More than just a cobbled-together collection of songs, playlists can function as snapshots of a particular moment in time, and also provide crucial context for how that moment came to be. Through these playlists, we explored some of the dominant themes in music this year—be it paradigm-shifting innovations, the reemergence of dormant aesthetics, or slow-building movements that reached critical mass in 2017.
Flutes were everywhere in hip-hop in 2017. They provided a wistful counterpoint to the grizzled trap of Future’s ubiquitous “Mask Off,” propped up Drake’s throttling “Portland” with a snaking melody, and popped up on tracks from D.R.A.M. (“Broccoli”), Gucci Mane (“Back on Road”), Kodak Black (“Tunnel Vision”), and Migos (too numerous to list off here). This, of course, is nothing new, and this playlist from Okayplayer provides a quick history of the instrument’s use in hip-hop.
Jason Williamson’s air-hammer delivery and thick-as-marmite East Midlands accent contribute hugely to Sleaford Mods’ appeal, even if some non-Limey listeners may require the use of subtitles—and probably footnotes, too. He belongs to a proud counter-tradition of vocalists who not only defy the pressure to Americanize, but brandish accents that have traditionally been masked as markers of low class in British society. This quality creates a fascinating connection between an otherwise disparate series of singers, poets, and shouters operating not just in the punk and post-punk styles dear to Sleaford Mods, but in folk, electronic, grime, and even sound poetry.
The music of the Internet era has defined itself through diversity, and there are common, shared ideas that emerge from the ethos of digital art. Much of our recent experimental music finds inspiration in the uncomfortable merging of opposing forms—artists like Oneohtrix Point Never and QT spin fantastic new shapes through the juxtaposition of uncanny sound manipulations and inescapably alluring Top 40 mechanics. All of the artists on this playlist share a common inspiration: They pick apart the nature of society’s new favorite medium and the effects it has on our perceptions, memories, and experiences we subject ourselves to. Hit play to take a tour of the sounds emitted from our hyperreal, constantly connected world.
When members of Midlake, Franz Ferdinand, Grandaddy, Travis, and Band of Horses started exchanging ideas via email in 2013, they probably didn’t care that they were taking part in a long, if sometimes neglected, tradition in the music world. Nor should they—the idea of putting together a supergroup for its own sake is pretty dumb. That this particular congregation of musicians savored the chance to play together and socialize is reflected in the title they chose for the project: BNQT, pronounced “banquet.” And they’re hardly the only example of ad hoc all-star ensembles in recent indie-rock history that have redeemed the supergroup concept.
Within days of each other, Cam’Ron and Kevin Gates released tracks with unlikely samples. Cam’Ron’s romantic “10,000 Miles” has him singing “Lookin’ up out my Benz” over the familiar twinkling piano riff from Vanessa Carlton’s massive 2001 hit “A Thousand Miles,” while Gates’ more reflective “What If” utilizes Joan Osborne’s “One Of Us” to inquire if God is “Just a thug like one of us.” Adult contemporary pop is no stranger to hip-hop and it often lends itself to a variety of mood-setting styles. Rappers utilize its piano ballads and campfire-ready acoustic guitar lines, either reworking the lyrics or topping off familiar strums with harsher beats. The final product can yield some surprising results that often are friendly to radio.
Kevin Parker told The Guardian last year that he didn’t think there was such a thing as an Australian psych scene. It seemed an oddly Trumpian (i.e., easily disproven) thing for the Tame Impala mastermind to say, given the amount of evidence to the contrary oozing out of Oz in recent years. Though Tame Impala and Pond have risen the highest in terms of international profiles, they keep close ties to the likes of Mink Mussel Creek, The Growl, and GUM. Over in Melbourne, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard have their own posse of like-minded travelers, such as The Murlocs, Pipe-eye, and The Babe Rainbow. Here’s a selection of songs by young Australian bands who may not constitute a scene per se, but who share an eagerness to take you on a trip.
Michael McDonald’s status as a pop-culture punchline is perhaps best epitomized by the 2005 comedy The 40-Year-Old Virgin, wherein an electronics-store employee played by Paul Rudd squirms with annoyance as a McDonald live DVD plays on a loop at work. But these days, McDonald is about as cool as he’s ever been. The “yacht rock” sound with which he’s associated has become a renewable source of inspiration for dance and hip-hop producers. And over the past decade, McDonald has collaborated with a number of hip younger artists that appreciate the distinctively smoky grain of his voice, including Thundercat, who even reunited McDonald with longtime collaborator Kenny Loggins on his acclaimed 2017 single “Show You The Way.” This playlist charts McDonald’s transition from being your dad’s favorite crooner to your teenage cousin’s.
Over the past two years, there’s been such a remarkable abundance of great music by female artists in the overlapping territories of alt-country, roots, and Americana that it could fill this playlist many times over. From the folky, sepulchral sounds of Pieta Brown, to the Kitty Wells-style honky-tonk throwbacks of Rachel Brooke, to the raw and tender country blues of Adia Victoria, it’s a boom time all round.
There was a time, not too long ago, when the term “LGBT rapper” did not exist. Of course there were lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender rappers out there but, the truth is, they simply were not accepted by the mainstream hip-hop community. The fact that there are now enough LGBT rappers to fill this playlist (as well as enough bad ones that not all of them had to be included) shows how far the genre has come in a relatively short period of time.
When it comes to classic rockers who are revered by punks, alt-rockers, and indie brats, Bruce Springsteen may not possess the lofty stature of Neil Young, but the guy’s also no slouch. His influence tears across the first decade and a half of the 21st century like a ’69 Chevy with a 396. Adam Granduciel’s The War on Drugs–whose 2017 release, A Deeper Understanding, frequently nicks the gauzy, hushed heartache and mechanistic throb of Tunnel of Love—are just the latest in a long line of current artists who worship the Jersey legend.
What made the late Sharon Jones and her band, the Dap-Kings, so unique was their ability to feel unapologetically old-school, yet without any residue of weepy nostalgia. Anchored not just by Jones’ attention-seizing voice, but the group’s agilely stabbing horns and preternaturally metronomic rhythm section as well, their music pops, sizzles, and jumps with a sweaty, determined modernism. It’s a sound that has exerted a huge impact on 21st-century pop, pushing retro-soul into the mainstream while also seeping into the work of more left-field artists.