The 15 best albums of 2017 – and a few that just missed out
PUBLISHED: 15:19 21 December 2017 | UPDATED: 11:35 22 December 2017
From the return of Gorillaz, LCD Soundsystem and Bjork, to debuts from Stormzy, Loyle Carner and Britain’s Got Talent’s Tokio Myers. Here we highlight our 15 best albums of 2017 (in no particular order), and a some that nearly made the grade.
Lorde — Melodrama
The New Zealand star’s minimalist, electronic hip-hop influenced debut album, Pure Heroine, went triple-platinum and produced the breakout international hit Royals. So there was much anticipation for this follow-up and it delivered. Dramatic vocal-and-piano piece Writer in the Dark mixed with galloping beats. She said of making it: “I wrote this album about this crazy year of my life. I partied a lot and I felt all the feelings - and it was all so fluorescent.”
Bjork — Utopia
Two years since Bjork released her heartbreak album Vulnicura to critical acclaim, her follow-up marks a reversal of tone. From the pastoral flutes in the title track, which seem to hark back to Biophilia, to the feral passions of Body Memory, reminiscent of the enigmatically primal Submarine, it presents a consolidation of her life’s work that is both familiar and groundbreaking, sensitive and blunt, and which demonstrates a complete command of the wide array of instruments and talents at her disposal.
Stormzy — Gang Signs & Prayer
The South London boy - aka 24-year-old Michael Omari – triumphed at the MOBO thanks to his debut that is hell bent on hauling grime out of the doldrums. His urgent, bright, pithy and lyrically taut single Shut Up filters through the entire record, even when he veers into the delicate and soothing - namely on Velvet and the stunning Blinded By Your Grace Pt 2 feat MNEK. The vocals are fearless, blazing with wit and pace. Brilliant, heroic stuff.
St Vincent — Masseduction
A decade on from her debut album, and on the back of her fantastic self-titled fourth album, Annie Clark returned with an album that is consistently great throughout, her most hook-filled, pop-savvy set yet, but the trademark fuzzy guitar is still present. “How could anybody have you and lose you and not lose their mind” is a prime example of how lyrics are where her strength truly lies. It’s catchy, it’s clever, it’s honest, it’s emotional, and you must buy it.
LCD Soundsystem — American Dream
The announcement of punk-funk-dance-indie outfit LCD Soundsystem’s return was met with mixed responses. One listen to American Dream was enough to dispel any nagging doubts that James Murphy and co were in danger of sullying their legacy. Unlike most reunion albums, this achieved that rare feat of making it seem like they’ve never been away. Moody, pulsing highlights include latest single Tonite, Other Voices and How Do You Sleep?
Laura Marling — Semper Femina
The sprightliness of Laura Marling’s debut, Alas, I Cannot Swim, is absent on this, her sixth record. Instead of spryness, a thoughtful mellowness pervades. Folk dissolves into country tones and fuzzy guitar on Nothing Not Nearly, the intimate, tender Nouel is raw and exposing. Gentle, graceful and muted, it’s a slick of spare yet highly crafted songs. An accomplished and touching record.
Loyle Carner — Yesterday’s Gone
Emotional without being cloying; affecting and heartsick without being maudlin and mushy. It’s a wobbly line that Loyle Carner walks on his debut, blending grime, jazz, rap and spoken word. The 21-year-old south Londoner was training at the Brit school until his stepfather’s death, a tragedy that propelled him back to music, with the support of his little brother and his mum, the latter of which appears on the boisterous Swear. There’s more to be found with every listen.
Wolf Alice — Visions of A Life
The London four-piece return, drew from the same varied indie-rock palette as their 2015 breakthrough, but dug below the surface and lyrically, Visions Of A Life takes a more personal, soul-baring approach. There is a vulnerability and depth on show on Sky Musings – detailing a panic attack on a night-time flight – but fans of the punk energy of You’re A Germ, check out the title track and the far-from-cryptically-titled Yuk Foo.
Richard Dawson — Peasant
His latest album, Peasant, follows the Newcastle singer-songwriter’s track record of never going for the easy. It is a concept album set in the ancient Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Bryneich, with each song title naming a figure, including Weaver, Herald and Beggar. Its amalgam of acoustic rattling, unhinged vocals and cluttering percussion, Peasants’ portmanteau-style fabling of wenches, weavers and wizardry, is a dense world to lose yourself in.
Kendrick Lamar — Damn
Having garnered a whooping seven Grammy nominations it is safe to say the rapper’s fourth album proved a worth follow-up to 2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly and 2016’s Untitled Unmastered. But whereas they were full of kaleidoscopic Flying Lotus beats and Kamasi Washington jazz-funk jams, Damn reminds you how great the man himself is at simply spitting verses; from the deeply personal to incendiary social commentary.
The XX — I See You
The XX’s third record billows about you, swamping your ears in tender, supple soundscapes that shimmer melodiously with electronica, but then carve away into funky, bassy, beat-laden pop. The heartrending On Hold, builds with arcade soundtrack skitters, breaking into a chorus of pure dance, while on I Dare You - a song that swells with emotion - Romy Madley Croft’s cool, clear voice slices surgically through repetitive, numbing percussion. It’s a beauty.
Father John Misty — Pure Comedy
Somehow Father John Misty manages to propagate a cheery nihilistic fatalism on Pure Comedy. The Maryland-born guitarist and former Fleet Foxes drummer, makes swift, damning, yet witty judgements on humanity, splicing jibes at Taylor Swift. Real name Josh Tillman, the singer-songwriter expounds on the bleakness of the human condition, but against a hearty background of reverberating piano and big band-style horn work (there’s something of Elton John to his vocals too).
Gorillaz — Humanz
Despite being some time in the works, Humanz feels like an album in the now; the spectre of Donald Trump’s America lurks in the corner of the house party. Damon Albarn offers up a breathless trip through soul, hip hop, dancehall and more. With numerous guests from De La Soul to Grace Jones, Mavis Staples to Pusha T, it suffers from lack of focus at times. But there are also some truly stunning moments, especially Hallelujah Money lifted by a stunning performance from Benjamin Clementine.
The National — Sleep Well Beast
From the sombre piano chords of Nobody Else Will Be There, with a weary, hollowed-out Matt Berninger sighing: “You said we’re not so tied together/What did you mean?” it’s clear this seventh album from the National is about separation. The Latitude favourites are masters of restraint and this album, scattered with electronic loops, is at turns both the band’s most and least guitar-centric. The Crazy Horse-like solo on The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness is truly wondrous.
Tokio Myers — Our Generation
Just occasionally TV talent shows uncover a genuine previously unknown sensation. This is what has happened with this Britain’s Got Talent champion. From delicate piano constructs so fragile they barely hold together, to full-on electronic sculptures, this album has them all. Whether a Myers original or a cover, his performance is consistently astounding. The vocals, where used, complement the sound without taking over completely, leaving the music to shine.
Kelela — Take Me Apart
The long-awaited debut album from the Ethiopian-American singer who took six years to write 14 beautiful tracks. It was worth the wait for this mix of glitchy R&B and brutally honest razor-sharp lyrics.
SZA — Ctrl
The dreamy debut from this R&B singer endorsed by Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar was one of the most inventive and intimate records of the year.
Tyler, the Creator — Flower Boy
For a man banned by Theresa May from entering Britain because of misogynist lyrics, Flower Boy was surprisingly sensitive, thoughtful, even pleasant, full of warm, languid groove and his laidback flow.
Aimee Mann — Mental Illness
Hugely talented and enduring singer-songwriter latest is a triumph from the lilting yet strangely named Goose Snow Cone to the heartbreaking You Never Loved Me.
J Hus — Common Sense
Hot-listed British hip hop artist who mixes hip hop with a blend of Afrobeat on his debut. He won the Best Song Award with Did You See at the MOBOs and brought a Mercedes on stage in Norwich!
Circa Waves — Different Creatures
The Liverpool indie-rockers’ sound has matured and the tracks are heavier, but they still have that same pop-rock edge that saw the band shoot to fame with festival favourite T-Shirt Weather.
King Krule — The Ooz
Archy Marshall’s second album as King Krule was a 19-track document of paranoia, relationship breakdown and sleepless nights sketched from jazz, punk, hip-hop, bossa nova and ambient sound.
Grandaddy — Last Place
A collection of gorgeously off beat, dishevelled lo-fi rock with fuzzy guitars and strange electronic noises. Don’t leave it another decade, Grandaddy.
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