Best & Worst 2017

Best & Worst 2017: Western Albums

Damn by Kendrick Lamar.
Damn by Kendrick Lamar. PHOTO: INTERSCOPE

BEST

Damn by Kendrick Lamar

A lyrically dense work marked by complex rhyming patterns and verses that are purposeful and persistent, the fourth album by American hip-hop artist Kendrick Lamar seals his reputation as one of contemporary music's most adroit artists.

King Kendrick, as he is also known, is a master storyteller.

His contemplative rhymes examine the duality in his nature and take stock of the divisive state of politics in the United States.

Backed by expertly crafted beats and rhythms, his delivery is compelling, whether he is ruminating on his personal weaknesses or taking aim at discrimination.

Visions Of A Life by Wolf Alice

Balancing feral fury and restless energy with fetching melodies, British quartet Wolf Alice come into their own with their sophomore album. A life-affirming alt-rock masterpiece, the band expertly dip into a wide range of genres, from wistful shoegaze and irresistible R&B/soul swagger to pastoral acoustic folk and rousing post-rock.

The production is stellar and it is the type of recording that brims with the manic energy of a live show.

Dua Lipa by Dua Lipa

British-Albanian singer Dua Lipa was a shot in the arm for the pop music world this year, with her shimmering brand of pop.

Her distinctive smoky, sultry vocals shine on her terrific 17-track debut, as she weaves through cheeky pop tunes such as Blow Your Mind (Mwah) and delicate piano numbers like her Homesick duet with Coldplay frontman Chris Martin.

Six months after its release, the album continues to produce hit singles, with horn-laced New Rules undoubtedly one of the hottest pop records this year. The proof, perhaps, is in the streams. She was just named Spotify UK's most-streamed female in 2017.

WORST

Memories...Do Not Open by The Chainsmokers

American electronic dance music (EDM) duo The Chainsmokers had a massive hit with their single Closer and one cannot help but feel like their debut album is just the pair recycling the same pop template over the dozen songs.

The formulaic songcraft and uninspired vocals by singer-producer Andrew Taggert make you wonder - were the duo forced to make an album just to sell more records? After all, the trend among EDM artists seems to favour singles and EPs over long-form releases.

Eddino Abdul Hadi and Anjali Raguraman


BEST

Living Water by Shannon Lay

In the midst of the noisy news cycle and social media, the young Los Angeles singer-songwriter Shannon Lay's quietly pellucid album is a godsend.

As with the best of the lot, it comes fully formed, sounding timeless and mystical.

She is wise beyond her years. Like her indie-folk forebears Nick Drake and Vashti Bunyan, she exhorts deep thought, empathy and an acute appreciation of the bountiful gifts that surround us.

"There's always room for a little more/And there's always reason for a little less," she delivers the gnomic couplet in Always Room. Living Water is, thus, yin to her yang (she plays in a garage-punk band too), an antidote to quick bites and cheap shots.

Stay with it and you will still listen to this record years from now.

Pure Comedy by Father John Misty

Josh Tillman is a divisive figure all right, freely trolling precious celebrities and prudes alike.

If there is one figure who nails the craziness of 2017, its ceaseless Trumpian phantasmagorias, the cavalcade of sexual predators and the hypocrisy of the "entertainment complex", it is his persona as the asinine cultural commentator, Father John Misty.

Pure Comedy has the maximalist arc of a modern epic, touching on Taylor Swift, crucifying "LA phonies" and describing a planet flailing in the aftermath of severe climate shifts.

The music stretches and casts a long shadow like a 1970s-styled folk-pop jeremiad, skewing super-egos, including his own.

Utopia by Bjork

"Hatred paralyses life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonises it," espoused Martin Luther King Jr. Bjork's optimistic Utopia is, similarly, an audacious response to contemporaneous dystopia.

It is a maternal bird paradise, alive with coos, chirps and sensual textures.

Primeval bird call and digital wizardry meld nature and technology, as the newly emancipated singer seeks love and openness and, yes, reconciliation, bar one middle finger to her former paramour.

 

WORST

Younger Now by Miley Cyrus

Watch out for the wrecking ball. Shocking as it may sound, but here, my dear readers, is the Boring Miley. Gone is the Tongue-Wagging Miley, the Boogie-Swingin' Miley or even the Too-Naked Miley.

This is the Country-Pop Miley, sanitised, quiffed and glossed up like rhinestoned Elvis, but best left on a Vegas highway.

It is truly the end of the world.

Yeow Kai Chai

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 17, 2017, with the headline 'Western Albums'. Print Edition | Subscribe