2017 maintained 2016’s phenomenal momentum for another 12 furious months, where even the most headline-grabbing releases of the year – from Taylor Swift’s Reputation to Harry Style’s solo debut – came and went before Noisey could even pen a think-piece about them. Popular music itself spread it’s purview wider than in any year in memory; songs needn’t be released further than SoundCloud to find viral success, all while vinyl sales were at their highest number in decades. Some of the year’s hottest rap records were barely twenty minutes long, while Purient released a three and a half hour record; BROCKHAMPTON put our three albums and King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard released five.
While the decades-old UK/US centrism of music perpetuated, the sounds of international music continued to penetrate further into the mainstream. Tinawiren and Ibibio Sound Machine shone light on the rhythms of Mali and Nigeria respectively, Rosalia and Gabriel Garzon-Montano brought hispanic music further into the mainstream, just as Luis Fonsi’s Spanish-Language ‘Despacito’ took over the world with a helping hand from born-again Bieber.
On the other side of the spectrum, indie icons MacDemarco, Spoon, Father John Misty and Fleet Foxes put in strong records, proving claims of the death of ‘pitch-folk’ to be somewhat exaggerated. These records helped make 2017 a year of fulfilled expectations. After the loss of giants of popular music such as Cohen, Prince and Bowie in 2016, successors like LCD Soundsystem and Bjork released records which somehow managed to fulfil the weighty expectations placed before them. Of course 2017 saw yet further greats leaving the mortal plain, with Malcolm Young, Fats Domino, Tom Petty, Charles Bradley, Chester Bennington, Glen Campbell, Chuck Berry and Chris Cornell sadly joining the Hall of Fame in the sky.
2017 was also the year hip-hop became America’s most listened to genre for the first time in history, meaning that pop music is no longer means Taylor Swift or Lady Gaga but DJ Khaled and Lil Uzi Vert. With great power comes great irresponsibility however, and the music industry was rocked by the death of 21-year old ‘emo rapper’ Lil Peep, at the hands of the prescription drug addiction currently dominating the mainstream. Elsewhere, underground icons Milo, Uncommon Nasa and Open Mike Eagle dropped thick and fast, and the genre continued to define itself as the politically-conscious successor to countercultural folk and punk from decades past, with leaders Jay Z, Kendrick Lamar, Rhapsody and Vince Staples releasing politically-minded LPs in a year where eyes eyes turned to art for guidance through frankly-disturbing political developments.
What truly defined music in 2017 though was the listening public’s response to the sheer cascade of sounds, genres and styles presented before them. A new popular eclecticism has descended upon those with even a casual relationship to popular music: artists like Forest Swords can be spoken of in the same breathe as Code Orange; factionalism is a thing of the past, and while teenage cloud-rap stars have more opportunity to shine than ever, so too does a has-been like Morrissey have chance to find a willing ear too. So open are the public to new ideas, Drake can call his new album a playlist and Brian Eno can release his latest available to be re-mixed on an app and nobody bats an eyelid. It represents a torrent of open-mindedness that leads one to wonder for how many more years a ‘greatest album list’ will be representative of the way people listen to music at all…
This list was compiled by three music fans based only the albums they heard this year, featuring bias and ignorance of critical consensus. It is instead based solely on the music which impacted us, and which we enjoyed and listened to the most. From top to bottom, we consider all of these albums to be produced by incredibly talented individuals whose music this year will provide pleasure and inspiration for many more to come.
75. Goths – The Mountain Goats
74. Power Trip – Nightmare Logic
73. Future Funk WAV Bounces Vol. 1 – Calvin Harris
72. Piano Sonatas 20 & 21 – Krystian Zimerman
71. Life Without Sound – Cloud Nothings
70. Just Say No To The Psycho Right-Wing Capitalist Fascist Industrial Death Machine – Gnod
69. Sonder Son – Brent Faiyaz
68. The Never Story – J.I.D.
67. Bill Orcutt – Bill Orcutt
66. Villains – Queens Of The Stone Age
65. First Opus – Sinjin Hawke
64. Culture – Migos
63. Too Dumb For Suicide: The Trump Songs – Tim Heidecker
62. Jardin – Gabriel Garzon-Montano
61. Compassion – Forest Swords
60. English Tapas – Sleaford Mods
59. Life & Livin’ It – Sikane
58. Dirty Projectors – Dirty Projectors
57. Carry Fire – Robert Plant
56. Brick Body Kids Still Daydream – Open Mike Eagle
55. Milo – Who Told You To Think??!!?!?!?!
54. Whole Lotta Sea Lice – Kurt Vile & Courtney Barnett
53.Les Amazones d’Afrique – Républic Amazone
52. The Dusk In Us – Converge
51. Common As Light and Love Are Red Valleys Of Blood – Sun Kil Moon
50. Process – Sampha
49. Drunk – Thundercat
48. Baile Bucanero – Ondatropica
47. Science Fiction – Brand New
46. Lailas Wisdom – Rapsody
45. Antisocialites – Alvvays
44. Prisoner – Ryan Adams
43. Blue Chips 7000 – Action Bronson
42. Take Me Apart – Kelela
41. 4:44 – Jay Z
40. The Underside Of Power – Algiers
39. Nothing Feels Natural – Priests
38. Soul Of A Woman – Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings
37. Bicep – Bicep
36. From A Room Vol. 1 – Chris Stapleton
35. Harmony Of Difference – Kamasi Washington
34. Forever – Code Orange
33. A Deeper Understanding – The War On Drugs
32. Hang – Foxygen
31. Is This The Life We Really Want? – Roger Waters
=30. B-Sides & Rarities – Beach House
=30. Ash – Ibeyi
29. Off The Radar – Noga Erez
28. Brutalism – Idles
27. RINA – Rina Sawayama
26. CTRL – SZA
25. A Crow Looked At Me – Mount Eerie
24. Sleep Well Beast – The National
23. Thin Black Duke – Oxbow
22. Pleasure – Feist
21. Black Origami – Jlin
20. Lós Ańgeles – Rosalia
Twenty four year old Rosalia’s debut album revolutionised flamenco, bringing in the stylings of baroque American pop music, whilst retaining a sharp, Spanish sensibility. Rosalia’s seemingly bottomless lungs exercise power and restraint across the guitar stylings of collaborator Raul Refree, who’s orchestration of hushed tones paired with indulgent releases conveys a depth of romanticism which transcends the boundaries of genre or language: one of the year’s most mystical and seductive sets of songs.
19. Everything Now – Arcade Fire
“Every room in my house is filled with shit I couldn’t live without, I need everything now”
From the barnyard aesthetic of their seminal debut Funeral, to the disco mythology of 2013’s Reflektor; Arcade Fire threw almost all of it out the window on their polished and funky fifth LP. While lyrical concerns take a backseat, the band reel off one tight groove after another: ‘Everything Now’ sounds like pure disco ecstasy, while ‘Signs Of Life’ and ‘Electric Blue’ trade in sloppier rhythms, under the guise of uncharacteristically clean production and newly discovered pop sensibilities. The sneering cynicism that underlies much of the record gives way on the record’s closers – ‘Put Your Money On Me’ and ‘We Don’t Deserve Love’ – which are sincere and joyous ABBA-indebted pop songs, which typify a sharp and joyfully uncool new direction.
18. Uyai – Ibibio Sound Machine
On their second record, Ibibio Sound Machine found their groove. From the moment the LP starts the group finally live up to the promise of their name, bringing infectious rhythms from the worlds of Afrobeat and synth-pop, where every track is filled with itch-inducing melodies and infectious grooves. Every track is a party in miniature… Together, Uyai is an entire carnival.
17. Forced Witness – Alex Cameron
“Yeah there’s this woman on the Internet
Even if she’s some Nigerian guy
Yeah well you should read the poetry he speaks to me
I don’t care if they’re just beautiful lies
(Gonna love him with these beautiful lies)”
Somehow sounding as gross as the image which packages the music, Alex Cameron’s sophomore Forced Witness is perhaps the world’s most inviting slice of seedy posturing and internet obsession. Cameron paints a (worryingly) realistic portrait of a lurid LA romantic across ten hilarious and remarkably catchy homages to 80s yacht rock and power pop. Evocative and witty, on the album Cameron is a rural bumpkin for whom the Big City is nothing but a pain in his ‘Country Figs’, waiting for a lover who is “almost seventeen” and a chatroom user who doesn’t care if the woman with the beautiful eyes “is just some Nigerian guy”. The combination of oddity and sheer pop melody provides many a dilemma when it comes to singing out loud…
17. Elwan – Tiniwaren
With their Saharan home now under threat by insurgents, grammy-nominated desert rock group TInariwen decamped to Morocco and the Joshua Tree for their latest record. Powerful vocal performances lock into grooves as tightly as the melodies of the bands blazing rhythm guitar work. Lead single ‘Ténéré Tàqqàl’ mourns the loss of their home and no linguistic aid is needed to translate the sentiment behind their words. Kurt Vile teleports in from a parallel stoner rock universe to assist them and, like every rhythm and piece of percussion of the album, is absolutely assimilated into Elwan’s desert grooves.
15. Semper Femina – Laura Marling
“She keeps a pen behind her ear
In case she’s got something she really really needs to say
She puts it in a notepad
She’s gonna write a book someday
Of course the only part that I want to read
Is about her time spent with me
Wouldn’t you die to know how you’re seen
Are you getting away with who you’re trying to be?”
Following the overblown bombast of Short Movie, Laura Marling reacquaints herself with the power of modesty on Semper Femina, a record which privileges careful listening in serene evenings. Modesty is indeed the word of the hour, from the fragile plucked guitar to the sheer Englishness of ‘Wild One’, or the undramatic love expressed on ‘Nouel’ for a dear friend. Semper Femina is quaintly traditional, pretty in the way balladry has always been – but there is great beauty in it’s subtlety.
14. DAMN. – Kendrick Lamar
“He was lookin’ for some closure
Hopin’ I could bring him closer
To the spiritual, my spirit do know better, but I told him
I can’t sugarcoat the answer for you, this is how I feel:
If somebody kill my son, that mean somebody gettin’ killed”
2017 was the year Kendrick Lamar became an unstoppable cultural force. While the linear narratives of his first two masterpieces were defined by mutual-reliance, each song on DAMN, half of them hits, are wholes unto themselves. From ‘DNA’, to ‘HUMBLE’ to ‘ELEMENT’, each came with their own feature film in miniature, and are songs which defined the year from their ear-worm hooks to lyrics which, freed from the confines of a strict narrative, were free to become quotables and memes spread among millions. Each track named after a different emotional state, DAMN skewers it’s author and his ambition, the black pride and self improvement of To Pimp A Butterfly replaced with concerns of ego, wealth and pessimism. On the remarkable ‘XXX’, in spite of all careful reasoning on the previous LP, everything is thrown aside in the wake of the death of a friend’s son, and Lamar indulges in fantasies of vengeful violence. He did it too while compromising little of the lyrical quality which has always been his strong-suit: with greater pop sensibility than ever, K-Dot brought the mainstream into his world.
13. No Shape – Perfume Genius
“Look sometimes you forget
To just let me in a bit
Where do you go sometimes”
Perfume Genius continues his streak of stellar records, however (aside from their quality) Mike Hadreas’ work is becoming less and less predictable. From the burst of synths which overpowers ‘Otherside’, the opening song which appears at first to be another beautifully fragile ballad in his oeuvre, No Shape skims through neo-soul, Aladdin Sane-flavoured baroque pop, avant garde string pieces and even a section of yodelling. Yet strangely, Hadreas’ vision of a gentle soul struggling to stay atop of romance and an ever-changing world has never been more sharp or affecting.
12. Green Twins – Nick Hakim
“If there’s a God
I wonder what she looks like
I bet she looks like you”
Often overlooked, Green Twins has emerged as one of the most unique and creative albums of 2017. Nick Hakim has crafted a record which is an amalgamation of psychedelia, prog-rock, pop, soul, R&B, jazz and so much more. Clear influences can be heard from soul legends James Brown, Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield. However, Hakim has combined a classic sound with the instrumental intricacy and energy seen in modern artists such as Anderson Paak. and the Tame Impala’s recent effort Currents. What results is an album with beautiful melodies, pulsating percussion, moody strings and pure soul.
11. The Navigator – Hurray For The Riff Raff
“Colonized, and hypnotized, be something
Sterilized, dehumanized, be something
Well take your pay
And stay out the way, be something
Ah do your best
But fuck the rest, be something”
The Navigator is great American musical theatre which never was, or has yet to be… Filled with the angst of her hispanic brothers and sisters; concerns of inner-city living and the American way, each song is a story unto itself, told with a refreshing lightness of touch and filled to the brim with energy and life. From breezy indie guitar-work to harping choruses and the kind of percussive clatter you’d expect to find on a Tom Waits record, the music paints pictures even stripped of the pointed storytelling of Alynda Segarra. It is her remarkable voice and passionate lyricism which pull the project together however, and in ‘P’alante’ even provides the LP with the epic finale it deserves. A remarkable call for community and resilience.
10. Saturation I-III – BROCKHAMPTON
“Got a lot of things to say that I could never finish
Told my mama, “I’ll be back, just gotta kill another mission”
Gimme thirty seconds and I’ll make off with a billion
Every verse a heist for all your underlying feelings
Got canaries on the window, smell like roses on the ceiling”
BROCKHAMPTON did something remarkable in 2017. Doing as their albums titles’ promised, saturating the market with one hit song after another, they started the year as near-unheard of outsiders, and ended it with a Beats One interview and the eyes of rap fans everywhere on their next move. The sheer balls of it’s seventeen members leaving their homes jobless to move into a house and start this crazy project would have been for nought however if not for the raw energy which exudes from the near two and a half hours of music they released this year. BROCKHAMPTON assimilated the spirit of their Odd Future forefathers with a remarkable string of dynamic bars, charismatic vocals and smooth, auto-tuned ballads. A large quantity of the hardest bangers of the year can be found on these three records, from seventeen twenty year olds living in a house in LA.
9. Utopia – Bjork
“He reminds me of the love in me
I’m celebrating on a vibrancy
Sending each other MP3s
Falling in love to a song”
Bjork’s ninth, and longest, LP is by far her most ethereal. Song structures are set free, lyrics drift in an out of a fog of bird song and flute decoration. The cause of this utopian creation? Surprising to anyone who experienced the dark pits of her prior breakup record Vulnicura, it’s love. It’s creator went as far as to call Utopia her tinder album, and amongst an otherworldly atmosphere she sings of MP3’s and texting. The most remarkable achievement of the music though is that such modern concerns do not break the illusion of timelessness created by the chirping chorus of woodwinds and synths all around her. For Bjork, in the digital age the spark of love is as joyful as any other kind, and sits alongside her dreams of a better tomorrow.
8. New Energy – Four Tet
7. The OOZ – King Krule
“I seem to sink lower, gazing in the rays of the solar
In fact, we made a pact, but now I think it’s over
Red on white but he sipped on KA Soda
Fuck, that’s Coca-Cola, as TV sports the Olympic ebola
I think we might be bipolar, I think she thinks I’m bipolar”
Not since the junkyard poetry of Tom Waits have the blues sounded this low-down and dirty. But is it the blues? Sometimes Archie Marshall’s spat lyrics sound like rap, at others like punk… but wait! There’s a saxophone, and a hi-hat! The OOZ is, as promised by its title, a pulsating mass of sounds pulled from a dozen different genres, all dipped in the same nicotine-tar of Marshall’s British, working-class purview. Whether indulging in trip-hop or the blues, the whole record proceeds in a fog of introversion, with Marshall’s head thoroughly in the sand, where even obsession with another person is a deeply neurotic affair. Here there is no escape, or even the desire to look for it.
6. Hot Thoughts – Spoon
“Hot thoughts melt in my mind
Could be your accent mixing with mine
You got me uptight, twisting inside
Hot thoughts all in my mind and all of the time”
Subtly has been the enemy of Spoon, something emphasised by the band’s current producer Dave Fridmann. For the last twenty years, Spoon has easily been one of the most consistent and respected acts in Indie Rock, influencing a plethora of artists over the years and garnishing critical acclaim rarely matched by others. On the band’s newest project, subtly is thrown out the window to pave way for a kaleidoscopic experience of shimmering keyboard chords, visceral riffs, groovy basslines and pounding beats accompanied by Fridmann’s signature psychedelic production. Few records have effortlessly concocted electronic and rock music as Hot Thoughts, drawing inspiration from psychedelia, synth-pop, dance, ambient and even a hint of jazz. Hot Thoughts offers listeners musical craftsmanship rarely matched by their indie rock contemporaries which have fallen by the wayside in the current decade.
5. Big Fish Theory – Vince Staples
“Pray the police don’t come blow me down ’cause of my complexion
Everybody think they know me now
Cause I’m chicken-checkin’
Negro, you are not my homie
How dare you think it’s different”
Vince Staples has been no underdog to rap, collaborating with some of the genre’s most talented acts such as Earl Sweatshirt and Schoolboy Q to establish his reputation as one of the industry’s hottest acts. His highly acclaimed debut album, Summertime ’06, was intriguing and refreshing in a music scene saturated by trap beats and mumble rap. However, few predicted this hard-right swerve towards the creation of what is undoubtedly the most bombastic and sonically vicious hip-hop album in 2017. Big Fish Theory maintains Staples’ innovative and hard-hitting sound but unusually combines it with elements of dance, house, techno and trance. Whilst taking a step back from his signature flow and rapping style we’ve seen on previous projects, Staples’ still delivers some of the year’s hardest bars in tracks with sublime production from an all-star line up of producers such as Christian Rich, Justin Vernon and Flume.
4. Crack-Up – Fleet Foxes
After a contentious break, Fleet Foxes returned with an album defined by ebb-and-flow. The sweet rushes of luscious guitar chords and beatnik harmonies which defined them on their debut LP and sophmore Helplessness Blues are released only in waves. Such restraint has made their defining sound all the sweeter, moments of orchestrated bombast delivering euphoria and catharsis while drawing attention to the details of their songwriting in the way a wall of sound doesn’t allow for. Crack-Up is special because its moments of meditation are as important as its moments of release, charting the breakdown and recovery of friendship, and an intellectual neuroticism which is mature and slow burning. This is the kind of LP that sounds inoffensively pleasant upon arrival, only unveiling it’s deeply complex tapestry once one learns how to listen to it.
3. Pure Comedy – Father John Misty
“Oh, it’s just human, human nature
We’ve got these appetites to serve
You must not know the first thing about human beings
We’re the Earth’s most soulful predator”
There are few albums on this list as polarising as Pure Comedy. Unbounded in it’s ambition, attempting as it does to depict humanity from an objective point of view, commenting upon our religions, technological addictions and ego; and coming back with little positive to say. To some it is nothing but pretension, but Josh Tillman’s purview is expressly individual, filled with wit and incredibly careful lyricism, which imbues the sorry state of political culture in 2017 with a broad context. With splendid instrumentation, it essentially acts as a sales pitch for nihilism. A bitter pill is sweetened by the fact that nothing comes in for as much as a skewering than Tillman himself, who’s life is dissected on the remarkable ‘Leaving LA’. Sweetened by the wonderful string arrangement of Gavin Bryars, it contains the kind of self-flagellation only matched this year if you name is Shawn Carter. Tillman’s voice is sharper than ever, with a range and exuberance which makes him one of the most talented vocalists working today. Pure Comedy works because it is a rich portrait, zooming out to the origins of man as a species, and back into the very heart of his own relationship, in which he finds at least a little salvation.
2. Scum Fuck Flower Boy – Tyler, The Creator
“They say the loudest in the room is weak
That’s what they assume, but I disagree
I say the loudest in the room
Is prolly the loneliest one in the room (that’s me)”
I wasn’t excited to hear Tyler The Creator had a new record on the way, and I also wasn’t the only one. Being the right age at the right time for Odd Future to be an adolescent fascination, with Bastard and Goblin – containing lyrics which got their creator banned from the UK – acting as a twisted middle finger to the older generations. Really though, much of his early work was shallow; it’s horrors nothing more than B-movie fodder and the sheen having rather worn off the group’s contrarian schtick. Scum Fuck Flower Boy might as well be the work of a new artist, and in a way it is. Tyler’s admirable love for the basic tenants of soul music (see his Twitter for all-caps tweets about synthesiser tones and chord changes) have come to fruition suddenly – Tyler now has the finest ear for melody in hip-hop, and this album is filled with sticky hooks and gorgeous instrumentation. Flanked by some of the most recognisable voices working today – including Pharrel, Kali Uchis and Frank Ocean – Tyler’s most significant growth comes in his lyricism, and personality. Instead of hiding behind the incoherent Golf Wang narrative, Tyler opens up in a way few artists are capable of, with confessions of the loneliness of his wealthy life and the shame of hiding his sexuality being far more unsettling than the goofy characters of his early work. Tyler has translated his energy and creativity into actual expression; Scum Fuck Flower Boy is a rounded portrait of the man, and its sentiments about love and memory at the album’s culmination are as touching comments on romance as any that have been heard this year – from the very last place you’d expect to find them.
1. American Dream – LCD Soundsystem
“Everybody’s singing the same song
It goes “tonight, tonight, tonight, tonight, tonight, tonight”
I never realized these artists thought so much about dying”
From their inception as a band, to their disbandment and later revival, under James Murphy, LCD Soundsystem haven’t made their impeccable discography so far through grand statements or state-of-the-nation commentary, but through passion and a sheer dedication to songcraft. Wearing the clear influences of Talking Heads, Joy Division, Bowie and The Cure so firmly on their sleeves, sometimes they seem to be a band that makes music about music above anything else. If that all sounds rather dry; it doesn’t play that way. LCD Soundsystem’s songs are layered and exhilarating, filled with relentless rhythms and grooves, sharp and unconventional percussion and a thrilling eclecticism. Just listen to the pulsating groove of ‘Tonite’ (an unlikely, now Grammy-nominated sleeper-hit), the chill inducing synth thuds which break out in ‘How Do You Sleep’ – which sound like the derailment of a freight-train – the furious chug of ‘Call The Police’ or the hair-thrashing breakdown of ‘Emotional Haircut’. American Dream is the most sonically fidgety and unnerving record of the usually-joyfull band’s career, and appropriately it’s lyrical concerns are filled with angst and lost romance. Murphy is often found alone, spending the day in bed, or rueing lost friendships, or the disenfranchisement of an entire generation… It’s also Murphy’s most restrained work, bookended as it is by the dream-like ‘Oh Baby’, and the mournful ‘Blackscreen’, a twelve-minute cut which finally jettisons the record into space in its closing movement. Released into a hostile environment, with much of the band’s own fan base polarised by their premature reunion, Murphy’s songwriting became more direct, purposeful and entertaining as if to prove the doubters wrong. That, they most certainly did.
List compiled by Liam Inscoe – Jones, James Noble & Hassan Qadir