Usually there’s a lot of pressure when you talk about your favourite albums of the year because it makes it sound so definitive, so concrete. When it comes to collating a list of my favourite musical releases, I don’t tend to drop everything in December in an effort to try and soak up as much new music as possible before the year’s out, and instead opt for the entries that I happened to keep on constant rotation throughout.
Moreover, does this record have staying power? Is it likely I'll still be listening to this album well into next year? Regrettably, even though 2017 was an exceptional year for music, I didn’t get around to listening to everything I wanted to, so there will likely be a few glaring omissions. Such as, there are a lot of great records this year that only just missed the cut – if only for the fact that I didn’t spend quite enough time with them.
The following list is reflective of my personal opinions only.
10. THE XX - I SEE YOU
After the release of their hushed sophomore Coexist (questionably not titled Coexxist) The xx triumphantly return with a more bombastic, vibrant and risk-taking album in I See You, illuminated by Jamie xx’s proud and rich sampling that unearth a much more dynamic and exploratory side to the UK trio’s sound.
'Dangerous' kicks off with blaring horn samples before segueing into a typical club beat as Romy Croft and Oliver Sim play off each other's unique, but not at all dissimilar vocal styles. The London trio once again lyrically tread the grounds of heartbreak and falling out of love, and the duality between Croft and Sim lends each song a nice sense of objectivity.
It's this sort of dynamic that makes each song feel like a fleshed out idea instead of one narrow perspective or recollection. 'Say Something Loving' has a genuine weighty romance to it and lead single 'On Hold' uses the titular phone analogy as a metaphor for trying to extend a relationship that's already lost its pulse.
Understandably, Jamie xx is the group's internal backbone, but that doesn't mean it’s not worth giving credit to The xx’s progression from humble minimalist beginnings, experimenting with different sounds and arrangements to make them into the band they are today. Croft and Sim have improved both lyrically and vocally as well, and their new shed of confidence is apparent all throughout I See You.
Favourite Tracks: Dangerous, Say Something Loving, A Violent Noise
9. TYLER, THE CREATOR - FLOWER BOY
Despite being practically a household name in contemporary hip hop as well as a frontrunner for the Odd Future gang, Tyler’s always felt like he’s treading water artistically. It might seem cruel to call him out on the signature crude nature of some of his songs, but it never felt like he was growing up alongside his listeners.
Yet with the release of his fourth full-length Flower Boy, Tyler begins to peel away the layers and act as more of an open book, lyrically, showcasing a side of himself that fans and newcomers alike were not at all aware of and even going so far as to question his own relevance in the scene, with a long-standing car analogy littered throughout the album.
But even through Tyler’s noticeable maturation, he still managed to keep his own identity intact, complemented by vibrant, summery production and a diverse roster of features throughout. Flower Boy is very much a Tyler album through and through, he’s just ditched his rebel bad boy persona in favour of straight authenticity, and it works wonders.
Favourite Tracks: Who Dat Boy, Boredom, November
8. CONVERGE - THE DUSK IN US
Converge maintain their crown as one of the best of the metalcore genre with the release of The Dusk In Us, their first studio album in five years since the release of All We Love We Leave Behind back in 2012.
The Boston four-piece continue to push their sound into complex, new territories with each release, and The Dusk In Us is no exception. 'A Single Tear' is an absolutely tenacious opener - one that continually builds on its own momentum before hitting a powerful climax. This, alongside the devastatingly volatile 'I Can Tell You About Pain' in which a wounded Bannon screams "You don't know what my pain feels like" is a wonderfully cathartic expression and are sure to become staples in the group's catalogue.
Some have criticised The Dusk In Us for being a little too "by the numbers" for Converge, but with cuts like 'Thousands Of Miles Between Us' as well as the seven-minute long title-track, the band don't shy away from dipping their toe into more progressive waters.
Formed as long ago as 1990, Converge are steadfast approaching three whole decades of activity, yet it's hard to imagine them throwing in the towel anytime soon, lest they start to see diminishing returns with the their creative output. Although at this stage, that's not looking too likely.
Favourite Tracks: A Single Tear, I Can Tell You About Pain, Wildlife
7. VINCE STAPLES - BIG FISH THEORY
Anecdotally I’m one of the few in my social circle that genuinely loved this album; the blend of UK garage and Detroit techno is an avenue that Staples flow seamlessly fits into, and with a slew of guest producers in the form of Sophie, Flume and even Bon Iver's own Justin Vernon, Big Fish Theory sounds uniquely its own.
From the sample heavy opener of 'Crabs In A Bucket' to the forlorn bass-laden 'Rain Come Down', Staples explores topics of nihilism, fame and the human condition despite being wrapped in what seems like simple club bangers.
'Yeah Right' has a weathered military march sound to it, and even on 'Samo' a self-aware Staples pokes fun at the inherent repetitive nature of his own song (and perhaps on a grander scale, the scene itself), spitting "Just the same old thing, watch me do the same old thing, do the same old thing."
At just over thirty-minutes runtime, Big Fish Theory makes for a very succinct, flavourful listen full of equal parts wonder and filth - much like what I can only imagine the club scene of Long Beach is like. Considering Vince is only 23, he could very well be on his way to become one of our generations most promising young rappers.
Favourite Tracks: Crabs In A Bucket, BagBak, Rain Come Down
6. PALLBEARER - HEARTLESS
On their third full-length release, Pallbearer err a little more on their progressive side, noticeably rationing their doom influence found on previous efforts. The opening one-two punch of 'I Saw The End' and 'Thorns' have some crushingly good riffs, yet the band switches gears on some of the more lengthy numbers.
Similar to Foundations Of Burden as well as Sorrow and Extinction before it, Brett Campbell's vocals soar, yet are heavy with lament - accentuating the feeling of grief and blistering despair that cleaves its way through the record's near hour runtime.
'A Plea For Understanding', the twelve-minute closer, is a heart-wrenching ode to forlorn love, as well as a subtle acknowledgement to the routine mistakes and pitfalls that often cause the demise of said relationships. It's unapologetically human, as well as acting as a devastatingly emotional gut-punch.
Heartless is a brutal melting pot of grunge, doom, and even psychedelic prog rock that somehow maintains accessibility to those yet unfamiliar with the genre, and is undoubtedly the band's most triumphant release of their career thus far.
Favourite Tracks: I Saw The End, Dancing In Madness, A Plea For Understanding
5. BIG K.R.I.T. - 4EVA IS A MIGHTY LONG TIME
Perhaps one of the most criminally overlooked hip hop projects of 2017, Mississippi's Big K.R.I.T. aka Justin Scott delivers on not one, but two fairly ambitious records that both pay off in bright, unique ways.
Right out of the gate, Scott demonstrates a ridiculous flow that practically gushes out of him on his namesake of an opening track. 'Big Bank' and 'Subenstein (My Sub IV)' are notable highlights with rich production and remarkably indulgent choruses that make me want to blast them down the freeway -- and for good reason!
And yet, disc two shows another side of Justin Scott, taking on a more proud southern array of sounds that makes it more than clear he's not forgotten his roots, especially evident across the six-minute 'Miss Georgia Fornia' with an excellent feature from Joi. Moreover, while there are a nice assortment of features here, Scott goes it alone on most of these cuts and is thankfully confident enough that he doesn't feel the need to saturate the tracklist with guest spots.
You could listen to these sequentially, or you take each side for what it is individually. The first bleeds with confidence and bravado while the other is reflective and interpersonal. Scott not only manages to toe this line, but impressively harnesses both sides of his ego that makes for very honest, compelling listening.
Favourite Tracks (Disc One): Big Bank, Subenstein (My Sub IV), Get Away
Favourite Tracks (Disc Two): Miss Georgia Fornia, Drinking Sessions, Bury Me In Gold
4. ALEX CAMERON - FORCED WITNESS
Saturated in heavy 80's pop and new wave worship, many a song on Forced Witness will burrow away into your subconscious, dripping with catchy lyrics and sprinklings of cheesy sax and synth throughout that impressively have a sense of timelessness about them. The persona that Cameron crafts is that of a tragic hero - the guy that still buckles away at his music career despite overwhelming evidence that he's not getting anywhere.
'Stranger's Kiss' is the 1980's love duet that never was, relaying choruses of forlorn love with Angel Olson that succeeds in not only being emotionally charged, but hilarious as well. Forced Witness not only triumphs as a brilliant character study, but also a testament to a bygone era and at the most basic level, a fantastic pop record.
Regrettably, Cameron's fatal flaw is putting all his eggs in one basket. A lot is invested into his persona, which kind of makes up his entire scheme. His lyrics and storytelling come from the perspective of a loveable scumbag, so while some might find Cameron's identity and whole 80's throwback aesthetic to be a little much, if you're on board, it's a good time.
Favourite Tracks: Runnin' Outta Luck, Stranger's Kiss, Marlon Brando
3. COUNTERPARTS - YOU'RE NOT YOU ANYMORE
Although I find my interest in the genre dwindling in recent days, Counterparts remain at the top of their game, serving up emotionally honest yet heavy hitting melodic hardcore and continue to evolve their sound and refine their strengths - ensuring they never make the same record twice.
You're Not You Anymore is their strongest effort to date, and clocking in at approximately 28 minutes, hits the listener hard and fast before taking its bow and and drawing a curtain. I've never considered any of Counterparts back catalogue to contain "filler" per se, but brevity does some remarkable favours, reducing every song down to exactly what it needs to be and only that. 'Bouquet' is a sucker punch that sets the tone for the album ahead, while the chorus of 'Haunt Me' definitely shoots some chemicals through my brain.
The album maintains great pace, and doesn't feel like a rushed listen. Each song has its purpose and there's enough variety between tracks for it to feel like a completely fleshed out project. Brendan Murphy stays at the top of his vocal and lyrical game, continuing to shed insight onto mental illness without explicitly saying as such.
Favourite Tracks: Arms Like Teeth, Haunt Me, Fragile Limbs
2. BRAND NEW - SCIENCE FICTION
It’s maybe a little less common these days for a band to confirm their breakup prior to the actual event, but after Long Island’s Brand New made clear that their last year of activity would be in 2018, it led a sense of urgency to their long awaited fifth, and what would now be, final album.
Each release of the band always sounded slightly different than the rest. They grew and matured along their journey but didn’t entirely relinquish their pop punk roots, yet there are parts of Science Fiction that feel influenced by all angles of their discography. ‘Lit Me Up’ is a haunting opener that cleanly segues into ‘Can’t Get It Out’, which could sit quite snugly between the band’s Deja Entendu and The Devil And God… era of their career.
‘137’ is an impassive doomsday anthem, embracing the world and all its horror without as much as a flinch, but its numerical counterpart ‘451’ rounds out the album’s tail-end with an infectious bluesy-swagger that wouldn’t feel out of place on the tracklisting of Daisy. Yet it’s ‘In The Water’ that stands tall as the album’s brightest cut, riddled with beautiful soaring vocals and an impeccable closing guitar solo that may very well place the track toward the apex of the band’s catalogue.
The album emanates a subtle theme of “It’s all part of the process” with Lacey reflecting on his past and still not necessarily seeing where his future will go. It shortly becomes clear that Science Fiction is a celebration of Brand New itself - a gloomy and introspective celebration. Many of Lacey’s lyrics reflect not only his personal life but the status of the band also, with the chorus of ‘Waste’ being a prime example of reflecting on the struggles of creative perfectionism.
“Cause every night had you laid low // It's going to feel so good to let it go // It's all in your head, your race is run // Don't give up, my son, this is the last one.”
You could let the recent sexual allegations against Lacey taint the record, but personally, Brand New have always been more about the memories formed with each new release and the times in my life that they acted as a candle in the dark, rather than the profiles of the members themselves. With Science Fiction, the band is saying goodbye in one fell swoop, and suffice to say, this is a record I’m going to look back on for a long time now. If this really ends up being their swan song, they couldn’t have gone out on a higher note.
Favourite Tracks: Same Logic/Teeth, In The Water, 451
1. BROCKHAMPTON - SATURATION (I, II & III)
Okay, so maybe this is technically cheating, but across three projects, Brockhampton catalogues a total of 40 solid bangers, not including skits, (which also share some incredible production and bars) that their level of quality output is bordering on insane. There are 15 of them, and they all met on a Kanye West message board. You can’t make this shit up.
Truth be told, when the very first Saturation came out back in July I was pretty much convinced that it would end up being my hip-hop album of the year, completely oblivious to the fact that two other completely fleshed out projects were not far away. The group’s chemistry was diverse but not at all overbearing, resulting in some amazingly catchy hooks and choruses as well as bars that were equal parts thoughtful and hilarious. Everybody had their part to play, and with a number of producers on board allowed for not only some seriously memorable hard-hitting rap tracks but also some more minimalist sounds, making it near impossible for the group to be pigeon-holed.
Nothing on Saturation ever felt phoned in. Each disc had style and legs of its own with a boisterous track list and shadings of vulnerability in-between. Despite being sandwiched with bar-heavy party cuts, it was often the more somber numbers that became the runaway highlights. Not only were there some seriously catchy songs on this thing, there were also some genuinely moving moments as well.
‘FACE’, a song whose main hook is captained by Russell Boring aka JOBA mourning over a fickle lover; while not the most original concept, elicits sincere emotion, which could very well be one of the bands most critical strengths. A song with even the most infectious hook or melody doubles its audience if it demonstrates that a real emotional connection can be made. Brockhampton manages both on frequent occasion.
In response to the insistence that Brockhampton be referred to as a "boyband" rather than a rap group, Kevin Abstract hopes to challenge the idea of what a traditional American boyband looks like in today's society.
"Then there would be a ton of kids out there that identify with us and be like, 'I'm like that. I'm okay with being like that.'"
Moreover, despite releasing three incredibly solid projects this year, the band has gone on to state that their follow-up LP TEAM EFFORT is set to drop sometime early 2018, not only citing a plethora of creativity and talent but also a die-hard work ethic by the looks of things. You can't really argue with that.
Favourite Tracks (Disc One): GOLD, BOYS, SWIM
Favourite Tracks (Disc Two): GUMMY, SWEET, SUMMER
Favourite Tracks (Disc Three): BOOGIE, BLEACH, HOTTIE
Extended Plays and Honourable Mentions:
Denzel Curry – 13
END – From The Unforgiving Arms Of God
Injury Reserve – Drive It Like It’s Stolen
Hundredth – RARE
Chelsea Wolfe – Hiss Spun
Billy Woods – Known Unknowns
Open Mike Eagle – Brick Body Kids Still Daydream
The Mountain Goats – Goths
Glassjaw – Material Control
Propagandhi – Victory Lap
Ylva – M E T A
Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
Wiki – No Mountains In Manhattan
Make Them Suffer – Worlds Apart
Nothing, Nowhere – Reaper
Happy holidays from everyone at 24Hundred!