Tumultuous times yield great art. And so far, 2017 has proved the rule. Artists in a wide variety of genres have taken the inspiration of recent turmoil and turned it into music that often shines a light on serious issues or that focuses on the unexpected moments of peace and joy. Here’s a look at the albums that have done it best so far this year.
20. Jay Som, 'Everybody Works' (Polyvinyl)
For her official debut, Melina Duterte shows that her do-it-herself, quirky bedroom-pop is ready for the world to hear, whether she’s singing about the bus or “1 Billion Dogs.”
19. Run the Jewels, 'Run the Jewels 3' (Run the Jewels)
Killer Mike and El-P make a great team, not just because their flows fit together so well, but because their strengths complement each other, like the way El’s production makes Mike sound even more menacing in “Don’t Get Captured.”
18. New Pornographers, 'Whiteout Conditions' (Collected Works / Concord)
The reigning indie-rock supergroup empire strikes back, as Neko Case, A.C. Newman and Kathryn Calder take on all comers with power-pop gems like “Play Money” and “High Ticket Attractions.”
17. Machine Gun Kelly, 'Bloom' (Bad Boy / Interscope)
Yeah, there’s the pop hits with Camila Cabello and Hailee Steinfeld. And the acting and modeling side gigs. But “27” is the surest sign he’s set for big things, as well as “Bad Things.”
16. The Menzingers, 'After the Party' (Epitaph)
Greg Barnett asks, “Oh, where are we gonna go? Oh, now that our twenties are over?” in the Rancid-like “Tellin’ Lies.” Over the next 12 tracks, they provide the answer.
14. Paramore, 'After Laughter' (Fueled by Ramen / Atlantic)
Hayley Williams shows us how to stay upbeat in the face of adversity, using spiky ’80s pop to fuel “Hard Times” and good-time funk for “Fake Happy.” Most importantly, it all works.
15. Big Boi, 'Boomiverse' (Epic)
We could talk about the next-level rhymes and the potent collaborations with Killer Mike and Kurupt. But actually just listen to “Chocolate” and its four-on-the-floor beat really, really loud. On repeat.
13. Flaming Lips, 'Oczy Mlody' (Warner Bros.)
Who knew you could combine prog rock, hip-hop, EDM and tales of unicorns and wizards so effectively? Apparently, Wayne Coyne.
12. Alison Krauss, 'Windy City' (Capitol)
Krauss tackles country classics like “Gentle on My Mind” and “You Don’t Know Me” with reverence and so much musical savvy that it sounds current.
11. Erasure, 'World Be Gone' (Mute)
We get both sides of the Erasure equation masterfully done here — both the massive-sounding dance floor anthem “Love You to the Sky” and the quiet protest ballad “Still It’s Not Over.”
10. Valerie June, 'The Order of Time' (Concord)
June sings about pain and surviving it so convincingly that when she finally lets loose on the triumphant “Got Soul,” it sounds almost miraculous.
9. Bob Dylan, 'Triplicate' (Columbia)
The Nobel Prize winner for literature chooses his phrasing brilliantly in these 30 songs drawn from the Great American Songbook, memorializing them with elegant arrangements and his poignant delivery.
8. Rhiannon Giddens, 'Freedom Highway' (Nonesuch)
Giddens gives the tales of the oppressed a contemporary context that is both admirable and gut-wrenching, starting with Song of the Year candidate “Better Get It Right the First Time.”
7. Spoon, 'Hot Thoughts' (Matador)
Britt Daniel’s main “hot thought” is to foster personal connection, but it comes with a stylish, funky backdrop in “Tear It Down” and “Can I Sit Next to You” so cool it could be a James Bond soundtrack.
6. Diet Cig, 'Swear I’m Good at This' (Frenchkiss)
Singer-guitarist Alex Lucianois set to be one of 2017’s breakout stars thanks to this delightfully straightforward female-driven manifesto set to catchy power pop that bounces between sweetly rocking and roaring.
5. Afghan Whigs, 'In Spades' (Sub Pop)
Like a noir film come to life, “In Spades” masterfully moves from the soaring intensity of “Arabian Nights” to the epic, howling exit of “Into the Floor.”
4. Justin Townes Earle, 'Kids in the Street' (New West)
Earle offers an Americana thrill ride filled with classic country, blues, a bit of rock, plenty of humor and a whole lot of great storytelling, starting with the brilliant “Champagne Corolla.”
3. Sorority Noise, 'You’re Not As ___ You Think' (Triple Crown)
The Hartford indie rockers, led by Cam Boucher, address death from multiple viewpoints, all told with heartbreakingly realistic touches, even if the often-rocking emo backdrop suggests otherwise.
2. Lorde, 'Melodrama' (Republic)
Lorde’s breakthrough “Royals” was stunning in its stark simplicity — portraying life in black and white. “Melodrama” is a burst of colorful layers, from the dance anthem “Green Light” to the ballad “Liability” that somehow manages to sound lush and glam-rock though she’s backed only by a piano.
1. Kendrick Lamar, 'DAMN.' (Aftermath / Interscope)
K.Dot craftily uses confrontational, old-school style to address the issues of the day. There are moments where he pauses to catch his breath, like the laid-back late-night vibe of “Loyalty” with Rihanna, but mostly his rapid-fire, in-your-face rhymes all land like punches in a heavyweight battle. Even when he’s advising “Sit down. Be humble.”