The best albums of 2017: the full list

St Vincent tops our countdown of this years most outstanding sounds, from complex rap to moody rock, alt-R&B, inventive grime and more

1

St Vincent Masseducation

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

2

Kendrick Lamar Damn

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

3

SZA Ctrl

Honesty is often seen as the holy grail in pop, but when its served up as nakedly as it was on Ctrl, Solna Imani Rowes 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 cant open up emotionally. It seemed intimate but never one-note, and signalled an artist in complete ctrl. Read the full review

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figcaption class=”caption” caption–img caption caption–img” itemprop=”description”> SZA. Photograph: Victoria Will/Invision/AP

4

Lorde Melodrama

If Melodrama looked on paper like the work of an artist whod 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

5

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 Crohns 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

6

LCD Soundsystem American Dream

American Dream, for all its declarative intent, didnt so much chronicle the state of the nation as James Murphys 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

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

7

The War on Drugs A Deeper Understanding

A Deeper Understanding contains an air of overwhelming but vague melancholy, yet for all Granduciels 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

8

Thundercat Drunk

When the world outside is weird, lets 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 Lotuss Batman all the way to headline solo artist and one of this years breakthrough names. Read the full review

9

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

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Future sounds Kelela. Photograph: Alice Chiche/AFP/Getty Images

10

Richard Dawson Peasant

There was something in Peasants 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

11

Jane Weaver Modern Kosmology

Icily clear vocals provide a satisfying foil to the spacey psych-revivalism of Liverpool-born singers 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

12

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 bands tinkering with the indie-rock formula means theres never a dull moment. Read a full review

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Never a dull moment Wolf Alice. Photograph: Christian Sinibaldi for the Guardian

13

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 Tylers abrasive flow. Whether or not this was in fact the rappers coming out album (something its lyrics hinted at), it was undoubtedly a lovelier one than anybody expected. Read a full review

14

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, its not just his infectious take on African sounds that have propelled the London rapper into the big league its also his witty, inventive and refreshingly self-deprecating lyrics. Read a full review

15

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, theyve 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

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

16

Father John Misty Pure Comedy

Ever since his 2015 album I Love You, Honeybear, Josh Tillmans 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

17

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 Drakes tropical-tinged blend of rap and R&B is as seductive as ever. Read a full review

18

Stormzy Gang Signs and Prayer

Effervescent grime meets an unexpected digression into R&B and gospel on Stormzys 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 lyricists beloved previous singles. Read a full review

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figcaption class=”caption” caption–img caption caption–img” itemprop=”description”> In another league Stormzy. Photograph: Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty Images

19

Laura Marling Semper Femina

The Brits 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

20

Sampha Process

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

21

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 Nothings Gonna Hurt You Baby was used in the TV adaptation of The Handmaids Tale. Their debut album, released in June, proved just as haunting and hypnotic. Backed by gently foreboding dreampop, frontman Greg Gonzaless delicate voice is reminiscent of Belle and Sebastians Stuart Murdoch. Read a full review

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Gently foreboding dreampop Cigarettes After Sex. Photograph: Ebru Yildiz

22

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

23

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

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Genre-blending Vince Staples. Photograph: Alicia Canter for the Guardian

24

Protomartyr Relatives in Descent

Gothic post-punk is fuelled by a blast of fury on the Detroit rock bands latest. Vocalist Joe Casey airs his disgust at contemporary life I dont want to hear those vile trumpets anymore backed by a heavy, unyielding rhythm section that is satisfyingly cathartic. Read a full review

25

The National Sleep Well Beast

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

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

26

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

27

Marika Hackman Im 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, Im Not Your Man offered a compelling self-portrait, with Hackman frankly discussing her sexuality and her flaws. Read a full review

28

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 theyve done before. Read a full review

29

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 indies formative years In Undertow features Teenage Fanclubs Norman Blake; Lollipop (Ode to Jim) is directed towards the Jesus & Mary Chains Jim Reid but it is also a blast of fresh air. Read a full review

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Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2017/dec/05/the-best-albums-of-2017

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