Demo’s Best Albums of 2017

As 2017 comes to a close, it’s finally time to reassess the best albums of year. From chart topping pleasers like Lorde’s new album Melodrama, and Kendrick Lamar’s Damn, to more underrated content, Demo has voted on which albums we’ve been jamming to. So plug those earphones in, and listen to Demo’s newest favourites.

  1. Sampha, Process

Sampha is an artist that has built his entire career on collaborations, from his early work with SBTRKT to his more recent collaborations with Drake, Solange, and Kanye West. It’s this that makes the title of his debut record, Process, so poignant–it took him a while to get here, and now he’s here to stay.

Process is gorgeous. Sampha uses this album’s 40 minute runtime to poetically muse on topics of life and love. His voice is silky smooth, and unabashedly British, as he carries the project from start to finish almost effortlessly. It seems his years of collaborations have allowed himself to gain a sense of confidence in his voice, especially in his use of falsetto. His soulful performances feel natural, and his voice is always emotive and captivating. The electronically tinged production explores the minutiae of R&B and neo-soul as the instrumentals alternate between piano ballads and tasteful bangers. It manages to be diverse, yet cohesive. It’s all paced masterfully as well, with a propulsive beginning, a mellow middle section, and an energetic ending…I’ve been waiting for his solo debut since I heard him in 2011, and somehow he has managed to blow my already astronomical expectations out of the water.

Listen here

-Keshav Sharma

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  1. Perfume Genius, No Shape

Released in May, No Shape is an excellent follow up to 2014’s Too Bright. Seattle artist Mike Hadreas, performing under Perfume Genius, continues to explore themes of sexuality and self-acceptance. The first half of the album is enthusiastic and energetic, an artistic celebration of love. Unlike Too Bright, which explored “feelings of disgust with regard to the human body,” as James Li explained back in his 2014 review of the album, on No Shape, Pitchfork points out that bodies are described as, “divine.” On this album Hadreas is unapologetically confident, confronting his criticizers and artistically portraying his struggles with illness, love, and sorrow. Lead single, “Slip Away,” is upbeat, while songs like  “Die 4 You” and “Alan” are slower ballads, showcasing Hadreas’ crooning vocals beautifully.

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  1. Slowdive, Slowdive

Slowdive’s long awaited return was met with excitement from fans all around. Following their reunion in 2014, the 90’s British rock band made waves when they released their self titled album in May 2017. Having not released anything since 1995, Slowdive’s Slowdive is an excellent return to their previous sound. Staff writer Isaac Fox attended their Massey Hall performance in November, and said that the band’s “new material… really deserves the shine it got during their set.” The band has been met with harsh criticism over the years, so the reception of their new release, which has been favourable, is much deserved. “Sugar for the Pill” and “Slomo” are must-listens, but with the entire album being only 46 minutes long, Demo recommends you download it all.

–Anna Trikas

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  1. Mount Eerie, A Crow Looked at Me

Solo musician Phil Elverum released Mount Eerie’s ninth album back in March. Following his wife’s death from cancer, his new work explores grief through music. Differing from his previous records for this reason, A Crow Looked at Me is a soft, clean expression of Elverum’s sorrow. Elverum uses very few instruments, mainly acoustic guitar, and his vocals are closer to talking than they are to singing. He seems to use his music as a way to cope with his feelings due to his loss. The album opens with the lyrics: “Death is real/someone’s there and then they’re not/it’s not for singing about/it’s not for making into art,” from the song, “Real Death.” Here, Elverum defines death, not in the way that literature and poetry do, but literally: “someone’s there and then they’re not.” His stark words seem to point out that, with all of this talk about death in literature, film, and other forms of art as merely a vehicle, perhaps we are forgetting what the concept of death actually means for the individuals left behind. In the rest of his album, he continues to talk about his loss and its’ effect on him and his family. Though different than most of his other discography, A Crow Looked at Me is a standout album.

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  1. Julien Baker, Turn Out the Lights

Julien Baker proves on her second album, Turn Out the Lights, that she is a force to be reckoned with. Only 22 years old, Baker has already had the opportunity to open for big name bands like Death Cab for Cutie and Paramore, play at festivals across the globe, and tour on her own. Her newest album showcases her soft, delicate voice paired with melodic and slow instrumentals.

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10. Alvvays, Antisocialites

Demo is proud to include a Toronto based band on 2017’s top albums list. Originating in the Maritimes, Alvvays draws inspiration from pop, rock, and Celtic folk to create their music. Antisocialites, the bands’ follow up to 2014’s Alvvays, is their second studio album. Most of its’ tracks are energetic, poppy tunes, while some, like “Dreams Tonite,” are slower and softer, with more of a focus on lead singer Molly Rankin’s crooning vocals.

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9. Jay Z, 4:44

After the pop-centric, party-friendly sound of his most recent efforts, 2011’s Watch the Throne and 2013’s Magna Carta…Holy Grail, I doubted JAY-Z could deliver an album that would musically parallel Lemonade, but 4:44 manages to exceed my wildest expectations.

4:44 doesn’t follow a linear storyline in the same way Lemonade does. Instead, it’s a brutally honest, 10 track hip-hop album in which JAY-Z eloquently ruminates on his legacy. Over a tight 36-minute runtime, a wide range of topics are explored (Black America, money management, fatherhood, and yes, infidelity) but it all manages to feel cohesive and enjoyable; this is mainly thanks to the production skills of No I.D.. Being behind the boards for the entire project, the hip-hop veteran accents beats with a fusion of chopped up soul samples and modern music. Drum breaks, vocal melodies, and synthetic soundscapes mingle in a beautiful display of production prowess. This clarity in production is matched by JAY-Z’s skill as a rapper, as he touches upon various aspects of his life and American culture while maintaining a sense of flow and charisma.

Keshav Sharma

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8. LCD Soundsystem, american dream

LCD Soundsystem’s fourth album, american dream is full of catchy synth-filled tunes. The release of the album followed their reunion in 2015, and is their first in seven years. American dream showcases LCD Soundsystem’s classic style, but offers listeners the new content that they have been waiting for. American dream has been nominated for the “Best Alternative Album” 2018 Grammy award, and hit “Tonite” from the album has been nominated for the “Best Dance Recording” 2018 Grammy award. LCD Soundsystem’s comeback has clearly been eagerly awaited.  –Anna Trikas

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  1. King Krule, The OOZ

Archy Marshall, who performs under the name King Krule, is known for his unique music style. Not sticking to one genre, Marshall mixes hip-hop with punk rock, jazz, trip hop, dub and darkwave. The OOZ exemplifies this, with tracks like, “Dum Surfer,” “Sublunary,” and “Slush Puppy” which all veer slightly to different genres, almost sounding like they are part of different albums all together. Demo writer Christiane Johnston had the pleasure of attending King Krule’s show at the Danforth Music Hall on October 29th. Johnston writes, “When he released singles like, ‘Czech One’ and ‘Dum Surfer’ over the summer, I could only feel my excitement grow for the concert and new album. When The Ooz finally released in early October, I had it on repeat for days. It was like listening to a dazed and moody dream captured on nineteen tracks. If Blue had a sound, this is what I’m convinced it would sound like.” -Anna Trikas

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  1. Vince Staples, Big Fish Theory

With Big Fish Theory, New York rapper Vince Staples delivers his most consistent record yet, with eclectic lyrics and bass-heavy beats that draw from numerous genres, but still, maintains a cohesive sound. – Keshav Sharma

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  1. Tyler the Creator, Flower Boy

After a two year hiatus, Odd Future co-founder Tyler, the Creator has returned with his most personal album to date. Flower Boy (alternatively titled Scum Fuck Flower Boy) is Tyler’s fourth album, following 2015’s Cherry Bomb. With his latest release, the rapper has taken a huge artistic leap forward, handling Flower Boy’s entire production himself in addition to designing an alternative album cover… Some view Flower Boy as Tyler actually coming out as bisexual or gay. In “Ain’t Got Time” he states he’s been “kissing white boys since 2004” and on “Garden Shed” he questions if it was all just a phase before concluding that it’s “still going on”… In general, Tyler, the Creator has shown tremendous growth as an artist, especially when comparing Flower Boy to 2011’s Goblin, which contains his most disputatious work. However, I was glad that Flower Boy did contain doses of the old Tyler among the more heartfelt side of him. I look forward to seeing Tyler’s progress as a person and can’t even imagine what surprises he has in store for his next album. – Alex Pompilii

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  1. Brockhampton, Saturation

It’s hard to find albums that feel truly youthful (Bloc Party’s Silent Alarm springs to mind) but every so often a record comes along that defines a generation. BROCKHAMPTON’s Saturation aims to do just that, with a collection of eclectic tunes that are rooted in hip-hop, but manage to feel at home within the world of indie rock and pop as well. The interplay between BROCKHAMPTON’s many members is stunning, and the fact that the album remains impressively cohesive over its 51-minute runtime is unprecedented for such a large group. – Keshav Sharma

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  1. SZA, Ctrl

Having written songs for Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, and Beyonce, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that SZA’s own work is excellent. Ctrl features startling confessions (the opening lines of, “Supermodel,” where she claims she was sleeping with her ex boyfriends best friend when he dumped her), fine tuned vocals, and catchy beats. It’s evident, after listening to Ctrl, that SZA is a talented songwriter, and one can easily see how she’s been asked to write/collaborate with other artists.

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  1. Lorde, Melodrama

Finally, Lorde (born Ella Yelich-O’Connor) dropped her second album, Melodrama, in November. This album is everything fans have expected, and waited for. Demo writer Samantha Capaldi says in her review of, “Green Light”: “The debut track off of her upcoming album, Melodrama, illustrates a new, experimental sound for the moody singer as she explores the last year or so of her life, including her first breakup. The track is the most upbeat, the most dance friendly one that she has released to date, thanks to her producer, Jack Antonoff. His influence is quite apparent on the keyboard progressions leading up to and throughout the chorus, sounding familiar to tempos used both for The Bleachers’ music and even Taylor Swift’s 1989. I wouldn’t say that this is anything near being considered as pop, though. Lorde may be exploring a new sound, but the whole track is still very “Lorde.” Like she says on the song, she hears new sounds in her mind and those sounds are what we are to expect on Melodrama.”

The rest of Melodrama follows suit, veering closer to pop/dance than Pure Heroine, with songs like “Homemade Dynamite,” “Sober,” and “Supercut.” Other songs are slower, electronic ballads, like “Liability,” “Hard Feelings/Loveless,” and “Writer in The Dark.” On The Tonight Show, Lorde talks about the album writing process, and claims she helicoptered to remote islands for short periods of time in order to write on her own. These trips certainly paid off, as Melodrama has been nominated for the 2018 Grammy Award of “Album of the Year.” -Anna Trikas

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  1. Kendrick Lamar, DAMN

There’s little that could be said about Kendrick Lamar’s latest work that hasn’t already been said in the hundreds of reviews, thinkpieces and real-life conversations that it sparked since its release. DAMN has been scrutinized more than any other album of the past year, and for good reason.

With his storytelling and songwriting abilities at a career-high, Lamar touches on racial injustice, his crises of faith, and the changes he’s gone through since becoming a global icon. And in the process, he scores some his biggest chart hits to date with the singles “Humble”, “Loyalty” and “DNA”. There’s not a second of filler, but the album’s centrepiece is undeniably “Fear”, a stripped-down slow jam that gives him space to sketch out his fears at seven, seventeen, and twenty-seven over seven minutes.

DAMN is essential. Plus Kendrick made U2 sound current in 2017. He gets bonus points for that. –Isaac Fox

 Listen here

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