The 10 Best Albums Of 2017
What's your #1?
It’s fair to say most end-of-year lists have opened with a variation on: “2017 was a barely avoided apocalypse, but…” So how about we skip straight to the good stuff. 2017: a damn fine year for albums!
While it’s easier than ever to cherry-pick songs for your playlists, some albums still demand our full attention. In narrowing all those standouts to a tight ten, we’ve had to leave out excellent LPs from the likes of Vince Staples, Father John Misty, Fever Ray and King Krule. But your time is precious at this point in the year, so we’ve kept it compact.
Read on for ten albums we’re taking with us into 2018. (Well, time will tell on Drake’s.)
The 10 Best Albums Of 2017
10. Drake — More Life
After the navel-gazing slog that was Views, More Life delivered on its title. The playlist/mixtape/album is light on its feet where its predecessor was leaden, rolling a few of Drake’s favourite things (UK rappers, house tempos, comical boasting, Kanye and co.) into a crowd-pleasing whole. Most of its hits are overplayed by now, but Drake would consider that a job well done.
Add to Playlist: There remains something goofy and winning about Drake’s Caribbean ode ‘Blem’.
9. KLLO — Backwater
From the moment Chloe Kaul’s honeyed vocals meet the skittering two-step rhythm on ‘Downfall’, Kllo’s Backwater has cast its spell. The Melbourne duo make no secret of their influences, with unmistakable echoes of Little Dragon, Kelela and The xx through their output. But it’s easy to look past familiar touchstones when the songs are this seductive.
Add to Playlist: The album’s centerpiece, ‘Last Yearn’, builds from intimate R&B to a Four Tet-like chug over five meticulous minutes.
8. LCD Soundsystem — American Dream
2017 marked the full-throated return of LCD Soundsystem, and an end to our fears it was only a cash-grab comeback. The festival circuit is inarguably better with James Murphy’s cowbell solos and camera phone rants, but the real highpoint of LCD’s year is American Dream. Fuelled by Murphy’s wit and worries, the album refuses to retread the hits.
Add to Playlist: In the pantheon of LCD song titles, there’s none more LCD than ‘Emotional Haircut’. It’s the complete package: propulsive, urgent and perfect for live encores.
7. Björk — Utopia
It’s a very Björk move to show up gracefully in November with one of the year’s best albums. Working again with the electronic shapeshifter Arca (a like-minded collaborator if ever there was one), Björk is wide open on Utopia. She draws on lush electronics and even a 12-piece Icelandic flute section, but the album’s best instrument is her peerless voice.
Add to Playlist: Utopia is Björk’s longest album to date, and the near-ten-minute ‘Body Memory’ is its standout epic.
6. Sampha — Process
Sampha released Process back in February, an ugly month in an ugly year. The album is deeply personal, drawn from the grief of losing his parents, but its delicacy and warmth hit a wider chord. The songs on Process are a balm for anxious times, proving there’s still space for beauty in a sea of shit.
Add to Playlist: One of the pacier songs on Process, ‘Blood On Me’ is Sampha in full flight.
5. Kelela — Take Me Apart
Following her Cut 4 Me mixtape and Hallucinogen EP, fans were very ready for a Kelela album. Released on Warp (home to such genre-benders as Aphex Twin and Flying Lotus), Take Me Apart pairs bedroom R&B with pulsing electronics from collaborators Jam City and Ariel Rechtshaid. The album is remarkable for how well Kelela’s voice (and slinky subject matter) is matched by the production at every turn.
Add to Playlist: There’s a lot here to love, but ‘Blue Light’ pairs Kelela’s lithe vocals with particularly punchy production. The video is great too.
4. SZA — CTRL
2017 was a thrilling year for R&B albums, with real keepers from the likes of Kelela, Kehlani, Sampha, Syd and Dvsn. Arguably the biggest success story is SZA’s debut CTRL, which arrived (at last) in June to wide acclaim. Despite head-turning guest spots from Travis Scott and Kendrick Lamar, CTRL belongs to its creator. With her dexterous voice and sugarcoat-free songwriting, SZA has really come in hot.
Add to Playlist: The one-two punch of ‘Prom’ and ‘The Weekend’.
3. St. Vincent – Masseduction
Three years after a deserved Grammy win for the self-titled St. Vincent, Annie Clark returned with quite a different album. Like Lorde’s Melodrama, MASSEDUCTION calls on Jack Antonoff, who adds ’80s synth sheen to Clark’s celebrated guitar playing. The album’s tone is often arch and winking (see ‘Los Ageless’ and ‘Sugarboy’), which makes the moments of real emotion even sharper.
Add to Playlist: From the off-kilter pop of ‘Pills’ to the slower, sadder ‘New York’, MASSEDUCTION has songs for any mood. However the album’s sleeper hit might just be its closer, ‘Smoking Section’.
2. Lorde — Melodrama
The bar for Melodrama was set very high when lead single ‘Green Light’ dropped just in time for Lorde’s Coachella main stage moment. (Next time, she’ll be top-billed.) Produced by pop mastermind Jack Antonoff, ‘Green Light’ readied us for a bright, bracingly honest album. Lorde’s tweet introducing the single is also the perfect Melodrama mini-review: “It’s complex and funny and sad and joyous and it’ll make make you DANCE.”
Add to Playlist: Everyone’s got a favourite, but ‘Sober’ bottles the magic and the melodrama in a lean three-minute package.
1. Kendrick Lamar — DAMN.
While DAMN. includes Kendrick Lamar’s biggest hits to date (‘HUMBLE.’ and the Rihanna-assisted ‘LOYALTY.’ were deservedly everywhere), it’s an album best taken in a single 54-minute dose. From the searching ‘FEEL.’ to the repeated lyrical gut punches of ‘FEAR.’, the start-to-finish experience leaves you part energised and part exhausted. DAMN. is the ideal example of a hip-hop agitator turned arena act.
Add to Playlist: Weaving a personal story that speaks to deeper truths, album closer ‘DUCKWORTH.’ is peak Kendrick.
Jack Tregoning is a freelance writer based in New York. He is on Twitter.