So much powerful, inspiring music was unleashed on the world over the last twelve months. Before we put 2017 to bed for good, here’s a final glance back at some of my favourite albums of the year. That’s ‘favourite’ and not ‘best’ cuz, as Dork Magazine so eloquently put it, music ain’t a competition. Sit back and enjoy!
Honourable mentions go to Sløtface, Wolf Alice, The xx, Pumarosa, and Phoebe Bridgers, whose albums all had amazing moments on them, but weren’t quite brilliant enough overall to make the top 10. Disagree with my list and want to share your own favourites? Comment on this post or send a tweet.
10. INHEAVEN – INHEAVEN
“I’m bored of my generation… I wanna be born again”, INHEAVEN frontman James Taylor cries on Regeneration. The London foursome look and sound like they belong in a different era – taking influence from My Bloody Valentine, Mazzy Star, and Smashing Pumpkins, new wave and noise-rock components are rife on their self-titled debut album, which sounds distinctly vintage compared to a lot of their present day contemporaries. Drift sees Taylor and guitarist Chloe Little’s honeyed vocals merge over spiralling shoegaze while Vultures, with drums straight from a military parade and explosive guitars that shoot in all directions, is a surefire sweat-heavy mosh kick’er off’er.
Listen to… Baby’s Alright, Bitter Town
9. The Horrors – V
The Horrors’ latest effort isn’t exactly their most imaginatively titled (‘V’ is their fifth album, don’t you know) yet the Southend goth/punk stalwarts do innovative reinvention better than anyone. Building on the drifting sounds of 2014’s ‘Luminous’, ‘V’ stirs in eerie mechanical elements to create a record which seems to mutate grotesquely with every listen. The standout moment is Something to Remember Me By; placed at the back end of the record like it’s no big deal, the song is one of the group’s best ever, starting with a simple drum track before blossoming into an ethereal electronic soundscape. Faris Badwan and co. have been going for some time now, but The Horrors show no signs of slowing down.
Listen to… Point Of No Reply, Something to Remember Me By
8. Sundara Karma – Youth is Only Ever Fun in Retrospect
Reading dream boys Sundara Karma have come a long way since their early days touring with the likes of Swim Deep and Circa Waves. Ditching the floppy haircuts to embrace a sophisticated new romantic style, the quartet’s debut is a slick party record with teenage celebration unashamedly at its heart. Unflinching, the once mediocre Loveblood truly comes into its own next to other sugary singles like Olympia, and the quirky Britpop curveball She Said. Even at the bleaker moments, every line drips off Oscar Lulu’s tongue with enchanting flamboyance, like an iridescent peacock in the sun, over addictively sweet guitar action.
Listen to… A Young Understanding, She Said, The Night
7. Diet Cig – Swear I’m Good At This
Punk has never been cuter than on the debut album from New York duo Diet Cig, and not in a trivial way. Drummer Noah Bowman and guitar/vocalist Alex Luciano not only find beauty in being a mess, but embrace it, as if a best friend they’d stick with to the bitter end. In the loveable slackers’ world there are epic adventures where they “eat tacos every day for breakfast” (Road Trip) but also days set aside for wallowing on the sofa (Blob Zombie). There’s no shame, only an unstoppable enthusiasm for life regardless of the hurdles it may chuck at you. Luciano’s candid takes on the struggles of growing up fit wonderfully with the two-piece’s angsty garage riffs, the whole record sounding like the soundtrack to some lost 90s cult movie.
Listen to… Bite Back, Maid Of the Mist
6. Alvvays – Antisocialites
Canadian troubadours Alvvays have had an analogue charm about them for ages. Like an album from a Wes Anderson film, their 2014 self-titled introduced a warm, friendly bunch whose anecdotes about romantic escapades sounded too good to be true. With new narratives under their collective belts and a rejuvenated sonic presence that’s more spritely than ever, ‘In Undertow’ is a near perfect follow up from the group. Molly Rankin inspires enchanting images with her silky vocals: “In fluorescent light antisocialites watch a wilting flower”, she laments on Dreams Tonite, over crackling guitars. The record also progresses into more upbeat territory; melancholic in subject matter, Plimsoll Punks fizzles with ironic joy while the colourful Saved By a Waif swirls like a carousel ride at the height of summer.
Listen to… Dreams Tonite, Lollipop (Ode to Jim)
5. Declan McKenna – What Do You Think About the Car?
It’s been a big old year for young Decco, with high-profile festival appearances and massive tour dates pushing the hotly-tipped newcomer into the mainstream. Combining open-minded and forward-thinking attitudes with solid dance (and mosh)-able instrumentals, ‘WDYTATC?’ shows just how much talent ahead of his years the young musician has. In his words, McKenna covers a range of topics, cherry picking current affairs and turning them into calls to action; corruption in sport, changing attitudes about gender and sexuality, the mental health epidemic and more are all carefully digested and, while the songs themselves aren’t always explicit lyrically, creating a dialogue with young people through upbeat music is a feat McKenna has achieved flawlessly.
Listen to… The Kids Don’t Wanna Come Home, Listen To Your Friends
4. PIXX – The Age Of Anxiety
With a kaleidoscopic style that morphs routinely from goth teen to Ziggy Stardust and anything in between, Pixx is easily one of the most striking figures in British music right now. And the 4AD signee, also known as 22-year-old Hannah Rodgers, makes music with equally delightful eclecticism. Following a string of abstract singles – Baboo was jittery with vocals like velvet, Fall In enticingly broody – her first long player artfully constructs a hazy dream state you want to disappear in. Noxious electro-pop conveys Rodgers struggle as she loses her grip on reality, but from the confusion comes her own little corner of safety from the big weird world outside. She first garnered attention touring with Daughter, but her recent stint with London glam-punks HMLTD is a closer hint to where she fits; ramshackle and glamorous, PIXX is a free spirit in every sense.
Listen to… Waterslides, Everything Is Weird In America
3. Lorde – Melodrama
Kiwi superstar Lorde’s sophomore record was easily one of the most anticipated of the year, and upon its June arrival, absolutely achieved every expectation and more. Building on the blazing glory of her 2013 breakthrough ‘Pure Heroine’, Lorde (21-year-old Ella Yelich-O’Connor) elevates herself to new levels of stardom with this collection of songs which speak from the heart of a teen, but carry far bigger wisdom too.
From the opening piano strike of Green Light, the cosmic shift in sound since Lorde’s gothic, indietronic debut is unmissable. Launching guns blazing into a furor of unadulterated pop is hardly the start to LP2 most fans would have predicted, yet O’Connor’s take on dancefloor greatness has spectacular results. She dabbles in R’n’B on Sober, visits spacious, introspective realness on Perfect Places and detours via all-encompassing bliss on The Louvre. Mostly a collaborative effort with pop man-of-the-moment Jack Antonoff (FUN. member turned producer extraordinaire) the duo’s kinship shaped the record in more ways than one. As well as being writing partners for close to two and a half years, instrumentation was often a joint decision, with a vintage piano at the legendary Electric Lady Studios playing a big part on numerous tracks. Even from its inception, ‘Melodrama’ has and will always be a classic.
Loosely revolving around one conceptual house party, the album is as inspiring as it is understanding, laying flat out the pain and insecurities of being young while also serving as the shoulder to cry on in those times of heartbreak. Down to earth, refreshing, and irresistibly danceable, ‘Melodrama’ is a glistening preservation of the vivacity of millennial youth.
Listen to… Homemade Dynamite, The Louvre
2. Superfood – Bambino
If anyone knows anything about the ‘difficult second album’ cliché it’s B-town hanger on’ers Superfood, but not for the reason you might think. On their sun-baked 2014 debut ‘Don’t Say That’ the then four-piece breathed fresh air into psychedelia and Britpop, following in Peace and Temples’ footsteps to become teen favourites. Alas, it couldn’t last forever, and booted out in the cold with no record contract, releasing new material seemed like a fantasy. Slimmed down to a two-piece, Dom Ganderton and Ryan Malcolm’s salvation came in the form of Dirty Hit, the label that counts The 1975 and bezzie mates Wolf Alice as its own. With their support, Superfood 2.0 arrived, releasing ‘Bambino’, a second coming, 13 genre-spanning tracks that leave the old Superfood in the dust.
‘Bambino’ is playfully unaware of the boundaries a typical guitar band’s album should fit, flowing more like a mixtape with interludes bridging gaps which would otherwise clash. Rattling and fizzy from go, Where’s the Bass Amp? sets the tone, its heavy sampling a theme that recurs intermittently; lead single I Can’t See takes its opening wheeze from an obscure 60s reggae number before melting into a juicy late-night anthem. Grooving, oozing textures arise later, on Natural Supersoul and C Is for Colour, a far cry from the garage-y riffs the group were once known for.
Foot-stompers are child’s play for Dom and Ryan – look no further than back-to-back bangers Need a Little Spider and Raindance. The former is overpoweringly effervescent, building and building to reach a trippy crescendo, while the latter paves down a repetitive drum track before dissolving into a wonky, mind-melting jam. Moving in like a thunderstorm on a summer’s day Shadow brings in the dark, but by the end of Clo Park everything is back to mellow and sunny. Each song is as much a highlight as the next, with a soulful weirdness tying the whole thing together in one neat package. Superfood are dead, long live Superfood.
Listen to… Where’s the Bass Amp, Raindance, Shadow
1. Blaenavon – That’s Your Lot
Half a decade in the making, the first full-length release from Hampshire power-trio Blaenavon is everything a debut album should be. Originating when the boys were young teens, it’s an album which has grown as they have, bubbling away and slowly morphing into a collection of thoroughly modern rock music.
Blaeners are often lumped unfairly in with other ‘landfill-indie-to-be’ bands (I can’t be the only one who shivers at the memory of their slots opening for The Sherlocks and The Hunna) but ‘That’s Your Lot’ is shimmering proof that they are anything but. Frontman/chief warbler Ben Gregory’s command of lyrics and melody are a deadly combination. Referencing Foals and Two Door Cinema Club instrumentally, and with lyrics inspired by Pavement and Elliott Smith, the album rises and falls like mood swings, often moving from furious highs to tender lows without a second’s notice. There are hooks galore; Let’s Pray, Orthodox Man and Lonely Side burst at all sides with infectious slivers, but avoid sounding commercial or over-polished. Helping to sculpt the record to its rightful sound, Jim Abbiss (Peace, Bombay Bicycle Club) was a perfect choice for production duties, carefully moulding the boys’ relentless energy into shape.
The softer points are especially poignant against all the roaring guitars. Stripping away the fanfare, Let Me See What Happens Next puts Gregory alone with a piano, showing that volume isn’t all there is here, and shines light on the enduring rawness that gives the band their honest authenticity. Soon the highs return – I Will Be the World starts slow before erupting into a frenzy of rapturous noise-rock, like a caged animal breaking free.
Gregory’s coying persona harks back to Morrissey, Cocker, Anderson – frontmen whose equal parts gravitas and androgyny allow far more freedom of expression than their more testosterone-y counterparts. The rhythm section, Frank Wright (bass) and Harris McMillan (drums) bring the same passion. Live, the trio’s connection is electrifying, each member moving and shifting as if one living organism. This cohesive motion gives the album a universal bite from all angles.
As genres like grime and R’n’B take the spotlight in popular music, it’s important to remember that good indie rock music still exists (and it ain’t all cocky blokes in leather jackets who think the world wants to hear them moaning). Underrated now, ‘That’s Your Lot’ sees Blaenavon nailing it like there’s no tomorrow, and puts them well on the path to becoming future heavyweight champions.
Listen to… Orthodox Man, Alice Come Home, I Will Be the World