The album. Once a ubiquitous statement, an artist’s manifesto, a cohesive platform for long-form expression…
Today the album seems to have taken a step back, where the focus of music consumers is more on playlists, singles, and EPs.
Personally, an album is still my favourite way to digest music. While there are great mixes and playlists that do a fantastic job of defining a particular mood, I still find an album to be the best way to immerse myself in the world of an artist.
An album requires more dedication, both on the part of the artist and the listener, and the rewards reveal themselves over time.
The music I listen to is always the soundtrack to what I’m doing. One of my favourite experiences ever is listening to an album for the first time. I can return to that album years later and it will remind me of where I was during that time, what I was doing, and how I was feeling.
This year was a particularly good year for new releases. With new releases by giants like Gorillaz, Beck, Björk, and Kendrick Lamar (all of whom have received plenty of coverage), I’d like to share some of the less talked about gems you might have missed.
Here are the albums I found most interesting in 2017:
Thundercat – Drunk
This is the third album by LA’s Stephen Bruner, and I’d say it’s his best one so far. Throughout the 23 tracks featuring a roster of guests including Whiz Kalifa, Kendrick Lamar, and Pharrell, Thundercat takes us on a journey through many styles and many moods. Drunk is both soulful and silly. The album contains equal parts pop culture references and self reflection. There are sad parts and there are playful parts, and Thundercat blends them all together seamlessly.
Highlights include the upbeat yet tragic Them Changes, his love affair with Tokyo, and his jaded take on the Friend Zone. Give Drunk a listen if you’re looking for something fresh, funky, fun and quirky.
King Krule – The OOZ
King Krule’s latest offering is deep, intense, eclectic, yet somehow soothing at the same time. Deeply personal and fueled by the aftermath of a ruined love affair as well as the frustration of going through an artistic drought, this album has the potential of being a downer. Yet this anguish comes across in a defiant, refreshing way.
With snippets of lounge, jazz, early punk, trip hop, grimey breakbeats, and slow burning ambient textures, serving as a foundation for Archy Marshall’s bellowing voice, these songs give a glimpse into his emotional and creative landscape. At the same time, this album leaves a lingering sense of warmth after each listen. These tracks seem almost deconstructed and reassembled to reflect the ebb and flow of creative expression. These stream of consciousness sonic meanderings are sparsely punctuated by glimmers of hope. In exactly the right places.
TOKiMONSTA – Lune Rouge
This is TOKiMONSTA’s first album since recovering from a rare condition that left her unable to comprehend language or music. Deeper and darker than her previous releases, this is a complex and personal album.
If anything, the production on Lune Rouge is even stronger than her previous releases. The compositions are more intricate, the music is diverse, and the lyrics offer multiple layers of meaning. Musically, this album is a reflection of how Jennifer Lee has evolved as a person, and how she has emerged from a life-threatening challenge strong and victorious.
This album is equal parts powerful, beautiful, and inspiring.
Giraffage – Too Real
Giraffage’s second album is smooth selection of sounds that include his signature pitch-shifted vocals and 808 breaks, while expanding into more uptempo territories. With elements of garage, future funk, soul, house, and chillwave, Too Real is at times reminiscent of 80’s sounds with its use of synths, dreamy with its melodies and pan flute samples, yet also sounds futuristic with its forward thinking production.
Highlights include Maybes (featuring Japanese Breakfast), Green Tea (featuring Angelica Bess), and album closer First Breath. The melodies on this album are catchy and the rhythms are danceable. Giraffage utilizes sounds that may sound cheesy in the hands of lesser producers, and makes them sound unique and fresh.
Bonobo – Migration
Bonobo returns with a sophisticated album that is just as home on the dance floor as it would be in a chill lounge. Migration is dreamy and danceable, and is a culmination of the sounds he has mastered over the years. The tracks on this album are reminiscent of Burial and Four Tet at times, yet Bonobo’s evolving sound remains intact.
This album is one of my favourites for road trips, or listening to on headphones in the subway, or chilling at home in the evenings. It’s dynamic enough to hold ground in all these different environments. This is dance music for people who appreciate soul, depth, and details.
Dimond Saints – Prism in the Dark
The debut album by Oakland duo Dimond Saints is dark, experimental, and beautiful. With haunting melodies and solid rhythms, this album is strong all the way through.
With frequent guest vocals from Glitch Mob collaborator Yaarrohs and a few songs featuring Eitch, the lyrics are deep and even existential. At times psychedelic, these tracks have a strong shamanic influence, with hip hop beats hard enough to rock any dancefloor.
This is medicine music for a mystical party, and even sounds like it could be the soundtrack for a bangin’ ceremony.
Iglooghost – Neō Wax Bloom
Iglooghost’s debut album is a surreal journey through layers of constantly shifting beats and soundscapes. With no loops, hardly any repetition, the tracks on Neō Wax Bloom evolve as they unfold, moving forward into new directions and unexpected dimensions.
Neō Wax Bloom is also a concept album, in the sense that these tracks are the soundtrack to a story Iglooghost has created. The story is about the events surrounding two giant eyeballs crashing into the mysterious world of Mamu.
Here’s a description of the album in Iglooghost’s own words:
A MULTICOLOR HYPERSPEED OPERA ABOUT LITTLE GLOWING BEINGS MADE OF GUM.
Out there? Yes. Worth a listen? Definitely.
Jonwayne – Rap Album Two
This album is Jonwayne’s most introspective work to date. While maintaining his J Dilla-insipired beats and DOOM-esque flow, Rap Album Two finds Jonwayne delving into deeper and darker places, where he confronts his personal demons and questions the meaning of his own art.
This album is a result of Jonwayne emerging from a downward spiral, where he took a step back to deal with alcoholism and overcome the self-destructive tendencies of his previous lifestyle. He returns to the scene clear-headed and insightful. While his raps have always been good, in the past they were more about having fun with wordplay, playing with form more than content.
This album takes Jonwayne in a new direction. His flows are as solid as ever, but this time he gets real and opens up about relevant struggles that many people can relate to.
Laurel Halo – Dust
As far as genre goes, this album is almost unclassifiable. A dreamy collage of jazz, funk, Latin percussion, sci fi textures, chopped up vocal samples, Brazilian poetry, Japanese hooks, and future pop, Dust is an album that rewards the listener with each listen.
Mostly downtempo and filled with intricate details, these tracks feel like a globe-hopping exploration of time and space. Laurel Halo’s mindscape seems like an ever shifting universe, and these audio excursions are like a glimpse into this world. As experimental as these sounds are, the grooves are solid enough to get heads bobbing and the sparse melodies are catchy. This is one of my favourite albums to get lost in while I’m drawing or writing, although it’s also often playing through my headphones while I’m walking through the city streets.
Shabazz Palaces – Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star / Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines
Shabazz Palaces return with not one, but two albums released on the same day. These albums follow the adventures of Quazarz, a sentient being from elsewhere, and these tracks are used an an opportunity to dissect the current state of affairs in America from an outsider’s perspective.
Experimental and catchy, the abstract loops form an atmospheric canvas for Ishmael Butler (aka the Palaceer Lazaro) to explore inner space, outer space, our relationship with technology, and the current socio-political landscape through his wordplay.
A highlight is Shine a Light (featuring Thadillac), with its sample of Dee Dee Sharp’s I Really Love You over mixed with Tendai Maraire’s signature spacey beats. This is music for future heads.
Also worth a listen
All in all, a lot of amazing music has been released in 2017. I look forward to hearing what frequencies 2018 has in store.
Here are more great albums I have been listening to a lot this year:
Kendrick Lamar – DAMN. | Arca – Arca | Björk – Utopia | Little Dragon – Season High | Nosaj Thing – Parallels | Vince Staples – Big Fish | Sampha | Process | Mount Kimbie – Love What Survives | Sza – Ctrl | Ibeyi – Ash | Kamasi Washington – Harmony of Difference | Gorillaz – Humanz | Lana Del Rey – Lust For Life | Beck – Colours | St. Vincent – MASSEDUCATION | The XX – I See You | An-Ten-Nae – Medicine
What are your favourite albums of 2017? Share your recommendations in the comments below.