The first six months of 2017 have already flown by in the blink of an eye. Whether you think 2017 is now a glass half empty, or a glass half full, there have been plenty of fantastic releases in the world of music over the first half of the year already. Here are some of our favourites in no particular order – check out our playlist at the end of the article for a taster of each album!
Kendrick Lamar DAMN.
K-Dot, who could possibly be the world’s favourite rapper at the moment, really didn’t disappoint with his newest offering. Lamar crafts superior verses with his renowned ability to tell personal stories with his lyrics – an unmatched quality which propelled him into the spotlight with Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City and cemented his place in hip-hop’s hall of fame with his magnum opus To Pimp A Butterfly. On DAMN. he recounts his own experiences with sex, religion, and family, while also boasting brilliantly-produced beats and renowned collaborations. DAMN. may not be Kendrick Lamar at his best, but it is only further testament to his skills, because it is the rap album that we’ve all been waiting for.
Key tracks: ‘DNA.’, ‘HUMBLE.’, ‘XXX (feat. U2)’
Mount Eerie A Crow Looked At Me
Phil Elverum’s ode to his recently deceased wife, Geneviève, paints a picture of loss and vulnerability like no other. The mourning album may not be a novel concept – see Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie & Lowell and The Antlers’ Hospice, both critically acclaimed – but Elverum’s exposition of his own grief is utterly compelling in how raw and brutally honest it is. On A Crow Looked At Me, sparse instrumentation and gentle, documentative lyricism weave together to create an album that is both touching and heart-wrenching, and will reach the very core of anyone willing to listen to the tale he has to tell.
Key tracks: ‘Swims’, ‘Emptiness Pt. 2’, ‘When I Take Out the Garbage At Night’
If you look up the word ‘soulful’ in the dictionary, you’ll probably find a picture of Sampha in the definition. Process brims with feeling, carried across by Sampha’s wonderfully smooth, trembling vocals, and supported by vibrant beats and instrumentals co-produced by Rodaidh McDonald. Slower, sadder tracks such as ‘(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano’ hardly cloud the atmosphere, as lighter, tinkling numbers like ‘Plastic 100ºC’ bring double the emotion without miring the album in darkness. With the growth of neo-soul as a genre in the past few years and the increasing demand for new artists in the genre now that Beyoncé is on hiatus, Sampha could even be set to take the charts by storm very soon.
Key tracks: ‘Blood On Me’, ‘Reverse Faults’, ‘Timmy’s Prayer’
Hippo Campus Landmark
The debut album from Minnesota natives Hippo Campus, Landmark is a much-needed breath of fresh air for the indie rock scene. The album is both thoughtful at times and playful at others, demonstrating the versatility that sets Hippo Campus apart from their other contemporaries currently in the scene. Accompanied by sparkling guitar licks and smart, tongue-in-cheek lyrics that often poke fun at the very demographic that indie rock caters to, Landmark is an album that is both alive and self-aware – and it is all the better for it.
Key tracks: ‘Way It Goes’, ‘Monsoon’, ‘Western Kids’
Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly, James McAlister Planetarium
It would be more accurate to say that Planetarium is not so much an album as it is a grand sonic journey into the otherworldly depths of space. This collaborative piece was nurtured to life over the course of five years by singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens, guitarist Bryce Dessner (of The National), drummer James McAlister, and opera composer Nico Muhly – and each of its impressive personnel bring something beautifully ephemeral to the table. Planetarium reaches for the stars with daunting orchestral arrangements, swirling electronic synths, and lyrics evoking both ancient Roman gods and the beauty of life itself. Never before has the final frontier felt so comfortingly close.
Key tracks: ‘Jupiter’, ‘Mercury’, ‘Moon’
One of electronic music’s key players returns with yet another solid release, four years after 2013’s equally exceptional The North Borders. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that tropical house pop and any sub-genres it’s spawned are merely a poor man’s Bonobo, which is what makes Migration so refreshing amidst a pop music scene dominated by the likes of Kygo and Katy Perry’s new material. Migration stays true to its name, incorporating exotic sounds of tribal dances as well as booming brass crescendoes, creating a diverse smorgasbord of sounds that will undoubtedly satisfy even the pickiest of listeners.
Key tracks: ‘Migration’, ‘Second Sun’, ‘Bambro Koyo Ganda’
Alejandro Ghersi, stage name Arca, has always been an elusive figure, lurking in the shadows on the edges of minimalist electronic music. After 2014’s Mutant, he has returned once more with an equally enigmatic self-titled release, which this time sees him singing in his native Spanish. “If there’s a sadness running through your life,” he said, “you must attempt to tune yourself into a frequency where you harmonise with it because it’s never going to leave you.” Encompassing a wide range of sonic experiments, from heavy industrial bass to quivering, hymnal vocals; the album transcends its language barrier by creating an aura of pure emotion around the listener, and a completely immersive experience in the rich soundscapes that Ghersi has created. Arca is an album of terrifying beauty; exploring identity, love and reverence, and the darkness that lies within us all.
Key tracks: ‘Piel’, ‘Urchin’, ‘Fugaces’
Husky Loops Husky Loops (EP)
Originally childhood friends in Bologna before heading their separate ways and reuniting later at university in London, art-punk band Husky Loops have the only EP on this list (otherwise filled with complete albums), and for good reason. Injecting a new and utterly visceral, crackling distortion into their songs; combined with songwriter Danio Forni’s cryptic yet intriguing lyrics, the Italian trio look set to take the alternative music stage by storm this year.
Key tracks: ‘Tempo’, ‘Dead’
Stormzy Gang Signs and Prayer
Stormzy’s meteoric ascent to fame seemed unstoppable to both critics and grime fans in late 2016. In February, Gang Signs and Prayer proved everyone right. Stormzy reveals himself to listeners as a man of many talents, able to both deal out the disses and lightning-fast rhymes on some of grime’s most prominent tracks, while also conjuring up a passionately melodic alter-ego to the fierce MC on the cover which has garnered him comparisons to Kanye West and Childish Gambino. Only time will tell just how far Stormzy’s star will rise, but on this first album alone, his prospects are looking pretty damn good.
Key tracks: ‘Shut Up’, ‘First Things First’, ‘Blinded By Your Grace Pt. 2’
Harry Styles Harry Styles
The debut album from One Direction golden boy Harry Styles owes a lot to its outstanding influences, but conversely, Styles’ dipping in and out of the Musical Greats cookie jar is what makes this album such an enjoyable release. Whether he’s channeling Elton John on ‘Woman’ or Mick Jagger on ‘Kiwi’, two things are clear – Styles is hardly lacking in talent, especially when it comes to his vocal chops; and he’s definitely here to stay as a big player in the pop scene.
Key tracks: ‘Meet Me In The Hallway’, ‘Sign of the Times’, ‘From The Dining Table’
Los Campesinos! Sick Scenes
Los Campesinos! have always been a stalwart presence in the alternative rock scene ever since they appeared with Hold On Now, Youngster in 2008. Sick Scenes, the Welsh septet’s fifth album, is an album of opposites – vocalist Gareth Campesinos’s lyrics reflect some of the inevitable weariness that the band are feeling, but the sharp, slick guitar riffs and energetic hooks sound as crisp as ever. Nostalgia is a common theme on the album, which boasts an equal number of stadium-ready summer bangers, as well as some slower ballads reminiscing about home and hearth. Sick Scenes is rumoured to be the band’s last album, judging by its content. Hopefully this isn’t so, but if the worst turns out to be true, at least it can be said that Los Campesinos! did not exit with a whimper.
Key tracks: ‘A Slow Slow Death’, ‘Hung Empty’, ‘I Broke Up In Amarante’
The Orwells Terrible Human Beings
Chicago’s favourite punks have returned after three years with a spanking new set of insanely catchy garage rock riffs and an extra dose of post-teenage hedonism. Building off the rolling Midwestern hooks that populated previous album Disgraceland, the infamous young rabble-rousers have grown up but still refuse to calm down, and it’s clear that The Orwells’ manifesto still remains as being dead set on not playing by the rules. From sleazy opener ‘They Put A Body In The Bayou’ to stellar closing behemoth ‘Double Feature’, Terrible Human Beings is a thrill ride through new American rock that you won’t want to get off any time soon.
Key tracks: ‘Double Feature’, ‘Vacation’, ‘Black Francis’
Marika Hackman I’m Not Your Man
London-based indie darling Marika Hackman last released We Slept At Last, a sombre semi-acoustic album that was as brooding as it was excellent. Her two years away from music resulted in I’m Not Your Man, an album considerably more playful and more ambitious than her last. Sonically, Hackman’s new colleagues, all-girl indie band The Big Moon, help give her compositions extra dimension in a manner that her previous solo work didn’t achieve. As for her lyrics, Hackman has also dramatically improved; presenting listeners with a shrewd study of gender identities and how best to subvert them. I’m Not Your Man still holds much of her trademark disconsolate tunes, of course – but even those have now been given a new and more exciting layer of philosophical musing to them.
Key tracks: ‘Boyfriend’, ‘So Long’, ‘My Lover Cindy’
The Moonlandingz Interplanetary Class Classics
Ever hungry to produce new musical output, the UK’s alt-rock enfant terrible Lias Saoudi has put together a side project even sleazier and greasier than his main venture, the Fat White Family. Straight off the back of last year’s Songs For Our Mothers, The Moonlandingz were hastily assembled from select members of Fat White Family and Sheffield’s Eccentronic Research Council. Fear not – this motley crew of already renowned oddballs have come together to create what might even be the album of the year; a slap in the face for human decency, conformity, and British class war. Featuring just about any musical element Saoudi can get his hands on, whether it’s droning Motorik beats a la Kraftwerk or a triumphant brass section chorus, Interplanetary Class Classics definitely lives up to its name as one of the best albums of this year, and possibly even the decade.
Key tracks: ‘I.D.S.’, ‘Black Hanz’, ‘This Cities Undone’
Alexandra Savior Belladonna of Sadness
Championed by the likes of Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner and rock goddess Courtney Love, songstress Alexandra Savior is poised to take up a significant place in the hearts of music fans from all walks of life. Her output has been labelled “desert rock” for its slinky, languishing songs evocative of sitting in an empty bar in the middle of nowhere with only the resident lounge singer for company. This isolated, ‘vintage’ feel plays to her advantage, though – especially when paired with co-writer Alex Turner on his smooth, honeyed ballads, Savior’s distinctive, atmospheric voice does wonders for the soul.
Key tracks: ‘Mystery Girl’, ‘Mirage’, ‘M.T.M.E.’
“All of that doubt, that’s gone,” declares Wiley, on album opener Birds n Bars. “Why? Because I’m the lyrical don!” And indeed, Wiley’s return properly brands his name onto the grime scene that he himself invented. The Godfather of Grime may have created the genre over a decade ago, and may have even been reluctant to accept that title until now, but Godfather sees him still in top form even after all these years. Not since Skepta’s Mercury-Prize winning Konnichiwa has there been a harder-hitting grime album, but what sets Godfather apart is that it incorporates the scene’s best onto it. Collaborations with veterans from the Boy Better Know crew (Skepta, JME, Frisco) and familiar faces like Newham Generals and Devlin cements Wiley’s place on the throne of grime, just in time for the genre’s resurgence into the mainstream.
Key tracks: ‘Speakerbox’, ‘Bring Them All / Holy Grime (ft. Devlin)’, ‘On This (ft Chip, Ice Kid & Little D)’
Wavves You’re Welcome
Punk isn’t dead and neither is it asleep, as Los Angeles-based Wavves have proved time and time again by churning out an album almost once a year. The guitars on You’re Welcome are as scuzzy as ever, and frontman Nathan Williams clearly hasn’t lost his edge after six years on the scene; yelling out festival-ready choruses on almost every track as if they’re going out of fashion. Filled with skate punk’s hallmark carefree lyricism and endless good vibes, Wavves have indeed created an album worth thanking them for – not just for a summer soundtrack, but for any time you’re feeling down and need an instant pick-up.
Key tracks: ‘Million Enemies’, ‘Stupid In Love’, ‘Daisy’
SZA may have taken inspiration for her stage name from the legendary RZA, but her musical output takes a very different path from his. Unlike her contemporary, Sampha (also listed above), she also hosts an impressive guestlist on her debut album, including Kendrick Lamar and Travis Scott, who complement her husky, soulful voice almost too well. Ctrl‘s freestyled lyrics are also wondrous to behold, offering up some of R&B’s most honest, cutting tracks; especially when coupled with voice samples of her own mother over the phone. Exploring themes of sexuality, growing up, and finding oneself, SZA takes neo-soul to a whole new level with her singular blend of chillwave, minimalism, and trademark R&B elements.
Key tracks: ‘Doves In The Wind (ft. Kendrick Lamar)’, ’20 Something’, ‘Pretty Little Birds (ft. Isaiah Rashad)’
Happyness Write In
If you’re saddened by the apparent death of chill indie rock after the departure of bands like DIIV and Wild Nothing from the limelight, fear not. Eclectic London three-piece Happyness have you covered. Moving on from their 2014 debut Weird Little Birthday, Happyness bring just about everything to the drawing board, from poppy mid-tempo ballads to classic rock suaveness and fuzzy lo-fi garage rock – all while never losing their cool, calm and collected vibe.
Key tracks: ‘Bigger Glass Less Full’, ‘Falling Down’, ‘Through Windows’
(Sandy) Alex G Rocket
Alex Giannascoli is a hard man to pin down. Rocket is a chameleon of an album, zipping between genres faster than you can blink. Whether it’s folk and country-laced pop on ‘Proud’ and ‘Bobby’, to raw hardcore punk on ‘Brick’ and the eclectic mess of loops and noises on ‘Horse’, (Sandy) Alex G’s eighth studio release makes it very clear that Giannascoli is a young dog with plenty of tricks learned already. While Rocket may seem piecemeal at times due to its overall lack of genre and unrestrained experimentation, it is nonetheless a thoroughly engaging record; keeping listeners on the edge of their seats till the very last chord is played.
Key tracks: ‘Proud’, ‘Judge’, ‘Alina’
Stay tuned for our list of Best Upcoming Music for 2017. Click here for more music recommendations.
Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comment section below.