Top 50 albums of 2017
There were plenty of great artist albums released in our scene this year, more than ably demonstrating how the long-player format is still crucially important to our world. From emotive techno, razor-edged electro, abstract pop through garage-laden house, it's been another vintage year for electronic music. Here’s our top 50 albums of 2017...
50. Ellen Allien ‘Nost’
49. Bjørn Torske & Prins Thomas ‘Square One’
48. Sense MC ‘The Elephant In The Room’
47. Beastie Respond ‘Information City’
46. Conduct ‘Oma’
Blu Mar Ten Music
45. Andrew Weatherall ‘Qualia’
Hoga Nord Records
44. Kelela ‘Take Me Apart’
43. Overlook ‘Smoke Signals’
42. Rødhåd ‘Anxious’
41. The Heliocentrics ‘A World Of Masks’
40. Emmanuel ‘Rave Culture’
A R T S
39. FJAAK ‘FJAAK’
38. Marc Romboy ‘Voyage de la Planete’
37. Biogen ‘Halogen Continues’
36. Laurel Halo ‘Dust’
35. Moiré ‘No Future’
34. Yuksek ‘Nous Horizon’
33. Calibre ‘Grow’
The Nothing Special
32. Pessimist ‘Pessimist’
Blackest Ever Black
31. Dead Man’s Chest ‘Trilogy’
30. Sully ‘Escape’
29. Lapalux ‘Ruinism’
28. Second Storey ‘Lucid Locations’
27. Jlin ‘Black Origami’
26. Earl Grey ‘Headwinds’
25. Peverelist ‘Tesselations’
24. Luke Vibert ‘Garave Vol 1’
23. Forest Swords ‘Compassion’
22. Clark ‘Death Peak’
21. Talaboman ‘The Night Land’
20. Honey Dijon ‘Best Of Both Worlds’
Classic Music Company
19. Steffi ‘World Of The Waking State’
18. Nathan Fake ‘Providence’
17. KiNK ‘Playground’
16. Sterac Electronics ‘Things to Think About’
15. Perc ‘Bitter Music’
14. Kelly Lee Owens ‘Kelly Lee Owens’
13. Rebekah ‘Fear Paralysis’
12. LCD Soundsystem ‘American Dream’
11. Stormzy ‘Gang Signs & Prayer’
10. Ikonika ‘Distractions’
Ikonika continued doing what she does best this year — navigating electronica by way of cutting-edge cross-pollination. Picking up where her last LP left off four years ago, the new effort is a fun ‘n’ funky affair, with a tendency to tug at the heart-strings. Whether it’s the dense cinematica of ‘Do I Watch It Like A Cricket Match?’, ‘80s-styled grime of ‘Sacrifice’, or dream-pop-cum-industrial number ‘Hazefield’, the album is bound together with smooth, alluring synth lines and the warm glow of neon nostalgia. Yet there is urgency too — expressed through darting keys, arpeggios and hectic layering elsewhere. ‘Distractions’ speaks of a hyper-commerciality that’s ever-present now, but without any sense of grim dystopia, leaving wonderment and discovery to flow freely.
09. Juju & Jordash ‘Sis-boom-bah’
No one sounds like Juju & Jordash. Whether in the studio or cooking up one of their fully improvised live shows, the Amsterdam-based Dekmantel duo are in a class of their own. October’s ‘Sis-boom-bah’ showed them to be not only masters of their hardware, but musicians with serious playing chops, with the ability to weave sounds, textures and different sonic strokes with a painterly style. There are passages of mellifluous deep house next to Middle Eastern-sounding exotica; gurgling bits of languid deep space ambiance next to more driven and club-ready passages of soft techno. It all makes for an album built with a spirit of real jazz, on-the-fly evolution and the sort of artistic expression that you simply cannot fake.
08. Maya Jane Coles ‘Take Flight’
Maya Jane Coles returned with her highly anticipated sophomore album, ‘Take Flight’ this summer. Having scooped Best Producer at our Best Of British awards in 2015, this time she passionately procured all parts of the creative process herself — from writing, producing, arranging, mixing and performing, down to the intricate aesthetics of creating the artwork, and collaborating with fellow singer-songwriters Chelou, GAPS and Wendy Rae Fowler, who all add to the diversity of her latest long-player. The breaks-driven ‘Cherry Bomb’ dominated airwaves, the beautifully hypnotic synths of ‘Won’t Let You Down’ were all over club soundsystems, while ‘Blackout’ remains a mesmerising blend of warm basslines and delectable guitar riffs, with Maya’s dreamy vocals alluding to stories of restless nights. The album moves through many moods, soundscapes and tempos — a landmark.
07. Bicep ‘Bicep’
After seven years fine-tuning skills in the studio and booth, Belfast wunderkinds Matt McBriar and Andy Ferguson, aka Bicep, unveiled their much-anticipated debut album, an accomplished showcase of sounds that have defined rave culture for far longer than the pair have been on the scene. The sum total is melancholic, reflective, ethereal and spatial, with musicality in the kind of epic proportions that can only work in those moments, and those situations. From downtempo tracks like ‘Drift’ and ‘Ayaya’ to ‘Spring’’s piano riff, loose percussive tops and distant vocal calls carving out pure acid house joy — packed with hands-in-the-air temptation — these tracks, alongside closer ‘Aura’’s powerful low-end refrains, straight fours and gentle background melodies, and the snare-packed ‘Kites’ with its delicate, twinkling synths, will resonate amongst those yearning for more smiles at parties. A genuinely positive experience.
06. Octo Octa ‘Where Are We Going’
There are few producers that can do fun, melodic, underground house quite as well as Octo Octa. Across various EPs and an LP on 100% Silk, the Brooklyn producer had already proved it, but nobody expected what she’d achieve on her sophomore album for San Francisco’s Honey Soundsystem in April. For the most part on the LP her tracks feel more like songs, with lead synths that really resonate amongst the warm, rubbery drums of tracks such as ‘Where Are We Going’. There are also steamier efforts like ‘On Your Lips’ that recall the grace and elegance of Larry Heard alongside bristling old school efforts with infectious garage skips that will enliven any DJ set. Add into that deep space atmospherics and you have a fresh and well- informed house sound that’s both timeless and universal.
05. Goldie ‘The Journey Man’
‘The Journey Man’ was a welcome surprise this year, coming off the back of a set of live dates in which Goldie performed with an orchestra. Close in mood to his seminal ‘Timeless’ LP, it’s an ambitious, thrilling record from the start. The wicked d&b of ‘Horizons’, with its female vocal and squidgy electro-funk bass make sure the album hits the ground running. ‘Prism’ is a futuristic scuttle of breaks and technoid clanks, while ‘Castaway’ taps into funked-up, horn-led broken-beat. More surprising are jazz piano/ vocal ballads ‘Run, Run, Run’ and ‘Truth’ (featuring José James), which work incredibly well in the wider context of the album. Over 16 tracks, ‘The Journey Man’ achieves a similar trick to ‘Timeless’, sweeping you up into its own universe. Joyous.
04. Zed Bias ‘Different Response’
While Exit may have favoured more rowdy business in recent years, the deeper leanings of label-head dBridge mean a softer side has long been present, too. Continuing in the vein of his 2016 ‘Driftin’ EP, Zed Bias offered up soul-food for hungry dancefloors on his debut LP for the imprint back in September. Framing velveteen vox from some of the country’s most promising young talents (see: Harleighblu, Eva Lazarus, Bahia) within playful footwork structures, Dave Jones again develops a sound that’s both current and forward-thinking; that fits in, yet is completely his own. While the bouncing club tracks of classic Bias are far from forgotten, it’s subtle, grooving numbers that render this so sublime — and the combination of both that makes it one of the most Exit records that Exit Records has ever released.
03. Fever Ray ‘Plunge’
Eight years after her self-titled debut as Fever Ray, The Knife’s Karin Dreijer returned in October to drop her second album, ‘Plunge’. Where Dreijer’s first dealt with the issues of motherhood and domestic concerns like dishwasher tablets, ‘Plunge’ tackles separation, along with the excitement and anxiety attached to sexual desire and curiosity — taking the thrilling abstract palette of ‘Fever Ray’ and injecting it with a heavy dose of danger. The other notable difference is Dreijer’s vocals are no longer fogged by pitch-shifting, with the Swede delivering more direct lyrics than ever before. After an almost flawless, leftfield pop debut, it was a hard task to deliver a worthy follow-up, but by adding mania and deconstructed club production, ‘Plunge’ feels like a reincarnation of ‘Fever Ray’. Personally, the listener is left unsure where Dreijer is at, but artistically, it was well worth the wait.
02. Special Request ‘Belief System’
Don’t be fooled. By releasing a double album, you might have surmised that Paul Woolford was moving his revisionist d&b project, Special Request, on from harking back to the genre’s grimy genesis (à la 2013’s ace ‘Soul Music’ LP) to the more respectable Mercury Prize-garlanded phase it entered the mid/late ‘90s. But coffee table-friendly this definitely isn’t. Special Request’s return to the album format in October felt almost like he was crafting a trilogy: the first part all razor-edged electro and acid, the second packed with junglist rollers, before the final third dropped the beats altogether and took a complete left-turn into eerie ambient replete with orchestral strings. After 23 tracks, we were still left wanting more.
01. Call Super ‘Arpo’
Freed from the dancefloor structures of his singles, Call Super’s 2014 ambient ‘Suzi Ecto’ LP had an almost novelistic sense of detail, creating a unique world where he could explore complex ideas around both hope and paranoia. This year’s ‘Arpo’ was even better, and also clearly demonstrated why sound is his chosen medium: the emotions he evokes being too ambiguous to be nailed down with anything as solid as images or words. Clarinets waft over beats that rustle like grasshoppers and electronic melodies glisten like dew, but such descriptions often sound like clichés that do no justice to an artist whose constantly morphing music so completely avoids them.
Want more? Check out our top 40 tracks of 2017.