You’ve seen Liam’s list, now it is time for Ellis’ top 20 albums of 2017. I have listened to over 150 albums this year so narrowing this down to just 20 has been immensely difficult but what can be taken away from this list is just how phenomenal a year 2017 has been musically.
DISCLAIMER: I would have included ‘Saturation 3’ by BROCKHAMPTON but our cut off point clashed with the release of the album (for the record, it is now 4th on my list).
20. Rejjie Snow – The Moon & You
24 year old Dublin born hip-hop artist Rejjie Snow has been a name I have heard for quite a while thanks to some of my friends but this mixtape here is the first full length project he has released; having previously released an EP way back in 2013. His style is similar to that of Loyle Carner and his production is slick and futuristic, the music he creates is truly enjoyable and above all; he is immensely talented. ‘The Moon & You’ is a fine example of his abilities and the standout track has to be ‘PURPLE TUESDAY’ with Joey Bada$$, a staggeringly groovy rap track with cold flows and a catchy hook. The future is very bright for this guy and I cannot wait to hear his upcoming debut studio album ‘Dear Annie’.
19. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Murder Of The Universe
Perhaps the coolest band with the coolest name on Earth set themselves a pretty bold target at the start of 2017; they were looking to release FIVE albums in 12 months. Well, here we are in December and they have brought out four which is a remarkable achievement in itself, but it is this the second release of the year from King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard that has made my list. It is absolutely bonkers in narrative and the band themselves describe it as “the concept album to end all concepts”. Above all of that it has remarkably catchy songs and a strangely intriguing storyline, even if it does seem ludicrous. It has spoken word wonders, infectious choruses and technically astute instrumentals, it is hard to say a bad word about this project and it could just be the album that goes toe to toe with ‘Nonagon Infinity’ as the best in their discography.
18. St. Vincent – MASSEDUCTION
Annie Clark, or St. Vincent as she is otherwise known, is one of this generation’s most talented female solo artists but has never received the commercial praise she truly warrants, her 2014 eponymous work is an absolute triumph and this returning project is at similar levels of genius. She has class and attitude in abundance but isn’t afraid to cut loose and have fun with her music from time to time, as is heard on party pop tune ‘Pills’. Clark is seen by many critics as a kindred spirit of the old guard greats like Bowie and Prince with her idiosyncratic mind and the genuine ability to portray a progressive journey with her music and ‘MASSEDUCTION’ is a prime example of this. She truly is a spiritual successor to the all time greats and must be protected at all costs.
17. Father John Misty – Pure Comedy
The curious case of Josh Tillman is a polarising trip, with Tillman himself describing his music taste as “sarcastic Michael Buble” and this album is a champagne demonstration of that very notion. ‘Pure Comedy’ is, in essence, exactly what it says on the tin, a wonderfully satirical project with some of the wittiest wordplay you’re ever likely to hear from a musician. The quite magnificent ‘Leaving L.A.’ is a 13 minute ballad of absolute wizardry and ‘Total Entertainment Forever’ is one of the most majestic acoustic cuts you’ll hear all year long. It is very rare in today’s music climate to hear such an intellectual man at the forefront of their field, but when it comes to country and/or folk-rock, Father John Misty is the cream of the crop; and boy does he know it.
16. Mura Masa – Mura Masa
This is an artist I have been extremely excited about for quite a while now, it came around when I first heard A$AP Rocky remix his instrumental track ‘Lovesick’ and since then his career has taken off. Collaborations with Charli XCX, Desiigner, Damon Albarn and more have followed and the result was this fantastic debut album. It has all the flavours of old-school electronics and funk with Carribean-style steel drums mixed alongside modern day synthesisers. The variation in his sound is admirable as he manages to transition effortlessly from songs like ‘All Around The World’ to ‘Blu’ which in itself is an achievement. This is such a stellar debut effort from a producer who is only going to get bigger and better so get on board or get left behind.
15. Toro y Moi – Boo Boo
Singer-songwriter, producer and all round wholesome human being Toro y Moi blessed us this year with a smooth album full of synth-rhythm bops about love and longing feeling. ‘Girl Like You’ stands as one of my favourite songs of the year but the beauty of this album is felt when you play it as a whole, it has passion and a flow from track to track which has rarely been topped in 2017. The energy is nothing but positive and Toro y Moi keeps the good vibes flowing on this album which is for me his best venture yet. Slick lyricism and dreamy production oozes out of ‘Boo Boo’ and it is a thoroughly enjoyable listen for anyone who is after some chilled out anthems.
14. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
In 2015 Kendrick Lamar released the album of a generation. ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ became the benchmark all rappers had to strive to, striking a literal perfect balance in terms of conscious subject matter and sonic enjoyment, so when he came back with ‘DAMN.’ the world was rightfully excited. Now let me clarify something immediately, this album is NOT a poor album, it isn’t an okay album, it isn’t even a good album; it is a GREAT album and for any other rapper around at the moment it would be a celebration to call this their own. The reason this album has come under scrutiny from people like myself is because K-Dot’s standards are so high, he dropped three timeless classics back-to-back-to-back and so comparing this to those makes it seem worse. ‘HUMBLE.’ is a phenomenal toe-tapper, ‘DNA.’ is one of Kendrick’s best flow performances and ‘FEAR.’ boasts some of his best vocal work to date. It isn’t a masterpiece, but it is brilliant and that’s why it’s where it is on the list.
13. Bjork – Utopia
Bjork is an intriguing enigma at the best of times, mixing between the bizarre to the outright insanity we call her art. After her 2015 success story ‘Vulnicura’ she has returned with an equally nuts album in ‘Utopia’ and has drafted in the help of masterful producer Arca for this effort. Upon listening to this album I knew straight away I would be in for a thrillride I may not have been prepared for, but with Bjork you always learn to expect the unexpected. ‘Utopia’ is in essence Bjork’s victory lap of artistry, a flash demonstration of her current state and how she herself feels like she is in the Utopia of her mind; it is stunning and I very much recommend it, if it is better than Kendrick’s album then it must be worth a listen.
12. Queens Of The Stone Age – Villains
Legendary rocker Joshua Homme has returned with Queens Of The Stone Age for their seventh studio album and the pressure was on to try and live up to the quite brilliant previous project, 2013’s ‘…Like Clockwork’. Straight off the bat signs were promising, Mark Ronson being recruited for production was a masterstroke and the lead single ‘The Way You Used To Do’ is a certified rock banger. The album has intense flavour and a healthy sense of attitude from start to finish, it is so refreshing to hear a returning 90s band sound so clean and rested, the sound isn’t worn out and Homme rocks his vocals down to a T. I challenge anyone to hear those first four songs and not be encapsulated by the brilliance of the world’s coolest man over 40 Josh Homme.
11. Arcade Fire – Everything Now
Arcade Fire are global superstars and truly one of the biggest and most critically acclaimed bands in the world. Their previous four albums before this one have been universally praised for the daring attitude and phenomenal lyrical content of lead singer Win Butler and his wife Regine Chassagne. They have continued their art-rock progression with this new album ‘Everything Now’ and although it has come under plenty of mixed reviews, it is a glowing reference to the band’s ability to keep up with modern times, utilising electronics and synthesisers more than usual and succeeding in doing so. The album progresses into a thing of beauty and alongside the singles and commercial they shared, it also has very enjoyable interlude tracks which set the context of the album beautifully.
10. Sampha – Process
What a year this man has had. He is an artist I have known about for quite a few years after his dazzling feature on Drake’s 2013 hit ‘Too Much’ and Kanye West’s 2016 masterclass ‘Saint Pablo’. Sampha’s gorgeous vocals and haunting piano keys were always bound to make a brilliant album but even the most keen admirer’s of his wouldn’t have expected ‘Process’ to be quite this good. It won the 2017 Mercury Music Prize ahead of bookies favourites Stormzy and Ed Sheeran which was seen as a true triumph for true music quality as opposed to album sales. Sampha has passion and soul in his voice and his sense of hometown pride to both the UK and Sierra Leone is beautiful. The anecdotal feel of the album leaves a listener gripped and the tales he tells us of losing his mother to cancer are truly heartbreaking. A shining light in this country’s music business and someone who we must value as one of the best talents we have at our disposal.
9. Loyle Carner – Yesterday’s Gone
Loyle Carner is a man of immense talents and this year has been a breakthrough one for the London born rapper. He landed a partnership with Yves Saint Laurent and has gained huge acclaim for his debut album ‘Yesterday’s Gone’ which was Mercury Prize nominated and was named the best album of the year by The Independent, who described the project as “an outstanding debut by one of the UK’s finest young talents.” As for me, I couldn’t agree more, Carner shows off all of his diverse musical influences in this album and the result is the best British solo album of the year, a truly listenable project which you cannot help but come back to again and again. ‘The Isle Of Arran’ and ‘Damselfly’ are personal favourites but it is too good to single out specific tracks really.
8. BROCKHAMPTON – Saturation II
The first album had me hooked and the second one sent me crazy. BROCKHAMPTON are a bizarre entity and one which many have never seen before in this capacity. Seventeen members of all different walks of life, variations of colour, creed and sexual orientation coming together to create some absolutely phenomenal music, a hip-hop album that can be enjoyed in every possible scenario. Bearface does a brilliant job on album closer ‘SUMMER’ while Kevin Abstract shocks us into life on ‘GUMMY’ and Ameer Vann and Matt Champion bring the attitude to ‘SWEET’. There is so much to love about this album and there is truly no denying it anymore; BROCKHAMPTON are the best boyband in the world and probably the most unique act in the whole of the music industry right now. The exciting project of BROCKHAMPTON continues to dazzle fans and they can only go upwards from here.
7. Tyler, The Creator – Flower Boy
As a long time fan of Tyler The Creator’s music, this album has come as quite the shock to me. What I always found remarkable and loveable about Tyler and his work was his care-free attitude, his controversial tendencies and not being tied down to any shackles of society, what this album does is eradicate two of those three and instead be a darling who we can all admire for his sweet-hearted nature. This is his best album by an absolute mile, entirely self-produced and as personal as it gets; Tyler has nailed it. ‘See You Again’, ‘Boredom’ and ”Garden Shed’ show a side to Tyler that we have never seen before and they’re absolutely beautiful, while ‘Who Dat Boy’ and ‘Pothole’ demonstrate his fantastic rapping ability, something he has scarcely shown off throughout his career. A bold plunge into the music Tyler truly wanted to make, the feelings he truly felt, and it appears the key to true happiness in his life, I adore this project.
6. BROCKHAMPTON – Saturation
The feeling I had when first hearing this album is beyond words, I had never in my life heard such diversity and variation in one compact project and it came from a group of guys from LA who met on popular internet forum KanyeToThe. Whether it is Ameer’s cold blooded deliveries on ‘HEAT’ and ‘BUMP’, or it is the stand alone brilliance of Bearface’s solo ballad ‘WASTE’ (the album’s closer), BROCKHAMPTON have something for just about everyone. They have fantastic chemistry on songs and can bounce between rap bangers and conscious thought-provoking anthems so effortlessly it really is a perfect fit having these guys together. It is as bold as it is trendy, and it’s the most refreshing rap collective I can think of since OutKast.
5. Lorde – Melodrama
Lorde burst onto the scene at just 16 years of age when her debut album ‘Pure Heroine’ was released to worldwide acclaim and a sense that pop music had a new up-and-comer to be truly excited about. Well, after a break she is back with the phenomenal follow-up album ‘Melodrama’ and I would go as far to say she has got even better. Her vocal deliveries are haunting at times and beautiful at others, she has beautiful melody and harmonies and this compliments her songwriting brilliantly. A song like ‘Writer In The Dark’ is the purest example of this as she takes a very personal tone and sings about being neglected by a lover but using this song to exact her revenge. ‘Homemade Dynamite’ and ‘Green Light’ are of course wonderful pop tracks and easily some of the best the year had to offer, what makes these songs and the album as a whole so wonderful is the anecdotal touch on them, it is a journey you take with Lorde as she reminisces on times which have both hurt her and made her full with glee. Lorde is now, for me, the most talented pop star in the world and I’d go as far to say she has taken the crown for female artists, I just couldn’t see Beyonce, Rihanna or Taylor releasing this album and it working.
4. Wolf Alice – Visions Of A Life
Wolf Alice are an album that exploded onto the scene in 2015 with their debut album ‘Your Love Is Cool’, demonstrating a wonderful balance of dream-pop indie music and guitar-heavy post-punk rock music courtesy of the instrumentals of Theo Ellis and the passionate vocals of Ellie Rowsell. On this album here, Wolf Alice have confirmed to us all what we knew they were capable of, it is a gigantic leap to the stratosphere of truly world class rock bands at the moment. Ellie’s vocal deliveries are admirable and at times beautiful as she hot-steps between her Jekyll and Hyde personalities throughout the album. On tracks like ‘Yuk Foo’ and the title track ‘Visions Of A Life’ she has an almost demonic persona while on ‘Don’t Delete The Kisses’ and ‘Beautifully Unconventional’ she has a fragility, a passion which can be heard the world over. Wolf Alice have well and truly arrived with this album, and it wouldn’t be out of the question to call them the best band in the country right now, stick that up your pipe and smoke it Kasabian.
3. Joey Bada$$ – ALL AMERIKKKAN BADA$$
Joey Bada$$ demonstrated his woke side to us all this year with his second studio album ‘ALL AMERIKKKAN BADA$$’ and it is a harrowing wake up call to those who filter out the obvious racism going on around us. A politically fuelled album with passion and anger but as well as this it has countless amounts of bangers on it, whether that be the commercial sounding ‘DEVASTATED’ or the jazzy almost ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ sounding track ‘For My People’. “Music is a form of expression, imma use mine to teach you a lesson” raps Joey as he sets out on a mission to open the eyes of many who ignore what happens on a daily basis to the black community. The features are very solid on here too and I highly recommend listening to ScHoolboy Q’s hard verse on ‘ROCKABYE BABY’; but the standout track is without doubt the closer ‘AMERIKKKAN IDOL’ which is a six minute display of sheer genius from a man wise beyond his years. I said this at the point it was released, if Kendrick dropped this the world would have gone crazy, but unfortunately people still aren’t paying attention to this; I urge you do because Joey Bada$$ is one of the best doing it right now.
2. LCD Soundsystem – American Dream
It is a well-documented fact that James Murphy is a troublesome individual to work with, hence why this album came after a seven year hiatus from the band’s third album ‘This Is Happening’, but one thing that cannot be denied is his musical direction. Murphy is a genuine bonafide musical icon and he has produced some of the greatest songs since the turn of the century, as well as three near flawless albums back-to-back-to-back. This album was a bizarre listen and was daring even by LCD Soundsystem’s ridiculous standards. The result, however, was nothing short of sublime, every passing moment of this album is a work of art, from the low-fi cutting edge deliveries of ‘oh baby’ to the heavy and loud electro-funk of ‘how do you sleep?’ Yes, Murphy re-formed LCD Soundsystem for money, but why should we complain when he brings us an album like this? It confirms to me that they are up there with the very best bands not just of the century, but of all time.
1. Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory
Simply staggering. This album has all the critical acclaim in the world and has propelled Vince to the discussion of the very best rappers alive right now. Where ‘Big Fish Theory’ really comes into its own is the attitude it oozes, the influences taken from garage and techno, it sounds like something fresh out of the rave culture with a West Coast rap flow over the top of it. Vince rides every single beat with elegance and poise which is rather impressive given how brash and abrasive some of them can be, particularly the likes of ‘Homage’ and ‘Yeah Right’. I see this one as a hip-hop game changer, I think it is an album we will look back at in the coming years as a real turning point for the genre, a daring plunge into the unknown which has become the making of Vince Staples’ young career.