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The List: Stereoboard's Best Albums of 2017

Tuesday, 12 December 2017 Written by Stereoboard

That's another 12 months (almost) filed away. If we're being kind, it was a mixed bag. But one thing 2017 had on its side was the music. We had a couple of future all time classics dropped into our laps and a consistent stream of exciting, thought-provoking and, importantly, fun records to keep us occupied. 



LORDE // MELODRAMA

It’s in the sleeve art: if ‘Pure Heroine’ was monochrome cool, ‘Melodrama’ is an explosion of colour. Traversing endorphin rushes and crushing moments of solitude, Lorde’s second album collects love’s rough edges and sprawling mess into a wild, ambitious whole. It’s a staggering piece of work from a true original: an album that appears to reveal itself all at once only to produce ace after ace from its sleeve when you thought the laughing/crying was over. // Huw Baines

Listen: Green Light



HURRAY FOR THE RIFF RAFF // 

THE NAVIGATOR

A concept album set in an imaginary dystopian future ​where culture-decimating gentrification has run amok, ‘The Navigator’ is the year’s most potent and timely musical allegory. Deeply personal and polemical, Alynda Segarra’s fortified songwriting is enraged, desolate, regretful, spiky, proud and defiant as she explores ideas of the self, alienation and communal heritage. Delivered via a thrillingly eclectic smorgasbord of Lou Reed punk, streetwise rock ‘n’ roll, doo wop, ghostly Joy Division synths, gospel balladry and Afro-Cuban rhythms, ‘The Navigator’ is as sonically rich and accessible as it is intellectually stirring. // Simon Ramsay

Listen: Hungry Ghost


 

KENDRICK LAMAR // DAMN. 

It’s become fashionable to suggest ‘DAMN.’ is a failure because it lacks the scope or emotional depth of ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’. But you could apply that same rubric to virtually every other hip-hop album ever made. In truth, ‘DAMN’ is a more than commendable follow-up. It draws less from jazz and funk and it deals with less weighty topics (to an extent), but Kendrick’s own performance might be his most impressive ever. From the first stanza of exhilarating single DNA., he’s relentlessly visceral and hard hitting, raging against institutionalised racism and misrepresentation. It’s further proof, as if it were needed, that he has a fair few rounds in him yet. // Jonathan Rimmer

​Listen: Humble


 

THE WAR ON DRUGS // A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING

Following the unprecedented success of 2014’s ‘Lost In The Dream’, guitar wizard Adam Granduciel was under pressure to maintain momentum. He duly delivered with ‘A Deeper Understanding’, the War on Drugs’ dreamy fourth LP. While the highs weren’t quite as high as on its predecessor, the level of consistency exceeded expectations and ensured the Philadelphia outfit continued their meteoric rise. They are now heirs apparent to the thrones occupied by mainstream monsters like Bruce Springsteen and Dire Straits in their glory days. // Graeme Marsh

Listen: Pain



JULIEN BAKER // TURN OUT THE LIGHTS

A masterpiece of intimacy, Julien Baker’s second album fully immersed the listener in her emotions. Her vocals made you feel all of her pain at every disappointment, every struggle, every heartbreak, and all her glorious, pure, exuberant release at the moment of redemption. The starkness of the production, where you could hear the squeak of a guitar string, the vibrato of a cello, the echo of a piano key, added to the sense that you were there in the room with her. Never has a record made you want to give the singer a good hug quite this much. // Jennifer Geddes

Listen: Appointments



THE NATIONAL // SLEEP WELL BEAST

The National have a new headquarters, and it’s changed the way they write records. They escaped the claustrophobic confines of rented basements and family attics in Brooklyn by swapping them for a tranquil studio in a rural area of upstate New York, giving the band room to breathe, experiment and develop. The result was a triumphant record that went full throttle into daring electronic textures and guitar solos, as well as playing with parallel threads that permeate throughout: the inability to evade history-defining politics, the ennui of middle age and unignorable cracks in a marriage. // Helen Payne

Listen: The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness



THE MENZINGERS // AFTER THE PARTY

Few punk releases this year have been met with as much buzz as 'After The Party'. Picking up where the Gaslight Anthem left off, the Menzingers' emotionally stirring tales of working class America, told on tracks like Lookers, Midwestern States, House on Fire and Your Wild Years, are delivered with the warmth and passion of heartland classics like Bruce Springsteen’s 'Born To Run' and 'Darkness on the Edge of Town'. // Jon Stickler

Listen: Lookers

 



CONVERGE // THE DUSK IN US

Metalcore doesn’t mean what we’re led to believe it does. It’s not Monster Energy drinks and snapbacks. It’s four men from Massachusetts. It’s Converge. ‘The Dusk In Us’ was their ninth album and an affirmation – nay, a gauntlet being hurled down – of the band’s position as leaders in heavy music. The needle-sharp, off-kilter riffing of A Single Tear was just as perfect as the expansive, subdued title track: everything works. This is basically a Converge Greatest Hits. They raided their storied discography and spat out the best bits, covered in ectoplasm and feedback. Lots of feedback. // Alec Chillingworth

​Listen: A Single Tear



ALEX LAHEY // I LOVE YOU LIKE A BROTHER

Not everything has to be convoluted and extraordinary, but oversimplifying things can also detract from their importance. A happy medium, then, is sometimes a gift in itself. That’s where you’ll find Alex Lahey’s ‘I Love You Like A Brother’. The Australian songwriter doesn’t believe her stories are exceptional, but that’s not the point. She is able to tell her tales in such a way that they become relatable to others. That’s where her magic lies. It also helps that the record is brimming with pop-rock earworms. // Laura Johnson

Listen: Every Day's The Weekend



SZA // CTRL

SZA’s long awaited debut album detailed the personal struggles of a young black American woman with the sort of refreshing honesty that many can relate to. Her words were set against soundscapes based around empty-sounding electric guitars, electronic beats and the occasional g-funk keyboard, and delivered with a unique vocal style that swayed from scatting to rapping. The combination placed her as an important voice of her generation. Her talent would be wasted by any more innocuous Maroon 5 collaborations. // Jennifer Geddes

​Listen: Drew Barrymore



U2 // SONGS OF EXPERIENCE

An album title that directly responds to the PR disaster that was their previous offering ('Songs of Innocence') presents a band that need to earn our trust again. It hits its marks, loaded with an intensity and hunger that frequently captivates, and with absolute bangers in Lights of Home and You're the Best Thing About Me. It's an record about being spiritually present at a time of profound anxiety. Their best work in 20 years. // Jacob Brookman

​Listen: The Blackout

 



WORRIERS // SURVIVAL POP

Lauren Denitzio is one of the finest songwriters working in punk, or anywhere else for that matter. As a lyricist they have an eye for realistic, worn-in details that immediately ring sincere, while their melodic gifts continually prove that three minutes is all you need if you know what you’re doing. ‘Survival Pop’ is a self-reflective piece of work that feels entirely inclusive. // Huw Baines

​Listen: The Possibility

 



ALISON KRAUSS // WINDY CITY

After battling back from chronic vocal problems, Alison Krauss returned better than ever with her first solo album for 18 years. It’s easy to become lost in heartfelt reinterpretations of songs by Ray Charles, Brenda Lee and Glenn Campbell as this album’s unhurried spaciousness recalls simpler, happier times. It’s even easier to appreciate producer Buddy Cannon’s delicately empathetic instrumental touches. But, overall, Krauss’s seemingly indestructible vocal prowess steals the show, her breathtaking tone so pure and beguiling she’d make the most heavenly angel sound like a hoarse trucker. // Simon Ramsay

Listen: Losing You


SINKANE // LIFE AND LIVIN' IT

Sinkane’s sixth full length release demonstrates bandleader Ahmed Gallab’s capacity for combining lovable, immediate hooks with retro flourishes and African vocal motifs. The songwriting allows elaborate rhythms to do the heavy lifting while krautrock synths, funk guitars and elegantly blended vocal harmonies provide handsome adornment to spacious, primal grooves. The cumulative effect is tear-inducing, wonderful music that makes you want to let go and get down. Try and catch them in 2018 if you get the chance. // Jacob Brookman

​Listen: U'Huh



SLOWDIVE // SLOWDIVE

To disappear for the best part of 20 years and return with a record deemed to be your best is a neat feat. But that’s exactly what resurrected shoegazers Slowdive managed with this eponymous release. Underpinned by the delectable dual tones of Rachel Goswell and Neil Halstead, ‘Slowdive’ weaved its magical spell through glimmering guitar splendour and shimmering serenity. Comebacks don’t get any better than this. // Graeme Marsh

Listen: Don't Know Why



VINCE STAPLES // BIG FISH THEORY

Except for perhaps Brockhampton, nobody in hip-hop has come bursting out the blocks as emphatically as Vince Staples in the past couple of years. His debut ‘Summertime 06’ was a tad overlong, but it was a good initial representation of the skills at his disposal. On ‘Big Fish Theory’ he retained the same moody aesthetic, but expanded his vocal range and was more creative in how he used his futuristic beats. Much like Kendrick and Tyler, The Creator he’s a talented rapper with star power, but his narratives are more cryptic and his sound increasingly feels as inspired by the club as it does the street. // Jonathan Rimmer

​Listen: Big Fish



SORORITY NOISE // YOU'RE NOT AS ___________ AS YOU THINK

On their third album Sorority Noise addressed the breezy topics of mental health, suicide and Christian faith while cherry-picking from the worlds of alt-rock, pop-punk and post-hardcore. The brew was then run through the brutally honest and humorously glib perspective of frontman Cameron Boucher. This was the perfect emo record to listen to in the dark and have a good cry with, and it has placed the band in a prime position to take the crown from the genre’s disgraced heroes. // Jennifer Geddes

​Listen: No Halo



SAMPHA // PROCESS

Having contributed his vocals and production skills to records by Drake and Kanye, Sampha made a name for himself in an already high profile world with his debut. ‘Process’ is a deeply intimate portrayal of personal growth framed by the loss of a parent and shooting to fame. He toys with vocal samples, drum loops and a world of instruments that collectively make up a rich album that reflects both childhood nostalgia and inner turmoil. Despite dealing with themes of grief, illness and death, he concocts a truly accessible record that merges modern hip-hop tropes with warmth and genuine feeling. // Helen Payne

Listen: (No One Knows Me) Like The Piano



WEAVES // WIDE OPEN

Strange adjective: Unusual or surprising; difficult to understand or explain. Weaves’ ‘Wide Open’ was strange. For a band to be unique in a music industry that is bursting at the seams with new acts appearing every day is quite a feat. But to create a similarly unusual record that defies genre and paves the way for an exciting future is something else. Listen to Scream, their collaboration with throat singer Tanya Tagaq, and you’ll get the idea pretty quick. // Laura Johnson

Listen: Walkaway



CREEPER // ETERNITY, IN YOUR ARMS

Swooping in with flashes of Misfits, Meat Loaf and the Cure to deliver a grandiose horror-inspired graphic novel starring paranormal investigator James Scythe, it's a case of expect the unexpected as Creeper flit between giant riffs (Down Below) and 100mph pop-punk (Room 309). But don’t forget the country duets (Crickets) and twinkly pianos (I Choose To Live) that refuse to come off as gimmicky. You want anthems? Listen to Suzanne and you'll be screaming along: “I wannna die holding hands.” Undoubtedly one of the great British debuts of modern times. // Jon Stickler

Listen: Suzanne



ALVVAYS // ANTISOCIALITES

A subtle reinvention of the sound the Canadian indie-poppers navigated on their self-titled bow, ‘Antisocialites’ found Alvvays more melodically ambitious and comfortable in their surroundings. Led by a versatile vocal performance from Molly Rankin, the record ducked and dived through shimmering retro love songs, zippy post-punk singalongs and longing glances over lo-fi ballads. A delight. // Huw Baines

Listen: Dreams Tonite

 



​​TRIVIUM // THE SIN AND THE SENTENCE

Stuck between rocks and harder places for the majority of their career, Trivium seemingly thought “may as well” and churned out a worldie in ‘The Sin and the Sentence’. Here the Floridian four-piece blended the Metallica-meets-In Flames immediacy of their landmark ‘Ascendency’ record with the progressive, chin-stroking song structures of the criminally overlooked ‘Shogun’. Add to that Matt Heafy’s new-and-improved, version 2.0 clean vocals amid the screaming and you’ve got yourself an hour’s worth of immaculate, brutal, undeniably catchy heavy metal for the ages. Breakdowns. Solos. Twin-leads. Gang vocals. The best elements of Trivium, all stuffed into one near perfect pot. // Alec Chillingworth

​Listen: The Sin and the Sentence



TYLER, THE CREATOR // FLOWER BOY

In many ways, Tyler is the poster boy for hip-hop in the digital age. He’s brash, outspoken and unnecessarily provocative. He also possesses an impressive ear for production and can produce sonically adventurous rap songs that push the boundaries. His undeniable talent has often been overshadowed by offensive comments and stupid publicity stunts, but on ‘Flower Boy’ something had changed. For the first time, he was likeable and charismatic from the outset, while his rapping ability had only improved. In other words, this was the Tyler we’d been crying out for. // Jonathan Rimmer

​Listen: Who Dat Boy



HAIM // SOMETHING TO TELL YOU

Superb musicianship, innovative melody writing and profoundly intelligent production combined on ‘Something to Tell You’ to deliver a record that runs Haim’s 2013 debut close for superior West Coast pop perfection. Of particular note is the development of Danielle Haim’s vocals, which may have gone under-celebrated up to now due to the conservatism of the lyrical content. The album demonstrates this extraordinary voice: storied and soulful in the best possible way. // Jacob Brookman

​Listen: Want You Back

 



(SANDY) ALEX G // ROCKET

(Sandy) Alex G’s ‘Rocket’ is post-modern dissection of the American dream through the lens of a millennial, delivered in the form of a playlist as creative expression. And it’s as bizarre and challenging as that statement suggests. The record is a constantly surprising journey through genre and tone combining lo-fi indie, county, jazz funk, hip-hop, dream-pop, avant garde instrumentals and industrial punk, so it’s entirely impossible to say what he will do next. He might just start a t-shirt design company. Millennials like starting those. // Jennifer Geddes

​Listen: Bobby



BULLY // LOSING

Bully’s second album gripped us by both ears as soon as we heard the mix of the first track, which put Alicia Bognanno’s voice above everything else. On songs such as Running - on which she screams “I’ll admit it, I get anxious too, just like you” - she held nothing back. There were moments of utter abandon countered by vulnerability throughout. Ballsy and brilliant. // Laura Johnson

Listen: Running



FEIST // PLEASURE

A ‘solo’ record in its purest form. Intimate, raw and delivered with zero deference to convention, ‘Pleasure’ appears skeletal only for the richness of Feist’s voice and the emotional pull of her words to fill in the gaps. Perhaps destined to be remembered as a difficult LP when compared to her pop-oriented releases, it’s so much more than that. One for headphones and an afternoon with fuck all to do. // Huw Baines

​Listen: Pleasure



GRIZZLY BEAR // PAINTED RUINS

‘Painted Ruins’ is an album that rewards repeated listens. On the first, it might sound just like any other Grizzly Bear album, only with more synths. On the second and third, its intricate layers become evident, and the articulation with which they’re executed is no less than perfect. It’s easy to get hypnotised by the hazy soundscapes, which blend jazz percussion with heavy guitar reverb and sustained synth notes to create a cinematic space of calm, only broken by the more pop-based Mourning Sound and Losing All Sense. // Helen Payne

Listen: Mourning Sound



DIZZEE RASCAL // RASKIT

Grime’s re-emergence as an incredibly fertile (and bankable) genre led to ‘Raskit’ - Dizzee’s sixth album - doubling down on cheap ‘n’ nasty 808 grooves and sinister 8-bit synth arrangements. The result was an album of focused, compelling, urgent music, and one that pushed the Londoner’s most enduring talent - his lyrical flow - to the front and centre. Much of the joy in ‘Raskit’ comes from Dizzee’s capacity to convey humility and humour in stridently aggressive music and, though the album is a little long, there isn’t any obvious filler here: just an hour of exhilarating flow from one of the best in the business. // Jacob Brookman

​Listen: Wot U Gonna Do?



CHRIS STAPLETON // FROM A ROOM:VOL 1

In a year when hirsute singer-songwriter Chris Stapleton treated fans to two new albums, his first took the gold by a whisker. If there was any trepidation about following 2015’s ‘Traveller’, an award-winning debut that shifted over two million copies, it didn’t show. Sticking to the same traditional country aesthetic as its predecessor, albeit integrating blues, gospel and barn-burning rock ‘n’ roll into his rootsy stew, Stapleton spun more tales of life’s beautiful and destructive dance over nine achingly authentic songs that made for a tighter and ultimately – whisper it – superior offering to his debut. // Simon Ramsay

Listen: Broken Halos



WAXAHATCHEE // OUT IN THE STORM

Katie Crutchfield is quickly assembling one of the truly unfuckwithable discographies in indie-rock. ‘Out in the Storm’, her fourth album as Waxahatchee, is a thrilling, beautifully paced look at a relationship that’s been dashed against the rocks - its pain, confusion and spite set against a growing sense of calm and some typically satisfying hooks. // Huw Baines

​Listen: Silver

 



KELELA // TAKE ME APART

Kelela’s first full album delivered a focused selection of sultry, lo-fi electronica, recorded with producers from the worlds of pop and avant-garde: Arca, Ariel Rechtshaid and her key collaborator, Jam City. The vocal phrasing is probably the album’s most distinctive element, with compelling, percussive melodies finding their way into otherwise smooth and laconic-sounding bars. Like the majority of work by genre cousins NAO and FKA Twigs, Kelela’s music lives and dies on the edginess of its production. 'Take Me Apart' is very much alive. // Jacob Brookman

​Listen: LMK



THE HORRORS // V

With renowned producer Paul Epworth moulding the Horrors’ consistently mesmerising wall of sound in such a way as to amplify their oft-lost melodies, ‘V’ shot to the top of the band’s repertoire. Pulsing beats, distorted synths, thunderous power and warped pop genius resulted in a tour de force journey through diverse styles. Always the subject of excessive hype, this time the Horrors delivered in spades. // Graeme Marsh

Listen: Machine



THE BIG MOON // LOVE IN THE 4TH DIMENSION

The collective energy of this girl gang’s debut album helped breathe new life into the stagnant, male-dominated indie-rock scene, with big clashing choruses and witty one-liners. While love remains a well covered topic in music, frontwoman Juliette Jackson manages to relate the dizzyingly excitable sensation in a fresh way. Most importantly, along with all the scrunchies, playfully ironic Winnie the Pooh jumpers, bonding over ‘Spice World’, and covers of Madonna’s Beautiful Stranger, the band showcase a formidable strength that is contagious. // Jennifer Geddes

​Listen: Happy New Year


 

PROPAGANDHI // VICTORY LAP

Some 30 years into their time together, Propagandhi might have hoped for their words to be less relevant. Of course, that is absolutely not the case. ‘Victory Lap’ found Chris Hannah and Todd Kowalski staring down the barrel and wondering if it was all worth it. Hannah’s words, in particular, might have sounded defeatist if not for the reality that informed them, the band’s latest onslaught of riffs - delivered in tandem with Sulynn Hago and Dave ‘Beaver’ Guillas - and rediscovered melodic heft. The world outside the window is fucked, but that doesn’t mean the fight is over. // Huw Baines

​Listen: Failed Imagineer



NADINE SHAH // HOLIDAY DESTINATION

Nadine Shah’s voice is undoubtedly the star of the show on ‘Holiday Destination’. She trades in catchy hooks on 2016, Relief and Mother Fighter, and works in trills on the title track in a mesmerising and addictive fashion. But it is always undercut by sharp and unsettling instrumentation: spiky, post-punk guitar twangs and a brooding sense of unease that mirrors the huge themes she addresses. Shah surveys the refugee crisis, Islamophobia, and racism in politics through the eyes of a second generation immigrant who feels the weight of being told to get “out the way” by a “fascist in the White House”. // Helen Payne

Listen: Holiday Destination



DIET CIG // SWEAR I'M GOOD AT THIS

It’s rare that a band comes along and reminds you what it was like to really have fun. No pretence, egos left at the door and shoelaces tied tight to prevent any high kick mishaps. Diet Cig are that band. But that’s not to say they’re all cheer and no chops. The duo have their heads on a swivel and tackle everything from slut-shaming and inequality in the music industry to turning 21. Well rounded and ready to party, Diet Cig are the band you wish were your best friends. // Laura Johnson

Listen: Harvard



CODE ORANGE // FOREVER

We've lived with the genre-defying 'Forever' for nearly a year now and its unparalleled brutality doesn't look likely to be matched any time soon. The Pittsburgh five-piece forged a game-changing record, fearlessly smashing through the limiting boundaries of hardcore while still remaining loyal to their influences. Regarded by the heavy music community as an all time essential already, it laid the foundations for a stellar 2017. Even as Rolling Stone and the Grammys pick up on their meteoric rise, we're yet to see Code Orange at their most ferocious. // Jon Stickler

Listen: Bleeding in the Blur


STORMZY // GANG SIGNS & PRAYER

Shoving grime into the mainstream in a way not seen since Dizzee Rascal’s heyday, Stormzy appeared on every TV show imaginable while still clutching his credibility. And that’s because his music is his integrity, his armour when you see him dueting with Ed Sheeran. Packing filthy bangers like Big For Your Boots and First Things First, he also croons with the best of them. He’s not Frank Ocean, but his passion, his belief makes him seem so. Lay Me Bare and the Blinded By Your Grace only lend his narrative extra weight. // Alec Chillingworth

​Listen: Big For Your Boots



DOWNTOWN BOYS // COST OF LIVING

Their second full length album,‘Cost of Living’, found Downtown Boys remaining fearless in their defiance of oppressors while continuing to mature musically. Though the topics they tackle may seem heavy to some, they will never drag you down. They have an ever-increasing stock of uplifting punk songs that speak of inclusivity over everything. // Laura Johnson

Listen: A Wall

 



MASTODON // EMPEROR OF SAND

Having faced a series of tragic personal events leading up to the writing process for 'Emperor of Sand', Mastodon crafted the most ambitious record of their career. It's not only a huge step up from their previous concept albums but repeat listens reward the listener with a more immersive experience. Mastodon constantly drag us deeper into its psychedelic narrative, which is inspired by the band's experiences with cancer. The depth of their songwriting and talent for interspersing prog-metal with driving riffs and anthemic choruses makes this a stunning return to form from a metal band that deserves to be recognised as one of the best in the history of the genre. // Jon Stickler

Listen: Steambreather



JESSIE WARE // GLASSHOUSE

A sweeping, grown-up album of love songs, Jessie Ware’s ‘Glasshouse’ mixed a few thematic rough edges with supremely smooth backing. Varied, beautifully performed and home to the finest melodies of her career, the record felt like a perfectly timed arrival at the destination she mapped out on the (also excellent) ‘Tough Love’ several years ago. // Huw Baines

Listen: Selfish Love

 



PAUL WELLER // A KIND REVOLUTION

In a year that has seen divisions widen in the fabric of British society, ‘A Kind Revolution’ - Weller’s 13th solo album - provided an intelligent, thoughtful and boisterous case study in compassionate, unifying music making. Profoundly intelligent songwriting, soulful grooves and majestic tonal switches maintain interest throughout. Look out for One Tear - a song  featuring fellow ‘80s icon Boy George that disco-swaggers its way through elegant, melancholic chord changes. It's wonderfully youthful stuff from a singer approaching 60. // Jacob Brookman

Listen: Long Long Road



BETH DITTO // FAKE SUGAR

Sometimes you wanna bop around your room while belting out a tune into your favourite hairbrush, and sometimes you wanna mull over the mistakes of past relationships while a ballad for the ages rages in the background. Either way, Beth Ditto has you covered. The Gossip vocalist created an album as diverse as her personality on ‘Fake Sugar’. Throughout she embraced wide ranging influences, from her southern roots and the indie-rock of her former band, to the electro-dancehall leanings of her previous solo work. Wonderfully eclectic. // Laura Johnson

Listen: Fire



TORRES // THREE FUTURES

Mackenzie Scott’s third LP as Torres cast off the elemental rock power of ‘Sprinter’ in favour of sinuous synths interspersed with her dexterous guitars. Lyrically, Scott investigated the body as a vessel for life experience, working up a collection of songs that delved deeper into her spiky melodies and laid open some intriguing ideas. One of the most exciting songwriters in the game. // Huw Baines

Listen: Three Futures

 


 

THUNDERCAT // DRUNK

Thundercat’s third album is a 23-track freeform binge that feels a bit like a Frank Zappa version of Kendrick Lamar's 'good kid, m.A.A.d city'. Here, ditties and sketches interlock with longer jazz compositions while falsetto observations provide a commentary over bass-led grooves. It’s an album of insouciant complexity that demonstrates a taste for abject silliness alongside a mastery of light-hearted vocal blends. It is unique, wonderful and finding its way into A Level music coursework as we speak. // Jacob Brookman

Listen: Show You The Way



SHEER MAG // NEED TO FEEL YOUR LOVE

It seemed for a while that Sheer Mag would remain satisfied putting out stellar 7”s packed with riff-heavy power-pop. But their jump to a full length proved to be a very welcome one. The Philadelphia band, led by vocalist Tina Halladay and guitarist Matt Palmer, translated their fizzing energy into the longer format without losing any of their spark, fusing political barbs with hip-shaking hooks. // Huw Baines

Listen: Suffer Me

 



​​LCD SOUNDSYSTEM // AMERICAN DREAM

James Murphy - NYC’s very own hipster philosopher king - returned with a sonic smorgasbord of post-punk delights in September. The band’s first album in seven years funneled ‘Berlin’-era David Bowie and elements of the Cure through Murphy’s world-class production. The result was a robust, varied and musically ambitious record which reassured longtime fans while attracting new disciples to a band with a lot of petrol in the tank. // Jacob Brookman

Listen: Tonite



EMPLOYED TO SERVE // THE WARMTH OF A DYING SUN

Coming from the school of Converge, Employed To Serve graduated on ‘The Warmth of a Dying Sun’, taking buckets of mathcore riffs and paint-stripping screams into their own workshop and emerging with an opus as bleak as the gaunt, dishevelled figure on the front cover. Every song hit you in ways both familiar and less so: for every nose-breaking beatdown there was a road to somewhere new. The title track was a statement of intent, a depressingly beautiful glimpse into what album three might provide. But, truthfully, given the variation, the innumerable shades of black on display here, they could go anywhere next time. // Alec Chillingworth

​Listen: I Spend My Days (Wishing Them Away)



CRAIG FINN // WE ALL WANT THE SAME THINGS

It’s taken a couple of efforts for Craig Finn to crack open his solo career. His first two LPs under his own steam were fine efforts dotted with great songs, but ‘We All Want The Same Things’ is a worthy challenger to anything he has put out with the Hold Steady. A meandering piece that works its way around disaffected America, it’s expertly drawn and performed. It has a sad heart that refuses to give up hope, which is perhaps best displayed by one of Finn’s finest lyrics and one of the songs of the year: God in Chicago. // Huw Baines

​Listen: God in Chicago



PHOEBE BRIDGERS // STRANGER IN THE ALPS

Phoebe Bridgers’ unassailable debut plays like a storybook, each song bringing life to snippets from her past: melancholy scenes that match the tender, vulnerable sounds. Bridgers’ exceptionally high voice - her most spellbinding power - sings of the haunting perils of falling in love, expressing the anxieties, numbness and yearning of a break-up alongside delicately fingerpicked guitars on Funeral, lo-fi tremolo on Motion Sickness and the arpeggio style backing vocals that brings Georgia together. // Helen Payne

Listen: Motion Sickness



ENTER SHIKARI // THE SPARK

After threatening to “bring [their] message to the masses” on Twitter last year, Shikari vocalist Rou Reynolds certainly delivered on that front. The band had never before sounded this poppy, this over-the-toppy. Less electro-hardcore and more Pet Shop Boys at a Dead Kennedys gig, ‘The Spark’ was every bit as instantaneous as it was spiteful. Take My Country Back is feral without reverting to old tricks, whereas Rabble Rouser is a confusing, contradictory club anthem where Reynolds’ falsetto serves shivers alongside sambuca. This was Shikari’s most consistent full-length to date and presented them as genuine chart contenders without, *rolls eyes*, selling out. // Alec Chillingworth

​Listen: Live Outside



ALLISON CRUTCHFIELD // TOURIST IN THIS TOWN

After bidding farewell to Swearin’ and their raucous indie-rock, Allison Crutchfield’s first solo LP found her investigating the pop world sketched out on her excellent ‘Lean In To It’ EP. The chunky guitars and soaring choruses remained, but they shared a bed with kitsch synths and an air of detached cool that reinforces the bite of post-relationship analysis that pulls precisely zero punches. // Huw Baines

​Listen: Dean's Room



GOV'T MULE // REVOLUTION COME...REVOLUTION GO

There was a feeling among some Gov’t Mule fans that the quality of the band’s recent output hadn’t matched their earlier records. That changed with ‘Revolution Come…Revolution Go’, an LP that, musically, lyrically and emotionally, is one of the most powerful and diverse efforts of the band’s career. With Warren Haynes and co. firing on all cylinders, and suitably riled up by Donald Trump’s election, this collection of socio-political, introspective and nostalgic southern rock-based gems incorporated soul, gospel, jazz, funk, country and prog into a sublime album that’s as good, if not better, than anything they’ve done. // Simon Ramsay

Listen: Revolution Come...Revolution Go



JAPANESE BREAKFAST // SOFT SOUNDS FROM ANOTHER PLANET

A lilting interpolation of grief and science fiction, ‘Soft Sounds From Another Planet’ saw Michelle Zauner broadening her palette and finding catharsis in a wonderful, ambitious set of pop songs. It revelled in transporting us to new places in her mind, from the vocoder-led synth workout Machinist to the cutting beauty of the reworked Little Big League track Boyish: “I can’t get you off my mind, I can’t get you off in general.” // Huw Baines

​Listen: Boyish

 



LOYLE CARNER // YESTERDAY'S GONE

Painting a fuzzy picture on a canvas marked by Brexit and Sam Smith, Loyle Carner actually made the UK seem like an attractive place to live. ‘Yesterday’s Gone’ is a snapshot of his family, his youth, his community. It’s as heart-warming as it is hummable: lo-fi hip-hop with sprinkles of acoustic guitar and gospel choirs. The skits work and never feel forced, while the confessional lines are all in keeping with Carner’s musical persona. Carner is an artist with the potential to match the invention and mainstream acceptance of J. Cole or Stormzy. // Alec Chillingworth

​Listen: No CD



CHARLY BLISS // GUPPY

An album so laden with hooks and chunky guitars it was enough to make you wish it was 1994 all over again. Fronted by the ebullient Eva Hendricks, on ‘Guppy’ Charly Bliss fused brass tacks discussions of anxiety and depression with righteous power-pop. They’re a killer live band, too, and they do a mean Steal Your Sunshine. Quite literally nothing not to like here. // Huw Baines

Listen: Westermarck



SACRED PAWS // STRIKE A MATCH

If there’s a band that can make you feel as though you’re on a sunkissed beach when in fact you’re sitting in a freezing cold office it’s Sacred Paws. With their debut album they successfully fused DIY punk with influences from African music to create lo-fi pop which resonates long after the record stops spinning. // Laura Johnson

Listen: Strike a Match

 



PERFUME GENIUS // NO SHAPE

Mike Hadreas’ second grand pop statement in succession. After the shapeshifting brilliance of ‘Too Bright’ he leapt headfirst into a Technicolor well, coming up with songs to delight and confound. Lyrically dense and often heartbreaking, the record underlined his place as one of the most fearless, inventive songwriters working in the pop sphere. There are melodies here that take a minute to figure out, only to scratch an itch you hadn’t quite noticed. // Huw Baines

​Listen: Slip Away



WHITE REAPER // THE WORLD'S BEST AMERICAN BAND

From its title down, this is White Reaper swinging for the fences. A little way along the road from the bubblegum pop-punk of their bow the Kentucky band embraced the biggest and best rock moves. And just in time. Where many rock bands deal solely in the sort of posturing and empty threats that should have died at the end of the ‘70s and again at the end of the ‘80s, they proved that songwriting nous and the ability to truly enjoy yourself goes a long way. ‘The World’s Best American Band’ is a total joy. // Huw Baines

​Listen: Judy French


 





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