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. Without further ado, here are our 50 best albums of 2017!
50. Nadine Shah – Holiday Destination
Released in August, Holiday Destination marks the third studio album from British Pakistani singer, songwriter and musician Nadine Shah, and it is as political an album you will hear from a British artist in 2017 – a year that has been rife with political activism, some of which has been purely contrived, thankfully not this. The 31-year old South Shields native drills down and tackles the Syrian refugee crisis, dog whistle racism in Britain, Islamophobia, Brexit, and UK politicians consistently leaving North of England behind, among many pressing issues.
Sonically, Holiday Destination is an urgent and piercing post-punk masterpiece, crafted together with Shah’s longtime collaborator and producer Ben Hillier… Lyrically and thematically, this record is compassionate and hopeful but can be quite bleak in its outlook at the same time, which brings up a very interesting dichotomy for the listener. Plus, at only 10 songs, this record is immediate and makes you want to act now!
49. Pink – Beautiful Trauma
Pink returned after five years with her seventh album this year. Beautiful Trauma is a comeback from The Truth About Love. This new album is bigger and better. It includes a goofy duet with Eminem, “Revenge”, about being hurt by someone but including jokes between the two, putting a smile on the listener’s face early in the album.
In addition, there are some vocally impressive songs such as “What About Us”, her first single from this album. This single has become that anthem to sing during these troubling global times. “Whatever You Want” gives us a throwback to early Pink hits, with a pop-rock vibe, while title track “Beautiful Trauma” is an old school tribute to her husband and their love, as she sings “we burned so bright, we burned out”. Beautiful Trauma has every side of Pink, a new improved sound that anyone can relate to.
48. Declan Mckenna – What Do You Think About The Car
The annoying thing here is that Declan Mckenna has been pegged as the “voice of a generation” before he’s even had a chance to have a voice of his own: he’s only 18 and he’s had the major labels paying him attention for several years. What Do You Think About The Car is his clearly over anticipated debut, but is nonetheless, an undeniably exciting album. Mckenna makes rumbling, raucous and energetic guitar pop with a sense of juvenile explosiveness.
Opening track “Humungous“, or perhaps “I Am Everyone Else” demonstrate his penchant for crashing chorus hooks and catchy progressions. It’s straightforward and appealing; Mckenna is amongst the likes of The Kooks and early Arctic Monkeys in terms of listenability.
But to give the guy credit, songs like “Paracetamol” have political overtones (discussing oppression of transgender teens) as well as just pleasant riffs. This album is full of promise; a work in progress, Mckenna’s debut is full of highs and lows, equal parts stilted chorus and eureka moment.
47. Brockhampton – Saturation II
Throughout the year of 2017, the American music collective and boyband Brockhampton has released a series of three albums, linking each one together with the other. Their debut album Saturation was released in June, and soon after, Saturation II was released towards the middle of the year, in August, and is easily the best album out of all three.
The musical content of this album is a mix between pop and hip hop, allowing Brockhampton to create a completely unique style that has rarely been seen or heard before. The song titles are yet another detail that add to their aesthetic. Songs such as “Gummy” and “Junky” that advertise nothing from the outside, and require the audience to engage with the music to fully understand what is being said.
Musically and lyrically, Brockhampton deliver on Saturation II, on everything they showed a glimpse of on Saturation, with a more focused approach – from its versatility and creative energy, to its assuredness and cohesiveness, to its sleek, smooth and accomplished production.
46. The xx – I See You
After making us wait for over four years, and Jamie xx himself teasing us with solo work, The xx as the trio we know and love are finally back with album, I See You, the third album to be released from the mysterious bunch, compiling an equal incorporation of quiet, moody whispers and intimate percussion mixed with upbeat rhythms and synthetic horns.
There was a sense of each individual being very closed off on previous albums, but now the group as a whole appear to be comfortable discussing break ups, death and strained relationships, giving their music a whole new brave feel and relatable aspect. Describing the album as “outward looking, open and expansive”, this is definitely a collection of different sounds and styles that let go of any previous rules they had.
This was an opportunity for The xx to try completely new things, and connect with their fans like they never have before, and what a wonderful job they have done of it.
45. The Shins – Heartworms
Writing a review on Heartworms feels like writing a review of an old friend. We’ve had sixteen years of The Shins albums, all outwardly slightly obtuse and almost accidentally comical: with each new release, there are inevitably some thoughts of “why do I like this band again? I have no idea what he’s talking about and this song is really weird” during the first listen.
Yet before you know it, lead singer James Mercer’s unconventional melodic progressions and bleak declarations to upbeat backing tracks will have wormed their way into your heart. Heartworms is hard to analyse, but a winning formula, with the title track being a clear high point.
There are eleven songs and ten of them are quality tracks, all satisfying additions to a diverse discography – which nonetheless retains the feature of appealing to your inner adolescent. Heartworms is rougher around the edges than “Port Of Morrow”, and is Mercer at his “most hermetic” as Pitchfork coined it, but the Shins-ian songwriting prowess shines through regardless.
44. Ed Sheeran – Divide (÷)
Divide (÷), the third album by Ed Sheeran is yet another one that deserves a spot in Top Albums of 2017. The album starts with a weaker song, as Sheeran raps in “Eraser” and it is not is strong suit. However, Divide’s first single, “Shape Of You”, touches on sexual lyrics and heavy rhythms that are quite far from the usual Sheeran style, but it works to show his ability to change from musical styles without a sweat.
“Perfect” is a love song that reminds of “Thinking Of You”, as Sheeran needs to give his fans what he is best at. “Galway Girl” is a tribute to his Irish roots, a drinking song with foot stomping rhythm that will be played heavily in pubs and during parties. Once again Ed Sheeran delivers an album with hits and ballads that will catch your heart. Divide is a skillful, well-executed effort from one of the hardest-working men in music.
43. Cigarettes After Sex – Cigarettes After Sex
It’s a debut album nine years after the band’s formation – hard to pull off, right? Or alternatively, if, like Cigarettes After Sex, you’ve accumulated a mass following off of youtube clips, one could argue it’s an opportunity for complacency and re-releases of old material. Refreshingly this is not the case on their self-titled debut record.
The first track, “K” is brilliant evidence of this, being a morose-yet-romantic moment that characterises the entire album. It’s “ambient pop”, “suicide rock” or whatever you want to brand it, but it’s done well. Cigarettes After Sex provide a heady, pared down sound, fretty bass, crooning vocals and minimalist percussion.
“Sweet” is a high point, capturing the endearing mess of mild romantic delusion when an infatuated partner is caught between love and lust. Cigarettes After Sex translate the (possibly embarrassing) feelings-we’ve-all-had into a couple minutes of comforting, ambient guitar music, and this eponymous debut is a gorgeous indulgence.
42. All Time Low – Last Young Renegade
All Time Low’s previous album, Future Hearts, received more negative reviews than positive. This reality created a gap in their music career, as fans were reportedly choosing to completely skip it and simply stick with older albums. Two years later, however, All Time Low came back with what is perhaps their best studio album so far.
Young Last Renegade continues the band’s lyrical themes of growing up and desperation. It also features songs such as the eponymous “Last Young Renegade” and “Nightmares” that talk about lost love and the continuous fallout. In direct contrast, it also contains songs such as “Dirty Laundry”, that lend more hope than despair to the listener.
41. Thundercat – Drunk
Stephen Bruner, better known as Thundercat, released an absolute joy of an album, Drunk, earlier in 2017, after a two year hiatus since The Beyond/Where The Giants Roam. We’d expect nothing less from the brains behind Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, not to mention many much loved Flying Lotus tracks.
Drunk delivers a bubbly, intense twenty three song selection of jazz at its coolest, with just the right amount of funk, RnB and seasoned with a fusion feeling. It’s not an indulgent record; no song is over four minutes and whirlwind guitar solos on Uh Uh are politely contained, even though you’d excuse them if they didn’t.
Despite it’s playful feel, giving the impression of an artist who doesn’t take himself too seriously, Drunk’s subject matter is poignant and considered. “I’m staring at the screen watching the world go insane” – a line from “Bus In These Streets” – is a nice illustration of the unexpectedly incisive side of this album. It’s a groove and a commentary alike.
There is something endearing about Drunk. It is honest, raw, and quirky in ways that most people do not know how to handle. Thundercat is not “different” for the sake of being so, or out of fear of being construed as bland. Only he can pull off nearly two minutes of meowing without jeopardising his artistic credit, making listeners fall in love with him (and his idiosyncrasies) even more.
Click HERE for a full list of our Top 50 Albums of 2017!
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