Somehow, we are already halfway through 2017. And though the world outside our computer screens is becoming more chaotic and terrifying by the minute, we at least have a fantastic soundtrack for it. The first half of the year has been a true bounty of stellar albums. There has been Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. of course, and Drake’s More Life. But we’ve also been blessed with career best work from the likes of Perfume Genius and Arca, in addition to a few long-awaited debuts (here’s looking at you Sampha).
So here they are, the 25 Best Albums of 2017 (So Far).
Three years after his 2014 full-length Ghettoville, Actress dropped “X22RME.” I became obsessed with the shuffley goodness of his latest album’s lead single, and it would often drift into my consciousness after spending hours dancing in a dark room somewhere. AZD’s tracks float in and out like flashes of a dream you really don’t want to be woken up from. Beautiful melodies are paired with drums that sound like waterfalls, like on “BLUE WINDOW,” the producer goes on an abstract hip-hop inspired excursion on “CYN,” and there are countless hypnotic loops to get lost in, like on “UNTITLED 7″ and “FALLING RIZLAS.” AZD is yet another testament to Actress’s hazy brilliance.
Arca’s inimitable fingerprints are all over the face of electronic music in this decade. Be it in his studio-tinkerings for Kanye West or Björk or his studio albums that only continue to grow in stature, he has had a remarkable run of work. And then he levelled up. Arca, the first release in which the producer sings, is nothing short of spell-binding. Stand-out tracks like “Anoche” and “Reverie” pair his cathedral-like beats with his tortured, bravura vocals for a listening experience that is at once disturbing, melancholic and achingly beautiful.
Eno (the man, myth and living legend) has called Reflection his most sophisticated work to date. Which, for a man who literally invented ambient music with some of the most innovative albums ever recorded, is saying something. It is not what one would call an ‘easy’ listen—the album is a single, 59-minute song built from randomly generated bits of mutation software. But like all his best work, it is not exactly a difficult listen either. It simply occupies space, impassively constructing a symphony of silence.
Caterina Barbieri—‘Patterns of Consciousness’
Patterns are ubiquitous in electronic music. It might seem unremarkable as a subject of an album—in this case, Caterina Barbieri’s Patterns of Consciousness. But the Berlin-based Italian artist’s second full-length shows the value of reexamining ideas we might take for granted. The A-sides on the double LP feature rapid-fire arpeggios that meld together to form sustained chords, a nod to Barbieri’s passion for Baroque flute music. Layers upon layers of individual patterns crystallize. Soundwaves take on the timbre of string instruments, like at the end of the opening track, “This Causes Consciousness To Fracture.” The album iis a testament to Barbieri’s ability to distill what she’s gleaned from her predecessors into her patterns, firmly claiming their own polychromatic universe.
Charli XCX—‘Number 1 Angel’
While technically not an official album, just a casual mixtape that our girl Charli decided to drop before releasing her third full-length, Number 1 Angel is all killer, no filler. Across 10 tracks that are simply sublime, Charli XCX makes her case as one of the most intriguing pop stars working. She brings back blog house legend Uffie on “Babygirl,” reigning queen of underground R&B ABRA on “Drugs,” and the extremely underrated cupcaKKe on “Lipgloss.” It’s both catchy and sonically innovative, thanks in part to PC Music affiliates on production duties. Charli has described the mixtape as “more like crying into the champagne than drinking it” – its flashes of unsettling darkness are just as thrilling as its obviously jubilant moments.
Chicago rapper cupcaKKe’s second studio album is as deliciously gusty as she is. The follow up to last year’s Audacious finds cupcaKKe as unapologetically badass as ever. “I don’t hand out pussy, that’s like handing out gold” on “Barcodes” is merely one of hundreds of insanely on point lyrics that could easily be made into a “Live Laugh Love” style inspirational wall hanging. She also gets real about her come up on tracks like “Scraps,” “Author” and “Reality, Pt. 4.” I’m just over here waiting for her to blow tf up. Also, that album cover? Iconic.
Dirty Projectors—‘Dirty Projectors’
What’s a world-renowned, Yale-educated producer and composer supposed to do when his relationship with his girlfriend/muse/bandmate crumbles? Obviously write the most bizarre break-up album of the decade of course. David Longstreth, a songwriter whose past work was marked by how gleefully obtuse it was, lays everything bare on this album, ditching all of his former band members and turning Dirty Projectors into a one-man show. Musically it is every bit as quirky as their landmark albums, but Longstreth’s jangly guitars have been cashed in for production that immediately evokes mid-2000s Timbaland. And bonus points for that hilarious Kanye West shoutout in mid-album stunner “Up in Hudson.”
“Whilst More Life is riddled with slang, samples and soundscapes he’s picked up on his travels across the globe, Drake fundamentally keeps his core U.S. audience happy with his usual blend of relationship reflections and slick subliminal-dissing. The project that launched a thousand memes also contains a breadth of international talent unlike any other hip-hop artist’s musical endeavors in recent memory.”
Read our review.
Future—‘Future’ / ‘HNDRXX’
Future wasn’t lying when he said he was coming with a “fully loaded clip” before dropping Future & HNDRXX. Releasing the projects one after the other was, in one way, laying down the gauntlet for the rest of the game. In another, it was both essential and cathartic; exposing the duality of his condition of hard man trap rapper and emotionally volatile human being. This is why both Future and HNDRXX are inseparable as projects; they accurately reflect Future’s own divided, yet incredibly popular personality. Laden with platinum plaques from the host of huge tracks that feature across both albums, he not only solidified his standing as rap titan on the projects – but also his status as a certified SUPERstar.
J Hus—‘Common Sense’
Much has been made of Drake’s fusion of diasporas on More Life – but no one does it more effectively (and legitimately) than J Hus on Common Sense. Hustler’s debut blends cheeky UK one-liners with joyously infectious production from his right hand man, JAE5. Alongside him, Hus can do no wrong – in what is the best album out of the UK so far this year. He’s one of the only British rappers that can mount a challenge to stateside charts because of the above. Hus has taken a sonic palette taken from all over the globe, you’ll see him ascend to international acclaim quite soon.
As soon as the overlapping strings emerge on the opening title track, one can sense the initial tremblings of an eruption about to lowkey shift some sonic paradigms. Jlin has been shaking things up in footwork for years now, and it’s clear on her latest full-length she’s still the reigning queen. Instead of sticking to crowd-pleasing patterns on her sophomore album, she folds up expectations and presents us with an impossibly intricate folded piece of sleek Black Origami.
Kelly Lee Owens—‘Kelly Lee Owens’
In this writer’s humble opinion, Kelly Lee Owens is hands down the most assured debut album of the year, by a long shot. Owens has delivered an astoundingly complete package with her first full-length, a collection of songs that rapidly oscillate between atmospheric ambient works and pulse-pounding floor-fillers (that drop on “Lucid” tho). But in the end, no matter how polished and astute these songs are, what makes them so affecting is Owens’ voice. Angelic would be putting it mildly.
“Keeping in mind that he’s now rapping to his widest audience ever, beats like “LUST.,” “LOYALTY.” and “LOVE.” could all sit on the same hazy, summer evening riffs that are on Drake’s More Life palette for instance. But the distinct difference with DAMN. is that Kendrick’s rapping ability is in a different dimension compared to anyone else in the game. Moreover, it’s evident he “still does this shit for Compton…” DAMN. is Kendrick’s most universal album to date without ever slipping into a territory of selling out.”
Read our review.
If you need a healthy dose of West Coast chill, Vancouver’s Khotin has got you covered. New Tab is nothing short of sublime, making use of incredible vocal samples – an automated train announcer on “Canada Line,” an adorable old lady’s voicemail on “Dotty” and a calm Slavic man on “Always Glad.” In case beatlessness isn’t your thing, New Tab’s got laid-back bubbly breaks on “Fever Loop” and even ambient electro on closing track “New Window.” The perfect soundtrack for watching the clouds go by on a lazy summer day.
A few months ago, Donald Glover declared in his Golden Globes acceptance speech that an Atlantan rap trio were “The Beatles of this generation.” Those words quickly became prophetic; in 2017, its Migos’ world, and the rest of us are just living in their leaned-up wonderland. Culture, their sophomore album, is a supremely well-crafted LP, no matter how you measure it. But special attention must be given to the cultural juggernaut that is lead single “Bad and Boujee,” a song that already carries all of the hallmarks of timelessness.
Perfume Genius—‘No Shape’
“Therein lies another one of the more interesting departures in No Shape that separates it from the rest of the Perfume Genius catalogue. It is remarkably fragile; even more so than his sparsely laden early work. This is no special feat in itself, but Hadreas has somehow conjured his most vulnerable, heart-on-his-sleeve work yet by creating the most bombastic, decadent instrumentation he has ever attempted. And where these two divergent tones would have been placed at odds of one another on Too Bright, here they are fused into one, finding strength in fragility as if he has created a suit of armor made of glass.”
Read our review.
This is one of the best dance release of 2017 so far, but the way UK Bass stalwart Peverelist quietly went about his work in making another stern body of work has unfortunately been overlooked by many. His sonic progression from Dubstep pioneer to cultured 4/4 merchant over the years has been understated, yet exemplary for a genre who has always looked up to him – and Tesselations punctuates exactly why. It’s tightly-executed, whirring through eerie melodies through to explosive claps and chords that make up the short, 9-track LP. Whilst it’s sparse in moments that would unleash dance-floor bedlam, it’s a compact, head-nod-inducing album that definitely warrants a listen.
Playboi Carti—‘Playboi Carti’
Carti recently cemented his status as one of the most exciting rappers to burst on to the scene with his recent XXL cover – despite claims of it being the magazine’s weakest list ever. People would still say Carti himself is weak, offering none of the nuanced thought-provoking discourse that, say, Kendrick Lamar (who dropped DAMN. on the same date) offers. Playboi Carti is, of course, the polar opposite of Lamar’s opus. Carti’s hotly-anticipated debut is comprised of wall-to-wall trunk rattlers, ad-libs galore and strong features from Lil Uzi Vert and A$AP Rocky – but the real genius is heard in the album’s producer talent. The sound of “Yo Pierre You Wanna Come Out Here” will be the producer tag you hear before every function gets “lit AF” this summer.
Sahbabii loves getting his dick sucked. And he raps about it a lot. But despite how stereotypically seedy this sounds, Sahbabii’s music is so soft on the ears he turns all his sexual urges into a melodic trap lullaby. Despite only releasing S.A.N.D.A.S officially last week, it’s an album which will lay down the benchmark for Atlanta rap for years to come.
Sampha had been promising his debut album for actual years when it finally arrived back in February. It seems safe to say that no one was expecting just how worth the wait the finished product proved to be. Process is stunning. Even if we overlook the fact that Sampha’s vocal chords can only be made of molten gold and honey, the album remains just as much of a treasure, a pastiche of genre that parallels the complex personal history woven into the fabric of each lyric. “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano” is a confessional elevated to hymn-like mythos, while other standouts like “Blood on Me” and “Reverse Faults” offer piercingly self-astute criticism, the kind most people would never dare put on tape.
Fin illustrates exactly why Syd is at the forefront of a scene of superb R&B / R&G singers alongside the likes of ABRA, SZA and Kelela. The album is, simply, very chilled – there’s nothing brash about either the production or lyrics, which remain languid and subtle throughout. Fin contains timely electronic augmentation, but oozes soulful sophistication from a bygone era – and it’s an elixir that makes it wholesomely listen-able. It’s a vibe for the times – reflective of the half-arsed intimacy to full-blown craving for affection that this generation contends with on the regular these days. Whilst it’s easy to drift off into the album’s downtempo mood, it’s a very solid debut effort from the The Internet front-woman who’s very much in her own lane.
“Yet over the album’s 14 tracks the TDE songstress also paints a more nuanced picture, one in which control becomes secondary to a voracious desire for love and intimacy. In turn, love and intimacy become the catalyst for the loss of control. As Travis Scott’s brutal faux murder in the “Love Galore” video demonstrated, infatuation will make you do crazy things. SZA never backs away from re-introducing that narrative. Instead she confronts the complexity of modern love head-on: lying, cheating, boyfriend-sharing and all.”
Read our review.
I love a good concept album, especially one that’s playful and doesn’t require a PhD in Philosophy to understand. Thundercat’s Drunk hits the spot in more ways than one. It’s hilarious, catchy and weird, reminding me of hours spent listening to Frank Zappa and 10cc in the car with my dad. From free-form jazz fusion, to hip-hop, to the video game sounds of “Jameel’s Space Ride,” Thundercat narrates everything from his coping mechanisms to getting stuck in the friend zone to police brutality in a voice that is often comically deadpan. I don’t even need to mention the insane features on this album (Kendrick Lamar, Wiz Khalifa and Pharrell if you must know) – it’s just that dope.
Godfather is the most apt title out of any album that has arrived this year. Wiley delivered an uncompromising celebration of grime with the album upon its launch in February. It’s a grime purist’s dream, in every capacity, with an iconic feature list, 140bpm beef-squashing belters and a whole-heartedly resounding return to the genre’s roots. Whilst the landscape of UK rap is undoubtedly changing with the influx of drill, afrobeat and trap beats, Wiley sticks to what he knows best. And it demonstrates exactly why he – above anyone else – is *the* Godfather.
The xx—‘I See You’
The xx have done a lot of growing in the years since their bland sophomore outing Coexist. Well, mostly Jamie, but I digress. The titular frontman has dramatically upped his game since dropping the masterful In Colour in 2015, and it’s his increasingly consummate ear for production that is this album’s secret weapon. That Hall & Oates sample on “On Hold?” Genius. But it helps that bandmates Romy Madley-Croft and Oliver Sim have also significantly matured their songcraft. All in all, their sleekest outing yet.
Be sure to check out the most recent edition of our Best Tracks of the Week series right here.