The first half of 2017 has witnessed more major album releases than we can wrap our heads around. As we brace ourselves for what the next six months have in store, we take a moment to reflect on the best and worst of what’s already come.
1. Drake – More Life
Lax ballads, cocksure verses, spoken intermissions and nostalgic samples: More Life has Drake written all over it. Somewhere between an album and a playlist, it chronicles the rapper’s conflict between fame and trust. Musically, it’s been called everything from grime to dancehall, but critics are divided about what Drake’s trying to achieve. Our highlight is the Jennifer Lopez sample on Teenage Fever.
2. Kendrick Lamar – Damn.
Damn. is a political, durable and downright addictive album. Kendrick Lamar is a visionary in his field — everything he does, down to how he stylises his song titles, serves a purpose. The 30-year-old’s nasally register and powerful storytelling are ever-present; D.N.A. is a chilling commentary on the clash between mass media and revolutionaries, while songs like Humble. are infinitely danceable.
3. Ed Sheeran – ÷
Previous Ed Sheeran records have worked as a whole, but ÷ feels like a collection of successful singles connected by repetitive filler songs. The 26-year-old singer-songwriter is known for his self-reflective lyrics, mostly about his small town upbringing and unconventional rise to fame, but here his storytelling feels more quaint than passionate.
4. Khalid – American Teen
Khalid’s sensual vibe is right up there with Frank Ocean and Zayn Malik. He hasn’t managed the same level of mainstream recognition, but he’s had success with songs such as Location, with more than 80 million views on YouTube. The 19-year-old’s raspy vocals crackle like firewood and his music feels wise beyond its years. Perfect listening on a lazy summer day.
5. Dua Lipa – Dua Lipa
There’s some solid bubblegum pop here, but Lipa’s identity as a performer gets lost in too many influences — P!nk on IDGAF, Lady Gaga on Blow Your Mind, Ariana Grande on Thinkin’ Bout You. Lipa’s sultry vocals are a highlight, and we’re interested in a more refined effort.
6. Harry Styles – Harry Styles
Harry Styles’ solo debut — his first post-One Direction release — is succinct, confident and belligerent enough to appeal to just about anyone. The 23-year-old’s influences are apparent, sometimes distracting — The Beatles on Carolina, Kings of Leon on Ever Since New York, Rolling Stones on Only Angel. But songs like Kiwi (reckless good fun) and From the Dining Table (strikingly vulnerable) give us a glimpse into what Styles is capable of when left to his own devices.
7. Katy Perry – Witness
As far as comeback albums go, Witness veers on forgettable. Perry tries to reinvent herself — cooler, edgier, less consumed with what it means to be a pop star? — but the songs range from over-produced to cringe-worthy. A miss for us.
8. Gorillaz – Humanz
Humanz is the Gorillaz’ first album in seven years, and it seems to have mostly caught up with the times. The record is funky and trippy, swinging between genres, though it doesn’t feel particularly cohesive. An only-if-the-mood-strikes type of record.
9. Linkin Park – One More Light
Linkin Park got a lot of flak for this album and fired it right back. They tried to go a little more pop, but some felt it was a sell-out. Frontman Chester Bennington told haters to “move the [expletive] on”. The drama surrounding the release was more interesting than the album itself.
10. Lil Yachty – Teenage Emotions
Lil Yachty — smiley, colourful, unapologetically himself — has become a divisive figure in hip hop at only 19. He represents a new wave of increasingly experimental rappers, who’ve caught up with the meme-tastic world of the internet. Despite people’s disdain towards his carefree, albeit heavily produced brand of rap, Teenage Emotions is an indisputably catchy pop-rap effort.
11. Haim – Something To Tell You
Sister trio Haim are back with another nostalgic pop record, but it’s proved to be a divisive listen. The problem seems to be that its classic influences, taken from several bygone eras, haven’t been updated. Something To Tell You might be the kind of record that grows on you, but it struggles to make an instant impression.
12. Halsey – Hopeless Fountain Kingdom
Halsey gets theatrical on Hopeless Fountain Kingdom, her sophomore album. The smoky break-up record sees Halsey go on an ambitious, poetic journey, with her plucky vocals twinkling over distinctive beats and catchy R’n’B melodies. The cohesive effort will resonate both with her existent fans and new listeners alike.
13. Jay-Z – 4:44
A lot of people have given Jay-Z kudos for growing up on this album. He delves headfirst into a reflection of his own flaws, though some say the underlying apology is too little too late. Jay-Z touches on a lot of personal topics — family, marriage, his wobbling friendship with Kanye — and doesn’t dice words.
14. Lorde – Melodrama
Pop stars have been known to drop albums like candy in a bid for relevancy. But Lorde, who was only 16 when she floored us with her debut record Pure Heroine, decided to mull over her sophomore album for four years. A lot happens between 16 and 20. Melodrama is a refined treat for all the senses: exploratory, ripe, and yet undeniably still young at heart.
15. Charli XCX – Number 1 Angel
A dreamy synth-pop record, Number 1 Angel is chock-full of sticky hooks and radio-ready choruses. At 11 tracks, it doesn’t overstay its welcome or take itself too seriously. Charli XCX avoids one of the biggest pitfalls of being a new voice in pop: trying to sound like someone else.
16. Kehlani – SweetSexySavage
Kehlani boldly starts off her album SweetSexySavage with a spoken word intro: “My condolences to anyone who’s ever lost me.” What follows is a collection of smooth R’n’B tracks that have been sorely missed in the world of pop. A solid debut album, and recommended listening for fans of ‘90s R’n’B and Ariana Grande.
17. Paramore – After Laughter
We didn’t know it at the time of release, but After Laughter is kind of frontwoman Hayley Williams’ break-up record with now estranged husband Chad Gilbert. It’s also the band’s most pop-driven record to date. Up-tempo, throwback beats mix well with Williams’ usual frank lyricism, resulting in a reinvigorating sound from a band that never disappoints.
18. Future – Hndrxx
Future takes his time baring his soul on Hndrxx (his second 2017 release), which runs just over an hour long. With sparse features — The Weeknd on Coming Out Strong and Rihanna on Selfish — Future gives his listeners the time and space to find out who he really is.
19. The xx - I See You
The English indie pop band made a comeback with I See You, their first studio album in five years. It’s airy, avant-garde and full of slow jams, as the band steps out of their comfort zone. The record never quite picks up pace, but it’s an intriguing listen nonetheless.
20. SZA - Ctrl
SZA might be one of the most exciting voices in neo soul and R’n’B right now. Her debut record is sonically unpredictable, vocally electrifying and lyrically raw, with guest features from Kendrick Lamar, James Fauntleroy, and Isaiah Rashad. Fun fact: the music video for her song Drew Barrymore actually features a cameo from the actress.