Best of 2017
King Kendrick ruled hip hop, SZA stole everyone’s thunder with her soft yet searing R&B, and Lorde delivered the pop record of the year in Melodrama. Discover our top 10 favourite albums of 2017 and the rest of the best below.
The Top 10
- There aren’t many 16-year-olds capable of keeping it together whilst being scrutinised by the entire world, but then there aren’t many teenagers that David Bowie once deigned to describe as “the future of music” either. Ella Yelich-O’Connor remains a unique proposition on this, her superb second album. Co-produced by Bleachers’ Jack Antonoff, Melodrama finds Lorde documenting an adolescence under the spotlight with striking maturity and candour, from wild nights (‘Perfect Places’), lust (‘Louvre’), heartbreak (‘Green Light’) and revenge (‘Writer In The Dark’), to self-acceptance, as expressed beautifully on ‘Liability’. Unquestionably one of the finest pop albums of 2017 so far.
- From Pitchfork and Pigeons and Planes, to Rolling Stone and Billboard, there was barely a ‘Best of the Year’ list that To Pimp A Butterfly didn’t top in 2015. If Kendrick Lamar was concerned about following what FACT Magazine have termed his “magnum opus”, he deliberately chose not to dwell on it, first releasing the acclaimed demos collection Untitled Unmastered in 2016, and now a fourth LP in which he switches gears entirely. Gone are the abrasive jazz influences that underscored the protest songs of TPAB, and in their place is a succession of loose and playful, predominantly sample-led grooves, rooted in 70s soul and psych. Damn might be more musically accessible, but it’s no less rewarding, and lyrically Compton’s finest sounds more unapologetically self-assured than ever. Indeed, as he explains on ‘Pride’, “I can’t fake humble just ‘cause yo’ ass is insecure.”
- With meandering, boundary-pushing R&B songs that drift in a beautiful haze, there’s a real soulful sweetness to Solána Rowe’s debut album. On Ctrl, the singer - known as SZA- offers strikingly candid yet poised insights into both her personal insecurities (“I really wish I was a normal girl,” she laments on ‘Normal’) and her intimate relationships (“I'm really tryna crack off that headboard and bust it wide open for the right one,” on dreamy ‘Doves In The Wind’). Woven together with spoken word excerpts of her mother and grandmother offering advice, and with features and guest-writers including label-mate Kendrick Lamar, Travis Scott, and even Justin Timberlake, Ctrl is a gorgeously accomplished, informative record that is soft yet quietly searing with femininity.
- As trailblazers of the early 90s shoegaze scene – alongside Chapterhouse, Ride and Swervedriver – Slowdive remain as revered by their legions of loyal fans today as they were reviled at the time by certain corners of the British music press. And with those same print magazines now either dead or dying an undignified death, the Reading-formed five-piece return with their first studio album in 22 years. Against all the odds, the results actually prove more than worth the wait. Combining the ambient textures of last LP Pygmalion and the dreamy pop hooks of their 1993 classic Souvlaki with a newfound energy, this self-titled effort is another career high, and one of the finest rock records of 2017 so far.
- For all the initial excitement around LCD Soundsystem’s reunion, it’s difficult not to approach this comeback record with the fear that James Murphy and co might be about to undermine their whole legacy. Happily, from the classic punk-funk feel of ‘Other Voices’ to the motorik, slow-build of ‘Oh Baby’, American Dream offers plenty to please casual fans, plus packs enough surprises to keep long-time devotees engaged. ‘Change Yr Mind’ sounds like The Slits with Robert Fripp on guitar, while ominous album centerpiece ‘How Do You Sleep’ combines discordant, John Cale-esque strings with industrial synths to create a twisted banger of epic proportions. All in all, a valuable addition to, what is arguably, one of the best back catalogues of the century.
- Rich and saturated bursts of afrobeats, grime, and bashment topped with distinctly British flow, J Hus’ debut is the hazy spirit of Notting Hill carnival in sonic form. Indeed, no other album this year has so successfully blended the sounds of London in 2017 - the truth of the multicultural city’s urban summer sounds. With guests including Mo Stack, MIST, Tiggs da Author and Nigerian superstar Burna Boy, and as many verses about chirpsing girls and money as there are about introspection and his criminal past, Common Sense is a fascinatingly varied album that finds a fresh young artist confident at the forefront of his game.
- Welsh producer Kelly Lee Owens has made an enticing, ethereal brand of electronic music on her self-titled debut album. Though her background is in the indie rock scene (she was previously in a band called The History of Apple Pie), nothing about the sound here feels like it doesn't come naturally: indeed, there’s a fascinating ease and lightness to tracks like ‘Lucid’, and Jenny Hval-featuring ‘Anxi’. There are certainly elements of dreamy indie-pop in the production, but, overall, this is an album of wispy, echo-tinged techno. With delicate but mesmerising vocals and a lush undercurrent of beats and groove, Owens has created an accomplished debut that seems a perfect fit for the wee hours.
- Though tipped by the BBC, NME and Billboard back in 2014, Sampha Sisay has been in no hurry to capitalise on the hype, opting to embellish the work of stars like Kanye, Drake, Frank Ocean and Solange rather than seize the spotlight. Now, almost four years on from his last EP, the South London soul man finally steps out of the shadows to unveil his first full-length release. Process is all the stronger for its protracted gestation period, providing a perfect match of intimate songwriting and sensitive production, and showcasing the spellbinding power of Sampha’s emotive tones. Surely a strong contender for this year’s Mercury Prize.
- All cascades of orchestra, disco grooves and almost-creepily sweet vocals, this latest album from renowned Anglo-French artist Charlotte Gainsbourg is perhaps her most delicious sonic tapestry to date. Flitting between French and English, a nursery rhyme lightness greets you on opening track ‘Ring-a-Ring O’ Roses’, and it sets a lithe, spooky tone for the album (closing song ‘Les oxalis’ descends surreally into a child’s voice singing the alphabet). Some songs recall intimate French chansons while others burst with cinematic ambition and invincibility — either way they all seem to deal with a rich sadness borne out of her renowned father's death. With collaborations from artists as far-ranging as Paul McCartney and Frank Ocean-collaborator SebastiAn, this is a quietly powerful consideration of grief.
- Following 2014’s Songs of Innocence, this 14th album finds prolific Irish stadium-rockers U2 the most contemplative they’ve been in years. Written following a “high-energy bicycle accident” which left Bono uncertain he’d be able to play guitar again, the songs deal with life’s journey and its fragility — both of the personal and political kind. At this point their epic, self-righteous sounds have made the four-piece a love-them-or-hate-them kind of band, and whichever side of the fence you’re on, this release is unlikely to change your mind - it sounds like a U2 album. With that said, the Kendrick-featuring ‘American Soul’ (a jagged rework of DAMN track ‘XXX’) proves they can still pack a rock’n’roll punch.