Albums of the week
It has been a vintage year for music, with plenty of future classics released in 2017. We take a look back at some of our most critically-acclaimed albums of the past 12 months, those releases that will be a fixture on our playlists for years to come
The XX - I See You (January): It had been a five-year wait for The XX’s third record, and this one billows about you, swamping your ears in tender, supple soundscapes that shimmer melodiously with electronica, but then carve away into funky, bassy, beat-laden pop.
First single, the heartrending On Hold, builds with arcade soundtrack skitters, breaking into a chorus of pure dance, while the questioning, thrumming A Violent Noise hums in your bones, and on I Dare You — a song that swells with emotion — Romy Madley Croft’s cool, clear voice slices surgically through repetitive, numbing percussion. It’s a beauty.
STORMZY — GANG SIGNS & PRAYER (February)
South London boy Stormzy — aka 24-year-old Michael Omari — is a rap juggernaut, bent on hauling grime out of the doldrums with his debut record, Gang Signs & Prayer (#GSAP). He cites Dizzee Rascal’s Boy In Da Corner as the LP that triggered the man — the voice — he’d become, but Stormzy is doing way more than tiptoeing enviously behind his inspiration — he’s smashing it.
The Mobo award-winning artist’s 2015 single Shut Up is urgent, bright, pithy and lyrically taut, and the magnetism of those three minutes filters through the entire record. Omari also knows how to do delicate and soothing — namely on Velvet and the stunning Blinded By Your Grace Pt 2 feat MNEK. He even finds his lullaby range on Cigarettes & Cush, featuring Kehlani. Brilliant, heroic stuff.
GOLDIE — THE JOURNEY MAN (June)
After 20 years, drum ‘n’ bass pioneer Goldie returned to the electronic fold with 16-track double album The Journey Man. This is more than just a return, and in no way is it a rehash of anything that came before.
It is obvious that there has been a vision from the start. The old school flavours are there; the industrial beats juxtaposed to the rich breathy vocals of Mountains, then Castaway drops and there is a more tribal funk feel to the whole piece, a real foot-stomping track and, when the rhythm grows, Goldie transports you to a beach rave all of your very own. More than anything The Journey Man is an example of how electronica should be done, forging a soundscape from raw emotion and almost hypnotic slower tracks that pull you in and escalating to the animal need to dance. Goldie has cemented himself as a genre-breaking artist.
KESHA — RAINBOW (August)
Probably one of the most anticipated releases of the year, Kesha’s album Rainbow does not disappoint. It’s her first solo music released since being entangled in a legal battle with former music producer Dr Luke, and the message is very clear: Kesha is back and, in my opinion, she’s produced an album packed with her best work yet.
A few tunes, like Woman and Learn To Let Go, were released ahead of the album. But there are gems galore still to be unleashed, like the album’s title track Rainbow. The lyrics to a lot of the songs scream raw honesty and you really get the sense this is a new Kesha we’re meeting through her music.
There are plenty of other treats, like the Dolly Parton collaboration on Old Flames (Can’t Hold A Candle To You), which just shows Kesha’s musical talent has no end.
TOKIO MYERS — OUR GENERATION (November)
Just occasionally TV talent shows uncover a genuine previously unknown sensation. This is what has happened with Britain’s Got Talent champion Tokio Myers.
From delicate piano constructs so fragile they barely hold together, to full-on electronic sculptures, this album has them all. The vocals, where used, complement the sound without taking over completely, leaving the music itself to shine through. The title track comes over as a classical piece after the manner of Gorecki, with its ebb and flow of mixed instrumentation and voice. The single Bloodstream, on the other hand, shows his grasp of pop sensibilities.
This album is just the start of what will, in all likelihood, be a stellar career.