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 favorite 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 scrutinized 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- Glitchy and off-kilter, Indiana producer Jlin makes frenetic electronic music unlike anything you’ve heard before. Picking up where her highly acclaimed 2015 debut Dark Energy left off, Black Origami finds an artist in her element, playing with the conventions of Chicago’s footwork and juke house scenes, all while creating something a little more left-field and innovative. Songs like “Kyanite” whirr with innovative industrial theatricality, while “Calcination” is more minimalist and expansive, embellished with soothing angelic voices. Although there are occasional moments of melody, what is especially impressive is Jlin’s grasp of vivid, futuristic percussion and polyrhythm. All drum machines and distorted samples, this is an album of ambitious, odd, and quite beautiful sounds.
- Khalid Robinson has been on our radar since the spring of 2016, when the classically-trained singer-songwriter dropped his debut single to rave reviews, ahead of his high school graduation. Fast-forward nine months and "Location" is still climbing the Billboard Hot 100, and the fiercely-talented 19-year-old from El Paso is hoping to capitalise on the exposure with this first full-length release. Listening to American Teen, you suspect that he stands a good chance of breakout success. Comprised of breezy, retro-leaning R&B, with minimalist production and sincere, soulful vocals, Khalid’s timeless compositions pack a real emotional punch.
- Famously touted as “the Beatles of this generation” by Donald Glover at this year’s Golden Globe Awards, Migos have quickly become the need-to-know rap group following the viral success of “Bad and Boujee”. On Culture, the US hip hop trio deliver a masterclass in swirling, dark trap beats with their trademark catchy, staccato delivery over the top. Lyrically the songs deal with classic bravado-fuelled hip hop tropes, and with features from DJ Khaled, Travis Scott, Lil Uzi Vert, Gucci Mane, and a stand-out verse from 2 Chainz on “Deadz”, this is an album that perfectly encapsulates the genre in 2017.
- Considering the colossal falling outs and line-up changes that preceded their last LP, Paramore ought to have approached writing album number five feeling settled as a unit. In reality, front woman Hayley Williams recalls the atmosphere as being so fraught that, “There was a moment when I didn’t even want [this album] to happen.” Thankfully, Williams and guitarist Taylor York persevered, and now return with founding member Zac Farro in tow and a record packing even more crossover potential than its predecessor. If you thought the gospel-influenced emo of “Ain’t It Fun” was an intriguing left-hand turn, just you wait ‘til you hear the sunny, 80s pop-funk of “Hard Times”.
- 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 catalogs of the century.
- Boasting a breathy voice that pours out of her like delicate smoke, Tennessee singer-songwriter Julien Baker blew people away with her debut album, 2015’s Sprained Ankle. The record - written while she was a college freshman and produced with a friend in a small studio - was full of starkly honest lyrics about mental health issues and substance abuse over sparse sounds. Its successor, Turn Out The Lights, is a little fuller in its sound, a little more confrontational in its vocals, a little richer in instrumentation - thankfully without getting ahead of itself. Indeed, though she might have gone up a gear in terms of fame and resources, Baker hasn’t gotten over-ambitious with album number two, but is instead quietly growing, coming over at once potent and reserved as she continues to deal in uncomfortable truths of self-doubt and self-destruction.