My Best Albums of 2017 - Jack Griffiths
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Three years on from winning the ‘Glastonbury Emerging Talent’ competition, 18- year old Declan McKenna’s debut album hit the music-sphere.
This politically charged record carries an air of social awareness lacking in the industry for a while. The teenager addresses a number of controversial issues, like the FIFA corruption scandal in jaunty indie-pop banger ‘Brazil’, and transgender suicide in ‘Paracetamol’.
Acting as the much-needed voice of the millennial generation, McKenna draws on emotional and social intelligence to create completely relevant, well-written and most importantly infectious songs, all coming together to form one of the most exciting debut albums to be released in recent years.
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Elbow have been around for much longer than their mainstream success might suggest, and while they haven’t been known to dominate the charts, this record just goes to show how fickle the charts can be. The Mancunian outfit have been quietly and confidently going about their business since the turn of the century, but Little Fictions really is a special addition to their catalogue.
The band are often known for their anthemic stadium-fillers, like ‘One Day Like This’ and ‘Grounds For Divorce’, two songs that rank very highly in my all-time favourites, but this album steps quite far back from that style.Instead the record features eleven beautifully written and elegantly flowing tracks which complement each other in tandem. There are no album-fillers on it, you can feel how much passion and emotion Guy Garvey put into his lyrics and music. The band don't market themselves as young, cool, outrageous, arrogant, or anything even close. They don't even play on the fact they're from Manchester, which alone puts them in a strong category of music. They know exactly who they are and despite all the hype around young, outspoken artists, they've delivered a class album fully centred around the music alone. Elbow have proven with this record that, even in 2017, if you're talented enough, you can succeed without putting on some attention-seeking alter-ego. It's the sort of album you could listen to with your nan, but that's completely cool. Sampha - Process
There was a lot of hype flying about Sampha in the build up to his debut album Process, and now it's out you can fully believe the hype is true. The rising talent had already displayed his soulful vocals in collaborations with SBTRKT and his previously released ballad ‘Too Much’, but he offers so much more as an artist in the emotionally charged ten track record dropped in February.
Stand out track ‘(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano’ is a reflection of the songwriting abilities the Londoner has in his toolbelt.King Krule - The OOZ
Londoner Archy Marshall takes us on a gloomy tour of the internal mind in his sophomore record ‘The OOZ’. The 23- year old blurs the lines between a blend of genres. The album dabbles its toes into jazz in songs like ‘Cadet Limbo’, while toying on the borders of a soft RnB, but album opener ‘Biscuit Town’ could sort of be placed anywhere between ‘Alt/Indie/Chill wave’.
Listening to the album feels like walking through a dream-state, drifting through a woozy Sin City-esque backdrop as Marshall’s deep vocals guide us through each song. After spending a few years releasing music under an abundance of random aliases, including Edgar the Beatmaker and Zoo Kid, it is a mystery as to why the young talent returned to the more normal confines of King Krule. Maybe it is because this album is closest to King Krule’s debut album released in 2013? Though this album feels a sense lonelier, as he calls out "Is there anybody out there?" in the album's title track. It feels more distant from reality than any of his previous work, as if Marshall has been living in a dystopian Clockwork Orange-like world for the past four years.
Enter Shikari - The Spark
Here's a throwback to 14-year old Jack's music tastes. What I've always appreciated about Enter Shikari is there blatant disregard for wanting to sound like anything remotely mainstream, and 2017's The Spark carries on that trend, jumping from emo-pop, to electro, to alt-rock. The band's studio album from 2012, A Flash Flood of Colour, was a politically-focused, angsty depiction of the current world state; this release follows similar themes, shown in tracks 'Take My Country Back' and 'Live Outside'.
Rou Reynolds and the boys have written a no-holds-barred record that throws jabs at modern society, painting the dreary picture of a world in which Brexit, Trump and global warming are all sadly a reality. The stand-out track by far is 'Rabble Rouser', which feels like classic Shikari, with a twist of experimentation, bringing fans back to the days of 'Slipshod' and 'Arguing With Thermometers'.
Amber Run - For A Moment, I Was Lost
As if writing a second album isn't challenging enough, try doing it after being dropped from your label and your drummer leaving the band. On the surface this could be mistaken for an album full of typical Amber Run sounds, but delve deeper behind the story and you can see that this record gracefully rose from the fires of dark times for the band members.
Frontman Joe Keogh confessed that there were points where the album may have never happened.
A combination of will-power, talent, and hunger brought this album to its completion. The result is an emotionally-charged, extremely personal twelve-track album with every track as inwardly-facing as the last. The hooks are melodic, the lyrics come purely from the soul, and the songwriting has progressed tenfold. The A capella track 'Haze' is the biggest indicator of this.
Other definiting songs in the album include 'Dark Bloom' and 'No Answers', which draw on poingnant lyrics with a deep sense of uplifting, powerful vibes running through both.
Wolf Alice - Visions Of A Life
Wolf Alice's shoegazey sounds are soaring them towards something of cult heroes amongst young indie music fans. Visions Of A Life oozes with cool, as Rowsell's dreamy vocals and the rhythmic, hazy hooks stream endlessly one after the other. The band have begun to craft their own sound already, something which we saw promising glimmers of in their debut record.
This sophomore album feels a lot more care-free; it's accusing tone, along with the boldness to experiment with any idea, sets apart the four-piece from the rest of the pack. It's a confident record, really confident in fact, without stepping over the line into complacent.
Visions Of A Life feels like it was directed effortlessly, as if second album nerves were words never crossing the lips of the members. If anybody was to criticize the group's first album by claiming it may have been too samey, just have a listen to 'Yuk Foo' then follow it with 'After The Zero Hour', then just see whether that same remark applies.
Circa Waves - Different Creatures
The four-piece from Liverpool returned to the scene with a sophomore album easily worthy of a place in my top 10. Instead of trying to create the success they experienced after a truly commendable debut album, which established the band as poster boys for soft, sunny indie pop-rock, they evolved their noise into a darker, maturer, and ultimately depthier sound.
Different Creatures came to attention with a real purpose. It wasn't about the innocence of youth, traipsing after girls and hanging out with your mates. In this record the band took a step back from society to look at the bigger picture, seeking the answers to the question of where they fit in to all this. The response - time to jump on the political bandwagon. The title track provides an intelligent oversight into the issue of refugeeism, singing "Twenty thousand souls are sold tonight, making us their home, and as you close your eyes again tonight, remember where you are."
Frontman Kieran Shudall said that he wanted to create an album with more meaning, and in a time where voices are finally starting to get heard, it is safe to say that has been achieved.
Jake Bugg - Hearts That Strain
Hearts That Strain is Bugg's fourth studio album in just five years. The 23- year old has dabbled with rock, indie-folk and blues, but seemed to return to his country roots in this record, evident in both hooks and vocals.
Putting albums out with such haste, you would not be blamed for expecting a few 'fillers' amongst the better tracks, however listening to the record in full you can quickly see that time and effort has gone into this writing, putting the pace of songwriting down to sheer talent.
There is no ambiguity with this album; no over-confidence, yet no sign of the artist being unsure of what he is yet. Bugg shows himself as something of a young prodigy, writing both ballads and toe-tappers, compiling them together in an accomplished album.
If given the chance, these songs will soon replace 'Two Fingers' and 'Seen It All' in the list of iconic Jake Bugg songs.
Lana Del Rey - Lust For Life
Lana Del Rey's cinematic, story-telling fifth studio album is probably actually everything we needed in 2017. It's graceful, it's aloof, it's political. It's sheer brilliance, really.
Using silky vocals and dreamy pop hooks, the Californian seems to have shifted slightly away from the 50s Hollywood style that dominated her earlier music, to depicting a modern day disjointed America. Whilst previous albums have revolved around her wild years of alcoholism and shitty relationships, Lust For Life seems leagues maturer, as if she is leaving that life behind and turning over a new page.
Of course it's not all politics; album opener 'Love' is a hazy pop-ballad, and is by far the best single from the sixteen track album.
This record, and the smile on her face, feels like a new era for Del Rey. There's a more positive time ahead, and one where her music hopefully will continue to fall gracefully into our ears.