It’s that time of the year, the time for year-end lists. Last year was an incredible year for music, with a slurry of landmark releases from an array of the industry’s biggest names, and luckily, 2017 has been no different. We’ve had major releases from the likes of Ed Sheeran, Gorillaz, Kendrick Lamar, Foo Fighters, and Drake, debut efforts from the likes of Sampha, SZA and IDLES as well as long-awaited new projects from Thundercat, Tyler, The Creator, and LCD Soundsystem. It’s been a task in itself to narrow the music of 2017 into one compact list, with many major releases missing out, but either way, here are the best albums of 2017.
Stormzy – Gangs Signs and Prayers
Label: #Merky, Warner
Producers: Stormzy, Fraser T Smith
Singles: Big for Your Boots, Blinded by Your Grace
I cannot speak more highly of Stormzy. This is an artist who nonchalantly shrugged off the one-hit-hype label with ease, and refused to be tempted with selling themselves to pop music. As can unfortunately be said to the conveyor belt of grime artists throughout the last 10 years- Wretch 32, Chip, Devlin, Professor Green, I’m looking at you of course. On his hugely anticipated debut album, Stormzy well and truly reached and exceeded the high standards set by his triumphant and dramatic rise to fame, and blurred the lines between UK hip-hop, and the trademark grime sound we all know and love. What is perhaps one of the album’s most take-away elements is Stormzy’s maturity as an artist, structuring the album intelligently, and still going about his craft, seemingly independent.
Jessie Ware – Glasshouse
Producers: Kid Harpoon, Stint, Blanco
Singles: Midnight, Selfish Love
Well-written, expertly produced and beautifully executed, Jessie Ware’s Glasshouse is the welcomed third album from one of Britain’s most underrated songwriters. Noticeably more measured, and a somewhat sombre project compared to Ware’s past two albums, her silky trademark R&B is often traded for more Kate Bush-nodding soaring pop. But following a marriage, and the arrival of her first child, both since the release of her last full-length album, 2014’s Tough Love, Glasshouse is evidently a strong representation of her place in life, and in music- a shoe-in for one of the year’s best.
Mogwai – Every Country’s Sun
Label: Rock Action
Producers: Dave Friddman
Singles: Party in The Dark
Scottish ambient rockers Mogwai continue one of the most consistent discography roll-outs in popular music, with yet another full-length release, their 7th in as many years, three years since their last studio album. Following the lukewarm reception to 2014’s Rave Tapes, an album championing electronic sounds and inspirations, Mogwai return to a more familiar sound on their 2017 release- Every Country’s Sun. Teaming with all that made the band what they are, expect the trademark drama, cinematic progression, inch-perfect production, and a captivating stadium-style, rock-led experience.
New Energy is an exploratory project, one that provides spotlights for each of the musical directions Four Tet has attempted throughout his career. From the Pause-nodding acoustic/downtempo stylings of Two Thousand and Seventeen, to the more intricate Burial-collaborating era of recent years, no better illustrated than on SW9 9SL. New Energy is a bold title in any musician’s case, and with Four Tet, it isn’t necessarily the most appropriate. ‘New’ ideas and themes are flirted with, but in reality the project’s summarising aspect is to reflect on the past brilliance of Four Tet, encompassing his talents that have worked so well in the past. And for such a multi-talented, genre-spanning electronic artist, where’s the harm in that?
Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory
Label: Def Jam, Blacksmith
Producers: Corey ‘Blacksmith’ Smyth, Christian Rich, Flume, GTA
Singles: BagBak, Big Fish
Vince Staples has continued to shake rap to the core, ever since he stole the show on Earl Sweatshirt’s Hive back in 2013, a verse Earl called the best of the year, one that boasted the lines ‘If this was ’88, I would have signed to Ruthless / ’94, would’ve had ’em walking down Death Row’. Big Fish Theory is a crazy album pumped with an array of electronica-spanning influences, it’s bursting with dynamic lyricism, jaw-dropping, bone-shaking production, and an array of outstanding handpicked guest spots. Vince is sharper than he’s ever been, as a vocalist, a lyricist, and as a musician, and Big Big Theory is perhaps his sharpest final article.
RTJ – RTJ3
Label: Run The Jewels Inc, RED
Producers: El-P, Boots
Singles: Talk To Me, 2100
Undisputed hip-hop heavyweights, and rapidly becoming two of the most influential, genre-defining hip-hop artists of our generation- Killer Mike and El-P, otherwise known as Run The Jewels. What’s perhaps most notable in the world of RTJ, is the duo’s continued ability to match and exceed the world’s expectations- with each album the hype is high, and in the world of music publications- we’re all sort of waiting for their output to slump, but it never does. Each of the RTJ projects receive rightful acclaim from fans and critics alike, and the latest instalment of the series is no different. Of course ultimately down to taste, but among all RTJ devotees, RTJ3 could easily and happily be called the finest project in their discography, with El-P’s punchy dynamic production the backdrop for powerfully political content. In years to come, RTJ3 will too be looked on as a landmark rap album, and one of the best of 2017.
Bicep – Bicep
Label: Ninja Tune
Singles: Drift, Vespa
Bicep have comfortably established themselves as one of the most exciting new electronic production duos, since Disclosure burst onto the scene with their debut album Settle back in 2013. And like Disclosure, Bicep have lived up to the expectations and the hype, releasing an incredible debut project in the process, one that encompasses the Bicep sound- nodding at the origins of house and techno, and injecting traits of contemporary electronica into proceedings. Since its release back in September, Bicep’s self-titled album has continued to receive well-deserved attention, charting in as high as number 20 on the official charts, and finding itself on a number of major publications’ year-end lists, including this one.
Loyle Carner – Yesterday’s Gone
Label: Virgin EMI
Singles: Ain’t Nothing Changed, The Isle of Arran
Producers: Tom Misch, Kwes
Loyle Carner is the name, the figurehead and the pioneer of UK hip-hop. I know what you’re thinking, but grime is grime, and Skepta, Wiley, and Kano are continuing to make waves in their industry, but Carner is the breakout star, and seemingly isolated example of actual hip-hop, from a British mouth. Yesterday’s Gone is a well-crafted, poetic piece of music, encapsulating a working class background, while refusing to tempt with the grit, the venom and the grime, of grime. Carner has a huge career ahead of him, most likely in a pioneering role as an ambassador for UK hip-hop, and Yesterday’s Gone was the album that started it all.
The xx – I See You
Label: Young Turks, XL
Producers: Jamie xx, Rodaidh McDonald
Singles: On Hold, Say Something Loving
The xx, as they are often marketed as, are a slow burner, and it wasn’t until this third project, did I ever give them the time of day. Breathy, dramatic, sparse, minimalist, lifeless, and completely utterly boring, until I See You that is. The band’s third album saw the low-key trio dramatically revolutionise their sound, incorporating a broader range of influences, sounds, structures, and perhaps most importantly- samples, something the group once vowed not to use. In throwing out their predictable tired rulebook, The xx breathed new life into downtempo, of which Jamie xx clearly had much more of say in; in doing so perfecting one of the best albums of the year.
Kendrick Lamar – Damn
Label: TDE, Aftermath
Producers: Anthony ‘Top Dawg’ Tiffith, Dr Dre
Singles: Humble, DNA
Whenever Kendrick Lamar releases a new project, it’s like his accomplishments as an artist, and magnitude as a musician are taken to new astronomical heights. Damn could easily be argued as the finest moment of Kendrick’s career so far, with sombre lofi chill-rides BLOOD and YAH nestled around the blood-pumping anarchy of DNA. Powerfully political as is the norm with a Kendrick project, execution-wise, Damn collides contemporary hip-hop traits, with elements of classic genre-defining rap, nodding at both the pioneering greats, and the new-wave of current hip-hop namemakers. And perhaps one of the project’s most defying moments- making U2 listenable.