2017 Albums of the Year – Numbers 20 to 11

Here is the next installment in our best albums of 2017 countdown. Numbers 30-21 are here.

20  The National – Sleep Well Beast
This is their seventh album and I usually rate the band's releases as “pretty good” initially, then find I’m still playing them years later and still enjoying them more each time.  Matt Berninger's lugubrious and often melancholic bass voice underpins the intelligent lyrics, varied arrangements (piano, guitars, electronics, and more) and surprisingly memorable tunes.. This one is perhaps a little more instantly memorable but I suspect it will also share the same insidious qualities of the others!

19  Amber Run - For A Moment, I Was Lost
I don’t know why we haven’t come across Amber Run before this year, but this, their second album, should make the band much better known. Much of it is firmly in the Coldplay / Keane genre of tuneful, atmospheric, adult and tasteful rock. Lead singer Joe Keogh has a fine voice with an impressive falsetto, and the song writing is very polished, tuneful and effective. But it never sinks into blandness, with enough emotion and edge to take it out of the AOR bucket into something tougher and more stimulating.

18  Circa Waves – Different Creatures
Their first album was frothy indie-pop; very enjoyable but lightweight and not too serious. They came back with a somewhat different sound – much heavier, stronger guitars and riffs, and a mission to make something with more meaning lyrically. I’m not so sure about the lyrics – not exactly Dylan – but the music is harder and tougher, but still shows their ability to write strong melodies. Very interesting to see what they do next.

17  Vant – Dumb Blood
An unexpectedly excellent album that any rock fan will enjoy.  Mattie Vant comes from Seaham, a seaside and mining town in County Durham, close to my home town, and this is rock with a political edge, strong tunes and real passion. The bad news is that the band split up recently – we don’t know why, but hopefully Mr Vant will do something else worthwhile next year.

16  Hippo Campus - Landmark
I so much wanted this to be great. Hippo Campus are a young band from Minnesota that we saw at Reading Festival two years ago and loved. Saw them again in London earlier this year, still great. So I approached debut album Landmark with some trepidation. Would it live up to my expectations? Well … almost. They play bouncy indie-pop at times but with deeper and more thoughtful songs mixed in like the emotional ballad Monsoon. But this was very good, not great, for reasons that will become clearer tomorrow…

15  Nothing But Thieves - Broken Machine
We've followed Nothing but Thieves for a few years now and it is good to see their steady growth in popularity, and their second album Broken Machine won’t do them any harm. It is another collection of tuneful but moderately heavy guitar rock, sitting somewhere between indie and metal, with the excellent voice of Conor Mason who can turn fairly standard rock songs into something a little more special; he is comparable to Freddy Mercury or Matt Bellamy of Muse in his range and power, and can also sing very sweetly when that is demanded.

14  Flyte - The Loved Ones
A debut again, we’ve seen this young alt-pop band from London a couple of times live and like them a lot. Clever, quite complex pop songs, harking back to the classics – Beatles, Elton John’s better early work, Queen in pop mode – but with some edgier touches too. They do brilliant four-part harmonies live (check out some of their wonderful cover versions on YouTube) and this deserves to be a big success - not particularly “fashionable” music right now unfortunately but let's hope the quality shines through.

13  St Vincent - Masseduction
Annie Clark (who is St. Vincent) is a brilliant singer, writer and guitarist, super-smart, innovative, beautiful, socially-conscious, dates super-models … just one of the most interesting musicians around today. This is being positioned by some reviewers as her “pop” album, and it is certainly more approachable and instant than some previous work. But these are still songs that take interesting twists and turns, use a vast range of sounds, and head off into unexpected middle eights and interludes. This all makes it a highly enjoyable as well as stimulating listen.


12  Sampha - Process
An unsurprising and deserved Mercury Prize winner. This is subtle and sophisticated yet is also reasonably commercial and approachable. He blends soul, electronica and classic singer-songwriter influences, and Sampha is a fine pianist, songwriter and singer. This will appeal to fans of James Blake and Bon Iver as well as Frank Ocean or The Weekend.


11  Big Moon –  Love in the Fourth Dimension
The Big Moon are four young Londoners who form the most exciting “girl group” we’ve heard in quite a while. Their debut is confident, clever and smart, with both energy and a rare sense of humour in the lyrics (and in their videos – this is hilarious).  Snappy pop-punk songs (they claim Weezer as an influence), with strong guitar work but also the occasional background classic girl-group “woo-hoo” harmonies, it is fun, witty and highly enjoyable.


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