2017 is nearing an end, giving us a last wave and a ‘fuck you’ before it disappears over the horizon. Before it goes, we’re looking back over the best the year has to offer. List week rolls on – we’ve already given our thoughts on the best singles (2017 was an amazing year for pop) and now here are the best albums of the year.
20. Goldfrapp – Silver Eye
The most direct and satisfying Goldfrapp album in a decade, Silver Eye showed a renewed commitment to listener satisfaction and songs that escalate rather than percolate. ‘Anymore’ show this new ethos perfectly, with a real sense of building stakes as the chorus ramps onwards into the clusterfuck of analogue synths which end the track. Elsewhere ‘Systemagic’ and ‘Everything Is Never Enough’ recall the jackbooted, patent leather thrills of Supernature. Closer ‘Ocean’ is absolutely beautiful.
19. Haim – Something To Tell You
The Haim sisters hit even harder on album two. Whilst lacking the stand-out anthems of their debut, Something To Tell You is a wonderfully consistent and warm album, with a strong emphasis on percussive melodies, nuanced production and lyrical wit. Country, pop, yacht rock and R&B pop up, often at the same time, with production tweaks from Twin Shadow and Bloodpop keeping everything feeling fresh.
18. Lana Del Rey – Lust For Life
Lana’s noir odyssey continues in all its sighing, effortless glory. Eclectic yet classy, Lust For Life is a more rambling album than the seamless Honeymoon, but feels more like a journey. By the closer ‘Get Free’ – Lana is ready to head off “into the blue” – finding peace at last. What that means for future projects is yet to be seen. For the time being, we have a voyage through baroque-pop, big band, trap, R&B and classic rock. On her most varied album yet, Lana reaches for the limits of her sound. While the resolution may be unclear, the journey is thrilling enough.
17. LCD Soundsystem – American Dream
The kings of dorky post-disco have returned to remind us what we were missing. Riding the line between subversion and placation, American Dream is catchy as all hell but the songs go on forever and are packed with bizarre witticisms that will send the average NME-reading hoodie running for the hills.
For those who know what to expect, the grooves are solid, James Murphy still has plenty of memorable lines to doll out (“it rules the airwaves…what remains of the airwaves“) and goddamn it, so little music really makes you think, without feeling like hard work. If this is a dream, we don’t want to wake up.
16. Dua Lipa – Dua Lipa
The blockbuster diva breakout that the Gods of Pop ordained, Dua Lipa is passionate, tuneful and packed with bangers. ‘Hotter Than Hell’ stomps, ‘Blow Your Mind (Mwah)’ shimmies, but ‘Be The One’ is the standout. A party tune – but heartbreaking too. “I see the moon, when you’re looking at the sun” may be the best pop lyric of the year, and a perfect encapsulation of the impasse of near-breakup.
That’s not even touching the sassy ‘IDGAF’ or the pop culture moment that was ‘New Rules’. Occasionally a little overproduced, and the ballads rarely justify their place on the tracklist, but Dua Lipa announces a fantastic new talent in the British pop space.
15. L.A. Witch – L.A. Witch
Lip-snarling cool from the West Coast. Rock & roll, leather jackets, sunglasses indoors – you know the drill. The fogged out, raw sound gives L.A. Witch a vampiric menace. At the best they’ll crash your Oldsmobile (‘Drive Your Car’) but at worst, they’ll take your soul. Straightforward, stylish post-punk recalling Black Rebel Motorcycle Club / Jesus & Mary Chain vibes. A thoroughly worthy debut album that casts a long, long shadow. God help all men who fall under it.
14. SZA – Ctrl
Heartbreak, ferocity, self-loathing and self-acceptance tessellate on an album of anxious neo-soul. Experimental from the off, ‘Supermodel’ sets up the dichotomy of SZA’s long delayed debut LP, the delivery confident, but the writing heart-achingly honest. Ctrl is certainly not an easy listen, with little concern for structure or convention.
Even when an obvious single presents in the form of ‘Drew Barrymore’ the muddy keys and SZA’s virtuoso rap is no appeal to a mass audience. In a year where sophisticated, challenging R&B was ascendant, SZA stands at the very forefront.
13. The Big Moon – Love In The 4th Dimension
Britpop riffing and deadpan androgyny announce a serious new indie talent. The Big Moon are playful – recalling a half remembered 1990s through a kaleidoscope of nostalgic longing and an uncompromising, densely written album with broad appeal.
‘Sucker’ and ‘Cupid’ are early album anthems that soar despite their steely delivery. Imagine Warpaint with a penchant for pop. This is an amazing album, and we can’t wait for more.
Our review: Spirit, ballsy riffs and bags of personality.
12. Public Service Broadcasting – Every Valley
Archive-rockers embark on another adventure. Last time it was the galactic frontier – this time it’s…South Wales! Every Valley is more personal, more focused, more timely. It runs a gamut of emotion from fist-punching victory to tangible heartbreak, and uses a wonderful collage of strings, horns, sax (as well as their indie-rock base) to tell a vivid and timeless story of struggle.
Public Service Broadcasting still educate and entertain like no other, and through tasteful samples, sustained drama, and ear-wormy hooks, they are victorious once more.
Read our interview with Public Service Broadcasting here.
11. Thundercat – Drunk
Opening squawks of electronic piano announce a highly irregular ride. Drunk is right; the shifting rhythms and woozy lyrics leave you feeling half in the bag. While the opening tracks serve as a series of increasingly bizarre false starts, when the album proper begins you won’t let go – possibly because you can’t find your way back.
While undoubtedly a stoner album, Thundercat sounding red-eyed and frazzled despite his honey-smooth vocals, there are flashes of clarity where wry lyricism pierce the haze (‘Bus In These Streets’). On the next track, he’s wondering how cool being a cat must be; while literally meowing. A niche interest certainly, but which other project can boast collabs with Kendrick, Pharrell, Kenny Loggins & Michael McDonald? With the sheen and precision of Steely Dan’s Aja, the hangover may be a killer – but it’s a hell of a ride.
10. Shigeto – The New Monday
Wonderfully slick cocktail-lounge IDM. The New Monday is a mature, tastefully assembled collection of slow-jams. ‘Detroit Part II” is a strong an album opener as anything released all year, and showcase the nifty beat-shifting and gliding bass lines which pop up throughout Shigeto’s fourth LP.
Our review: Urbane sophisticate eletronica.
9. Broken Social Scene – Hug of Thunder
A ramshackle collection of personal songs performed with astonishing scope. Canadian collective Broken Social Scene pen a protest album against the general milieu of 21st century life. They don’t eek out meaning where there is none; they rage at the shades of grey which flourish where colour should be.
Slacktivism, the asperity of Twitter debate, and yes, The Orange One himself, are just a few of the topics BSS glide over. It may be a demand for social justice, but it’s presented with warmth. Rage and compassion: indeed a hug of thunder, and a wonderful album too.
Our review: Indie movie emotion with a blockbuster sound.
8. LANY – LANY
Shiny synth-pop bangers abound on this punchy debut. Crisp, hummable songs that rarely surpass four minutes but pack in a plethora of hooks. The gleaming synths and mix of live drumming and sequencers produce a satisfyingly polished sound. LANY is a joy to listen to, and while the debt to the 1975’s sophomore record is clear, they produce pure pop thrills that Healy and Co. would struggle to match.
The expansive sound of The Chainsmokers’ ‘Paris’ is felt throughout, complimented and expanded by Paul Klein’s rambling, idiosyncratic vocals. Relationship songs may be the bread and butter of indie rock, but having the rough-and-tumble of makeups and breakups put against this stark synthetic backdrop refreshes the material. ‘Good Girls’, ’13’ and ‘Super Far’ are the clear highlights on an LP not to be missed.
7. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
Kendrick finally got his mainstream smash – a sort-of-concept album about destiny, religion, and fatal, fatal fame. A challenging listen from start to end, Lamar’s flow and flexibility as a rapper is unequalled. The many ways in which this is a weird, discordant album could fill pages; and yet it is rested in universal truths. Lamar himself is enigmatic as ever, swerving on a dime from Eazy-E to Curtis Mayfield.
‘LUST.’ explores the life of luxury idolised by rap, and confirms what we’ve always suspected; it ain’t all that. ‘XXX.’ opens amid the the wail of sirens, before dove-tailing into the drone of Pop era U2, and bringing them along for the ride. ‘HUMBLE.’ points a finger at the whole spectrum of bullshitters – right-wing bigots, left-wing zealots, social-media influencers, click-baiting bloggers – and utters a simple command “sit down, be humble.” A flawed, idiosyncratic work of twisted genius, DAMN. is without compare.
6. The xx – I See You
Indie-mope minimalism becomes House-inflected self-discovery. On the way, Madchester beats, crisp shimmering guitars and chiming harmonies power a youthful exploration of life, loss and lust. The instrumentation is thoroughly engaging – the washed out riff in ‘Say Something Living’, the industrial clang of ‘Replica’ and the sensual chorale which opens ‘Lips’ are but a few. Meanwhile, ‘Dangerous’ is the best thing they’ve ever written. A group showing substantial growth in every aspect of their craft and the kind of vivid, honest album that 2018 needed.
Our review: A confident return to form.
5. The Midnight – Nocturnal
Synth music takes another huge leap forwards. Nocturnal is built on a masterful range of synths and truly gorgeous melodies. ‘Shadows’ isn’t just a great synth song – it is a great pop song, with a fantastic chorus and pitch-shifted refrain. Powerful guitar solos add to the drama, whilst tasteful saxophone provides suiting crescendos.
Over just seven songs, the songwriting duo cover heartbreak, self-discovery, the beauty of the city of night and, on the title track, a hypnotic blend of all three. Nocturnal is a gateway album into the charm of synth music itself.
Read our interview with The Midnight here.
4. The Sherlocks – Live For The Moment
The Barnsley four-piece produce the best debut of the year. Live For The Moment can be described as loud, loud, and loud. The drums sound enormous, the riffs jagged and raw, with the bass providing a bit of Style Council swing. The cherry on the cake is the smoky voice of frontman Kiaran Crook, who hammers home chorus after arena-baiting chorus. A confident and honest portrayal of being a British teen in 2017 – and a fucking good time.
Read our interview with The Sherlocks here.
3. Elbow – Little Fictions
Unlikely elder statesmen of indie rock pen an ode to times gone by. Self-reflection can be so boring, but Guy Garvey remains warm, pensive and gently melancholic. The emotion is genuine but never overblown, and therefore the album is never truly anthemic. Even ‘Magnificent (She Says)’ with its swelling strings and chorus, has a restless tempo; an energy that shuffles but never surges.
The result is a more authentic and affecting album than anything Elbow have previously released, and Garvey’s writing is the best of the band’s career. ‘All Disco’ charts the effect of time on our lives and our personal efforts; which like the disco craze, will one day appear twee and distant. “What does it prove if you die for a tune? It’s really all disco.”
It is heartfelt, beautiful moments of clarity like this which make Little Fictions a joyful listen.
2. Grandbrothers – Open
Ensnaring neo-classical music for restless nights and winter walks. Open may not be as readily accessible as the title suggests, but is a hugely rewarding listen. Cinematic, moody, sensational. The eerie beauty of ‘Bloodflow’ may be familiar to fans of Agnes Obel, Melanie de Biasio or the big man Ludo. However the two-speed Gothic-House of ‘White Nights’ is unlike anything I’ve heard all year. Open is a very special record, and while it may be very particular to the listener and their capacity for the unexpected, it is totally absorbent.
The percussion is all generated in the mix; distortions of sounds that arise from the piano itself. The bleepy electronics, tea-spoon tap of percussion and sense of atmosphere, are all the work of technical wizadry – not mere plug-ins. Open reaches it’s emotional peak with ‘Honey’, where the repetition of a simple hook and percussive loop underscore the past encroaching on the present, the fallibility of memory – and the colour of life. Beautiful from start to finish.
1. Com Truise – Iteration
Icy, minimalist, paranoid space disco from the darkest timeline. Tightly wound lattices of synthetic bass, sunny loops and icy melodies operate above skittering beats, maintaining constant friction that hermetically seal the record. Vacuum-pop.
Staccato creep of opener ‘…Of Your Fake Dimension’ sets the tone of doleful futurism, with occasional bursts of colour to hold your gaze. ‘Memory’ starts out familiar, but after several exciting transitions, ends on a tremendous high. The retro-futuristic sheen of ‘Dryswch’ and the ratcheting tension of ‘Propogation’ make for easy highlights
While the rambling ambitions of prior projects have been curbed, the renewed focus on groove makes Iteration the most engaging project of Seth Haley’s career.
Our review: Polished, disaffected synth funk of the highest order.
What did Alex have to say? Read his top 20 albums here.
What were the best albums of last year? Find out here.