A conservative estimate places the number of full-length albums released in the past calendar year at roughly 13,000. This means, at the very least, that the idea of a definitive list of the year's best music, as if anyone could ever meaningfully listen to a significant fraction of such a huge and unruly accumulation of records, much less attempt to confine it within even the loosest narrative, is pure folly.

And yet, to paraphrase an artist who appears nowhere on this list, look what you made us do!

What is the current state of music? SUPERABUNDANT. And though there is no longer a mass audience to receive and share it, there are many, many small audience-lets that operate like isolated nation-states of community, many of which have never heard of one another. (This reflects our geopolitical and interpersonal reality as well, and yes, it's the internet's fault, and no, let's not talk about it.)

That's why we didn't attempt to declare a canon for 2017; we just asked everyone on the editorial staff who pays attention to music to make a shortlist, calculated the redundancies, then did some very light baby killing, et voila! Lists! We love these records, and the fact that we can even remember what they are called is but one small shred of evidence.

If you don't see your favorite (or your own) record on either of these lists, please take solace in knowing there are at least 12, 980 other releases we also didn't have a chance to celebrate in prose, but to keep watching. We'll try to get to them all eventually.

SEAN NELSON

LOCAL

Shabazz Palaces

Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines (Sub Pop)

This was a tough choice to make, but out of Shabazz Palace's excellent two-album set that came out in July, I'm going with Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines. On it, we've been graciously invited to inhabit the cosmic cool that is part of Ishmael Butler and Tendai Maraire's universe. This album is pure pleasure from start to finish, from the rapturous rhymes to the freakishly weird beats and the elegant, preternatural soundscapes. Also wins the award for best album of the year to listen to when getting blazingly high with your deepest, dankest bud. AMBER CORTES

Mount Eerie

A Crow Looked at Me (P.W. Elverum & Sun)

Written and produced by Phil Elverum after his wife, illustrator and musician Geneviève Castrée, died of cancer, A Crow Looked at Me is a powerful path through devastating grief. Elverum, a natural storyteller, captures those seemingly trivial details which magnify in significance when dealing with the loss of a loved one: like throwing away their toothbrush, or seeing it rain for the first time without them. Unlike his previous Mt Eerie albums, A Crow Looked at Me is (appropriately) very sparse and simple—Elverum called it "barely music." A beautiful, heartbreaking album. AMBER CORTES

doNormaal

Third Daughter (self-released)

Concise is nice, but when it comes to ambitious artistic declarations of purpose, I like them long, complex, and unwieldy. The 19 tracks on Third Daughter cover a lot of sonic, rhythmic, musical, and verbal territory, but they're united by the voice at the center, reclaiming the rapper's traditional role as MC, presiding over a retinue of producers (one for each song) and guests. That voice is compelling, commanding, even. The lyrics are firmly grounded in a quest to locate and express a self to can live—"young bitch in a pit of lions," she says on "My Teacher." "I dont wanna give it up, standing still in the spotlight vulnerable as fuck." Without the unified subject it might just feel like a long, good playlist or promising mix tape. But this is an LP (a double LP, in fact, so fingers crossed for a vinyl pressing). It wants to be heard. And you definitely want to hear it. SEAN NELSON

Chastity Belt

I Used to Spend So Much Time Alone (Hardly Art)

Chastity Belt refines their sound with every release, and on their third record, I Used to Spend So Much Time Alone, the quartet shows their most personal and vulnerable side yet. I Used to Spend So Much Time Alone is the sound of late, isolated nights of reflection and self-critique, leading to the best lyrics they've written to date (on "Bender": "I'm trying to let go of the things I think you should know/ cause I want to be free from the pain I caused you to cause me"). Distorted guitars and lead singer Julia Shapiro's wail add to the sticky-sweet melancholy that's palpable throughout the record. It's unfortunate that they spent all that time alone, but the ultra satisfying record that came out of it might have almost made it worth it. ANNA KAPLAN

somesurprises

Serious Dreams (Eiderdown)

Natasha El-Sergany and Josh Medina are the Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood of dream rock (except Medina doesn't sing, but rather conjures spangly ectoplasmic magic on acoustic and electric guitars, and El-Sergany also plays guitar and keyboards and doesn't have a famous dad). Anyway... Their debut album, Serious Dreams, makes most sense while heard right before you drift off to sleep, its diaphanous sighs and languid atmospheres slowing your pulse and whispering into your tympanic membranes until you achieve a shivery bliss. Recommended for fans of Mazzy Star, Grouper, MV & EE, and inner peace. DAVE SEGAL

OR

Perfume Genius

No Shape (Matador)

In an interview with Northern Transmissions, Mike Hadreas says he listens to a song in the hopes of hearing it take a left turn. This impulse clearly guides his own songwriting on No Shape, which helps to distinguish it from other pop records that press new songs in to the same old mold. There's the thunderous and somehow shimmering explosions of drums in the technicolor single, "Slip Away," the final blossoming of overlapping yodeling at the end of "Wreath," and plenty moments of sudden wildness, expansiveness, or contraction besides. As many writers have dutifully pointed out, and as the Grammy-nominating body has recently recognized, the production on this album is larger and lusher than on his previous efforts, but the songs still retain their signature tenderness. RICH SMITH

Dude York

Sincerely (Hardly Art)

A musical note-to-self, in which this trio stares its problems in the face. While the lyrics describe their fears and anxieties in near-extreme detail ("I text my therapist, 'Hey, what's up?' / Legally he can't respond, I know this"), the music fights back with a vicious strain of power pop. On tracks like "Tonight" they're roaring and self-assured, while on the blasting "Black Jack" and "The Way I Feel," they make the case for needing a little bit of help. Sincerely wraps up all their feelings in tight melodies that go down smooth, and have an intense staying power. ANNA KAPLAN

Emma Lee Toyoda

Sewn Me Anew (Make Fart)

This came out at the very end of last year, but even if Dec. 17 didn't count, we'd have to find a technicality. Coltish but assured, twee but formidable, colloquial but eloquent, sad but self-aware, Emma Lee Toyoda's debut LP is a study in the kinds of contrast that cast light on the emotions the songs evoke. The melodies, harmonies, and instrumental arrangements are ambitious and surprising, and the words rest in unfussy service to the sounds that surround them. Above all, this record sounds young and serious in the best way—which is to say not self-serious. These songs still know how to swoon. SEAN NELSON

Steve Peters

Chamber Music 10: Airforms (Palace of Lights)

Respected for his excellent curation of Wayward Music Series at Chapel Performance Space, Seattle's Steve Peters played on some of the city's most enduring experimental-electronic records with Marc Barreca and Steve Fisk in the '70s and '80s. He's also issued several solo works for esteemed labels like 12k and OODiscs. Airforms is a 61-minute opus that attains the preternatural calm and cold, alien beauty of Brian Eno's long-form ambient classic Neroli. Peters's masterpiece teems with microscopic activity, a suspenseful drone festooned with clangs and pings like nipple gongs and oddly tuned xylophones sounding in a Plutonian atmosphere. DAVE SEGAL

Versing

Nirvana (Decency Den)

My commitment to the aesthetic embodied by this record is so complete that I not only believe every record should sound like it, I almost believe every record does sound like it, because I never fully got over or beyond early-to-mid '90s indie rock. Versing's music triangulates elements of Flying Nun, Matador, and Slumberland in their heydays, but the band isn't novelty or nostalgia. They sound utterly present tense, young, smart, and vital. They just happen to sound like they might have access to a record collection, as opposed to an old LaCie hard drive. Pavement is an obvious reference point, but it matters that it's the Pavement between Slanted and Enchanted and Crooked Rain because if that didn't matter, how could Pavement be a reference point? More importantly, their tone isn't diffident or aloof. They don't seem to mind meaning it. Nor do they hide behind sound walls; There are MBV/Yo La Tengo/Swirlies guitar bends on the title track, but the melody is almost inquisitive, the lyrics almost deferential. The strength of the record is obvious: really good songs, played really well. But the magic of it (for, uh, some of us anyway), is that it builds a little bridge between being young now, and being young before now. I doubt that's intentional, but it's welcome nonetheless. SEAN NELSON

BESTIES: Porter Ray, Watercolor (Sub Pop); Thomas Andrew Doyle, Incineration Ceremony (Yuggoth); Jacob James, Retrofuture (Red Thread); Date Night with Brian, Summertime (Top Drawer); Shenandoah Davis, Souvenirs (Plume);

Dave Depper, Emotional Freedom Technique (Tender Loving Empire); Bod, True Cinnamon EP (Swoon); Shake Some Action, Crash Through or Crash (Satellite 451); Jessica Boudreaux, No Fury (Kill Rock Stars); Frabulous Downey Brothers, Turf (Swoon); Benjamin Gibbard, Bandwagonesque (Turntable Kitchen); Tomten, Cremation Songs (Plume); Zebra Hunt, In Phrases (Jigsaw); Cataldo, Keepers (Moon Crew); Taylar Elizza Beth, Fresh Cut Flowers EP (self-released); Hoop, Super Genuine (Decency Den); Sera Cahoone, From Where I Started (Lady Muleskinner); Mommy Long Legs, Rock Product EP (Youth Riot)

NATIONAL

Bjork

Utopia (One Little Indian Records)

Further proof that Björk is not of this planet: gorgeous and lush, gliding between layers of feathers and filigree, Utopia is breathtaking sublime orchestration perfected. Her last album Vulnicura was a breakup album, dowsed in sadness and atonal strings. Sonically, Utopia is in the vein of Vulnicura and Vespertine, but this album is all about creating love. To that effect, it's bursting with birdsongs recorded at Shamanic rituals, synth pads and an array of flutes, all complex and wild, and uplifted by the magic touch of Venezuelan producer Arca. AMBER CORTES

Benjamin Booker

Witness (ATO)

Since moving from the Tampa Bay scene to New Orleans with longtime musical compadre Max Norton, and securing a record deal with ATO, the singer-songwriter with the smoky, old-soul vocals has delivered a few superb studio LPs. His sophomore outing takes Booker's deep blues-soul aesthetic into new sonic territories without entirely losing its vintage flavor, and ranges from the sunny, string-plucked relationship skepticism of "Truth Is Heavy," to the gospel-soaked, fuzzed-out grooves of "Witness," which features vocal accompaniment by Mavis Staples (whom he first collaborated with on her 2016 album Livin' on a High Note), and offers an earnest reflection on the rise of racially motivated police shootings in America ("Thought that we saw that he had a gun / Thought that it looked like he started to run"). LEILANI POLK

 

Thundercat

Drunk (Brainfeeder)

At 23 tracks, there's a lot to unpack in Thundercat's third studio LP. It might seem excessive, but Drunk actually clocks in at less than an hour as it slinks, dives, bumps and jives through various moods, sounds and atmospheres, all while showing off Thundercat's knack for seamless genre mashing; post-R&B, avant jazz, alt hip hop, funk that feels retro-fresh, all of it treated with progressive time signatures, driven by his distinguishing array of bass tones, and marked by his sexy falsetto-reaching vocal quality and inventive lyrical style. And while the guest list is both varied and impressive—including Kendrick Lamar on the quietly forlorn "Walk on By," and Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald on the soft rock-inspired groove, "Show You the Way"—and brings some variety to his sound, Thundercat shines brightest in songs like the humorously dejected "Friend Zone," where he's playing alone, on his own two feet. LEILANI POLK

Vince Staples

Big Fish Theory (Def Jam)

For Vince Staples' second LP, the Long Beach rapper enlists the help of a number of notable collaborators to create his sleekest record yet, a notable feat as Staples consistently has some of the best production in rap. SOPHIE and Flume are among those building beats, and anyone from Gorillaz to Kendrick Lamar make an appearance. Big Fish Theory examines the fishbowl in which rap operates and how others look into it, giving Staples the opportunity to critique various aspects of hip hop culture. Staples' style and efficiency allows him to say everything he wants to say into only 36 minutes, making for a fast-paced, intriguing take on rap backed by an ever-changing soundscape. ANNA KAPLAN

Porter Ricks

Anguilla Electrica (Tresor)

Is German techno still the best techno? For the most part, yes. Case in point is Anguilla Electrica, German duo Porter Ricks' first new full-length since 1999's Symbiotics. Showing no signs of hiatus-induced rust, Anguilla Electrica continues Porter Ricks' reign as gods of fathoms-deep, club-wrecking dubwerk. The most effective techno bears little trace of human emotion, but rather aspires to the grace of the rogue automaton—the more sinister the better. The six tracks on Anguilla Electrica slice through murky waters like a whale with digestive problems (i.e., siiiiiccckk bass frequencies). And you can even dance to it. DAVE SEGAL

Kelela

Take Me Apart (Warp)

Immersive doesn't even begin to describe this exquisite debut album from dance music darling Kelela (her 2013 mixtape promised us good things, and we got them). There's her seductive R&B-ready voice—which would almost even be enough—except there's also the near flawlessly produced, intricate, and unpredictable direction of her songs, and the emotionally cathartic lyrics dipping into the all the contradictions that love and lust have in store. Oh, and did I mention almost the entire album is addictively dance-y? That, too. AMBER CORTES

Sarah Davachi

All My Circles Run (Students of Decay)

Over the last five years, Canada's Sarah Davachi has proved herself to be one of the world's foremost purveyors of transcendent drones. Anyone who caught her 2015 Debacle Fest set can attest to the soul-inflating power of her rigorous keyboard compositions. All My Circles Run finds Davachi basing pieces around a single element—strings, voice, organ, piano, chanter—and transforming it into elongated tone poetry, building mountains of drone out of granules of sound. She fosters some of the headiest zone-outs to which you'll ever use to escape reality's horrors. DAVE SEGAL

Lorde

Melodrama (Republic)

On her sophomore album, Lorde plunges to the depths to detail life after "Royals" catapulted her into the spotlight at age 16. After newfound fame and a subsequent break-up, Melodrama is a sonic recollection the post-heartbreak phase—partying, loneliness, loss of direction. Ella Yelich-O'Connor seems to have wisdom and talent beyond her age, but at 21, she's still close enough to adolescence to remember how it felt—and how deeply. She songs scour the edges of emotions to tell the story of how she found her place in the world. In "Green Light" she wants to blast away from her problems, while in tear-jerking piano ballads like "Liability" and "Writer in the Dark," she wallows in the all-too-common doubt of her self-worth. Melodrama is proof she was able to overcome those doubts and transform her heartbreak into something stunning. ANNA KAPLAN

Natalia Lafourcade

Musas (Sony/RCA)

Mexican singer-songwriter Natalia Lafourcade is known for her chart-topping and Latin Grammy-sweeping indie pop. But on Musas she worked with renowned Spanish guitar grandpas Los Macorinos to create a throwback folk record full of original songs that sound like old standards. Her voice is timeless and yet bursting with life—like a warmer, sweeter, Edith Piaf who was raised in a small town outside Veracruz. "Soledad y el Mar" will induce lonesome island daydreams and swoon you into a sway in your office chair, even on the grayest days. The single, "Tú Sí Sabes Quereme," is the upbeat Spanish ballad you want playing when you catch someone's eye across a room. RICH SMITH

Fever Ray

Plunge (Rabid/Mute)

Fever Ray's self-titled debut sounded alarming and alien and thrillingly new back in 2009. The second album by Karin Dreijer of The Knife sounds alarming and alien and thrillingly, even comfortingly, familiar eight years and infinite nightmares later. Her vocal manipulations, dance rhythm inversions, anarchic collages of tone and sound, and perverse lyrical epigrams ("This house makes it hard to fuck/This country makes it hard to fuck") leave you with the impression of being granted access to the inner world of a fascinating seeker with ecstatic musical instincts who feels no more at home in the world than you do. You feel grateful. SEAN NELSON

BESTIES: Baxter Dury, Prince of Tears (Heavenly Recordings); SZA, Ctrl (Top Dawg/RCA); Heliocentrics, A World of Masks (Soundway); Bully, Losing (Sub Pop); Torres, Three Futures (4AD); Robyn Hitchcock, Robyn Hitchcock (Yep Roc); Queens of the Stone Age, Villains (Matador); Temples, Volcano (Fat Possum); Waxahatchee, Out in the Storm (Merge); Allison Crutchfield, Tourist in this Town (Merge); Beach Fossils, Somersault (Bayonet); Brockhampton, Saturation II (Question Everything); Deer Tick, Vol. 1 and 2 (Partisan); Big Thief, Capacity (Saddle Creek); Rhiannon Giddens, Freedom Highway (Nonesuch); Ted Leo, The Hanged Man (SuperEgo); Mark Eitzel, Mr. Ferryman (Merge); St. Vincent MASSEDUCTION (Loma Vista); The National, Sleep Well Beast (4AD); Kevin Morby, City Music (Dead Oceans); Angelo de Augustine, Swim Inside the Moon (Asthmatic Kitty); The Magnetic Fields, 50 Song Memoir (Nonesuch); Sampha, Process (Young Turks); Eyelids, OR (Jealous Butcher); Sleaford Mods, English Tapas (Rough Trade). recommended