Rowdy country, political hip-hop, stunning R&B, and more: So far, 2017 has seen stellar new releases from megastars like Kendrick Lamar, Willie Nelson, and Feist, as well as noteworthy newcomers including Khalid and Kelly Lee Owens. Here, EW ranks the 20 best albums of the year (so far).
20. Kelly Lee Owens, “Kelly Lee Owens”
On her debut album, the 28-year-old Brit delivers a staggering batch of 10 electronic pieces — and it’s masterfully paced, from the pulsing “Bird” (wait for the drop!) to the entrancing, 10-minute closer “8.” —Eric Renner Brown
19. Allison Crutchfield, “Tourist in This Town”
Good luck trying to pick your favorite lyric from this indie-rock tour de force; Crutchfield’s debut solo LP is packed with brilliant one-liners about the quagmire of feelings that follow a breakup, and the joy of pulling yourself out of the wreckage. —Nolan Feeney
18. Jay Som, “Everybody Works”
Melina Duterte, the 23-year-old Bay Area upstart who records as Jay Som, draws on diverse influences — she opened for Mitski in 2016 and cites Carly Rae Jepsen’s E·MO·TION as a key inspiration — on her remarkable debut, which flips from riffed-out indie-rock (“1 Billion Dogs”) to ’80s-inspired synth jams (“Baybee”) with ease. —E.R.B.
17. Khalid, “American Teen”
He’s only 19, but this ex-military-brat sounds like he’s already lived a lifetime with his rich, gravelly voice and thoughtful lyrics about navigating the loneliness and longing every young adult goes through. —N.F.
16. Spoon, “Hot Thoughts”
The Austin veterans cement their reputation as indie-rock’s most consistent band on their ninth album, where they delve into brooding funk (“Can I Sit Next To You”), crunchy rockers (“WhisperI’lllistentohearit”), and spacey experimentation (“Pink Up”). —E.R.B.
15. Charli XCX, “Number 1 Angel”
Fusing the British starlet’s prodigious talent for champagne-popping hooks and the mind-melting tracks of London’s experimental PC Music collective, this stopgap mixtape is better than most official pop albums this year. —N.F.
14. Cashmere Cat, “9”
So far in his burgeoning career, the Norwegian producer has collaborated with megastars like Selena Gomez and Kanye West — but his debut full-length exceeds all expectations. The Weeknd, Kehlani, Ariana Grande, Jhene Aiko, and more stop by on a collection that delightfully defies convention and genre at every turn. —Madison Vain
13. Perfume Genius, “No Shape”
Mike Hadreas’ fourth album under the Perfume Genius moniker is his most gorgeous yet, a stirring collection that seamlessly vacillates between confident and vulnerable, dazzling and muted. Capped with an ethereal ballad named after Hadreas’ long-term boyfriend, No Shape is ultimately a wide-ranging document of love — its complications included. —Ariana Bacle
12. Willie Nelson, “God’s Problem Child”
Despite tabloid rumors of his failing health, the 84-year-old icon sounds as strong as ever here; with his humor, honesty, and wiry tenor all intact, the Red Headed Stranger fearlessly stares down his own mortality for one of the most human and endearing collections of his career. —M.V.
11. Future, “HNDRXX”
Future’s sixth album captures the 33-year-old’s hedonistic essence while striking out beyond his well-worn creative boundaries. “My Collection” and “Lookin Exotic” cover familiar sonic terrain, but HNDRXX’s left turns impress most, from Aphex Twin-inspired electro (“Testify”) to synth-pop bliss that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Carly Rae Jepsen album (“Incredible”). —E.R.B.
10. Run the Jewels, “Run the Jewels 3”
On their third outing as Run the Jewels, El-P and Killer Mike seamlessly bounce from sidesplitting rhymes (“Stay Gold”) to sociopolitical soothsaying (“A Report to the Shareholders”) — and their infectious camaraderie shines at every turn. —E.R.B.
9. Feist, “Pleasure”
For her first album in six years, the Canadian songbird shuns the bright folk of her breakout hit, “1234,” for something far more compelling: 11 seductive art-pop gems that reinvent what a traditional singer-songwriter record can be. —Kevin O’Donnell
8. Japandroids, “Near to the Wild Heart of Life”
Gut-punching drums, scorching guitar riffs, and roll-the-windows-down anthems like “True Love and a Free Life of Free Will” — turns out rock & roll in 2017 can still pack plenty of thrills, thanks to these Vancouver firebrands. —K.O.
7. Mac DeMarco, “This Old Dog”
The affable, down-to-earth rocker’s best album yet is also the year’s coziest collection of ’70s-inspired soft rock; it’s got glistening guitar hooks, weirdo junk-shop keyboards, and funk-lite grooves. What elevates This Old Dog to purebred status: DeMarco’s simple, unpretentious storytelling on standout cuts like “My Old Man” and “On the Level.” —K.O.
6. Sampha, “Process”
His pillowy vocals have made him a go-to guest for the likes of Drake, Kanye, and Solange, but the British wunderkind’s full-length debut is its own stand-alone wonder: a gorgeously atmospheric bedroom-soul manifesto. —Leah Greenblatt
5. The xx, “I See You”
The masters of minimalist pop didn’t just let in the light on their third LP. They went full-on supernova, using samples and club-ready beats to amp up the drama without ever losing their trademark intimacy. —N.F.
4. Jens Lekman, “Life Will See You Now”
The Swedish crooner finally made sounds as colorful as his vibrant lyrics; his hilarious and heartfelt tales are all the more magical paired with bossa nova rhythms, disco beats, and a jaunty piano melody inspired by Mariah Carey (seriously!). —N.F.
3. Chris Stapleton, “From A Room: Volume 1”
How do you follow up a critically adored double-platinum Grammy-winning debut? If you’re Chris Stapleton, you write absolutely no new songs. Instead, the 39-year-old Nashville outlaw plundered his own decades-old songbook for nine tough, rowdy rockers. And there’s more treasure in his trove — Stapleton is already prepping From A Room: Vol. 2 for release later this year. —M.V.
2. Sylvan Esso, “What Now”
This North Carolina-based duo crafts warm, intricate electro-pop that’s more bleep bloop than üntz-üntz-üntz, yet the understated, staggering beauty of tunes like “Song” and the nearly a cappella “Slack Jaw” will floor you nonetheless. —N.F.
1. Kendrick Lamar, “DAMN.”
The Compton MC’s fourth album contains the chart-topping single “HUMBLE.,” but Lamar’s astute lyricism — ranging from riveting autobiographies like “DUCKWORTH.” to brazenly political anthems like “XXX.” — makes the entirety of DAMN. essential. —E.R.B.