If you're anything like me, you're probably headed toward the end of the year feeling a little... deflated.I don't want to make this another post about how shitty the political climate is, but paying attention to your surroundings certainly takes it's toll mentally. Which is why I've now decided to download Animal Crossing's new app and restart my life as a virtual campsite manager... as if I wasn't distracted enough from the never ending pile of university work.The ten albums below have soundtracked my way through grief, through heartbreak, through a pimms-fuelled festival-filled summer and some of the most fun gigs I've been to. A year is a long time in music, and this paints the picture of mine...Dua Lipa - Dua LipaSassy, sexy and summery, Dua Lipa’s explosive and tropical infused debut set the soundtrack to this year’s sunnier months. Having cemented herself as the nation’s big sister with the chart-topping single ‘New Rules’, giving post-break-up advice to the broken hearted and described by many fans as ‘more important than the ten commandments’, the record is the perfect listen for the independent woman (or man) looking to search a bit deeper for a feeling of self empowerment.Dua lyrically covers sex, romance and heartbreak in a ‘take-no-shit’ manner on the album, balancing a good number of strut-worthy bangers with a couple of tracks, such as ‘No Goodbyes’, that pull right on the heartstrings. “You’d probably still adore me with my hands around your neck” she sings in the sultry ‘Hotter Than Hell’, the ultimate self-love anthem. Her confidence in herself also shines through in ‘Be The One’, where she’s desperate for a lover to recognise her potential, but also in contrary ‘IDGAF’ where she proclaims she’s far too good, and doesn’t give a fuck about her ex. Arrogant is probably the best way to describe this album, but in the best ‘I know my worth’ kind of way. She is a worthy role model to us all.Harry Styles - Harry StylesHarry Styles’ effort to prove himself a ‘serious’ solo artist, without the backing of his One Direction band members and manufactured pop bops guaranteed for success every time, resulted in a triumph. The eponymous record is doused in 70s vibes, husky vocals and themes of sex, drugs (and a little bit of rock and roll), the overall sound of which I described earlier this year as ‘pillow soft’ - but it is in fact guitar heavy ‘Only Angel’ and latest single ‘Kiwi’ that prove to be the stand-out tracks.Harry Styles is the kind of music that Harry Styles was always meant to make. With an abundance of influences prevalent on the album, such as Fleetwood Mac and Elton John, without a even a touch of his boyband roots in sight, it’s exciting to see him shape a musical identity as he enters adulthood that he had to suppress in his teenage years.Laura Marling - Semper FeminaLatin for ‘always a woman’, Semper Femina explores the relationships between women, femininity and what it means to be a woman. But, in the way that Dua Lipa’s album champions the independent woman in a series of dance floor fillers, shaming men for their wrong-doing, Marling’s record is much more delicate.She stated that she created this album ‘not political’, which, in the current state of the world where songwriters are rightfully using their craft to make politically charged statements digging at Trump and the Tories, provides a fresh break.Marling’s vulnerability creeps through in her lyrics, as she flitters between singing in her Joni Mitchell-esque tone and spoken word especially strong in ‘Wild Once’. Some songs originally written from the perspective of a male, the focus changes back to Laura herself, or at least women’s points of view, after she realised she did not need to justify any sort of emotion she felt toward women.Lewis Watson - midnightLewis Watson’s midnight is a much more confident follow-up to his debut album, the morning. Originally a singer-songwriter dependent on the twangs of an acoustic guitar and a two man backing band, Watson doesn’t shy away from production on his sophomore LP. For anyone familiar with his music pre-midnight, opener ‘maybe we’re home’ is a shock to the system. Starting out with an electric guitar riff soon introducing quick paced, punchy drums, an indie rock edge not previously seen in the singer shines through - and god, does it suit him. Though his voice still feels deific, a raspy maturity developed. Where Lewis would once sing in that ‘quirky’ tone that seemed to be a trend amongst singers for a while, where notes were short and felt caught in the back of the throat, he powers through using his voice as an instrument amongst the abundance of new ones he’s brought into his music.It’s not without his trademark sad songs: ‘Slumber’ featuring Lucy Rose is a beautiful, but his stand-out track perhaps on the whole album is ‘When The Water Meets The Mountains’, a part-kinda-sad, part-uplifting song about experiencing the end of the world. One of the BEST albums of 2017, though? Where Bruce Springsteen is Lewis’ choice of soundtrack to the end of the world, this is one of the only albums I’d want there.
Sundara Karma - Youth is Only Ever Fun in RetrospectAdding to the pretentious indie trend of albums names longer than they really need to be, Youth is Only Ever Fun in Retrospect is Sundara Karma’s ode to what it is to be young.Oscar Pollock's talent for writing hard hitting lyrics are clear on 'Happy Family', and his hopeless romantic tendencies beg on 'Vivienne'. The whole album is packed to the brim with complex, clever and interesting lyrics creating a distinct and clear narrative in each track. Set to a slightly psych, indie rock sound of catchy riffs and pounding drums, it is still Pollock's vocal and songwriting that really carries the record. It feels like art. After a successful and jam-packed festival season the past two years, Sundara Karma are destined for even more success in 2018, but Youth is Only Ever Fun in Retrospect cements themselves as one of the most talented indie guitar bands of the moment.Lorde - MelodramaOne of the most hyped albums of the year, and already topping 'Best Album' lists the internet-over, Lorde's romantic Melodrama is an eagerly awaited collection of late-night art pop. She's often labelled the voice of a generation, and throughout this record Lorde sings of experiences and feelings that are certainly relatable to her millennial crowd. Though it's full of euphoric pop hooks and magical synth that makes the whole thing seem a celestial piece of artwork that could belong in The Louvre, she's sure not to get too lost in the production and strips back to vulnerable in 'Liability', a short piano ballad that shows off her vocal and, amongst an album that could make you feel like you're floating, brings you back down to Earth just for a second.This album has been one of the biggest talking points in music this year, but it's totally justified. Lorde's brilliance shines in the same celestial way her music does. Haim - Something To Tell YouThe Haim sisters’ sophomore effort falls nothing short of perfect, bringing back their brand of Fleetwood Mac inspired 70s/80s influenced pop meets soft rock. Their relationship with Stevie Nicks (who the band refer to as their godmother) has had an influence on this record - just listen to 'You Never Knew'. But the trio do have their own trademark sound, something that can be hard to come across in music at the moment where artists may be letting their heroes influence their music a little too much. You could hear a brand new Haim song on the radio and you'd instantly know it was them - even before they start singing. Yet, Something To Tell You still feels different from their debut. It's more confident. They've been through more. They've matured and brought their music through these experiences with them.It's a heart-bursting, uplifting album that mixes nostalgic sounds with Haim's modern crisp clean production and current lyrics.Listen to it for yourself.Circa Waves - Different CreaturesDifferent Creatures is the second album from scouse indie-rockers Circa Waves. Their debut, including hit 'T-Shirt Weather' was a slice of sunny indie that only really shines in Summer - but Different Creatures is transitional, and here to stay all year round. What their breezy, feel-good debut lacked in substance is made up for on this record. Wanting to 'make something with more meaning' the band, fronted by Kieran Shudall, sing about depression, late booze-fuelled nights, 'poisonous TV', social media, fucking around, the refugee crisis, politics and more; they really cover everything. It feels relevant and a snapshot of our time and the world we live in. Their observations are mature, where they used to sing that 'seventeen went far too quick', they now sing "20,000 souls are sold tonight, making us their home" in protest to the government's cap on refugees.Their transition from skinny jean teens to, well, skinny jean adults is played through the album - it's a coming of age record for those coming to terms with the state of the world.Oh Wonder - UltralifePop duo Oh Wonder bestowed on us a perfect genre-smash pop record this year in the form of Ultralife. Before even looking toward the other eleven tracks on the album, 'Waste', an ode to loneliness, put this sophomore effort straight onto this list alone. It's slow, it's sad, it's repetitive - it's nothing much and it's far from the best track in the world production wise but my god does it make you feel. The same goes for symphonic 'Overgrown'. And for someone who, this year, seems to have felt all the feels to the point I don't know if I can feel anymore, anything that sparks something within me above 'neutral' is a winner. Josephine and Anthony dabble in R&B on 'All About You' - listening to the band's previous work it's not obvious that this is something can work, but the result is a smoky, sultry, hip-swaying ballad that the duo should absolutely incorporate into more of their work. Lead 'Ultralife' is a sparkling track that celebrates everything this world and being has to offer, while 'High On Humans' does the same in appreciating human nature. I think that's what this album is - a celebration of life, the good and the bad, through technicolour Oh Wonder tinted glasses.
MUNA - About U
Another addition to the late night, dark pop scene championing the girl power movement are Los Angeles trio MUNA. Opening their debut with 'So Special', initally a twinkling track with melancholy undertones, sets the mood for the whole album: bright but blue.
It works in the same way as Lorde's Melodrama; it's euphoric, otherworldly and youthful; it explores romance and heartbreak, queerness and friendship, youth and being. But, while still drawing and analysing personal experience, MUNA do it objectively. Gender specific pronouns aren't used, as they are a band that stand for equality across sexuality, race and gender.
'Loudspeaker' is a particular highlight, an uplifting track to wipe the tears and encourage you to let loose. "So if I feel real good tonight I'm gonna put it high on the loudspeaker" sings lead singer Katie, commanding the unconditional enjoyment of every listener. "And if I feel like crying I won't hide it, I am a loudspeaker."
The message that seems to come through the most in this album is 'be who you are', and in a world where that's becoming increasingly hard to do, MUNA are there to lend a helping hand.