Best Albums of 2017

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Well it was a good year. Musically, at least. Plenty of exciting debuts and breakthrough acts, some great albums by already established artists, a few dissappointments along the way, and of course a lot of promise and excitement about records yet to be released in 2018. Here’s a quick roundup of albums I loved this year. Keep in mind it’s all pretty subjective and I also might have missed something along the way.

Honorable mentions:

25. QTY – QTY

24. Bastard Disco – Warsaw Wasted Youth

23. Algiers – The Unerside of Power

22. Jaden Smith – SYRE

21. At the Drive-In – in•ter a•li•a 

20. Ride – Weather Diaries

19. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.

18. Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory

17. Spoon – Hot Thoughts

16. Lee Ranaldo – Electric Trim

15. N*E*R*D – No_One Ever Really Dies

14. Sparks – Hippopotamus

13. U2 – Songs of Experience

12. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Polygondwanaland

11. Beck – Colors

Aaaaand here’s the top 10:

10. Slowdive – Slowdive

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The year marked two comeback albums from important shoegaze bands. While Ride’s record had somewhat lukewarm reception, this one was universally praised, and deservedly so. It shows that the band’s sound hasn’t aged at all, and is a great addition to thier stellar discography.

9. Wolf Alice – Visions of A Life

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It certainly has its flaws, and I still think that the band really should develop their signature style by now, but Wolf Alice’s second full-lenght album is a beautifully crafted mixture of various styles and moods. Indie, shoegaze, punk – it doesn’t matter what genre they play, they sound great anyway.

8. Brand New – Science Fiction

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Haunting, powerful and moving, this is more than an album -it’s an experience. Its lenght may make it a bit overwhelming at times, but it fully engages with the listener and creates a unique, depressive feel. It takes a certain mood to fully appreciate it, but it’s well worth it.

7. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Who Built The Moon?

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A brave move from Noel, it seems like he finally is ready to reject all the expectations of people who are still stuck in the Oasis era, and blossom as an ambitious musician that knows no boundaries. It’s still a cautious attempt, but most of it is very impressive nonetheless.

6. Queens of the Stone Age – Villains

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This one received a lot of negative press, in my opinion unfairly. I fell in love with Mark Ronson’s production on this album, and the band’s sound getting “lighter” is not a bad thing at all. While not perfect, this record is full of extremely well-written and brilliantly performed tracks.

5. Alexandra Savior – Belladonna of Sadness

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I said it before, I’ll say it a million times – this is the best debut of the year. Wonderfully moody, it combines brilliant production and instrumentals with even better songwriting, fully showcasing just how great of an artist Savior can be in the future. Instantly rewarding, it gets better with every listen.

4. Liam Gallagher As You Were

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Who would have guessed that the younger of the Gallagher brothers would be the one to release the better albums this year? As You Were is everything you would expect from our kid, not experimental in any way, but gorgeously triumphant and melodic all the way. I did not expect this to be good, but instead I got the most pleasant of surprises.

3. Big K.R.I.T. – 4eva Is A Mighty Long Time

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A double album filled with all kinds of brilliant songs, from explosive bangers to introspective songs and some experimental sounds, this is an eclectic collection of everything great about modern hip hop. Risks were taken, but it has well and truly paid off – a complete record.

2. Brockhampton – Saturation III

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These guys owned the year, period. Every single album they dropped was straight fire, but this one just blew my mind – passionate, energetic and eclectic, this is the definitive rap record of the year. However, I do believe that Brockhampton can do even better, so expect to see them here next year

1. The Horrors – V

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No album has impressed me more this year – it sounds like a band at the peak of their creative power, full of new ideas and inspirations. The Horrors showed everybody how to bounce back after a mediocre album. V is just so amazing and colorful (even though the colours are mostly shades of black) that I just could’t put any other abum here.

And that’s pretty much it. If you want, share your hopes and predictions for 2018 in the comments. I have a feeling it will be a very satisfying year when it comes to music. Happy New Year everybody!

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Brockhampton – Saturation III

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It’s the middle of December, everybody is busy finishing their respective end-of-the-year lists, it seems nothing interesting will happen. Then suddenly one album drops, and it fucks up everyone’s lists, forcing them to put it on top (or near the top). And the world’s hottest boyband did just that. And I’m so glad they did.

Sure, the release of Saturation III wasn’t all that sudden – the group made huge waves with two previous albums released this year, and many were expecting the third installment to be just as good – if not better. And it is better. Absolutely no filler, great songwriting, the flow of the album is brilliant, and so are the lyrics, videos and so on. But before I get carried away with all that praise, let’s dissect the music.

BOOGIE is the best possible choice for an opening track. Frantic rhythm, saxophone mixed with police sirens – it hits you right in the face like a truck. On top of that, you get some of the catchiest verses of the year. It’s not just about high-speed bangers though – they can get more reflective (LIQUID, STUPID), fierce (the first part of SISTER/NATION – it sounds like Death Grips for a while) or obscenely catchy (the chorus of HOTTIE is so damn sweet).

The production is stellar, some of the best instrumentals are ALASKA, the jazzy licks of JOHNNY or the guitar on TEAM that slowly gets submerged in more and more reverb to the point where it sounds almost shoegazy. All of the members bring something unique when it comes to the flow, but Joba shines especially bright, mostly due to his unpredictability – from the wild screams on BOOGIE to the stunning first verse of SISTER, he’s excellent all the way through. Kevin Abstract and Matt Champion never fail to deliver a great hook and Merlyn namedropping Anthony Fantano has already been hailed as the greatest music moments of the year (the meme potential is virtually endless).

I’m really tempted to give this album a perfect 10, but somehow I feel like this isn’t the best Brockhampton can do. They showed steady progress throughout the Saturation trilogy and if they can keep this up then Team Effort scheduled for next year may be a decade-defining album.

9/10

N*E*R*D – No_One Ever Really Dies

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When I glanced upon the tracklist before listening to this album for the first time I was kinda worried. Yeah, I know Pharrell has lots of friends in the music industry, but I was afraid that so many guests would overshadow the sound of N*E*R*D and make this album a compilation of sorts, just like the Gorillaz album earlier this year. Luckily, it’s not the case, as the guest stars bring something new to the table every time, but without stealing the spotlight.

The perfect example is the lead single Lemon: while Rihanna’s verse is so damn good (what she did on Kendrick’s LOYALTY. wasn’t a fluke, that girl’s got bars!) it’s just a tasty addition to a song that’s great anyway – the energetic pulse that drives this song captures your attention right from the start. And it gets better from here. Deep Down Body Thirst has a brilliant organic sound, hooks galore on Voila and 1000 – that’s four potential hit singles in a row, and we’re just getting started.

Don’t Don’t Do It has a strong political message, amplified by Frank Ocean’s vocals and an astonishing verse by Kendrick Lamar at the end. In a time when a lot of musicians try to take a more conscious approach with various effects (looking at you, Eminem), Pharrell manages to get the essential balance just right. The lyrics are genuinely conscious, but they don’t seem forced or overblown. This is still a party record, but the way it engages with the listener makes it pretty special.

The second half of the album is more experimental: Kites featuring Kendrick and M.I.A. is a particularly weird moment, but it works out well. We also get long and monumental Lightning Fire Magic Prayer and the frenetic Rollinem 7’s. Not everything is as good though: ESP is a bit too repetitive, and Lifting You is a really forgettable attempt at a Jamaican soud (the presence of Ed Sheeran doesn’t help). But that’s just two songs, and it doesn’t really affect the album’s overall flow and sound in a bad way.

Everything is on point here: the beats, the vocals, the guest appearances, the ratio of party subjects to the political ones. Great stuff.

8/10

QTY – QTY

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While they may not be a household name just yet, on their debut album QTY showcase a set of skills that leads to only one logical conclusion – they will be huge soon. And even though the band’s sound isn’t exactly original, it has so much style and is so effortlessly cool I don’t really mind that.

Fot starters, Dan Lardner’s vocals share a very close resemblance to Julian Casablancas (and further down this road, Lou Reed). And we all know very well just how good a voice like that can sound when mixed with raw and energetic guitars and minimalistic production (Suede’s Bernard Butler did a great job here). QTY refresh this idea by bringing in a female backing vocalist that makes the songs more warm and dreamy (on New Beginnings the roles switch, and it’s Alex Niemetz that takes the lead).

What impressed me most about this thing is the songwriting – Michael and Dress/Undress are just two examples of glorious choruses, ready to be an instant indie classic. Lardner’s lyricism is on point too, with clever lines about personal relations and living in a big city.

At just 30 minutes short, the album kinda feels like a teaser for big things to come. It may not be perfect (it’s a debut after all) but with this amount of talent it’s just a matter of time before QTY release and album that will take the world by storm.

8/10

U2 – Songs of Experience

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After the iTunes fiasco and everything surrounding it, I felt like Songs of Innocence was the beginning of the end of U2’s career. It was boring, overproduced, cheesy – quite probably my least favourite album from Bono and company. Therefore, I listened to this new record out of pure curiosity (how bad is it gonna be?, I wondered). But then I listened to it again. And again and again. Turns out that somehow, against all odds, U2 has released a bloody good record.

Of course, the band aren’t inventing anything new, so if you hate them with a passion this album won’t change your mind. These songs draw inspirations from all phases of their career, from the early, post-punk days (Red Flag Day would be a perfect fit on War), through the experimental period of Achtung Baby (Lights of Home), all the way to the present day stadium rock stage (You’re The Best Thing About Me). Bono’s voice is as powerful as it always was, Edge’s guitar tinkering is still top class (see Summer of Love or The Little Things That Give You Away for evidence).

There are some surprises though: Kendrick Lamar makes a brief appearance to deliver a passionate speech between Get Out of Your Own Way and American Soul, and this second track is a little problematic. Remember XXX from K-Dot’s DAMN. earlier this year? Of course you do, it’s a brilliant track, and one of the things that made it so great was the haunting melody sung by Bono right at the end. Well, turns out this melody is the verse of American Soul, and it sounds totally different in this new context. Maybe it’s because I am so familiar with it in a different sonic landscape, but it really puts me off, and takes a while to get used to, not sure if that was necessary (the song is pretty cool though).

The Showman is another surprise – a really playful, beatlesque gem of a song, with a bit of irony in the lyrics – I wasn’t expecting that, but it works out great (and it’s so damn catchy too). The following tracks are more conventional: monumental The Blackout (great bassline) and the beautiful 13 (There Is A Light) are the highlights of this part of the album.

I expected a colossal failure, but somehow Songs of Experience turned out to be a welcome return to form for one of the most important groups in music history.

8/10