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2017 Breakthrough Albums of the Year

Fri, 22 Dec 2017 16:54:23

2017 Breakthrough Albums of the Year -

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  • Enter Shikari - GLASTONBURY, ENGLAND - JUNE 28: Martin Doyle of 'Enter Shikari' performs live on the Pyramid Stage at day 2 of the 2013 Glastonbury Festival at Worthy Farm on June 28, 2013 in Glastonbury, England.
  • Enter Shikari - GLASTONBURY, ENGLAND - JUNE 28: Martin Doyle of 'Enter Shikari' performs live on the Pyramid Stage at day 2 of the 2013 Glastonbury Festival at Worthy Farm on June 28, 2013 in Glastonbury, England.
  • Enter Shikari - GLASTONBURY, ENGLAND - JUNE 28: Martin Doyle of 'Enter Shikari' performs live on the Pyramid Stage at day 2 of the 2013 Glastonbury Festival at Worthy Farm on June 28, 2013 in Glastonbury, England.

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      The thrill of discovery is an essential part of being a music fan. Is there anything better than being blown away by music from an artist whose existence was completely unknown to you just moments before? Whether that moment occurs online, on the road or on a stage, it’s power is absolute and its joy is unabated.

      With the shift in music consumption habits and platforms over the past couple of years, the entirety of music has never been more accessible, and so newer artists are no longer just battling their contemporaries for the attention of an audience, but lining up to take on the entire history of music so far.

      Even with those long initial odds, the following ten artists have released records that demand attention, so we encourage you all to stream, purchase, download or go see them live in a town near you — the promise of the music to come lies firmly, and safely in their hands.

      Welcome to the ARTISTdirect Top Ten Breakthrough Albums of 2017

      10. Bully — Losing

      If you love the Pixies, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins and Belly, then Bully are the new band for you. Hailing from Nashville, sounding Seattle and feeling Minnesota, this four-piece grunge-infused rock team is led by 27-year-old Alicia Bognanno, a former intern at Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio studios in Chicago. But enough of background, Losing is an amazing record, more than able to stand (and stomp and jump) on it’s own merits. Once the student, now the master Alicia returned to the Chicago to record and produce herself this second album of driving guitars paired with vocals ranging from a whisper to a scream. Unfailing honest, and powerfully cathartic on record, Bully have now signed to Sub Pop, refined their sound and created a worthy new piece of the label’s legendary musical legacy.

      9. Stormzy — Gang Signs Prayer

      Developing from equal parts hip hop, dancehall, ragga and electronic music, the British genre of Grime has been enveloping more and more aspects of popular culture beyond the UK as the past decade has progressed. Here in 2017, Stormzy has emerged as a new leader of the scene (joining an older generation of MCs like Dizzee Rascal, Wiley Skepta and contemporaries like Giggs) via bars packed tight with humor, logic and strong sense of morals and values. A gritty sound is a defining characteristic of grime, but with Gang Signs Prayer, Stormzy pushes the boundaries of what the genre can be and become, sprawling like his native London across elements of trap, pop, RB and even gospel. Man is hot, very hot.

      8. King Gizzard The Lizard Wizard — Flying Microtonal Banana, Murder of the Universe, Sketches of Brunswick East, Polygondwanaland and ????

      No round-up of breakthrough artists in 2017 could be complete without mention of this Australian psychedelic garage rock group formed in Melbourne back at the start of the decade. After releasing 7 well-regarded indie albums over the course of their first 6 years together, they announced plans at the start of 2017 to release no less than 5 new albums in 12 months, a number that many acts would consider a pretty good career total. As the year progressed, it became clear that this was no idle boast, or dashed out musical drafts, each record has been worthy of time and attention — a set which hangs together beautiful as a far-flung adventure in sound. That album number 4 can be downloaded for free from the King Gizzard website makes it an ideal starting point for the uninitiated, but fans of progressive, experimental jams and power rock can use that home from which to debate a favorite between the 5 albums of 2017 (including one last entry still to come in the year’s last week).

      7. Dua Lipa — Dua Lipa

      22-year-old pop singer-songwriter Dua Lipa has been building to her breakthrough moment for almost 8 years, dating back to when her YouTube covers of songs by Pink and Nelly Furtado first attracted the eye of the music world. Signed to a major label in 2015, the English/Albanian artist’s self-titled debut album has lifted her into the upper echelons of the pop world, initially through her endearing “Blow Your Mind (Mwah)” single, but later as her “New Rules” became the first song by a British female solo artists to top charts since Adele. Pretty good footsteps to follow and boots to fill, no?

      6. IDLES — Brutalism

      If you like your rock tinged with punk, anger, wit and a spot of inspired lunacy, then England’s Idles might just be your new favorite band. They have been dropping small EP music bombs since 2012, but this year saw the release of the debut full length Brutalism, pairing spiky aggressive music with the sharp, inciteful lyrics and delivery of lead singer Joe Talbot. Fans of both the genteel Great British Baking Show as well as punk rock should find something very special here, waiting for them within. 42 minutes of alternately pogoing and pondering? Yes please, and well done.

      5. PVRIS — All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell

      The ARTISTdirect team were lucky enough to experience the magic that is PVRIS live at outdoor festivals around America this summer, a setting where the Lowell, MA trio’s combination of infectious music, unstoppable energy and soaring vocal power could truly shine. Their second album All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell was released back in August and is a showcase for a band maturing from punky hardcore kids into towering melodic powerhouses. Tighter, sharper and more affecting than their (still strong) debut, this stadium-ready electropop post-hardcore amalgam is a monster, poised and ready to pounce. Grab the album, see them live and be ready to be taken away…

      4. ODESZA — A Moment Apart

      Talking of artists who were made to blow you away live, this electronic music duo from Seattle has been recording outstanding albums in their genre for 5 years now, but 2017 and A Moment Apart has elevated the band to new levels, both in the studio and on the stage. The new album showcases Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight as not just musicians, but also producers and performers. Vocalists ranging from Regina Spektor to Sasha Sloan and from Leon Bridges to Naomi Wild expand the music of Odesza into more ambitious places, and working those performers into the frenzy of light, sound and vibration that has long been the hallmark of their live shows has seen the band step up every facet of their game. Play along and discover it all for yourself.

      3. Harry Styles — Harry Styles

      Making the leap from beloved member of boy band to respected solo artist is one of the biggest in the music world. George Michael and Justin Timberlake undoubtedly stuck the landing, but many others fell flat on their face in the attempt. Of all the One Direction’s members to make their attempt this year, the joker in the pack has come up aces. His self-titled debut refused to adhere to the norms of modern pop music instead reaching for a variety of the hallmarks of classic rock — acoustic guitar at one moment and stomping glam rock at another. His feathered hair still seems to emanate from the 1970’s, and much of his musical cues seem to date back to the same era, but the end result seems to be Harry’s through-and-through. The year’s best surprise?

      2. Enter Shikari — The Spark

      As Enter Shikari have been crafting a unique blend of hardcore, post-rock, punk and electronic music for well over 15 years now, it might be a bit of a stretch to consider them a ‘breakthrough’ in 2017, but the power, growth and relevance of the sounds on their latest album The Spark is such that this record is definitely worthy of the term. Lead vocalist (in a group where all four members rap, scream and shout) Rou Reynolds fights off the panic attacks that have been haunting him to fuel inventive invective taking on the fears behind the Trump presidency and the British Brexit alike. Harnessing the power of rage has always been a key part of the Enter Shikari equation, but on this, their fifth studio album, the band injects more range, more engagement and vitally, more pop into their mix. The results are as hard to musically classify as ever, but their sum of the parts is a musical weapon able to hit more targets that ever before, both lyrically and culturally. Embrace the evolution.

      1. SZA — CTRL

      Fans of Frank Ocean rejoice, for your hero is no longer out there in the wilderness alone: 2017 brings reinforcements in the battle to change the face, definition and boundaries of modern soul music. Solána Imani Rowe, aka SZA rejects vowels but embraces and blends musical approaches of all kinds. Loosely termed alt-RB, that means that influences including Bjork, Lauryn Hill and Ella Fitzgerald collide in new ways. After writing music for Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj and Rihanna, SZA has been building to her debut since a 2014 mixtape became on online sensation, but the album that emerged is beyond anyone’s expectation.

      Effortlessly leaping between genres, showcasing unique delivery and phrasing and displaying equal amounts of insight and humor, CTRL is a perfect album for the Spotify generation: Take a little of whatever you admire, run it through your personal filters, preferences and skills and end up creating something entirely new. CTRL moves RB into harder spots just as Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. moves hip hop into softer places. The fact that the two albums can so casually be mentioned together speaks to the quality of this debut effort from SZA.

      Potential follow-up albums have been announced with the likes of Mark Ronson and Tame Impala, but the possibility of being a one-and-done album artist has also raised its head. If we get a vote, can we ask for some more, please?

      —The ARTISTdirect Staff

      Tags: SZA, Bully, Stormzy, King Gizzard the Lizard Wizard, Dua Lipa, IDLES, PVRIS, ODESZA, Harry Styles, Enter Shikari

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