Back in July, Gulf News tabloid! rounded up 20 albums that caught our attention or passed us by in a bland haze during the first half of 2017. Now, as the year comes to a close, we take a look at the records that dropped through the year’s final months. What worked, what didn’t and what left us confused? Here are our 17 picks.
1. Lana Del Rey — Lust for Life
Lust for Life is more of the same from Lana Del Rey — a mumbling, nostalgic affair drizzled over sparse melodies. But the 32-year-old breaks the mould ever-so-slightly here. She dabbles in optimism. The 16-track album is as atmospheric as your favourite indie film, peaking on songs like In My Feelings.
2. Tyler, The Creator — Flower Boy
Tyler, the Creator continues to mature on the feature-heavy Flower Boy, putting forth one of his most refined efforts yet. As far as synth-rap records go, Flower Boy is sonically polished, thematically cohesive and just overall electrifying to listen to. Tyler punches forward with open-hearted emotion at all the right moments.
3. Kesha — Rainbow
Rainbow is more than just a comeback album — it’s Kesha’s triumphant, emotional call to arms, her thunderous signal to any and all aggressors that she will not, and cannot, be silenced. Here, Kesha’s vocals are in top form, chillingly emotive on tracks like Praying. But, equally important? She’s having a good time, laughing her way through the self-love anthem Woman.
4. Fifth Harmony — Fifth Harmony
Fifth Harmony had a lot to prove on their self-titled third album, seeing as it was their first record since the departure of founding member Camila Cabello. The sweet and short 10-track affair clocked in at 33 minutes long, and though it landed lukewarm reviews, it’s chock-full of fun, danceable pop.
5. The Killers — Wonderful Wonderful
After a five-year absence, The Killers skidded back onto the pop rock scene with this deliciously unpredictable, consistently anthemic collection. In turns sharp and playful, noisy and scant, Wonderful Wonderful ultimately comes together underneath the crystal-clear vocals of frontman Brandon Flowers.
6. Demi Lovato — Tell Me You Love Me
Demi Lovato has never been as unapologetic as on Tell Me You Love Me, starting with belligerent album-opener, Sorry Not Sorry, and leading us straight into a myriad of self-empowered pop tunes and the occasional power ballad, like You Don’t Do It for Me Anymore. Yes, Lovato had already settled into her own skin, but here, she bursts right out of it to show us what she’s made off.
7. Liam Gallagher — As You Were
Liam Gallagher’s offstage antics have become distracting at best, grating at worst, but the singer returns in top form on this blustering solo debut. Gallagher doesn’t hold back any punches, nor does he hide behind a singular, tried-and-tested sound. In fact, he sounds equally comfortable being loud and confrontational as he does quieting himself down for extended stretches of nasally vulnerability.
8. Pink — Beautiful Trauma
If you’re expecting just one thing out of Pink, this album is not the one for you. The seasoned singer goes pop, folk, rock and electro-dance on her seventh album Beautiful Trauma, which is pretty much in tune with Pink’s ultimate essence: never fitting in.
9. Sam Smith — The Thrill of it All
Sam Smith’s The Thrill of it All elevates the singer to yet a new level, encapsulating more power, more confidence and more bare-boned theatrics. With his vocal range, Smith could likely sing every page of the phonebook and still sell records, but a touch of searing honesty never hurt anybody.
10. Taylor Swift — Reputation
By now, we’ve become disillusioned with the dramatic shedding of skin that the Taylor Swift seems to employ with every album. She knows how to make hits — she can likely fill albums upon albums with them. But the forced bad girl facade on Reputation detracts from that fact, stripping the album of its likeability.
11. Brockhampton — Saturation
Brockhampton released not one, not two, but three studio albums this year — Saturation 1, 2 and 3. The records have been praised, and rightly so, for their experimental nature. This trilogy is not for the fans of the conventional. Let’s put it this way: if you like to colour outside the box, know that Brockhampton have done away with the box entirely.
12. Niall Horan — Flicker
From the start, Niall Horan established himself as the folky ex-member of One Direction, and Flicker doesn’t stray far from that. The singer-songwriter spreads his wings a little further on his country-tinged solo debut, though it would be interesting to hear him try his hand at a few more up-tempo tracks.
13. Gord Downie — Introduce Yerself
After a battle with cancer, Gord Downie bid listeners farewell with the bittersweet Introduce Yerself. The Tragically Hip frontman injected his signature spark of hope into his final record as the 23-track effort took his fans, but more importantly, Downie himself, down memory lane. Introduce Yerself was recorded shortly before his death, and released 10 days after.
14. Maroon 5 — Red Pill Blues
Some might view Maroon 5’s Red Pill Blues as a try-hard effort. The cover features each member in a different, Snapchat-esque filter, and the opener is titled Back 4 You. Red Pill Blues makes for easy listening — too easy. It’s hardly Maroon 5’s most compelling release.
15. Charli XCX — Pop 2
Charli XCX seems perpetually unbothered by what anyone else is doing, to great effect. The singer released her second mixtape of 2017, Pop 2, featuring a different artist on almost every song — from Carly Rae Jepson to Tove Lo and MO. An addictive collection of songs, as usual.
16. Miguel — War & Leisure
Miguel will hook you from the first 10 seconds of War & Leisure. An urgency pulls his listeners into his soulful, finger-snapping, foot-tapping world, as the versatile crooner puts a new twist on familiar sounds. Miguel knows how to soothe his listeners without ever boring them.
17. Manchester Orchestra — Black Mile to the Surface
There’s something unsettling about Black Mile to the Surface — maybe it’s the pendulum swing between sticky sweet tunes and the occasional burst of hostility, but it’s also what makes it so satisfying to listen to.
TABLOID’S PICK OF THE YEAR:
Lany — Lany
Indie darlings Lany — an alt-rock trio out of Los Angeles, America — are rapidly rising in popularity, and yet somehow they eluded both of our best and worst lists of 2017. This might come as a shocker, then: their self-titled debut album, Lany by Lany, was our uncontested record of the year. In this digital age of fast food music, where singles and playlists reign supreme, Lany managed to revive the lost art of the album. They created a record that demands, in the gentlest of tones, to be listened to, back-to-back, without interruptions. The kind of music that wants to both break your heart and uplift it, all in chronological order. Lany also, wittingly or unwittingly, managed to break the mould of the all-male rock band. Growing up, men with instruments would hurl vindictive insults and cloak their songs in anger to show how much they loved and lost. Meanwhile, Lany can be found in a corner cross-stitching their hearts onto their sleeves as they sing unabashedly about the kind of love that makes you a better person — not worse.