And the Top 15 Albums of 2017 are...
Now it's time for the big one.
2017 is now officially over. Before looking forward to the new year we wanted to revisit the best of the best in music for 2017. Many are calling this past year one of the best we've had for music in quite some time. From Hip Hop culture dominating the airwaves to good old fashioned rock 'n' roll making a welcomed return, as well as pop music with substance making a big impact, 2017 really did have it all. Breaking down our favourite albums of the year, have a gander at what we deem to be the Top 15 Albums of 2017.
Kendrick Lamar - DAMN.
There's a reason Kendrick Lamar's DAMN. has topped pretty much every end of year list for 2017. A revered artist for quite some time, his fourth studio album is his coming of age project. Having explored the different sides of his character, he's gone from Kendrick Lamar to K. Dot and he's now in full on Kung Fu Kenny mode. Arguably the most skilful - or at least most lyrically attractive - MC in rap currently, there's so much more to him than that. He's the second coming of Tupac Shakur. He's an artist. He's an activist. He's a revolutionary. He's a talented individual with morals and high standards. And all of this is reflected in his music. DAMN. sees Kendrick get straight to the point - the song titles all being one word followed by a full stop reflect this - with moments such as "LUST.", "XXX." (with U2), "GOD.", "PRIDE.", and "LOYALTY." (with Rihanna) all honing in on some of the most basic, yet complex, elements of humanity. "DUCKWORTH." (produced by 9th Wonder) is a tale of 'what if' and "LOVE." is one of the most beautiful songs of 2017.
Make sure you peep: "DUCKWORTH."
Lorde - Melodrama
A journey of self-discovery, Lorde's latest album, Melodrama, hears her level up from teen to adolescent, and it's one hell of a ride. Full of spacious - and often simplistic - soundscapes, the follow-up to 2013's Pure Heroine demands compassion and understanding. The first few years of adulthood is often fun but is also heavy on mistakes, so hearing New Zealand's pop princess break down the complexities of her own experience making the transition to becoming a grown up is intriguing. Instrumentally Melodrama is blissful. It's like a delicate kiss on the cheek that can turn into a passionate French kiss at any time. Compressing her celebrity status in order to experience the regular things young adults do, she battles loneliness ("Sober"), heartbreak ("Writer in the Dark"), she breaks down the pitfalls of drug usage and how it's not all it's cracked up to be ("Perfect Places"), and she finds peace in her relationship with her ex ("The Louvre"). Think Lana Del Rey-meets-Mike Posner with a sprinkling of Bjork and you're about 50% of the way to fully grasping what Melodrama sounds like.
Make sure you peep: "The Louvre"
Sampha - Process
The winner of this year's Mercury Prize, Sampha's Process is an album that everyone should now be aware of - if not then you're in for a treat when you do finally bless your ears with it. It's a delicate musical outing that combines Sampha's intricate songwriting capabilities with his talents as a producer - as well as Rodaidh McDonald's same production talents. Stripped back and seemingly simple, the instrumentals heard backing up "Blood On Me" and "Under" are brought to life by Sampha's vocals. Sometimes docile, his voice is often the loudest instrument on Process. Oozing pain, loss and struggle, the album plays like a therapeutic tool created for self serving purposes that sooth Sampha and those who relate to his struggle. However, no track is more powerful than the ode to his deceased mother - Bintay Sisay died of cancer in 2015 - "(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano". Heartbreaking, Sampha's song about love and loss is not only the album's stand out record, it's arguably one of the year's finest musical moments.
Make sure you peep: "(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano"
SZA - Ctrl
The second TDE album to land on this list, SZA's debut album hit listeners like the most pleasant punch to the gut that they could have ever imagined. Soulful and full of light, Ctrl is a wavy affair that touches upon all aspects of love and the complexities that come with being in love. Before its release fans craved this album much like Pookie in New Jack City craved the glass dick. So when it arrived all eyes - and ears - were on the talented St. Louis-born songbird. "Love Galore" puts you in a zone unlike any other song this year. You're left wondering if you should dance to it, vibe to it, or make love to it. Whatever you decide to do will be a good decision. Other key moments on Ctrl include the Kendrick Lamar-assisted "Doves in the Wind" - which not only includes a nod to Redman but hears K. Dot say the word "pussy" more times than an overacted porn flick - and the all-absorbing Carter Lang and Scum-produced euphoric gem "Prom".
Make sure you peep: "Prom"
Cyhi the Prynce - No Dope On Sunday
Years in the making but even when it dropped it proved unexpected, Cyhi the Prynce's No Dope On Sunday came out of nowhere and knocked people upside the head. Easily the year's most lyrical offering, the man whose pen is behind so many of Kanye West's biggest hits from the past seven years took listeners to church on this, his official debut album. With the marriage between his lyrics, delivery and production so concrete that a pneumatic drill couldn't break it up, if someone was to ask what the streets sound like this would be handed to them promptly. Running through the harsh realities of everyday life on tracks such as "Get Yo Money", "Don't Know Why" - a song that samples 2Pac's unreleased "Pain" track, which in itself samples Earl Klugh's "Living Inside Your Love", and features Jagged Edge - and "Free", this is one of those albums you have to let breathe. There's an education in every spin. You might not live the same life as Cyhi but you'll always find something you can relate to.
Make sure you peep: "Free"
Liam Gallagher - As You Were
It's been a while since rock 'n' roll was considered the commercially dominant genre of music. So upon hearing that Liam Gallagher was going to make a return to creating music it was welcomed with open arms. As You Were is as impassioned as it is raw. Lead single "Wall of Glass" and "You Better Run" that are both unmistakably trademark LG, while obvious throwbacks to the days of Oasis are heard on tracks such as "For What It's Worth" and "Come Back To Me". Taking a leaf out of The Beatles' book on the 60s-influenced "Paper Crown" and then stripping things back on the refreshing "Chinatown", Liam's talent, that might have previously been overshadowed by his brother, is screaming loud and proud on this, his debut solo album. In the words of LG, As You Were.
Make sure you peep: "Chinatown"
Jidenna - The Chief
The musicality of Jidenna's The Chief is a very important component when grading this album. It's not as simple as just being a selection of beats that he then spits/sings over. There's a warm richness to The Chief. There's a unique story embedded deep within the bed of instrumentals influenced by everything from dancehall to Doo-wop and Hip Hop to Nigerian battle-cry music. With his uncle a narrator throughout, listeners are privy to life in Africa through the eyes of a wise (or so he thinks) man and his, often hilarious, proverbs."Bambi" stands head and shoulders above anything else on the album, while "Little Bit More" is uplifting, "Long Live the Chief" is vicious - it was also featured in the Marvel series Luke Cage - and "White N****s" is an interesting take on racism in America with the roles reversed. The Chief is a stellar album from a true artist whose complex themes and important messages are a natural part of his DNA.
Make sure you peep: "Bambi"
Drake - More Life
In Drake's words More Life is a playlist, not an album. Full of original content, as expected it blew up airwaves everywhere when it was released this past March. Heavy on the UK features (Giggs, Jorja Smith, Sampha, Dave) and influenced by grime culture, this was Drake's ode to a country and movement he's been following for quite some time - he still admits that Birmingham holds a special place in his heart as it was the first place he ever performed in the UK as part of Jay-Z's The Blueprint 3 tour. Always one to have an array of bangers in the chamber, "KMT" was without doubt one of the year's grimiest records with one of the catchiest bars of the year - "Batman, da-na-na-da-na." "Passionfruit" set fire to the souls of so many. "Portland" had people going crazy over the flute, which in turn inspired some hilarious memes. "Do Not Disturb" was trademark introspective Drake. More complete than 2016's Views, here's a toast to More Life.
Make sure you peep: "Passionfruit"
Harry Styles - Harry Styles
Any preconceptions about Harry Styles were dashed the very second you pushed play on his debut solo album. Gone were the bubblegum pop choruses he sang as part of One Direction that were designed for easy consumption, in their place some well thought out and meticulous hooks that aided in the storytelling on the young star's nod to David Bowie. It would be unfair to strictly label Harry Styles a pop star following the release of this album, he's graduated to rock star status. Taking lead from those that came before him, "Carolina" sounds like something the Eels might have put out in the mid 90s, "Sign of the Times", while a title tribute to the late Prince, channels his inner Elton John and Bowie, while "Two Ghosts" is essentially a Kings of Leon song. But instead of this feeling like an attempt at identity copyright, Styles sits comfortably amongst those mentioned. It doesn't feel forced in the slightest. If this is his first attempt at solo material then there's some incredible music waiting to find its way out of the young talent from Cheshire, that's guaranteed.
Make sure you peep: "From the Dining Table"
Big Sean - I Decided
While he may have taken a few steps back with his recent Metro Boomin collaborative album, Double or Nothing, Big Sean continued his climb up the ladder of best MCs this year with the release of I Decided. Proving that he does in fact belong in the conversation alongside Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole and Drake, this project was an example of Sean's superior storytelling and creative wordplay. Telling his story as an older man that made different decisions as a youngster, it's an interesting concept that is paired with enjoyable beats and rhymes throughout. Whether it's the club friendly "Moves" and "Bounce Back", the thought-provoking "Halfway Off the Balcony", or even the heartfelt "Sunday Morning Jetpack" and "Light" with Jeremih, Sean looks at all aspects of life and the things in it that can change at the drop of a dime. Let's also not forget Eminem's guest verse on "No Favours". Supporting a fellow Detroit MC, while it might not have quite fit the track's main narrative it went hard regardless and reminded fans of what Em is capable of.
Make sure you peep: "Halfway Off the Balcony"
Khalid - American Teen
A genuinely enjoyable body of work from start to finish, Khalid's debut album, American Teen, is aptly titled. A musical representation of what life is like for teens in America, it's refreshing in a tall glass of homemade lemonade kind of way. The innocence of the album - best exampled on tracks like "Young Dumb & Broke" and "8TEEN" - is not something often seen these days. It's not complicated because it doesn't need to be. It's just fun. Asking questions today's teens might have that relate to politics, love, rejection and the current social climate, American Teen is the perfect vehicle to voice the thoughts of those who are still learning about the world. Khalid loves making music and there's an obvious joy that's easily identifiable when listening to this album.
Make sure you peep: "8TEEN"
John Mayer - The Search for Everything
Over the past few years John Mayer has been in experimental mode. Not quite hitting the mark with his last couple of albums (2012's Born and Raised and 2013's Paradise Valley), which both took elements of country, folk and Americana and were seasoned with his usual blend of blues and rock, things changed when the Grammy Award-winning guitar God released The Search for Everything. Back after four years of not creating any new material, Mayer delivered his best and most honest album since Continium. Songs like "Emoji of a Wave", "Moving On and Getting Over" and "Love on the Weekend" hear Mayer wearing his heart on his sleeve. Humbled by heartbreak and looking for forgiveness, the album feels like a cleanse for Mayer's soul. Realising his playboy status might not be all it's cracked up to be, "Still Feel Like Your Man" examines the transitional period between being broken up with and getting over it. The line, "I still keep your shampoo in my shower, in case you wanna wash your hair," cuts through the male ego like a hot knife through butter. The Search for Everything isn't just one of the year's best albums, it's one of John Mayer's best - and that's saying something considering his back catalogue is epic, if you didn't already know.
Make sure you peep: "You're Gonna Live Forever in Me"
JAY-Z - 4:44
Growing up in rap can legitimately be hard. There's always a temptation to adopt whatever hot sound is currently climbing the charts and blasting out of your favourite radio station. JAY-Z however has never been one of those types of artists, in fact he did an interview discussing this frowned upon practice. 4:44 is one of the year's most grown up albums while also being the most personal in Jigga's catalogue. Opening up on the album's title track about his infidelities that threatened his marriage to Beyoncé - these came to light when Queen Bey released her 2016 album Lemonade - Jay also talks to black America ("The Story of O.J."), his daughter, Blue Ivy ("Legacy"), and himself ("Kill Jay Z"). Getting all nostalgic on "Marcy Me", Jay takes a trip back to the projects he grew up in and revisits the questions he once asked himself about whether or not he could achieve what he has achieved. Laced with some vocals from The-Dream, it's a definite stand out moment on 4:44. Produced entirely by No ID, Jay's 13th studio album is love, life and learning all through the eyes of one of the world's greatest poets.
Make sure you peep: "4:44"
Father John Misty - Pure Comedy
Pure Comedy is the third album Josh Tillman has released under the name Father John Misty, and it might be his most accomplished yet. Touching upon everything from politics and religion to entertainment and war, it's as if this album is the audio embodiment of the news. Dipped in a sea of impassioned vocals with waves of soul, gospel, blues, and rock crashing all over it, Pure Comedy is far from what its title suggests. "Leaving LA" is a long but beautifully delivered stripped back moment that switches from a dig at Los Angeles to John critiquing himself and his music. Another stand out is "In Twenty Years or So", a song that analyses the fact that while there may be a bigger picture on the horizon we don't really matter all that much. An album that deserves your full attention and to be listened to with no distractions, it's somewhat of a marvel. A genius body of work, Pure Comedy is complex music delivered with the true conviction of a man who genuinely cares about life and everything within it.
Make sure you peep: "In Twenty Years or So"
Big K.R.I.T. - 4eva Is A Mighty Long Time
Finally free from the restraints that Def Jam Records put on him when he signed on the dotted line back in 2010, Big K.R.I.T. this year released easily his finest studio album. An artist who has long been respected by his peers, his mixtapes - a few of which can be considered classics - have always trumped his major label full lengths. 4eva is a Mighty Long Time changes this. It's a double disc affair that looks at the duality of the Mississippi rapper/producer's personality. One disc looks at his artistic persona (Big K.R.I.T.), the other looks at his personal life (Justin Scott). Combining trunk rattlers ("Subenstein (My Sub IV)") with gospel street chants ("Keep the Devil Off"), as well as soulful gems ("Get Away") with introspective slow burners that really get into some personal issues ("Drinking Sessions"), 4eva Is A Mighty Long Time is an album comparable to that of a bag of Haribo Starmix, it has a bit of everything and it all tastes so good.
Make sure you peep: "Get Away"