2017 was a year which saw the release of many massive albums, many of which challenged and changed the way we view music. The year was dominated by huge chart topping albums by globally recognised artists, like Stormzy and Ed Sheeran, many of which opened up the listener to a more intimate, sensitive side of the artist, by tackling so-called ‘taboo’ topics, such as mental health. There was also the return of politically loaded records, which were birthed from the political and social upheaval of the last few years, and we saw a whole host of women take the reins in the album charts with hugely deserved hit albums. It’s no surprise this year’s top five albums were the hardest to choose yet.
Here’s my top five:
5) DUMB BLOOD– VANT
I can’t begin to tell you how excited I was when I heard VANT’s debut album, DUMB BLOOD, for the first time all the way back in February. Pre-release the album already boasted a plethora of successful, punchy statement singles, including ‘FLY-BY ALIEN’, ‘PARKING LOT’ and ‘KARMA SEEKER’. The album- which was released on the hugely successful and influential major record label Parlophone– takes on current world events (such as war and climate change), the band’s shared frustrations about God and peace and, crucially, voices a ‘lost’ generation through a major platform. The album itself has an almost revolutionary punk feel, whilst remaining true to its indie-rock, guitar roots. It feels like a statement. Sadly, this will be the last album from the London based band, as they announced their indefinite hiatus later on in the year, but this is definitely one of the greatest things to have come out of 2017.
4) Visions of a Life– Wolf Alice
The second album is often said to be a tricky one, especially when your debut album gained you a Mercury Prize nomination and a Grammy nod, but Wolf Alice returned blasé about any of that. The album’s raucous lead single, ‘Yuk Foo’, thoroughly cemented their return, with its shouted lyrics and self-assured sentiment. Wolf Alice finally seemed comfortable with their sound, and didn’t really care if you didn’t. They went onto release the far from cheesy love song ‘Don’t Delete the Kisses’ and effortlessly cool ‘Beautifully Unconventional’ before the album’s full release, which exemplified their versatility. Their sound felt more sophisticated and polished than ever before, yet as experimental as ever. Songs like ‘Formidable Cool’, ‘Planet Hunter’ and ‘Space and Time’, which shows glimmer of a 1980s Blondie within it, are stand alone hits, which sit nicely within their already brilliant back catalogue too.
3) After Laughter– Paramore
I don’t think many people were expecting Paramore’s return so soon. The band had lost bassist Jeremy Davis, were caught in the midst of a fierce legal battle and lead singer Hayley Williams had been going through hard times of her own. But right from the heart of the flames, rose an After Laughter shaped Phoenix, which couldn’t have been any more triumphant. Ex-drummer Zac Farro rejoined the band and they managed to put together a bold 12 track album- produced by guitarist Taylor York and previous collaborator Justin Meldal-Johnsen. The lead single ‘Hard Times’ was a huge upbeat, 80s influenced, guilt free ‘pop’ song- a far cry from the days of Riot! and All We Know if Falling. So what though? The album is mostly upbeat, but outlines the struggles of the last few years, of love and loss, of mental health struggles and the strain of fame, with a melancholic undertone. It feels intimate and comfortable, as opposed to the experimental nature of 2013’s self-titled sensation, Paramore. Songs like ‘Caught in the Middle’, ‘Rose-Coloured Boy’ and ‘Fake Happy’ are songs you want to belt out in the car, in the shower, at huge sold-out concerts. Music can unite people and I think this album brought the band closer to the fans. Paramore have really regenerated themselves in a way which sees them bare all to the listener. It would’ve been very easy for Paramore to give up and yet from the turmoil came this gem of an album.
2) What Do You Think About The Car? -Declan McKenna
There aren’t many 18 year olds who can say they’ve put out a top 20 album, played some of the world’s biggest festivals and have already been recognised for their incredible success, but Declan McKenna has certainly achieved all those things. What Do You Think About The Car? is one of the year’s most thought provoking albums. It brings up questions of world politics and challenges ideas of society through McKenna’s cleverly written, witty lyrics. The debut album features previously released singles, including the FIFA 2014 World Cup corruption inspired ‘Brazil’, ‘Isombard’, where McKenna imagines the narrative of a right wing, ‘Fox News’ style character, and ‘Paracetamol’, which focuses on the representation of transgender people in the media, as well as exciting new tracks, such as ‘Why Do You Feel So Down?’ and ‘Listen to Your Friends’, which features a cleverly written bridge. He broaches subjects with a concise sensitivity, which questions the absurdity of the world we live in. It’s very refreshing to hear. The references are often subtle, so the songs can be enjoyed plainly as good, exciting indie-rock too. Declan Mckenna seems to be leading the way in up and coming music and I’m looking forward to seeing what else comes from his success.
1) Melodrama– Lorde
Each year there seems to be an album so clearly above any other album released that year, last year it was The 1975’s cinematic second album and this year it’s Lorde’s stunning Melodrama.
When Lorde released her debut album, Pure Heroine, she was 16 years old. She sang of love and lust, as well as the struggles of being a teenager who was ‘different’. She sang with a maturity which seemed far beyond her years, in a style that crossed genres and was championed by the likes of David Bowie. The album- and its hit single ‘Royals’- won the New Zealand born singer two Grammy’s, out of four nominations. So, where do you go from there?
Lorde returned early last year, off the back of her first major heartbreak, with the album’s lead single ‘Green Light’. The song went on to be one of the summer’s biggest releases, with its gloriously feel good, upbeat dance vibe and its infectiously catchy, in-part nonsensical- or rather metaphorical- lyrics. The song created a huge buzz for the new album.
The highly anticipated Melodrama was released on June 16th 2017 in the UK and I remember rushing out to buy it the next day. We played it for the first time in the car, whilst driving down country lanes on a hot and sunny summer afternoon, and I remember feeling as though the album was special. The album opens up with ‘Green Light’, but takes us on a creative vision and artistic journey into the minds of both Lorde and her collaborator/producer Jack Antonoff (who has also worked with Taylor Swift and Pink this year). It’s an album which demands to be heard in full. It commands the respect of vinyl, a format on which it is due to be released on early next year, whilst still allowing the listener to dip in to it for a quick fix. The lyrics seem more mature than that on Pure Heroine, as if she has had to grow up over the last few years, literally in age and through the experiences she has had. They centre on heartbreak and loss, as well as growing up on the whole. Notably, ‘The Louvre’ is the album’s obvious stand out. Lorde manages to encapsulate a feeling of intense infatuation, which many can relate to, through a doting love song. The lyrics “but we’re the greatest, they’ll hang us in The Louvre, down the back, but who cares still the Louvre” are, by far, the greatest of 2017. ‘Liability’ is also extremely poignant. It focuses on self-image and introspection, which is incredibly intimate in itself. Lorde seems to focus on how she feels the world around her sees her and how she herself fits into it, whilst laying out the flaws she finds within herself. She releases her self-worth, as the song is reprised later on in the album. We grow up with her. In addition, ‘Writer in the Dark’ has an incredible undertone of Kate Bush within it, whilst the use of samples in ‘Hard Feelings/Loveless’ seems to add another dimension to the album.
Melodrama is a masterpiece.
Here it seems obvious to mention- despite just falling short of my top five- Ed Sheeran’s third album Divide. Any album which can hoard the top 16 of the UK singles charts (yes, that’s every single song on the album, including the deluxe bonus tracks), go double platinum immediately and outsell any other album in its first week ever, outselling the combined next 500 most popular albums that week, deserves some credit. The album- and Sheeran himself- is extraordinarily clever. There’s a song on there for every type of music fan- from dance to rap to ballads to pure pop. You literally cannot escape ‘Shape of You’ and I guarantee you that once it’s played you’ll have its catchy chorus and hook lingering in your head for hours.
Other artists to narrowly miss out on the top five were Blaenavon’s debut That’s Your Lot, Sundara Karma’s Youth is Only Ever Fun in Retrospect, Marika Hackman’s I’m Not Your Man, Stormzy’s Gang Signs and Prayer, Will Joseph Cook’s Sweet Dreamer, Superfood’s Bambino, Dua Lipa’s self titled debut, Dua Lipa, amongst others.
In 2018, I’m looking forward to album releases by Fickle Friends, The Vaccines, The Wombats, The 1975 (with Music For Cars), and Arctic Monkeys. I’m saying Arctic Monkeys will resurface between September and November… Unless they’re feeling friendly and want to headline a summer festival- then they’ll be back by May! Who know’s what’ll make it onto this list in the next year, but I do know that I’m excited about what’s to come.