The 10 Best Albums of 2017
As 2017 nears its end, it’s time to pour some down for the year that was. From President Trump (I’ll never get used to saying that) doing all he can to take the world to war, to Theresa May making a mockery of the premiership, via the reopening of London club institution, Fabric, it's fair to say that ups and downs have been experienced over the last 365. Much like 2016, it's been a madness of a year, but music, from both the underground and the mainstream, has continued to provide a respite from the dread.
You know the deal with these types of lists by now; they are not easy to compile. There’s every chance you'll look at the list and conclude that we have fully lost our minds – I can already hear the online vitriol – but the selection, much like last year’s, is reflective, simply, of the bodies of work we couldn’t get enough of. In execution and through some truly magical moments, these ten albums have been our nucleus of the year, representative of the weird and wonderful world we continue to unravel by the day.
So, from breakouts debuts to established stars reaching new levels – here are the 10 albums Dummy considers to be 2017’s best.
10. SZA – Ctrl [Top Dawg Entertainment]
Some singers’ voices act like a dressing to the music beneath them. But the really gripping ones become – through their own quirks and characteristics – an irreplicable instrument themselves. SZA is blessed with the latter. And on Ctrl, that voice soars. Jazzy, throaty and organic, yet at times equally ethereal and serving the most delicate of touches, the album offers a showcase of an extraordinary talent. It helps of course that those vocal chords are backed up with real songwriting talent too: teaming sparse intricate electronic pop and hip-hop beats with tightly woven confessional tales of love, loss, lust, and all the other things that none of us will ever be old enough to truly understand. Will Pritchard
9. Tyler, The Creator – Flower Boy [Columbia Records]
Amidst rumours surrounding his sexuality that (depending on how you look at it) were either confirmed or lampooned on record, Tyler, the Creator delivered his magnum opus in 2017. If previous album Cherry Bomb was a screeching cry for attention from a young rapper still holding onto his ‘rebel’ label, Flower Boy was Tyler at his most mature, both lyrically and sonically, stepping out of the box many put around him, including himself. Abrasive, screeching sounds are replaced by lush, layered production that harkens back to long summers, and Tyler shows he has reached a new level with the bars on ‘I Ain’t Got Time’, ‘Pothole’, ‘Boredom’ and more. Backed by a stellar supporting cast, including Frank Ocean, Steve Lacy, Rex Orange County, Anna of the North and co., the album outs a Tyler as a one of a kind talent in rap, which is all we ever wanted. Yemi Abiade
8. Actress – AZD [Ninja Tune]
Depending on the level of weight you give to Darren Cunningham’s words, you’d have been forgiven for thinking we’d heard the last from Actress after the ‘farewell’ of 2014’s Ghettoville. The inscrutable electronic producer returned this year with AZD, a vibrant, palette-cleansing effort that dispensed with the hazy smog of his last few releases. Looked at from a certain angle, it was his most accessible release yet – there’s a refreshing sense of focus to these hypnotic techno constructions, and last year’s collaboration with the London Contemporary Orchestra managed to find its way into some of the textures. In short, AZD reminds us of the reasons that Actress has been so vaunted in certain circles, and gives us a couple more to add to the mix. Cosmo Godfree
7. Thundercat – Drunk [Brainfeeder]
Stephen Bruner aka Thundercat has been something of an unsung hero in the last couple of years, with bass guitar credits on stellar projects from Flying Lotus and Kendrick Lamar to name a few. On his third studio album, Thundercat is whimsical yet forward thinking in this irrepressibly groovy fusion of jazz, R&B, 70s funk and just the tiniest dash of hip-hop. From offering sound life advice in album opener ‘Rabbit Ho’ to confining a lover to the ‘Friend Zone’ in the best way possible, the musician unleashes his light-hearted personality, juxtaposed with his incredible musicianship, with each track segueing into another without losing the cosmic vibe. See him live too – the guy does not stop plucking on that bass. Add some standout features from Kendrick, Pharrell and Kenny Loggins, and you have a hell of a ride. Yemi Abiade
6. Sampha – Process [Young Turks]
Sampha’s first solo full-length was a deserved Mercury Prize winner and the definition of a slow-burning classic. These are songs that gradually reveal themselves before embedding themselves in your heart. Baring his soul following the loss of his mother to cancer, Process traces Sampha’s journey from grief to acceptance, with all the nuances and extremes of emotion that come with such territory. His subtle, poignant songwriting is supported by sparse yet inventive production, and delivered by that voice, which is still a thing of wonder all these years since we first heard it. Through his collaborative work with the likes of Drake, SBTRKT and Solange, Sampha’s influence on the 2010s has been far-reaching, but his quiet step into the spotlight might just be his greatest contribution of all. Cosmo Godfree
5. Four Tet – New Energy [Text Records]
One can only assume that Kieran Hebden didn’t mean to kick-start one of the year’s finest musical memes, when he posted a tweet showing the bare bones bedroom studio in which New Energy had been recorded and mixed. He was probably aiming to show off, despite the album’s globe-trotting instrumentation and rhythmic workouts, just how simple his setup had been – and perhaps suggest that a little sunlight every now and again might do your favourite producer some good. Perhaps more than that, though, Four Tet was suggesting a back-to-basics approach – or one that was centred on going back to his roots – as listeners to New Energy would soon discover an album that sought to blend the so-called ‘folktronica’ with which he first made his name, with the club-leaning sounds that have defined his more recent output. The result is, in the context of Four Tet’s career to date, something different – that is, an album that’s not trying too hard to do something different. And it sounds all the more wholesome for it. Will Pritchard
4. J Hus – Common Sense [Black Butter Limited]
Released just in time to be booming out of car windows all summer long, Common Sense was the sound of London in 2017. The music was handled by breakout producer Jae5, who drew from an upbringing split between east London and Ghana, and managed to both capture and transcend the zeitgeist with his heady blend of afrobeats, grime, hip-hop and UK dance music. J Hus took his pen game to another level on this project – incisive, raunchy, menacing or uplifting, the master storyteller is capable of conjuring up a world in a single couplet. Street anthems like ‘Clartin’ and ‘Fisherman’ took their place alongside genuine pop smashes ‘Spirit’ and ‘Did You See’, and Hus became the undisputed figurehead of this nascent diasporic sound. Cosmo Godfree
3. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN. [Aftermath/Interscope/Top Dawg Entertainment]
At this point, anyone who doesn’t say Kendrick Lamar is the greatest rapper of his generation might be a hater. The Compton rapper continues to hold the top seat on the table of the rap elite, but there was a lot riding on DAMN., to the effect of: Could it top a modern classic, 2015’s To Pimp A Butterfly? While not as sprawling and damning of society as its predecessors, Kendrick put numbers on the board with his 2017 effort, with a nimble balance of chart-topping hits, and masterful storytelling that maintain his ability to give you food for thought. Tracks like ‘DNA’, ‘ELEMENT’, and ‘HUMBLE’ – his first number one single – were bangers with messages of black pride and self-worth, while ‘FEAR’ and ‘DUCKWORTH’ are the best rap tales you will hear this year. This album is Kendrick at the top of his game and, perhaps scarily, he will only get better. Yemi Abiade
2. Kelela – Take Me Apart [Warp Records]
To be honest, Take Me Apart could have landed in this top ten on the strength of its singles alone – but to attempt to reduce it from its full length to just four tracks would be to lose out on what makes this record so impressive. In a time in which the average long player’s shelf life has been reduced to a matter of days (if not less), the real achievement of Kelela’s debut studio album is the way in which she’s been able to present something with a depth that implores you to come back and dig in for another listen, over and over again. With Arca and Jam City contributing the bulk of the record’s production, it retains a consistency that can so often evade the kind of envelope-pushing approach to an established R&B palette. With Take Me Apart, Kelela grew from an alt-pop curio to the status of an artist with the chops to make this sound all her own. Will Pritchard
1. King Krule – The OOZ [XL Recordings]
Archy Marshall does what he wants. The man of many monikers refuses to be boxed in, both in music and art, but he is always two steps ahead. Making a return to the name that made him famous this year, the four-year wait for the follow up to the London singer-songwriter’s 2013 debut, 6 Feet Beneath The Moon, made you forget about the waiting time.
The true appeal of The OOZ is just how compelling it is. Playing out like an intimate set in a pub with only a handful of people in attendance, you feel every emotion Marshall puts forward. Aggression a plenty on ‘Dum Surfer’, mellow fellow steez on album opener ‘Biscuit Town’ and ‘Czech One’ or emotional crooning in ‘Slush Puppy’, he has you covered.
Musically, The OOZ is rich and textured, ranging from rattling garage rock, to slow-burning, operatic balladry, and Marshall’s songwriting reaches a new level of sophistication and confidence. In a stroke, he is lonely, at peace, conflicted and pressured in equal measure, yet manages to provide some standout moments with relative ease. The album is a journey, but Archy doesn’t care if you come for the ride or not. Yemi Abiade
Check out a selection of tracks from these albums on Dummy's Spotify playlists.