Exeter, Devon UK • Apr 22, 2024 • VOL XII

Exeter, Devon UK • [date-today] • VOL XII
Home Music Exeposé Music’s Best Albums of 2017: #50-41

Exeposé Music’s Best Albums of 2017: #50-41

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50. Sam Smith
The Thrill of It All

Sam Smith’s The Thrill Of It All is a powerful demonstration of emotion. His second album, the 14 tracks also work as a semi-successful exploration of mode; the artist’s intention to explore range and style is apparent, but the ecclectic mix of sounds does somewhat detract from the coherence of the project. ‘Say It First’ and ‘One Last Song’ are the album’s weakest points, with the former indulging too much in breathy tones and the latter maintaining a rather too Bublé-esque jazziness. As these early tracks roll past, however, the album strengthens with surprising speed as 
the refreshingly mellow yet agile ‘Midnight Train’ warms the listener up to the album’s most successful songs – ‘Burning’ and ‘HIM’. ‘Burning’ is the point that the album realises what it’s trying to do and hits its stride, creating a mature, confident and unashamed sound. The artist’s tenacious identity is established with fantastic success in ‘HIM’, a song which is lyrically, vocally and musically resonant. The track transitions seamlessly between solos almost too intimate to be comfortably listened to and passionate, powerful soulful gospel choral notes. Overall, Smith manages to channel the drama and intimacy of his earlier hits in a new and enticing manner, proving his potential to be much more than a one hit wonder. Emma Bessent

49. Gorillaz

April saw Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett fuse a dark, ethereal tone with banging beats as their virtual band Gorillaz dropped their fifth-studio album Humanz. Packed with punchy instrumentals, Humanz is a vibrant record, littered with a diverse collection of memorable guest spots. Dancehall champion Popcaan lends his reggae-fusion swagger to ‘Saturnz Bars’, singing over a savage, pulsating baseline. Socially conscious raps rising star Vince Staples jumps on the pacey, upbeat apocalypse jam ‘Ascension’.  Unashamedly political, the gospel heavy ‘Let Me Out’ warns of “change come to past/ you best be ready for it” as rap titan Pusha T accompanies ‘RnB’ legend Mavis Staples. ‘Hallelujah Money’ is explicitly political as Benjamin Clementine’s comedic spoken word poetry mounts a direct challenge to the contemporary global political atmosphere. Stripped of the tight, cohesion of past Gorillaz records, Humanz is an energetic, genre hopping album, bound together by Albarens chillingly melancholic vocal delivery. Tom Murphy

48. Stormzy
Gang Signs & Prayer

If the name Stormzy makes you think, ‘That’s Not Me’, well then ‘Shut Up’ and listen to Gang Signs & Prayer. Following on from the success of grime bangers such as ‘That’s Not Me’ and his collaboration with Ed Sheeran, Stormzy is back better than ever. Gang Signs & Prayer demonstrates Stormzy’s versatility and the album is a tasteful melange of new grime classics like ‘Big For Your Boots’, and soulful tunes such as ‘Blinded By Your Grace, Pt. 1’. Featuring completely stripped back vocals from the artist, this song truly surprised me, not only with its romantic flair but the raw emotion which is unexpected from the singer who once professed his “love for the Gs in the ends”. I know that looking down the list of albums Stormzy is certainly not the album that the ‘rah-rah’ life is automatically drawn to. But, maybe you have to be reminded that Stormzy is only 24, and in seven years has reinvigorated the London grime scene. He won Best Grime Act at the 2014 and 2015 MOBO Awards and is the proud owner of a Deliveroo Gold Card (you don’t know how much that makes me admire him). And what’s more, this album contains artists like Lily Allen and J HUS and is officially the first grime album to reach number one on the UK Albums Chart. Tell me again how Stormzy’s not really your thing? Jaysim Hanspal

47. Everything Everything
A Fever Dream

When I introduced Everything Everything to a friend, the first thing he said was “this is Radiohead that you can dance to”. Although I disagree that you can’t dance to Radiohead, it is an accurate way to describe the band’s fourth studio album A Fever Dream. This is partially due lead singer Jonathan Higgs’ soaring vocals, never better than the end of ‘Good Shot, Good Soldier’. Lyrically they have maintained their witty political banter that made them so popular on their previous album Get To Heaven. With 
stand-out tracks including ‘Ivory Tower’ which is about internet trolls on Reddit (“let me see you with the caps lock on/ If we’re all apologetic then I’ll be the neckbeard, alright?”) and the clearly anti-Trump ‘Big Game’ (“and someone’s gonna burst your blood-blubber head/ Even little children see through you”) Despite this the band clearly don’t want you to take them too seriously, in their Reddit AMA when asked “Would you say any of you are the primary songwriter?”, they replied “Ed Sheeran”. This is definitely an album for 2017, but perhaps that is its downfall, in 10 years it just won’t make sense – but at least you can dance to it. Phoebe Davis

46. Muna
Around U

At a time where synthpop is often looked down upon and deemed ‘generic’, ‘hollow’ and ‘meaningless’, LA rising stars MUNA come along with one of the most polished and consistent debuts of the year. Packed full of huge choruses, shimmering melodies and powerful lyrics, About U carries a punch. While tracks like ‘I Know a Place’ and ‘Loudspeaker’ are celebrations of self-love and affirmation, especially for the LGBT community, moments like ‘Everything’ and ‘If U Love Me Now’ explore the anxiety and self-doubt one feels when a relationship breaks down. Such light and shade is reflected by their eclectic production styles, ranging from the fusion of sun-drenched guitars and thundering synths on the track ‘Promise’ and nocturnal electronica on ‘Crying On The Bathroom Floor’. Lead singer Katie Gavin’s arresting vocals tie it all together into what is my favourite debut album of 2017 and one that has been on repeat since it came out back in February. Constantinos Christou

45. IDK

Trap seems to have stagnated a little lately. Far from seeking to make their own statements as artists, rappers seem to be content just recycling beats looted from Metro Boomin’s trash folder and the same few song ideas. Outside of a few – Maxo Kream, 21 Savage, Future, Chief Keef and the like – there’s not much new or interesting going on. The best stuff is happening at the fringes, and that’s exactly what’s going on in IDK’s debut IWasVeryBad. It’s the perfect fusion between the hot trap of the moment and early 2000s lyricism. Want to know what I mean? Check out ‘Pizza Shop Extended’ featuring underground legends MF DOOM and Del Tha Funkee Homosapien. They get put in the service of more traditional trap lyrics than their own work, swapping out comic-book references for helping IDK tell a gritty tale of robbing a pizza shop. This album is not only one of the few trying to fuse contemporary trap with more lyrical hip hop, it’s one of the even rarer albums which genuinely succeeds. Alex Brammer

44. Girl Ray
Earl Grey

The latest musical treasure to hail from North London, Poppy Hankin (vocals, guitar), Iris McConnell (drums), and Sophie Moss (bass), perhaps better known as Girl Ray, may all be less than twenty years of age but released a sparkling LP earlier this year brimming with warmth and nostalgia. It may not have been purposefully lo-fi, yet it suits the record’s atmosphere brilliantly and creates an intimacy on a release from a young group who don’t take themselves too seriously. Inspired by the tracks which made it onto to NME’s 80s indie compilation cassettes, the group’s signature is a breath of fresh air for 2017, complimented by the breezy lyrics peppered throughout the album’s tracks. Recommendable to anyone looking to listen to something different this year, the record also earned the girls a nomination for this year’s Breakthrough Act at the Q Awards; which reflects its individuality and proves Girl Ray are one to watch in the coming years. With its timeless sonic and affectionate themes, some of the album’s tracks wouldn’t sound out of place on the Juno soundtrack alongside the likes of Belle and Sebastian and Cat Power. Chloё Edwards 

43. Fleet Foxes

Seattle-based indie folk outfit Fleet Foxes came out with their third studio album this year, Crack Up. It’s been six years since the release of their previous album Helplessness Blues and nine years since their debut self-titled and the Sun Giants EP. I was very worried, as Helplessness Blues is possibly my all-time favourite album. However, this is another incredible album by Fleet Foxes. It still has the gloriously and intricately layered instrumentals that they usually have, as well as their tasteful use of reverb, but have now introduced synthesisers. The song ‘Cassius’ works as an example of how well they introduced this very artificial sound with their very natural instrumentation. Robin Pecknold has taken a far more personal approach with the song writing in this album, with the song ‘I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar’ detailing his own personal strife in Columbia and moving forward. Fleet Foxes have once again made a very good album which I can sadly only express in a few words. This is my favourite album of 2017 and I would encourage anyone to go listen to it for themselves. Jamie Moncrieff

42. alt-J

alt-J are a band who thrive on disrupting the mainstream and their long-anticipated third album, ‘Relaxer’, does just this. The trio’s third, and shortest, album since their seminal 2012 debut ‘An Awesome Wave’ and 2014’s spectacular follow up ‘This Is All Yours’, places them firmly back on the scene. Whilst tracks like ‘In Cold Blood’ are reminiscent of the band’s Math-Rock origins, ‘Relaxer’ stands apart from previous projects in that each track  gambles with juxtaposing styles: ‘3WW’, with its haunting lyrics (“I just want to love you in my own language”) is an interesting opener, whilst Radiohead referencing ‘Hit Me Like That Snare’ completely departs from their usual clean-cut style. However, Alt-J also excel in simplicity, with beautifully memorable moments on ‘Last Year’ and ‘House of the Rising Sun’, before the album is brought to a tender close with the last track, ‘Pleader’ (based on Richard Llewyn’s book ‘How Green Was My Valley’ and accompanied by a beautifully cinematic music video). Unlike the more cohesive, digestible sound of ‘This Is All Yours’, ‘Relaxer’ represents a band intent on taking risks, demonstrating a new maturity and confidence that makes this potentially their most rewarding project yet. Ellen Mitchell

41. The War on Drugs
A Deeper Understanding

Listening to A Deeper Understanding is something of an experience. Atmospheric and melancholy, The War on Drugs have been forging their own unique style for several albums now – yet the dreampop-inflected musings of frontman Adam Granduciel seem even more refined on this most recent title. First single ‘Thinking of a Place’ sets the bar high – time seems to pass at its own pace whilst listening to this track, particularly impressive given that it’s over eleven minutes long. Yet whilst the album remains true to its overall sound and theme, it refrains from becoming amorphous – each track has its own character, from the spacey guitar solos of ‘Pain’ to the more stripped-back, lyric-led closer ‘You Don’t Have To Go’. Introspective and endlessly metaphorical, it’s difficult to say whether the listener is actually given a ‘Deeper Understanding‘ of Granduciel from the album. The War on Drugs seem less intent on conveying meaning and more focused on creating an iconic sound; whether or not you view this as a sacrifice, it’s undeniably working. Graham Moore

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