Livewire's Best Albums of 2017
Livewire have decided on their albums of the year! Through meticulous surveys and discussions we came out with our top 5 albums and our number one pick - on top of this we've thrown in some individual responses from Livewire members for your reading pleasure...
Livewire's No.1: Lorde - Meldodrama: The second this album was released it was obvious that Lorde would be voted our number 1 album of the year. You'd be hard pressed to find a day since the album came out that Lorde wasn't played on Livewire; the album is a masterpiece. As a body of work, the album feels cathartic, a working through of something as monumental as the loss of a first love, yet it gradually rids itself of sadness and frees itself of the weight of her breakup. Understanding what it means to be young and free is just as significant in coming through the other side of this, with reference to being blissfully out of control throughout: ‘we were wild and fluorescent come home to my heart’. The immediate cut from the feelings-y ‘Writer in The Dark’ straight into the pounding pop perfection of ‘Supercut’ expresses the hope, euphoria and weightlessness of shedding this mourning. This brilliant pop music takes influence from from a plethora of genres but most importantly it takes influence from a range of emotions, making it a stunning work of art. And even if a listener doesn't dive deep into the emotions of the album they will still be able to hear perfectly created pop music: catchy and interesting. Even after one listen to this album you'll understand why we were so taken aback by it, and why it was always going to be our album of the year. (some words taken from Katie Pilbeam's review of the album here)
Kendrick Lamar - Damn: The biggest hip-hop album of the year from one of the biggest artists in the game – this was the defining moment of 2017 for the most popular genre on the planet. Kendrick delivers another shining example of how to create a deeply personal and well-crafted, yet highly accessible album. Beginning with a brilliant ‘BLOOD.’, it sets the tone to some of the central themes of the album – life and death, race relations, morality – and bleeds straight into the incredible ‘DNA.’. The album constantly shifts in tone and demonstrates the flexibility of Kendrick – from the banger that’s beyond iconic ‘HUMBLE.’, to the dream-like ‘YAH.’ and the candid ‘FEAR.’, he explores so many sounds, influences and themes. The production is some of the best this year, with Dr. Dre once again executively producing. Contributions from some of the best and most creative beatmakers such as DJ Dahi, The Alchemist and 9th Wonder, alongside some big names like James Blake, Mike Will Made It and BADBADNOTGOOD make this one of the most polished and sonically pleasing albums to listen to. Beats on tracks like ‘DUCKWORTH.’ and ‘XXX.’ are incredibly experimental and the way Kendrick uses his voice and rhyming in tandem is exceptional. The overall concept is an interesting one, with the album ending by reversing back through every track to then start again. What this can represent is completely up for debate, but that’s what I find quite charming about it, and is completely characteristic of Kendrick. Sure, his previous albums have more intertwined and clear story arcs, but Kendrick always allows room for interpretation, and that is part of the beauty of the craft. Ultimately, the album is yet again another fantastic project from the genius mind of Kendrick Lamar, and each listen brings out more and more from each song – a true work of art.
Stormzy - Gang Signs and Prayers: Being this brave on debut album, especially as a grime artist, is something that Stormzy should be praised for doing. It’s daring, fantastically crafted, and contains some very fragile and sensitive material that you’d never expect from the man that brought you ’Shut Up’ and ‘Scary’. ‘First Things First’ opens the album, and at this point it sounds just how you imagine - a dark, jittering instrumental overlaid with straight bars, ranging from braggadocio to scathing criticism of popular media. A few tracks later, the album completely changes into something unexpected. ‘Blinded By Your Grace Pt. 1’ - what a track. On first listen it’s stunning to hear Stormzy singing so candidly - he doesn’t try anything over the top with his style, it’s purely him singing about a love of his in a positive and gospel-influenced way. As the album progresses, you see a back and forth between this emotional, vulnerable Stormzy and his usual ways. ‘Big For Your Boots’ is one of the biggest bangers of the year, which moves into ‘Velvet’ with a slower rap/sung melody, and then straight into the utterly brutal ‘Mr. Skeng’. The rest of the album follows suit, with slow numbers like ‘100 Bags’ and ultimate bops like ‘Return of the Rucksack’. ‘Blinded By Your Grace Pt.2’ is especially beautiful, with Stormzy and MNEK bouncing between each other to create a spiritual bliss of a song. The album, particularly as a debut, has very few flaws and is a shining example of how an artist can break genre barriers. After hearing Stormzy experiment and give us an honest look into his mind, it will be fascinating to see his next career step.
Wolf Alice - Visions of a Life: These four Londoners who describe themselves as “folk grunge” can only be immediately described as coolly eclectic. The musical madness of their debut record ‘My Love is Cool’, with songs switching from dazy, soft electronica, to ‘90s shoegaze, to raucous punk established the quartet as future chart-topping headliners. With second album ‘Visions of A Life’, the Ellie Rowsell-led band reached new heights of accomplishment. The album showcases more of the golden artistry hinted at with ‘My Love is Cool’, the personality of Ellie emerging in tracks ‘Yuk Foo’, ‘Sky Musings’, and ‘Don’t Delete the Kisses’, to name a few. Unlike other records released this year, ‘Visions of a Life’ plays on its tracklisting in a subtly diplomatic way. The immediacy of ‘Yuk Foo’ and its following track ‘Beautifully Unconventional’ juxtapose one another in a way that is effortlessly charming. The second half of the album presents itself as a sequel to its predecessor; alternative, guitar-heavy instrumentals paired with soaring vocals--from ‘Space & Time’ right through to closer ‘Visions of a Life’--complements yet offsets the groove-heavy, earworm heavy, rock-pop-heavy first half. With ‘Visions of a Life’, Ellie, Joff, Joel, and Theo have established themselves as one of the best young bands in Britain, if not the best, and have certainly given themselves a lot to prove with their (probable) third album. ‘Visions of a Life’ is cool, multifaceted, and most importantly, just bloody fun.
Paramore - After Laughter: 'After Laughter', the fifth studio album from genre-neutral band Paramore was released in May this year. 'After Laughter' is the first album from the band to venture away from their pop punk roots into a matured synth-pop sound. Since their last self-titled album was released in 2013, the band’s line up changed with the re-addition of former drummer Zac Farro. From his own band Halfnoise, Zac bought a large amount of synthetic influence to his fellow Paramore members Hayley and Taylor, with his mark evident on both the style and sound of the new record. A complete departure from the self titled era, 'After Laughter' focuses on a tumultuous few years for the band with themes of exhaustion, depression and anxiety. However, the theme and upbeat sound of the record tells a completely different story. 'Hard Times', the first single released from the album told a story of a band who had emerged from the shadows with a completely new image, one of bright beats and synthetic 80’s throwbacks. The same vintage theme goes for other staple tracks such as 'Rose-Colored Boy' and 'Told You So'. Despite this generally idealistic tone there are a few slightly more downbeat melancholy tracks such as 26, although an upbeat excitement still somehow shines through from beneath this clouded sadness and reflection. Although far from what Paramore fans are used to, 'After Laughter' is a new perspective for a band just as dedicated as the day they began. It’s a new and fresh image – but one to be trusted indeed.
2017 has been the year that has just kept giving with incredible albums from bands I have always loved as well as albums from new artists that have just blown me away. One of those new bands that absolutely flawed me upon my first listen were Remo Drive who released their debut record ‘Greatest Hits’ this year. It’s fast indie emo pop anthems are so well written, it’s impossible not to fall in love with the album. Another debut album that features on my list is ‘taster’ by lo-fi duo hovvdy (you can already tell its chill music from the lack of capital letters). It has become my go to album for walks as the relaxed guitar, and quiet vocals always feel so refreshing. Tracks like ‘favourite’ are not the most complex but they never cease to amaze me. The final debut album that graces my list is ‘Brutalism’ by Idles, after seeing their raucous set at Live at Leeds I knew they’d be making my albums of the year list. With loud guitars, shouted vocals, and just generally good noises the Bristol group have made the best post-punk album of the year. A highlight on this album for me being the politically charged song ‘Mother’, you can truly hear the emotion propelling this band forward, and see why they’re making this music.
The next two albums which feature on my list are from two of my long-time favourite bands The National and Big Thief. Both bands are centred around emotive lyricism and beautiful instrumentation. Big Thief deal with these in a delicate way when listening to the album you can feel the raw emotion that is being expressed especially in the song ‘Pretty Things’. The National’s ‘Sleep Well Beast’ deals with emotions but in a less delicate but innovative way moving forward from their previous albums. This can be seen in the riff in ‘The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness’ which sounds out of place on its own. But when the low tones of Matt Berninger’s voice come in driving the song along, he brings it back into their unique sound and you realise the ingenious thought that is going behind the instrumentation in this song and album as a whole.
Calvin Harris’ good vibes Funk Wav Bounces: Vol 1 kicks off my list, where the short length format provides 10 sharp and fun tracks to soundtrack any situation. Next is Migos, with their beyond addictive Culture. The meddling of some of the best trap beats and rap chemistry in the game make for an album I haven’t stopped listening to all year. A$AP Ferg’s huge mixtape Still Striving contains some of the hardest beats all year, with the standard ferocious and braggadocio lyrics Ferg always brings and a star-studded feature list. Just missing out on the top spot is hip-hop’s biggest album of 2017 – DAMN. Kendrick brings an album of outstanding songs, going from one of the biggest songs of the year HUMBLE. to the phenomenal and introspective FEAR. The concept of the album lacks the cohesiveness of his previous projects however, but it is a joy to listen to front to back.
My number one, however, must go to J Hus. Common Sense is an album that meddles multiple genres together so perfectly, and there is not one bad spot. J Hus himself is a fantastic and melodic rapper/singer – the hooks on every track are so enjoyable to sing along to, and the inflections in his vocals provide a huge spectrum of emotions. Jae5, who handles the majority of the production, is what makes this album exceptional. The beats vary hugely throughout the album, from the intense and dark Clartin to the amazingly upbeat Did You See – but none sound out of place. The consistency is incredible, with every song keeping to the general theme and sound – at only 21, I can’t wait to hear what J Hus has to offer in the future.
First and foremost, 2017 was a solid year for the alternative music scene at large and despite finding myself revisiting a whole host of albums from 2016, there was still a strong handful of records that have stayed with me throughout the past twelve months.
Starting with Code Orange’s “Forever” - an album released in January that completely tore up the musical handbook and provided us with one of the most cutting, savage and violent records of the year. Songs will go in entirely dissonant directions, riffs will carry a genuine weigh; they even collaborated with Alt-J for a few tracks and they were even nominate for a bloody Grammy for Best Metal Performance. It’s a bit of wishful thinking, but if Code Orange were to win over the likes of Mastodon, they will be the ones to finally prove to mainstream media that metal is more than just a bunch of old dudes with beards wearing leather (*cough* Metallica ft. Lady Gaga *cough*).
With 2017 marking the end of The Dillinger Escape Plan, Code Orange’s “Forever” could be the scenes most important album of the past decade.
Around about Easter time, Southampton emo-punk outfit Creeper blessed us with their debut album “Eternity, In Your Arms” which successfully carried the momentum of their three previous EPs. This also brought with it four fantastic music videos with a shared narrative, a Q&A panel in their hometown with the manager and director, and a headline tour with Milk Teeth, Puppy and Power. Context aside, though, “Eternity, In Your Arms” is a killer punk record with so many arena-filling choruses and as a result, we have a band like Creeper to thank for opening up this scene to the masses.
2017 also had me discover new bands in the form of Weirds from Leeds, catching them play at 2000 Trees festival and winning me over instantly, and in the form of Zeal & Ardour with their debut album “Devil is Fine” (which was written and recorded entirely by the brains behind the band, Manuel Gagneux). After being discovered and curated by Radio One’s Daniel P. Carter, I managed to see them play in The Pit at Reading Festival and it reminded me why we have the best scene going. It’s an album that mixes black metal, experimental metal and blues and quite honestly, it’s the closest thing you’ll get to avant-garde music at a place that was swarming with bucket hats, ket bags and glittered teenagers.
And don’t even get me started on Enter Shikari’s “The Spark”.
Kicking things off for me are Temples with Volcano, and cover art so bad that it could only be redeemed by a great album that sounds the way glitter looks. The new, more synth-poppy style has not overtaken the band’s psychedelic roots and James Bagshaw’s production ties everything together in such a way that no song ever feels too fussy. I feel this would soundtrack being stuck in a deserted fairground really well, but on a less niche note it’s just a great summer album. Queen of melancholy Lana Del Rey lightened up a bit with Lust For Life. The most notable aspect of this album is how she makes different musical styles work together; collaborations with people from A$AP Rocky to Stevie Nicks shouldn’t work as well as they do. This is an artist comfortable with the way she presents herself through music, with nods to Americana now coming with a wink and a nudge rather than appearing to simply be her ‘thing’.
Blanaevon is the biggest surprise of my top 5. I hadn’t listened to any of their releases before That’s Your Lot, nor do I routinely listen to music that could (if you were being mean) be classed as Radio 1 Indie but I’m really taken with this album. They write music far more intelligently than a lot of the bands I may have previously categorised them with - cough, Sherlocks - and Ben Gregory’s falsetto is one of the best in the biz. I will forever be a Father John Misty fan and there’s little I love more than when my faves get political. Josh Tillman refuses to let you use Pure Comedy as an escape from the tumultuous times in which we live. As well as politics, he has built on themes of religion, celebrity and himself to create something that is musically and lyrically beautiful. The Nillson-esque arrangements from his second album have disappeared, but the cynicism is only growing. I knew On Human Freakout Mountain would top my list as soon as I listened to it. I’ve followed Zuli since his debut EP and can’t get enough of his psychedelia-infused power pop. The 60’s influences are undeniable, though you couldn’t accuse the album of sounding derivative. Mostly, though, the vocal melodies stand out not just for being well-written but because they’re insanely fun to sing along to.
How does one write a breakup album? At only 20 years old, Lorde has mastered the art. And so much more. June’s release ‘Melodrama’ saw Ella Yelich-O’Connor dominate her own scene, the infectiously catchy, deeply emotional, and pensively resonating record marking her as the most subtly intelligent artist around today. Opening track ‘Green Light’ is a song that shouldn’t work but does, ‘Homemade Dynamite’ is the pop anthem with an acidic edge, ‘Liability’ is the ballad with a bite, and man, what a bite. Lorde truly did tower above all expectations with sophomore album, defeating the dreaded ‘second album curse’; ‘Melodrama’ will truly become the album of perhaps even the decade.
This so-called ‘second album curse’ really was beaten this year. Wolf Alice, with ‘Visions of a Life’ built upon their eclectic debut, defining them as possibly the best young band in Britain. The record is heavier, groovier, and more personable than ‘My Love is Cool’; Ellie Rowsell’s personality comes out, the songs are powerful, raucous, yet danceable. ‘Yuk Foo’ is an unapologetic rowdy romp, ‘Formidable Cool’ is clever and rhythmic, ‘Don’t Delete the Kisses’ is romantically astute. Watch this space.
Perhaps not the most subtle of genre change, with fourth studio record ‘DAMN.’, Kendrick Lamar told a story straight from the heart of LA, his melodic so-called ‘conscious rap’ permeating styles from all walks of music. ‘HUMBLE.’, his first track to top the Billboard 100 list is a sticky, sentient song, one that even my dad added to his ‘Favourite Songs’ playlist. Collaborations with Rihanna and U2, alongside phenomenal tracks ‘DNA.’ and the passionate ‘DUCKWORTH.’ single the record out as one of the most successful of the year.
A band that, while being a change in tempo, can’t be defined to one genre: Husky Loops. This release may have only been their debut EP, but April’s self-titled ‘Husky Loops’ is something simply out of this world. It’s almost a guarantee that this time next year I’ll be listing their debut LP as my favourite of 2018. The art-rock, math-rock, art-pop, alternative, guitar-noise, pure ingenuity that the young trio showcase on their 4-track EP is indescribable. ‘Tempo’, ‘Fighting Yourself’, ‘The Man’, and ‘Dead’ are the EP’s must-listens. (It’s the entire tracklisting)
Keeping it musically diverse, Birmingham’s very own Superfood, with second album ‘Bambino’, take influence from reggae, electronica, and hip-hop. The record is tightly written, intelligent, and leaves the listener gasping for more. It’s the release that saved them from the abyss, and it’s one that proves they’re not going anywhere.
As Livewire’s in-house heavy music officianado, I feel that it is my duty to champion the truly outstanding heavier music that has been setting the world alight this year. Code Orange have given us a genuine masterpiece in the form of their third effort Forever, that will be spoken in the same vein as Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral or Converge’s Jane Doe. A breath-taking masterclass in heavy music from a band set on wiping the stagnancy and repetitiveness of modern metal off the map once and for all. This is an unpredictable adrenaline rush of an album that jerks its listeners in uncomfortable yet captivating directions from minute one. A true modern classic. Elsewhere, Mastodon have released their best album in nearly a decade in the form of Emperor of Sand. An immersive trip into the relationship between experimental lyrical concepts and captivating musical landscapes. This is perhaps best exemplified in standout track Steambreather, which feels like a drug-fuelled trip through the Peruvian desert. Mastodon have exceeded expectations yet again and have cemented themselves as one of the greatest metal bands of all time. A change of pace from the barrage of heavy music that I’ve brought thus far, but an album that is simply too good to ignore.
'After The Party' by The Menzingers has been my go-to alt-rock album this year, there is not a moment of wasted air on the album that has undoubtedly established itself as The Menzingers’ finest. A heartwarming and heartbreaking story of the tragedy of coming to terms with the loss of one’s youth, the lyrical sensibilities of Scranton, Pennsylvania’s hometown heroes have firmly come into their own with this album. Back to blisteringly heavy business as usual, Converge have returned to their finest form with The Dusk in Us. Remaining as visceral as ever, The Dusk in Us arguably contains many of Converge’s most approachable musical moments, with that being said it is worth bearing in mind that this is speaking relatively to Converge so is still unrelentingly brutal to those without a trained ear. Finally, the follow up to a unique, albeit inconsistent, debut effort in the shape of 'Muscle Memory', Jamie Lenman’s second album Devolver is a genuine revelation. Standout moments Waterloo Teeth, Mississippi, and Hardbeat sit amongst Lenman’s finest work with Reuben, while his unique and unflinching personality being so centred in the album’s narrative makes it hard for any listener to not feel endeared by this fascinating peek into the mind of one of the most fascinating musicians in British Rock.
It’s been a pretty salacious year for albums if I do say so myself. March saw the release of Interplanetary Class Classics, the debut record from fictional oujia-pop group, The Moonlandingz. With Sean Lennon producing most of the album and guest spots that include Phil Oakley, Rebecca Taylor and the cowboy from the village people (yes, really); the record juxtaposes the grey backdrop of the world behind it with genuinely great pop music about rabies and indie-band wannabes. Another record which showcased an ability to fuse the sublime, the silly and the sexy is Drunk, the third album from bass maestro and all-round lovable guy, Thundercat. Featuring his adorable falsetto and one of the year’s best album covers, it’s a record which doesn’t take itself too seriously but still demonstrates fantastic musicianship. South-London band (and Moonlandingz compatriots), Madonnatron dropped their self-titled debut this year; a sinister mix of 60’s Hammond organ and doomy harmonies that warrants it as one of the freshest (and witchiest) underground albums in some considerable time.
A character who has always warranted fascination through his Technicolor aesthetic and genuinely eclectic music taste is Tyler, The Creator and the release of, Flower Boy, accomplished a rare goal for a lot of artists, of living up to his potential. The album takes the iridescent perspective of its curator to another dimension through the orchestral textures of single ‘Boredom’ but also shows a side to the artist that is perhaps obscured by the vines and clips that made him so popular with lyrical introspections on solitude, fame and sexuality.
A fine return to form clocking in at a modest but respective length of 29 minutes: Baxter Drury’s, Prince of Tears, is a definite contender of album of the year. The sparse, electronic sound combines musical simplicity with Drury’s sharp lyricism which gives this record the profound ability to be both danceable and sombre.
2017 was a year dominated by artists with something to prove. After making a very big deal about going away a few years ago, LCD Soundsystem had to deliver the best album of their career to justify their existence. Jamie Lenman returned with a batch of songs that stand shoulder to shoulder with anything from his former band’s discography. Sleep Well Beast is also a triumph. Dark, atmospheric, brooding, sorrowful – it accentuates and perfects all of the elements you want from The National. The best lyricist in the game, Matt Berninger, delves even further into his personal life than normal and the Dessner brothers incorporate electronics to create the band’s best album since Alligator.
But the highlight of the year was Enter Shikari’s sharp left turn. Despite being undeniably different sonically, the tone of the album and its palpable sense of fearlessness is recognisably Shikari. The Mindsweep felt like the ultimate form of the direction the band had been pursuing since Common Dreads, so it was imperative for them to hit the reset button to avoid stagnation. Rou pushes the politics mostly to the side, instead covering his own mental health struggles and personal relationships in an unflinching manner. With The Spark Enter Shikari cement their position as the leaders of a new movement in British rock music championing fearlessness, diversity and honesty above all else. Now those who only think of Shikari as the clap-clap-clap band from 2007 look even more out of touch than they already did.
In the year where lady-pop dominated the music industry, Lorde’s ‘Melodrama’ lead the charge with the most complete, artful and sincere pop record I’d heard in years. This record resonated with me like few ever have before; I listened it to death, picking apart its every intricacy, and I still hear something new in it even now. It’s a record for when you’re happy, you’re sad, you’re optimistic or you’re hurting, Lorde’s words feel just like your own.
Released just three weeks into 2017, Loyle Carner’s debut has stuck with me all year. His brand of beautifully sensitive hip hop has slowly but surely found its way into the mainstream, and it’s been a pleasure to watch him bathe in the success he so truly deserves. Elsewhere, one of my favourite bands Wolf Alice returned in a big way this year with three huge and diverse singles that left us with no indication of what their album would sound like. Unsurprisingly, ‘Visions of a Life’ continues to see Wolf Alice push their own boundaries, from the ethereal Heavenward to the brooding Formidable Cool to eight-minute mega-jam Visions of a Life, they laughed in the face of the ‘difficult second album’.
Another of my favourite bands, Bombay Bicycle Club have been on hiatus for a couple of years now, which has given frontman Jack Steadman plenty of time to work on his debut solo project Mr Jukes. I feel like ‘God First’ has been quite overlooked this year, and features from the late Charles Bradley, De La Soul, Lianne La Havas and more means it’s classy, eclectic and soulful. Another band returning with their second album this year were Canadian dream-pop outfit Alvvays. ‘Antisocialites’ is a lovely, happy, boppy album, featuring feel-good bangers In Undertow, Plimsoll Punks and Lollipop (Ode To Jim).
Record of the year is Jaden Smith’s SYRE - no hint of irony. The production, a sonic cocktail of earnest neo-soul, kid cudi-esque glam rock balladry and trap-rap braggadocio allows Jaden Smith to bring his surprisingly mature songwriting and (mostly) impeccable flow into contention with his admittedly much more experienced peers. Sure, the Martin Luther comparisons are unwarranted, but they only add to the overarching narrative of the project: that of a young boy, trying to find his way in an unfamiliar present. Boyband Brockhampton have had a similarly meteoric boom in 2017, with Saturation II the natural evolution of the promise they showed on their previous effort. Think Wu-Tang Clan, but made up entirely of Frank Ocean and Kanye West hypebeasts, with offbeat, homegrown hooks and instrumentals that rival anything constructed by the industry machine. Alternately DAMN., with or without the long awaited NATION or the cashgrab reverse tracklist release, stands as Kendrick Lamar's least conceptual and least cohesive record yet. It’s place on this list is only determined by a handful of songs (DNA, ELEMENT, LOYALTY, DUCKWORTH, HUMBLE to name a few) that could feasibly make all of the spots for my top five singles of the year.
More Life shows Drakes newfound affection for Grime and his previously unseen mastery of the playlist concept, dancehall jams cosying up to introspective interludes as well as ‘Gyalchester’, perhaps the most iconic cut of his recent output and ‘Passionfruit’, a ‘Marvins Room’ for the modern age. Rounding of the list is Goldlink’s At What Cost, which sacrifices the melancholic, icy synths of his previous effort in favour of warm 80’s haze. Turns out, the imminent Nuclear Apocalypse can be prevented; but only through a mutual US-North Korea appreciation for how banging the one-two hit of ‘Mediation’ and ‘Herside Story’ is. This list is not meant to completely sideline guitar music - Alvvay, Mount Eerie and Father John Misty all released fine music this year - but as always, Hip-Hop & R&B continue to innovate and challenge better than any other genre in an unsure era. Lets hope Yeezus 2 drops sooner rather than later.
Check out these albums as well as a selection of our other favourites here: