These are not The 20 Best Albums of 2017. By which I mean: although this list is made up of the combined individual lists of various members of the Set the Tape staff, therefore forming a consensus Top 20 Albums of 2017, these are not the only albums released over the past 12 months worth talking about. I’m not saying this to discredit the results of the poll or throw shade over certain choices, I’m saying this because no Best Albums list this year can truly claim to have all of the Best Albums of 2017 listed on it. There was so much music these past 12 months, with exciting things, groundbreaking statements, and moment-defining releases happening seemingly every week in every genre, that expecting a group of people with their own tastes to be able to keep on top of it all and come to a shared opinion on the absolute best of the best is a futile effort. I received ballots with entries I had to Google to find out which was the band name and which was the album title, and I pride myself on at least pretending to have a broad and open musical palette!
So, what we have here, then, are the results of a fun little office poll. Everybody on-staff was invited to submit a ranked list of up to 10 of their favourite albums released in 2017, those rankings were assigned appropriate points, and then everybody’s lists were collated together into the big list that spans the next few pages. Our number one album topped no individual polls, but won by virtue of appearing on the most polls, which is how consensus picks usually turn out. Again, none of this is to discredit the results or albums appearing hereon – these are damn fine albums on a damn good list – but instead the aim is to get you to see this list as an introductory sampler of some of the year’s finest albums. Maybe you’ll recognise a few, maybe you’ll make some discoveries, and hopefully you’ll use this list as a springboard to experiencing great music, rather than seeing it as an arbiter of absolute quality and complaining about how only one person on-staff voted for DAMN. After all, there was so much music this year, and everybody’s lists, both our individual writers and your own, are as equally valid as this collective one.
Only one person voted for U2, however, which, scientifically, at least makes our list inarguably better than Rolling Stone’s. – Callum Petch
20) August Burns Red
While sticking to the same template they’ve adhered to for fourteen years, August Burns Red still manage to bring excitement and craft to the metalcore scene. Dazzling in its technical gymnastics, there’s hardly any let up in this relentless album. Occasionally jazzy interludes act as a brief pause for breath before slamming back into the groove even harder. It’s an occasionally exhausting listen but there is so much to admire here, not least their continuing ability to find space and texture within a narrow framework, that it’s worth the time it takes for it to sink in. – Kevin Ibbotson-Wight
Humanz is the party at the end of the world. The 50 minutes of hedonistic, unrestrained excess before the sky falls, as you climb to the top of a luxury penthouse where every floor offers up some new reaction to the chaos. Vince Staples reads the world the riot act on “Ascension,” Peven Everett laments the failure of compromise and understanding over the boogie of “Strobelite,” De La Soul just want to get laid on the raucous “Momentz,” 2D eulogises Bobby Womack and the communal spirit of dance on “Andromeda…” All the while, the album builds and flows, impeccably so, until “Hallelujah Money” directly, in the face of everything, asks if “when the morning comes/we are still human?” A question subsequently answered by the closer, “We Got The Power.” After all “we did it before/and we’ll do it again/we’re indestructible/even when we’re tired.” – Callum Petch
18) Marika Hackman
I’m Not Your Man
From Nirvana, Mudhoney and Soundgarden, to The Shins, Sleater-Kinney and Fleet Foxes, Sub Pop are unrivalled as a label for their tradition of bringing through angst-filled alternative bands and artists whose penchant for wallowing speaks to entire generations. Marika Hackman is but the latest in a long list of talented musicians who turns her sexuality (failed romances and somewhat-successful flings an’ all) into impassioned beautiful music. The second album from Hampshire’s melancholic singer-songwriter is a slight departure in tone from the somewhat softer We Slept at Last as a more mature sound creeps over the recognisable folkyness. But with songs like “Violet” (about giving and receiving oral pleasure), “My Lover Cindy,” and the immense opening track “Boyfriend,” all performed with backing-band The Big Moon, I’m Not Your Man is yet another example of the burgeoning British indie scene. – Owen Hughes
17) ALEX & Tokyo Rose
The name Akuma derives from the Japanese word for DEMON, so it’s no surprise that this excellent collaboration between Alex Davidson & Tokyo Rose is a Dark Synth journey that will have your head subliminally bopping. The album is moody but occasionally shines with brightness that wouldn’t be out of place on the dancefloor of any self-respecting nightclub. The title track fits that example perfectly, and would be a nice track to introduce any newcomer to the genre, in a gentle but ear-pleasing treat thanks to guest vocals from Rachel McAlpine. The album’s best track is reserved for “Cursed,” a pulsating electronic love song that is tinged with sadness and contains haunting vocals from Hayley Stewart but makes for a sensational night driving anthem. Overall, Akuma is an oh-so-pleasant surprise out of left field and easily providing a must-own DarkWave classic. One of my favourite albums of the year. – Matt Lambourne
Probably the most mainstream album release on this list, Lorde has not disappointed with a fantastic follow up to her critically acclaimed debut album Pure Heroine, which earned her a nomination for Best Pop Vocal album at the 56th Grammy Awards back in 2014. Raising the bar once again, Melodrama is a fusion of the electronic pop and intoxicating vocals that she is already well known for but it’s rawer and more personal than its predecessor while still remaining accessible to the wider audience. There is undeniably a mainstream edge to certain tracks, such as “Green Light,” but you almost cannot imagine anyone else producing them let alone vocalising them. In contrast, the moving ballad “Liability” evokes more comparisons to Kate Bush rather than Taylor Swift. It’s undoubtedly tough to keep one foot in the charts while trying to produce a record that stands aside from the crowd. – Daniel Taylor
Razor & Tie
Space rock newcomers Starset follow the same science-based high concept songwriting as Coheed & Cambria, embracing YouTube as a means to expand the themes of their albums and developing a complex mythos linking their music from song to song. Fourteen tracks of weighty, well-built electronic rock that pull in influences as far back as Rush and as present day as Muse or Thirty Seconds to Mars, Vessels mixes radio-friendly unit shifters and deep dive progressive experiments. Layers of synths and samples add textures that reveal more detail with every listen, and despite the almost pretentious leanings of its sci-fi backstory, if you let these tales of the Starset Society’s attempt to alert the public of a mysterious extra-terrestrial message wash over you and sink in fully, this is a huge step forward musically and creatively from debut release Transmissions. – Lee Chrimes
14) Cradle Of Filth
Cryptoriana – The Seductiveness Of Decay
Well over 20 years into their career, you could forgive the British extreme metal legends for wanting to slow down a bit but with Cryptoriana, Cradle of Filth have kept their own form of black/death metal riffage, harmonious solos, lush strings & keyboards, and Dani Filth’s gothic poetry as strong, brutal and beautiful as ever. Despite being fairly consistent anyway, Cradle proved they were still one of Britain’s best with previous album Hammer of the Witches and Cryptoriana continues where that left off, but adds a layer of epic-ness they possibly haven’t reached since their mid-nineties Dusk…and her Embrace/Cruelty and the Beast heyday. That isn’t to say Cryptoriana is a re-hash of old riffs and ideas. It has that familiar feel of old COF but injects a fresh feel into the music. This probably has something to do with having the same line-up for 2 albums now (they are a band conflicted with numerous changes over the years) but make no mistake, Cryptoriana is extreme metal at its finest. – Adam Massingham
One of the best new talents that finally broke through in 2017, MUNA are an all-girl queer pop band hailing from Los Angeles whose signature style includes gender neutral pronouns in their songs (for accessibility), amazing instrumentation, and a knack of catchy pop songcraft that has won them legions of fans. The songs that fill their debut album About U are a testament to this – the joyful Eighties gloss of “Loudspeaker” balances well against the band’s propensity for a heartfelt ballad, namely album closer “Everything” with its shimmery guitar synths and subtle vibe. More than that, About U is a record closely linked to activist movements prevalent in modern society; nowhere is this seen or felt more than in the album’s true highlight, “I Know A Place.” “I Know A Place” is a song dedicated to the victims of the Orlando Pulse shooting in 2016 and more than that, encapsulates a resonate feeling, that belonging to people of colour, LGBTQIA people, women, everyone who needs a sanctuary to belong and be themselves. The song is a torches-aloft, stadium-filler of an anthem, full of shed tears and heartbreak, but, just like the rest of this incredible album, full of compassion, understanding, and hope. – Chris Haigh
The Dusk Within Us
Yet again, Converge proves themselves as operating at the very vanguard of hardcore. The Dusk In Us is an album of impeccable craftsmanship and dazzling variety. Opener “A Single Tear” is an expansive, heartfelt wonder that’s the closes they’ve come to a rock song. “Eye of the Quarrel” is a breakneck rager crammed with dizzying riffs and spastic rhythms. “Under Duress” is a mid-paced thrasher that sees Jacob Bannon shred his throat like it hasn’t been sixteen years since their Jane Doe masterwork. The quality never lets up and The Dusk In Us sits very highly indeed in Converge’s awesome back catalogue. Always leaders, never followers. – Kevin Ibbotson-Wight
11) London Grammar
Truth Is A Beautiful Thing
Metal & Dusk/Ministry Of Sound
They’re a few second albums on this list but it’s probably London Grammar who had the toughest follow up after the massive success of their double platinum debut album If You Wait. Their refined sound earned the trio a BRIT Award nomination back in 2014, ultimately losing out to Bastille, and it was always going to be hard to create something so distinctive again. But with Truth Is A Beautiful Thing they manage it while also producing an album that is arguably more diverse, casting aside the previous criticisms that they’re too one note. Tracks such as “Big Picture” and “Wild Eyed” give front-woman Hannah Reid her chance to shine with vocals that could give Adele a run for her a money. But it’s “Oh Woman Oh Man” that really shows off the trio’s full talents, bringing an edge to the album that was perhaps missing from If You Wait. – Daniel Taylor
10) The xx
I See You
It’s safe to say, at this point, that Jamie xx’s solo record, In Colour, was the third xx album. To jump from Coexist – a cavernous, sparse, extremely introverted work of music – to I See You, the band’s third album proper, without having experienced In Colour may make one wonder if this really is the work of the same band. I mean, “Dangerous” has horns! Real horns! And it bumps, like some kind of POP SONG! Romy and Oliver will admit freely that Jamie’s 2015 classic helped push them to embrace his warmer, clubbier tendencies on their newest group effort, but even still and after that initial shock, I See You is not so much a left-turn as it is a natural evolution. Romy and Oliver are still pouring their hearts out about their insecurities (“Performance”), desires for intimacy (“Lips”), and even their alcoholism (“A Violent Noise”); Jamie’s just dragged them out of their rooms and into the harsh yet thrilling light of day through dance-worthy samples (the Hall & Oates interloping of “On Hold”) and gorgeous throbs (“I Dare You”). I See You is the album The xx needed to make, and proves that there is still plenty of evolutionary life left in them yet. – Callum Petch
09) Los Campesinos!
After covering relationships, heartbreak and football; Los Campesinos move onto age for their sixth LP. The energy of their early twenties mixed with the evolving sound of their late-twenties provides tales of disillusionment of entering the thirties. Never losing his trademark wit, front-person Gareth Campesinos offers musings on Brexit (“5 Flucloxacillin”), legacy (“Got Stendahls”), their own heyday (“Renato Dall’Ara (2008)”) and anxiety (“I Broke Up In Amarante”). As they grow older, they’re fully aware of their fanbase growing with them and maintain an air of relatability that echoes throughout. It also contains the group’s best album closer in “Hung Empty” that sums up what they were aiming to explore with this album. – Matt Latham
2017 was the year that I made my initial tentative steps into Synthwave from previous years into a full-blown fascination. At the forefront of this new passion is Perturbator, who for me is the standout name of the Synthwave movement. His latest EP, New Model (see full review here), purges all of the bright neon and euphoric tones that popularised the genre and perverts it into a bleak and desperate alternate reality of the Retro-Futuristic dream now turned nightmare. New Model is very much a descent into a technological nihilism that is so far removed from James Kent’s (aka Perturbator) previous work, yet seems so inevitable at the same time. The EP’s 2nd track, “Tactical Precision Disarray,” is the soundtrack to Skynet’s literal pressing of the button, calling time on humanity’s dominance and provides the biggest single snapshot on this EP’s intent. It is a frightening but ultimately absorbing glance into a future where the human race’s relentless shift to incorporate machinery into all we do will perhaps see the end of us all. But not before we’re rewarded with some genre-crunching electronica.
07) St. Vincent
Indie pop darling St Vincent (real name Annie Clark) has slowly progressed from straight-up alternative roots in her early records such as Strange Mercy to more accessible yet still unique albums such as ‘Digital Witness’. Her transition to mainstream comes to fruition in MASSEDUCTION, a relentlessly catchy, poppy album, replete with themes of sex, desire, addiction, drugs, sorrow, heartbreak, and depression, and equally full of breathless choruses (such as in the satirical “Pills”), sledgehammer hooks (see the appropriately saccharine “Sugarboy”), and crisp production from pop auteur Jack Antonoff, as in the sensual title track. The heart of MASSEDUCTION really lies in its dark, emotional subject matter – “Los Ageless” and “New York,” a twinned pair of tunes that explore themes of heartbreak, rejection, and isolation, with juxtaposition sonically (“Los Ageless” is sprawling and decadent and miserable; “New York” is shorter and more bittersweet romantic), while the album’s crowning glory, “Smoking Section” is an ode to the darkest sides of mental health and humanity and its final refrain, ‘It’s not the end’ is a defiant cry of survival and endurance that truly resonates in this stunning and very exciting next chapter for Annie Clark. – Chris Haigh
06) Marilyn Manson
Heaven Upside Down
After 2015’s brilliant The Pale Emperor, it seemed Marilyn Manson was growing old gracefully with that albums mostly bluesy/southern twang, but here Manson shows he still has plenty of fire left in him. Teaming up once again with acclaimed film & TV Score producer and multi-instrumentalist, Tyler Bates, Heaven Upside Down sees Manson combining the classic AntiChrist Superstar and Mechanical Animals eras with occasional nods to the previous album. Admittedly it doesn’t always work but when it does it’s glorious and proves Manson can still be a relevant rock artist, no matter what Justin Bieber says! Not as good as those first five albums maybe, but still a solid enough Marilyn Manson album. – Adam Massingham
05) LCD Soundsystem
Catchy electronic pop beats, laden with stylistic homages to not-quite-forgotten 80s acts, and lyrics infused with a dry wit. Incredibly accessible, yet increasingly rewarding on each successive listen, this is an album that only LCD Soundsystem can make. Despite sticking to their inimitable style with only a very subtle evolution, american dream still sounds as fresh and exciting as their early work. Unlike many reunions, this one was clearly ignited by a creative spark and desire that will hopefully remain for years to come. – Mike Marshall
04) Depeche Mode
After a slow start to the millennium, Depeche Mode have been on a hugely successful run of creativity and popularity with their last two albums, and Spirit is another strong step in the right direction for the Basildon boys. Spirit marks one major progression in their sound – politics. For the first time in their near 40-year career they’ve delivered a heavy, driven record seething with anger and frustration at the world’s political systems, eschewing the dark tales of love and desire that are their standard fare. The harsh, military imagery of the album and associated videos calls to mind Pink Floyd’s The Wall, their energy and dedication sizzling with a fire that bands half their age could only dream of. Musically this is the DM you know and love, but with the punky, rebellious spirit of their earliest works now loud and clear once again. – Lee Chrimes
03) Charly Bliss
No matter what this album or band do, it’s physically impossible for them to not ooze coolness. The Brooklyn foursome cover a lot of stuff in the space of half of hour with songs that sound like Weezer merging with Hole. The songs are short, catchy and vague enough to provide your own interpretations of them; yet still stick in your head afterwards. Eva Hendricks carries an enthusiastic charisma, being one of the year’s more memorable vocalists to emerge from the pop-punk scene. Pretty much every song would have appeared as some online publication’s stand-out track at some point, as is their star quality. It’s hard not to love this album. – Matt Latham
02) The Big Moon
Love In The 4th Dimension
Just when we all thought guitar music was dead (supposedly) along comes this energetic London-foursome to revive the genre we never knew actually needed saving. Catchy riffs reminiscent of a peak-Weezer meshed with the distorted elegance of a late-80s Pixies, Love in the 4th Dimension brings garage rock bouncing and screeching into a new generation. Juliette Jackson’s candid lyrics about the clumsy ups and downs of flirting, friendships and love chime with the poppy tunes like a bag of sweet popcorn exploding from a microwave. Their live sets are joyous and the album’s nomination for a 2017 Mercury Prize was thoroughly deserving; and is hopefully a sign of the greatness still to come. – Owen Hughes
01) Wolf Alice
Visions of a Life
“Yuk Foo” is a bold choice for a lead single. That’s the common refrain surrounding discussion of the song, and, in fairness, it’s not an unfounded viewpoint. The song is two minutes of punk outrage, 80% of the lyrics are swears, it’s puerile, vulgar, atonal, mean, weirdly mixed, and sounds like nothing else on the album it’s ostensibly trailing – I’ve had people overhear it whilst I’ve been blasting it loud declare that it sounds awful. Some Wolf Alice fans have even wondered why the song is on Visions of a Life, assuming that it’s purely to give the crowd something to mosh furiously to during a gig. Here’s the thing: “Yuk Foo” is actually the perfect song to introduce Visions of a Life with (outside of the actual opener “Heavenward”), since it’s not only perfectly of a piece thematically with the rest of the record, it is also a statement of intent – that the North London quartet can dive headfirst into whatever Alt-Rock sub-genre they like, and the results will be some of the best music of the entire year.
Visions of a Life cements Wolf Alice as the best band in Britain today. What it lacks in immediate world-conquering standouts that debut My Love is Cool was rife with, it makes up for as a cohesive whole in a way My Love couldn’t – all whilst exploring shoegazing (“Sky Musings”), prog rock (“Visions of a Life”), Led Zep-style ethereal folk tales (“After the Zero Hour”), Britpop (“Beautifully Unconventional”), and so much more. Ellie Roswell’s lyricism has only grown more confident and assured as the years have gone on, and the tales of desire, crippling anxiety, and the overall shittiness of being a young woman in the 21st Century that she unspools across Visions’ 12 tracks display a musician with not only a phenomenal way with words, but also an arresting manner of communicating them with some of her finest vocal performances to date.
What Visions of a Life reminds me of most of all, and who it turns out that Wolf Alice are heirs apparent to, are the Smashing Pumpkins circa-Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. That ability to marry atmosphere and genre experimentation with pop hooks and energy, to make guitar music once again sound like the most exciting thing in the world, and all without the drawbacks of the Pumpkins – fantastic lyrics, a band that feels in perfect harmony with one another, not making a double album. My Love is Cool is still one of the decade’s best debuts, and Visions of a Life is somehow better than that. Wolf Alice are the best band in Britain right now, all others are mere pretenders to their throne. Bow down. – Callum Petch
That’s our combined list! Agree? Disagree? What were your favourite albums from 2017? Let us know in the comments!