The ten best albums of 2017
By Carlos Bilan, Contributor
2017 has been blessed musically by outstanding newcomers as well as highly-anticipated musical comebacks. Without further ado, let’s have a look at the Top 10 Albums of 2017.
Not Even Happiness by Julie Byrne
Patiently passionate and calm, the folk songbird’s Not Even Happiness is the perfect album to listen to when you just need time to be immersed in soft tunes and some silence to drown out the stresses of the world. In the peaceful “Follow My Voice,” Byrne comforts listeners who might be feeling worried and serves as a perfect intro to a meditative listening experience. In the majestic standout track “Natural Blue,” Byrne relates an important experience meeting someone with the colour of the sky and in this way, Byrne can remind listeners of the power of nature’s beauty—even if simple—can calm one’s soul.
Process by Sampha
Sampha has been well-known for his amazing collaborations with many big artists in the R&B and Hip-Hop industry like Drake, Kanye West, Frank Ocean, Solange, and others. Process is a solid debut that successfully showcases his beautiful voice, artistic vulnerability, and expertise as a producer. The album starts with the potent “Plastic 100°C” and it samples Neil Armstrong’s lines from when he first steps on the moon, which acts as a metaphor for Sampha venturing into an uncertain future. The album seems to be a narrative on how the gentle soul processes grief, death of loved ones, anxiety, and loneliness. Despite these themes, the album is not entirely a downer due to tracks like the urgent “Blood on Me” and upbeat “Kora Sings.” Nevertheless, in quiet and sincere moments like “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano” and “Timmy’s Prayer,” Sampha’s soulfulness shines.
I See You by The xx
It has been almost five years since the English band’s last album and I See You proves itself to be worth the wait and a refreshing take on dream pop and indie electronic genres. In fact, I See You is perhaps the album that contains most of their upbeat work. The opening track “Dangerous” opens with trumpets and has a chorus you can dance to, which signals a departure from the softer aesthetic of their previous albums. “On Hold” is another example of a vocal sample being used within a chorus to great effect. With I See You, the band manages to still evoke their trademark dreamy style without falling into the trap of “sameness,” as these subtle changes make a big difference to their overall sound.
Take Me Apart by Kelela
“Don’t say you’re in love until you learn to take me apart,” the enchanting Kelela commands in the title track. Certainly, this would be the case since this album requires repeated listening in order to fully digest and appreciate every layer of each track’s production. However, the album offers some catchy accessible bops like “LMK” which could have the potential to be a hit if it wasn’t for its experimental wonky production. Listening to the album is like being invited into Kelela’s bedroom where we get to indulge in the sensual atmosphere and witness the artist’s vision. Lyrically, the album can be considered an artistic attempt at expressing empowered sexuality and sincerity. Truthfully, Take Me Apart feels like a spacey futuristic R&B.
Utopia by Björk
The Icelandic songstress’ tenth album is an engaging sensory experience, transporting the listeners to an auditory Shangri-La where we might hear birds chirping, angels having picnics, nature spirits playing in the forest, and other ethereal images you can imagine as you listen through the pieces. In the airy and reflective “Blissing Me,” Björk sings about lovers falling in love through swapping music—in fact, the idea of “falling in love” is a recurring theme in this album. Björk said in an interview with Pitchfork that this new release is her “Tinder record.” Considering that Björk’s previous effort, the depressingly dark but absolutely clever Vulnicura, had a dystopian feeling due to its central theme of heartbreak, Utopia is a polar opposite with its optimism. The positive vibe could easily symbolise Björk rediscovering happiness and reaching a hopeful conclusion in the end.
Masseduction by St. Vincent
While the pop-tinged Masseduction might be Anne Clark’s most accessible album as St. Vincent, it still offers a lot of adventure and contains dark themes reminiscent of her last albums, despite its bright-neon album cover. As Clark said in an interview with i-D, she describes the album as a “dominatrix at the mental institution.” In the title track, Clark repeats robotically the portmanteau, “masseduction” then says, “I can’t turn off what turns me on” in a sexual tone, which conveys this overall concept of seduction in multiple facets. While the album ventures across the pop field, it still has a lot of rock elements which recalls her previous albums. Except this time, there’s a colourful twist. However, the album has some mellow moments like the piano-accompanied “New York” where Clark sings softly about losing a hero and friends but would “do it all again” for the lover she misses.
Run the Jewels 3 (RTJ 3) by Run the Jewels
“Legend Has It” that the excellent hip-hop duo who are as musically compatible as PB & J “dropped a classic” with this album—yes, pun intended. While RTJ 3’s cover depicts the iconic RTJ hand sign made of gold with a blue background which might represent royalty, elitism, and prestige, ironically, the album’s themes are anti-elite; or rather, an artistic revolution against ruthless capitalism. In the album highlight “Panther like a Panther (Miracle Mix)” with Trina, they talk about taking all the money from the wealthy and redistributing it to those in need in society as they tell everybody to “throw the pistol and fist” which refers to the RTJ hand sign. In “Thieves! (Screamed the Ghost)”, they drop a harder truth-bomb by rapping about police brutality and systematic racism, ending the song with a sample from a speech made by Martin Luther King, stating that “a riot is the language of the unheard.”
CTRL by Sza
As indicated in the title itself, SZA takes control of her life as a woman addressing themes that may be considered dirty and taboo. The Kendrick Lamar-assisted smooth track, “Doves in the Wind,” celebrates the power of vaginas. The gorgeous opening “Supermodel” has SZA singing about her insecurities and taking revenge against an ex-boyfriend who wronged her by sleeping with his friend. Another example is the standout “The Weekend,” which recounts the experience of three women sharing one man. Many have interpreted from this track that SZA is the “side chick” but as SZA confirmed on Twitter, there’s no side chick because all the women described in the song are aware of the polyamorous nature of the arrangement. Despite SZA throwing out all the dirty laundry for everyone to see, the album has a lot of heart and soul, such as the deep cut “Normal Girl” where SZA becomes wishes that “she was a normal girl” or the type of person you can settle with and be proud of.
Melodrama by Lorde
Melodrama is perhaps one of the biggest surprises this year. Because the album was marketed as pop rather than indie, many speculated she must have sold out; however, when the full album dropped, Lorde gave us high-quality pop that is completely out of the norm. The artist in her late teen years managed to accurately convey the feelings of happiness in love through tracks such as “The Louvre,” the pain of getting your heart ripped out with the quiet and cathartic “Hard Feelings/Loveless,” and the sadness of looking back at a love that could have been great but crumbled away with the ironically energetic “Supercut,” finishing with the anthem-like “Perfect Places.” Lorde mentioned in an interview with Teen Vogue that she has synaesthesia, which is her ability to “see specific colours when certain music notes are played,” and this perhaps contributed to Lorde’s ability to perfectly convey the idea of melodrama with this brilliant album.
DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar
While DAMN. is Lamar’s shortest studio album in length and his most “commercial” sounding, it’s still packed with a lot of heat and brilliant storytelling for its seamless track transitions, poetic lyrics, politics, and symbolisms. For example, Lamar used a snippet of a Fox News reporter who criticises hip-hop at the end of the first track, “BLOOD,” then proceeds to the fiery “DNA” where he gives a nod to his black heritage. Moreover, the album seems to have religious undertones which can be conveyed through the album’s track titles and order like the rather tranquil “PRIDE” preceding the bombastic “HUMBLE,” which juxtapose one another in both music and lyrics. The Rihanna-assisted track “LOYALTY” talks about the importance of loyalty in relationships and friendships; so, in a way, Lamar is able to convey his own ideals in this album. Finally, the album seems to be Lamar’s most personal to date; for example, in the revelatory “DUCKWORTH,” Lamar talks about a twist of fate in his life that occurred because of his father’s kindness. After the universally-lauded To Pimp a Butterfly, expectations for Lamar became even higher; however, the Compton-raised hip-hop paragon surpasses expectations with this damn marvellous album.
Lust for Life by Lana Del Rey
Something to Tell You by HAIM
Arca by Arca
No Shape by Perfume Genius
Crack-Up by Fleet Foxes
After Laughter by Paramore
Rainbow by Kesha
Number 1 Angel by Charli XCX
More Life by Drake
This Old Dog by Mac DeMarco