30. Mura Masa – ‘Mura Masa’
What We Said…
For the last two years, Guernsey-born producer Mura Masa aka Alex Crossan has been one of the most talked about names in modern electronic music. After first proving his worth being named as a finalist in the BBC Sound Of 2016, the beatmaker has been steadily sharing one forward-thinking production after another one, all leading up to this moment, the unveiling of his self-titled debut album.
With tracks lifted from his debut EP 'Firefly' also making an appearance in the tracklist, 'Mura Masa' has been treated more of an anthology of his work to date rather than contemporary collection of his current jams. Normally this would interfere with the record's pacing, but given he has such a unique and progressive style of production, the album happily moves from track to track, unleashing one fresh banger over and over again.
Although much of this album was shared in advance, so most fans of his work will know what to expect, it is only once you hear it all in one place that it truly impresses you. More than 18 months in the making, 'Mura Masa' has delivered a truly spectacular debut that will no doubt be filling up Best Of 2017 lists later in the year.
29. Benjamin Clementine – ‘I Tell A Fly’
What We Said…
Back in 2015, Benjamin Clementine released his debut studio album 'At Least For Now'. A record that remained firmly a cult favourite until the frontman scooped the Mercury Music Prize for it later in the year, thrusting all manner of attention onto his strange works. But now two years have passed, and with next to no build-up for it, Clementine returns with a vastly different follow-up in the form of 'I Tell A Fly'.
The most striking difference between these two albums is most certainly the sonic sound of them both. While 'At Least For Now' was filled with largely irreverent piano ballads, 'I Tell A Fly' sees him stretch his creative wings and add an eclectic production style to his sound, giving this release a far more diverse direction. His unique style of singing seems to be the one constant from both LPs, but this new collection definitely still manages to rekindle the same unusual disposition of his first full-length.
As far as trying to follow up such a memorable debut goes, Clementine has executed this release in near perfect fashion. A clear evolution has taken place within his songwriting and will still manage to impress those that loved his original work.
28. Loyle Carner – ‘Yesterday’s Gone’
What We Said…
As the UK hip-hop scene remains solidly in the hands of the grime revival, there has been little mention of any British rapper that doesn't conform to the big bass sound. So to see an artist like Loyle Carner manage to break through the dust with something as diverse and thought-provoking as his debut album 'Yesterday's Gone', shows that this isn't just another run-of-the-mill rap record.
Following on from the success of other albums like Kanye West's 'Life Of Pablo' and Kendrick Lamar's 'To Kill A Butterfly', 'Yesterday's Gone' takes much of its influence from a retro sound. Rich with soul and jazz inspirations, the album keeps up this mix of soothing lyrical flow and poetry that seems to quickly become his coined sound. No track outshines any other, making it very easy to stay with the release from start to finish and get a full sense of Carner's disposition.
It is certainly a massive breath of fresh air from someone who hasn't really made the initial impact he should have. Loyle Carner has taken hip-hop and reinvented it as a lounge genre, delivering something not only unique but very special as well.
27. Destroyer – ‘ken’
What We Said…
After releasing his tenth studio album 'Poison Season' back in 2015, it seemed that Destroyer aka Dan Bejar had finally found his stride. After a great career of releasing incredible indie-rock records, that last full-length really saw him peak as a songwriter and so it should only go that his follow-up should keep to the same direction. Thankfully the frontman has kept true to his path and returned with another fantastically diverse release.
But while 'Poison Season' saw him mainly stick to these larger than life, anthemic cuts, 'ken' is more of a two-sided record. While the same traditional approach to songwriting remains, its production and use of instrumentation creates a far more eclectic sound this time around. Adding more of an electronic edge in places, the album sees him on a more experimental trip by mixing up the sonic expectations of each track while keeping the mood and emotional intention of each track consistent throughout.
It may not have the same succinct feel of 'Poison Season', but it still manages to evoke the same feelings through his incredible songwriting. 'ken' is certainly a great introduction if you aren't familiar with his work to date, and sees him continue as one of the most proficient artists working in the world today.
26. Kendrick Lamar – ‘DAMN.’
What We Said…
As is the custom these days, album releases are getting less and less promo time behind them. When April began, we had no idea a new Kendrick Lamar album was on the way, and now here we are with it all in our laps. Yet despite this very sudden release, Lamar has never really left our minds since releasing his incredible 2015 album 'To Pimp A Butterfly'. But if you are beginning to think that was beginning of a new Kendrick, 'DAMN.' will make you see that he has moved on once again.
While 'To Pimp A Butterfly' was no doubt an incredible achievement in both political commentary and musical influence, it was very much a reactionary record to the harrowing police brutality that plagued America in the months previous. Now Lamar has returned to being a more contemporary sounding artist, but not without holding on to his biting social awareness. 'DAMN.' manages to take the formative sounds of Kendrick, mainly from his seminal 'good kid, m.A.A.d city' record, and evolve them into something even more challenging for the listener.
Kendrick Lamar has always thought of himself as the thinking-man's rapper, and this new record displays that brilliantly. With more emphasis on the state of today's culture, with nods to body consciousness, the news media, and religious beliefs throughout, this new album proves that he still has plenty to say, all within a masterfully produced record.
25. Ibeyi – ‘Ash’
What We Said…
When French-Cuban twin sisters Ibeyi released their self-titled debut album back in 2015, the world seemed like a radically different place. Filled with an introspective look at their own musical influences, the duo's release marked a statement for bringing together cultures and ideas to create a truly unique and diverse release. But in 2017, the pair have looked at the shape of the world today and taken that into reflection as to what the message of their sophomore album should be.
Sonically, 'Ash' shares plenty in common with its predecessor, but this time we see them embark of a journey of despair being trumped by hope. Rather than fall into a pit of fear and uncertainty, the record's content looks to the current world situations and tries to shine a positive outlook on what the future holds. The album's lead single 'Away Away' projects this emotion perfectly, while other singles such as 'Deathless', focus themselves on the unjust arrests of black people in the United States, but always with a progressive and inspiring spin.
As far as bettering their debut goes, 'Ash' sees itself as a completely different beast. While there is no doubt that this matches the pace and gravitas of their first release, its importance as a message takes it far beyond just another musical release and sets itself up as a point in time for the pair's personal lives.
24. Fever Ray – ‘Plunge’
What We Said…
After more than eight years since her first solo release, Swedish artist Karin Dreijer aka Fever Ray made a surprise return this year with the release of her latest single 'To The Moon And Back', and now without any warning, she drops her long-awaited second studio album 'Plunge'. And for those that are familiar with the warped-out and psychedelic electronics of her debut, this will certainly not disappoint.
While she has obviously kept up her unique musical perspective by being one half of The Knife, Dreijer is now looking to create more of a name for herself outside of her better known outfit. From the off, 'Plunge' looks to make an impression on the listener. The opener 'Wanna Sip' seems straight out of The Knife's catalogue, with its bold and interesting production, but then moves swiftly on through a whole range of emotions and moods to create a release with a more eclectic nature than we would have expected.
Fans of her work will obviously be delighted with this record, and as an introduction, newcomers will also find plenty to enjoy on this. 'Plunge' seems to see itself less as a return and more of a fresh start, and that shows the attitude of intent that this may not be the last time we hear from Dreijer for another eight years.
23. Baths – ‘Romaplasm’
What We Said…
After releasing a spate of new releases at the start of the decade, we thought we had lost producer Will Wiesenfeld and his Baths project for good after a sudden four-year silence. But then out of the blue, he returns with a brand new album, and from the initial listen it seems he has not lost sight of the brilliantly odd electro-pop that made us fall in love with him in the first place.
From the start, 'Romaplasm' is a disjointed collection of joyous productions that show that his time in the wilderness was obviously well-spent. But rather than work in the more contemporary arena of loud and anthemic singles, the record has this almost skipping pace to it. Never building up but simply maintaining a strong direction throughout, that ultimately leaves a smile on your face and a sense of optimism as it plays.
Some may find his style a bit too sickly-sweet in places, but once you get used to his sound, you'll realise just how brilliantly well-produced this new record is. A diverse and exciting release that reminds us just how much we need Baths back in our lives.
22. Thundercat – ‘Drunk’
What We Said…
Returning four years after his much-heralded sophomore album 'Apocalypse', producer Thundercat is back to deliver another oddball dose of his incredibly diverse and captivating music. With his instrument of choice, the bass guitar, making itself known throughout this record, his ability to create an alternative direction to the commercial sound of contemporary RnB is not only the driving force of this record, but also the reason behind his incredible list of collaborators.
While names like Pharrell Williams, Kendrick Lamar and Wiz Khalifa don't look out of place on the tracklist, it is seeing Kenny Loggin's name amongst them that is really turning heads. And it's only once you give the album a full listen that you actually understand that this is not just another standard Brainfeeder release. 'Drunk' is a lucid and uncompromising beast, filled with a whole range of tracks that move their way between simple ideas to fully-fledged compositions of great eccentricity.
Trying to pin down this album into one easy to understand sentence just isn't possible. One minute the producer is treating us to an array of instrumentations, the next a humbled voice over a strained backdrop. Yet despite its bombastic approach, 'Drunk' is easily one of the most captivating releases of the year so far, and continues the legacy of Thundercat remaining one of the most intriguing producers of today.
21. Superfood – ‘Bambino’
What We Said…
When Superfood released their debut album 'Don't Say That', they became the surprise hit discovery of 2014. Their incredible talent for writing unique and engaging indie-rock brought cult attention to the outfit, but a lot has changed since then. With a stripped back line-up and a new, more commercial sound, the band's second album 'Bambino' continues the legacy of great music they seem to be able to make so easily.
While their debut was more focused on their guitar-based direction, with 'Bambino', the distortion pedal has been switched off as they opt for a more laid-back atmosphere, taking inspiration from soul, trip-hop and reggae backgrounds. It may be a little jarring for those that loved their first full-length, but this new release still manages to impress with almost every track. Creating an uplifting vibe that you just have to listen to again and again.
Their first album definitely didn't get the attention it deserved, but ignore this at your own peril. They have proven that they are more than capable of creating great music, and even with a complete restart of their sound, they continue to leave us in awe.