The Essential 2017 Summer Album Roundup

2017 has provided one of the most saturated summers for big releases in recent memory. Everything from superstar DJs, to teenage pop wunderkinds to quintessential indie rock bands have brightened the prospect of a dreary British summer. So in case you were jetting off to somewhere far nicer than Weston-super-Mare, here’s Vendor’s summer album roundup to fill you in:

alt-J – Relaxer
The 2012 Mercury Prize winners’ third record unfortunately put too much stress on detail and not enough substance. Like their previous records, Relaxer‘s 8 tracks are stuffed full of pop culture and literary references but sorely missing from their third album are the digital quirks and squawks. Relaxer has its moments but for such a distinctly intelligent band, it’s also very bland and highly forgettable. 5/10

Katy Perry – Witness
When Katy Perry rocked up in 2017 with a Miley Cyrus-inspired crew cut solemnly swearing by her newfound ‘purposeful pop’ many fans expected an album with both depth and tunefulness. Lead single and album highlight ‘Chained to the Rhythm’ offered early promise both musically and thematically, but a return to old habits on Taylor Swift diss-track ‘Swish Swish’ undid the conceptual feel of the record. Witness feels like an album grasping hopefully at the socially-aware trend that has enveloped pop music this year and unfortunately for Perry there’s little conviction in her delivery to convince us to listen intently. 5/10

Lorde – Melodrama
The glory of Melodrama comes in the many masks that it adorns. It’s coming of age, heartbreak and searing self-reflection all in one with a fitting concept to match – Melodrama‘s 11 songs all unspool across the course of one house party. The tracks are pop at its fluorescent best, tinged with intense melancholy and elation and no doubt heightened by drugs, drink and sex. It would be easy for Lorde to unveil how fame has warped her teenage experiences. Instead she picks apart the complexities of being in your late teens in both a relatable and richly vicarious manner. 9/10

Jay-Z – 4:44
After a couple of passable albums, it seems that the revelations forced to the surface by Beyonce’s Lemonade have helped Jay-Z to rediscover his edge. On 4:44, Jay-Z confronts himself and his own failings with the most darkly revealing record of his career. It’s also great to hear Jay-Z returning to a more classic style of production following the poor fit of more modern beats on his last album Magna Carta Holy Grail. However as good as 4:44 is throughout, some of the shine is taken off of the album with the continued, needless exclusivity of Tidal and the over-commercialisation of such a well-constructed dissection of the personal. 7/10

Calvin Harris – Funk Wav Bounces Vol.1
Calvin Harris certainly wins the award for the most ‘unique’ album title of the summer and it proved to be a adequate precursor of what was to come. Funk Wav Bounces promised to achieve the nostalgic mixtape feel of ’80s-style disco boogie and for the most part Harris succeeded. Harris has segued seamlessly from the jackhammer EDM of his previous records into a blissfully chill summer record. Funk Wav Bounces hardly reinvents the pop wheel but singles ‘Feels’ (which went to number one in the UK) and album standout ‘Slide’, which managed to coax the elusive Frank Ocean out of his cave, reiterate Harris’ continued stronghold on pop as well as the potential for a graduation to more ambitious projects in the future. 7/10

Haim – Something To Tell You
On their sophomore album, Haim continue to layer a number of retro styles and textures. The most obvious is the dusty LA rock of Fleetwood Mac and yet the effortless three-part harmonies of the sister trio also recalls the ’90s R&B of TLC. However, the most noticeable change here is the bittersweet pang that crowds the bright, balmy feel of their debut album. And yet even as Haim’s music takes on a more downcast disposition it cleverly pivots into more poppy territory with some wonderfully understated hooks. Something To Tell You doesn’t feel like an obvious progression, more a tightening of an already well-proven algorithm. 7/10

DJ Khaled – Grateful
Despite its exhausting 22-track listing, Grateful has some great tracks worth rifling through the filler for. There’s the Santana-sampling ‘Wild Thoughts’ featuring a real star turn from Rihanna, the guest heavy ‘I’m the One’ and throwback track ‘Good Man’ utilises rap veterans Jadakiss and Pusha T to startling effect. However Khaled’s now embarrassingly comical calls of ‘We the best music’ and ‘Another one’ at the beginning of almost every track makes the whole process infinitely worse. A DJ Khaled-free Deluxe Edition release might actually go down a treat. 5/10

Tyler, the Creator – Flower Boy
Tyler, the Creator, in his own distanced, tormented way, fascinates like his fellow Odd Future alumni Frank Ocean but up until now, his music hasn’t been regarded in the same highest of high echelons. Flower Boy, on th
e whole, ditches the disturbed characters from his previous records in an effort to paint a more accurate portrait of the real Tyler. In accordance with this artistic pivot, Tyler surrounds himself with some luscious soundscapes more akin to early Pharrell. It’s a surprise to hear this from Tyler- unless further down the line it proves to be yet another well-conceived deception. 9/10

Lana Del Rey – Lust For Life
Americana has always been a consistent motif in Lana’s universe and as America continues to struggle through testing times it naturally lands Lana Del Rey at an interesting intersection. Alongside the decadent, melodramatic imagery there are some intriguing political narratives that most critics would’ve scoffed at if Lana had attempted the same act four or five years ago. Now, they’re far more likely to listen closely. But even as Lana unveils these new perspectives she maintains that mystery and distance with aplomb. It’s the kind of record that satisfies without sacrificing intrigue. 8/10

Arcade Fire – Everything Now
Arcade Fire’s latest album unfortunately fell victim to their extensive promo, including the creation of a fake conglomerate corporation that the band were supposedly slaves too as well as their own fake review of Everything Now. It all, rather ironically, seems like a distraction from the truth at hand; Everything Now is well off Arcade Fire’s usual standards. Apart from a few truly stunning tracks, the majority of this album drifts easily into laziness and mediocrity. Lowlights include Win Butler shouting ‘Infinite content, we’re infinitely content’ and rapping the days of the week like Craig David. It’s by no means a horrendous album but for Arcade Fire it’s pretty underwhelming. 6/10

Kesha – Rainbow
The first record Kesha has released since the ongoing lawsuit between herself and former producer Dr. Luke is a exultant one. It would be easy to be blinded by Kesha’s remarkable comeback but Rainbow is a truly accomplished record in its own right. Gone is the dollar sign from the name as is the Autotune for the most part and it feels like we’re seeing the real Kesha for the first time. Bravely, Kesha tackles the issues head on and musically Rainbow is her most complete record as she flits between minimal balladry and frenetic rock. Rainbow always feels a few beats from veering out of control but rather aptly Kesha is composed and triumphant in chaos. 7/10

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