Winter is upon us and the end of 2017 is nigh so it;s time to round up the year’s finest music releases. Unlike its predecessor, 2017 didn’t have purple patches where a superabundance of great albums would drop suddenly. However, the calendar was dotted with a few excellent ones. Give these records a spin to help you forget about all those impending assignments.
(Sandy) Alex G – Rocket
This is less of an album, more a delirious scrapbook of musical ideas. The willingness to experiment Alex G showed in previous outings, as well as on Frank Ocean’s Endless/Blonde, is given room to germinate on Rocket. Altered vocal pitches and unconventional modes allow the tracks to move seamlessly within the genre confines of folk, power pop, hard-core, R&B. Which isn’t to say there’s no finished product, ‘Bobby’, ‘Sportstar’ and ‘Proud’ are song-of-the-year contenders.
Kelly Lee Owens – Kelly Lee Owens
I’ve no idea what any of these songs are about, and that’s no discredit KLO’s writing style. It’s just every attempt to dissect the lyrics is intercepted by hypnotic layers of pulsating kickdrums, delicate strings, and ethereal, shadowed vocals. The production is startlingly precise for a debut album; no beat, loop or sample is superfluous. This is also a deceptive listen, the music shifts so gradually and incrementally at times that the compulsion to dance doesn’t register until it’s too late and you’re on your feet in front of everyone on the bus.
Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
Atop of the dizzying heights of stardom, it was a bold move for Kendrick to abandon the formula that helped him catapult to the top of the rap game. On DAMN, he divagates from the filmic ‘concept album’ approach that enriched his previous two albums. DAMN. may be less focussed but that doesn’t matter. More contemporary production and less complex themes make DAMN. more accessible to casual music listeners. It has acerbic, hard-hitters like ‘DNA’ and wistful numbers like ‘FEEL’ and ‘FEAR’ where Kendrick projects a downtrodden persona, wondering where his fame will lead him to.
Lorde ma- Melodrama
It’s hard to think of any other great album that has such obvious, prominent imperfections, e.g. the slightly off-putting spoken interpretation of a bomb exploding on ‘Homemade Dynamite’, the cheap, rubbery acoustic guitar tone on ‘The Louvre’ and even the sequencing with the brilliant ‘Green Light’ being too imposing to open the album. It’s not so much that there is such a volume of wonderful elements to counteract the negatives. Melodrama is to be appreciated as a whole because it is such a brave and honest piece of work. It would lose that overwhelming sense of authenticity if it was the polished, formulaic product on a shelf that Lorde must have felt some pressure to make.
Mark Eitzel – Hey Mr Ferryman
The former American Music Club frontman Mark Eitzel teamed up with Suede guitarist Bernard Butler to craft an outstanding collection of songs which firmly showcase his songwriting skills. From a gambling addicted widow to a conservative man at a Thanksgiving dinner, Eitzel populates Hey Mr Ferryman with memorable characters, pleading with themselves for ways out of their despair. He also gives startling accounts of one-sided relationships like on the mythical ‘La Llorona’ and ‘Nothing and Everything’. Butler’s imprint makes this Eitzel’s heaviest solo record yet with masterful guitarwork.
Oso Oso- The Yunahon Mixtape
Despite surfacing at the start of 2017, this album didn’t connect until summer and it’s been an intense relationship since. Revisiting the Yunahon Mixtape on an almost daily basis since hasn’t consistently revealed new depths of meaning as is the common trajectory, each listen just concentrates and enhances the complexity of emotions covered. The album tracks the course of a relationship, from the all-encompassing initial excitement to the petrifying realisation that it was always a futile pursuit. This record has great hooks and enough instrumental dexterity to melt even the iciest of pop-punk sceptics.
Perfume Genius – No Shape
There has never been a record this powerful about homosexuality. Across 13 coruscating alt-pop tracks, Mike Hadreas introspects about being gay in todays society. The overall sentiment is confident; he’s determined to overcome the forbidding obstacles that still exist. It’s a spiritual journey for Hadreas whose complex relationship with God is described here. His voice glides over lush instrumentation. No Shape could be 2017’s most eclectic release; integrating a wide salmagundi of styles. ‘Slip Away’ and ‘Braid’ are among the highlights.
Waxhatchee – Out in the Storm
Katie Crutchfield makes her finest statement yet on her fourth LP. On this occasion the Alabama songstress writes relatively straightforward rock/indie-folk songs about a relationship gone askew but the results are never bland. Out in the Storm feels instantly timeless and a little catchy. The fist-pumper ‘Silver’ is a contender for track of the year with its momentous guitars over which Crutchfield cries “the kiss on my lips starts to feel unfamiliar”.
Adam Bielenberg & Niall O’Shaughnessy