It takes at least a few good months to figure out what the best releases are from any given year. Putting together a list before the years out always feels like a scramble, I'm always late. There's certainly a load of stuff still in my backlog. 2017 was so good that narrowing it down to twenty was hard enough. Great records from Vince Staples, Oddisee, Pan Daijing (thanks @Nequests) Jlin and more didn't even crack the top twenty. Ten is cruel.
10 - Eddie Palmieri - Sabiduria
Latin Jazz. The sax, vibraphone, piano and the wonderfully squeaking violin playing is immaculate. Not to mention the deep, ceaselessly funky percussion. This is old man, muso jazz, make no mistake. And it's glorious.
09 - Giant Claw - Soft Channel
Brain melting trip through glitch and plunderphonics. The best from the gluttony of 2017s Orange Milk releases.
There's a real skill and mastery in Giant Claws manipulation of sound. It's modern classical machine music.
08 - Spoek Mathambo - Mzansi Beat Code
Afrobeats, house and hip hop thrown into the blender. It's called kwaito music, from South Africa and it sounds as unlikely as it is insane. Something like 'Landed' is as mind bending as any experimental US hip hop out there. An amazing record that would be in contention for the top spot most other years.
07 - Denzel Curry - 13
EP of the year. Dark, industrial, scattergun hip hop.
06 - Richard Dawson - Peasant
What you could only call avant-folk. It's Dawson's pained banshee welp over ghostly John Fahey chords. It's a eccentric kind of folk that's as old as the hills, emitting dark magic. There's moments of lucid beauty too like the intro to 'Soldier'. Only a rare talent could make good old folk music sound this fresh and boundless.
05 - Playboi Carti - Playboi Carti
Pop rap trash. The best thing about trap - aside from it winding up hip hop purists - it's the best music for fucking and getting fucked up out there today. It's the bratty, hedonistic step child of gangsta rap, morally bankrupt and seductive as hell. And it don't stop giving a fuck. If Open Mike Eagle provides food for the soul then this is the greasy takeaway. Regrettable but, oh, what a thrill.
04 - Natalia Lafourcade - Musas
The most pleasant surprise of the year. Mexico's Lafourcade has been around years and apparently won grammys and all sorts, I'd never heard of her until I chanced upon this. Musas is a Latin folk pop masterpiece. Her voice is timeless and backed by the most impeccably played music all year. The way the twin acoustic guitars are gorgeously plucked from each speaker channel! Lush!
03 - Chloe x Halle - The Two Of Us
By far the best mixtape I've come across in 2017. Chloe x Halle are a duo from LA. Two of Us is a dreamy stumble through modern pop, 'alternative' rnb, hip-hop, and a very psychedelic soul. There's some lovely, bright and fluid interplay between the vocalists, wrapped up in slighlty oddball pop magic. There's as much Kate Bush as Rhianna. At twenty eight minutes there's not an inch of fat.
02 - Kristofer Maddigan - Cuphead Soundtrack
There were two albums that had me grinning from ear to ear this year for different reasons. Steven Universe because of its message of love and Cuphead for the most glorious music on earth in 2017. I suppose you can call this the real number one; Universe wouldn't be there without the cartoon link to be honest. Cuphead looks like a cool game but it's the sort of thing I'd be shit at and I've no plans to own a Xbone. This stands up on its own. It starts with a barbershop quartet, segues into a classical piece before diving headfirst into skiffle. This music -swing, dixieland, ragtime, big band . . . it's so old. So old you can point fingers at bop jazz and rock n' roll for killing it off. Music untouched and untapped for so long it feels like the freshest thing on Earth in 2017. And it's all played with relentless gusto. You can feel the joy, the sweet release in every trumpet blast and frantic piano line, the reverie in it's own unlikely existence.
01 - Various Artists - Steven Universe Soundtrack: Volume 1
Putting a soundrack for a kids TV show at the top spot looks incredibly garish, and I understand it if you write it off. If you're familiar with the series however you'll understand why it's here immediately. Steven Universe is a coming of age tale of a boy getting to grips with relationships, morals, gain and loss and challenging emotions in an extra ordinary world. It's a cartoon whose prominent theme is acceptance and it tackles issues like gender, race and sexuality in a staggeringly mature and tender way. It's a show of real depth and quality and happens to have the best sci-fi world-building you could hope for. And it's funny. And I could go on and on about it but this is the wrong place. The music? It's 8bit pop, AOR soft rock, jazz, show tunes, Rn'B, lute twee, electro pop . . Without context it's perfectly likeable fluff. But within the context of the show these are some of the most loving and generous messages ever put to tape. For example, Garnet's (voiced by Estelle) 'Stronger Than You' is a fine catchy pop number. But what it REALLY is is somebody coming to terms with being part of a same sex relationship, telling us that love will conquer prejudice. It's everything the cynical, combustible world of 2017 and beyond needs. And it's certainly not for everyone. But why pretend to be objective anyway?