Exeposé Music’s Best Albums of 2017: #30-21

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30. St. Vincent MASSEDUCATION

Writing the follow-up to an album which received widespread critical acclaim and topped multiple year-end lists is a challenge, but it’s a challenge which St. Vincent tackles head on. Three years after her last release, St. Vincent (real name Annie Clark) gives us MASSEDUCTION – an album depicting a life of sex, drugs, alcohol and chasing the next high whilst also commenting on the resulting lonely hangover. Initial images of intense partying could come across dizzying, but they’re grounded in Clark’s blunt song-writing and Jack Antonoff’s masterful production. The loneliness and longing in songs like ‘Happy Birthday, Johnny’ and ‘New York’ make the single life look terrifying. However, the repeated closing line of “It’s not the end” suggests that life post-breakup may not be as scary as it once seemed. During a year which has filled us with huge uncertainty for the future, St. Vincent offers us hope whilst giving us nostalgic pop laced with 80s synths and glam rock guitars. Tom Routledge

 

29. Rex Orange County Apricot Princess

You’ll find your foot tapping, your head bopping, and your heart aching. The melodies and riffs are varied but consistently fresh in their jazzy makeup, and although the album is far from sad, there’s something about Rex Orange County’s – a.k.a. Alex O’Connor – emotionally frank and transparent writing that weighs heavy on the heart. It sounds like a musician finding his place within the hectic expanse of fresh adolescent talents, but it feels like a 19-year-old finding his place within the even more chaotic expanse of adulthood. The album doesn’t have a low-point, but it undoubtedly hits its peak in the middle: ‘Untitled’ sees O’Conner at his most vulnerable, spinning the magnifying glass onto his own flaws in a stripped-back, sincere ballad. He then breaks into the cantering ‘4 Seasons’, which shifts between tempos and vocal melodies as O’Connor displays the full extent of his nuanced and unique production: he flirts with pop, indie-rock, jazz, and hip-hop, and settles for a cocktail of all four. It seems O’Connor’s musical career could tear in any direction from here, but he’s made it clear that he’s a dynamic new talent with both honesty and flexibility. Ben Faulkner

 

28. Perfume Genius No Shape

No Shape is the fourth album from Perfume Genius (real name Mike Hadreas), an exciting project that marks the ninth year of his musical career. ‘Otherside’ is an incredibly impressive opening; disarmingly quiet verses over a repeating piano motif build to an ecstatic chorus, where tingling chimes give the song an almost magical quality. While starting with the best song on the album is risky, it sets the tone well for the rest of the tracks, as it introduces his soft, anguished voice, the smoothness of his harmonies and the scope of his accompaniment. The breadth of instruments used is arresting, to the point where every song feels as though it’s been slaved over by an entire orchestra. The same shimmery magic from ‘Otherside’ resonates throughout the album, though the songs are very diverse – highlights include ‘Choir’, which is almost like spoken-word poetry performed over agitated strings; ‘Wreath’, which is uncharacteristically optimistic despite heavy subject matter; and ‘Alan’, the album’s strikingly intimate final track. Utterly distinctive and unpredictable from start to finish, No Shape is undoubtedly a huge accomplishment. Maddy Parker

 

27. Japanese Breakfast Soft Sounds From Another Planet

The first album by Michelle Zauner (going under the pseudonym Japanese Breakfast for her solo musical projects), Psychopomp was a surprisingly emotional and personal debut, released not long after the death of her mother. It dwells on death, on love, and on sex. Zauner’s second album is much grander; the dreampop, alt-rock ballads from her previous LP now take on an almost interstellar tone. The first track, ‘Diving Woman’, has her chanting ‘I want it all’, high-pitched, ethereal, ghostly, and – appropriately – as if from another planet. Even ‘The Body Is a Blade’, with its picked guitar-led backing that sounds like a 90s Radiohead song, ends with a rising synth arpeggio that makes one think of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Zauner takes these contradictions – the introspective with the objective, the cosmic with the down-to-earth – and spins them into an album so simultaneously bleak and fun that it is hard to resist. Ryan Allen

 

26. Yung Lean Stranger

You can’t talk about Yung Lean without talking about memes. After all, it’s how he started his career. Aged 17, his debut mixtape Unknown Death 2002 was slathered in as many early 2000s childhood reference points as possible – Arizona Iced Tea, Pokémon, Oreos – as it was in slurred, Auto-Tuned rapping. Unknown Death was defined more by its virality than by its musical quality, but it was enough to win Lean a dedicated fanbase. These fans would follow Lean through 2014’s Unknown Memory, the most satisfying realisation of his early style, and then into the troubled Warlord in 2016, which took as much from industrial music and black metal as it did from Gucci Mane and Future. Stranger takes this mishmash of influences and triumphs with them – offering a level of self-analysis quite unlike anything that his contemporaries on the cloud rap scene, as he sings on lead single “Red Bottom Sky” – “I lost everything, only thing I’m scared is to lose you/ I heard voices in my head, yeah they whispered to us”. On album highlight “Agony”, Lean raps “Can’t write a song, only do hooks”. It’s typically self-deprecating stuff from someone who made their career out of performative sadness, but if Stranger doesn’t prove that lyric wrong I don’t know what will. Alex Brammer

 

25. Harry Styles Harry Styles

Harry Styles’ self-titled debut solo album deviates from his prior contributions to music via the boyband One Direction. Although not new to the music industry, his album is an oddity; at odds with mainstream chart music. It’s certainly still a pop album and perhaps his 70s rock n’ roll vibe is a ploy for artistic creditability, but these aspects never come across as superficial. What is most endearing about this album is its honesty. Harry Styles can be treated as a self-exploratory project. It captures an astute maturity and emotional intellect that resonates particularly in the Pink Floyd-esque opener “Meet Me in the Hallway”, or the epic six-minute ballad “Sign of the Times”, or my personal favourite, the final track, “From the Dinning Table”. The primary themes of silence, miscommunication and loss are the main narrative force in the album. It is Harry Styles reaching to explain the intimate details of his person in a world that is constantly asking for his interior life and will often exploit those vulnerabilities. The genius of the album lies in its ability to still remain anonymous but establish a sense of intimacy nonetheless. It’s a self-portrait, a love letter to a myriad of music icons. It is Styles who curates what can be seen from the inside of the canvas and even the estimation of his life is filled with colour. Mubanga Mweemba

 

24. HAIM Something to Tell You

When Haim first put a spanner in the male-dominated works of rock and roll in 2013 with their debut album, Days Are Gone, nobody knew quite how to categorise them. With fans as diverse as Taylor Swift, Foo Fighters and U2, the Haim sisters seemed to have made it their goal to redefine rock and roll. Flash forward to 2017 and the release of their second album, Something To Tell You, and little has changed. In the intervening four years, their blend of soft rock and pop has been honed in a California studio that, appropriately for a band unashamedly inspired by Fleetwood Mac, hadn’t heard so much as a note since the 1970s. The result is a follow-up with a subtle, honest sensibility; the songcraft is sturdier, the guitar licks tighter and lead vocalist Danielle’s soulful laments of betrayal and heartbreak are even more densely woven into the band’s unique brand of glimmering synths and toe-tapping rhythms. The handclaps of Ready for You and the foot stomps of Want You Back lend the album a distinctly live, acoustic feel, but the band by no means shy away from their trademark smooth harmonies and layered basslines. If ever there was an album made for strutting down the street to, it’s this one. Ellie Stevenson

 

23. Idles Brutalism

After years spent lingering in the UK underground punk scene, Bristol-based Idles have finally gotten the recognition they deserve with their critically acclaimed debut album. Brutalism in an apt title for such a visceral and intensely angry piece of work. Opener, ‘Heel’ sets the tone with an aggressive drum beat that is in unflinching lockstep to the point where it sounds almost quantised, in King Gizzard levels of tightness. Distorted and snotty vocals from lead singer, Joe Talbot pierce the mix with their ferocity and bring a level of anger that matches the furious instrumental. The band touches a topic close to home with the song ‘Exeter’, a cry for help against a backdrop of quiet, unassuming UK towns that warrant the yells of “Nothing ever happens / over and over and over again”. Apart from a few standouts such as these, most of the tracks blur into a set of adrenaline-fuelled ear-bleeders that could never fail to set a crowd alight with punk angst. The final track ‘Slow Savage’ is a rare glimpse of downtime for the band, opening with beautiful, reverb-soaked piano that complements Talbot’s hoarse vocals remarkably well. This album may be brutal, but it balances its savagery with a strong sense of message and purpose. George Stamp

 

22. Daniel Caesar Freudian

Scrap: ‘If the love doesn’t feel like 90s R&B, I don’t want it’. If the love doesn’t feel like Daniel Caesar’s Freudian, I don’t want it. In his debut album, the 22-year-old Canadian singer-songwriter takes a sensual and sensitive approach to romance whilst harking back to those lush love songs churned out in the years of his infancy. With aid of vocalists Kali Uchis and H.E.R., Caesar composes a gospel-infused ode to making out and making love but, alas, love and life are never without heartbreak; his lamentations nevertheless sound as smooth as his lustful songs. Hitting all the right notes and the high notes, Caesar’s immaculate falsetto is slipped in as a sweet surprise in songs such as ‘Get You’. The closing title track ‘Freudian’ is encapsulated aptly in a stunning visual recently released on YouTube that compliments the craft that goes into making a full album in an age of one-hit-wonder musicians. This is one album of 2017 that has securely found its place in my slow jam evening playlist. Olivia Sesay-Murray

 

21. Laura Marling Semper Femina

Semper Femina – which loosely translates to “woman is ever a fickle and changeable thing” – is Marling’s sixth album and one that explores femininity and female connection. By the penultimate track, Nouel, Marling describes herself in such terms – “Semper Femina, so am I” – yet a sense of adaptability is evident from the opening track, Soothing. This is a departure from the melancholy musings or acoustic ballads the singer is more commonly known for writing; it writhes with a syncopated bass and beat; its sexuality is raw, unapologetic, mature whilst hinting at transgression. Although there is variety to Marling’s music, there is still space for her stereotypically fantastic picked guitar work on the record, too: the musicianship is wholeheartedly accomplished. Beyond the melodies, the 27 year old Marling has steeped her work in classical allusion and philosophy that makes it worth delving into beyond the music. Wil Jones

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