The Music Fix Albums of 2017
Last year we went big, giving you our selection of 30 albums representing the best of 2016. This year we're focussing, narrowing our gaze, you'll find our 16 of the best of 2017 below. You might think that means 2017 hasn't been such a good year. It means the opposite. With so much new music around it can be difficult to concentrate the mind. So we've chosen our collective favourite albums of the past 12 months. There are lots more that we love and admire but here's our final 16.
Jason Isbell’s the man right? Whether he’s on his own or with his crack band he produces solid gold albums every time. Following the critical acclaim of Southeastern and Something More Than Free would break most people, but not Isbell, he just put the band back together. Whatever you want; raw emotions on ‘Anxiety’, social commentary on ‘White Man’s World’, the beautiful ode to eternal love that is ‘If We Were Vampires’, or nuts on the table rocking on ‘Cumberland Gap’, Isbell and the 400 Unit deliver. The Nashville Sound? This is the Isbell sound.
After the previous collection’s trauma of his stepfather’s death, Loyle Carner returns with a more settled melancholy. Yesterday’s Gone challenges the space between spoken word and hip-hop: vocals tiptoe lightly over music, and foreground the every day over the bright lights. Carner doesn’t want pity, but one can’t escape the emotional pull of a simultaneously beyond-his-years and of-his-years lateral nostalgia, pining a sister who never was, and celebrating a mother who thankfully still is. A beautiful sermon.
Thundercat’s had a busy 2017 releasing a 23-track album, so it’s a good job he’s got a lot of mates like Kendrick Lamar and Kamasi Washington, who contribute to this little-bit mournful collection. Jazz and soul are boiled in the bag to be palatable to 6 Music’s middle-aged indie kids, which is no bad thing as this deep, deeply affecting, work bravely discusses alcohol dependency, which accelerates with age. And who can begrudge a bass player’s album being one of the most talked about of the year.
'Pa'lante'. A call to arms, a protest, a calling card. Just one word and one song but it's the heart of the artist that Alynda Segarra has become. Her words are her weapons of choice, weapons in the sense of striving for inclusiveness, an end to the political and social segregation that the world has been embracing. You can hear The Navigator in two ways, as a set of great songs, all individual in themselves, or as a story, a concept. Either way it's compelling and uplifting. Forward my friends.
Public Service Broadcasting continue their meteoric ascension with third album Every Valley. From the interesting experiments of debut EP The War Room to fun but gimmicky beginnings with debut Inform, Educate, Entertain, the boys in corduroy tackled grander subjects with The Race For Space shattering the one trick pony criticisms. It is 2017’s Every Valley that brings them back to earth and cements their reputation as a serious act, approaching such a sensitive subject matter with great care and respect, and creating a thought-provoking piece of work. From the wonder and optimism of ‘The Pit’ and ‘Progress’, to the anger and rage of ‘All Out’, and the beautiful fragile defiance of ‘They Gave Me a Lamp’ (Song of the year?) and ‘You + Me’, Every Valley is an emotional gut punch glimpse into the past that the music world is all the better for.
The National return after a four hiatus to focus on side projects with their sixth studio album Sleep Well Beast. Continuing with the soaring sombre mood of their last five releases, their latest outing still manages to throw a few curve balls at the listener with fizzling guitar riffs, synth crunches and glitches, and swirling pianos. From the anthemic ‘Day I Die’, the swamp rock of ‘Turtleneck’, and the 80s synth-pop of ‘The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness’, Sleep Well Beast combines heartfelt examinations on marriage and friendship, to tongue in cheek social commentaries, wrapped up in a rocking angular groove.
Genre shifting musical veteran Beck returned to the soundwaves in 2017 with Colors. Never afraid to alienate a few fans in the name of experimentation, Colors is a world away from 2014's Morning Phase and generally received mixed reviews. We think, however, it's a slice of pure pop perfection. An album jam-packed with hooks that will worm their way into your head weeks down the line and suddenly, this is when the music reveals its true colours.
It's been over ten years since Grandaddy's last album. Returning in 2017, ironically with themes of grief and breakups, it's like they never went away. Picking right up where they left off, Last Place is nothing outside of their comfort zone, but it is everything fans were hoping for. Featuring their signature electronic sounds paired with beautiful piano and strings, this is easily their finest work since 2000's The Sophtware Slump.
Another album another pop masterpiece from Annie Clark. If you can call her music pop. It's certainly not in the classic sense, too many electronic whirs and beeps, and a large amount of clever lyrical play and discussion of sexuality and place. There are songs like 'Los Ageless' which is worthy of playlisting on you local pop station, but there's also 'Pills'. It's witty, catchy, melodic (in places), challenging, and totally danceable. What's not to like.
Known for his feel-good surfer-esque guitar style and goofy stage presence, Mac DeMarco doesn't disappoint with his latest outing. This Old Dog is full of the lush, warped sounding chords from previous records, but this time he proves that he can tackle some deeper, more mature subjects (such as the death of a parent). As someone who doesn't take himself too seriously however, there is a playful element to even the most sombre of topics. Even some thorough soul-searching can't stop Mac DeMarco having a bit of fun.
Kesha’s return following her highly publicised court case against Sony and producer, Dr. Luke, was a defiant and brutal retaliation that simmers with unbridled rage and turns out to be one of the best pop albums of the year. When an album opens with something as direct as ‘Bastards’, "I’ve got a lot of people to prove wrong" it’s clear that Kesha has a lot to say and she doesn’t hold back both in energy and in laying her soul bare for the listener. Even in its most bubblegum moments, Rainbow is a pointed attack on those who doubted her.
Ratatatat is so much fun - some of the most exciting and enjoyable experimental pop we’ve heard. No surprise really given Malka (aka Tamara Schlesinger aka probably the nicest person in pop) has got this stuff down to a fine art. There is plenty of political comment - the NHS supporting ‘No No No’ through to her anti-trump tour-de-force, ‘Fell For You’ - but it doesn’t overpower the pureness of sound or her ability to improvise.
Nerina Pallot’s latest is, in her own words, "an album about fucking" - maybe less political than some of her earlier work and lacking the maternal instincts of Year Of The Wolf, the pure passion that imbues everything on Stay Lucky shines through to create what is her best LP to date. It’s an album that pulses with evidence of a songwriter at the top of her game - there are tracks such as ‘Juno’ in that would slide into any of her previous albums, while her masterful ‘Man Didn’t Walk On The Moon’ shows a nuance in both lyrics and vocal performance that highlights Nerina as one of the UK’s best, yet criminally overlooked, talents.
Ellie Rowsell might be just 25, but she’s clearly a talent far beyond her years; it’s rare to hear an album that can segue neatly between pretty hardcore rock to shoegaze pop with ease but with Visions Of A Life, Rowsell and her band, Wolf Alice, somehow manage it. Yet, there’s more - add in some pretty hard funk and even some soul and you have a masterwork that even the most established and adept bands would struggle to create - hard to believe that this is only their second album and almost single-handedly proves that 2017 isn’t the total washout that it first appears.
It's all about the voice on the debut record from Rag 'N' Bone Man (Rory Charles Graham to his mum), and what a voice it is. At once soulful and at other times conveying crippling despair and disappointment, Graham's voice is a masterpiece all on its own. If Rag N' Bone Man brought out a deluxe edition with an acapella second disc it wouldn't lose any of its majesty. Crossing genres from funk, soul, jazz and rock, the album as a whole can be enjoyed by lovers of any genre and is the cross over album of 2017.
From the ashes, phoenix like, come Prophets of Rage, featuring members of Rage Against The Machine, Cypress Hill and Public Enemy, three heavyweight bands who have been at the top of the rap, hip-hop and rock trees for years. Having not produced an album of original group-based music for at least ten years (save his solo material), guitarist Tom Morello is on fine form here. It's no light statement to say he embodies the very essence of a modern day Hendrix with the sounds he produces from his chosen weapon. As always with the people involved, this album is a highly politicised record for a world on the brink of war. An angry, bitter and, at times, hopeful record, this band will go far, demonstrated by their show at Download 2017, one of the weekend's highlights. Fight the Power indeed.
As every year, thanks to The Digital Fix team for putting this feature together: Colin Polonowski, Craig Huntley, Dom Ross, Emma Roberts, and Jonathan Tranter.