And the Top 15 UK Albums of 2017 are...
It's been an incredible year for UK music.
This year saw both UK artists and UK albums collapse international borders. Nothing was lost in translation. Whether it was grime, indie, pop, dance, folk, rock, or any other genre for that matter, the United Kingdom were responsible for some pretty special albums this year. Listing our personal favourites, take a look at who we deem to have the best UK albums of 2017.
Stormzy - Gang Signs & Prayer
Undeniably the biggest artist to come out of the UK this year, Stormzy owned 2017. Aside from his loveable character, the countless awards (MOBO, MTV EMA, GQ), his groundbreaking live performances, and inspiring acts of selflessness, it was his album, Gang Signs & Prayer, that proved the all-important catalyst for the aforementioned highlights. Spawning the hits "Big For Your Boots", "Cigarettes & Cush" with Kehlani and Lily Allen, and the street gospel currently riding up the chart, "Blinded By Your Grace Pt.2" with MNEK, the album proved both a commercial and underground success. Still showing love to the underground grime scene that put him on the map in the first place, tracks like "Return of the Rucksack" and the mammoth smash "Shut Up", as well as the "Crazy Titch" interlude that hears incarcerated grime pioneer Crazy Titch share some words of wisdom with Stormzy, all prove he hasn't lost touch with his roots. Gang Signs & Prayer has it all and more and could lay claim to being 2017's UK album of the year.
Make sure you peep: "100 Bags"
Liam Gallagher - As You Were
It's been a while since rock 'n' roll was the commercially dominant genre of music here in the UK. 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" 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"
Loyle Carner- Yesterday's Gone
Delivering a deeply thought-provoking account of a South Londoner with a lot to get off of his chest, Loyle Carner's Yesterday's Gone is stunning on so many levels. Soul partnered with jazz , the soundscapes alone pluck at the heartstrings and leave you wondering if you're listening to an album put together by the likes of Jazzy Jeff, Hi-Tek or J Dilla. Spitting dramatic raps about real life and slotting in some pondering poetry where it's needed, if Sampha's Process wasn't released this year then Yesterday's Gone would have taken home 2017's Mercury Prize, no question. "The Isle of Arran" is one hell of a way to open an album and paints the picture for the rest of Loyle Carner's journey as told through song. Echoing the pain of someone falling at the hands of life's many obstacles over a bed of gospeldellic chants and vintage soul guitar licks, it's epic. There's no other way to explain it. While many UK music fans were captivated by Rag'n'Bone Man and his music this year, Loyle Carner and Yesterday's Gone are far superior and deserve all the props that the previously mentioned has received.
Make sure you peep: "Damselfly"
Sundara Karma - Youth Is Only Ever Fun In Retrospect
After years of grinding away trying to get their music heard, it was all worth it for Sundara Karma when they finally got to open the main stage at Reading Festival in 2016 in front of their hometown crowd. From then on it was obvious things were going to get exciting for the band. Bringing back feel-good indie music that draws influence from all over the place, think The Gaslight Anthem, think The Maccabees, think The Wombats, think U2 and you've got an idea of what to expect from this talented foursome. A musical paradox that offers quality throughout, Youth Is Only Ever Fun In Retrospect distances itself from caution throughout. There's no barrier, whether physical or mental, that blocks the pores of Sundara Karma's artistic receptors. One minute they're blasting out stadium tunes ("She Said", "Loveblood"), the next they're doing something designed for an intimate 100 cap venue ("Happy Family", "Another Word for Beautiful"). If it's not already, this album needs to be in your collection, like right now.
Make sure you peep: "Happy Family"
J Hus - Common Sense
Another of this year's Mercury Prize nominated artists, J Hus' 2017 was nothing short of spectacular. "Did You See" was one of the summer's biggest anthems, and if you didn't hear it then you definitely heard the lines: "Came in the black Benz, left in a white one," as it was used everywhere by everyone, and it was probably your MCM's Instagram caption on more than one occasion. Proving that the UK black music scene is much more than just grime, J Hus' musical versatility opened up a new lane. Starting a new wave that incorporated Afrobeats, G-Funk, hardcore rap, R&B and so much more, lyrically the options were just as diverse. Flexing his male bravado and ego on tracks such as "Bouff Daddy" and "Clartin", it's actually the less materialistic moments, such as the Tiggs Da Author assisted "Good Luck Chale", that really stand out. More about the storytelling than anything else, it's haunting and is a reminder of why Hip Hop culture spawns some of the best street poets.
Make sure you peep: "Good Luck Chale"
Bicep - Bicep
It's all about the beats on Bicep's self-titled album. An atmospheric wonder that is the result of the impeccable taste of London-by-way-of-Belfast's Andy Ferguson and Matt McBriar, dance might be what it says on the tin but it's most certainly not that simple. Drawing influence from all corners of the world, there's UK garage ("Opal"), classic 90s dance ("Orca"), atmospheric trance ("Rain"), and moody house that builds into some seriously uplifting electro ("Aura"). Also offering a wide range of other blends featuring many different styles it's hard to pigeonhole certain songs on the album to one individual genre. Bicep touches so many nerves that if you're someone who makes memories using music as a life marker then it's going to prove to be a soundtrack to so many key moments. Whether it's as simple as a night out at a rave or as complex as a life-changing event, one thing is for certain: this album is glorious.
Make sure you peep: "Opal"
Dizzee Rascal - Raskit
Raskit is the album Dizzee Rascal's core fanbase hoped he would one day make. Returning to his grime roots and leaving behind the Robbie Williams guest spots and pop bangers, he felt it time to revert back to the Dylan Mills that exploded onto the scene with his seminal debut album, Boy in da Corner. With a few scores to settle - namely with the Godfather of grime, Wiley, and So Solid Crew's Megaman - and instead of letting it spill out onto the streets like with previous physical encounters of his, the man many deem to be the culture's most important grime MC let fly on "The Other Side". Reminding fans that he's still got the tools to lyrically dismantle any beat, Dizzee proves he's as sharp as ever before on tracks such as "Dummy (16 For the Juice)" and "Space". Then he delivers a message of restraint and focus to today's youth on the thought-provoking "Slow Your Roll". Raskit is Dizzee Rascal sitting comfortably in his elder statesmen role.
Make sure you peep: "Slow Your Roll"
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"
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"
Laura Marling - Semper Femina
From album to album there's an easily identifiable growth in Laura Marling's music. While she might have been swimming in accolades and critical acclaim of the highest order early on in her career, she's actually making the best music she's ever made today. Semper Femina, while a study of both femininity and masculinity, is much more than that, it looks at relationships and the various aspects of them. But it's the music that proves to have the main attracting quality on this, Marling's sixth album. Each track starts at a singular point and builds with the injection of varying instruments on the way to the top end of it - "Soothing" is the perfect example of this. No longer considered a conventional folk artist, Marling has created a contemporary form of the string-driven genre. Take for example "Wild Fire". With what sounds like an unintentional reminder of Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side", it's beautifully authentic and carries a type of charm that only Marling can deliver. Semper Femina has been nominated for a 2018 Grammy.
Make sure you peep: "Nothing, Not Nearly"
Wretch 32 - FR 32
Like Disney's Emperor, Wretch 32 found his new groove this year thanks to his fourth album FR 32. Struggling for a few years to find his true identity as an artist, falling into place this year it became clear that he's the wise head on a young body who is here to educate as well as entertain. Because of a focused mind, an exercised body and a cleansed soul, FR 32 is flawless. Touching upon every human emotion, FR 32 is a music-themed confessional that shines a light on everyday situations and then though song tries to find a solution. Never before have we witnessed Wretch this candid. Whether it's the battle of the sexes on "His & Hers (Perspectives)", morality on "Time", the stresses that comes with having one foot in fame and another in the streets on "DPMO", there's so much depth to this album. Standing head and shoulders above everything else on it, "Power" is as the title suggests: powerful! Wretch 32's time is now and FR 32 is reason why that time has rolled around.
Make sure you peep: "Power"
Dua Lipa - Dua Lipa
It's almost as if Dua Lipa appeared out of thin air. One minute she was another unknown on the come up, the next "Be the One" was everywhere. Going on to release six singles from her self-titled debut album, if it wasn't her first single that caught your attention then her most recent one, "New Rules", would have done - it topped the UK Singles Chart in July. An album full of singles - a seventh is scheduled for release during the first couple of months in 2018 - Dua Lipa doesn't sound like a disconnected compilation like most single-heavy albums do. Her emotional duet with Coldplay's Chris Martin, "Homesick", banishes her pop label to another dimension while her Miguel featured "Lost In Your Light" screams soulful rock and wouldn't have sounded out of place on Miguel's own new album, War & Leisure - in fact it sounds very similar to his "Told You So" single. Put it this way, the UK now has itself a new pop princess and she's ready to conquer the charts.
Make sure you peep: "Lost In Your Light"
Bonobo - Migration
Bonobo's sixth studio album is a colourful affair that takes you on a ride from start to finish. A body of work that follows a theme of migration with electronica the vehicle that takes you there, Migration is often an out-of-body experience that plucks at the heartstring when it wants to - listen to "Break Apart" and don't cry, we dare you. When he's not in full electro mode you might find Bonobo occasionally add an undercoat of R&B to his music, on the string-heavy "Kerala" he samples Brandy's "Baby". Walking listeners into a place that might have them losing their head, "No Reason" is mesmerising. Formerly known as Chet Faker, Nick Murphy's vocals sink into the watery soundscape that hears the rhythm interrupted by what sounds like rocks hitting one another in the depths of an echoey cave. Then there's the Moroccan Gnawa musicians heard on "Bambro Koyo Ganda", another example of Bonobo's expansive knowledge and the lengths he'll go to play with contrasting sounds. The end result is a truly coherent project that is just one of many excellent albums in Bonobo's ongoing musical repertoire.
Make sure you peep: "Bambro Koyo Ganda"
The xx - I See You
The xx have come a long way since the release of their Mercury Prize winning self-titled debut album back in 2009. Always learning and always picking up new tricks and tactics, the egos of Romy, Oliver and Jamie have never got in the way of their willingness to want to create something fresh and experimental. Their third album, I See You, is a testament to this. While still incorporating elements of house ("Dangerous"), futuristic disco ("On Hold" - which samples Hall & Oates' "I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)") and electro indie ("Lips"), it's the simpler moments on this album that catches the attention of listeners. "Test Me" is stunning. An atmospheric gem that calls upon floating synths and a range of delicate sounds, it eventually builds to a guitar holding the song's rhythm which is then joined by some piano notes and a distant vocal sample. It's art that grips you and forces you into a trance. I See You is an album you need to let breathe on repeat. You can't capture it all in one listen, and you wouldn't want to.
Make sure you peep: "Test Me"
Kelly Lee Owens - Kelly Lee Owens
Creating complex art in her own vision, Kelly Lee Owens' music is a score to life. It's a pulse that thumps and bops no matter the melody. The London-based artist's self-titled debut may be an electronic offering but it includes light brush strokes of organically acquired sounds such as wildlife ("Arthur") and ultrasound pulses ("Throwing Lines"). Kelly Lee Owens bridges the gap between airy techno and phantom pop. It's an attractive album that can be heard in so many different ways. The more you listen to it the more you realise it's open ended; there is no set narrative. Brimming with wonder and expressive soundscapes, it begins a personal relationship between artist and listener that is both charming and familiar. Combining moments of pure euphoria that would sit perfectly on the playlist of any commercial nightclub ("Cbm") with fleeting cuts of remarkable wonderment that ask so many questions ("S.O"), this is without doubt a thinking person's album.
Make sure you peep: "Throwing Lines"