This is the time of year when you keep an eye out for lads like D’Angelo. The narrative around the best albums of any given year is usually put together by hacks in November. That’s when these lists are compiled, the placings arranged and the year in pop summarised in tens and twenties.
All well and good until you get an album like D’Angelo’s Black Messiah arriving in December and upsetting the Album-Of-The-Year cart. It used to be the case that no-one in their right mind would release a new album in December because, you know, record shops and Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits and the Christmas CDs for the mammies.
If you released an album in December, the wise men said, no-one would give it the time of day. But enter D’Angelo, Beyonce and a host of others who knew they’d the commercial acumen and attention to do things their way and December is back in play. If you’re big enough, you can always do things your own way.
As chance would have it, there are three albums on the list you’re about to add to your lengthening list of other lists which were released earlier this month (the Irish albums of 2017 are here). There are also four albums in there which come from last January, which is a lifetime in pop terms. Unlike elf-on-a-shelf, they’ve hung around all year and and possess an admirable kind of sticking power. They’re in no particular order bar the one at number one. We’ll see you for another few rounds in 2018.
Loyle Carner - Yesterday’s Gone
Number one because nothing came close to this youngster all year long. An album which made its case without bragging or bravado, Yesterday’s Gone was where the small stuff was writ large. The Croydon wordsmith with the ear and cadence for the low-key dramas which power all our lives created a bit of a masterpiece by stalling the ball around his own hood, his own people, his own life.
Mr Jukes - God First
Mr Jukes is Jack Steadman from Bombay Bicycle Club but please, for the love of God, don’t let that put you off. Steadman and a galaxy of starslike the late Charles Bradley, De La Soul, Horace Andy, Lianne La Havas, Lalah Hathaway and more fire up the jazz, funk and soul spiritual funky grooves to create truly wild sounds.
Rostam - Half Light
I think I listened to Bike Dream around 388 times in September alone which makes it my tune of the year. The album from one-time Vampire Weekend dude Rostam Batmanglij is just as tasty: a rich, colourful rainbow of post-this and post-that sounds from a man who has already shown his wonky pop smarts on work for Haim, Solange, Frank Ocean and others.
Sampha - Process
There were many reviewers who reckoned back at the dawn of the year that this would win the Mercury Music Prize and so it came to pass. Having cut his teeth working with Solange (her again), Drake and Kanye West, Sampha basically kept the best gear for himself. (No One Knows Me) Like the Piano is the finest example of small hours torch songs blues in years.
Lorde - Melodrama
I interviewed Lorde in June in a supermarket car park outside Belfast (I was in the car park, she was on the phone) and she was every jot as whip-smart, savvy and erudite as her second album was. The pop star’s pop star.
The xx - I See You
Minimalists turn maximists with sounds which throb and thump with beautifully emotional aplomb, sleek pop grace and the kind of urgent hurt drama which you’d win Oscars with.
SZA - Ctrl
Striking languid musings and confessionals about love, feminism, control and relationships in the age of social media from the New Jersey singer with killer intent.
Kendrick Lamar - Damn
Hip-hop’s ruling don shows that even the prescence of U2 cannot stop him.
Miguel - War & Leisure
Four albums in and it’s hard to work out where Miguel is heading next with his imaginative, colourful, funk-not-funk pop. The heart really is in these grooves.
Mac DeMarco - This Old Dog
Ignore the off-stage shabby slacker persona and get your head around these smartly crafted, raw, reflective songs of considerable width and depth.
Vince Staples - Big Fish Theory
Catch of the day: Staples keeps things together with great panache and that fantastic flow of his as the album slips and slides sonically from brass to bass to banger.
Julie Byrne - Not Even Happiness
The American singer-songwriter’s album was a quiet storm of soft power which maintained its spell all year long thanks to a blend of delicate sounds, serene folk songs and that gorgeous plaintive voice.
N.E.R.D. - No One Ever Really Dies
A ferocious, intense, fiercely now sense of drama dominates the fifth album from Pharrell Williams and gang. The songs may roll and twist and the collaborators like Ed Sheeran, MIA, Gucci Mane and Frank Ocean may have come with their own ideas, but the overall buzz is glorious to behold.
Rapsody - Laila’s Wisdom
The woman from Snow Hill, North Carolina had form in the form of her hand, act and part in To Pimp A Butterfly but she’s very much the star of her own show here. A record full of transcedent, dynamic, hugely powerful rhymes.
Robert Finley - Goin’ Platinum
Nashville soul with the right amount of grit and groove from one-time carpenter, army bandsman and busker put right and upstanding by producer Dan 'Black Keys' Auerbach and a cracking band.
Margo Price - All American Made
Country music from the darkness on the edge of town, Price’s latest album is full of gloriously melcholic riffs on life’s ups and downs (mostly downs).
Moses Sumney - Aromanticism
Fantastic set of falsetto-pop from this soulful kingpin who comes to the table with the Solange seal of approval.
Taylor Bennett - Restoration Of An American Idol
Chance the Rapper’s brother comes out swinging with infectious melodies, powerful wordplay and the kind of sweet hip-hop which bests his bro in places.
Camille - Oui
Classy idiosyncratic Gallic pop on the fifth album from Camille Dalmias whose vocals blend language, sound and harmonies into splendid wibbly-wobbly wonders.
Denai Moore - We Used To Bloom
Classic soul sculpting on the Jamaican singer and SBTRKT collaborator’s second album which pulls folk, hip-hop and r’n’b into a swirl of soft, subtle, sweet shapeshifting.
Listen to Jim Carroll's Irish Albums Of The Year here.