Oh the album is dead, we hear you say. In which case you can kindly fuck off because this clearly ain’t the article for you. For everyone else, the next in our Best of 2017 series is the not-so-humble album. In an age of streaming and disposable singles with about six features, there’s still so damn much to be said for a complete body of work that resonates across double-figure tracks without losing pace, heart, or meaning.
So with that in mind we give you our Top 50 Albums of 2017 (with our detailed reviews linked to each name). Some records you can dip into, some you won’t want to dip out of, and all very much worth your time. You know, if you have about 50+ hours to spare.
Call us cynical, but well played Jay-Z and Bey. Of course marital strife seems to be a very real thing even for multi-millionaires, but to let it play out so publicly and openly is the shrewdest decision this power couple have made. 4:44 was by far the best thing Hov has done for some time… but he’s not on Spotify (and ain’t nobody got time for Tidal) so we’ve replaced him with Ronika instead, who suffered from oversight by releasing her album Lose My Cool back in January. A shame, really, because it really is rather good. Anyway, rounding up this first set are, surprisingly, mainstream pop-rock trio PVRIS who made us recall a more innocent time in the genre despite its teen-aimed spike, Zak Abel who grooved his way to our hearts with the endlessly charismatic Only When We’re Naked, and finally some profound alt-folk from both sides of the Pond in the form of Lucy Rose and Julie Byrne. Underrated, the lot of them.
British indie desperately needs new heroes, and thank fuck that Wolf Alice are leading that charge. Visions Of A Life truly separated them from the pack, a mix of spiky rock and more esoteric musings in between. London Grammar offered us more of their M.O. with admittedly diminishing returns on Truth Is A Beautiful Thing, and then it’s over to St Vincent who ended a bizarre campaign with a sticky and wonderful account of the state of herself and the world on MASSEDUCTION. ‘More of the same’ also seemed to work well for Lana Del Rey, who somehow managed to craft one of her best albums through all the usual gloom on Lust For Life, and Washed Out, who made all our hipster electronic chillwave label-making dreams come true on the sunny Mister Mellow.
Get acquainted with the name Brent Faiyaz, because judging by his Sonder Son album there’s an exciting future in the world of kinetic R&B from this lad. Goldfrapp bounced back big-time as they sought refuge in electronica for Silver Eye, and while The xx may have marched further away from their shadowed beginnings on I See You, they still sounded as essential as ever. James Vincent McMorrow also built on his huge fanbase with the breathtaking future-soul of True Care, and of course hipsters all over the world circle-jerked over the return of LCD Soundsystem… which was fine by us, given American Dream was certainly worth the wait. For the album, we mean. Not people circle-jerking.
If Bey and Jay were fighting on one side, then Pitchfork’s own royal couple were at it too. One edged out the other though, as Amber Coffman‘s gentler missives on City Of No Reply were just a fraction more relatable than Dirty Projectors‘ viscous (but still excellent) self-titled electronica. And of course, everyone’s favourite crockery-botherer Bjork returned and felt more liberated than ever on Utopia, bringing in a shit-tonne of flutes for a verdant soundscape. Throwback vibes found two new champions this year: Joe Goddard served us an NY timeline across genre on Electric Lines, while Mr Jukes (aka Jack Steadman of Bombay Bicycle Club) delivered the warmest and most refined jazz-soul you could ask for with God First.
There are people out there who are sick of Tove Lo‘s endless talk about getting high and fucking, but we are not among those… which, of course, is why Blue Lips’ tour of pop bangers makes it on to this list. And while we’re on the subject of female empowerment, Marika Hackman‘s gritty I’m Not Your Man might well have been the most deliciously emasculating record of the year. Niia brought us a softer side on the simply-titled I, showing us a New York soul cityscape that teemed with talent; meanwhile Daniel Caesar was the name on several lips as he brought back a bit of class to R&B with his expert Freudian. Rounding off this lot is Kanye protegee Kacy Hill and her debut Like A Woman, which mixed cinematic scale and soaring vocal for something truly memorable.
Some surprise entries here, some not at all. In the latter category: Yumi Zouma, continuing their effortless ascent into the higher rungs of dream-pop with Willowbank, and of course everyone’s favourite Perfume Genius and the stellar baroque-pop of No Shape. But both Elli Ingram and Tei Shi surprised us all with their albums Love You Really and Crawl Space respectively, but both were tremendously confident statements of personality and sound in fields of soul and electronic-pop that are becoming saturated. And of course, least surprising in this batch was Mura Masa‘s debut album, with a self-titled and star-studded collection that cemented him as the hottest producer in the game.
Ooh we’re in the top 20 now. Shit is getting real, but shit is also getting convenient for us as we get to pair a couple of people up: Lydia Ainsworth and Hundred Waters flew the flag for leftfield pop, the former taking in an almost Tori Amos vibe on Darling Of The Afterglow and the latter’s Communicating had eccentric electronica pulsing through our veins like adrenaline. Also occupying a similar space are George Maple and Verite, using exceptional production for the basis of their pop and R&B respectively. Maple’s Lover evoked something dark, sensual, and classic, while V’s Somewhere In Between was the best independent pop record of the year. Leading us into the top 15 are Fleet Foxes, who may have delivered an initially-impenetrable record with Crack-Up, but it was one we kept on finding ourselves returning to for greater rewards.
A stunning quartet of debuts here: Muna, Sampha, Bedouine, and Anna of The North. Muna deserved every bit of praise heaped on them for About U, which provided a generation with both queer anthems and a safe space in music. Sampha made good on his promise by taking home the Mercury Prize thanks to his delicately rendered Process. Meanwhile Bedouine’s fantastic collection of Americana recalled a new-age Dylan, while synth-pop’s finest champions were Anna of The North and the pristine missives on Lovers. Finally, just outside the top 10… well, Kendrick Lamar‘s like that kid at the top of the class whose success you just stop being surprised at, right? Having said that, DAMN. was one hell of an album that nowhere near slowed his roll. In any other year it may have been higher, but as always we prefer to give the spotlight to less obvious moments, but that doesn’t make this record any less essential.
Top 10 time, and of course the hardest lot to decide between. But we’ve opted for Wilsen to begin with: both live and on debut record I Go Missing In My Sleep, they’re breathtakingly good, giving us a muted take on the world in a way we didn’t know we needed. Australia’s Gordi chucked in a fuck-tonne of heart for her robotic-pop opus Reservoir, and of course our deepest faves Grizzly Bear reminded us why exactly they’re one of the biggest bands in the world thanks to Painted Ruins. A proper strong female R&B double-header sitting outside the top five: Syd, who proved that she’s just as big a draw outside The Internet with Fin, and of course the woman of the moment SZA. It may have been long in the making, but Ctrl dazzled everyone to give her the spotlight she so deserves.
5. Lorde – Melodrama
What we said: “Lorde epitomises this new movement of millennials who could not give less of a fuck about what you might think, doing what they need to and getting their point across in ways that would only seem diluted with the interference of tradition. It could have gone either way thanks to her early success, but rather than caving under the pressure of major label too-much-too-soon stardom, she sticks to her guns as an auteur and cements herself as the pop voice of a generation.
“Lorde conveys the very essence of what it means to be young at the moment, living an entire life in the space of a weekend with no apologies, waiting to find Perfect Places or the next crescendo and exciting flourish that’ll change the course of the whole conversation. That’s the definition of Melodrama though, isn’t it? Larger-than-life emotions that we can all relate to, with the occasional moment of cringe and plenty of cinematic wallowing. And whatever unfolds, one thing is always certain: you won’t be able to take your eyes off it.”
4. Moses Sumney – Aromanticism
What we said: “Essentially, being so removed from the world allows Sumney to present the truest version of himself and leave it to us whether we accept it or not. Don’t Bother Calling is an initial push-away, but the way his falsetto rings, the way strings delicately fill the spaces between his yearning, reveal a heart that still beckons. Run the gauntlet, says Sumney, and look all you want. Being tactile is down to his discretion, but there’s no doubt his music will touch you.
“Flute goes hand-in-hand with clicks like some sort of beguiling witchcraft, like a touch of his lips means the world has shifted slightly. That might sound a little bit exaggerated on our count, but Aromanticism is an album that deserves to be showered with special attention; wait for nightfall, close your eyes, and enjoy the most romantic love letter to the self you could possibly hear.”
3. The Weather Station – The Weather Station
What we said: “There are stirrings of Joni Mitchell apparent throughout the album, both with the vocals and musicality which are executed successfully with Lindeman’s own unique take. It’s all over Thirty as well as You and I (On The Other Side Of The World), the use of strings in the latter adding a warmth and depth to her storytelling. They’re the strongest shades in an album that makes few mistakes, with Lindeman introspective yet never exclusive. Not a bad way to be when you’re creating a self-titled masterpiece.
From the very first track all the way through to gentle trot of Black Flies or the piano-and-strings marvel I Don’t Know What To Say, this is an album that speaks to personal experiences of all kind, that finds comfort in the mundane and relatable, and in no way waivers or loses direction from the simplicity of both life or sound. Out of all the albums to name after the artist herself, The Weather Station certainly made the right decision to put her name to this immaculate statement.”
2. Kelela – Take Me Apart
What we said: “It is, without doubt, the R&B record of the year. Collaborators may be big in name (Arca, The xx‘s Romy Madley Croft, Boots, Ariel Rechtshaid, among others) but they only add small shades to what is very obviously Kelela’s show all the way. Waitin further explores the melodic structure she set up on the Hallucinogen EP, but it gives way to stunning, viscous flurry of beats on the title track that ensures we’re aware this ain’t no retread.
“It’s a hard act to manage – especially with the weight of expectation – but Kelela simply astounds at every turn, and with how easy she makes everything look. There’s not a moment of boredom here, not a single song that doesn’t fit or hold your gaze even as we hit the final leg of Onanon and the gentle acceptance of Altadena. Kelela has deconstructed her sense of self to make a larger whole, and she’s given us a glorious window into this confessional. To be honest, it’s one of those rare music occasions that feels like an absolute privilege.”
1. Tyler, The Creator – Flower Boy
What we said: “There’s a delicateness of touch here this time that only rings out sincerity in his words. It’s a rounding of character, almost a flowery fuck-you to everyone who has a certain image of him, of black men, of hip-hop. In that respect, it’s probably a more important album than even Tyler himself realises – the dreamscape of See You Again (with Kali Uchis on luminous form) is the love song we never realised we needed, delivered with a heart that seems, well, mired in self-pitying solitude.
“But the thing with Tyler is that he seems like the sort to complain about his situation while being someone who’d refuse an opportunity to change it, content in wallowing through the status quo. In his words it’s often frustrating, at times questionable or too obvious. But in today’s genre landscape, Flower Boy is certainly nothing less than admirable in so many, many ways – for that he deserves one hell of a salute.”