20 must-hear albums of 2017 so far
6 Music has been celebrating the Best of 2017 so far, showcasing our favourite new music of the year.
Steve Lamacq, Lauren Laverne, Mary Anne Hobbs and Tom Ravenscroft present their picks of the year in special editions of 6 Music Recommends. Meanwhile, you can hear more presenter choices, representing the breadth of new music we’ve discovered this year, in Best of Recommends 2017, plus a selection of listener favourites in Now Playing.
After much heated debate, we've put together a list of 20 essential albums from the first half of the year, featuring new artists, fresh sounds, and the return of some old favourites, alongside our reasons why you need these records in your life.
Aldous Harding – Party
Paul Stokes: If there’s a more ironically titled album in 2017 it will have to go some way to beat Aldous Harding’s Party. Full of claustrophobic songs, that are peppered with horrible heartbreak, cruel nostalgia and resigned disappointment, something strangely reassuring and unexpected uplifting arises out of the New Zealander’s candid compositions.
Spun around tender, bare arrangements, the warmth and beauty that slowly emanates from within the album’s core ensures that while it’s not an uncomfortable listen, it’s a record that always leaves an impression.
Big Thief – Capacity
Ian Sadler: It's heartening that in 2017 a new voice can still come along that requires you to stop everything, take notice and listen. The owner of these beautiful vocals is Adrianne Lenker, singer and guitarist with Big Thief, a four-piece from New York, who have more than delivered on their early potential.
Only formed in 2015, the band are already onto their second album - Capacity is the follow-up to last year's well-received debut Masterpiece - and the band have long been championed by 6 Music, Tom Ravenscroft in particular.
The album's cover - Adrianne Lenker’s uncle cradling her when she was a baby - gives a clue to the themes of family explored on the record. Standout track Mythological Beauty, recalls a childhood accident that almost killed Adrianne, considering the impact it had on her mother. In an interview with Pitchfork, reflecting on the familial story-telling, she reveals "I’m not quite sure if I’m writing the songs from myself to my future child, or to my inner child, or from my mother to me."
Expect to hear more from this group as 2017 continues to unfold. They'll be visiting the UK for gigs in August.
Bonobo – Migration
Rowan Collinson: Continuing his unhurried ascent to becoming one the biggest global names in electronic music, Simon Green upped-sticks to Los Angeles to make this, his sixth album, as Bonobo.
On first listen Migration is another step forward for Green’s textured sound bought to wider attention by our own Gilles Peterson back in 2000, with the slow burning title track and Break Apart sprawling languidly over the opening trio of songs. But as the album carries on there’s a newly found rhythmic urgency to tracks like Kelala and Bambro Koyo Ganda and in No Reason – featuring Nick Murphy – Green has made his first crossover pop dance banger.
A future migration from the leftfield to the mainstream? After this album anything seems possible for Bonobo.
Colin Stetson – All This I Do For Glory
Sean Adams: Subterranean saxophone could be your new favourite genre. Colin Stetson turns brass into something that oscillates between disturbing and soothing.
Mary Anne Hobbs has already tweeted that this is her album of 2017, and as you're pummelled by the Tom Waits and Arcade Fire collaborator's latest opus, it's easy to hear why she's been quick to make such a statement.
Father John Misty – Pure Comedy
Sean Adams: In the movie Fight Club they turn the discarded fatty remnants of the super rich into soap, and sell it back to them.
On Pure Comedy, Mr Tillman has created a soap named troll-folk that's inhaled, frolicked with, and turned on its head the bloated, banal, baffling, benign, #basic, infotainment-viewing, gentrified, artisanal sourdough, organic hemp, free trade freebase, viral, viciously narcissistic, vacuous, self-referential, self-deprecating, listing, listless, lost children sign that's come to define Gen-Z in their rented apartments where student loan statements are used as bookmarks on David Foster Wallace novels and framed records line the walls (those nail holes will need to be filled when they move out).
It's both extraordinary and baffling but with songs that fold your soul into an origami bird there's a magic to this record on par with Elton's Yellow Brick Road or Harry Nilsson at his peak that's incredibly hard to deny the majesty contained within. Even if the subject matter is like a fallen house of Cards Against Humanity.
Ibibio Sound Machine – Uyai
Sean Adams: Writing floor fillers with plenty of cowbell is nothing new to Ibibio but with Uyai they've mastered the art of the spontaneous dance party anthem.
With infectious rhythms, alien laser synths, and writhing grooves, no previous experience nor a dancefloor is required to wriggle those limbs to these ecstatic tunes. Public health advisory: Hydrate and be aware that the morning after an Ibibio show you may ache in places you didn't realise you had muscles.
IDLES – Brutalism
Steve Lamacq: Brutalism is essentially the inside of singer Joe Talbot’s head. It’s this pinball table of thoughts and observations, being pummelled around and lighting up all these different emotions.
It’s raw, sarcastic, funny, furious, sympathetic and dismissive. I think his delivery is brilliant. It sits right on the cusp of their humane hardcore sound which comes in waves of intensity and urgency; both a bit rash and frenzied but wonderfully constructed and executed.
I really think they’ve managed to make an album which has reinvented a dark corner of indie rock.
Jane Weaver – Modern Kosmology
Sean Adams: The plaudits keep pouring in for Jane Weaver's eighth record. Which perhaps isn't surprising as it's an album that masterfully darts from avant-pop to euphoric kraut via what can be best described as psychy party music.
Like much of Weaver's previous work, there's a feeling of waterfalls in reverse and cosmic drones that gives a slightly hippie air to the songs that soar on a plume of warm synths.
Fans of Broadcast, School of Seven Bells and 2017's crop of incredible electronic records (see: Soulwax, Kelly Lee Owens, Austra, Jiln and more) should investigate this asap if Marc Riley, Mark Radcliffe, and Lauren Laverne haven't already switched you onto it with their enthusiastic disc-jockeying.
Jesca Hoop – Memories Are Now
Sean Adams: Yes, she used to be a nanny for Tom Waits & Kathleen Brennan. Yes, she's been massively bigged up by Guy Garvey. And yes, she delivered a fifth album - her first for legendary indie label Sub Pop - that has the kind of transcendent quality to it that you could be fooled into thinking that possibly some brainwashing is taking place whilst you're inhaling its melodious fug.
It's a record about topics ranging from technological disconnects of empathy to Pegasi the winged horse; a record where a breathtaking vocal rides along billowing bass-lines, sparing Fiona Apple-y percussive grooves, and psych-folk guitar plick-pluckery. It's a record that will push you deeper into its swirly cauldron of ideas until you're lost beneath its spell.
Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
Rowan Collinson: DAMN! After the sprawling, leftfield odyssey of To Pimp A Butterfly, Compton’s prodigal son might have been expected to carry on ploughing a similar experimental furrow. Instead, after rumours of double albums and free jazz excursions, DAMN arrived with 14 tracks of taught, near perfectly delivered rap, closer to Pharoahe Monch than Pharoah Saunders.
Lead track Humble may have felt like a concession to US hip hop radio, but elsewhere, DAMN feels in thrall to 1970s soul, with nods to the Stylistics on Blood and Lust, whilst the kid even squeezes in a guest appearance from Bono on ‘XXX’ and gets away with it. Where next for Kendrick is anyone’s guess, but DAMN confirms that the hype is real.
Loyle Carner – Yesterday’s Gone
Paul Stokes: One of the first things that impresses about Loyle Carner’s debut is the diverse and inspired range of samples he assembled. Co-opting joyous choirs, infectious jazz licks and vintage pianos, the Lambeth MC is clearly a committed crate-digger, as he’s weaved a rich musical tapestry to place beneath his songs.
However, equally impressive is the fact that Carner is never lost or overwhelmed by these selections. Embracing a full emotional range that flows from introspective dejection to cool triumph, the Londoner’s character is the true star as his spits cajole, challenge and charm. Yesterday’s Gone, but a bright future beckons.
Loyle also showcased his radio DJ talent earlier this year, presenting a two-hour Sunday afternoon show for 6 Music, ahead of his appearance at the 6 Music Festival in Glasgow. And his fanbase surely widened further when he brought his mum on during his Glastonbury performance of Sun of Jean, which you can watch below.
Mac DeMarco – This Old Dog
Ian Sadler: Best known for his brand of 'slacker-rock', the Canadian singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist turned it down a notch for this release, with a less cluttered, more mellow approach to his music, encouraging more focus on his lyrics.
Must-hear tracks include album opener My Old Man, the latest in a series of songs that reflect on the fractious relationship he has with his father, the acoustic-minded title track This Old Dog, and the high gloss synth pop of On The Level.
The evolution of Mac's sound may well open him up to a wider audience, with some commentators mentioning him in the same breath as Harry Nilsson, Randy Newman and Cat Stevens. His talent is certainly one to continue watching out for.
Marika Hackman - I'm Not Your Man
Rowan Collinson: A good old fashioned, indie pop album like the kind you didn’t think were made any more, Marika Hackman’s sophomore LP saw a move away from the spectral folk of her Tom Ravenscroft championed debut to a sound reminiscent of the mid 90s, drawing on the ghosts of Salad and slacker pop.
Tracks like Boyfriend fizz with an almost grungy delight, whilst the twinking, stop start guitars of My Lover Cindy could be straight out of Julia Hatfield LP. The UK’s answer to Courtney Barnett? Just maybe.
The Moonlandingz - Interplanetary Class Classics
Thilini Gunaratna: The Moonlandingz - comprised of members of the Eccentronic Research Council and Fat White Family - are Hale-Bopping their way into our consciousness with this blistering debut: a sonic rollercoaster that ricochets somewhere between Earl Brutus and The Cramps, the nihilistic vocal stylings of Nick Cave and a swaggering zombie Elvis.
Among the eerie swirling synthesizers and infectious singalong melodies is a well-crafted opus of total cosmic bedlam. It also features guest vocals from Yoko Ono, Phil Oakey, Rebecca Taylor of Slow Club and Randy Jones aka the Cowboy from The Village People. Expertly crafted, Interplanetary Class Classics exists truly in a class of its own.
Perfume Genius – No Shape
Paul Stokes: Symphonic yet lo-fi; emotionally raw though intellectually rigorous; sometimes organic, sometimes beat-driven; Mike Hadreas’ fourth album as Perfume Genius is shot through with contradictions, and soars precisely because of them.
Constantly shifting and often surprising, the fragile worlds No Shape conjures into being are compelling places to dwell from start to finish.
Songhoy Blues – Resistance
Thilini Gunaratna: This second album from Mali musicians Songhoy Blues is a bundle of pure sunshine, packed with their wonderful fusion of desert rock blues, afrobeat and funk.
Producer Neil Coomber (Django Django, MIA, Crystal Fighters) has helped make this even bolder than their debut, and guest vocals from Iggy Pop on Sahara, and south London MC Elf Kid on Mali Nord give a taste of bigger and bolder musical adventures to come.
Step into the groove and surrender yourself: resistance is futile.
Sleaford Mods – English Tapas
Symren Gharial: This band are punk rock'n'roll stars and this album - their tenth - is an unabridged elucidation of a trashed and hopeless culture, tripping up inside absurdly clever tunes, all delivered with lyrical perfection by Jason Williamson with laptop geezer Andrew Fearn.
English Tapas is a beautiful, funny, clever record from a band genuinely and consistently exhibiting the raw truth. They're the absolute boys - the most glamorous thing since Iggy in his prime.
Slowdive – Slowdive
Rowan Collinson: When Manic Street Preachers’ Richey Edwards famously declared that he hated Slowdive ‘more than Hitler’ in the early 90s, it felt like the nail in coffin for the shoegazing scene which had gone from respect to ridicule within months.
15 years on and both its main proponents Ride and Slowdive are back with new albums, and whilst the former have enlisted Erol Alkan to tinker with their sound, the first Slowdive album since 1995 sees them reverting to their signature shimmering sound, curiously comforting in these troubled times.
The blissed out, chiming guitars of Sugar For The Pill feels even more relevant in amidst contemporary bands like Tame Impala and DIIV, whilst the multi layered fuzz of Star Roving is up there with their finest work. With this album there’s no need for to look down at their shoes; Slowdive can hold their heads up high as this is a truly magnificent comeback.
Sylvan Esso – What Now?
Sean Adams: For quite some time this blog-hyped, neon-synth deploying duo from North Carolina have been in the peripheral vision of the cool kidz's sunglass-filtered vision.
They write bedroom-pop (or is it on-the-go commuter headphone pop?) for a global village where endless scrolling, FOMO, and a dehumanising envy has put wind in the sails of the cynical and half-filled their jam jars with a cocktail of nostalgia for simpler times, before American Apparel and the craft beer revolution, when you could emote about how much you love The Postal Service instead of worrying about the ethical conundrums associated with the conveniences of modern living... Quieten your mind and turn it up!
Thundercat – Drunk
Rowan Collinson: Wanna see a real bass face? The third album from Stephen Bruner - AKA bassist and vocalist Thundercat - saw him ride the post-Blackstar wave of interest in the new American experimental jazz scene, spearheaded by himself and Kamasi Washington, with a set of funk filled quirky grooves.
But rather than go further leftfield, Drunk feels like love letter to early 80s rare groove, nowhere more so than on Show You The Way, featuring the original purveyors of smooth Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald. Elsewhere Drink Dat takes Wiz Khalifa’s raspy flow and turns into something soft and inviting, whilst the bouncy funk of Them Changes was one of the highlights of this year’s 6 Music Festival in Glasgow. Thundercat, Ho!
Sean Adams, Social Producer, 6 Music
Steve Lamacq, Presenter, 6 Music
Thilini Gunaratna, Social Producer, 6 Music
Rowan Collinson, Senior Content Producer, 6 Music
Ian Sadler, Senior Content Producer, 6 Music
Paul Stokes, Social Producer, 6 Music
With thanks to Lauren Brennan, Lauren Churchman and Jax Coombes from the Music team at 6 Music for their help compiling the list of albums.