A look at the best of albums of 2017 and 2018 (so far)

Anna Daccache, Opinions Writer

In the age of Spotify and other services, I have found myself with a serious problem on my hands. I never have enough time to listen to the music that is available to me. As a kid, having to actively seek out and pay for music on iTunes, I was more selective with my time and money. However, the takeover of music streaming services has eliminated this issue. I can listen to practically any music I want. Yet, there is not enough time in the day to listen to all of it. As such, I have found the need to be progressively more picky with what I listen to.

That being said, I feel confident in my ability to survey the records that have been released this past year. I know many will not agree with my decisions but that is the beauty of an Op-Ed. It’s my opinion. And as someone who sits and listens to an album in its entirety, in order, before passing judgement, I feel well-equipped, as I consider not only the individual songs but the entire narrative experience when deciding if I think an album is worth listening to again.

The initial list I compiled after serious thought, review of what I had listened to, and searching for what I had missed, was not too difficult to make. However, after getting the list down to about 15, it was nearly impossible to narrow it down to the 10 albums I decided upon. But without further ado, counting down to number one, here are what I believe to be 10 best albums of 2017 and 2018:

10) Human – Rag’n’Bone Man

In his debut album, Rory Graham, better known as Rag’n’Bone Man, does something truly special. Channeling his rich baritone voice, Graham expertly weaves in and out of hip-hop and blues. His voice, one that is lacking in today’s music mainstream, makes the album all the more appealing.

9) RELAXER – alt-J

In the past, alt-J’s music has never really done it for me. But with ‘RELAXER’ that has completely changed. The instrumentals on this album, particularly the integration of woodwinds, really ties the whole thing up for me. Their sophomore album is much more diverse in its sound, and each song provides its own unique atmosphere.

8) My Dear Melancholy – The Weeknd

As this was the only EP on my list, I wasn’t sure what to make of this record when it was released. Compared to his previous work, “My Dear Melancholy” is significantly more fragile and full of emotion. The Weeknd channels his heartbreak well, and it comes out in his lyrics. He is a masterful songwriter and is proving to only get better with time.

7) After Laughter – Paramore

Five albums later, and Paramore continues to impress. The group has expertely transitioned into a new sound all the while still feeling the same in all the best ways. They have found a way to channel fun into what is easily their most lively, animated album to date. When you listen to it, you are transported and can’t help but feel that it is okay to not be okay.

6) Ctrl – SZA

When I first stumbled upon SZA, I liked her voice but was daunted by the task of sitting through a 14-track debut album. But the 27-year-old artist came out swinging and never slowed down. An album that shows her breadth and is brutally honest, each track takes you on a distinct journey. One of the best new voices to emerge in the past year, SZA channels everything she is into this truly poignant record.

5) SweetSexySavage – Kehlani

Having first heard Kehlani on America’s Got Talent, I was skeptical if she would be able to find her sound. However, the 23-year-old Oakland native emerges in all her glory track after track. With a running time of an hour, you are truly submerged into her world. A record so authentic, Kehlani is unapologetically herself, and you cannot help but love her.

4) 4:44 – Jay-Z

In his 13th solo album to-date, Jay-Z goes where he has never gone before. In “4:44,” Jay-Z remains undeniably talented amongst his apologies and naked truth. What makes the record all the more worthwhile is the clear journey Jay-Z has gone on to deliver such powerful music. It is refreshing to see a more humble side of someone as powerful as he. Thirty-six minutes is all he needs to captivate listeners in a way he has never done before. This new side, an arguably more real one, leaves you rooting for him.

3) Melodrama – Lorde

The old soul that made Lorde so famous on her debut album seems to be as good as gone with her sophomore release, and it works. In acting and sounding her age, Lorde’s tracks create an atmosphere filled with emotion and honest heartbreak. Her lyrical prowess bares itself for the world to see on tracks like “Writer in the Dark.” With this record, it is refreshing to see, and hear, Lorde be herself. The authenticity of it all makes “Melodrama” that much better.

2) DAMN. – Kendrick Lamar

I have always struggled to find a rap artist that I truly enjoyed. While I find rappers to be some of the most skilled lyricists, the music itself has not always appealed to me. However, the past few years have been exceptional in the rap and hip-hop worlds, and Kendrick Lamar delivers a powerful fourth album proving as much. Lamar takes music to places so few artists do, and as lauded as he is for his talent, he should be receiving even more praise. Lamar expertly blends modern and old school vibes in a multifaceted, bizarre yet moving record that draws listeners in and never loses their attention. ‘DAMN’ has already cemented itself as a classic.

1) Tell Me You Love Me – Demi Lovato

If I am being honest, I really wrestled with the idea of putting this album at number one. I could have easily slipped it in somewhere in the bottom half, and it would have gone largely unnoticed. I was scared, am scared, that putting a former Disney alum’s album at the top would eliminate any sliver of credibility I have, if I had any to begin with. But if I didn’t put it at the top, I wouldn’t be being truthful. And if you doubt her talent, just look up her performance of “Stone Cold” from her Spotify live session and then get back to me.

So, here we are at number one with Demi Lovato’s sixth studio album, “Tell Me You Love Me.” Full disclosure, I have been a massive fan of hers since I was 10 years old, so I will admit some bias. However, after the release of her 2015 album, “Confident,” which was disappointing in my book, I wasn’t expecting much from TMYLM. I could not have been more wrong. Lovato has come a long way since her first album, “Don’t Forget,” a pop-rock record that seemed light years beyond what a 15-year-old girl was capable of. A decade later, and she has completed her transformation into more of a soulful, pop-R&B singer.

‘Tell Me You Love Me’ opens with the anthem, “Sorry Not Sorry,” and while the album slows down going forward, the quality only picks up. Lovato bares all on this album; confronting demons, owning her sexual empowerment and reveling in heartbreak and missed opportunity. Maybe what makes the process of listening to this album from start to finish so gratifying is knowing the journey Lovato has been on. Lovato is no longer the 15-year-old girl belting out her classic single “Don’t Forget.” Lovato has lived a lifetime of lessons in the past ten years, and her maturation comes out in her music.

With some of the best vocals in music today, and the pop artist with the widest range, Lovato has finally found the perfect place to let it out. From “You Don’t Do It For Me Anymore” where she rejects her addictions and old way of life, to “Smoke and Mirrors” where she calls out a former lover for the illusion of their relationship, each song is different in its own right, but they flow together masterfully. It is a shame that two of the album’s strongest tracks, the aforementioned “Smoke and Mirrors” and my personal favorite, “Ready For Ya,” are not available on Spotify. The general public is being deprived of two emotionally captivating songs. However, if it’s her vocal prowess you seek, although that can be found on every song in this album, “Only Forever” and “You Don’t Do It For Me Anymore” are the two tracks to listen to.

Demi Lovato has only gotten better with time. As she has grown up, moved past her mistakes, and learned to embrace herself, her music has become more authentic and improved dramatically. If TMYLM is what she is releasing at 25, I cannot even imagine what the next five years will look and sound like.

To go back to why this album tops my list, much of it has to do with the story she tells. When you sit down and listen through the tracks in order, the journey Lovato went on as she wrote and recorded the album comes alive. And this product is an even more impressive feat knowing what the past decade has looked like for her following the release of her brutally honest and heartbreaking documentary, “Simply Complicated” (which I highly recommend everyone watch, regardless of the musical aspect, but because of the lessons you will learn from it regarding addiction, mental health, eating disorders and so much more).

So give this album a listen. And if it’s not for you, it’s not for you. However, my money is on the fact that you will be pleasantly surprised. With her undeniably raw lyrics and powerhouse vocals, “Tell Me You Love Me,” is the Demi Lovato album worth waiting for as she finally commands the spotlight.