2017 was another brilliant year for British music. By now, you may have seen our top 5 albums of the year, but we also wanted to delve a little deeper into what we consider to be some more of the best new music releases from last year, showcasing Britain’s varied and ever-thriving music scene.
We’ve collectively poured over our spotify playlists trying to remember what we were listening to in the summer, and argued amongst ourselves to work out exactly what British albums have impressed us the most here at the British Music Experience in 2017. As one would imagine when putting such a question to twenty enthusiastic music lovers, there was no shortage of varied and eclectic suggestions and after much deliberation, there are four albums from the past year in particular that at one point or another we’ve all danced to, drank to, commuted to or simply sat and listened to. They are all distinctly different, but they all have one thing in common, and that’s that they’re all debut albums from who we think are four very exciting British prospects in Pumarosa, Moonlandingz, Flyte and Sampha.
In no particular order, where better to start than with Sampha, who’s truly astonishing debut LP Process became 2017’s surprise Mercury Prize winner despite competition from the likes of Stormzy and Ed Sheeran, amongst others. Sampha’s career already goes back to 2010, when he released his first EP. Since then, he has honed his considerable skills collaborating with huge names such as Drake, Frank Ocean and Beyonce as well as early work with SBTRKT. This has all led to the release of his first full-length solo album Process, and the results are exquisite and constantly moving. It is clearly an impassioned exercise in catharsis for Sampha, after the death of his mother and his resulting struggles between then and now, and it is hard not to be absorbed by his voice and his lyrics at times. Stand out tracks include ‘(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano’ (written about the piano at his mother’s home), the haunting ‘Blood On Me’ and ‘Timmy’s Prayer’, co-written with Kanye West. Fragile yet powerful, Process confirms Sampha’s place alongside his peers and is an album that gets better with every listen.
In stark contrast to Process is the chaotic but brilliant sound of Interplanetary Class Classics by Moonlandingz. Moonlandingz began life as a fictional band as part of a concept created by Adrian Flanagan and Dean Honer, members of the band Eccentronic Research Council, in 2015. In coming up with this idea, they enlisted the help of Lias Saoudi and Saul Adamczewski (who had been enjoying success with their own band Fat White Family) to shape this fictional band, settling with the name Moonlandingz with Saoudi voicing bizarre frontman Johnny Rocket. Concept soon became reality and Moonlandingz became an actual live band, culminating in last year’s outlandish LP Interplanetary Class Classics. The results are a wildly experimental album that is about as weird as it gets, but who said that was a bad thing? Several of the crew here made it to Moonlandingz shows this year including a gig at the Invisible Wind Factory in Liverpool in March, and all of us agree that the band didn’t disappoint, with a relentless and compelling performance of tracks from Interplanetary Class Classics. Famous friends give the album an extra edge of intrigue, with Sean Lennon co-producing and the unlikely pairing of Yoko Ono and The Human League’s Phil Oakey howling over the psychedelic freak-out of a closing track, ‘This Cities Undone’. Other highlights would have to be ‘Black Hanz’ (described by the band as perhaps the only radio friendly song on the album), and ‘The Strangle of Anna’, on which Slow Club’s Rebecca Taylor lends guest vocals on a surreal trip with shades of the Velvet Underground a definite influence. A unique band in any year, let alone 2017, Interplanetary Class Classics might just confirm Moonlandingz as the supergroup they’ve always professed to being.
Not quite as overtly surreal as Moonlandingz but undoubtedly just as magnetic is East London group Pumarosa, who in May 2017 released their stunning debut The Witch, an album that seems to get better and better with every listen. All ten songs are, in their own way, quite exceptional. Another band members of our crew were able to catch live this year, with their Green Man Festival 11pm slot performance supposedly a mind-blowing experience. The band have been on the live circuit for three years now, and between then and recording the album it sounds like they have really found their groove, mixing aspects of grunge, folk, post-punk and dreamy pop music and turning it into something staggering. One key component of this is singer Isabel Munoz-Newsome’s passionate vocals, sitting perfectly alongside their self-described “industrial-spiritual” sound. The album’s lead single, ‘Priestess’, is perfect for showcasing the album. Over seven minutes long, ‘Priestess’ starts with an ominous bassline leading into a thrilling call to arms that ends with a baritone sax taking the song in an unexpected but brilliant direction to finish. Title track ‘The Witch’ is Munoz-Newsome et al at their most ethereal, and tracks like ‘Red’ and ‘Lion’s Den’ both end with instrumental pandemonium, a testament to the confidence of the group that belies the album’s debut status. Captivating from start to finish.
Last, but in no way least, of the albums we have particularly loved this year is The Loved Ones, released in August by London band Flyte. Not only did some of our crew manage to catch Flyte on the sell-out Liverpool stop of their tour at Buyer's Club in October, but our very own Adam and Frankie also supported the band, and it was a night to remember for everybody there with the band finishing off their encore in the middle of the crowd, a move they have continued to do at every show since. Clearly, Flyte are a band on an upward trajectory, and The Loved Ones continues this. Like Pumarosa, Flyte have actually been playing together for a few years now, meaning they've had time to craft and hone their sound - and it has paid off. The Loved Ones is the kind of album that will give you a new favourite track every time you play it. The four-part harmonies are sublime throughout, with slick melodies backing them up. Album opener 'Faithless', the fan favourite that the band consider to be the "song that got them signed", is brilliantly put together and the aforementioned harmonies and melodies are spot on from the off. 'Cathy Come Home', one of the singles from the album, tackles darker themes backed by a paradoxically cheerful melody, and takes its title from the 1966 Ken Loach docudrama of the same name that deals with social issues such as homelessness and domestic abuse. Not only is the song definitely worth a listen, but the video is also a must-watch - a Wes Anderson-inspired technicolor dream of a music video. The Loved Ones concludes with the song 'Archie, Marry Me', a cover of the track by American band Alvvays. Before the release of their debut album, Flyte played beautiful cover versions of songs by the likes of David Bowie and Mac Demarco amongst others, and this cover made its way onto the album. This track is Flyte at their most gloriously unabashed and both the music and the vocals are captured perfectly. Definitely an album to revisit again and again, and certainly a debut to be remembered.
So, there you have it - four debut albums that really got us talking last year at the British Music Experience. Give them a listen on our Best of 2017 Spotify playlist and see what you think. You may have your own favourite British albums of last year that are completely different to this list, and that’s why we love music so much. We’ve listed below a few more albums that have thrilled different members of our crew over the past year too. Perhaps gothic black metal is more your thing, in which case listen to Cradle of Filth's Cryptorania album. Grime was huge in 2017, with massive new albums from Wiley and Stormzy. Gorillaz came back from the dead and The xx returned after years apart. There have been countless fantastic British albums in 2017, and there'll be more in 2018, and here at the British Music Experience we can’t wait to hear them!
Our other highlights of the year:
The xx – I See You
Wiley – Godfather
Gorillaz – Humanz
King Krule – The Ooz
Charlotte Gainsbourg - Rest
Royal Blood – How Did We Get So Dark?
Jamie Lenman – Devolver
Cradle of Filth – Cryptoriana – The Seductiveness of Decay
Mura Masa – Mura Masa
The Horrors – V
Michael Head & The Red Elastic Band – Adios Senor Pussycat
Ibibio Sound Machine – Uyai
Goldfrapp – Silver Eye