The best debut albums of 2017 saw grime come into its own, Britpop stars go it alone and raging new talent come to kick down genre walls. Here's the 15 best.
It’s clearly Grime Time. As the latest, reinvigorating wave of UK rappers unleashed their debut albums onto 2017 in a hail of ‘blud’s and ‘fam’s, they flooded the top end of the charts and end-of-year polls. But that’s not to say the rising rockers didn’t hold their own, spearheaded by a certain monobrowed motormouth showing them all how it should be done. Here’s the best fifteen examples of how the future sounded in 2017.
NME said: The debut album from Bristol’s ferocious Idles is a expletive-laden, punk triumph that tackles the current Tory rule, toxic masculinity and mental health. Utterly vital.
NME said: Norwegian pop-punk revivalists Slotface have christened their debut album ‘Try Not To Freak Out’ - an ode to keeping the party going through the chaos and calling the shots as they see them. They nail the balance between rebellious anthems and cutting social commentary on the likes of ‘Nancy Drew’, a song based around the classic feminist super-detective.
Inspired by Bram Stoker, Plato and the art of the old masters, the flamboyant Reading indie rockers’ debut was certainly more widely-read and broadminded than Liam’s, and roared along on the ballsiest choruses of 2017.
Very little makes sense in the real world, so forgive brilliant oddballs The Moonlandingz for creating their own strange universe. Styled as fictional band Johnny Rocket – although you may recognise Fat White Family’s Saul Adamczewski and Lias Saoudi – they’ve created a bizarre, limit-pushing prog rock opus with ‘Interplanetary Class Classics’. In this parallel world, anything goes – even a collaboration between Yoko Ono and The Human League’s Phil Oakey. Fed up of the doomsday-style 24 hour news cycle and an impending nuclear apocalypse? Try this instead.
The cracking debut album by Juliette Jackson and co was nominated for a Mercury Prize this year. “It’s batshit crazy”, they said of the news at the time – and yet it’s easy to see where their plaudits come from. The indie crew win on almost every front: they write material you can sing along to (‘Sucker’), they show a thorough awareness of dynamics’ power (‘Formidable’), their guitar lines are a delight (‘The Road’), and they’re really, really funny. Just look at how savagely they mock the louche douchebag on ‘Cupid’: “He said, ‘I’m gonna make the Earth shake tonight’ – pineapple juice, tropical Rubicon courage.”
If they weren’t a rock band, Creeper would be stars of a vampiric musical, or at the very least a more risky version of School of Rock. In frontman Will Gould, they possess a half Meat Loaf, half Gerard Way dynamo who helps make their wildly ambitious ‘Eternity, in Your Arms’ debut a theatrical odyssey. Best of all, they have the songs to match their grand ideals. Creeper have brought pomp and fun back to UK rock, and the scene is all the better for it.
Despite being just 21 years old, Alex Crossan (aka Mura Masa), already has a signature sound. The scattered, syncopated rhythms and shimmering instrumentals that dominate the electronic wunderkind’s self-titled debut are instantly recognisable; but never once get boring. Joined by a bevy of a-list pals, ‘Mura Masa’ is an album of proper bangers. From the dancehall tinged Charli XCX collab ‘1 Night’ to the tropical BBQ jam ‘Love$ick’, this is one party you’ll never want to end.
Previously a member of indie group The History Of Apple Pie, the Welsh musician’s debut is a far cry from the sickly-sweet indie-pop they excelled in. Instead, her self-titled solo debut is a journey through house, techno, ambient sounds, indie and pop. On each track, Owens breaks new ground on her unpredictable album. From the dreamy ‘Keep Walking’ to the club-ready banger ‘Evolution’, Owens proves that her diverse musical identity is a beautiful and intriguing thing, indeed.
Sampha has become the guy to collaborate with, counting Solange, Drake and Kanye West amongst his co-workers; but his Mercury Prize winning debut ‘Process’ sees him taking front and centre, showing he doesn’t need an A-list crutch to support him. The glittering stream of intricate instrumentals and devastatingly honest lyrics (that candidly speak of losing his mother to cancer) are glorious; but put the shimmering production and powerhouse vocals aside and strip each track down to the bare bones, and ‘Process’ is a master class in what Sampha does best: crafting impressively perfect songs.
Philly rockers Sheer Mag are ready to fight. Their debut album’s opening song ‘Meet Me In The Street’, for example, was inspired by the activism and protest at Donald Trump’s inauguration, which happened six months before its release. So not only is there a rebellious stench right from the off, each heavy metal-infused guitar lick and every second of front-woman Tina Halladay’s piercing vocals on ‘Need To Feel Your Love’ is what it probably feels like to be right in the thick of it. A blistering beginning.
Stormzy is a mercurial, complex figure and nowhere is that more apparent than on his acclaimed and commercially massive debut. It’s half massive grime bangers – see the Imperial Death March of ‘Cold’ and the barbed clapbacks that comprise ‘Mr Skeng’ – and half woozy gospel-influenced tracks such as ‘Blinded By Your Grace, Pt. 1’, on which he delivers a sincere dedication to God or a lover. No wonder the album went gold in just two weeks; in Stormzy we got us a man who can do both.
Ben Coyle-Larner kicked off 2017 with as much grace and aplomb as his hero Eric Cantona with the release of his devastating debut. ‘Yesterday’s Gone’ is a beautiful, emotional record, but it’s also home to high-end bangers such as the thumping ‘No CD’ and smoky ‘Ain’t Nothing Changed’. A poem written and read by his mum on ‘Sun Of Jean’ makes for a highlight with a twist on this Mercury-nominated gem. British hip-hop is in very safe hands indeed.
We all expected Liam’s debut solo album is do well, but not this well. Outselling the rest of the UK’s Top 10 albums combined on its release in October, ‘As You Were’ proves that Liam still has just as much clout as he did when Oasis were at the peak of their powers. He wasn’t just coasting by on reputation either: this is a thoroughly decent record, featuring anthems with massive singalong choruses such as ‘Bold’, set-starting big ’uns with gospel choirs (‘Wall Of Glass’) and gentle weepies such as ‘Paper Crown’. Nice one, brother.
SZA’s long-awaited debut was well worth the wait. After songwriting stints for Beyoncé and Rihanna, the Top Dawg signee released an R&B record that is soulful, sex-positive and so intimate it often feels like SZA is baring her soul to you on a girls’ night in. The languid, lush ‘Drew Barrymore’ is pure relationship goals, as she coos, “Somebody get the tacos / Somebody spark the blunt / Let’s start the Narcos off at episode one”, while ‘Prom’ shows a deep understanding of millennial pop. Don’t take your eyes off her in 2018.
In 2015, J Hus was hospitalised following a gang-related incident. In 2016, he found himself behind bars for a weapons charge. Fortunately, ‘Common Sense’ manages to channel the east Londoner’s recent struggles into a positive, vibrant statement of intent. The looming shadow of life on the streets is never far, but on colourful and fully charged singles ‘Bouff Daddy’ and ‘Spirit’, J Hus sounds like he’s fled the past.