Best Media 2017: Music

This year, our ears were graced by many great albums—even a few brilliant ones. But two stood out from the crowd: Nicole Mitchell’s Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds—my pick for album of the year—and ­Thundercat’s Drunk.

This year, our ears were graced by many great albums—even a few brilliant ones. But two stood out from
the crowd: Nicole Mitchell’s Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds—my pick for album of the year—
and ­Thundercat’s Drunk.


Nicole Mitchell. Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds. (FPE).
Mitchell having already created two large-scale works inspired by the Afro­futurist sf of Octavia Butler, the flautist/composer’s newest project is an expansive multimedia work based around her own sf novella, Mandorla Awakening. In it, she explores a “collision of dualities” through two societies in the year 2099: the World Union, a violent, technocratic capitalist society near collapse, and Mandorla, which is spiritualist, agrarian, and peaceful. Free jazz, contemporary classical, blues, hip-hop, gospel, bluegrass, rock, and spoken word blur in a hyperspace cauldron of charged intensity. In the composition’s latter half, poet avery r. young joins the Black Earth Ensemble, delivering Mitchell’s words with measured urgency: sometimes whispered, other times spat, screamed, or shouted. Both sonically and narratively, Mandorla Awakening II embodies the Afro­futurist ethos, daring to imagine a world better than our own.

Thundercat. Drunk. (Brainfeeder).
Stephen Bruner, aka Thundercat, is the virtuoso bassist/composer/vocalist responsible for this profoundly fun concept album. An all-star cast of collaborators, including saxophonist ­Kamasi Washington, Steven Ellison (aka Flying Lotus), Wiz Khalifa, Pharrell, Kendrick Lamar, Michael ­McDonald, and Kenny Loggins, join Bruner on the 23 songs. Drunk’s lead single, “Show You the Way,” is a darkly hopeful song about living with depression, tensely juxtaposed to its cheesy presentation. Elsewhere, Bruner muses about transforming into a cat, losing his cell phone, playing Mortal Combat, geeking out over anime, riding motorcycles into outer space to avoid racial-profiling cops, and, of course, the joys, perils, and WTFs of intoxication.

48 Honorable Mentions

Algiers. Underside of Power. (Matador). Postpunk/blues.

Tony Allen. The Source. (Blue Note). Afrobeat jazz.

Tori Amos. Native Invader. (Decca). Singer-songwriter.

Joey Bada$$. All-Amerikkkan Bada$$. (Cinematic Music Group). Rap.

Jon Balke. Siwan: Nahnou Houm. (ECM). Jazz/classical/international.

William Basinksi. A Shadow in Time. (Temporary Residence). Ambient experimental.

Björk. Utopia. (One Little Indian). Art pop.

Circuit des Yeux. Reaching for Indigo. (Drag City). Art pop.

Alice Coltrane. World Spirituality Classics 1: The Ecstatic Music of Alice ColtraneTuriyasangitananda. (Jowcol Music/Luaka Bop). New Age/jazz.

The Como Mamas. Move Upstairs.  (Daptone). Traditional gospel.

Feist. Pleasure. (Interscope). Indie pop.

Rhiannon Giddens. Freedom Highway. (Nonesuch). Country/Americana.

Girlpool. Powerplant. (Ant). Indie alternative.

Gorillaz. Humanz. (Parlophone/Warner Bros.). Alternative rap.

Ibeyi. Ash. (XL). Alternative R&B.

ÌFÉ. IIII + IIII. (Discos Ifá). International/electronic.

Vijay Iyer Sextet. Far from Over. (ECM). Jazz.

Ahmad Jamal. Marseille. (Jazz Village). International jazz.

Jay Z. 4:44. (Virgin EMI). Rap.

Zola Jesus. Okovi. (Sacred Bones). Experimental electronic.

Jlin. Black Origami. (Planet Mu). Experimental electronic.

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings. Soul of a Woman. (Daptone). Retro soul.

Kehlani. SweetSexySavage. (Atlantic). Alternative R&B.

Kelela. Take Me Apart. (Warp). Alternative R&B.

Kesha. Rainbow. (Kemosabe Records). Pop.

Kendrick Lamar. DAMN. (Aftermath / Interscope). Rap.

LCD Soundsystem. American Dream. (Columbia). Electronic indie rock.

Logic. Everybody. (Def Jam). Rap.

Lorde. Melodrama. (Universal Music). Singer-songwriter pop.

Migos. C U L T U R E. (Atlantic). R&B.

Miguel. War & Leisure. (Bystorm/RCA). R&B.

Father John Misty. Pure Comedy. (Sub Pop). Singer-songwriter.

Mount Eerie. A Crow Looked at Me. (P.W. Elverum & Son). Singer-songwriter.

Víkingur Ólafsson. Philip Glass: Piano Works. (Deutsche Grammophon). Classical.

Perfume Genius. No Shape. (Matador Records). Art pop.

Priests. Nothing Feels Natural. (Sister Polygon Records). Postpunk.

Run the Jewels. Run the Jewels 3. (Run the Jewels, Inc.). Rap.

Cécile McLorin Salvant. Dreams and Daggers. (Mack Avenue). Jazz.

Secret Sisters. You Don’t Own Me Anymore. (New West). Country/Americana.

Somi. Petite Afrique. (Masterworks/OKeh Records). Soul jazz.

St. Vincent. Masseduction. (Loma Vista). Indie pop.

Vince Staples. Big Fish Theory. (Def Jam/Blacksmith). Rap.

SZA. Ctrl. (RCA). R&B.

Ty Dolla $ign. Beach House III. (Atlantic). Rap.

Tyler, the Creator. Flower Boy. (Columbia). Rap.

Visible Cloaks. Reassemblage. (RVNG Intl.). Experimental electronic.

War on Drugs. A Deeper Understanding. (Atlantic). Rock.

Kamasi Washington. Harmony of Difference. (Young Turks). Jazz.


Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.


Get connected. Join our global community of more than 200,000 librarians and educators.

Get access to 8000+ annual reviews of books, ebooks, and more

As low as $13.50/month