Another year has come and gone, and I hope it has been all that you hoped for and more! Even if 2017 wasn’t the best for you, a new year always brings a fresh start, and so here’s to 2018 being that fresh start you need. Moreover, if you crushed it in 2017, long may your winning streak continue into 2018 and beyond!
The end of the year in music terms always means one thing for us – our ‘Albums of the Year’ list is here for you to enjoy, dissect and ponder upon, and of course, add to your music library! We’re proud to say that this is our sixth annual list in a row, and although this particular list was a slug to put together, we got there in the end!
I know I always give a little year-in-music perspective or round-up before we dive into our 50 best albums of the year, so here goes… Adele swept the Grammys with her third album 25, and Chance The Rapper became the first unsigned artist to win a Grammy Award. Haim returned with a new album, and so did Jay-Z, Incubus, Kesha, Fergie and The Shins among others.
In the US, Hip-Hop/R&B finally surpassed rock music as the most consumed genre in music, and officially became the most popular musical genre for the first time ever in the states! On the other side of the pond, AfroWave (or whatever you want to call it) firmly took over, with J Hus, Kojo Funds, Afro B, Not3s and Yxng Bane flying the flag – 2018 should be a rather defining year for this burgeoning sound which has firmly taken the place of the now near-non-existent ‘UK Afrobeats’ scene.
Rest in peace to Prodigy of Mobb Deep, Chester Bennington, Chris Cornell, Chuck Berry, Al Jarreau, Charles Bradley, Joni Sledge and every great musician we lost this year. Love and light to their families and we pray God strengthens and comforts them.
Thanks to Immy Hequet, Martina Di Gregorio and Qurat-ul-anne Sikander, who have taken time out of their Christmas schedule to join me Ayo Adepoju, in curating our list of the best albums of the year. The first part of our ‘Albums of 2017’ list highlights the best albums of the year, from #50 to #21 – check them out here – we continue our countdown from #20 to #11 below.
20. Moses Sumney – Aromanticism
Aromanticism is a triumph. Clean and expansive vocal blends are coupled with understated guitars; the word “classy” springs to mind. Everything is tasteful and minimalist, right down to the artwork. But that’s just what this album is – art.
Moses Sumney has had a very gradual rise to prominence over three years on the LA scene, attracting his fanbase predominantly through word of mouth, and other forgotten forms of organic ascent. It’s a morose and brokenly beautiful record, and one that is somewhat difficult to contextualise, perhaps reflecting Sumney’s refreshing and novel presence in music at the moment.
Dubbing his work electro-soul-cum-folk is maybe the closest categorisation, and even that is obviously bursting out of the constraints of labels. “Make Out In My Car” is swooning synth punctuated by unexpected woodwind. “Don’t Bother Calling” is bleakly playful with meandering jazz-feel vocals. Aromanticism is a sensual experience, transcending both genre and description. It’s undoubtedly worth a listen.
19. Kesha – Rainbow
Kesha’s third album Rainbow is all about moving on, living your best life and embracing the lessons learnt from hard times. She puts the drama from her lawsuit against Dr. Luke in her music, with powerful songs such as “Praying”, her first single in years.
Her album incorporates multiple sounds, from country covers like “Old Flames (Can’t Hold A Flame To You)” to a rock sound with the bold “Woman”. Kesha has gone a long way from her heavily auto-tuned songs about partying hard, and her personal struggles have been translate into the motivational second single from Rainbow, “Learn To Let Go”.
Heavily influenced by her history with standing up against her sexual harassment, and her battles with an eating disorder, “Learn To Let Go” is an anthem for anyone who needs to move on from their issues with a smile on their face, and Rainbow is a welcome coming of age for Kesha.
18. Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings – Soul Of A Woman
Lead singer of Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, Sharon Jones, passed away in 2016 from cancer, and this year’s Soul Of A Woman was the band’s final and farewell album, but this record is much more than just a customary swansong for the legendary band, it is passionate, joyful, vibrant, spirited and rightly so, one of the best records of the year and their career. Lasting at only 36 minutes, the album is jam packed and never relents for even a second.
Sharon Jones is lively and defiant on this record, and her powerful voice more than shines through, over some of the catchiest, funkiest and most soulful musical backdrops we’ve heard in 2017. The themes of this record are as we have come to expect from Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings – romance, hardship, and getting to grips with living, and considering, this will be classed as a posthumous release, that is such an interesting dichotomy to experience.
17. Kelela – Take Me Apart
You probably may not have heard her name before 2017, and more probably, you will heard her voice, without even knowing it. It’s taken her a few decades to make it into the industry, not that age stigma with being a pop/R&B star gets in the way of the hype Kelela deserves, and this year, we were finally blessed with her long awaited and hugely anticipated debut album Take Me Apart.
The music on this album is never jarring, it may be electronic music but it’s so smooth, build ups are like deep breaths and samples ranging from rainfall to slowed down clap tracks sort of give off this trance like quality. “S.O.S“, is a good example, lyrics about fingers in mouths and greed. Kelela’s voice is so angelic, she sounds like she’s breathing these dirty lyrics while surrounded by pastel silk sheets and smelling of mangoes.
We’re glad the music scene’s doors finally gave for Kelela, no genre will hold her sound. In a music landscape with its fair share of electronic beats, Kelela’s unique grime, synth, soft pop R&B is standing out, far above the rest.
16. J Hus – Common Sense
The UK urban scene has developed massively over the past few years, and is in an incredible place right now. A key part of this is the emergence of what people may term afro-trap, afro-rap, afro-bashment or afrowave. Whatever you want to term it, J Hus is undeniably the father of the sound.
His highly-anticipated debut album Common Sense is a culmination of J Hus’ progress and growth to date. J Hus has stepped his game up another level on this record, showing that he is more mature with the construction of his messages through his music, and how he has developed his sound even further than before.
Furthermore, he showcases that he cannot be put into a box, as his style is extremely diverse and can be used on a range of sounds from Afrobeats to Garage, which he executes incredibly well on this album. Common Sense, not only displayed J Hus’ distinctive sound exceptionally well, but also serves as (probably) the best UK rap record of 2017.
15. Wolf Alice – Visions Of A Life
Visions Of A Life deserves a place in your discography. It’s not a sonically or conceptually challenging album, but it’s a honing of the brit-rock and unabashed adolescent anguish introduced on 2015’s My Love is Cool. And frankly, London four-piece Wolf Alice are the very best at this task in the current musical climate.
Visions Of A Life is as much gauzy wailing over echoing guitar walls as it is furious punky shouting, such as on lead single “Yuk Fu“. At their best, it’s a seamless amalgamation, like on “Formidable Cool“: both sensual whispering verses and irate choruses, as it talks of a girl – very relevantly – falling into a Manson-esque cult.
“Planet Hunter“, a hidden gem, is a peaceful, drugged euphoria evoking the timeless sensation of the ephemeral pleasure of the night. There is still the odd subpar track on album two, but the good certainly outdoes the bad this time around. Wolf Alice are becoming a seamless effort.
This rock album that will shake you to the core. With punk songs that screams about not caring about anything, the album is heavily influenced by 90s heavy alt-rock sounds, that will make anyone feel a little punk. In a year where rock has been hiding under piles and piles of pop albums, Visions Of A Life stands out with its ability to draw you in; Ellie Rowsell, the vocalist for the British band, is charismatic, and Visions Of A Life doesn’t have a dull moment on it.
14. LCD Soundsystem – American Dream
American Dream is a lush, adventurous and enjoyable listening experience from start to finish. It contains the best qualities of a quintessentially LCD Soundsystem record with long unfolding tracks that blend dirty post-punk and alternative dance but thankfully iron outs the latter genre’s yawning moments. It also experiments boldly with nostalgic new wave, arty electronica and eclecticism inspired by Vangelis and Brian Eno.
Age is at the epicentre of the album’s theme along with a display of his insecure apprehensions that have swum in his head in the seven year hiatus. “tonite” is a great example of this theme and an good archetype of when he magically makes monotonous beats engaging with his sarcastic ponders on culture.
There’s many allusions to David Bowie throughout american dream including his mention of the Berlin era on “call the police“, the grating discordant notes on “change yr mind” and the speedy time signature style on “emotional haircut“, both sounding like Blackstar‘s “Girl Loves Me” if performed by U2 and Talking Heads.
Yet the most significant call to Bowie is at the end of the album with a personal tribute to the much-missed icon called “black screen“. Heartbreaking lines include: “Too sick to travel. You fell between a friend and a father“. It’s an amazing thank you to the man who helped bring LCD Soundsystem back into the limelight. Bowie gave James Murphy the courage and support to restart his project after a long break and the album itself is a courageous, thought-provoking and warm gift to fans.
13. Loyle Carner – Yesterday’s Gone
The ever so confessional 22-year-old Loyle Carner is a refreshing talent topping the British hip-hop scene, bringing raw and skilled lyrical flow with insane sensitivity and maturity, allowing you to delve into his thoughts and experiences, something that hip hop is perhaps missing.
There is not an ounce of arrogance in Loyle Carner’s bones, just an inspiring background story that he tells so well. Although Carner is very much a South Londoner, he has shared his talents around by supporting everyone from Nas to Joey Badass, but 2017 really was his time to shine with his exceptional debut album Yesterday’s Gone.
It’s great to finally hear a full-length album from Carner and see the extent of his talent so early on in his career. Tracks like “Ain’t Nothing Changed” and collaborating with Tom Misch on track “Damselfly” show his impeccable flow and soft-spoken voice, making his dreamy music so enjoyable to listen to. It is clear that he has a sense of direction and is willing to open himself up and tell his story, which we are certainly willing to listen to as many times as we can.
12. PVRIS – All We Know Of Heaven, All We Need Of Hell
As their second studio album, All We Know Of Heaven, All We Need Of Hell, is a direct progression from PVRIS’ previous album, White Noise. It focuses on the band’s strengths – especially the leader singer, Lynn Gunnulfsen’s voice and the kind of music it works well with.
The lyrics follow a solemn theme as always, allowing fans to relate to this specific feeling of despair. This can be best seen in the song “What’s Wrong”, that expresses regret over the spotlight of fame and the façade one has to put on in front of the cameras.
The band’s progression from White Noise to All We Know Of Heaven, All We Need Of Hell is a gradual and subtle thing. There is obvious growth in both musical and lyrical content, but PVRIS still managed to maintain a sound that can be called ‘theirs’ and that has them dominating the music scene in a way that is both remarkable and innovative.
All We Know Of Heaven, All We Need Of Hell, is a better understanding of the band’s music, and is the album that will create a specific ‘sound’ for them. Going forward, it is a steady rock to build on, to create a firmer position for themselves in the music scene, both worldwide and nationally.
11. Arca – Arca
Alejandro Ghersi aka Arca, has been making waves in the electronic music scene for a few years now. With his self-titled, third release, Arca, the producer has cemented himself a pioneer of modern electronica.
His music is abrasive yet deeply engaging. Ghersi’s projects are known to be both abrasive and captivating. Before this release, the distorted, aggressive soundscapes Ghersi delivered were uncomfortable and moving, without elegance. To me, this was more the embodiment of Arca, rather than Ghersi. With this new album, Arca lets his humanity shine through.
Arca is a man laid bare, it’s emotionally driven – there’s a heart within its core. The sound-waves clash and ripple, the synths have purpose and the distortion is alive. With this new release, Ghersi has found his humanity, something people can gravitate towards and it’s been there all along…
Arca is a monumental album, both in scope and content. It’s emotional and uncompromising, because of those two things alone, it deserves a chance. No album in quite some time, especially of this genre has managed to use those two ingredients with success.
It’s the closest an electronic artist has brought their music to life, it’s born more from humanity than the machines that helped compose it. Alejandro Ghersi is a force to be reckoned with, Arca isn’t just a moniker, but the process of bringing change to a well-respected, revered genre. This album is the perfect hybrid of human and machine.
Click HERE for a full list of our Top 50 Albums of 2017!