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The 15 Best Albums of September 2017

LCD Soundsystem nearly won the month of September on the very first day, but a few albums popped up along the way to challenge the great "American Dream."

Music Features

LCD Soundsystem  nearly won the entire month of September on the very first day, releasing their stellar comeback album American Dream Sept. 1 and meeting an avalanche of hype and expectation with a nuanced record that was equal parts nervous energy and warm digital comfort. But there was too much great music coming up to allow LCD to sit pretty for too long. Veterans Neil Young and Sparks arrived with immaculate albums of their own (in the case of Young, a heretofore unreleased gem from 1976), and Hiss Golden Messenger and Kamasi Washington continued their recent winning streaks with albums to rival anything they’ve done thus far. But none of these great artists eclipsed our favorite record of September, a staggering next-level effort by a Los Angeles band with plenty to prove. Who was it? Read on and find out!

15. Rust Dust: Diviners and Shivs
Rating: 8.2
Jason Stutts, aka Rust Dust, just can’t keep from crying. On his new album, the South Carolina singer-songwriter struggles with pain, heartache and redemption, spinning modern tales of the world heard through the historical filter of vintage Americana music. Through traditional gospel and folk covers and his original work, Rust Dust leads the listener through spirited stories of drugs, guns, loneliness and love. —Emily Reily

14. Zola Jesus: Okovi
Rating: 8.2
“Soak,” a devastatingly powerful single off Zola Jesus’s sixth album, is the story of a serial killer’s victim who’s about to drown. It’s just one of many intense moments that gracefully darken Okovi. Recorded in the Wisconsin woods, the album combines elements of vocal pop, ambient metal, dance music and classical, goth and industrial—genres that wouldn’t normally be heard in one song. Over that unlikely fusion Danilova sets loose her operatic voice, creating a wrenching mix of constraint and fury. —Emily Reily

13. Myrkur: Mareridt
Rating: 8.3
Danish model Amalie Bruun doesn’t look much like many of the people who have made black metal over the past few decades. From her first dip into the extreme underground through today, she has faced attackers on all sides, and on her second album, Mareridt, she turns them away with gloomy grace. The title track establishes an eerie vibe, showcasing Bruun’s stratospheric soprano with a folksy tune backed by low rumbles and drones. It’s followed by “Måneblôt,” a deep dive into a maelstrom of feedback, blast beats and demonic hiss, and “The Serpent,” with its march of dark riffs and roiling chorus. Bruun’s spectral voice floats above the fray, unspooling legato melodies to balance the aggression. —Ben Salmon

12. Propagandhi: Victory Lap
Rating: 8.3
The sonic trajectory of Winnipeg punks Propagandhi has been firmly entrenched in the progressive thrash-metal world since they unleashed their game-changing 2005 LP Potemkin City Limits. At the time, the shift away from the brainy, yet less-brawny skate-punk of their mid-’90s run sounded like a band who was through fucking around, ready to fulfill the larger obligations of putting their sociopolitical stances through more stoic soundscapes. On their seventh studio album, Victory Lap, Propagandhi stir heady dustups of full-throttle metal better than most bands who’d call themselves metal, and do so with an ear toward flattening the pomposity inherent in oppressive politics. —Ryan J. Prado

11. Living Colour: Shade
Rating: 8.3
On Living Colour’s first album in eight years, the darker, more industrial overtones that hampered 2003’s Collide-O-Scope and 2009’s The Chair in the Doorway have dissipated, giving way for the kind of Lower Manhattan funk-metal moves that made early singles like “Desperate People” and “Type” such monster jams of their day. It’s a delight to hear the longtime lineup of Corey Glover, Vernon Reid, Doug Wimbish and Will Calhoun firing on all cylinders in both rhythm and riffage on such searing cuts as opening number “Freedom of Expression (F.O.X.)” and the Afropunk stomper “Glass Teeth.” Read Paste’s recent interview with Reid here. —Ron Hart

10. Shilpa Ray: Door Girl
Rating: 8.3
With her commanding presence and a penchant for spectacle, punk Shilpa Ray is a perfect fit for the job of assessing life in New York City. The title makes reference to the time she spent working the door at Pianos on the Lower East Side. The album finds Shilpa Ray struggling to make ends meet and hold onto her humanity. She does so with humility, humor and punk roar to be reckoned with. Door Girl is a straightforward rock n’ roll record and a worthy entry into the canon of New York albums. Lou Reed’s New York, Patti Smith’s Horses, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s underrated Freedom Tower—No Wave Dance Party and plenty of others can all be heard in Ray’s confident performances here. —Ian Thomas

9. Son Little: New Magic
Rating: 8.4
It’s hard to be a truly original voice in the soul and blues territory that Son Little has chosen as his medium, but he manages it. On his second album, New Magic, the singer-songwriter (Aaron Livingston when he’s offstage) manages it better than he ever has before. Rootsier than his self-titled debut and all the stronger for it, Livingston’s latest dials back the busy modern rock production and psych-blues noise to reveal songwriting that is more classic yet less predictable, and enchanting in its spare intimacy. —Beverly Bryan

8. Kamasi Washington: Harmony of Difference EP
Rating: 8.4
Note by note and phrase by phrase, Harmony of Difference, the new EP by saxophonist Kamasi Washington, builds a towering euphoria within the short span of six songs. Conceived as a six-part suite exploring the concept of counterpoint, the EP synthesizes rhythms, melodies and improv to create a polyphonic soundscape that is vast and ocean-like, rushing at you in swells before bearing you out to sea to succumb to submersion. Though it approaches smooth jazz at times, Harmony of Difference is tempered by driving percussion and brassy horns that burble and exclaim. The first five songs—“Desire,” “Humility,” “Knowledge,” “Perspective” and “Integrity”—complement and build on one another, eventually culminating in the epic, 14-minute journey, “Truth.” —Sara Lawson

7. Hiss Golden Messenger: Hallelujah Anyhow
Rating: 8.6
For years now, Hiss Golden Messenger’s principal creative force, M.C. Taylor, has written songs that aren’t just earthy, they’re intrinsically of the Earth. His music sounds harvested, not produced by man and man-made things. It feels deeply rooted. On Hallelujah Anyhow, he sounds more comfortable than ever, and that’s saying something. Taylor’s songs are warm and well-worn. His band moves as a single organism. His lyrics are a dense tangle of knowing encouragement and artful allusions, and his sandpaper drawl pours out effortlessly. —Ben Salmon

6. Eilen Jewell: Down Hearted Blues
Rating: 8.8
After several graceful albums of original material blending country, folk and torch pop, not to mention digressions for gospel and a Loretta Lynn tribute, Eilen Jewell may well have said to herself, “Why not the blues next?” Why not, indeed? Featuring 12 covers, the engaging Down Hearted Blues barely qualifies as a departure for the Idaho-bred singer-songwriter, whose languid delivery, regardless of genre, has often suggested a descendant of Billie Holiday, or a down-home cousin of Madeleine Peyroux. —Jon Young

5. Sparks: Hippopotamus
Rating: 8.9
Sibling masterminds Ron and Russell Mael have released roughly two dozen studio LPs as Sparks, with a blend of cerebrally tongue-in-cheek lyrics, infectious melodies and robust yet peculiar arrangements that have made them one the most idiosyncratic and dependable American pop-rock acts of all time. Although many fans agree that the band’s mid-‘70s run was their peak, Sparks have never failed to meet, if not exceed, expectations, and that holds true for their latest offering. A delightfully catchy, astute and varied collection, it’d be an exceptional release for any group, let alone one as aged as Sparks. Read Paste’s recent interview with Sparks here. —Jordan Blum

4. Alvvays: Antisocialites
Rating: 8.9
Alvvays haven’t lost their knack for writing concise indie-pop songs that rival the best of Camera Obscura or Belle & Sebastian. By adding a warm synth sheen for their sophomore release, the Toronto-based quintet manage to somehow make their jangly guitars seem even lusher. They’ve achieved what every young band strives for most fail to achieve, striking the middle ground between attempting to avoid making the same record twice and wanting to evolve and change their sound. —Steven Edelstone

3. Neil Young: Hitchhiker
Rating: 9.1
Like two of Young’s other great “lost” records, Homegrown and Chrome Dreams, Hitchhiker has become the subject of great speculation and more than a rock mythology. Recorded in one sitting on the night of Aug. 26, 1976, at a studio in Malibu, the album showcases 10 solo acoustic songs, many of which later became fan favorites. As loose as Neil Young sounds here, he consistently sings with total conviction and rarely slips out of tune. Delivered off the cuff, with song after song flowing effortlessly, Hitchhiker could never be mistaken for careful and meticulous finished pieces of work, which is probably what makes them so appealing to listen to. Laid down without overdubs or background vocals, it offers an impression or blueprint of songs that were, for the most part, more fully developed at a later date. —Doug Heselgrave

2. LCD Soundsystem: American Dream
Rating: 9.1
Post-hiatus records tend to be mediocre attempts to rejuvenate the enthusiasm of the past, which only result in disappointment and a longing for something nonexistent. Fans probably applied this to James Murphy’s band, wondering how American Dream, the first LCD record in seven years, could live up to 2007’s Sound of Silver or 2010’s This Is Happening.Thankfully, American Dream doesn’t share the same harrowing fate of a stereotypical post-hiatus album. It’s a beautiful work of art about aging, regret and an arduous search for meaning. It’s an expansive record that explores a variety of sounds and themes, but it never feels confused or lost. —Grant Sharples

1. Wand: Plum
Rating: 9.1
It’s hard to believe that the band who came flailing headlong out of the gate with Golem just two short years ago is the same band behind Plum, one of the most thoughtfully dynamic albums to come out in 2017. The creative arch of the Los Angeles band is rooted in the grime-y sonic sludge of the Ty Segall/Meatbodies/Mikal Cronin set. It would have been fine to have regarded Wand as yet another good band living under the punk-y parasol of the neo-psych-garage revolution. But Plum has separated them completely from the fray. Plum runs like a playlist of rock ‘n’ roll offshoots, with experimentations in Led Zep riffage and Spoon-like piano-rock only the tip of the iceberg.—Ryan J. Prado

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