It’s time for the annual round-up of the our favourite full-length albums of 2017, this year picked by Buster Stonham and Piers Barber. The rundown this year is punctuated by unexpected returns to form, gratefully abandoned retirements, and reputation-enhancing step-ups in quality. Our full lists from years gone by can be found here, here, here, here, here, here and here.
Nathan Fake – Providence ; Ikonika – Distractions ; Shed – The Final Experiment ; Dark Sky – Othona ; Laurel Halo – Dust ; Marika Hackman – I’m Not Your Man ; Mount Kimbie – Love What Survives ; Dizzee Rascal – Raskit ; Sherwood & Pinch – Man Vs. Sofa ; Grandbrothers – Open ; Bicep – Bicep ; AJ Tracey – Secure The Bag! ; Taloboman – The Night Land ; Four Tet – New Energy ; Ozel AB – Workshop 24 ; Hype Williams – Rainbow Edition ; Radio Slave – Feel The Same ; Mavis Staples – If All I Was Was Black ; Zomby – Mercury’s Rainbow ; Octo Octa – Where Are We Going? ; Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – The French Press ; Dauwd – Theory of Colours ; Fever Ray – Plunge ; The Horrors – V ; Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings – Soul Of A Woman ; Karen Gwyer – Rembo ; Perfume Genius – No Shape ; Pessimist – Pessimist ; Special Request – Belief System
10. St. Vincent – MASSEDUCTION
In her fifth studio album, Annie Clark has created one of the most direct, enjoyable and important albums of 2017. The kitsch sleazy album cover nods to the album’s overall theme of female objectification, but it’s the little moments that really bring the album to life: the insanely catchy chorus to “Pills” – which I still can’t get prefect after 100 listens – the fuzz drenched guitar breakdown in “Los Angeles”, or the punctuating vocals crying “girls” and “boys” that signal the chorus of ‘Sugarboy’. Clark retains the quirky, angular sound that has made her so loved, but here has added a more rounded variety of styles: ‘Savior’s’ jazzy melody owes much to Clark’s Love This Giant side project from 2012 with David Byrne, whilst ‘New York’ feels more like a timeless ballad. All these different elements would sound schizophrenic coming from any other artist, but from St. Vincent we wouldn’t have it any other way. Buster Stonham
9. Peverelist – Tesselations
It was another year of unrelenting quality from Peverelist‘s ever-compelling Livity Sound label, with memorable experimental releases from the likes of Forest Drive West, Mosca and Simo Cell demonstrating how the label’s distinct DNA could be pushed and pulled into imaginative new shapes while still staying loyal to its original characteristics: pulsing, urgent techno with a sense of funk and swing. But it was the label boss’s own full-length release – his first in eight years – that formed the year’s memorable centrepiece. As was the case with Kowton’s album last year, it’s a privilege to hear this artist’s ideas teased out over the course of a full album, and in tracks like ‘Still Early’ and ‘Under Clearing Skies’ it also plays host to some of the year’s best club tracks. Pulsating, exciting dance music from one of Britain’s most underrated producers. Piers Barber
8. Public Service Broadcasting – Every Valley
The art of the concept album had dropped out of fashion, so it was only natural that a group of London hipsters decided to give it a revival. The rise and fall of the South Wales mining community may not seem the natural choice of subject matter for a London based electro-indie outfit, but in Every Valley Public Service Broadcasting have created a dazzling, richly textured and emotionally charged ode to a forgotten time and place in modern Britain. Recorded entirely on location in the quintessential Welsh valley town of Ebbw Vale, the album samples news broadcasts, local interviews and sounds of industry from the town itself. This is all built over simple guitar and synth melodies that provide the momentum of the story the album weaves: full of energy and optimism on tracks like ‘Progress’; moving to anger and chaos on ‘All Out’; to a sense of quiet resignation on ‘You + Me’. Every Valley avoids the pitfalls of feeling trite or exploitative, instead brandishing a special sense of pride and defiance. Buster Stonham
7. King Krule – The OOZ
I’m pretty fascinated by Archy Marshall’s evocative and utterly idiosyncratic world, all tarmac, insomnia, and grotty kebab shops. The OOZ is a lengthy and at times rather shapeless record: a push-back against the hype which greeted his first album Six Feet Beneath The Moon and brought apparently unwanted attention from the likes of Beyonce and Frank Ocean. But The OOZ (so named because of Marshall’s fascination with bodily fluids and – it turns out – an apt encapsulation of the album’s interest in the nitty-gritty of human behaviour) is still alarmingly successful in seamlessly immersing the listener into Marshall’s murky London (“this city of parasites”) and even murkier internal monologue. The instantly recognisable King Krule vocal timbre and guitar chords are still here – all tastefully buried in muddy dubstep echoes – but there’s also an accomplished smattering of post-punk (‘Dum Surfer’) and jazz (‘Midnight 01 (Deep Sea Diver)’) which hints at further innovation still to come. Piers Barber
6. Call Super – Arpo
Joe Seaton has emerged as one of the leading minds of electronic music in the late 2010s, with his extended DJ sets alongside the likes of Objekt this year earning a deserved reputation as the stuff of true connoisseurs. His second album Arpo followed closely on the heels of a 12″ collaboration with Beatrice Dillon – but while that release contained two lovely muscular chunks of techno, his solo album is yet more understated, with meandering bass beats and twinkling electronics creating a unique jazz-influenced after-hours experience. ‘No Wonder We Go Under’ and ‘Ekko Ink’ are particularly infectious, while the clarinet in ‘Out To Rust’ (played by Seaton’s dad, no less) closes the album with fascinating sense of dread. Tactile and subtle, Arpo a real one of a kind collection. Piers Barber
5. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
Kendrick Lamar has become one of those rare artists that everyone follows, even if they’re not a fan, just to see what he’s going to do next. This time the answer, it turned out, was a return to a more stripped back, intensely personal rap style, with DAMN.‘s complex tracks including references to bible verses on ‘Lust‘, the calling out of other rappers for obsession with social media on ‘Element’, and musings on the trappings of fame on ‘Humble’. As with previous offerings, DAMN. is a star studded affair, with appearances from Rhianna on ”Loyalty’, the album’s most chart friendly track, while U2 somehow successfully pull off a politically motivated attack on Donald Trump’s America in ‘XXX’. DAMN. has only further cemented Kendrick Lamar as the best rapper in the world – the only question that remains is: what next? Buster Stonham
4. Lee Gamble – Mnestic Pressure
Lee Gamble, creator of 2012’s impressive Diversions 1994-1996, remains an artist still shamelessly yet tastefully stuck in the past. Mnsetic Pressure (the word ‘mnestic’ refers to memory) is a compelling scan of the wreckage of the last three decades of UK dance music – including hardcore, IDM, dub, jungle, 2-step and soundsystem culture – which Gamble remains so hopelessly fascinated by. Smeared with thick Hyperdub fingerprints, the album is made up of snippets of fully formed beats, with tracks comprised of elements which initially sound hopelessly out of sync but then expertly align into perfect grooves seemingly stumbled across by accident – before deconstructing and collapsing in on themselves again. It’s an exquisite headphone listen. Piers Barber
3. The National – Sleep Well Beast
The National have never really been known for their experimentation, mostly sticking to a well-worn but successful formula of blues-inspired melodies coupled with smart lyrics of middle class melancholia and introspection. While the latter remains here in spades, Sleep Well Beast represents a musical shake-up, introducing new drum loops and synths to the band’s sound which add intriguing layers to tracks like ‘Walk It Back’. Still, familiar sounds remain, with raucous belter ‘Turtleneck’ echoing the likes of ‘Mistaken for Strangers’ or ‘Mr. November’ from previous albums. The end result is a beautiful album perfect for self-reflection either at home with a bottle of wine or on a long walk through the cold grey city streets – and it’s only The National for whom this is a major compliment. Buster Stonham
2. Actress – AZD
The release of AZD came complete with the compulsory Actress outpouring of posturing and intellectual musings: this record is inspired – apparently – by the material of chrome and obscure outsider art. But look past this inevitable baggage and accomplished beats abound, many of which are delivered with a cheeky wink and sense of pure fun: ‘RUNNER’, for example, is a wonderfully funky slice of bouncing synths, while ‘DANCING IN THE SMOKE’ is a squelchy rhythmic masterclass. Then there’s the staggering ‘FAURE IN CHROME’, which takes a sample of romantic composer Gabriel Fauré’s ‘Requiem’ and soaks it in electronic feedback – a truly mesmeric bit of music which hinted at the artist’s subsequent work with London Contempoary Orchestra later in the year. After the difficult, inaccessible atmospheres contained in 2014’s Ghettoville, AZD represents an enduring return to form. Read our full review of AZD here. Piers Barber
1. Slowdive – Slowdive
A mere 22 years since their last release, shoegaze heroes Slowdive’s gorgeous self-titled release constituted the most triumphant return of 2017. Ethereal opener ‘Slomo’ stops you in your tracks – backed up by a rock-solid wall of guitars, vocalist Rachel Goswell’s high pitched denouement floors me every single time. In ‘Sugar for the Pill’ and ‘No Longer Making Time’ there are great accessible dream pop tunes here, too, which happily render irrelevant conventional criticisms of shoegaze’s self-congratulatory introspection.
Elsewhere, ‘Go Get It’ sounds like a great Talk Talk track (a big compliment in my book), while the hypnotic piano of closer ‘Falling Ashes’ ensures the whole thing lingers in the memory for far longer than the mere 46 minute running time. Slowdive is emotional, urgent, and represents a remarkable and rare thing: a comeback record which contributes deeply to an important legacy – rather than just uncomfortably messing one all up. Piers Barber
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