Rounding up the year's most vital releases...
'Common Sense'

2017 has been a traumatic, turbulent year.

But it's also been a year marked by incredible creativity, by boundary shattering, barrier smashing releases that confounded expectation, and surged forth into new ground.

We've spent all year trying to bring you what we feel are the most vital releases around, the ones that make the deepest intersections into culture and identity.

So, with 2017 drawing to a close, here's what we believe are the best albums released in the past 12 months.

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1. J Hus - 'Common Sense'

Indeed, pretty much all of this is brand new material. That seems like a gutsy move in 2017, when most albums are trailed by multiple stream-only singles and videos, but here it figures more as a reminder that there’s still a place for bold new artists in the world. This sound now has an album to pin to the mast. It’ll soundtrack this summer, but don’t be fooled into thinking that its time will be up by September. It’s just common sense.

Clash review

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2. Kendrick Lamar - 'DAMN.'

Kendrick, as always, leaves us with a record that we’ll still be learning from for years to come. ’DAMN.’ does at times feel contradictory and the ideas he’s transmitting at times don’t feel fully formed, but this is where its genius lies. Kendrick offers a true snapshot of the eternal debates that we host inside our heads, and there is immense bravery and artistry in his depiction. With his first two albums, Kendrick Lamar established himself as one of the greatest rappers of his generation. After ‘DAMN.’ he finds himself beginning to creep into the conversation about the greatest of all time.

Clash review

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3. Sampha - 'Process'

With ‘Process’, Sampha lays bare his soul through warm, tinted vignettes that are achingly humane. It’s this capacity for unfiltered vulnerability unlike his peers, that has resulted in endorsements by hip-hop heavyweights Kanye (‘Saint Pablo’) and Drake (‘Too Much’) as well as soul forerunners Solange (‘Don’t Touch My Hair’) and Frank Ocean (‘Alabama’). Sampha’s experiences and fears aren’t treated as linear, but an ever-changing, ever-evolving process. His truths shine in technicolour throughout the record’s ten tracks.

Clash review

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4. SZA - 'Ctrl'

On ‘CTRL’, SZA is a fully-fledged artiste with things to say and people to say it to, no longer hiding behind the reverb. Even as ‘CTRL’ explores dreamy soundscapes, her voice is foregrounded in all its grainy quality, unaffected and real. Celebrating womanhood in all its complexity, a record of unadorned, bare-boned vulnerability, SZA’s multi-perspective lyricism gives the modern woman richness and grit.

Clash review

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5. Moses Sumney - 'Aromanticism'

On ‘Aromanticism’, Sumney has worked hard to defy binary categorisation. The record is a singular, sprawling affair that revisits the evocative, hyper-real art of Bjӧrk with the spacey jazz and funk flourishes of Prince. Virtuosic ad-libs, guitar flicks and iridescent harp inflections create an ethereal, otherworldly feel to the record, take the Thundercat-assisted ‘Lonely World’, a crescendo of bass and horns and swells of melodrama. 

Clash review

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6. LCD Soundystem - 'American Dream'

‘American Dream’ is a darker, more diverse record than its predecessors and a more human one too. In realising the difficulty of allowing himself to indulge in what he had chosen to end, Murphy has found himself driven to justify LCD Soundsystem’s rebooted existence more than ever before. It’s still imperfect, but even its flaws are worthy of note. The long goodbye is now followed by quite a lengthy return. Long may it last.

Clash review

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7. Tyler, The Creator - 'Flower Boy'

Lyrically, this feels like Tyler’s most accomplished album yet. There’s a treatise on police brutality right from the off on ‘Foreword’, and throughout he makes reference to his own mental health with more introspection, and crucially less angst, than ever before. Fans will no doubt already be heatedly discussing where ‘Flower Boy’ fits into the overall narrative of Tyler’s layered output. The album ends with the sound of a car engine being cut, a door being shut, and footsteps… which is sure to fuel the debate. In many ways though, ‘Flower Boy’ would be a fitting end to the story: Tyler has exorcised the demons that dominated ‘Bastard’ and ‘Goblin’, and found real sense of balance, perspective, and cohesion. As strong a final act as ‘Flower Boy’ would be, here’s hoping it isn’t.

Clash review

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8. King Krule - 'The Ooz'

While its disorientating nature and vast stature may threaten to intimidate casual listeners, those who stick with Marshall’s sophomore record as King Krule will be given a unique and immersive insight into his hazy world. A world where the extremes are intertwined. Where the dreamy and romantic sits beside the gritty and the grimy. Such is the expanse of the work it sometimes feels as if it threatens to collapse under the weight of its own extensive network of themes and ideas. ‘The OOZ’ is undoubtedly another thought-provoking entry into the discography one of Britain’s most exciting and challenging young artists. An intense, yet rewarding listen.

Clash review

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9. The Horrors - 'V'

‘V’ is The Horrors’ most cohesive record to date. Even though it doesn’t carry the same stylistic impact as ‘Primary Colours’ did in 2009 (c’mon, that was a massive leap), ‘V’ is the record that has finally given The Horrors a set identity. Perfecting every element they did so well on their four previous records, ‘V’ is a pure and unadulterated celebration of The Horrors.

Clash review

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10. Arca - 'Arca'

The beauty of ‘Arca’ is that it runs like one continuous piece. It’s as if Ghersi has created the record to coincide with a one-man show intended to be consumed as a whole, going from a behind-the-decks electronic composer to an exhibitionist. ‘Arca’ rides a steady stream of minimalist melancholia, juxtaposed against Ghersi’s intense, operatic vocals – the effect is one of ceremonial transcendence.

Clash review

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11. Brockhampton - 'Saturation'

I think what we're doing hasn't really ever been done before because on one end, we're a boy band and on the other end, we're like this media company/ad agency. Also, we want to be record label. So I've never really seen anything truly like it. I don't really have a blueprint to follow besides watching interviews. Well, I guess the blueprint I do follow is Def Jam, in a way, just because it started in a small space, which is so similar to how we started. There's also Apple, it started in a small room and it becomes this huge corporation. Basically how I wanna be.

HERE

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12. Kelela - 'Take Me Apart'

On her debut full-length, Kelela tackles the ghosts of her past love and starts anew, the decadent opener ‘Frontline’ beautifully capturing the angst that comes with moving on. Retaining the grit and cold effect electronics that defined her breakthrough mixtape ‘Cut 4 Me’, Kelela becomes the siren, scorned but braced for impact, the garage-inflected ‘Onanon’, hitting you in the proverbial with its lush, programmed melancholia.

Clash review

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13. Jay Z - '4:44'

‘4:44’ is a deceptively multi-layered listen, revealing more and more to the listener upon multiple listens. So much is economically packed into Jay’s bars, there’s no way it can be digested in a single listen or written about in a single review. It’s reality music, and while obviously tailored around the life and times of Shawn Carter, offers so many narratives that the common man can relate to in astounding measures.

Clash review

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14. Vince Staples - 'Big Fish Theory'

With ‘Big Fish Theory’, it’s clear that Staples has no intention of treading water. Production-wise, Vince’s experimentation with a variety of fascinating and unconventional beats across the record is especially commendable. The cold and otherworldly ‘Crabs In a Bucket’ is bolstered by a garage beat that you might find on a grime track, while the glitchy ‘Homage’ accelerates as Staples’ flow bounces with every flicker and thundering pulse.

Clash review

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15. Migos - 'Culture'

Migos are undoubtedly at the forefront of their niche; simultaneously defining their genre and pushing it forward to such an extent that it’s become impossible for mainstream pop culture to ignore. Sure, ‘CULTURE’ may be limited in its scope, but it delivers in spades everything one might have hoped for from “the Beatles of this generation.”

Clash review

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16. Stormzy - 'Gang Signs & Prayer'

Stormzy, it seems, is the everyman MC. Adored by everyone from Ed Sheeran to Adele, from the disaffected youth who constituted grime’s original, core audience, to the Nandos-munching students hashtagging along to his hits, he has penetrated the mainstream more quickly, and more effectively, than almost any MC before him – save, perhaps, Dizzee Rascal.

Clash review

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17. Kamasi Washington - 'Harmony Of Difference'

Intended as a neat musical metaphor for the joy of human diversity, these six tracks are all interrelated, with the concluding thirteen-and-a-half-minute piece, ‘Truth’, incorporating aspects of all that has gone before. And what comes before is quite a nifty genre primer for the uninitiated, hopping giddily across eras and styles with the sort of dexterity that will come as no surprise to those who are familiar with the debut. Coltrane, Hutcherson and Hancock each take their place in the DNA of ‘Harmony Of Difference’ and so too, on ‘Integrity’, does Sergio Mendes.

Clash review

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18. St. Vincent - 'MASSEDUCTION'

Forever unpredictable, Clark’s propensity to favour shock value should come as little surprise by now. Following ‘Actor’ and ‘Strange Mercy’, the Texas native has digitalised her sound substantially, gravitating toward a caustic brand of electro-rock that’s lent itself perfectly to her outlandish latex outfits and erratic on-stage antics. Still, where much has changed, more has remained the same - the record’s first single ‘New York’ is a vintage-Clark piano ballad, while ‘Los Ageless’ struts confidently as Clark belts out a spellbinding refrain in the form of a question: “How could anybody have you and lose you and not lose their mind, too?”

Clash review

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19. The National - 'Sleep Well Beast'

As with all of the band’s works, ‘Sleep Well Beast’ is an album that rewards repeat listens and unfurls its beauty slowly over time: The National have yet again made an album that’s as brilliant as it is ambitious.

Clash review

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20. Ibeyi - 'Ash'

For their second full-length, Ibeyi returned to the studio with XL head Richard Russell to generate something (the record’s title suggests) from the ashes. More overtly political than the twin sisters’ debut - whether in the police sirens trailing in the background of ‘Away Away’, their mother’s reading of a Frida Kahlo extract during album centrepiece ‘Transmission/Michaelion’, or the samples from a Michelle Obama speech on gender equality on ‘No Man Is Big Enough For My Arms’ - ‘Ash’ serves as a stirring, reflective statement in uncertain times.

Clash review

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21. Four Tet - 'New Energy'

'Two Thousand And Seventeen' is shrouded in a deft beauty, from the delicate dulcimer melody to the swirling electronics, right down to the gentle slump of that hip-hop indebted beat. Stylistically, it recalls Four Tet's work on 'Pause' and 'Rounds', but with a very future-facing appeal.

HERE

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22. John Maus - 'Screen Memories'

By the time the record’s penultimate track rolls around, Maus has been transformed into a near godlike figure, triumphantly surveying the ground below as a “phantom over the battlefield”. It’s an image that would appear bizarre under almost any other circumstance. Here, though, it’s more akin to a well-warranted display of authority from an artist that’s truly a master of his craft. With ‘Screen Memories’, Maus once again welcomes all that dare enter into his all-consuming, oddball world.

Clash review

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23. Future - Future

Everything that I do is intentional... It’s been the driving force of my whole career. I’m making those records that catch people off guard.

HERE

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24. Kelly Lee Owens - 'Kelly Lee Owens'

Ambience is not a quality generally associated with techno. Yet, Welsh producer Kelly Lee Owens has been steadily unearthing the latent warmth of the genre since self-releasing her debut single ‘Lucid’ in 2015. Combining the atmospherics of hazy synth-lines and subaqueous vocals with a charged rhythmic pulse that readies her tracks for the club, she has carved a unique space for herself in the electronic field, making tracks that are just as at home on the dance floor as well as in your headphones.

Clash review

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25. Ikonika - 'Distractions'

It’s not about pushing things forward, it’s about pushing things in all directions...

HERE

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26. Wolf Alice - 'Visions Of A Life'

Maybe the product of a transitional period in Rowsell’s life, it’s easy to get lost yourself in the singer’s endearing lyricism, particularly on ‘Planet Hunter’ and ‘Sky Musings’, which use wistful synths, tectonic percussion and, at points, grungy guitars as a backdrop. The LP’s title track closes the record with surging riffs that bring on a rock ‘n’ roll chorus of roaring instrumental elements. Ellie sings: “my journey ends when my heart stops beating,” however with another body of work looking set to propel the four-piece even further, this band’s journey is far from over yet.

Clash review

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27. Kehlani - 'SweetSexySavage'

‘SweetSexySavage’ will most definitely sate the hunger of her fervent followers. It’s a glossy record that reincarnates the harmonies and textures of Brandy’s ‘Afrodisiac' and Aaliyah’s self-titled, two records in the pantheon of R&B that fused nuanced, progressive production with biting feminine confessionals. Kehlani doesn’t mince her words — the record a very honest account of her experiences. One that will inevitably resonate with receptive young women trying to find their own respective paths in an unforgiving world. From this vantage point, they might not get a better soundtrack to dance away their troubles to this year.

Clash review

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28. Father John Misty - 'Pure Comedy'

This third album doesn’t stray too far from what we fell in love with on 2015’s ‘Honeybear' or 2012’s 'Fear Fun'. It’s a hybrid of angst and sarcasm and pure beauty. From the chaotic collage of noise opening ‘Pure Comedy’ we’re flung head first into a gorgeous ballad that teeters on the edge of uncomfortable and bliss, with moments of horror scene screeches bleeding into ‘70s sax.

Clash review

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29. Bicep - 'Bicep'

Written using a mix of intuitive jamming and later over-dubbing with a range of hardware and electronics, ‘Bicep’ was created as a fluid effort of revision and refinement. From a first listen it is immediately apparent that Bicep have honed their studio craft. The drum production is punchy and crisp, and the melodies are bright and carefully arranged to avoid muddying composition. Opener ‘Orca’ brings to mind a half-time trance euphoria through its vivid synth reverb, and yet, an ominous bassline kicks in halfway through, along with a breakbeat that sits back in the mix, leaving the track straddled between private listening and the dancefloor. Following number ‘Glue’ continues in a similar vein, combining slowed jungle breaks with a Burial-style melody, reminiscent of a half-empty 5am club, or the night bus home.

Clash review

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30. Phoebe Bridgers - 'Stranger In The Alps'

I bounce ideas off of a lot of friends that I respect creatively. I feel like I kind of have to start for myself, and then if it hits a point where I hit a wall - or I’m getting too in my own head - I’ll reach out and make people listen to my ideas.

Clash review

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31. Drake - 'More Life'

This is the strongest project Drake since 2013’s ‘Nothing Was The Same’, and one that owes itself to sounds across the globe. “I’ll be back in 2018 to give you the summary, more life,” he raps as he closes out the playlist on ‘Do Not Disturb’. Where does he go from here? Only 6 God knows.

Clash review

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32. Cigarettes After Sex - 'Cigarettes After Sex'

Starting as an experiment recorded in a stairwell while singer Greg Gonzalez was studying at the University of Texas at El Paso, the band bring together beautifully androgynous vocals and touching lyrics while still managing to sound unique. This eponymous debut has an almost ethereal quality, bringing love songs and ambience together in one dreamy swoop — the perfect backdrop to intimacy, whether post-sex or otherwise.

Clash review

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33. Clark - 'Death Peak'

Existing fans won’t be disappointed and nor, we suspect, will the label as Clark – who signed with Warp in his late teens – continues to establish himself as a key player within his artistic milieu.

Clash review

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34. Rapsody - 'Laila's Wisdom'

We've all grown together with this project. We all came into it with the mindset of just making music; do whatever felt right. I’ve taken everything I’ve learned and did what felt right. I lived in the moment with this one.

HERE

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35. Big K.R.I.T - '4eva Is a Mighty Long Time'

To me it’s always been about trying to show the duality of myself. I think we all go out into the world sometimes with a confidence, we put that face on and turn into superheroes. I think it’s important for me to talk about that, [as well as] what you go through when you’re not feeling the world, you don’t feel up for talking.

HERE

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36. Big Thief - 'Capacity'

There is a darker darkness and a lighter light on this album. The songs search for a deeper level of self-acceptance, to embrace the world within and without. I think (debut album) 'Masterpiece' began that process, as a first reaction from inside the pain, and 'Capacity' continues that examination with a wider perspective.

HERE

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37. Elder - 'Reflections Of A Floating World'

Elder is a three-piece heavy psych band hailing from Boston, USA. Their lengthy songs are told as stories, unfolding and undulating across genre boundaries and into new kosmische territory.

HERE

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38. Syd - 'Fin'

Despite this being Syd’s first solo effort, it is still a collaborative affair made up of contributions from members of The Internet. ‘Fin’ features production from guitarist Steve Lacy as well as instrumentals from Matt Martians, the band’s keyboard player. Martians has also just dropped his debut record, ‘Drum/Chord Theory’, while Lacey’s is forthcoming, making this spate of solo releases the latest incarnation of the band, rather than a departure. ‘Fin’ is one record in conversation with the others — a new model of creativity and one that has produced, at the very least, an excellent piece of work.

Clash review

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39. Julie Byrne - 'Not Even Happiness'

I genuinely feel so enthusiastic and so fortunate to be able finally to get to live through my creative work, because for so long I was balancing it with whatever odd jobs I could pick up. I never want a day to go by when I’m not aware of the honour of being able to do this for a living. This is the only thing I’ve ever really dreamed of doing.

HERE

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40. Dvsn - 'Morning After'

To be specific, Asian, European, and Latin film all had three key things that stood out to us, that made them feel different from North American movies and TV: subtitles, colour, and location.

HERE

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41. (Sandy) Alex G - 'Rocket'

It may be tongue-in-cheek, but the self-made Bandcamp veteran has indeed grown to be somewhat of a big fish in the small pond of indie rock, and ‘Rocket’ is beyond doubt the new crown jewel of his already sizable catalogue. Maybe that’s why closing cut ‘Guilty’ feels oddly celebratory with its cymbal flourishes and full stops, like Giannascoli himself knows full well the magnitude of his achievement here, on what is his most well-rounded, diverse, and unrelenting body of work to date.

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42. 2 Chainz - 'Pretty Girls Like Trap Music'

The production on ‘Pretty Girls Like Trap Music’ is top notch throughout. Sonically giving you an idea of what Atlanta sounds like right now — check out ‘4 AM’, ‘Poor Fool’ and ‘OG Kush Diet’ — with names like Mike Dean, Mike Will Made It, Murda Beatz, Buddah Bless and Ducky McFli on the boards your ears are in safe hands on this one.

Clash review

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43. Big Sean - 'I Decided.'

Based around the concept of reincarnation, ‘I Decided.’ may well be Sean’s most accomplished album to date, following him through four acts as he lives his life over again with the goal of doing everything right.

Clash review

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44. Japanese Breakfast - 'Soft Sounds From Another Planet'

Another theme on the record is realizing the inevitability of death and being really afraid of death. My aunt and my mom both died of GI cancers in the last two years separate from each other. My dog died of cancer, not that that has anything to do with it… But all of this stuff happened so quickly and I think about my own death a lot and how I’ll probably get cancer. So I kind of feel like everything I do now is a race against the clock.

HERE

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45. Amber Coffman - 'City Of No Reply'

I’ve wanted to make a solo album for my entire life... But the band was pretty demanding, time-wise, and I was still figuring out what I wanted to do musically.

HERE

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46. Jay Som - 'Everybody Works'

Jay Som hails from the San Francisco bay area, and a little of that warm sea air seems to have seeped into her music. Hazy dream pop that washed over you in waves, her work has already gained a cult following online.

HERE

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47. Ulver - 'The Assassination Of Julius Caesar'

It should be unbearably pretentious, but it isn't. It's like Pink Floyd subsumed Depeche Mode, and built a musical 'Gothic Cathedral' the size of a small European nation.

HERE

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48. Fever Ray - 'Plunge'

Largely recorded in Karin Dreijer's Stockholm studio, the album benefited from contributions by Paula Temple, Deena Abdelwahed, NÍDIA, Tami T, Peder Mannerfelt and Johannes Berglund...

HERE

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49. Throwing Snow - 'Embers'

Three years in the making, and with a vinyl edition designed to adopt the album’s infinite loop, it’s difficult not to gush at the dedication. It’s records like this that put paid to the argument that electronic music doesn’t transfer well to the album format.

Clash review

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50. The Menzingers - 'After The Party'

While nostalgia does play a prominent role in ‘After The Party’, the record manages to avoid getting bogged down in it thanks to its ability to keep one eye looking forward. “We’re turning 30 now, and there’s this idea that that’s when real life comes on,” says guitarist/vocalist Tom May, and though “real life” might fast be approaching, it seems The Menzingers are showing little sign of slowing down. Maybe we’ll keep the party going just a little bit longer.

Clash review

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51. Kevin Morby - 'City Music'
52. Wiley - 'Godfather'
53. Julien Baker - 'Turn Out The Lights'
54. Mount Eerie - 'A Crow Looked At Me'
55. Jessica Lea Mayfield - 'Sorry Is Gone'
56. Mozart's Sister - 'Field Music'
57. Lil Peep - 'Come Over When You're Sober, Pt. 1'
58. The War On Drugs - 'A Deeper Understanding'
59. Jane Weaver - 'Modern Kosmology'
60. Hauschka - 'What If'
61. Homeshake - 'Fresh Air'
62. Gabriel Garzon Montano - 'Jardin'
63. Alice Coltrane - 'World Sprituality Classics 1: The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda'
64. Chelsea Wolfe - 'Hiss Spun'
65. Thundercat - 'Drunk'
66. Fred Thomas - 'Changer'
67. Death From Above - 'Outrage! Is Now'
68. Altered Natives - 'The Black Album'
69. Loyle Carner - 'Yesterday's Gone'
70. Nick Hakim - 'Green Twins'
71. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard - 'Murder Of The Universe'
72. Mount Kimbie - 'Love What Survives'
73. Actress - 'AZD'
74. Slowdive - 'Slowdive'
75. Kamikaze Girls - 'Seafoam'
76. Martin Carr - 'New Shapes Of Life'
77. Laura Marling - 'Semper Femina'
78. Alvvays - 'Antisocialites'
79. Converge - 'The Dusk In Us'
80. Aldous Harding - 'Party'
81. Diet Cig - 'Swear I'm Good At This'
82. Lowly - 'Heba'
83. Lil Uzi Vert - 'Luv Is Rage 2'
84. The xx - 'I See You'
85. Offset, 21 Savage & Metro Boomin - 'Without Warning'
86. Toro Y Moi - 'Boo Boo'
87. Jlin - 'Black Origami'
88. Jonwayne - 'Rap Album 2'
89. Perfume Genius - 'No Shape'
90. MOVES - afrobeats
91. EMA - 'Exile In The Outer Ring'
92. Charlotte Gainsbourg - 'Rest'
93. Special Request - 'Belief System'
94. Mac DeMarco - 'This Old Dog'
95. Queens of the Stone Age - 'Villains'
96. Peter Silberman - 'Impermanence'
97. Fleet Foxes - 'Crack-Up'
98. Brent Faiyaz - 'Sonder Son'
99. Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds - 'Who Built The Moon?'
100. Nubya Garcia - '5ive'

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