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The greatest ability that humanity possesses is that of reflection. Our tiny, dirty planet has nearly completed yet another lap of the sun, and as the year draws to a close, we humans are naturally inclined to reflect on the year that has passed. Politically and culturally, it has been a turbulent one, to say the least, but we have been fortunate enough to be graced with a plethora of fantastic musical creations to distract ourselves from the forthcoming apocalypse.
There is an intangible reciprocal relationship between a certain time and the works of art produced within it; each comes to define the tone of the other. The albums listed below are, for me, the most “2017” sounding—likewise, 2017 has itself been characterised by these albums.
In no specific order, here are 25 astonishing albums that have come to define the year. I do hope they bring you satisfaction.
*[Scroll to the bottom for Spotify playlist]*
The definitive sound of 2017 grime. The prolific production duo have pulled a Kanye by saving their best beats for themselves. Their debut album is solid gold from start to finish—it is pure, unadulterated bottled lightning. The record is playful, but certainly means business. Brimming with bangers, Splurgeboys have firmly established themselves as their own artists, capable of producing a shockingly solid full-length release by themselves, not just hits for other artists. If they can repeat this triumph (and I have no doubt they can), these two youngsters have the power to capture the globe, let alone the British Isles, and that's no joke.
King Krule—'The OOZ'
Tantalisingly spooky sonic landscapes. Archy Marshall strikes gold yet again, delivering another collection of murky ballads that draw on everything from jazz to punk to psychedelic rock and beyond. The production is swampy, spacey, and raw; it feels like an intimate concert in the mire behind a decrepit haunted mansion. The gloom is pervasive but not overwhelming. As desolate as it is, it never feels like “too much” and is a very mature album. The songs slide into one another the way that pieces of wood manipulated by a master carpenter do—the whole album is one solid, cohesive experience, and is entirely wonderful.
Jacques Greene—'Feel Infinite'
Ethereal dance music that smudges together UK Garage, footwork, dubstep, and house music. At every turn, this album dares you not to move your body. The production is silky smooth and utterly irresistible. Dark, sexy, groovy, these tracks would be equally at home in the club as they would in a dimly-lit bedroom.
Commercial, yet still fascinating and deeply layered. Best trap album ever? Perhaps. The beat changes are sublime, the hazy boom-bap cuts are solid gold, and while the production is nothing experimental, it remains a cut above the usual fare. However, it is Kendrick's street poetry that makes this album a masterpiece. Kendrick legitimises the (often denigrated) trap sound, and makes it completely his own, lathering it with his own special sauce that the world can't get enough of. Thematically, this dissertation on blackness goes viciously deep and is possibly the artist's most personal, revealing, and introspective album to date. The collector’s edition is a hilarious cash-in, though.
Mac Demarco—'This Old Dog'
The psychedelic jangle-pop powerhouse’s finest work to date. Thematically and stylistically consistent, this album has a definite “sound," but is diverse enough to be engaging throughout. The songwriting is brilliant, the guitar work is great, and Mac’s singing is the best it ever has sounded. Sonically, this album is distinctive amongst his other albums, and is certainly a more cohesive and mature effort than anything he has released prior to this. Straddling territories of both melancholia and joviality, the album is bittersweet and wonderful, drawing on everything from psychedelic pop to country music and even a little bit of jazz. Mac Demarco set the template for the current wave of psych-pop that has become one of the defining sounds of 2017, and this album is a gentle declaration of greatness. Though he has many imitators, Mac is irreplaceable.
2017 was saturated (hehe) with Brockhampton’s music. It was truly their year, dropping three remarkably consistent and cohesive albums. Their music has been unavoidable, and they have undeniably cemented themselves in the public consciousness. They are very distinctive (in both their production and vocals) and are unafraid of appearing vulnerable; indeed, this is often what makes them endearing. Certainly a unique project, much more than a mere Odd Future emulation, and definitely one to watch in the coming year.
Delightful return to form. Dizzee quickly reminds us that he is one of the greatest to ever touch the mic. Assertive, contemplative, and confident; grime has never sounded so wise. The flows & lyricism are some of the finest in the game. He is ruthlessly talented but doesn’t break a sweat on the entire album. The whole thing is so effortless. Even at the lowest points of his career—during grime’s unfortunate foray into pop music—Dizzee was better than his contemporaries. Here, he truly sounds like a King who has returned from the wilderness after a quest for the Holy Grail. Whether or not he actually found the biblical chalice is irrelevant; he certainly sounds as though he has, and thanks to the knowledge accrued during his quest, his domain is finally able to prosper as it once did. If anything, it is now even more stable and imperturbable than it ever was before. With this album, Dizzee establishes himself as not just one of the greatest artists in UK grime, but one of the greatest rappers in history.
Mount Eerie—'A Crow Looked At Me'
Devastatingly sad. Truly, terribly, crushingly sad. Every single lyric is perfectly written, each song perfectly structured. It is a 40 minute shiver down your spine. I still have goosebumps residual from my first listen. This album is so intimate and unassuming that I genuinely felt as though I was a trespasser, intruding on the grieving psyche of musician Phil Elverum, who wrote this album to commemorate the life and death of his wife (and mother to his child), Geneviève Castrée Gosselin, who passed away on the 9th of July 2016 from pancreatic cancer, aged 35. This album is mercilessly human, savagely honest, and speaks entirely for itself; just listen to it, but prepare for your heart crumble into dust. It is a harrowing listen, but impossible to turn off. It is the sound of a hollow, broken man, and it is pristine.
Iglooghost—'Neō Wax Bloom'
An amorphous, untamable beast. What we have here is a writhing, pulsating globule of mutant flesh. Imagine a club night showcasing the best of trap, EDM, IDM, vapourwave, hardcore techno, and the sickly-sweet pop of PC Music. It’s 6 AM and you have scraped up the amalgam of gunk from the dance floor, scooped it into a vat, and surged 20,000 volts of electricity through the resulting sludge. A tremendous neon-pastel Frankenstein’s monster erupts from the tank, it opens its mouth, and this is the sound that comes out.
Tyler, The Creator—'Flower Boy'
The best rapper with a comma in his name. Refined, delicate, soulful. This album stands head and shoulders above the rest of Tyler's ouvre. It is the album we always knew he was capable of; while he has always found a way to impress in the past, this record exemplifies the best of every facet of his style, and sheds the shackles of the “edginess” that weighed him down in the past. Our boy has grown up.
Wiley’s music possibly suffered the most during grime’s dreadful pop incursion of the late 00s, early 10s. His wallet, however, did not. Now that he has had his payday, Wiley is back to remind us what grime really is. The grime scene had a genuine identity crisis during those pop years, and it stunted the genre’s growth. Nowadays, UK artists are enamoured with American trap and drill sounds (and in 2017, afro bashment), and even though grime music that draws on these genres is always—inevitably—distinctly British, it still shies away from its hallowed dubby UK garage and skittering eskibeat origins. Wiley has returned to set the record straight, redeeming both himself and the genre he lays claim to. Godfather is dirty, it is heavy, and it is nothing but pure, sacred, blessed grime.
Masterfully produced. Like watching two steam trains collide in slow motion. Cataclysmic, pounding industrial drums meet shuddering, grinding tidal waves of distorted synths. This album is very “eighties” but also astonishingly modern. The vocals are in parts delicate and dazzlingly raucous in others. Opulent but also jagged and harsh, rarely does an album manage to be as aggressive as this whilst maintaining such a level of irrefutable beauty.
Guerilla Toss—'GT Ultra'
A delicious slice of disco-inflected post-punk. Yet another reminder that the sounds of the 80s are ubiquitous and inescapable, but when that discipline produces something so irresistibly groovy, why would you want to escape? Unlike some pop acts that capitalise on a diluted version of the style, GT Ultra comes served with a generous dollop of genuine musicality, with interesting rhythms and winding polymeter infused throughout the album, but not to an obnoxious degree—the album is utterly danceable and infectious and brilliantly balanced. Engaging but not convoluted; Guerilla Toss are thoroughly sincere and uncontrived.
Joey Bada$$—'All AmeriKKKan Bada$$'
A startlingly mature political statement that completely avoids taking itself too seriously and never once veers into “fakedeep” territory (*ahem* Jaden). The production on this album is wonderful; each track flows into the next as though it could have all been recorded in a single session. The lyrical content is equally fantastic. Joey is smart but not pretentious, and drives his message home in an incredibly relaxed way. Even though the album is deeply political, it is also fervidly catchy and downright joyous, overflowing with memorable hooks and glossy, summery beats.
Delicate and subtle. Bonobo returns with another strikingly organic-sounding electronic album. My personal favourite album of his; this piece cuts deep. At times, oh-so tender, at others, relentlessly groovy. This album is utterly penetrating, there is no way you can listen to this album and not be affected by it. Blindingly beautiful.
Four Tet—'New Energy'
Four Tet is the original architect for organic electronica. The heavyweight is back for yet another round, and does not disappoint. This album is every late night bus ride or quiet city stroll you ever experienced. Measured, ponderous, meditative—I can’t think of a time when this album is not appropriate to play, and that is Four Tet’s genius. The term “background music” would be an insult to the artistry here, but ultimately it could be considered as such. Incredibly unobtrusive and easy to digest; the gossamer sounds within are so fine that they may as well have always existed in the aether around you, but were simply too polite to make themselves apparent. Kieran Hebden is a master of his craft.
Delightfully weird. A spectacularly odd thing to behold. Dizzying, meandering bass solos accompanied by Burnett’s characteristic breathy falsetto singing about everything from his beloved cat, to masturbating before bed. This album is a jazzy, funky fever dream, charming to its core. It is a dazzling showcase of everything that made us fall in love with Thundercat in the first place, building off and expanding upon his familiar sound. Easily his magnum opus, and an incredibly difficult album to top.
Buttery smooth and reassuringly hazy, this album feels like gently floating down a river of psychedelic fudge. Fresh Air is groovy but also languid. The whole album is excellently produced and its songs are composed brilliantly. It is difficult to find any reason to dislike this album, it possesses such an astonishingly broad appeal. Fans of everything from soul, to psych pop, to hip-hop will find something to love in this album.
Big K.R.I.T.—'4eva Is A Mighty Long Time'
Krit returns with a stunningly reflexive and ruminative album; a meditation on his own fame and success, looking back at the highs and lows of his career. For years, the rapper has hovered in the limbo between mainstream and underground, and here he expounds his frustrations at being pressured into pursuing different directions by his friends, fans, and his own conscious. The definitive Krit album, he strips bare before us and deconstructs the character he has created for the public. The production is his most technically accomplished ever, and the sprawling runtime reflects the majesty of the album itself, but is remarkably devoid of filler. A future Southern classic.
Tera Melos—'Trash Generator'
Supremely disorienting. A torrent of confounding guitar riffs and beautifully complex drumming, this album gently nestles between folds of punk, prog, post-hardcore, and math rock, but is a surprisingly easy listen. Despite how hectic it is, the album is staunchly accessible, very delicately treading the border of “challenging." It is never abrasive, only bewildering. A must-try for any rock fan.
67—'The Glorious Twelfth'
Britain has snatched drill from Chicago in a major way. This album feels like being on the run from the law. It is a Stone Island jacket permanently imbued with the stench of strong weed. It's the £20 you stole out your Nan's purse to spend on shitty coke. It's a murdered out BMW that doubles as your workplace. It's bold, it's dark, it's moody. It's a sinister triumph.
Simultaneously perplexing and soothing. This album is hard to pin down, it is a bewildering fusion of math rock and electronic neo-soul, and at times even includes references to silky trap-flavoured production. The style is intriguing, but somehow it works wonderfully. Incredibly tasty throughout, just a really pleasing album to listen to. Chon are incredibly talented and innovative, and this album is a delight to behold.
Kitty—'Miami Garden Club'
Hazy dance-pop inspired by vapourwave and Miami bass that is equal measures vibrant and soporific. Magically, defiantly, the album treads a tightrope that manages to be both bouncy and sleepy. It sounds like taking a nap in a meadow on a sunny day, wearing a sickly-pink tracksuit and designer shades. As modest as it is incandescent, this is easily one of the year’s best pop albums, and is a genuine hidden gem.
Goldlink—'At What Cost'
Relentlessly bouncy; in scientific tests I was able to prove that it is physically impossible not to nod your head to this album. Tunes for the whip or the house party. It is difficult to decide if this album is underground or not—it is gritty, but also stupidly appealing. Soulful, catchy, heavy; it has literally everything for rap fans, ranging from the most casual to true heads. It's only a matter of time before Goldlink truly breaks through to the mainstream, and he won't have to sell out to do it, but simply persevere with his current magic formula.
Enigmatic, menacing, powerful. One of the most unique releases of the year, Still are an absolutely uncategorisable act. Tribal, interstellar beats collide with booming toasted vocals to create an album that sounds like smoking DMT on the moon with the ghost of Marcus Garvey. It is the blistering afro-futuristic core of a distant neutron star. This album cannot be played loud enough.
BONUS ENTRY: Jlin—'Black Origami'
As a treat for being such a patient reader, I have one more album.
This album will never not make me feel like I'm being chased through an alien jungle by an angry cybernetic native warrior. Jlin is a true artist, and her second album is a tremendous improvement over her previous (already fantastic) work. Bustling, chaotic footwork beats with a hard industrial vibe, but an oddly acoustic sound. It is somehow both minimalist and maximalist, being at times stripped back, and utterly cacophonous at others. Genius.
And there we have it.
Obviously this will never be a complete list, and there is no objective metric for deciding the “best” of anything. There are countless albums I wish I could include, but I felt 25 (alright, 26) was the proper number; enough to satisfy whilst still keeping the list relatively lean.
Please enjoy this playlist, comprised of my favourite tracks from each of these albums. Many of these albums are also on Bandcamp. Please support the artist if you can.
Have a wonderful New Year, and may 2018 be as abundant with wonderful music as this year has been.