2017 has been a fantastic year for music, with the ‘surprise release’ being the theme of the year. Be it bands dropping albums out of nowhere with no warning, or announcing audacious plans to release five albums in a year (I’m looking at you, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard), in 2017 you’ve never quite known what’s coming next. Here’s what I thought were the ten finest albums of the year.
Before we begin the list, I’d like to give a mention to Alvvays, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard. Roger Waters, The War On Drugs and Wolf Alice, all of whom only barely missed out on this list. This was a tough year indeed.
10) Everything Everything – A Fever Dream
Since the political masterpiece that was their third album ‘Get to Heaven‘, released in 2015, the world of politics has completely changed. On ‘A Fever Dream’, Everything Everything present a brutal commentary on Brexit, Trump and everything (everything) in between. Among some of the most raucous tracks of their career (‘Run the Numbers’, ‘Ivory Tower’) they also explore a more subtle, intricate, post-rock side on tracks like ‘Put Me Together’ and ‘New Deep’. One of the more cutting and expertly executed political albums of 2017, a standout in a year absolutely dominated by politics in music.
9) Public Service Broadcasting – Every Valley
Who would have guessed that a concept album about the Welsh coal mining industry would not only be released in 2017, but also be this thrilling? Public Service Broadcasting’s third LP ‘Every Valley’ presents a powerful, moving story of British history in the way only they can. The band have perfected their balance between found audio from documentaries, instrumentals and featuring vocalists (including James Dean Bradfield of Manic Street Preachers and Tracyanne Campbell of Camera Obscura). ‘Every Valley’ captures a sense of nostalgia and weight that few other bands could pull off.
8) Father John Misty – Pure Comedy
When it was released back in April, ‘Pure Comedy’ was a poignant, biting commentary on modern society. Somehow, as the year has gone on, it has only become more relevant. Father John Misty’s famous cynicism is more rampant than ever on this album, but what makes this album so special is how fantastically written the tracks are – it’s not just clever lyrics, it’s inventive instrumentals too. Like some kind of indie Elton John, Joshua Tillman confronts every aspect of the human condition head-on on ‘Pure Comedy’, with wit and wisdom like no other songwriter out there – one can’t help but listen and think that this album is the work of a genius.
7) Aldous Harding – Party
On ‘Party’, Aldous Harding presents a collection of beautifully fragile songs with a fantastic, distinctive delivery. I’m not sure it’s possible to pigeon hole her into sounding like anyone else, and her voice has such incredible range of tone, easily one of the most unique sounding singer-songwriters out there. Every word feels drenched in emotion and the sparse, minimal instrumentation means her phenomenal vocals and lyrics are front and centre – something that I’m not usually a fan of, but it works perfectly here. This is one for a quiet, rainy day.
6) The xx – I See You
With their third album ‘I See You’, The xx are fully back on form. Combining the sense of minimalism that was met much such critical acclaim on their debut album with Jamie xx’s forays into dance music, the band have made something truly special here and, as always with The xx, the emotions and themes of relationships are at the forefront. The use of sampling on this album brings a further depth to the nostalgic feel the band are famous for, and the sincerity of the vocal delivery throughout the album is stunning.
5) Flyte – The Loved Ones
There’s something of a Beatlesque creative spirit on Flyte’s debut ‘The Loved Ones’, a collection of 9 perfectly crafted, timeless sounding tracks and one wonderful a capella cover. Flyte’s music is soaked in astounding, tight harmonies that the band have honed over years of playing together and the whole band’s vocal performances on this album have a real weight to them (see ‘Orphans of the Storm’). Wholesome, fun, but surprisingly hard hitting lyrically in places, I find it hard to believe anyone could possibly dislike this album. One of the strongest debuts of the last few years, this band have an incredibly bright future ahead of them.
4) Grizzly Bear – Painted Ruins
Grizzly Bear’s 2017 comeback album ‘Painted Ruins’ takes the band in bold, more synthesiser-heavy directions while still keeping the spirit of their previous work. Ethereal, yet quietly chaotic in its arrangements as Grizzly Bear always have been, ‘Painted Ruins’ has such a huge, vivid sound that fills up any room you play it in. Crack out the good speakers for this one and you’ll be heartily rewarded. This album easily sits among the best albums of 2017, but also has a decent shot at being the best album Grizzly Bear have released.
3) Pumarosa – The Witch
Exceeding every (high) expectation I had for it, this is without a doubt the best debut album of the year. A dash of Radiohead, a dash of Portishead and a whole heap of originality, Pumarosa’s first album ‘The Witch’ sounds wise beyond its years. The intensity of their live sound has been captured and distilled on this album, from slow burning, brooding tracks like ‘The Witch’ and ‘Lions’ Den’ to the (relatively) more straight-up indie rock of ‘Honey’ and ‘My Gruesome Loving Friend’. Very few debut albums set the bar this high, and this is definitely one of the most underrated albums of 2017. You simply must listen to this.
2) The National – Sleep Well Beast
Many of the albums on this list carry some emotional weight, but none quite so much as The National’s ‘Sleep Well Beast’, which displays a level of emotional maturity and nuance I’m not sure I’ve ever seen in an album before, along with a fantastic range of genres and styles from slow piano ballads to electronica-tinged post-punk. Tales of depression, of marriage, of real life worries and doubts are all over this album and while it isn’t an easy listen, or one that necessarily opens up fully on your first play, it is tremendously powerful. It’s been a long time since I’ve come across an album that deals with difficult topics in such a raw, honest, real way, and I fear it’ll be a long time before I come across one again. A truly stunning work of art.
1) Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up
My album of the year for 2017 is the grand return of Fleet Foxes with their third full length album (and their first in over half a decade) ‘Crack-Up’. If there’s a perfect way to do a comeback album, this may well be it. It echoes the band’s previous work while bringing in new, or at least much more pronounced prog elements on sprawling tracks like the album’s near-nine minute long lead single ‘Third of May / Ōdaigahara’.
As well as writing huge, dynamic works like album opener ‘I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar’, Robin Pecknold maintains his remarkable ability to write stirring traditional-style folk songs that could have been written hundreds of years ago – ‘Kept Woman’ is a real highlight of the album and demonstrates this perfectly. As I said in my initial review, however, it is near impossible to pick highlights when every track is of such high, consistent quality.
To top it all off, the way this album has been recorded and mixed sounds so rich and alive, it’s a real treat for the ears. Though it takes multiple listens to truly crack (pun marginally intended), this has to be the best written and most rewarding album of the year. I can only hope the band doesn’t stay away for quite so long this time.