10. Kali Uchis – ‘Isolation’
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After first emerging with her debut mixtape 'Drunken Babble' all the way back in 2012, the Columbian-American frontwoman Kali Uchis has been one of the most hotly-tipped names working at the moment. And after years of dropping one incredible single or EP after another, she has finally passed the first major milestone of her career by releasing her debut album, and it already looks like it has firmly cemented the hype around her.
Staying true to her Columbian roots, 'Isolation' plays as an extremely forward-thinking RnB release with a strong Latin influence. With a dependancy on live instrumentation on almost every track, the album has this incredibly authentic feel throughout. And with the additional support from guests like Tyler, The Creator, Bootsy Collins and Damon Albarn, the result is this incredibly diverse and uplifting full-length.
As debut records go, this is certainly one of the best we have heard so far this year. Kali Uchis is about to grow from a cult phenomenon to an international one, and feels so good to have this music in our lives finally.
9. Mitski – ‘Be The Cowboy’
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Despite her fantastic debut album 'Lush' arriving in early 2012, Japan-born but New York-based frontwoman Mitski Miyawaki has proven herself to be one of the most constantly competent and prolific songwriters working in music today. As she returns this year to release her fifth full-length to date, the singer seems almost incapable of making a bad record as she continues on her journey of euphoric alt-pop that channels the likes of St. Vincent on her latest release 'Be The Cowboy'.
From the start, this new album looks to crack you over the head with its instantly noticeable opener 'Geyser', a single that sets the tone but not the style of this new full-length. From there, we are treated to a heady mix of tortured guitars ballads, wistful serenades and the occasional uplifting brass break as she makes her most cohesive record to date. Each track beautifully transitions into the next, making for an incredibly easy listen that never tries to release you from the moment she is creating.
In all, 'Be The Cowboy' is one of those rare albums that comes along and really gets under your skin. With a strong and commanding presence at the centre of the release, Mitski manages to captivate you throughout and delivers one best LPs of her career so far.
8. Jon Hopkins – ‘Singularity’
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When producer Jon Hopkins dropped his fourth studio album 'Immunity' back in 2013, he went from a largely unknown name into one of the most progressive electronic artists of the time. The record brought him more acclaim and success than he had ever seen in his career, so it would only make sense that anything that follows it would take more time than most to produce. But after five years away, the producer is back to deliver a wholly spectacular return.
While 'Immunity' spent a lot of its time exploring experimental soundscapes that brought awe and wonder to the listener, 'Singularity' seems to be more of a beat-led release, opting for percussion over atmosphere a lot of the time. But with Hopkins being of such a broad state of mind, this is not simply an ode to the techno arena but an expansive set of ideas that create an extremely honed sense of direction, while simultaneously aiming to deliver a new sound as it plays.
'Singularity' is a glitch-filled, squelchy, techno juggernaut that becomes even more captivating with each play. It's fair to say that this new release definitely moves in a new way than his previous work, but one that is still mind-bending to experience.
7. DJ Koze – ‘Knock Knock’
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Over the years, German producer DJ Koze has skirted the line between the commercial and the experimental. Taking the core, major-key sounds of the pop world and glitching them up into something new has always been his state of mind. But since returning after a five year silence with some EPs in the last few months, the irreverent individual now delivers his long-awaited third full-length 'Knock Knock', a record that shows exactly why his presence is so sorely needed today.
From the start, this new album sets its claim as a bold and interesting piece of work. The opener 'Club Der Ewigkeiten', with its pulsing strings and Avalanches-style vibe, sets the tone as to where this new material plans to go. From then on, we are treated to a smooth and vibrant release that feels perfectly timed for the summer sun. Teaming up with a number of other compatible names like Jose Gonzalez and Roisin Murphy only adds to the warming nature of this record and delivers a truly memorable experience.
He may have been gone for a while, but DJ Koze has certainly not lost his touch when it comes to creating incredibly engaging music. A triumphant return that once again reinstates him as one of the most essential artists in the world.
6. Jorja Smith – ‘Lost And Found’
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Despite appearing on our radar back in 2016 with her 'Project 11' EP, Londoner Jorja Smith has quickly become one of the most talked about artists of the last few years. Even with only a handful of tracks to her name, the frontwoman has already collaborated with the likes of Drake and Kendrick Lamar, and was recently awarded the Critic's Choice Award at this year's Brits. But while her catalogue of material continued to grow, her debut album 'Lost & Found' sees her move away from her humble beginnings and look to make the next move on her first full-length.
Many artists in her situation will usually fill their debut album with cuts taken from previous releases, but the emphatic singles 'Blue Lights' and 'Teenage Fantasy' seem to be the only examples of the old Jorja on here, making way for her latest captivating sound. And from the start, this new record very much hits the mark as to what a studio album should be. Rather than look to spread herself out, she has focused her sound into one specific direction and mastered it down to a tee. Filled with soul and a modest production, the record never feels the need to shout about itself, but instead stays humble and invites you closer with a mesmerising pull.
We knew that this album was going to be something special, but finally hearing it, we can see that Jorja Smith is more than just the buzz but a fully-formed artist who understands how to intrigue her listener. Much like Solange did on her 'Seat At The Table' album, she has delivered something new to the RnB genre, filled with confidence and a proficient energy.
5. Ross From Friends – ‘Family Portrait’
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Over the years, producer Felix Weatherall aka Ross From Friends has been one of those names that just keeps throwing out a diverse mix of eclectic party tunes and atmospheric experimental numbers in almost equal measure. The beatmaker recently made his debut on the notorious Brainfeeder imprint earlier this year with his stunning EP 'Aphelion', and now looks to continue the adventures that release triggered with the unveiling of his long-awaited debut album 'Family Portrait'.
The minute you hit play on this new record, you can tell that this is something you are just going to love. From its diverse use of production to its lo-fi direction, 'Family Portrait' is one of those electronic albums that really tries to cut its own path in the genre and delivers something fresh and exciting throughout. Taking cues from similar names like Jon Hopkins and Daniel Avery, Weatherall is truly giving his best on this new LP. Branching away from the safety of smaller releases, we see him at his experimental best, showcasing so many different ideas, it is hard to keep track sometimes.
He may not have the biggest following yet, but 'Family Portrait' will surely become one of the great discoveries for music fans over the next few months. A new and expressive sound that just screams to be heard, and one of the true highlights of the year so far.
4. Kamasi Washington – ‘Heaven And Earth’
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Over the years, Kamasi Washington has been one of those names that just seems to keep appearing on other artist's records, especially in the hip-hop community. The saxophonist has collaborated with Kendrick Lamar, Run The Jewels, Thundercat, Flying Lotus and many more in the last few years, and has been able to bring his unique take on jazz and soul music to a more contemporary audience in the process. And now he returns with one of his more ambitious projects, his latest double-album 'Heaven And Earth'.
From the start, it is clear that 'Heaven And Earth' is a concept record of sorts. While there is no real underlying theme to each of the LPs, there is a distinct contrast between the direction of the two sides. The first half is a real fanfare of a piece. With a strong choir and orchestral accompaniment, Washington unleashes a truly uplifting collection of material that manages to sooth the soul at almost every stage. While the second effort sees him delve more into his jazz roots, opting for more experimental pieces that look to define his talent as a leading saxophone player.
Yet while the two sides are vastly different in direction, Kamasi Washington's almost impeccable songwriting has been able to bridge the two together, making for an emotional journey that builds throughout the first set before slowly calming you down during the second. An absolutely wonderful release that really sets him apart from almost everything else in the mainstream zeitgeist right now.
3. Janelle Monáe – ‘Dirty Computer’
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Since her career kicked off at the start of this decade, understanding Janelle Monáe has been a tough ask to say the least. Despite a clear interest in the commercial pop world, her albums to date have been a swathe of controlled concept records exploring her own obsession with sci-fi and all things intergalactic. Yet after five years away from music to focus on her budding film career, the frontwoman is back as just herself on this extremely personal third full-length 'Dirty Computer'.
With the arrival of this album, Monáe also made the announcement that she is in fact pansexual, in order to add some context to the lyrics on this new release. Not only does that mean we are treated to love stories about all genders, but we also hear a more vulnerable side to her strong and empowering place on this record. At times, we hear her struggling to accept her place in the world and ultimately are treated to a truly exposed artist who is allowing everything on show for the very first time.
She may have hidden behind stories and concepts her whole career, but hearing the real Janelle Monáe makes for a truly incredible listen. The production is on point and her voice soars with the confidence of a woman who is finally free from herself. An inspired and bold return from one of the true modern greats.
2. Tom Misch – ‘Geography’
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Over the last few months, we have become more and more excited about Tom Misch. In promoting this release, he has unveiled one incredibly proficient single after another, all building up to this, his debut album 'Geography'. Yet while its title suggests a rather international influence, this new release acts as a penned love letter to his hometown of London, taking his inspiration from the big city and all the sounds it has to offer.
Unlike most singer-songwriters today, Misch prefers a more Latin style to his guitar playing, opening himself up to a more RnB and funk-filled direction, but one that doesn't look to take us down any conventional route. Collaborating with a whole host of incredible rappers like De La Soul, Loyle Carner and GoldLink definitely adds a new dimension to his style, but ultimately compliments his groove-filled demeanour as he channels acts like Luther Vandross on tracks like 'South Of The River' and 'Disco Yes' to create a truly eclectic affair.
Tom Misch is clearly a huge fan of his influencers, even adding a short instrumental tribute to Stevie Wonder in the form of 'Isn't She Lovely'. But from start to finish, this new record is simply a treat to listen to. No filler anywhere to be found and good times throughout, 'Geography' is the pumped-up 21st century disco-soul album we have all been waiting for.
1. Idles – ‘Joy As An Act Of Resistance’
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When Bristol-based punk outfit IDLES first emerged on the scene with their debut album 'Brutalism' last year, the buzz around took a little while to really settle in. Rather than rely on the press or social media to kick their career off, they left it all to the music, which over the last year has proven more relevant and engaging than we could have thought. So now looking to capitalise on their fast-growing audience, the band return with their second studio album 'Joy As An Act Of Resistance', a record that puts their politics and beliefs front and centre.
While 'Brutalism' made a great start in establishing who they were and what they were about, when placed against this new work we can see that those tracks were all about setup. Much like the pilot episode of a TV series, we now know exactly what to expect from them and they can now move forward with what they truly want to say. As a result, 'Joy As An Act Of Resistance' is glorious blend of high-octane punk-rock, filled with so much political and social angst it would make The Sleaford Mods appear mellowed out.
Managing to tap in to the social anxiety of Britain today is never an easy feat, but IDLES have been able to cut through it like a razor blade. We can see that the anger and frustration within them is what fuels their music and ambitions, delivering one raucous and intelligent single after another, this sophomore LP represents the combined feeling of abandonment for every millennial throughout the country.