Although 2017 was a huge year for new music, the scene has been largely overshadowed by releases from internationally acclaimed artists including Kendrick Lamar, Lorde, Jay-Z, and Taylor Swift. But what about the albums that haven’t been played nearly as much?
Here are five underrated albums of 2017.
Avishai Cohen — Cross My Palm With Silver
Trumpet player Avishai Cohen has been cursed with having the same name as another New York-Israeli jazz musician. But it’s time to recognize him and his quartet: since both have been neglected because of the better-known bassist. On his 2017 ECM release, Cross My Palm With Silver, Cohen translates anguish and rumination into unforeseeable trumpet lines that delve into the personal effects of politically charged terrors — he responds to the video of a Syrian child asking if he’ll die after seeing a gas attack in Aleppo in the opening track. Cohen’s playing follows the detached style of fellow trumpeter Miles Davis, taking his time with entries and developing ideas at a relaxed pace. But it’s the distinct moments of tenderness in his angular solos and interactions with the rhythm section that keep us immersed.
dvsn — Morning After
R&B duo dvsn’s sophomore album Morning After thrives in creating an expansive sound to fill the gap between reality and possibility. It carries a lingering tension through all 13 tracks, often borrowing from film score orchestration for heightened drama. Thematically, it’s a glaring question mark, an open-ended exploration of indefinite romance. The mystery surrounding the duo themselves contributes to the effects of Morning After. We know they’re signed to Drake’s label, OVO, and are therefore likely from Toronto, but we don’t know much more. Yet, we don’t need to know who they are to understand their emotional conflicts. When the strings loom closer and vocalist Daniel Daley’s vocals come in, we’re drawn into their world, with our own memories and fantasies for visuals.
Balmorhea — Clear Language
Post-rock minimalist group Balmorhea designs ethereal soundscapes on their 2017 album Clear Language. The band started out 11 years ago, wanting to create wordless conversations through music. On their sixth studio album, they’ve done exactly that. Clear Language emphasizes different instruments on every track, all of which sway in and out with a wave-like motion as another voice enters. Often, they’re complemented by pastoral windiness or the quiet humming of a seashore. By the end, it’s like we’ve escaped the confines of time — a silent buzzing of inner peace continuing long after the album has ended.
Brockhampton — SATURATION
Brockhampton’s debut album SATURATION has been somewhat overlooked since the 14-member hip hop collective dropped their second and third albums just months later. The group consists of musicians and multimedia artists, with that diversity contributing to the many styles they offer across the album. While less cohesive than their follow-up albums, SATURATION is an assemblage of confessions: what it’s like to teeter on the tightrope between ego and insecurity in young adulthood. Tracks range from the scattered beats and aggression of “HEAT” to the transparency in “MILK,” which alternates between the hook “I gotta get better at everything / being who I am” and afflicted verses about regrets, fears, and acceptance.
Sarah Hiltz — Beauty in the Blue
Ontarian singer-songwriter Sarah Hiltz wrote the songs for Beauty In the Blue while travelling across Canada by train. Quietly uplifting and invigoratingly hopeful, Hiltz gives a much-needed reminder that everything eventually works out as it should. Her proficiency of many genres comes through in the album, ranging from bossa nova rhythms to Joni Mitchell vocal inflections. The lyrics are poignant, giving off a soft resonance. Instead of singing over an acoustic guitar for the entire album (as many singer-songwriters do), she experiments with overlapping instrumentation for colourful harmonies and percussion details. It’s as vibrant as her personality, serene, and optimistic despite all hardships — past and present.