20 underrated albums you really should have listened to this year
While the likes of SZA, Stormzy, Lorde, Drake and Kendrick melted 2017 hearts and charts, there were a few albums that slipped under the radar. In no particular order, i-D celebrates a few other artists that gave us musical magic this year.
1 Rina Sawayama, Rina
Our friend Rina is killing it. On this self-released eponymous mononymous mini album, she channels the best of late 90s pop and combines it with the J-pop of her youth via production from Clarence Clarity, guest vocals from Sharmir, and plenty of key changes. Who’d have thought she wrote and recorded the whole thing in her bedroom? Ordinary Superstar turned total idol.
Track to check: Cyber Stockholm Syndrome
2 Wiley, Godfather
During a year of hard-hitting high-profile grime and rap albums from Hus, Stormzy and Giggs, Wiley’s 11th offering slipped slightly under the radar, despite being his best performing album yet. What it lacked in singles Will made up for in grimy, grungy, filthy synth, leaving us all hanging for Godfather 2, due March 2018.
Track to check: Back With a Banger
3 Kesha, Rainbow
With so much focus on Kesha’s rejected court case against producer Dr Luke, her music was somewhat overlooked this year. Yet Rainbow, a musically adventurous smorgasbord of sounds was an inventive, courageous and captivating offering that saw the LA singer and writer avenge her past and emerge even more righteous, able and awesome.
Track to check: Woman , Ft. The Dap-Kings Horns
4 Baxter Dury, Prince Of Tears
The son of Ian, Baxter has his dad’s way with words and strand of social satire. Ian was full to bursting of seedy, sexy, rambunctious energy; his son’s work has a groove-laden, existential sadness and despair at its heart. Annoyingly he releases one album like every three years, and each album is about 30 mins long. So he makes like 10 minutes of music a year? Not a great work rate tbh. Tunes are very good though. Lyrical portraits of decayed, fragile, horrible, insecure and unlikeable human beings, tempered with something sultry, a little disco, kind of like a cockney Serge Gainsbourg.
Track to check: The album is only 30 mins long so you might as well just listen to the whole thing.
5 Dave, Game Over
Loved by everyone from Drake to Giggs, Dave’s awesomeness was solidified by this ultra solid seven track EP, released in November. Over Fraser T Smith and 169’s icy synths of Game Over, he questions the motives of many, as much as his own. How I Met My Ex is a frank look at love, life and success. The closer, My 19th Birthday, is nearly nine minutes long and delves deep into his own psyche as well as those around him. “So many man my age have got PTSD and I don’t think it’s hit them.” Whether talking from personal experience or aiming polemic at those in charge, Dave’s voice is truly unique and undeniably powerful.
Track to check: Question Time
6 JayKae, Where Have You Been
Our Class of 2018 alumni, ‘manna like Jaykae’ owns one of Birmingham’s most distinguishable voices. And on this, his first album ‘proper’ the 26-year-old really finds that voice. Alternating between despair and joy, Jay balances out inner rage with a strong sense of purpose and perspective. He’s not perfect, but he’s trying really, really hard and that dichotomy is found throughout. Whether exchanging gang membership for home ownership or acting as both pall and ring bearer, this is a smart, assured album that provides plenty of life lessons. “Yeah I’m glad that I been through bad times/ Look close you can see it in a man’s eyes/ Blud, it made me the man I am now/ You have to deal with things cos that’s life.”
Track to check: Toothache
7 AJ Tracey, Secure The Bag
AJ from the Lane has impressed mightily this year, whether becoming a politicised mouthpiece for a generation or releasing rocksteady records like this, his fifth EP. Possessing an almost unnerving confidence, Secure The Bag starts as it means to go on; this is bold, brave, unwavering fare that focuses on women and winning, west London and loyalty. Over the course of eight tracks, and with support from JME, 67, Denzel Curry and Craig David, Tracey takes us on a journey of social media, stage shows, shisha, shisha and, somehow, Tom Brady.
Track to check: Alakazam Ft. JME and AJ Tracey
8 Skengdo & AM, 2 Bunny
This south London duo might not yet have the fame or acclaim of fellow drillers 67, SL or Section, but that could be about to change thanks to both this mixtape and a recent Fire In The Booth -- 125m views in two days (the best bit is when AM orders a Chinese). The drill duo have flair and style -- even when rhyming about the darkest side of life. But a sense of humour (and a healthy dose of paranoia) prevails and this, alongside a keen interest in historical figures, from Buddha to Mansa Musa, an African King thought to have been the richest person in history, makes these two compelling competition for 2018.
Track to check: Macaroni
9 Cardi B, Gangster Bitch Volume 2
Many wonder if Bodak Yellow might be an anomaly -- is the Bronx’s Cardi B a one-hit wonder? This 10 track mixtape, released earlier this year, suggests she’s far from it. An adept, adroit, astute rhymer, Cardi might be best known for Lil Kim-esqe lines like “The only time I hold my tongue is when I’m sucking dick,” but there’s a seriously ambitious rhymer here too. The ridiculous Lick, featuring Cardi’s fiancee Offset, has as much, if not more, presence than Bodak. Leave That Bitch Alone features a barrage of bars while Never Give Up is the album’s ‘serious’ moment, as B talks about a prescription pill addicted friend. “I used to kill them poles, now I kill them shows. They don’t like my growth, well fuck ya hoes.” Hate it or love it, Cardi B is on top.
Track to check: Lick
10 Moses Sumney, Aromanticism
Welcome to soaring strings and fragile, fractured vocals from the most romantic man in modern music. Moses Sumney can make making out in his car seem like a moonlit ride to cloud nine, and his cinematic music video for Lonely World takes you to a far-off black and white planet where rescued mermaid Sasha Lane reigns supreme. Indulge and immerse yourself within Sumney’s rich and textured album when the snow falls this Christmas; your heart will be almost too hot to touch.
Track to check: Don't Bother Calling
11 Playboi Carti, Playboi Carti
We won’t shatter a lot of worlds by saying that Playboi Carti is not the best rapper on the scene. While artists such as 21 have used 2017 to do a decent impression of, well, Actual Proper Rapping™, Carti has stuck hard and fast to what we might generously call “the deconstruction of flow”. Doing away with the kind of structural nous that has reigned supreme in hip-hop for decades, he has both challenged how rappers are supposed to rap and found bucketloads of fun to be had in the negative space created. Yeah, it’s not clever, but who gives a shit when the music’s this tight?
Track to check: Magnolia
12 Phoebe Bridgers, Stranger in the Alps
23-year-old LA singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers makes the sort of sharp, sad and quietly funny folk music that you only truly appreciate when taking stock of things, looking back on 12 months of releases and thinking, god, that was a bit special, wasn’t it? She also humoured us in the making of this content, for which, to be honest, we will forever be in her debt.
Track to check: Motion Sickness
13 Binker and Moses, Journey to the Mountain of Forever
Saxophonist Binker Golding and drummer Moses Boyd are the leading lights of London’s preposterously brilliant jazz scene, a new generation of artists hellbent on reclaiming the genre from its storied old guard. Taking influence from everything, from John Coltrane to prog rock, their second LP, Journey to the Mountain of Forever, is a nice entry point to a scene that straddles Afrobeat, jungle, house and grime to create a sound stretching far beyond its traditional parameters.
Track to check: Just drop in anywhere, this is jazz for goodness sake.
14 Toro Y Moi, Boo Boo
Chaz Bear (he changed his name by deed poll this year after getting in a car crash, realising how fragile life is, and deciding why the hell not) released this beautiful daydream of an album back in the middle of summer. His seventh record as Toro Y Moi (see also: Les Sins, and a jazz collab with the Mattson 2), Boo Boo is laid back 80s-style R&B infused with funky disco pop that deals with a relationship breakdown and something of an existential crisis on W.I.W.W.T.W. on which he wonders why the world is so fucked up.
Track to check: Girl Like You.
15 Thundercat, Drunk
A mad drunken joyride through time and space on which the LA music genius pushes back at the dark side of 2017 with totally wild jazz and hilarious social commentary across 23 whole tracks. The Brainfeeder-released record is packed with weirdo ramblings, video game sound effects, and a look into Thundercat’s Japan-centric dreams.
Track to check: A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song Suite II) -- an ode to his beloved cat, Turbo Tron Over 9000 Baby Jesus Sally.
16 Homeshake, Fresh Air
How good is your memory? Because we've gotta rewind right back to February for this one. Shouldn't be too hard for anyone within earshot of the VICE/i-D office to recall though, given its current rate of rotation. For those that don’t know, Homeshake is Montreal musician Peter Sagar, who just so happens to be Mac DeMarco’s ex-guitarist. He’s been slipping out sleepy, sexy, solo love songs for a few years now and this album is his greatest work yet. Out on Captured Tracks sister label Sinderlyn, these sun-drenched slow jams are designed to soundtrack your kissing, hugging, making love, and getting high.
Track to check: Khmlwugh
17 Rex Orange County, Apricot Princess
19-year-old Rex is a sweet, sweet boy, writing love songs and casually collaborating with Tyler, The Creator. Brilliantly lo-fi jazz flavoured, it’s hard to believe that this is his debut LP. Listen out for lyrics like, "this ain't a fantasy, she's my best fucking friend".
Track to check: Apricot Princess itself.
18 MUNA, About U
The LA trio tackle sexual assault, difficult relationships and vulnerability on this, their massive debut album. Their voices laden with just enough vocoder to pay tribute to one of their musical heros Imogen Heap (there’s some Robyn in there too in the pounding bass and synths) the self-proclaimed outsiders rightly hoped it would embolden bravery in listeners of all backgrounds. I Know A Place immediately adopted as an anthem for the LGBTQI+ community; music to dance and cry to through these trying times.
Track to check: Around U
19 Yung Lean, Stranger
Everyone’s favourite sad boy has grown up and got serious and gone and made a really good third LP. With beautiful production from friends Yung Sherman, White Armor and Yung Gud, Stranger is 14 tracks of emotional, melodic tunes across which he crafts a dark fairytale world and gets real personal. As well as rapping, Jonatan has started singing in a mellowed-out pop punk style and we’re glad about it. His best work yet.
Track to check: Red Bottom Sky
20 Jhené Aiko, Trip
Released quietly back in September, Jhené Aiko's second solo studio album didn't quite match the commercial success of debut Souled Out, but it didn't feel like it wanted to, either. A moody, mercurial hour and a half that lyrically considers loss, love and -- as the title might suggest -- psychedelic drugs, across 22 tracks, Jhené lays her soul bare, as she continues to cope with the death of her brother, Miyagi. Collectively the album is a peaceful, honest and raw record, one that exists to be listened as a whole -- so don't look for a big single. Against the tide of aggressive marketing campaigns around single releases in 2017, this feels all the more refreshing.
Track to check: Frequency