Best albums of 2017: critic picks of the year’s best music

Get into the groove with sultry dance tracks, intimate pop, soul-bearing rap and heartfelt country

Lorde cancelled her Tel Aviv concert in 2017. 

The year is not over yet, but music critics have already started compiling lists of their favourite albums so far, from rap and folk to pop and country.

Here are ten of their top picks.

Kendrick Lamar – Damn

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Lamar won a Grammy and countless new fans with his groundbreaking 2015 album To Pimp a Butterfly, which was praised by every from Prince to then president Barack Obama. Damn, the fourth studio album by the US rapper, features guest spots by Rihanna and U2, and has made it onto many critics Top Ten albums of 2017 lists. The Guardian says: “Whether Damn will have the same epochal impact as To Pimp a Butterfly remains to be seen, but either way, it sounds like the work of a supremely confident artist at the top of his game.”

Laura Marling – Semper Femina

Folk songstress Marling reflects on the nature of femininity inspired by her studies of muses, painters and psychoanalysts. NME says that “what’s always shone brightest in Marling’s music is her Leonard Cohen-like acuity, and that shows no sign of abating here”, and calls Semper Femina “the most serene, stylistically varied album Marling has ever created”.

The xx - I See You

The xx are known for their blend of moody, murmured vocals, guitar rock and sultry dance grooves. Their latest album remixes these elements

once again, yet retains that sense of a fresh and innovative presence in the indie-pop world. Beatmaker Jamie xx, says Paste magazine, “creates gorgeous atmospheric textures” that elevate Oliver Sims’ and Romy Madley Croft’s vocals “without overwhelming them”. The result is “a deep and enchanting album that is just as likely to soundtrack a party as it is a daydream, and is at its best when doing both at once”.

Father John Misty – Pure Comedy

Father John Misty (aka Josh Tillman from Fleet Foxes), has won over legions of fans with his soft, soulful vocals and wistful, though sometimes slyly witty, lyrics. Misty has been praised by many critics as of the greatest songwriters making music today. NME praises the album as “a beautiful, illuminating masterpiece” that will nevertheless “leave you with as many questions as it does answers”.

Mac DeMarco – This Old Dog

Canadian 'slacker-rock' musician DeMarco is known for his offstage antics, including naked videos, but his new album, his third, reveals a more laid-back style. BBC Radio 6 Music says “the evolution of Mac's sound may well open him up to a wider audience, and has led to comparisons with Harry Nilsson, Randy Newman and Cat Stevens. His talent is certainly one to continue watching out for.”

Jay-Z – 4.44

Critics are hailing 4:44 a return to form for the hip-hop veteran and Beyonce’s other half. The title song is a public apology to his wife for his past indiscretions, setting the tone on an album packed with painfully honest self-analysis. According to Fact Magazine, Jay-Z’s greatest gift is “telling us everything in so few words”, while finding a way “to balance his age and wealth in his storytelling” - proving “he still has tricks we’d thought he’d lost”.

Willie Nelson - God's Problem Child

The 84-year-old country legend faces the possibility of his own death in his latest album, a heartfelt exploration of mortality. As Rolling Stone says, “these songs are brimming with bleak prophecy and spiritual acceptance, as Nelson ponders his eternal home, everlasting compassion and his fallen comrade [late singer-songwriter] Merle Haggard”.

Songhoy Blues – Resistance

This Malian guitar quartet was formed after a jihadist invasion forced the musicians into exile. Since the release of the 2015 debut, Music in Exile, the band have won over international audiences with their blend of desert blues, funk and rock. Their follow-up, Resistance, which features an appearance by Iggy Pop, looks destined to win them more fans. The Observer calls it “a joyous, eclectic album”.

Lorde – Melodrama

New Zealand songstress Lorde first found fame at the age of 16. Four years later, her music continues to transcend her age, blending electronic dance, hip-hop, pop, and the influences of David Bowie and Kate Bush, while still retaining her unique signature sound. Rolling Stone calls Lorde’s new album “a tour de force”, with “fantastically intimate vocals” and songs that linger “well after the house lights have gone up”.

Sampha – Process

Sampha worked as a vocalist alongside major hip-hop and R&B stars from Solange and Drake to Kanye West and Frank Ocean before going it alone. Exploring his grief following his mother's death from cancer, his relationship with his family, and his musical struggles, his solo debut won Sampha this year's Mercury Award. The Guardian calls Process “distinctly British, sonically restless and emotionally action-packed”.

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