St Vincent – Masseduction

A kind of teasing irony is detectable on Masseduction, a musical striptease on which Annie Clark – who performs as St Vincent – exposes herself on her own terms. The results are spectacular: full of drama and gratifyingly bizarre sonic choices. Clark makes a rock-star power play by embracing thrilling glam traditions while producing something strange, new and unequivocally moving. Read the full review


Kendrick Lamar – Damn

Damn is a hit in every sense, earning hundreds of millions of streams and seven Grammy nominations, but it’s true success is the complexity of its vision. With an incendiary beginning and deeply personal social commentary, Lamar’s fourth album reveals an artist at his real and metaphorical peak. Read the full review


SZA – Ctrl

Honesty is often seen as the holy grail in pop, but when it’s served up as nakedly as it was on Ctrl, Solána Imani Rowe’s debut album, it can stop you in your tracks. This is the perfect year for a record with such a defiantly female point of view, from decisions over leg-shaving to stark admissions that she can’t open up emotionally. It seemed intimate but never one-note, and signalled an artist in complete ctrl. Read the full review

SZA. Photograph: Victoria Will/Invision/AP


Lorde – Melodrama

If Melodrama looked on paper like the work of an artist who’d had her head turned by success, it turned out to be anything but. The songs on Melodrama that depict the messy entanglements of early 20s life are as incisive, perceptive and shudder-inducingly familiar as the sketches of teenage suburbia on its predecessor. Read the full review


Perfume Genius – No Shape

On his most sumptuously realised work, Mike Hadreas merely wants to be unbound, to “hover with no shape” – in part, as a consequence of living with Crohn’s disease and the binary that exists around gender. Magnificently, his inventive score and dramatic arrangements more than live up to the challenge, as Hadreas swaps forms, time and again. Read the full review


LCD Soundsystem – American Dream

American Dream, for all its declarative intent, didn’t so much chronicle the state of the nation as James Murphy’s place in it now; the middle-aged cool guy in a middle-aged cool band, lamenting relationships and heroes, love and ageing. It is exquisite. A moody, pulsating epic that wears its references – Berlin-era Bowie, 80s Talking Heads, the entire first decade of DFA Records’ output – without being wearying. Read the full review

James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem.
Moody and epic … James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem. Photograph: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for FYF


The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding

A Deeper Understanding contains an air of overwhelming but vague melancholy, yet for all Granduciel’s well-documented problems with anxiety and depression, it never threatened to tip over into anything more disturbing. Instead, the War on Drugs summoned that most delicious of moods: autumnal, slightly hungover, just a little sorry for oneself. Read the full review


Thundercat – Drunk

When the world outside is weird, let’s hear it for an album that processes it with absurdist humour and George Clinton-shaped surrealism. Drunk is the third release by LA jazz dude Steve Bruner, AKA Thundercat, and has finally taken him from being a kooky bass-playing Robin to super-producer Flying Lotus’s Batman all the way to headline solo artist and one of this year’s breakthrough names. Read the full review


Kelela – Take Me Apart

In revealing vulnerability, Kelela shows she is no longer interested in the cool pose of alternative R&B. She continues to work with avant-garde collaborators, but her main musical touchstone for Take Me Apart was Janet Jackson. Yes, the sub bass remains, as do the icy synths, but these future sounds are put to the service of classic structures, and powerful pop songs are the result. Read the full review

Kelela performs during Quebec City, Canada.
Future sounds … Kelela. Photograph: Alice Chiche/AFP/Getty Images


Richard Dawson – Peasant

There was something in Peasant’s detailed vignettes of dark ages beggars, weavers and prostitutes that felt unexpectedly resonant in 2017, a timely work from another time. Read a full review


Jane Weaver – Modern Kosmology

Icily clear vocals provide a satisfying foil to the spacey psych-revivalism of Liverpool-born singer’s newest album – the latest chapter in a three-decade career that has taken in Britpop and folktronica. Modern Kosmology is at once earthbound and otherworldly, with mesmerising vocals balancing on a whirring undercurrent of steadily throbbing synths. Read a full review


Wolf Alice – Visions of a Life

Nobody has disrupted the “death of indie” narrative quite like Wolf Alice. The London foursome released an accomplished debut in 2015; now their second album proves their ability to fashion thrillingly modern music from the sonic customs of shoegaze and noisy 80s alt-rock was no fluke. Frontwoman Ellie Rowsell skips between sotto voce spoken word and a feral screech, while the band’s tinkering with the indie-rock formula means there’s never a dull moment. Read a full review

Wolf Alice.
Never a dull moment … Wolf Alice. Photograph: Christian Sinibaldi/The Guardian


Tyler, the Creator – Flower Boy

The enfant terrible of hip-hop returned this year with a surprisingly gentle record, on which mellifluous melodies and gently piping synths – along with the dulcet tones of Frank Ocean, Kali Uchis and Anna of the North – softened Tyler’s abrasive flow. Whether or not this was in fact the rapper’s coming out album (something its lyrics hinted at), it was undoubtedly a lovelier one than anybody expected. Read a full review


J Hus – Common Sense

This was a bumper year for J Hus, who reached the Top 10 thanks to an irresistible blend of grime and Afrobeats. As Common Sense proves, it’s not just his infectious take on African sounds that have propelled the London rapper into the big league – it’s also his witty, inventive and refreshingly self-deprecating lyrics. Read a full review


The Horrors – V

Southend outfit the Horrors were never an average indie band: instead of meat-and-potatoes guitar-pop, their 2007 debut bristled with nightmarish garage and goth rock. A decade later, they’ve produced their most celebrated record yet. V swings from busy post-punk to languid electronica, with the morose new wave of closer Something to Remember Me By providing a gratifying climax. Read a full review

Not your average indie band … Faris Badwan of the Horrors.
Not your average indie band … Faris Badwan of the Horrors. Photograph: Shirlaine Forrest/WireImage


Father John Misty – Pure Comedy

Ever since his 2015 album I Love You, Honeybear, Josh Tillman’s wry surveys of contemporary America have felt increasingly indispensable. Clever, funny and usually despairing, his scabrous social commentary takes on a less arch and more heartfelt tone here, with acidic lyrics cushioned by gorgeous strings and calmly plodding piano. Read a full review


Drake – More Life

Very much not an album, according to Drake – instead this “playlist” gave him an opportunity to show off his taste by teaming up with his favourite artists. Baritone London rapper Giggs makes multiple appearances, as does silky-voiced Brum singer Jorja Smith. Thanks to solo tracks like Passionfruit, More Life is also proof that Drake’s tropical-tinged blend of rap and R&B is as seductive as ever. Read a full review


Stormzy – Gang Signs and Prayer

Effervescent grime meets an unexpected digression into R&B and gospel on Stormzy’s debut. While songs like Cigarettes & Cush showcase an impressive British spin on rap/R&B fusion, the grime-centric tracks lift the record into another league. With infectious production by the likes of Sir Spyro, songs such as Bad Boys and Big for Your Boots rival the master lyricist’s beloved previous singles. Read a full review

In another league … Stormzy. Photograph: Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty Images


Laura Marling – Semper Femina

The Brit’s sixth album is a gorgeous collection of lightly folky fare - more pop friendly than her recent records, but as characteristically poised and lush. The title, based on a poem by Virgil, roughly translates as “always woman”, and the record pairs lyrics about femininity, friendship and sexuality with heady, sensual production. Read a full review


Sampha – Process

After years spent lending his vocals to tracks by Kanye, Drake and Frank Ocean, this year’s Mercury winner created a stunning debut. A collection of heart-rending ballads and sublime electronica, Process puts Sampha’s velvety voice front and centre, the beauty of its tone belying the album’s heavy themes, including the fallout from the death of his mother. Read a full review


Cigarettes After Sex – Cigarettes After Sex

This Texas band was propelled into millions of living rooms across the world earlier this year when their spellbinding 2012 song Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby was used in the TV adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale. Their debut album, released in June, proved just as haunting and hypnotic. Backed by gently foreboding dreampop, frontman Greg Gonzales’s delicate voice is reminiscent of Belle and Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch. Read a full review

Cigarettes After Sex.
Gently foreboding dreampop … Cigarettes After Sex. Photograph: Ebru Yildiz


King Krule – The Ooz

Few contemporary artists sound as much like themselves as Archy Marshall, who seems to have bagsied a whole set of sadly chiming chords to go with his jarring baritone. His sonic sphere is so overwhelming that it often feels like another planet – the space-age desolation of Czech One and serotonin-depleted jazz of Lonely Blue float in a hinterland between this world and another, while the monochrome punk of Dum Surfer takes rock tropes to a parallel universe. Read a full review


Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory

Big Fish, the almost-title track of Staples’ second record, seethes at injustice over amusingly bouncy synths that blend old-school rap with bleeding-edge electronica. Staples takes this kind of combination to great heights on the album, which climaxes with the staggeringly brilliant Yeah Right, on which tinny trap entwines with bizarre pop parody by producer Sophie (listen for a guest spot by Kendrick Lamar). Read a full review

Vince Staples.
Genre-blending… Vince Staples. Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian


Protomartyr – Relatives in Descent

Gothic post-punk is fuelled by a blast of fury on the Detroit rock band’s latest. Vocalist Joe Casey airs his disgust at contemporary life – “I don’t want to hear those vile trumpets anymore” – backed by a heavy, unyielding rhythm section that is satisfyingly cathartic. Read a full review


The National – Sleep Well Beast

Music designed to soundtrack a midlife crisis was injected with unexpected exuberance on the Ohio band’s seventh record. From Turtleneck’s gnarly guitar-shredding to the breakneck tapestry of beats backing I’ll Still Destroy You, Matt Berninger and co transformed the sorrows of middle age into something strangely rapturous. Read a full review

Matt Beringer of the National.
Strangely rapturous … Matt Berninger of the National. Photograph: Mat Hayward/WireImage


Paramore – After Laughter

The perpetually feuding emo band returned last spring with a surprisingly jovial collection of tropical house-tinted powerpop. Revelling in the funky guitars and frantic synths of the 80s, the trio channelled their emo roots into the lyrics, which retain the raw drama of their previous work and share stories of romantic tension and torturous experiences with depression. Read a full review


Marika Hackman – I’m Not Your Man

Opening with the frisky but superbly droll Boyfriend, the second record by the Londoner saw her expand on the bewitching folk of her first album and journey into more startling and direct territory. As its arty cover suggested, I’m Not Your Man offered a compelling self-portrait, with Hackman frankly discussing her sexuality and her flaws. Read a full review


Slowdive – Slowdive

The Reading shoegazers last released an album in the mid-90s, when the genre was blighted by backlash and mockery. But the music world is again embracing spacey guitars and wispy vocals. Not that the band are resting on past glories: their fourth album unexpectedly ups the game, feeling more accomplished and engaging than anything they’ve done before. Read a full review


Alvvays – Antisocialites

This Canadian crew channel the spirit of C86 with their jangly tunes – yet on their second record they embrace the slickness eschewed by their predecessors. Antisocialites might be a paean to indie’s formative years – In Undertow features Teenage Fanclub’s Norman Blake; Lollipop (Ode to Jim) is directed towards the Jesus & Mary Chain’s Jim Reid – but it is also a blast of fresh air. Read a full review

Blast of fresh air … Alvvays. Photograph: Arden Wray


Girl Ray – Earl Grey

Although Girl Ray make gawky guitar pop that recalls both kooky indie bands like Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and DIY post-punk, their debut sounds unmistakably like the work of three teenage girls coming of age in 2017 – which indeed it is. The songs on this breakup album are peppered with amusing references to the minutiae of modern life, while frontwoman Poppy Hankin’s unvarnished, London-accented vocals are warm and vivacious. Read a full review


Charlotte Gainsbourg – Rest

The title track of Gainsbourg’s fifth album is a sultry reworking of Walking in the Air, which then segues into a peppy slice of disco in the form of Sylvia Says. The lyrics of Rest – the first album for which Gainsbourg has written the lyrics – explores the death of her father and her sister. This subject matter sometimes uncomfortably contrasts with erotic vocals and sensual beats, but it’s an undeniably engrossing juxtaposition. Read a full review


Four Tet – New Energy

Kieran Hebden returned in the autumn with this heavenly record, which may have promised fresh things in its title, but instead retreated into the electronica luminary’s past – to gratifying effect. Flowing between house and chill-out music and more, and incorporating Indian influences, Hebden’s sound experiments are a salve whatever the tempo. Read a full review


Miguel – War & Leisure

The R&B singer’s voice is as seductive as ever, but here he fills his boudoir with decidedly psychedelic aromas. Guitars twang and heave like D’Angelo or Lenny Kravitz at their most languorous, as Miguel traverses tropical funk, lo-fi grunge and heavy, head-nodding hip-hop. When it soars into its upper register, his voice is one of pop’s most powerful weapons. Read a full review

Singer-songwriter and actor Miguel.
Seductive pop with a psychedelic edge … Miguel. Photograph: Sarah Lee/The Guardian


Juana Molina – Halo

Molina was known in her native Argentina for a sketch-comedy show, which she ended in the mid-90s to work on music. The title of her seventh album, Halo, refers to a spooky Argentine folktale, and the music is similarly unsettling, with Molina whispering her vocals over heady waves of percussion and snaking bass. Read a full review


Nick Hakim – Green Twins

As the surreally gruesome album artwork suggests (it features a slime-trailing eyeball admiring itself in the mirror), Hakim’s debut album gives classic soul a psychedelic sheen. Like the memory of a dream, Green Twins is hazily impressionistic, and its subject matter includes a musing that his girlfriend bears a resemblance to God. Read a full review


Rhiannon Giddens – Freedom Highway

Named after a protest song by Roebuck Staples, Freedom Highway views contemporary racism through the prism of historical horrors, including the bombing of an African American church. As the leader of old-time string band Carolina Chocolate Drops, Giddens has long drawn on the past, but here she also weaves rap and funk into traditional sounds. Read a full review

Songs of protest … Rhiannon Giddens.
Songs of protest … Rhiannon Giddens. Photograph: Tanya Rosen-Jones


Sparks – Hippopotamus

On album 23, the flashes of brilliance that run through Sparks’ madcap chamber pop burn brighter than they have for decades. Always funny, usually fascinating and occasionally touching, Hippopotamus is a relentlessly entertaining record – even the song titles (What The Hell Is It This Time?, I Wish You Were Fun) make for a rollicking read. Read a full review


Baxter Dury – Prince of Tears

Opening with a hilarious and obscene twist on Will Smith’s Miami, Baxter Dury’s fifth record is a self-assured series of wry stories and character studies. Dury half-sings/half-speaks in gruff Cockney tones, clearly unafraid of comparisons with his father, Ian – but his work more than stands on its own two feet. Read a full review


Cloud Nothings – Life Without Sound

Cloud Nothings began as an exuberant pop-punk outfit. On their fourth album, their buoyancy is slightly deflated but the genre’s driving riffs and ear-wormy choruses are very much intact. Along with the scuzzy guitars are surprisingly spiritual lyrics about coping with hardship and fear. Read a full review


Moses Sumney – Aromanticism

The debut album by this Californian singer is a collection of deconstructed soul music that pours forth from a shattered heart. Evoking the candlelit heartbreak sound of Jeff Buckley and the mournful warmth of vintage soul, Sumney sings of losing the will to love with an exquisite sadness. Read a full review


Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile – Lotta Sea Lice

She’s the Aussie singer-songwriter whose bright, witty debut album made her an instant indie star; he’s the goofy Philadelphian who once played guitar with the War on Drugs. Together they make a distinctive, slacker-style pairing on their collaborative record, which brings together Vile and Barnett’s similarly twangy accents on new tracks, covers and each other’s old material. Read a full review

Bright and witty … Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile.
Bright and witty … Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile Photograph: Record Company Handout


Julie Byrne – Not Even Happiness

Fingerpicked guitar and diaphanous vocals coalesce on the second record by Julie Byrne. Fingers slide loudly up and down the fretboard as she breathily relays her impressions of the natural world, gleaned during an adulthood spent roaming across the US. Not Even Happiness is the sound of a modern-day troubadour searching in solitude. Read a full review


Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – The Kid

After leaving university, LA musician Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith became enamoured with a 1960s synthesiser called the Buchla 100. Six albums later and she’s still not finished experimenting with it. On The Kid, lush soundscapes recall verdant forests humming with wildlife, accompanied by a winning sheen of wonkiness. Read a full review


The xx – I See You

On their third album, the London trio finally sheds the excessively hushed and incredibly influential electronica of their 2009 debut. Instead, they turn to the kind of vintage samples producer Jamie xx has long used in his solo work, setting richer, more uptempo backdrops against mournful dialogues about romantic disappointment and isolation. Read a full review

The xx … (from left) Oliver Sim, Romy Madley Croft, Jamie xx.
The xx … from left, Oliver Sim, Romy Madley Croft and Jamie xx. Photograph: Suki Dhanda/The Observer


Powerdance – The Lost Art of Getting Down

DJ Luke Solomon is the brains behind the collective Powerdance, which also counts Hot Chip’s Al Doyle among its members. Their aim: inject fun and flamboyance back into dance music. Inspired by the queer club scene, the Lost Art of Getting Down is a funk and disco-suffused slice of retro ebullience.


Les Amazones d’Afrique – République Amazone

This all-female, gender-equality-focused Malian supergroup features Mariam (of Amadou and Mariam fame) alongside 11 other west African musicians. Their debut sees them take turns on vocal duties, with producer Liam Farrell weaving future-facing dub, electronica and R&B into traditional African sounds along the way. Read a full review

Les Amazones D’Afrique
Les Amazones D’Afrique Photograph: PR


Mount Eerie – A Crow Looked at Me

The most recent album by Washington musician Phil Elverum is a shattering account of the death of his wife, illustrator-musician Geneviève Castrée. Devastatingly direct in its portrayal of the minutiae of loss, Elverum relays – over plainly plucked guitar – difficult conversations with their one-year-old daughter and tormented memories of discarding his wife’s clothes. It isn’t an easy listen, but Elverum conveys his grief with starkness and potency. Read more


Vijay Iyer Sextet – Far from Over

Pianist Iyer covers a huge amount of ground here, taking in blues, folk, post-bop, electronica and south Indian rhythms. Despite its heady combination of influences the pace is relentless, as tradition merges with innovation. Read a full review


Lisa Knapp – Till April Is Dead: A Garland of May

Knapp’s paean to May Day takes in layers of babbling spoken word, frantic rhythms and birdsong samples, all while warmly evoking bygone times. On Searching for Lambs, Blur’s Graham Coxon joins in, while folk star Mary Hampton provides accompaniment on the enchanting Bedfordshire May Day Carol. It’s a kaleidoscopic trip through Britain’s past. Read a full review


Trio Da Kali and Kronos Quartet – Ladilikan

The Malian group and the San Francisco-based quartet came together for this adventurous collaboration, which blends experimental western strings with African traditional sounds. Trio Da Kali specialise in west African griot-style music, but on Ladilikan they spread their wings, inspired by gospel singer Mahalia Jackson on a reworked God Shall Wipe All Tears Away. Read more

This article contains affiliate links to products. Our journalism is independent and is never written to promote these products although we may earn a small commission if a reader makes a purchase.

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Kitty Empire’s best pop of 2017
From Jay-Z to Taylor Swift, it’s been a year of high political and personal drama in the worlds of rap, pop and rock

Kitty Empire

10, Dec, 2017 @12:00 AM