The 20 best albums of 2017 so far
Yes, the years are going quicker. We all feel it. For all the conveniences that are supposed to save us time, it feels like we have less of it than ever.
The middle of the year always comes as a bit of a rude shock, as we realise that there's more of 2017 behind us than there is ahead.
It also reminds us that it's time to take stock of the great music that we've been provided over the past half a year, celebrate our favourites and try and convince as many people as possible to go back and revisit the records while they're still relatively fresh.
So we polled the team here at Double J and pulled together the 20 albums that have been most beloved so far this year. We will likely miss one of your favourites and we, as always, invite you to share your favourites with us over on Facebook and Twitter.
Here are the 20 best albums of 2017 so far, according to us.
Sampha – Process
After a laundry list of guest appearances (SBTRKT, Kanye West, Drake, Beyoncé), London’s Sampha finally delivered his first solo record this year and didn’t disappoint.
There’s a lot of brilliant neo-soul/modern R&B out there right now, so it takes something special to stand out. Sampha does more than that with his debut album, he’s beaten a path to the top of the ladder. It’s only a matter of time before he takes the throne.
A dark palette of sounds, arranged sparsely, provides the backdrop for most of the record. With a voice as strong as Sampha’s the arrangements can afford to be sparse, though the charged up ‘Blood On Me’ is a welcome change of pace. – Dan Condon
Bonobo – Migration
Migration is the kind of considered, carefully crafted work that’s best appreciated when you can give it the bulk of your attention.
Simon Green’s sixth record as Bonobo proves he’s a cut above. He’s not necessarily doing anything different – goodness knows we can’t get away from this chilled electro thing right now – he’s just doing it better.
His sounds shimmer more vividly, the way he combines them is seamless and his musical ideas inhabit the space between the comforting and familiar and the weird and experimental.
His great musical brain is an important asset throughout the record, as he pulls influence from a range of genres. Pop, house, Afrobeat and gorgeously cinematic passages all intermingle seamlessly. – Dan Condon
Dirty Projectors – Dirty Projectors
There’s blood on the page on Dirty Projectors’ first album in five years. Dave Longstreth and Amber Coffman are no longer together, Coffman is no longer in the band, and Longstreth writes these songs as a heartbroken man.
In spite of the bleakness, it still sounds like Dave Longstreth has a lot of fun. While making music as complex, disjointed and just plain weird as his must be a hard toil, there’s a certain unfettered creativity that must be exciting and perhaps even liberating to purge from his psyche.
You need a couple of listens before you can judge Dirty Projectors. You must dig into the relationship's narrative and emotional journey. Plus, its music is so warped, multifaceted and challenging that it deserves close listening. Chances are you’ll come back to it far more often than that, though. – Dan Condon
Father John Misty – Pure Comedy
Father John Misty is the perfect rock star for today’s editorialised world. He’s erudite, clever, bitingly cynical and opinionated, like so many of the social commentators and thinkpiece churners we read – or hate-read – every day.
His songs are barbs, sometimes shot at himself, sometimes at other parts of society ripe for a takedown. There’s every chance you’ll find your behaviours in the firing line here. If you don’t take it too personally, it’s entertaining.
The entire 75 minutes of piano pop balladry is a hard slog, but Pure Comedy features some of Josh Tillman’s best ever songs. The longwinded personal narrative of ‘Leaving LA’, the comment on technological progression/emotional regression of ‘Total Entertainment Forever’ and ‘Ballad Of The Dying Man’, his shot at the armchair critic, are among his most brilliant work yet. – Dan Condon
All Our Exes Live In Texas – When We Fall
Sydney quartet All Our Exes Live In Texas are one of those almost infuriatingly talented groups. You know, the type who just execute everything perfectly. Not a note out of place. Not a single shred of vulnerability in their voices. Not a moment where they’ve packed too much into their arrangement.
This record is kind of like those people who somehow look incredible, even though they’re in the midst of an emotional breakdown. You know there’s pain there, but it’s so hard to see it beyond the veneer of perfection that you just presume everything is okay. But the lyrics here tell us that it is not.
A band of any age would consider When We Fall a monumentally accomplished album, as a debut it’s astounding. Perhaps future records will see them inject a bit more grit into their sound, in which case they will be unstoppable. – Dan Condon
Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up
Fleet Foxes' long-awaited return is complex, considered, dark and completely stunning. The music is often complex, the way the band moves between its regularly quite contrasting movements sounds effortless but no doubt presented as much of a challenge as the grandiose arrangements Pecknold put together for the musicians present here.
It’s a dark record. Neither Pecknold’s lyrics nor the music that complements them have much cheer. Just when you feel like there’s some light creeping in, you read a little more into the lyrics and find something sorrowful. Or the music turns, and you’re feeling down again. But, while darkness abounds, so does beauty.
It won’t hit you as immediately as some of their earlier work, but could well stand up as the band’s strongest work over time. – Dan Condon
Holy Holy – Paint
Richard Kingsmill described their 2013 single ‘Impossible Like You’ as “close to perfection”, but the nostalgic rock vibes on Holy Holy’s second album Paint get them even closer.
Timothy Carroll and Oscar Dawson seem totally in sync on this record. Carroll’s cryptic lyricism and melting tones on tracks like ‘Elevator’ and ‘Darwinism’ combine perfectly with Dawson’s incredible guitar skills.
The influence of long-term producer and touring member Matt Redlich comes to the fore with cleaner production and some key synth elements.
Bring on album number three. – Gabrielle Burke
Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit – The Nashville Sound
Jason Isbell is on a serious roll. He’s always been a great songwriter, but since 2013’s Southeastern, he’s really hit his stride, and The Nashville Sound is just further proof that he’s the voice that modern country music needs right now.
He’s as far away from the bro-country herd as you can get. He injects a feminist edge to songs like ‘White Man’s World’, encourages us to employ the basic concept of goodness in ‘Hope The High Road’ and looks at death in the most poignant and affecting way in ‘If We Were Vampires’.
This is a perfect record for 2017. If you don’t see a bit of yourself in Isbell’s lyrics, you’ll at least enjoy spending time inside his head and hearing just how brilliant he makes his enviably distilled worldview sound. – Dan Condon
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Flying Microtonal Banana
If my toddler could possibly get over watching the video clip for lead cut ‘Rattlesnake’ over and over again at breakfast, and would stop requesting it over and over and over again on car trips, he might actually enjoy the other eight sticky and tricky jams on King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard's Flying Microtonal Banana.
This ninth album from the globe-conquering garage/psych/metal collective is kooky, spooky and groovy. And, to think, they had the nerve to plonk down this package of microtonal tunes about bushrangers and nuclear fusion – which is suitable for cool kids of all ages – just months after winning our J Award last year. – Ryan Egan
Laura Marling – Semper Femina
Laura Marling has never made a rough sounding record, but there’s a crispness and vitality to Semper Femina that makes it particularly striking.
Her voice remains unparalleled. It is one of the great singing voices not just of this era but of any. Her sweet, soaring falsetto in ‘Soothing’ – a bona fide career highlight – and the Dylan-esque mumble of the aforementioned ‘Wild Fire’ show her versatility, and both are as affecting as each other.
There’s also a cohesion to Semper Femina that was missing on 2015’s Short Movie. While she continues to explore new ways of expressing her messages, the musical through line seems a little more pronounced. These songs belong together. They’re coming from the same place. Is it maturity? Is it a fluke? Whatever it is, it’s pleasing to hear. – Dan Condon
Nadia Reid – Preservation
With a population of only a couple of thousand, Lyttelton in New Zealand is doing more than its fair share by creating some of the most extraordinary albums in recent time. The home studio of Ben Edwards has produced albums by Marlon Williams, Julia Jacklin, Tami Neilson and earlier this year, a precious gem in the form of Nadia Reid’s second album, Preservation.
From the opening lines of the title track opener, ‘…I am right behind you, I know I will find the one to hold onto’, Reid cements herself as one of the songwriters of our time. Her voice makes you long for the things only music can explain.
This is an album to play while the sun is setting on a Sunday evening. It won’t answer those big questions, but it will fill your heart with wonder. – Jacinta Parsons
Perfume Genius – No Shape
Artful, personal and brilliant. Perfume Genius is making music like no one else right now. Gorgeous piano, string and choral performances elevate the music beyond the sound of typical indie rock. Mike Hadreas’ voice is a powerful instrument by itself, his enviable range, sweet timbre and soulful twist is immediately disarming.
It’s sparse, though has its moments of enormity, thanks to the explosion of warm, engulfing noise on tracks like ‘Otherside’ and ‘Slip Away’. Lyrically, it’s raw, emotional and personal. ‘I wanna hover with no shape… I'm moving just beyond the frame’, he sings about his relationship with his body on ‘Wreath’.
No Shape is a sophisticated record that no doubt provides a mere snapshot of Hadreas’ life, but offers us a broad look at his considerable talents. – Dan Condon
Ryan Adams – Prisoner
Ryan Adams has written plenty of heartbreak records. But, on Prisoner, the voyeuristic curiosity takes on a whole new level for those of us without the decency to respect celebrities privacy.
While Prisoner does not feature any of Adams’ finest lyrical moments, it is still another brilliant set of dour pop songs. His melodies hit on a perfect blend of pop and Americana and his voice is that same old broken but beautiful croon. He’s Bruce Springsteen on ‘Haunted House’. He’s Tom Petty on ‘Outbound Train’. There’s shades of Don Henley, John Mellencamp and Billy Joel in Adams’ hard-edged vocal and glossy production.
Adams retains his spot at the top of the Americana world with Prisoner. It’s not a perfect heartbreak record, but it feels like an honest one and it sure sounds stunning on its surface. – Dan Condon
Thundercat – Drunk
Thundercat’s ethereal vocals, virtuosic bass playing and space-is-the-place production have made the LA native a go-to collaborator, so it’s only right he recalled some favours for his third studio LP.
On Drunk, the future jazz polymath draws up a guestlist that includes Kendrick Lamar, Pharrell Williams and the soft rock double threat of Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins, their divergent voices all bent in service to Thundercat’s gently eccentric funk vision.
And while he stretches multiple moods and textures across its 23-deep tracklist, Drunk loses none of its coherence, scanning as a 21st century Bitches Brew in its impressive scale and fearless experimentation. – Sam Wicks
Dappled Cities – IIIII
Dappled Cities are either the weirdest normies or the squarest weirdos in Australian indie scene, depending on how you look at it. This trend continues on their excellent fifth record IIIII, a twisted – but not too twisted – take on modern indie-pop.
There’s a smooth undercurrent that ties the whole thing together, which means their experimental side is somewhat contained. Their sounds are exploratory, but they never shoot too far off into the stratosphere.
They will hopefully always teeter on the verge of weirdness. It’s doubtful they will ever let themselves fall completely into the ether – their pop smarts and musicality won’t let them – but, given it’s already so tough to encapsulate what makes this band such an appealing prospect, perhaps that’s for the best. – Dan Condon
Slowdive – Slowdive
Much like that other British shoegaze band of the early-90s, Slowdive’s return to active duty sounds like a band with something new to say. With a legacy as strong as theirs, it had to be.
Sweet, wistful melodies abound, while jangling guitars and serene sounding synths provide the washy backing for most of these eight long, beautiful sonic explorations. Rachel Goswell’s sweet falsetto sinks back into the arrangements comfortably, Neil Halstead’s everyman croon is more prominent but never intrusive.
There’s nothing overly complex about Slowdive, but their exquisite palette of sounds and the meticulous way in which they utilise them makes Slowdive’s first new record in 22 years damn near close to perfect. – Dan Condon
Underground Lovers – Staring at You Staring at Me
The music Underground Lovers made decades ago still rings as sweetly as ever. Thankfully, the band are still around to remind us of that. Even better, they slowly continue to add to their legacy as they realise they’ve still got something to offer and their fans still care.
There doesn’t seem to be any marked progression in what the band are doing on their eighth album. It’s all pretty familiar. And we couldn’t be happier.
Staring At You Staring At Me isn’t a reflection of what’s happening in the music world at large right now, but it doesn’t have to be. Underground Lovers are wise enough to stick to what they know and when you execute that with this kind of aplomb then changing it would be sinful. – Dan Condon
Spoon – Hot Thoughts
Given we had to wait almost five years for 2014’s They Want My Soul, it’s nice to have Spoon back relatively soon for album number nine.
Thankfully, nothing about Hot Thoughts feels rushed. This is another collection of expertly crafted songs. Again they prove to be among the most dependable of bands making music today.
But just because they’re consistent doesn’t mean they’re boring. Their playful attitude to crafting quality indie rock remains.
At this point in time we can’t even fathom Spoon making a bad record. It just seems completely outside the realms of possibility. If they’re going to continue to make records as fun, adventurous and just plain palatable as Hot Thoughts then we hope they have at least another nine in them. – Dan Condon
Big Thief – Capacity
Such beauty and sadness pervades Big Thief’s second record. Everything we loved about their debut of last year is retained on this swift follow-up, most notably Adrianne Lenker’s warm, personable voice and knack for such vivid storytelling.
Some of the songs are brutal; ‘Watering’ is terrifyingly in its portrayal of assault. Album highlight ‘Mythological Beauty’ is a retelling of an incident that left Lenker with serious head trauma and close to death.
Behind her, the band is sympathetic to Lenker’s stark poetry. Their sound is generally atmospheric, sitting somewhere between folk and indie-rock, both intimate and expansive when it needs to be.
At album two, you get a sense that this is just the beginning of big things for Big Thief. – Dan Condon
Husky – Punchbuzz
It’s not news that Husky Gawenda is some kind of pop prodigy. He’s a killer writer, with an incredible ear for hooky melody and blessed with a voice that manages to be both commanding and entirely laidback at the same time. Those pop skills are pushed further to the front on Punchbuzz.
Husky’s third album is a little different to what they’ve given us in the past. Sleek synths and taut beats replace the breezy, pastoral folk that has been so prominent in their music so far.
It’s all about well-executed, acutely refined indie pop suitable for a wide audience. That they’re pushing their work into corners they’ve not yet explored, is exciting for any band on their third record. – Dan Condon