Faronheit | A Chicago Centric Music Blog

The hottest music from Chicago & beyond

Category: listmas 2017

The 50 Best Albums of 2017


Overall, 2017 was a pretty fascinating year for music. If last year was a massive dogpile of great artists releasing great albums (Chance, Beyonce, Solange, ATCQ, Radiohead, Bowie, etc.), this year was more about promising young upstarts working hard to prove their initial success wasn’t simply a fluke. In a very different way, 2017 also saw the return of the “elder statesmen” of indie, in which well-established names like Fleet Foxes, Grizzly Bear, and LCD Soundsystem returned with new albums after being absent for a few years. Exciting as it was to hear fresh material from the likes of The Shins and Broken Social Scene, many of these returns resulted in a slight decay in quality, which may very well have been a sign of the times. It’s difficult to say where Arcade Fire and The National fit into today’s musical landscape, other than the fact that as long-time favorites they’ve earned plenty of trust and leeway when it comes to these matters. Some of these artists have attempted to continue evolving after a decade of trying the same thing and were met with shrugs by fans, while others have been more content to remain in their own lane and hope that fans continue to follow along.

On the other side of the coin, it often felt like fewer new artists managed to make a major impact this past year. Standouts like Priests and Charly Bliss aside, the ability to discover and cultivate fresh talent failed to impact as potently in 2017 as it has in other recent years. That left things largely up to the in-betweeners. Julien Baker, Jay Som, Big Thief, Torres, and others are known but not yet popular enough to earn things like regular radio airplay, yet their records remain deeply impactful and wholly original. Turns out that’s the sweet spot for this year. It remains exciting to hear a collection of artists figure themselves out, and connect with listeners in an interesting and genuine fashion.

Below you’ll find my Top 50 Albums of 2017. While many near the top of the list fall in line with a generally established consensus from plenty of other publications, there are still quite a few personal touches that hopefully help this list stand apart from the rest. I strongly encourage you to seek out any of the records listed if you haven’t heard them yet. All of them are worth your time and effort, though some are more challenging and impenetrable than others. So while you might not fully “get” some of these on a first, second, or third listen, the effort you put into many of them is worth the deeper rewards contained within their folds.

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The 50 Best Songs of 2017


The burden of choosing only 50 songs to help define the year in music feels wrong and just a bit insane. After all, there are literally tens of thousands of tracks to choose from, and the ability to discern the difference in quality among them can often seem akin to a parent being forced to choose a favorite child. So my decision process when assembling this list was challenging to say the least. It did leave me with enough regret to compose an additional “Honorable Mention” list, which you can check out right here if you’re so inclined.

Before we get started, I wanted to briefly explain a couple of rules I implemented when making selections for these top 50 Songs. First and foremost, no artist may be featured more than once on the list. That rule doesn’t apply to guest spots or features. It’s how *spoiler alert* Kendrick Lamar and Kamasi Washington managed to make it onto this list twice. Secondly, every song on the list must have been officially released in 2017 as part of an album, soundtrack, or single. In other words, you won’t find any leftover songs from 2016 here, nor will you find any pre-release singles for early 2018 records. There are a few tracks on this list from artists that didn’t release an album or EP in 2017, but still delivered one-off singles. Those songs may wind up on yet-to-be-announced records for 2018, and if that’s the case they will automatically be disqualified from “Best of” consideration for next year.

As for the songs featured in this post, I’m fully convinced and committed to proclaiming they’re the cream of the crop. They’ve managed to provide a guiding light for me over the course of this dark year, while also pushing back against the status quo. Their ability to excite, innovate, and comfort is unparalleled. If you don’t understand what they’re trying to do on the first listen, give them another shot, because a few of these are real growers. It is my sincerest hope that this list manages to bring back some fond memories of shows or albums you heard earlier this year and loved, or provides inspiration and discovery of artists and songs you might not have heard of before now. So please absorb these tracks into your life and let them work their magic. Click the play button on each one to hear a stream, or just scroll to the very bottom of this list for a Spotify playlist featuring every track except for one. See if you can figure out which for the 50 that is! Join me after the jump, as we take a closer look at the 50 Best Songs of 2017.

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The Best Songs of 2017: Honorable Mention


Of the thousands of songs I heard this past year, narrowing a list down to my favorite 50 was exceptionally tough. There was plenty of heartbreak and disappointment upon the realization that some great songs were being left off of that final list. So in the spirit of giving attention to even more great music, please take these extra 25 tracks and give them a listen if you aren’t familiar with them already. They’re listed in alphabetical order so as to not prioritize any one over another. The only rules are that the tracks must have been part of a 2017 album, soundtrack, or single release. While you can click on the play button below any song title to hear it streaming (via YouTube), there’s also a Spotify playlist embedded at the very bottom of this post should you prefer to listen that way. Cool? Cool. And make sure to keep an eye out for my Top 50 Songs of 2017, which will immediately follow this post.

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The Ten Best Concerts of 2017


Just like an album or a song, a truly great live show can change your life. Unlike an album or song, live shows are a communal experience that only exist for a brief moment in time before they become a distant memory. That’s why it’s so important to be as present as possible when you’re at a venue or music festival, to keep that memory locked inside your brain instead of locked inside your phone. Of course I’m as guilty as the next person for taking photos during a show (see all the examples below), but I do my best to only take a few and then put the device away.

Having said that, 2017 marked my busiest and most exciting concertgoing year to date. According to calculations, I attended shows on 71 days this year, and that’s not including the insanity of multi-day festivals such as the Pitchfork Music Festival, Lollapalooza, and Riot Fest. When all is said and done, my best guesstimation is that I saw 167 performances total, which takes opening acts and festival sets into account. So yeah, a lot of live music. It’s not nearly as much as the 500+ shows NPR’s Bob Boilen has pulled off in recent years, but I’d like to think it’s a solid amount for somebody that also has to maintain an active work and social life (not saying Bob Boilen doesn’t have either of those, but he arguably has more…flexibility).

Needless to say, it was tough choosing only ten performances from 2017 to highlight. Then again, this list could easily have been the ten best live shows I attended at the Empty Bottle this year, since they hosted an incredible array of big name bands and artists vastly underplaying at their tiny venue in celebration of their 25th anniversary. Instead, things are just a little more diverse than that, focusing on the moments that really stood out to me for one reason or another. Some were emotionally moving. Others were genuinely surprising or fun. The thrill of discovering something new, and the pleasure of hearing a set list comprised of many of your favorite songs. There was so much to love, and it’s my sincerest hope that you are inspired by this list to check out more live music no matter where you live. After all, science says that regularly attending concerts makes you happier.

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The Ten Best EPs of 2017


The Extended Play is a tricky beast. For many artists, it serves as an introduction – a means of dipping one’s toes into the water with a small parcel of songs and seeing what the initial reaction is. It stands to reason that if you amass lots of positive attention from fans and critics, that you’re on the right path and can safely wade into the deeper waters of a full length album. For more established artists, EPs can function as a bit of a dumping ground. Sometimes when recording an album, there are some good songs that simply don’t fit the aesthetic you were trying to cultivate, so those odds and sods wind up collected in an EP. It’s also a good stopgap measure, to keep fans engaged during the wait between full length efforts. And finally, it’s important to remember that creativity can be finite. You may head down a particular path with certain songs and themes before reaching to the conclusion after completing five or six songs that there’s nothing more you want to say or explore on the matter.

The ten artists featured on this Top EPs of 2017 list come from a variety of backgrounds and places in their careers. Most are new artists on the verge of breaking out, but there are a couple of established names in the mix too, who thankfully chose to approach their short releases with the same care as their long players. The great news is that there’s plenty to discover. Unless you’re neck deep in the hunt for quality new music, chances are you’ll see a name or two (or three) that you’ve never heard of before. Therefore, I strongly encourage you to hit play on some of the embedded tracks/videos tied to each EP on this list and get a taste of something great you might have otherwise missed. So without further ado, here are my choices for the Ten Best EPs of 2017!

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