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29th Dec 2017

The Top 10 Albums of 2017

Dave Hanratty

Best albums decade

A good year for music, if not necessarily a great one.

Perhaps 2016 was too kind to us, music-wise.

It’s not that 2017 was bad or anything, just that there was a notable lack of flawless gems.

However, it’s one of those ‘the good ones were especially good’ situations, as the year served up a clutch of especially excellent efforts worth making a lot of noise about.

From dazzling debuts to long-established artists scaling new creative peaks, here’s the Top 10 of 2017…

#10. SZA | CTRL


R&B enjoyed daring new life in 2017, as SZA seized the spotlight in blistering fashion with her full-length debut proper.

Relentlessly confident in its confessional approach, CTRL is the sound of rich ownership as its author finds security when laying raw insecurities bare.

Heartbreak, betrayal, and the politics of hook-up culture abound as SZA lends honeyed tones to unflinching adult fare. CTRL isn’t interested in sugar-coating, and it’s all the better for it.

Guest stars add textures – a Kendrick Lamar feature when he’s in the mood is always welcome – but never blur SZA’s exceptionally commanding vision.

Key Tracks: ‘Love Galore’, ‘Drew Barrymore’, ‘The Weekend’

#9. Converge | The Dusk In Us


Metalcore’s finest show no signs of letting up nine albums in.

The Massachusetts wrecking crew are never likely to trouble mainstream radio, nor do they have any real interest in doing so.

If you’re entirely unfamiliar with Converge, The Dusk In Us is a perfectly fine place to start. And hey, you’ll know in about 60 seconds or less if it’s for you or not.

Converge specialise in violent expression, and it’s to their credit that they continue to carve out fruitful new avenues after almost 30 years.

Vocalist Jacob Bannon is as alive as ever as he contemplates fatherhood and the crumbling world around him, conjuring dramatic imagery with the sharpest colours imaginable.

Key Tracks: ‘A Single Tear’, ‘The Dusk In Us’, ‘Reptilian’

#8. Stormzy | Gang Signs & Prayer


In which grime goes widescreen as Stormzy speaks truth to power, peers, rivals, critics, and a growing legion of disciples.

Equal parts manifesto, social commentary and autobiography, Gang Signs & Prayer is one of the most singular listens of 2017, taking you into its world immediately and refusing to hold your hand.

GSAP’s clash of confrontation and communion never feels like a messy collision, thanks almost entirely to Stormzy’s ability to bounce from one vivid narrative to another.

If the cliché about putting absolutely everything you’ve got into your debut album is true, Gang Signs & Prayer is one of the more striking recent examples. The pressure is already on for the follow-up, but you wouldn’t bet against him.

Key Tracks: ‘First Things First’, ‘Big For Your Boots’, ‘Cigarettes & Cush’

#7. Julie Byrne | Not Even Happiness

Julie Byrne

There’s a true spellbinding quality about Julie Byrne’s second album, and more than a hint of deception too.

The New York singer-songwriter is adept at capturing delicate details and dressing them up with awe. Tiny worlds are created in short, breathy numbers, with a blink-and-you’ll-miss it effect for company.

Not Even Happiness sounds, quite literally, like a dream. Its blend of folk and new age suits everyday stories on a record that sounds incredibly lived-in, despite taking up a little over 30 minutes of your time.

Key Tracks: ‘Follow My Voice’, ‘Natural Blue’, ‘I Live Now as a Singer’

#6. Father John Misty | Pure Comedy

Father John Misty

Father John Misty went full Father John Misty on his epic account of how we’re all fucked but you can come to terms with it if you simply decide to welcome oblivion.

Or something along those lines, anyway.

The man born Joshua Tillman is probably sick to death of the ‘Is he playing a character?’ discussion, but Pure Comedy doubles down on his withering brand of sharp satire. There’s also a strange comfort to be found at the end of this colossal journey.

At its highest peaks, Pure Comedy recalls the best of Elton John – the title track in particular feels like an update of ‘Rocket Man’ – as Tillman swaps out breezy Americana vibes for a more luxurious production.

It’s self-indulgent in the extreme, but that’s really rather the point.

Key Tracks: ‘Pure Comedy’, ‘Things It Would Be Helpful To Know Before The Revolution’, ‘So I’m Growing Old on Magic Mountain’

#5. Vince Staples | Big Fish Theory

Vince Staples

The scary thing about Vince Staples is that it feels like he’s really only getting started.

Big Fish Theory follows up on multi-layered 2015 double-album debut Summertime ’06 and last year’s engaging Prima Donna EP by sidestepping convention on a record that incorporates ’90s dance elements in its bid to expand the hip-hop palate.

Assisted by the likes of Sophie, Flume, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and the spiritual presence of Amy Winehouse, the Long Beach native takes flight once more, revealing a wealth of pop sensibilities in his locker.

All of this sounds like it comes so easy to Staples, yet there’s a pointed focus at play throughout BFT’s brief running time.

As a snapshot of where he is right now, it’s a spiky, infectious testament to one of the most arresting voices around.

Key Tracks: ‘Big Fish’, ‘Yeah Right’, ‘Bagbak’

#4. The Horrors | V

The Horrors

Five albums down, The Horrors are arguably the best band in all of the UK and Ireland.

Having initially made headlines as something of a loud joke outfit in a mid-noughties dominated by NME-flavoured landfill indie, The Horrors would shake off the fright make-up in favour of a more artful, considered approach. 

Over time, they would emerge as a modern-day splice of The Human League, Simple Minds, Soft Cell and New Order, albeit one that operates in a distinctively ethereal and wistful realm.

Assisted by super-producer Paul Epworth, V feels like the culmination of a great undertaking, one years in development, richly realised and still searching until the final note plays.

V is big and bright, intimate and dark, stadium-filling and deeply personal in equal measure. As with The Horrors themselves, it’s something of a knowing, defiant contradiction. A quite glorious one.

Key Tracks: ‘Machine’, ‘Ghost’, ‘Something To Remember Me By’

#3. Kelela | Take Me Apart


That bit up top about R&B sounding healthier and more interesting than ever? Further indisputable evidence, were it needed, comes in the form Kelela’s long-awaited debut.

Take Me Apart is a technical marvel, gliding from one neon-drenched after-midnight story to another as a feeling of musical quicksand takes hold.

As with the SZA album, this is an album of ownership, one that bears emotions as weapons on a battlefield that ultimately burns bright.

Little details dot the lush landscape, but Kelela’s voice is the leading light here; capturing hearts, minds and a sound as authentic as it is unique.

Key Tracks: ‘Frontline’, ‘LMK’, ‘Blue Light’

#2. Kendrick Lamar | DAMN.

Kendrick Lamar

On which Kendrick Lamar cements his legacy with the kind of powerhouse, genre-elevating masterpiece that threatens to shut down the ‘Greatest Of All Time’ conversation for good.

Granted, as long as Illmatic is in the world, that debate should continue to rage but who’s likely to challenge K-Dot when he’s in such scintillating form?

Lean in comparison to 2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly but no less compelling or culturally significant, DAMN. immediately creates a rich fantasy world only for Kendrick to quickly shatter the illusion as he takes aim at his critics, turning ignorant words back upon them as a furious flow seizes control. 

From there it’s a tour de force as Lamar contemplates life, death and the sins in between that make us all too flawed and human. Intelligent and emotive, DAMN. is the sound of an artist realising just how important they are to those who listen.

Oh, and it works in reverse, too.

Key Tracks: ‘DNA.’, ‘PRIDE.’, ‘HUMBLE.’, ‘DUCKWORTH.’

#1. The War on Drugs | A Deeper Understanding

The War on Drugs

Few albums this year achieved such a genuinely transcendent effect as A Deeper Understanding.

It’s easy to be cynical about The War on Drugs, and any arguments that Adam Granduciel is just doing an extremely committed Tom Petty or Bruce Springsteen impression definitely have merit.

But goddamn, it sounds amazing.

This is music to sink deeply into, music to get utterly and totally lost within. Granduciel is essentially playing with musical building blocks here, laying familiar, warm, guitar-driven foundations that allow for composed adventure and exploration.

A Deeper Understanding isn’t about trickery, or even showing off. Instead. it is lined with stately songwriting and a rich sense of place.

The album asks, politely, for patience – it’s hard to imagine it demanding anything of the listener – and in turn, elegant rewards burst and bloom at precise, wondrous moments.

Everything here is by dedicated design, yet the worlds on display are always inviting, always expanding, and forever in search of the shock of the new.

Key Tracks: ‘Up All Night’, ‘Pain’, ‘Strangest Thing’

Clip via The War on Drugs