It’s difficult to believe that it’s time for another “best of” list—where did 2017 go? Another year, another time warp, it seems.
Regardless, there were a number of notable works both published and recorded this year. This list, ranging from lighthearted to somber, highlights some of the books and records that I found myself revisiting throughout the year.
Faye Webster traded college for a spot on Atlanta’s Awful Records roster, and it appears to be a good decision. In addition to photographing members of Atlanta’s hip-hop scene, Webster released her second full-length album this year. Contrary to her debut, Webster’s self-titled record boasts alt-folk melodies and bluesy slide guitar. Faye Webster falls somewhere in between Fleetwood Mac and Kacey Musgraves—no one seems to be complaining.
Stranger In The Alps
Following an EP released on Ryan Adams’ PAX-AM label, L.A.-born Phoebe Bridgers is finding success writing music that sounds like it’s from anywhere but sunny Southern California. On Stranger In The Alps, Bridgers sings about hypnotherapy, funerals, and the Chelsea Hotel. The Fader calls her rock songs “casually sad as hell,” with steady drum beats, dreamy vocals, and constant unaltered electric and acoustic guitar. Her songs aren’t the only dark things in Los Angeles—her platinum hair and wardrobe are reminiscent of a ghost.
Jay Som is the music project of Oakland-based Melina Duterte. With her debut album, Everybody Works, Duterte redefines the bedroom pop genre with songs about public transit, dogs, and kisses. With poppy synths, bright guitar riffs, and soft vocals, the 10-track collection is a treat that has already landed on some notable year-end lists. Duterte’s charm is hard to miss both on the record and in person during her sold-out shows; it’s clear that Duterte enjoys what she does. She even responds to her dad’s comments on the band’s Facebook page.
Just Give In / Never Going Home
Last year, Stereogum dubbed Hazel English an “artist to watch.” After releasing two singles and an EP within the past two years, the Australian-born, Oakland-based musician was poised to be the queen of indie pop. With Just Give In / Never Going Home, English solidifies her standing in the genre and serves up some quality surf rock melodies. Delayed guitar and drum machine rhythms make this record a staple for summer drives and the first sunny day after a long winter.
A Crow Looked at Me
Last year, Mount Eerie’s Phil Elverum created a GoFund Me page asking for donations to fund his wife’s cancer treatments. A fellow musician, cartoonist, and the mother of his child, Geneviève Castrée, passed away a month later. To cope with his personal tragedy, Elverum wrote A Crowe Looked At Me. Labeled as a concept album about his wife’s death, the record includes heartbreaking lyrics about Elverum’s experiences in the days after Castrée’s death: Our daughter is one and a half / You have been dead eleven days. It’s a painful and shocking rumination on grief, but necessary for both Elverum and his listeners.
All Grown Up
Andrea Bern, the protagonist in Jami Attenberg’s All Grown Up, is a 39-year-old woman, but her thoughts and sentences read more like a flailing twenty-something. As she borrows furniture from her mother and navigates relationships and life in New York City, the former artist seeks connection in a variety of ways. A hilarious and wonderfully relatable account of a woman’s thoughts and experiences, All Grown Up is the perfect read for anyone craving a view of the female psyche.
Following an eighteen-year-old girl through her college experiences at Harvard in 1999 sounds either boring or strangely Elle Woods-esque. But don’t be quick to assume—Selin, the book’s main character, carries herself with an air of sophistication far beyond her years. The Turkish-American New Jersey native arrives at college in pursuit of a linguistics degree and the meaning of life, but what she finds is an apathetic love interest and a trip to teach English to Hungarian schoolchildren. Elif Batuman’s prose is truly poetic and worth savoring throughout this 432-page novel. It could go on for 1,000 more pages and no one would be annoyed.
South and West
For the first release since 2008’s Blue Nights, Joan Didion compiled old notes written during trips to the American south. What resulted was a traditional Didion novel, filled with thoughts on California and Arizona, as well as places like Lousiana and Georgia. Sprinkled with political fascinations and family relations that she witnesses during her travels, South and West is an account of mid-century Southern tradition and Didion’s ever modern thinking. It’s worth a read, if only for the final essay on California—classic Didion.
Sing, Unburied, Sing
A newly named National Book Award winner, Jesmyn Ward’s third novel Sing, Unburied, Sing, documents the lives of a young boy named Jojo and his family in the south. While Jojo’s mother works at a bar and dabbles in drugs and his father serves time in prison, Jojo and his sister Kayla are under the supervision of their grandparents. When he accompanies his mother to pick up his father, who is released from prison, Jojo encounters a ghost from his grandfather’s past. Ward’s talent for building a complex narrative makes her a talented storyteller—placing Sing, Unburied, Sing at the top of any bibliophile’s reading list.
Emily Ruskovich’s Idaho expertly lays out complicated family dynamics and addresses divorce, death, and mental health. Wade and Jenny live a quiet country life with their two daughters in the mountains of Idaho until an unthinkable event tears them apart. While Jenny is sent to prison, Wade falls in love with Ann, a local schoolteacher. As Wade succumbs to the same dementia his father suffered, Ann tries to assemble the pieces of his former life. An unexpected and underrated book, Idaho is a masterfully composed narrative of love and loss.