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2017 is passing by at an alarming rate, and it’s almost hard to believe that some of these albums were released only in the last six months. June is the perfect time to reflect on the year so far, and this one has been a stormer. Mark Conroy takes you through his 2017 Albums: 10 Of The Best So Far.
Big Thief – Capacity
Capacity has all the deeply felt folk of Big Thief’s debut Masterpiece, but this time round everything is tighter, more personal and more emotionally arresting. Front-woman Adrianne Lenker’s songwriting has sharpened to the point where just one line can cut deep. The title track is a gorgeous and strangely optimistic look at infidelity, while the fantastic ‘Mythological Beauty’ is heart-breaking document of a young mother’s undying devotion.
Slowdive – Slowdive
Sure, many shoegaze fans were excited about the prospect of one of the iconic bands of the genre touring again, but no one expected the comeback album to be this good. We may have been happy enough if they half-arsed it and went through the motions, as long as we still got to hear them bang out “When the sun hits” to drunken middle aged men at festivals. Instead Slowdive the LP excels by unashamedly reeling back the years with an album that does nothing new, but boy does it do nothing new well. The millisecond we hear the eerie ambiance of opener ‘Slomo’, we are suddenly transported to an alternate 1994, one in which the band’s classic work Soulvkali was actually financially successful, meaning the group didn’t fracture as they did and gave us the confident follow up we always knew was possible.
Kendrick Lamar – DAMN
DAMN is right. Kendrick Lamar was already sitting well positioned atop rap’s throne before releasing the record, but now he’s firmly rooted to the seat for the foreseeable future. Strangely enough this is somehow both Kung Fu Kenny’s most accessible and diverse record to date, capturing more than ever the dichotomy of a conflicted man. His smash hit ‘Humble’ is a searing ego trip while the unfathomably groovy ‘Pride’ has K-Dot in brutal introspection mode. Fame is weapon and platform on ‘YAH’ but a curse on ‘XXX’. DAMN is visceral, violent, hopeless, hopeful pop music.
(Sandy) Alex G – Rocket
The disgustingly talented and dizzyingly prolific Alex Giannascoli gave us his most cohesive release yet. On Rocket the newly named (Sandy) Alex G grounds his weird, wistful indie rock and laces it with a hint of southern twang. The beautiful ‘Bobby’ is pure country, a sweet, sad serenade about owning up to one’s worst tendencies in order to be the best self for someone else. On tracks like ‘Proud’ and ‘Powerful Man’ however, his strange subversions still rear their head to give us an album that transcends its humble folk origins.
Mount Eerie – A Crow Looked at Me
“Death is real” are the first words we hear sung – spoken really – on the devastating A Crow Looked at Me, Mount Eerie’s album of incomparable despair. Those words are perhaps the most profound statement you will hear about mortality this year, simply because they acknowledged that when it comes to death, there is no profundity. Death simply is, and it’s not for making art about. Diary entry style, Phil Elevrum documents his garden fresh grief in the days and months after his young wife’s passing. Elverum himself said it was ‘Barely music’; he’s not wrong, but that’s because it’s so much more than that.
Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory
While Kendrick might still be reigning supreme in the rap world, 23 year old Vince Staples is right there, nipping at his heels. Clocking in at a refreshingly slight 36 minutes, Big Fish Theory might well end up being 2017’s leanest, meanest hip-hop record come December. BFT is a startling vocal assault that eviscerates the notion of the traditional rap production. It’s a maelstrom of bass that weighs a tonne, house as deep as a chasm and minimal beats that Staple’s pitch-black with more than makes the most of. Vince may have once been a gangster, but don’t dare call this gangsta rap.
Loyle Carner – Yesterday’s Gone
From the dark and grimy Vince Staples, we come to a very different kind of rap record. The debut album from the south Londoner is a confessional call for decency. Loyle Carner is the kind of rapper you could bring home to your mother and have her smitten in minutes. That may sound like the recommendation that your nan would give a middle aged crooner but Carner will endear you to him like few personalities in the genre. Tracks like ‘The Isle of Arran’ and ‘No CD’ are ultra sincere odes to family, community and the joys of being reared on music.
Perfume Genius – No Shape
On the stunning No Shape, Perfume Genius emerges from the bedroom he made that first record in and announces his talent with a sashay and a euphoric crescendo. It’s not just his best record, but one of the year’s best too. Mike Hadreas channels his devotion to his lifetime partner, his anxieties about a possible relapse and attempts to enjoy the life he’s made into sometimes explosive, sometimes delicate pop.
Jay Som – Everbody Works
Jay Som doesn’t make dream pop so much as she makes dreamy pop. Her brand of indie rock may be hazily tranquil, but there’s a sharpness and a sense of forethought to her song craft. Tracks like ‘The Bus Song’ and ‘Baybee’ are sweet delights that never run the risk of being mawkish.
The Courtneys – The Courtneys II
The Canadian rock outfit hone their sound on their second album The Courtneys II, an expansive record that’s also irresistibly catchy. ‘Lost Boys’ is a free wheeling homage to the cult 80’s film while ‘Silver velvet’ is fiery number with hooks that don’t quit.