Exeposé Music’s Best Albums of 2017: #10-1

As voted by our readers, writers and Music Editors, here are our top ten albums of 2017....


10. Loyle Carner
     Yesterday’s Gone

Credit: Vicky Grout

“You’ve got to go for being sexist. You’ve got to go,” Loyle Carner said, as he kicked out a fan from his recent Norwich gig, “I’m sorry man, you’ve got to learn a lesson, my young man. Sorry.” His tour, (which included Exeter’s Phoenix), carried the same name as his Mercury Prize nominated album. Sampha ultimately took the prize, but both albums are similarly confessional. Yesterday’s Gone is an honest and distinctly personal portrait of Loyle Carner’s world. Family name Coyle-Larner, his debut album features the talent of family, friends and UK hip-hop veteran Jehst.  It’s intimate in both its storytelling, and its strings of interwoven multi-syllabic rhymes. Through the soul and jazz inspired beats, (that echo inspirations of J Dilla and Mos Def), we learn everything from Carner’s ADHD, to what he’d say to the little sister he never had. Losing his step-dad, and barely knowing his Guyanese father, his relationship with his mum is so special that her voice features twice. A whole breed of young British rappers had never heard a voice like theirs on the radio before. Artists like Kojey Radical, Frankie Stew and Benny Mails come to mind. Lyrical hip-hop, at times seeming more like spoken word poetry, Carner’s writing is leading the future of UK hip-hop. James Wijesinghe

9. LCD Soundsystem
    american dream

LCD Soundsystem have reunited for their first album in seven years, and it has never been more worth the wait. Up for two Grammy awards, including Best Alternative Album, Murphy and co. have brought back their dance-punk sound in a way that doesn’t disappoint. As usual for LCD the influences are heavy, with direct references to the late Cohen, Reed, and Bowie, and it is precisely this self-reflective music-about-music they do so well. The usual drumbeat drives, percolated by Nancy Whang and Gavin Russom’s stellar synths, and the contradicting lyrical tone from their ear  lier work has returned, revelling 
in Murphy’s dissonantly joyous melancholia. “I never realised these artists thought so much about dying,” he sings with typical lightheartedness in ‘tonite’ (up for the Grammy Best Dance Recording), as this album comes the closest we have seen to the existential despair long bubbling under LCD’s surface. Perhaps this is Murphy again distilling the essence of the times in 2017’s more desperate political climate, perhaps it’s from reuniting after so long, or perhaps it is merely Murphy nearing 50, but american dream has some of their most poignant lyrical offerings to date, and sounds just as wonderful. LCD, you have been missed. James Murphy


California-based rap collective (and self-proclaimed boy band) BROCKHAMPTON made significant waves on the hip-hop scene this year with the release of two albums: Saturation and Saturation II (with Saturation III coming December 15th). Despite most of the members of BROCKHAMPTON being somewhat unknown, aside from Kevin Abstract, they got people’s attention through the release of some incredible singles before the release of their first album: the lowkey ‘FACE’, the punchy and intense ‘HEAT’, ‘GOLD’ with its gloriously sticky hook, and the hilarious ‘STAR’. They have a very high-energy set-up with Abstract, Dom McLennon, Ameer Vann, Matt Champion and Merlyn Wood being the main MCs (with occasional input from JOBA and Bearface) – who all have terrific chemistry. Despite this, they can write very conscious hip-hop, with Abstract often rapping about his sexuality, Vann detailing his past in drug dealing, and Matt Champion dealing with rape culture head-on in ‘JUNKY’. BROCKHAMPTON have shown themselves to be not only one of the versatile artists of the year, but one of the most interesting and dynamic rap collectives since Wu-Tang. Any hip-hop fan should hear both album. Jamie Moncrieff

7. Jay-Z

Until 4:44 came out I had never listened to a Jay-Z album all the way through, but 10 seconds into its bold starting track ‘Kill Jay Z’ I just couldn’t stop. The great Hov lays himself bare in this heartfelt and personal album, with the title track hinting at some truth to the accusations made in Beyonce’s Lemonade, ‘look I apologise, often womanise/ Took for my child to be born/ To see through a woman’s eyes”. In an interview for the New York Times the album’s lone producer No ID, referencing 4:44, stated: “I told him that that’s the best song he’s ever written”. I couldn’t agree more. Shawn Carter also manages to skillfully comment on the current American climate on racism, specifically in celebrity culture, in the track ‘Moonlight’ – “we stuck in La La Land/ Even when we win, we gon’ lose” – referencing the Oscars scandal, and ‘The Story of OJ’, where the accompanying music video caused controversy for its bold stand on the depiction of African Americans in animation. But despite featuring samples from Nina Simone to Frank Ocean, and even Jay-Z’s mum, it is all tied together beautifully by the slick production from No ID. The only issue with the album is that more people can’t experience it because of its exclusivity to Tidal. Phoebe Davis 

6. The xx
    I See You

It seems fitting that the first album I reviewed this year also happens to be my favourite record of 2017. I See You, the first LP from The xx since 2012, follows the distinguishable signature with this group. Jamie ‘xx’ Smith’s gentle yet powerful and rhythmic electronic instrumentals, perfectly partnered with the soft vocals of Romy Madley-Croft and the deep, smooth-singing Oliver Sim shine through once again on this long-awaited release from the alternative, dream-pop favourites, who sing breezily but leave a deep impression on the listener. The band didn’t fail to deliver on lead single ‘On Hold’, with a subtle tempo which builds up and launches in to the chorus and includes a housed-up Hall & Oates sample, and foreshadowed the record’s success upon its release in the early weeks of January. Proving that The xx are back, evidently stronger and even better than before, on an album which touches on friendship, intimacy and parental loss, it’s hardly surprising the group’s third album earned them another Mercury Prize nomination. Showcasing developments all-round in maturity, love, and loss, it’s as if this album has been coming for a while, and finally the group have found the confidence to make it. It’s resulted in a record I’ve played countless times throughout the year, which I’m sure is a sign of its prevalence in the years to come; this is a special album. Chloё Edwards

5. SZA

Despite the impression you might get from its condensed title, CTRL is an extensive album at fourteen tracks long, and one which maintains a high quality from start to finish. SZA’s smooth, seductive vocals entrap the listener right from the Grammy-nominated opener ‘Supermodel’, which sets the tone of the record perfectly with its contemplative and minimalist backing and deeply personal lyrics. The album contains features from prominent artists like Travis Scott, but still the limelight is never stolen away from SZA herself. For example, in ‘Doves in the Wind’, an insightful and quietly amusing song, the focus is effortlessly traded between SZA and Kendrick Lamar, making it feel more like a true collaboration rather than a feature. Other tracks feature spoken sections by members of her family, which really add to the intimacy SZA creates. Most notably, her mother can be heard discussing the concept of control at the beginning of ‘Supermodel’ and the end of ’20 Something’, the record’s heartbreakingly direct final track, which tackles the chaotic experience of being in your twenties. Somehow, while every song is different, CTRL reads as a cohesive whole, taking the listener on a trajectory through insecurity, anger, euphoria and empowerment, all the while marvelling at her incredible voice. Maddy Parker

4. The National
    Sleep Well Beast

Sleep Well Beast is a party album. Not the lager-drenched, flailing, torn-jeans sort, mind. Instead, its languid songs unfold in quiet corners, where married forty-somethings sip gin beneath stairwells, and mumble half-arsed apologies while wondering how the person resting on the other side of the bed became so damn far away. Let’s be real, a 57-minute indie album about marriage breakdown isn’t an easy sell. But The National, those post-punk survivalists who built a career on pen portraits of middle class desperation, pull it off on a seventh LP filled with layered sounds and genuine pathos. On lead single ‘The System Only Dreams in Total 
Darkness’, we get hammering grand piano, ethereal backing vocals and a pop chorus that’s destined for arena sing-a-longs. ‘I’ll Still Destroy You’ longs for innocent times over a wistful afrobeat skitter, while Turtleneck’s slashing guitars shred the living room rug in a Stooges-style fit of post-election fury. Then there’s Matt Berninger. The last thing we needed was another whinging white voice, but the frontman’s grizzled baritone, as tender as a bruise, slice to the heart of 2017’s trauma and loss. And that’s why, for the first time in a while, The National made rock something worth celebrating. Aaron Loose

3. Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. occupies a unique place in his near-flawless discography. While big, heavy trap bangers such as ‘Humble’ and ‘DNA’ carry the record’s mainstream appeal (a moment of silence, please, for the beat-switch in DNA), it is Kendrick’s thought-provoking lyricism that presides, in a set of tracks containing what might be some of his most impressive bars to date. DAMN.’s production is noticeably stripped-back from the colourful jazz-rap of To Pimp a Butterfly, but doesn’t sacrifice quality in favour of the more minimalist style. In its blunt, hard-hitting approach, the album successfully conveys his messages of frustration, alienation and success to even the most casual listener. ‘God’, an underappreciated gem in the track list, is loaded with witty lyrical insights regarding the trappings of fame and success, while ‘Element’ stands out as a brutal reminder of Lamar’s unglamorous upbringing. Kendrick clings to his roots like his life depends on it, juxtaposing fame with his violent past. ‘Duckworth’ (a personal favourite) details the story of Kendrick’s father, who worked in a KFC that Top Dawg (TDE’s label boss) used to rob. ‘Ducky’ would give Top Dawg free chicken wings to avoid trouble and get away unscathed. If not for Ducky’s rapport with Top Dawg, Kendrick fears he might’ve “grown up without a father and died in a gunfight”. He maintains this is a true story. George Stamp

2. Lorde

Lorde’s long-awaited second album builds upon vocal and lyrical talents displayed in her debut Pure Heroine, and shows that, at 21, she still has a lot more to give. Melodrama revels in the intensity of being young, bursting into life with ‘Green Light’ and ‘Sober’, which mark moves in Lorde’s music towards a more expansive, maximalist style. Together with producer Jack Antonoff, Lorde creates complex soundscapes on these early tracks that mirror the whirlwind of youth. The album paints a picture of wild adolescence – ‘sleeping through all the days’, partying and dancing; with the latter activity receiving 11 separate mentions throughout. But it’s not all action on the track list; Lorde brings a fragility to the piano ballad ‘Liability’ that is particularly touching. The counterpoint to the brash openers, the song explores the process of dealing with rejection and its impact on self-confidence. Lorde’s breathy delivery here is inch-perfect, right from the slight vocal quivers through to the languid extension of the word bored. The album ramps up again with the euphoria of ‘Supercut’ and ‘Perfect Places’, suitably energetic closing tracks that further detail memories of evenings past. With Melodrama, Lorde balances an account of youth that is universal and deeply personal, delivering an album that cements her reputation as one of the best musicians in pop currently. James Angove

1. Tyler, the Creator
    Flower Boy

At some point over the last couple years Tyler, the Creator stopped caring about what the fans thought, and this album’s proof he was right. If it was down to the cat hoodie core of his fanbase, Tyler would never have matured past seventeen and never stopped rapping about murder and Satanism. It’s the best decision of his career. This album makes even the stellar Wolf and Cherry Bomb look like footnotes to be tacked on to the massive legacy that
 this album is inevitably going to have. It’s the perfect culmination of years of jazz, funk and soul listening crossbred with the punky rap of Tyler’s early career – the album’s marked by tensely wound verses unfurling and exploding like fireworks above lush soundscapes that have more in common with Isley Brothers records than they do with “Yonkers”. For the first time, Tyler’s fully switched his lyrical gaze onto his own emotions, and it makes the record far more compelling – even the more straightforward bangers show a level of self-awareness and insight more or less absent from his earlier work. Listening to Flower Boy is listening to the second flourishing of one of the great musicians of our time. Don’t miss it. Alex Brammer

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