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 #41 – check them out here – we continue our countdown from #40 to #31 below.
40. Big Thief – Capacity
Second albums are always challenging, particularly when you titled your debut Masterpiece. But Capacity from Big Thief is impressive, and I’d argue surpasses the alleged apotheosis. Like the best bits of the first LP, this album is a messy, endearing blend of youthful emotion.
It’s a record of stories: “Shark Smile” tells of a car accident where lovers are separated, and it depicts a rich lyrical painting of the Midwest. “Mary” offers a euphoric reflection on a meaningful early friendship, nicely illustrating Big Thief’s ability to craft minutes of timeless nostalgia.
Never ones to shy away from serious subjects, the lead single “Mythological Beauty” tackles teenage pregnancy and bluntly discusses the challenges faced by young parents. It’s a touching, poignant track with an autobiographical undercurrent. Perhaps it is this personal element, coupled with the effortless way vocalist Adrienne Lenker and guitarist Buck Meek blend together, that makes Capacity feel like a very naturally – almost accidentally – beautiful record.
39. Wiley – Godfather
Released at the start of the year, Godfather was billed by Wiley as his final album, but we always had a feeling that was never going to be the case – he announced Godfather II just a few weeks ago. Back to Godfather though, there’s plenty of reflection on the project, but a lot of this feels like it’s for us and not him. If this were a true goodbye, you might have expected this to feel nostalgic or for the bars to feel less competitive, but it’s just not the case.
It is true that the album is the biggest collection of real grime-throwback beats we’ve seen in a minute, but it feels more like Wiley consolidating not just his power, but the entire grime scene. That’s not to say that this album covers all bases as far as grime styles are concerned; the UK’s scene has become so hybridised that it would be impossible to do that.
But what stands out is still how wide Wiley’s lane is. He brings us a legendary and much needed collaboration with Devlin on “Bring Them All / Holy Grime”, a classic JME rhythm with “Name Brand” and an insane Newham Generals track about the old school, with “Joe Bloggs”. Not to mention he does all of that within the first six songs.
This album runs for almost sixty minutes and feels like a showing of everything Wiley has to offer. The songs on Godfather are all potential wheel up material and it feels as if they could be played in any order to the same effect. Every minute of the album is a statement by Wiley of his still intact ability, his importance to the genre and how much he still lives it.
38. Loïc Nottet – Selfocracy
Rising as a star thanks to Belgium’s entry in Eurovision 2015, the Belgian singer, Loïc Nottet, has amassed quite a sizeable fanbase. This fame urged him to release his own debut studio album, Selfocracy, earlier this year.
It features the kind of music that can be expected from the mind that gave birth to “Rhythm Inside”, and successfully managed to peak at number one on music charts. The leading single and track, “Million Eyes”, is the perfect entrance into this piece of art, as it displays Loïc Nottet’s musical ability with both the sound and the lyrics.
37. Real Estate – In Mind
Real Estate’s fifth full length album came out in the middle of March and I’m yet to stop listening to it. In Mind is a wonderful maze of meandering guitars. But this is what you want: everything else comes second to this wild and fantastic riff-ery when it’s Real Estate.
First track “Darling” is a great example of this with a loopy, arpeggiating opener, taken over by the lolloping bass line in verses. Saturday fools you with a piano introduction, but lest you feared that Real Estate would deviate from their much loved sound, I will reveal that it only lasts ninety seconds before the energetic and barely contained guitar explosion bursts in to compete with the lazy crooning vocal harmonies.
If you didn’t really like the Real Estate sound in the first place, then In Mind perhaps won’t thrill you. But if any previous efforts by this band have managed to work their way into your listening library, then this album will go one up, and insert itself in your brain.
36. Future – Hndrxx
On Hndrxx, his sixth studio album and second record of the year, Future highlights an introspection, honesty and maturity, that we had not fully seen or heard from the Atlanta hitmaker before. If you were disappointed by Future, which was released just a week before Hndrxx, and Purple Reign and EVOL before it, then Hndrxx isn’t just a return to form for Future, it is probably his best offering since the incredible Dirty Sprite 2.
With varied production from the likes of Metro Boomin, Southside, Dre Moon, Detail, DJ Mustard and Jake One,
Hndrxx is a marked sonical shift from its hard-hitting and aggressive for-the-streets trap predecessor Future, with a more mainstream and expansive R&B and pop aesthetic, underpinned by Future at some of his melodic best. Even more refreshing and pertinent to his life in the public eye in the past few years, Future is as self-aware and personal as he has ever been on a record.
35. Kehlani – SweetSexySavage
Yet another grand debut to come out of this year, Kehlani certainly wowed the world with SweetSexySavage. Her particular brand of R&B is what makes Kehlani stand out, along with the obvious vulnerability she puts on display for the benefit of her music.
This can be clearly seen in the singles that were released from the album. “Crzy”, “Distraction” and “Keep On” are all songs that play to the heart strings. The accompanying music renders the scene into an art museum, causing the listener to want to pick up the rest of the album and serenade the first person that just happens to walk on by.
SweetSexySavage as a musical project is an eclectically styled R&B album, however SweetSexySavage as a concept album is a personified woman in her trinity of existence, expressed via Kehlani’s trinity of rhythm, melody, and harmony.
34. Marika Hackman – I’m Not Your Man
Marika Hackman is not a woman to be pigeonholed. Her first album We Slept At Last, with its quaint and cutesy vocals, was a beautifully executed alt-folk album that garnered praise and, arguably lazy, comparisons to some of Britain’s best loved folk musicians. That might have been enough for some so early in their career but as I say luckily for us, Marika Hackman is not a woman to sit comfortably in worn out categories.
So, it is with her second album, I’m Not Your Man, that Hackman, with the help of the indelibly down-to-earth sounds of The Big Moon, has set out to produce something more frank, sweaty and down-right dirty. With her sweet whispering vocals, she has created folk with a forked tongue – a genre defying sound that feels like an unambiguous f**k you to anyone that sought to label her.
I’m Not Your Man isn’t just a new, more mature and impassioned sound for Hackman. It is also a new way of songwriting for the 25-year-old British musician. Gone are the metaphors and innuendos that peppered her first album adding a delicate spice. In their place is a raw, sardonic sexual liberation full of fire, that defies gender roles and exposes love in all its grimy glory.
33. You Me At Six – Night People
Their fifth studio album in thirteen years, Night People is a rather curious album. Much like the previous album, Cavalier Youth, it does not sound like a direct progression from the one that came before. It does, however, have that peculiar sound that has always been rather boldly just You Me At Six’s.
Despite that, it still does have a slight twist to the music. The music on this album is a lot harsher than it has been in all their years as a band – except, perhaps, their debut studio album, Take Off Your Colours.
The opening track, “Night People”, starts off the album with a resounding echo. Further down the track listing, it also includes songs such as “Take On The World”, a softer and slower song that speaks nothing of some of the tracks that have featured so prominently throughout the rest of the album.
32. Dua Lipa – Dua Lipa
Dua Lipa has been in the spotlight since the age of 14, but her debut album, and its accompanying singles, catapulted her career into mega stardom this year. The self-titled Dua Lipa came out as a bang, with songs featuring traces of EDM, pop and the synth that are a trademark of her catchy songs which took over the charts.
“New Rules” is the anthem for any girl going through a breakup, that needs a reminder to be strong. Every song on the album is a power ballad, including “Blow Your Mind (Mwuah)” and “IDGAF” which went on to become dancing anthems. The album’s real strength is Dua Lipa’s voice, and her ability to channel Lady Gaga and Amy Winehouse and become 2017’s number one pop icon. She is a threat to be reckoned.
With no exception, all of the 17 tracks on this record are potential singles. The fact that there are no forgettable songs is a statement to the album’s quality. But it’s also proof of the singer’s vocal and writing abilities: Dua Lipa can surely do both. It’s always interesting to see how pop stars are born. Pop is having a moment where looks aren’t everything: now talent also counts. Dua Lipa has it in spades and by the sounds of her impressive debut album, she has nowhere to go but up.
31. Father John Misty – Pure Comedy
Lyrically, Pure Comedy could be the album of the year. It would almost feel more appropriate to review it as prose, or even better, poetry. Josh Tillman’s third effort under the guise of Father John Misty is a verbal triumph, an hour and fourteen minutes of incisive criticism of the modern world and everything in it. Therefore it’s naturally a bit heavy: “Things It Would Be Helpful To Know Before The Revolution” looks at our dystopian prospects as a result of some sort of climate-change-armageddon – cheery, huh?
The lilting acoustical ballads of his previous albums again make up the substance here, but it is the content that has shifted: from the introspective and personal to the satirical gaze summed up by the album title. “Ballad Of The Dying Man” typifies the album, with its bleak mockery of keyboard warriors and our warped sense of self importance from social media. Guaranteed, one of Tillman’s creations on this album will touch a nerve, and make you think.
Click HERE for a full list of our Top 50 Albums of 2017!