve happened if Paradiso reached the right ears. —Colin Joyce | LISTEN

As far as skill and career potential goes, OMB Peezy has been one of the most exciting new acts to emerge this year. Over the course of 2017, the E-40 protege, who claims both Alabama and Northern California, has displayed a breadth of technical and songwriting skills that should have everyone from “real” hip-hop heads to the more party-leaning crowd very excited to witness his development. Following the success of his single “Lay Down” earlier this year, he dropped this six-track EP that is, no exaggeration, as close to perfect as a project could be. Full of introspective tales of street life produced by Cardo, the most overlooked producer of the year, Peezy displays levels of self reflection and storytelling rappers twice his age would struggle to communicate. The only thing you’re left wanting for once this is done is a confirmed release date for his debut full-length. —Trey Smith | LISTEN


Chepang is one of the New York City metal scene’s most precious treasures, and while the Nepal-turned-Queens quintet’s latest album, Dadhelo - A Tale of Wildfire, saw them rack in a decent amount of attention, it wasn’t nearly as much as they deserved. Noisey’s written approvingly about how “their manic riffs, multi-vocal approach, and sheer abrasiveness combine with an aesthetic rooted firmly in their shared homeland,” as well as their penchant for “swirling together the most jagged shards of powerviolence, crust punk, noise, grindcore—and even shades of a noise rock influence that yields a few unexpectedly groovy moments.” This album was their most ambitious and dynamic yet, and came imbued with righteous political fury. In 2017, what could be more relevant than pissed-off, jagged grindcore played by a group of working class, anti-state immigrants? —Kim Kelly | LISTEN

Emily Yacina’s particular brand of home-recorded indie rock is wonderfully foggy and impressionistic. Both in the vaporous quality of her drifting guitar lines and half-remembered specificity of her lyrics on Heart Sky, there’s a sense of her stretching for a thought that’s just out of reach, wistful for a memory she can’t quite access. Some of the tape’s 12 tracks feel like love songs, some are clearly about relationships breaking down, but most are pretty tough to untangle, a dense cloud of abstract yearning, provoking unshakeable feelings with unclear. Like many a great songwriter—David Berman, Sharon Van Etten, and Grouper’s Liz Harris come to mind—she’s able to evoke a moving story from strings of seemingly unrelated feelings and details. All together, it sorta feels like a dream. No, better. —Colin Joyce | LISTEN


The music that Rhode Island-based classical vocalist and experimental musician Kristin Hayter creates has been called, varyingly, “liturgical power electronics, operatic brutalism, [and] beautified death industrial,” the uneasy whimsy of those haphazard descriptors indicative of just how hard it is to pin down the sublime brutality (there’s another one) of what she’s doing. As Lingua Ignota, Hayter takes power electronics, doom, classical music, and black metal as her playthings, and contorts their lines with almost Biblical savagery. All Bitches Die (the project’s second release this year) sallies forth with four tracks of unimaginable acrimony, amplified by heavily distorted, anguished vocals that, eventually, transform into an angelic kyrie on staticky album closer “Holy Is the Name (of My Ruthless Axe).” It’s harsh noise, yes, but “harsh” doesn’t even begin to describe the horrors she has wrought here. —Kim Kelly | LISTEN

Chicago label Hausu Mountain released a batch of tapes late this year that they dubbed WTF LOL. This Fire-Toolz release wasn’t part of it, that’s still a pretty fitting descriptor for producer Angel Marcloid’s unholy blend of blistered black metal, wistful trance, and blunt gabber punishment. Its 12 vibrant, surreal tracks evoke righteous anger, religious bliss, the controller-tossing cacophony of vintage bullet-hell games, often all in the same few moments. It can be exhausting when you listen in full, but that seems to kinda be the point. Marcloid bounces between these grim sounds with an unnerving amount of glee, her smile widening with each twist of the knife. —Colin Joyce | LISTEN

Dolph’s most prominent PRE signee shows why he’s next up out of Memphis with tons of fun punchlines, cutting insults (“Broke nigga get a job, trappin ain’t ya shit”), and a versatile delivery style that is in its own way as forceful as his label boss’. Memphis’ scene has been flourishing in recent years, and with talents like Glock continuing to emerge from the city, there’s no decent reason to believe that this wave is going to die down anytime soon. —Trey Smith | LISTEN

G.S. Schray channels decades of drone music, balearic bliss, and post-rock solemnity into this strange, singular collection of ambient pieces. Like the best music from Talk Talk or Mark Barrott’s International Feel label, these are heavy-lidded recordings that feel as if they might droop down into dreamland at any moment. There are drums binding together the loose clouds of guitar, piano, and synthesizer, but even at its most propulsive, it has the lazy energy of a beachside sunset. It’s a reliable source of relaxation, which you know you can always use a little bit more of. —Colin Joyce | LISTEN

B L A C K I E has never been afraid to make music that the world needs, no matter what it might want. Fatherhood, finances, and fatigue from police-administered killings of black people in the states drove the DIY punk rap pioneer to a three-year break from music. But a voice came to him and said he needed to speak out. The result is the Houston native’s most musically polished project to date and an earnest look at the ever-crumbling world we live in. “Academy Academy” takes on indoctrination like religion and the public school system that keeps us distracted from how governments take advantage of us and “Numbers Not a Name” proposes that hashtagging slain black people strips away their humanity. —Lawrence Burney | LISTEN

Machine Girl didn't set out to make “experimental” music. When settling upon an ecstatic blend of high-energy hardcore, blitted video game memories, and uneasy beats that sound like a skipping CD of the Hackers soundtrack, it wasn’t out of any natural desire to make stuff that was unsettling. “The music I make always comes out sort of fucked up in some way,” Machine Girl said, plainly. The project's latest record …Because I’m Young, Arrogant and Hate Everything You Stand For is, indeed, quite fucked up, doubling down on those glitchy, nauseous influences to push h warped recordings even further into the outer realms of popular music. There’s a track called “Vomit” featuring Bonnie Baxter of the Brooklyn noise band Kill Alters, which sounds kinda like Boredoms playing gabber. If it’s an earnest attempt at imagining the future of pop music, it’s one worth getting behind. —Colin Joyce | LISTEN

A popular narrative in mainstream rap is the rags-to-riches story—the kid who had to make risky decisions in order to bring themselves out of poverty. But not enough airtime is given to people who grew up with most of their needs met but still found themselves in situations that jeopardized their freedom. PG County, Maryland, rapper IDK gives a sometimes uncomfortable invitation into scenarios that led him to the latter on IWASVERYBAD. What he magnifies is that, it’s not always infrastructural failures that lead kids to criminal behavior—sometimes it’s the emotional voids felt at home. And he doesn’t just cover that with a range of stories (like acting out in school and going on capers with the homies), but also in sound as he raps cutting bars with the same spirit that he taps into to harmonize over gospel-leaning tunes. —Lawrence Burney | LISTEN

As its title suggests, the Florida ambient musician Sunmoonstar’s tape for Sounds of the Dawn is a work of stunning ecological diversity. Even though its eight pieces never rely on more than just a few plaintive synthesizer lines, these microcosms convey a stunning clarity and movement, swirling, hissing, and revealing hidden depths. Its take on new age tropes somehow manages to be even more watery and weightless than the decades of visionary synth music that preceded it, like listening to Valley of the Sun at the bottom of the sea. —Colin Joyce | LISTEN