Kendrick Lamar & SZA's collaborative track sounds great on paper, but offers the best qualities of neither artist, says Greg WoodinWritten by Greg Woodin on 11th January 2018
Redbrick’s Albums of 2017
Redbrick Music takes a look back at the best albums of 2017.
Tyler, The Creator - Flower Boy
Mura Masa - Mura Masa
Queens of the Stone Age - Villains
Imagine Dragons - Evolve
HAIM - Something to Tell You
LCD Soundsystem - American Dream
Oh Wonder - Ultralife
J Hus - Common Sense
Lana Del Rey - Lust For Life
The War on Drugs - A Deeper Understanding
Blanck Mass - World Eater
Kendrick Lamar - DAMN.
Milo - Who Told You To Think??!!?!?!?!
Milky Chance - Blossom
Brockhampton - Saturation
Vince Staples - Big Fish Theory
Harry Styles - Harry Styles
Sampha - Process
Kelly Lee Owens - Kelly Lee Owens
Everything Everything - A Fever Dream
Pond - The Weather
St Vincent - MASSEDUCTION
Declan McKenna - What Do You Think About The Car?
Katy Perry - Witness
Slowdive - Slowdive
Gregory Porter - Nat King Cole & Me
Nick Mulvey - Wake Up Now
Stormzy - Gang Sings & Prayer
King Krule - The OOZ
The National - Sleep Well Beast
Arcade Fire - Everything Now
The xx - I See You
IDLES - Brutalism
Sundara Karma - Youth is Only Ever Fun in Retrospect
Lorde - Melodrama
Loyle Carner - Yesterday's Gone
2017. What a year it was. The year Kylie Jenner got pregnant... and nothing else of note happened really, did it? Now that we're safely on the other side, here are the 36 albums that got Redbrick Music through the last twelve months.
Back in 2014, in an interview with Larry King, Tyler was quoted saying ‘I hate rapping… I don’t want to do it anymore.’ Listening to Flower Boy, I ask myself ‘how does someone who hates rapping still manage to make the best rap album of the year?’ Maybe it was this very revelation that made Flower Boy show a smoother side of Tyler: a Tyler who does not have sexist or homophobic lyrics, instead pondering into his loneliness and his sexuality. A Tyler who should not be banned from entering the UK. The album is varied in sound and hosts a great range of collaborations, including Frank Ocean, A$AP Rocky, Estelle and even Jaden Smith (who does a surprisingly good job). The production has improved drastically compared to his previous albums, making the whole listening experience more enjoyable. You can listen to this album from beginning to end and it never loses flow, showing off the jazz influences which have always played a huge part in Tyler’s style, as well as the endless hooks in pretty much every song. There are even some great love songs, like on the track ‘Glitter’ where he passionately sings ‘Every time you come around / I feel like glitter.’ All that is left to do now is for someone to post a copy over to 10 Downing street and hope that Theresa May takes away Tyler’s ban so that we can finally hear this masterpiece live.
Tyler, The Creator
At only 21, Mura Masa has managed to not only to break through the music industry, but create a sound that is completely unique and different to any other DJ out there. His debut and self-titled album sums up exactly what music in 2017 was all about: the triumph of the ‘new’, the decline of the commercial. The most exciting thing about this album is the sheer diversity of its content - it is clear Mura Masa is not one to reproduce the same sound over and over again. Mura Masa takes us from the upbeat synthesised sounds of ‘1 Night’ to the trap-inspired vibe of ‘All Around the World’ just like that, and it completely works. Other singles worthy of a mention include, ‘Love$ick,’ ‘Messy Love’ and ‘Nuggets.’
Each showcase his exquisite production as well as sound incredible live. The collaborations are another reason why Mura Masa is such a standout album. Despite the range of vocalists, including A$AP Rocky, Bonzai, NAO, Charlie XCX and Desiigner, there is not a song or soloist that sounds out of place. Everything on this album just works perfectly, which is more than can be said for 2017, and for that I salute you Mura Masa, you certainly made my year a hell of a lot better.
After four years, QOTSA finally released their new album, Villains - and as usual, it did not disappoint. The band focuses on the theme of villains throughout and appropriately start the album with an eerie build up in ‘Feet Don’t Fail Me’, before launching into their recognisable style of punchy riffs and fuzz-infused guitar solos. This continues throughout and it can easily be argued that ‘The Way You Used To’, ‘Hideaway’ and ‘The Evil Has Landed’ will all become classics in their long backlog of material. The latter is performed in several different parts that prove the band are still musically talented as well as interesting in a music landscape offering little in terms of originality or complexity.
The final track, ‘Villains of Circumstance’ closes the album perfectly with a slow piano part, unsettling strings and a creeping bassline, while Homme shows he can easily prioritise singing over his unique guitar work. The chorus to this is more different to something you might usually expect from QOTSA, sounding optimistic despite the dark undertones. This is perhaps the best reflection of the whole album, where QOTSA merge darkness with optimism throughout, still retaining their finesse and distinctive raw rock sound.
Queens of the Stone Age
Haim’s 70s-inspired second album Something To Tell You followed smoothly on from their 2013 debut success, and did not by any means disappoint. The echoing emotion that carries through each song, created by their extensively beautiful harmonies and melodies, feels like something that only these three sisters can achieve. The pop-rock masterpiece includes obvious inspiration from the likes of Steve Nicks, but every element is made to be their own.
Driven by the sisters’ complicated craftsmanship and creative insight into the significance of rhythm in connecting each song together as a whole; the album never falters in powerful lyrics that echo their musical talent. From the upbeat pop anthem ‘Little of Your Love’ to the raw, melancholic ‘Night So Long’ that leaves the album on a hauntingly breathless note, the band explores a wide range of tones and styles, firmly placing their album amongst the best of 2017.
Something to Tell You
American Dream was the first we’d heard from LCD Soundsystem for a whole seven years. It was a long-awaited return, and given it was preceded by a high profile ‘last ever’ show at Madison Square Garden, a documentary on their disbandment and a final live album named The Long Goodbye, it kind of had to be good. And, oh, it was. Every LCD Soundsystem album is a work of art, but somehow this was on another level. It had the same electro-rock sound that they have come to be recognised for, but also featured haunting synthetic melodies and poignant lyrics which made American Dream even more emotional, powerful and meaningful than previous records. ‘Call the Police’ has to be amongst the greatest songs LCD Soundsystem have ever released; a brilliantly wild mix of guitar riffs, synths and a repetitive bass line. The record also flowed beautifully; every song was wonderful but the album itself was greater than the sum of its parts. It was, and still is, an epic journey of 1 hour and 9 minutes that would be a crime to shuffle.
Oh Wonder’s colourful second album, Ultralife, erupted us straight into summer with its sun-kissed lyrics and care-free spirit. Whilst abandoning the minimalist tones that defined their first album, their latest release has a radiant allure which sends it leaps and bounds from its predecessor. Singers Josephine Vander Gucht and Anthony West's voices intertwine into melodies which send shivers down you (despite the seemingly warm lyrics). Highlight of the album, the synth-infused ‘Heavy’ demonstrates not only a lyrical prowess which defines the album, but Josephine’s voice stepping out on its own and maintaining a melody which holds its own against the song’s heavy beat.
Equally, Anthony, whose voice can sometimes seem subdued against Josephine’s higher-pitched harmonies, becomes a defining point of the more soulful ‘Lifetimes’, which introduces him rapping verses of the song. Oh Wonder’s second album celebrates what it’s like to be human, each song introducing a new aspect of the band we didn’t realise was there. The duo’s harmonies work perfectly together, and it seems hard to imagine where their musical compass will direct them next.
Momodou Jallow (better known as J Hus) released his debut studio album, Common Sense, in May of this year. It is safe to say the record has been a smash hit in the UK, with the lead single ‘Did You See’ even charting, with a top 10 appearance in the UK Singles Chart. In a recent Channel 4 interview, Jallow claims to have ‘grown up on grime’, but what impresses about the album is that a whole range of styles seem to be blended and incorporated. These include grime, hip-hop, dancehall and R&B, as well as afrobeats.
He told Capital XTRA that he is ‘all over the place’ and that his ‘mood changes all the time’, explaining where his host of influences originate like an innocent adolescent. Afrobeat music in particular influences a large selection of the tracks, stemming from his African heritage. This is seen explicitly in the single ‘Spirit’, the music video of which was shot in Jamestown, Ghana. Producing an album of this adeptness and comprehensiveness already draws parallels with expert producers and samplers such as Kanye West. At only 21 years old, Common Sense has paved an exciting pathway for Jallow’s future. It’s common sense to keep listening to J Hus.
Faded Hollywood glamour, the skewed Americana and failed love are the key themes of Del Rey’s film-score-worthy, dreamy fourth full length album. It’s her longest album to date, comprising of 16 tracks and with features by the likes of The Weeknd, A$AP Rocky and Stevie Nicks, it’s hard not to have this as a contender for album of the year. Her style is so distinct; moody, laced with a vintage-style sound and an angst that’s hard to ignore.
My personal favourites are the ethereal '13 Beaches' which has a Hollywood blockbuster film score stuttering into hypnotic drums and a 90s style angst that’s makes it a signature Del Rey single, and 'Groupie Love' featuring A$AP Rocky which showcases Del Rey’s sultry voice that makes the song almost seductive, with Rocky being the perfect match as his rapping doesn’t feel out of place in the slightest. Lust For Life is another outstanding album from Del Rey, she is completely consistent in her aesthetic and vocals and exists completely in a league of her own.
Lana Del Rey
Lust For Life
On A Deeper Understanding, The War on Drugs never attempts to break grounds; much like the title suggests, the band here delves further into a sound they’ve slowly perfected over the course of a decade. Luckily for all, it’s a pretty incredible one.
Tapping into a rich lineage of greats (Springsteen, Dylan, Young), A Deeper Understanding is achingly gorgeous in its meticulous details, each track an immersive, lovelorn glance inside the mind of an obsessive. From the propulsive groove of ‘Up All Night’ to the melancholy soundscapes in ‘Strangest Thing’ to the stunning 12-minute odyssey ‘Thinking of a Place’, the intangible magic of A Deeper Understanding is heady and cathartic; an unfurling meditation on concepts that, no matter how deep our ‘understanding’, will forever elude us.
The War on Drugs
A Deeper Understanding
Simply put, no album this year has had as visceral an impact on me as World Eater. By moulding beautiful and serene samples with chaotic and ear-splitting noise, Blanck Mass creates a towering achievement of obscure, unique and hugely exciting electronic music. This sonic relationship makes up the crux of the record, although the more cacophonous and obtuse sections of the record make it by no means ‘easy listening’, the sheer complexity and textured detail of every track is continually rewarding, allowing the listener to get something different from each repeat. The blunt and bludgeoning ‘Rhesus Negative’ is assuaged by the serene and oddly operatic ‘Please’, a distinct contrast that is continued and fantastically executed across the whole album.
The experimental nature of World Eater is also accented by its unique approach to mixing and sampling. Drums seem to squelch like pressed meat, harsh and screamed vocals are layered into mock-choral arrangements; the individual parts of songs like ‘Silent Treatment’ absolutely shouldn’t work in theory- yet Blanck Mass somehow manipulates these disparate sounds into something unrecognisably coherent and fantastic. Ultimately, World Eater’s great success lies in its cathartic quality - finding intense beauty in distorted horror.
Accepting the tough reality that I won’t be able to see Kendrick live, at least his 2017 record is a good enough compilation of tracks that my bitterness and insufficient funds are overridden by the pure genius and beauty which DAMN. presents before me. Energised? Angry? In love? Sad? There isn’t a song on this album that doesn’t fit every emotion. DAMN. takes you on a whirlwind which dives from the gritty to the sexy in a heartbeat. Lamar explores his anxieties throughout the album, adding to its constant shift in mood, leaving me at times confused, because I’m tense and then I’m zen and before you know it I’m at a pre-drinks shouting every word to 'Humble'.
The wordplay undoubtedly is some of the best ever seen from any rapper, proving Lamar as a force whose reckoning nobody should even try to match. Arguably superseding the artistic triumph that was To Pimp A Butterfly, DAMN. proves to us that Kendrick only goes from strength to strength. It is without a doubt the best record in today’s current rap scene, I think it’s fair to say that nothing has surpassed it this year.
On Who Told You To Think??!!?!?!?! Milo pulls off avant-garde with accessibility. It’s an album that manages to simultaneously reference Stravinsky and Salazar Slytherin with an effortless style that falls just the right side of pretence. Milo’s brand of art-rap thrives on this duality; philosophical ponderings and light-hearted nods to pop culture. And this time around Milo goes in heavier than ever, he speaks on capitalism, racism, mainstream hip-hop mentality and the virtues of independence, whilst also offering tender glimpses into his personal life.
The album was recorded in one 24-hour session, with each song captured in one take – which adds to the urgent stream-of-consciousness vibe of the record. The dense webs of wordplay and references may be daunting at first and I defy anyone to understand more than 10% of what Milo is on about upon first listen. Luckily the (mostly self-produced), jazz-infused beats are so vibey and Milo’s delivery so captivating that you really won’t mind. But it’s an album packed full of Easter eggs that you’ll be greedily unpacking and decoding for months down the line. So if you’re looking for an album to get lost in, check this out.
Who Told You To Think??!!?!?!?!
Released in March, Milky Chance’s 14-track sophomore album is an uplifting, memorable and energetic effort from the German trio. I loved it on the first listen and it wasn’t long before it became one of my favourite albums of the year. The distinct sound remains prominent following Sadnecessary, characterised by Rehbein’s vocals, made famous by ‘Stolen Dance’, and their mix of folk music with electronic production.
Despite all songs being recognisably Milky Chance, songs like ‘Cold Blue Rain’, ‘Bad Things’ (feat. Izzy Bizu) and ‘Piano Song’ offer gentle breaks in between the likes of the upbeat ‘Blossom’ and lead single ‘Cocoon’. If you don’t involuntarily start dancing along to ‘Clouds’, possibly the best song on the album, I will be very surprised (and slightly concerned). They even make ‘Heartless’, a song which uses a total of 13 words repeated, into a masterpiece. Blossom certainly surpassed my expectations; I did not expect a harmonica solo to fit in so well with ‘Peripeteia’ for one, but if anyone could do that, it would be Milky Chance. I wholeheartedly recommend it to listeners from all genres, since Milky Chance so often defy them.
Like all great hip hop crews, Brockhampton are far more than the sum of their parts. The group often attracts comparisons with Odd Future for their DIY ethos and eccentric antics, but there’s abundantly more chemistry between the members here than in the rabble-rousing Ladera collective. The ingredients are simple: Kevin Abstract’s gift for hook-writing, Ameer Vann’s deadpan badassery, Merlyn’s shouty weirdness, Dom McLennon’s vocal dexterity, Matt Champion’s droll charisma, Joba’s JT-inflected falsetto – and of course the sonic wizardry of the group’s various producers.
These apparently disparate elements come together on Saturation, resulting in some of the most exciting, idiosyncratic rap in recent memory. Together, the group exchange pop culture references over bouncy beats (‘Star’), spit vitriol on top of layers of distortion (‘Bump’), and effortlessly transition into 808s & Heartbreak Auto-Tune melancholia to confront issues of self-harm (‘Trip’) and self-acceptance (‘Milk’). It’s odd, it’s emo, it’s experimental, and yet it features some of the hardest bars and earwormiest hooks this side of 2018 (take a listen to ‘Gold’). And what other album this year features the line ‘I just gave my nigga head’? Answer: none.
Big Fish Theory may have only graced us with twelve new Vince Staples tracks, but somehow squeezed into them we get guest appearances from Kendrick, A$AP Rocky, Kilo Kish, and Ty Dolla $ign, to name a few. And of course, this is just the cherry on top of an already outstanding album, it's not like Vince couldn't hold the fort on his own.
Managing to maintain his trademark über-nonchalance while the tracks tear past at the most unforgiving of paces, Big Fish is relentless beginning to end. It may not have quite as many stand-out singles as tour de forces Hell Can Wait or Summertime ’06, but before you know it you've barrelled into the unarguable peak penultimate track, ‘BagBak’, and, trust me, it's worth hanging around for.
Big Fish Theory
It’s the one we (or at least some) of us have all been waiting for: Harry Styles’
debut album. And boy, it was worth that wait. It was clear for a long time that
Styles was perhaps the most innovative and creative of the group, and musically he proves this on his self-titled debut. Taking inspiration from punk
and glam rock, he has finally been able to branch out from his boy band roots
and show everyone what kind of artist he really wants to be. From balladry in
the form of piano-driven ‘Sign of the Times’ to the folk-tinged ‘Two Ghosts’,
branching out to more brazen and brash rock numbers in the form of ‘Kiwi’ and
‘Carolina’, the album is a mix of genres that paints Styles as an artist far beyond
Inspired by the likes of Queen and David Bowie, this comes as no
surprise. He even manages to make the most Elton John-esque track, ‘Woman’,
sound damn sexy. ‘From The Dining Table’ ends the album on a moment of
delicate grace, proving to doubters that he can craft a clever and well-thought
out album that remains concise yet effective. It is definitely the strongest effort
from any of the 1D lads and cements Styles’ status as a true musician.
You simply cannot discuss albums of the year without mentioning 2017’s Mercury Prize winner, Sampha. Process, his winning record, is a work of art: lyrically poignant, thought provoking, heartwarming but equally heart-wrenching.
Every song on this album could stand alone, but ‘(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano’ is a clear winner for me. Written for his late mother, Sampha pays tribute to the woman who has inspired so much of his work and creates a beautiful single that makes your hair stand on end. ‘Incomplete Kisses’ and ‘Blood on Me’ are also worthy of a mention, showcasing his overwhelming talent.
Up until Process, Sampha’s career consisted of being far more behind the scenes, producing and collaborating with the likes of SBTRKT, Drake and even Kanye West. But 2017 saw his turn in the limelight, and thank God for that.
A perfect, ethereal pop record. The Welsh-born Kelly Lee Owens was convinced into releasing music by Daniel Avery and Ghost Culture, and as a result this is a debut that does not feel like a debut. It comes fully-formed and expertly crafted, a bubble of music that knows exactly what it wants to sound like, equal parts danceable and hypnotic. ‘Lucid’ floats like a mist before breaking into a wave of atmospheric techno, while ‘Anxi’ contains all the beauty that you ever wished you could get out of Aphex Twin. The latter track features on Björk’s new Mixmag tape, and if it’s good enough for the queen of electropop then it should be good enough for anybody. Owens is going places, already displaying a powerful and rare talent for songcraft. You can drift through and get utterly lost in this album. It envelops you. Lush, lobotomic, blissful.
Kelly Lee Owens
Kelly Lee Owens
With their 2015 record Get To Heaven breaking them into the top ten of the UK Albums Chart and receiving outstanding levels of acclaim, Everything Everything are among the most original artists in Britain’s recent Indie resurgence. Naturally then, a follow-up has been eagerly anticipated by fans and critics alike...
The album starts strongly, opening with the forlorn tones of ‘Night Of The Long Knives’ which continues Jonathan Higgs' lyrical tendency towards social and political commentary. This is followed by the insatiably catchy leading single ‘Can't Do’, and ‘Desire’, a critique of our increasingly selfish and reckless society. Their lyrics remain clear enough throughout that a general message can be understood in most songs but crucially remain abstract enough that listeners can make their own particular interpretations as to the metaphors and wordplay used throughout. Additionally, it's clear to see the group becoming more adventurous with production, adding intricate layers to the cascading synthesisers and twangy basslines characteristic of their sound.
Everything Everything are a band who relish in defying musical convention and they have done so once again with A Fever Dream, crafting a truly original and intelligent album.
A Fever Dream
What Do You Think
About The Car?
Nat King Cole
Wake Up Now
Gang Signs & Prayer
King Krule’s The OOZ was one of the most compelling and impressive albums of the year. The album is a sonically varied and thrilling project from start to finish. Across 19 sprawling tracks, Krule successfully negotiates the fusion of many different musical genres skilfully; from the searing punk rock of “Emergency Blimp”, to the washed out jazz that tumbles throughout “Czech One”. Krule takes elements of these genres and blends them cleverly, creating entirely unique sounds.
What makes The OOZ an even more remarkable album, is that even with such a rich blend of sounds, Marshall maintains the tone and mood of the album superbly. Throughout the album Krule plays the romantic as well as the loner, finding places of comfort in the depths of isolation. ‘I’m a waste baby, and I’m alone’ he groans on “Slush Puppy”. On “Cadet Limbo” we hear a more poetic side to Marshall as he croons: ‘I floated along/ spent most of my time orbiting your waist’. Lyrically, The OOZ blurs between moments of plain honesty, and sharply written hints at larger secrets; revealing just enough, but never all. The OOZ can feel like a challenging listen at first, but that's what makes it so rewarding. The direction never seems entirely certain, yet still manages not to lose itself. Krule pushes it along, as though drifting slowly through a haze.
Sleep Well Beast
I See You
Youth is Only Ever
Fun in Retrospect
Yesterday’s Goneis a soulful and intimate album that reveals an extremely sensitive artist who creates painfully personal and emotive hip-hop. Released in January, Loyle Carner’s debut is a daring launch into the masculine world of hip-hop. Carner does not shy away from themes of grief and heartache in the mighty opening track ‘Isle of Arran,’ with lyrics like ‘wonder why my dad didn’t want me / Ex didn’t need me’ showing him to be as vulnerable as the rest of us.
The album also expresses Carner’s adoration for his mother, who features on the track ‘Sun of Jean.’ Rapping on the same track ‘Me and my mother, there ain’t nothing that can come between,’ Carner shows himself to be a thoughtful and respectful artist. It is this humility which sets Carner miles apart from other artists in his field and makes his music such an immense pleasure to listen to.