The Top 50 Albums of 2017 - Features - Mixmag

The Top 50 Albums of 2017

The LPs that blew us away

  • Mixmag Staff
  • 14 December 2017

Our top tracks of the year list pieced together the soundtrack of some of the highest peaks of 2017. Club moments where everything aligns, and nirvana is reached.

The top albums list is the sound in between. The accompaniment to creeping train rides through serene landscapes, summer days in the park, bleary-eyed commutes and dealing with emotions. Of absent day dreams, rinse & repeat listens, and loud sing-a-longs at balmy festival stages. And dotted through, there’s plenty of club bangers too.

See our picks for the top 50 albums of the year below.

Acid Pauli’s ‘BLD’ is obscure and multifaceted in all the ways we love. It’s eight tracks of serious exploration, diving and weaving in between a kaleidoscope of textures and emotions. Each track sounds like a watercolor painting in time lapse, fluttering and flowing, flashing with pressure.

Indian Wells aka Pietro Iannuzzi brought his third album into the world this year and ‘Where The World Ends’ is some of his most accomplished work to date. The LP, which contains emotive, leftfield electronica may not be on your radar yet but we assure you, you won’t be disappointed once you dive in.

New Zealand born and Brisbane-based Jordan Rakei’s soulful debut album ‘Wallflower’ nestles cozily in the genre-bending, R&B-influenced world that Frank Ocean helped to carve out for the wider mainstream in 2016. ‘Wallflower’ was released on Ninja Tune, a rightful home for Rakei’s LP that dually served as a homage to the label’s original roots in leftfield electronic and funk-inspired sounds. Injecting his own tastes of jazz, groove and hip hop, Rakei’s 11-track album unabashedly flexes his weighty lyrics in a breezy soundscape.

In case you hadn’t noticed, we’ve been championing Ziúr for a long while now, celebrating her inherently unique sound design and sighing over her strident approach to experimental club productions. When she made her full length debut earlier this year, it’s safe to say we truly were left reeling in our feelings.

It appears to have been a year of dark and deliberate debut releases, with Bristolian producer Pessimist’s self-titled LP exploring the murky terrain between raw, unadulterated UK underground sounds and futuristic noise. Weaving through d’n’b, techno and spine-tingling sub bass, this icy album is homegrown innovation at its finest.

The unclassifiable sonic excursions of James Holden’s latest album, produced with a new band he assembled called The Animal Spirits, is full of brilliant surprises that keep the listener thoroughly engaged and enchanted. The improvisational, droning jazzy ballads take on a life of their own with each passing moment and the album clearly sits in its own universe with a beautiful display of musical creativity.

A neon-lit, genre-hopping release, Fjaak’s self-titled Monkeytown debut showcased the trio’s distinctive breakbeat sound – complete with thick curls of ambient noise and tenacious whips of techno.

Our June cover star and mystery man in the hat, Kölsch has set 2017 on fire. His glistening synths and progressive chords have once again been dominating headphones and soundsystems around the world. Fans of Kölsch will adore ‘1989’.

'Tessellations' is the epitome of what Pev has been working toward since the turn of the decade, when he wriggled loose from dubstep and honed in on rhythmic, focused, low-end UK techno. It sounds just like one of his superlative DJ sets, which always come loaded with unreleased dubs, and is basically a straight-up showcase of where his signature style is at right now.

Ellen Allien proves once again she’s an underground force to be reckoned with, serving strict, clean, powerful techno on ‘NOST’. The nine tracks may vary in energy and tone, but Alien’s level of production and razor-sharp style remains constant.

One for those lazy Sundays, 'Jardin' pleasures the ears like a feather brushing the back of the neck. It's hazy r'n'b with a dusty indie feel, Garzón-Montano's vocals, all sugary and sweet, floating atop cruising percussion and sleazy brass instruments. If you haven’t been soothed after the first listen, just do it all over again. It's no chore.

Swelling with energy and boisterous electronic music bounce, Staples' 'Big Fish Theory' was a fruitful experiment from the rapper. 'Crabs In A Bucket' gives us tasty garage beats, '745' packs the most squelchy of basslines and 'Homage' contains so many bleeps and glitches it wouldn't have been out of place on Warp Records in the '90s.

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith’s seventh album ‘The Kid’ is a rollicking trip laced with 60s psychadelia, eclectic arrangements and a hint of the cartoon show Adventure Time. From opener ‘I Am A Thought’, the LP transports you to a far away world where magic and wonder come in the sounds Smith is squeezing out of her modular gear.

A slice of otherworldly goodness from Irish producer Iglooghost, who shared a provocative vision of innovation, charm and talent on his Brainfeeder debut. As if bursting from the seams, the album is deliriously breathless, with electrifying bursts of forward-thinking, radical dance music magic in each and every track.

An album epic in scope, Lindstrøm continued to push the boundaries of what can be achieved in the realm of Nordic disco with ‘It’s Alright Between Us As It Is’. ‘Bungl (Like A Ghost)’ featuring Jenny Hval brings the ruckus, ‘Spire’ envelops you in a wall of sound and ‘Tensions’ became a fixture in the club with it’s proggy-synth MO.

This year Lee Gamble offered up another sublime project, rooted firmly in the hardcore continuum and perfectly paired with the ethos of Kode9’s Hyperdub imprint. A conflicted, contemporary exploration, ‘Mnestic Pressure’ sees Gamble explore mind and matter in a way only he does best, gliding through jungle, ambient, broke beat and submersive noise.

When listening to the jazzy walking bassline, haunting vocals and driving rhythm of ‘Widodo’, it’s clear Ricardo Villalobos is the master of stripped-back, trippy grooves. The lead track off his ‘Empirical House’ album sets the stage for a stacked release of hypnotic long players, which feels like the representation of the strong impact Villalobos has had on electronic music throughout his career. It’s his first album since 2012 and fittingly was released via Rhadoo, Petre Inspirescu and Raresh’s [a:rpia:r] imprint, the perfect storm for all minimal heads.

Python’s “deep reggaeton” blends the South American rhythm with the monochrome textures of oceanic techno. The results are spellbinding and made all the more genius by the fact that no one’s thought of mixing the two ever before. Here, tracks roll for as long as nine minutes, burrowing into the realm of pure dance music hypnotism. Hopefully the record leads to some 100bpm techno raves too.

Fronted with artwork depicting a fierce close-up of bared canine fangs, ‘World Eater’ makes no attempt to hide the intensity of its concept, referring to the “inner-beast” of collective humanity and the hurdles it stumbles at: violence, confusion, frustration. If the picture paints a thousands words, then the music paints ten thousand more. After a disarmingly gentle opening, the album tears through blistering, brutal noise, with its forays into light still maintaining a suffocating potency. As we approach apocalypse, we can at least be thankful for the sounds it inspires.

Carl Craig can take many titles, but above all he is an innovator, an experimenter, a pusher of boundaries. ‘Versus’ is his most ambitious representation of this yet, one in which he spent nine years adapting his techno catalogue into classical masterpieces designed for orchestral performance. The collection, produced with iconic pianist Francesco Tristano, is nothing short of inspiring, breathtaking even. We even caught Kevin Saunderson swaying in the main stage crowd at this year’s Movement Festival for Craig’s ‘Versus’ Detroit debut.

Floating through the cosmos on a dreamy starship headed for uncharted territory, Dauwd’s debut album ‘Theory Of Colours’ is a triumph for enchanting and moody atmospheric deep house. Whether it be the funky synth lines and swinging percussion of ‘Glass Jelly’, the encapsulating ambient tones of ‘Leitmotiv’ or wonky soundscapes in ‘Macadem Therapy’, this collection of tracks have the ability to transport the listener to Dauwd’s distinct realm of immersive electronic music. Sink in and take a ride, ‘Theory Of Colours’ is as smooth as they come.

If there’s an album on this list that is best suited for a hazy Monday morning, then it’s Amp Fiddler’s ‘Amp Dog Knights’. This is perfect hangover music. It’s soothing, funk fuelled and a homage to soulful house and hip hop from years gone by, while still having its sights set firmly on the future. Essential listening.

Honey D has been in the game for quite some time, but this year proved to be her biggest yet. Her 2017 claim to fame? A debut album titled ‘Best Of Both Worlds’ on Classic Music Company, a work of art, personal statement and social commentary that acted as both a message of empowerment and heavy dancefloor jam.

"I got realness, I just kill shit 'cause it's in my DNA," Kendrick boasts on the rattling 'DNA.' He's not talking about ending lives here, though, instead praising himself for the ability to score high on everything he does. Top marks are deserved for an album switching between the smoked out ('FEEL.'), the menacing ('HUMBLE.') and the bold ('GOD.'). It might just leave you saying 'damn' at the end of it.

Umfang proves you don’t need repetitive beats to make techno gripping. Recorded almost entirely as live takes on a pair of Boss DR 202s (with input from an x0xb0x and Korg Volca FM synth), ‘Symbolic Use Of Light’ is an exercise in the power of restraint. Arresting rhythms and ghostly tones flicker across sparse, and at times beatless, arrangements, packing the LP full of off-kilter energy. Even when ramping up the ante to banger status like on ‘Where Is She’, the sense of space remains interwoven between the mule-like drum kicks and steady acid patterns. A testament to the ‘less is more’ MO.

After whetting the appetites of fans with a fabriclive mix that contained almost exclusively original material, Dan Snaith released his first Daphni album in five years in 2017. ‘Joli Mai’ turned out to be 12 tracks of glittering and emotive house music that kept dancefloors and home listeners happy.

12 years on from their seminal ‘Nite Versions’ album, Soulwax made a welcome return to long player territory with the chugging, heavy-hitting ‘From Deewee’. Best listened to live where the Dewaele brothers suit up with their band (including three drum kits), the album is another great addition to the Ghent brothers’ already booming discography.

It’s the Balearic trinity of Gerd Jansen, Mark Barrott and Philip Lauer, here to transport you to the Ibizan terraces of yore, when dancefloors were illuminated by the moon and the stars rather than tacky nightclub branding and shitty laser shows. Not only that, but Talamanca System is the trio’s way of saying that the island still carries that spirit today, if you just look in the right places, and whether or not you’re a Ibiza regular, this album will transport you there right away.

Joyful. Triumphant. Downright f-u-n. All valid ways to describe ‘Where Are We Going’, which is pumped full of Octo Octa’s stunning deep house. Every year an album or two nails the genre and this is one of them, a superlative example of timeless dance music.

House and techno can sometimes feel a little stale but in the hands of Actress it’s transformed into this wildly funky and brilliantly weird thing, in which soulful impulses are buried deep under distortion and fug. On ‘AZD’ the Londoner goes deep, psychedelic and jackin’ all at once and he continues to make dance music that sounds like nothing else out.

Sinjin Hawke bided his time before releasing the bass odyssey that is ‘First Opus’. There was a six-year wait between this and his last major body of work (discounting the first Visceral Minds comp) and you can just imagine him in his studio, most likely a kind of sci-fi uber lair, carefully finessing each mind-boggling beat. This kind of perfectionism is what drew Kanye to call Hawke in on production duties and it’s also lead to one of the finest debut LPs in the far-reaching “bass” genre of recent years. And across the whole of dance music, it’s definitely one of 2017’s best.

In a way, The xx’s third studio album ‘I See You’ served as a showcase for the well groomed amalgamation of talents of its three members: Romy Madley Croft, Oliver Sim and Jamie xx. Already in a difficult position thanks to being a follow up to two incredibly well received albums (their self-titled debut in 2009 and 2012’s ‘Coexist’), ‘I See You’ didn’t disappoint with its bare, heart-wrenching songwriting and top-tier Jamie xx production that continues to help The xx ascend as an uncomparable, genre-defying band.

Maya Jane Coles had no issue leaving her fan base yearning for productions, waiting no less than three years to unveil the first tease of a new production. But to make up for her absence, her ‘Take Flight’ return was comprised of a walloping 24 tracks. Coles’ follow up to her debut album stayed true to her dusky, signature tones with standouts like ‘Cherry Bomb’ while unveiling a more vulnerable, emotional side of the oft low-key producer by tackling taut topics like depression and sexual desire throughout.

So good, it warranted being heard live four times. Three times in London and once at Glastonbury we were covered in goosebumps as Sampha made his way through tender, heartfelt songs. Only those with the thickest of skin couldn't be touched by 'Timmy's Prayer' or ode to his late mother '(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano'. A Mercury Prize is now sitting on his mantelpiece and rightly so.

Weaving together sounds spanning twinkling chimes to his father David Seaton’s mellifluous clarinet and oboe tones, Call Super’s ‘Arpo’ showcases techno that glistens rather than bludgeons. Textures bubble, slide and melt with gleeful spontaneity, like a youngster curiously peering into a room of adults then dashing away once spied. At once nuanced and scintillating, ‘Arpo’ recalls the wistful fog of a wandering daydream.

Simon Green, better known as Bonobo, nabbed Mixmag’s February 2017 cover alongside the release of his sixth studio album ‘Migration’. His feathery, downtempo take on electronic music has made him a standout and favorite of our Label Of The Year Ninja Tune throughout the years, but ‘Migration’ was the apex for the talented Los Angeles-based, London-born artists. Inspired by landscapes and “people and their effect on the environments as they move and settle within them”, the LP was powerful through its delicate subtlety, but also thanks to its ability to provide timely and necessary commentary about the world around us.

Fusing emotive synth lines and a soulful motif with catchy melodies and captivating soundscapes, Joe Goddard’s album ‘Electric Lines’ showcases contemporary electronic pop with strong appeal. As one of the creative minds behind Hot Chip, it’s refreshing to hear Joe Goddard’s solo material where he holds nothing back to deliver his message.

When Jacques Greene finally made his full-length debut this year the scene and indeed the world took notice. A cohesive, highly personal project, ‘Feel Infinite’ is every bit as emotional and introverted as the name would suggest.

Nine albums deep into her mighty discography, Björk shows no signs of running out of ideas. In fact, she sounds completely refreshed. If 2015 album ‘Vulnicura’ was an outlet to express an inner darkness and free her mind the shadow of her divorce, it worked. Submerged in a heartfelt and defiant feeling of lust for life, characterised by both airy flutes, organic samples and spiky, dynamic bases, ‘Utopia’ is both a celebration of the natural world and a call-to-action to challenge those who endanger its inhabitants.

Combining dreamy pop layers with techno-informed foundations, Kelly Lee Owens’ eponymous debut album is a transportative listen that channels evocative moods into accessible arrangements. Her voice glides with stirring beauty above the production (aside from on sole instrumental ‘Bird’), inviting listeners to lose themselves in her emotionally rich world.

LCD got back to what they do best: moving between brooding, Joy Division-esque epics, angular punk-funk ditties with a decent smattering of acid squelch, and of course those acerbic lyrics.

On his third album, jazz bassist Stephen Bruner invited us into a kaleidoscopic world of jazz, soul, soft rock and video game funk which recalled everything from Stevie Wonder to Outkast.

Jlin took a foundation of jittering footwork rhythms and turned it into a piece of sprawling, chaotic, at times exhausting, yet always enthralling piece of musical engineering.

Arca’s third album featured his voice on nine of its 13 tracks, bringing a new level of humanity and emotional depth to an artist who had always impressed with his innovative and obtuse sound designs.

While Special Request arrived amid a wave of breakbeat nostalgia in 2013, this is so, so much more. Not only Special Request’s most definitive work but probably Paul Woolford’s magnum opus.

“I tour the city in an Addison Lee” said 21-year-old Momodou Jallow, and in summer 2017, his music could pretty much be heard booming out of every taxi in the UK. Put simply, the sound of young Britain in 2017.

Four Tet 'New Energy'

Kieran Hebden in familiar territory: from the majestic ‘Two Thousand and Seventeen’ to the more club-focused ‘SW9 9SL’, this was an album that seeped further into your pores on each listen.

Kelela’s combination of on-point, boundary pushing production and sultry r’n’b vocals showed no sign of going stale as she once again marked herself out as one of the most singular talents of our times.

Mount Kimbie 'Love What Survives'

Mount Kimbie confirmed themselves as one of the most compelling propositions in modern British music with 11 tracks brimming with post-punk atmospherics and full of restrained anguish.

Bicep 'Bicep'

“We wanted to step out of our comfort zone,” says Bicep’s Andy of the Belfast duo’s debut LP. “Obviously, it’s not an album full of club tunes. Before we finished it, I worried that it was too chilled.” He needn’t have. How many DJ/producer duo’s debut albums make the UK Top 20 these days? Especially while resolutely refusing to rest on past laurels or sneak in their well-known anthems (for example ‘Just’) at the very end? The fact that ‘Bicep’ sounded simultaneously classic and undeniably contemporary was its secret weapon: that, and how it got better with every repeat play. “We’ve done eight years of releasing 12”s and had established our name already,” reasons Matt “so it wasn’t like we were a new act. We wanted to make a statement, one digestible piece of work, and push forward. It’s not made for the charts.” And yet the campaign ensured that it was Ninja Tune’s most successful electronic project in year, and its success has been complemented perfectly by Bicep’s new live show which has been knocking festivals dead all over: the musical muscles don’t stop flexing in this outfit. “It’s been our busiest year by a mile,” they nod. “We’ve been doing so much every single day – and the new live show means we need to be at the airport four hours earlier!”

But it’s not just the chart position that shows how much the album has crossed over; new fans have appeared in the most unexpected places. “Elton John played one of our tracks on his ‘Rocket Man’ radio show on Beats 1. That was definitely the weirdest one.” Beyond Elton, everyone from Annie Mac to Sasha and Sven have supported the album. “It fits with the modern crowd and struck a chord with the older crew. The whole year has seen the biggest change in terms of how we’ve been operating. It’s been crazy!” Topped off by the Mixmag’s Album Of The Year award? “A huge thank you, Mixmag, for all your support! We’re over the moon.” Ninja tune co-founder Jon More of Coldcut is also a happy man. “It’s a real honour,” he says, “[and it’s] amazing when our faith in a record – sometimes against the grain – plays out.”

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