Berklee Community Weighs in on Favorite Albums of 2017
Whether it’s flowing out of a practice room, filling a recital hall, or ensconced in the headspace between a student's pair of headphones, Berklee's campus is constantly pulsing with new music. This raises the frequently asked question: What are you listening to these days?
There is no succinct way to answer that question and fully represent the diverse and creative artistic voices and tastes that make up the Berklee community. Nonetheless, we thought you might enjoy checking out these listening recommendations on a few of the best sounds of 2017 in the opinion of those who live and breathe music: our students, faculty, and staff. Here are some of the albums that blew us away in 2017.
The Order of Time
Artist: Valerie June
For me, this is one of the best and most underappreciated new albums of 2017. It's a cool hybrid of Tennessee bluegrass, folk, pop, country, and neo-soul. Valerie has a really distinct voice—the vocal equivalent of a Miles Davis trumpet sound—and her songwriting is atmospheric and cinematic. Listen to it once, and you'll get hooked.
Los Angeles pianist and producer Kiefer’s 2017 album, Kickinit Alone, is full of lo-fi hip-hop genius, articulate jazz-piano-driven instrumentals, and odd-meter grooves. Titles such as “Butterfly Inside My House” and “U R What U Repeatedly Do” inspire mental scenery that lets your brain just...marinate. Kiefer’s fingers elaborate with virtuosity.
—Salim ALi, student singer-songwriter, performer, producer, and youth educator
Salvavidas de Hielo
Artist: Jorge Drexler
This is an album focused on songs recorded only with guitars and percussion played on the guitar. The lyrics, as always, are amazing and Drexler sings great. The album was nominated for a 2017 Grammy [for Best Latin Rock, Urban, or Alternative Album]. Again, it is all about the songs.
Artist: Bob Dylan
Because he is modern music’s greatest lyricist, it is easy to overlook his pervasive musicality. Bob’s voice has been mocked as impenetrable but this album is the work of a master vocalist. His pitch and timing are perfect—evocative as Willie Nelson or Johnny Cash while as precise as a hatpin. He wraps his voice around each song to deliver pure reverence for melody and words. Swoon.
Artist: Ed Sheeran
Ed Sheeran's Divide (÷), one of 2017's most celebrated albums, is a personal favorite. Following a brief hiatus, Sheeran emerges with his third studio effort, solidifying his musical identity. Driven by a handful of catchy Top 40 sing-alongs, a closer listen to Divide (÷) reveals the English singer-songwriter's vulnerability through his nostalgic storytelling. Sheeran stays close to his folk roots on this project while incorporating traditional pop instrumentation and mindful self-awareness with an edginess only he can provide. Divide (÷) is a cohesive masterpiece from beginning to end—a must listen!
—Brendan Meyer, student majoring in music business/management
A Crow Looked At Me
Artist: Mount Eerie
Imagine writing something that encapsulates your feelings about the passing of a loved one, or your life partner. This gut-wrenching record is an open letter, and a meditation to singer-songwriter Phil Elverum’s late wife, who passed away from cancer in 2015. It is a truly beautiful piece of work that saw heavy rotation from me this year.
Memories…Do Not Open
Artist: The Chainsmokers
Until one tries to create a record like this, one has no idea how difficult it is to do. Elements are woven together to create complex compositions that seem simple. I listen to hundreds of projects that do not touch me [like this album does] because [they] have not spent time understanding the things that can connect with a mass-market listener: the use of a “four on the floor” kick drum pattern, storytelling, and an interesting use of synthesizers and DAW editing. Last but not least, the whole family can enjoy it.
Artist: Electric Guest
Vocalist Asa Taccone's moody falsetto sounds beautifully inhuman, like the synths and keyboards in the background. The running themes throughout each song on the album are both gentle and upbeat, bringing me back to last summer, living in Brooklyn. There's a song in it for everyone, from bubbly pop to electronic emo, and I always have at least one riff from this album stuck in my head. I cannot recommend it enough!
—Chandler Dalton, student majoring in music business/management
Artist: Aimee Mann
Berklee alumna Aimee Mann’s 2017 record, Mental Illness, features her sardonic wit and great ear for unconventional rhyme. Mental Illness is more stripped down and acoustic than the Beatlesque ornamentation she and Jon Brion brought to Bachelor No. 2, but along with the wit, these songs have sentimentality and heart, accentuated by Paul Bryan’s bass playing, production, and gorgeous string arrangements, and the incredibly tasteful seasoning by perhaps the best song-drummer working today, Jay Bellerose '87.
Artist: Ty Segall
Prolific indie/psych-rock guitarist, singer, and songwriter Ty Segall has released upward of 20 albums in the last 10 years or so. His 2017 self-titled album is among his best, featuring his signature fuzzy, crunchy, noisy sound that is also melodic and catchy. Segall showcases his glam/T. Rex influences on songs like “Freedom,” “Talkin’,” and “Warm Hands (Freedom Returned)”—a raucous 10-plus-minute opus. Ty Segall came out in January but I didn’t get a chance to listen to it until recently. It instantly grabbed me and quickly became one of my favorites of the year.
—Margot Edwards, associate director of Media Relations
French Canadian producer and jazz-lord Anomalie flexes his sound design and compositional chops on Metropole, which ushers in a new era of virtuosic laptop musicians. This is a unique blend of beautiful arrangements, sophisticated harmonies, and neck-snapping hip-hop swing. Listening to this masterfully crafted album is sure to induce some “stank-faces.” Favorite track: “Velours.”
—Darcy Davis, student majoring in music production and engineering