A 2017 playlist

Is it just me, or has 2017 been a great year for music?

I don’t pretend to have my finger on the pulse anymore. Most years now I struggle to come up with a credible top five albums before the end of December (though I often discover great things through the Festive Spill and other end-of-year lists). This year, I’m struggling to whittle it down to a top 10.

Partly, that’s down to several old favourites releasing new records. And I’ve also made more of an effort to listen to new releases on Spotify.

Anyway, here’s a playlist of songs from 2017. I’m not claiming this is any sort of definitive or comprehensive list of the year’s best records. But I hope you’ll find things in here you enjoy.


Nobody complained too much when Sampha won the Mercury Music Prize – largely because the opening track is an undeniable instant classic.

St Vincent’s knowingly poppy return didn’t disappoint. “Pills” is the work of an artist who knows she can do whatever she likes, and will ace it.

Those of us still mourning for Katzenjammer could take solace in Sol Heilo’s debut. It’s absolutely no surprise to discover that she can make superb widescreen pop. “America” has a stunning homemade video too.

Father John Misty decided to write an album about the human condition, and carried it off with insight, wit and panache in a way that few else could. “Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution” imagines a world where climate catastrophe has brought about the collapse of capitalist civilisation. I saw him live a couple of nights ago – one of the finest showmen it’s been my privilege to witness.

The new album from The National was their best since Boxer. More focused and more experimental, they sounded like a band with a new lease of life.

Peasant by Richard Dawson is an album that really needs to be listened to with full attention and preferably a lyric sheet. It’s definitely the best concept album about life in the medieval kingdom northern kingdom of Bryneich (no relation) that I’ve heard this year. But songs like “Shapeshifter” are surprisingly enjoyable to listen to even out of context.

The news this year has for the most part been pretty terrifyingly depressing, but at least there was a new Jens Lekman album to remind us of the good in people. Life Will See You Now is full of touching stories and characters, and catchy choruses.

St Etienne’s paean to the Home Counties was lovely too. “Whyteleafe” makes Crawley and rail replacement buses sound romantic.

I saw The Moonlandingz at Bluedot festival in the summer, and they were every bit as entertainingly anarchic as a fictional cartoon rock’n’roll band should be. “The Strangle of Anna” is all the better for having Rebecca from Slow Club on backing vocals.

I first heard Big Thief earlier this week, and have already listened to their sophomore album Capacity half a dozen times. Singer Adrienne Lenker has seen some shit and has channelled it into intense songwriting that seeps under your skin. “Mythological Beauty” is about her young mother, and an accident that nearly killed Adrienne when she was five years old.

Loyle Carner and his mum Jean have a much less traumatic relationship. Her poem to him at the end of “Son of Jean” is a delight. I can’t imagine many hip-hop artists are happy for their mum to guest on their records, but that’s part of what makes him special.

Staying with mothers and sons: The Unthanks’ excavation of The Songs and Poems of Molly Drake is a priceless piece of musical archaeology, bringing Nick Drake’s mum’s exquisite songs to life.

Anna-Lynne Williams, aka Lotte Kestner, is one of my favourite covers artists (listen to her take on Beyoncé’s Halo if you’ve never heard it). But her own songs are gorgeous too. That voice…

Elbow recorded a duet with John Grant. Kindling (Fickle Flame) doesn’t really need any further comment.

Guy Garvey’s mate Jesca Hoop generally releases solid albums with a couple of stunning standouts: “Pegasi” was the highlight of Memories Are Now for me.

Belle and Sebastian are planning to release a series of three EPs – 20 years after they first did (20 years!). Looking forward to 2037 already…

First Aid Kit can hardly have been born when Belle and Sebastian wrote “Mayfly”, but they’ve half-inched its melody for “It’s A Shame”. Which is no bad thing. Their album is out in January.

I’ve probably listened to Susanne Sundfør more than any other artist this year – delving into her back catalogue and wallowing in 2017’s Music for People in Trouble. She can turn her hand to gentle folk, electronic anthems, avant-garde orchestral compositions, and massive pop ballads like “Undercover”. Between her and Sol, the award for Best Norwegian Female Genius is a close call.

Every year should bring a favourite new indie-pop album. Alvvays delivered.

I also saw alt-J at Bluedot this year, and it was perhaps telling that most of the songs they played were from their debut album, rather than the two that followed. But there’s some lovely pastoral stuff on RELAXER, especially this closing track.


Over to you then: what have I missed?

30 thoughts on “A 2017 playlist

  1. Some great stuff here barbryn. I love that Elbow/John Grant track – probably my song of the year so far. But my favourite album has to be Soft Sounds From Another Planet by Japanese Breakfast, which just gets better with every listen. This is one of several outstanding tracks:

  2. Our passion for music amazes me almost as much as the diversity of our musical choices.

    Firstly I wholeheartedly agree that 2017 has been an impressive year of new releases and as you say this is a combination of new stuff from well-liked groups / singers and completely fresh, well new to me ones.

    I A-listed that version of Halo by Lotte Kestner tune for Crowns

    The only other song in your list of twenty that I know is Elbow and that’s because Mrs L. loves Guy’s voice and lyrics; though I am beginning to enjoy them more and more and we were listening to the Little Fictions album last night whilst preparing a curry.

    Anyway back to the diversity of our musical choices here’s a brief run through of some of the people / groups whose new releases this year have piqued my interest.

    Alison Krauss
    Amy Macdonald
    Arcade Fire
    Chris Stapleton
    Foo Fighters (it’s growing on me!!!)
    Hunter & the Bear (New to me)
    Jake Clemons
    Jason Isbell
    Little Steven
    London Grammar
    Manchester Orchestra
    Mark Lanegan
    Martin Healey (New to me)
    Robert Plant
    Samantha Fish
    Shania Twain
    Stone Sour
    The War on Drugs
    The Weeks (New to me)
    Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown (New to me)
    Vintage Trouble (New to me)
    Zac Brown Band

    i won’t bore anyone with a list of tunes but you can read previous Spill articles here:



    I cannot wait for the Festive Spill but how I’m going to reduce my short-list to three; heaven knows!

    • Thanks Leavey. I never got round to replying to your last article but it partly inspired this one. I’ll check out some of those – always interesting to see where our musical Venn diagrams overlap.

  3. Well, the Unthanks, Susanne Sundfor and Father John are all on my list of highlights too.

    I have heard Sol Heilo’s album once on Spotify and I think I’ll be acquiring that soon. The America single does indeed have a great video and sounds pretty good too. Odd, I thought Marianne would be first off the starting block, but I guess she has put out solo stuff already so maybe has less to prove.

    Also really enjoying the T-Rex remixes despite some howls of protest from other afficionados. Randy Newman’s new one is growing on me despite my preference for songs over spoken narratives.
    I haven’t heard the new Lorde album yet but intend to. Plus the Icelandic band, Mammut, a favourite of my brothers, released a new album this year and I’ve saved it on Spotify for a listen before maybe some catch-up buying.

    Also been catching up with 2016 single/EP releases by Dream Wife (as Spillers will have noticed) and anticipating their first album release next January. Gutted to miss their London live date last month but I was in hospital at the time so I sent a sick note.
    Looking forward to a listen to your playlist.

  4. I’m amazed there is no mention of Peter Perrett’s album “How The West Was Won” as it is head and shoulders above anything else I’ve heard this year and may even rival the Only Ones debut album as the best thing he’s ever done. If you’ve not heard it yet do yourself a favour and give it a listen.

    • Just listening to PP now. To be honest, I was quite surprised to discover he was still alive.

      It’s really very good – title track especially. Definitely shades of Lou Reed.

      • Glad you enjoyed it Barbryn, the album is a bit of a grower and eventually, if you give it a few listens, the last track “Take Me Home” will insert itself into your mind so you can’t get rid of it (!!), it’s a bona fide classic song !!

    • That’s fair enough, and a lot of what’s here is comfortably familiar. My socks were probably dislodged most by Father John Misty (have enjoyed his earlier work, but some of the songwriting is different class), Big Thief, Susanne Sundfor and Richard Dawson.

  5. For my tastes a very good year musically. A couple which probably won’t make my Festive Spill (no reflection on quality, perhaps just that there aren’t any stand-alone highlights on what are very consistent albums) and which might be of more general interest (the rest of my listening this year firmly in the jazz/electronic vein):

    Juana Molina- Halo. A very fine and distinctive “folktronica” release. Quirky but addictive.

    Brad Mehldau and Chris Thile- self-titled studio release following a celebrated live tour between the improv. pianist and the singing mandolin player. Not really a jazz album despite Mehldau, the music is stylistically more in line with the selection of folk and americana covers. Perhaps one reason why I haven’t yet really clicked with this one but it is of very high quality and will probably appeal more to those who are familiar with the originals.
    Scarlet Town for a sample.

    • Always look forward to your Festive ‘Spill picks as a little window into the best of the year’s jazz-electronica.

      That’s a fantastic version of Scarlet Town (and a reminder that a new Gillian Welch album is long overdue). Liking Juana Molina too.

  6. You’re reminding me of some records that I listened to a bit, and fell by the wayside. I listened to Sampha quite a lot earlier this year.
    My top 3 are pretty firm, but I’ve got about 30 I still need to sort out for a top 10 post at the end of the year. Sinkane, Ibeyi, P.O.S., Songhoy Blues, Mighty Mo Rodgers & Baba Sissoko, ODESZA, Open Mike Eagle, Sufjan Stevens/Bryce Dessner/Nico Muhly/James McAlister, Manchester Orchestra, Mammut, Shredders, War on Drugs, Spoon, Filthy Friends, Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears, Making Movies, Algiers, Ride, Lo Tom, Hiss Golden Messenger, Ghostpoet, Sera Cahoone, Nadia Reid, Polyrhythmics, The New Pornographers, Tinariwen… it has been a really good year for music.

  7. You’ve covered many bases there Barney. A lot of the same stuff I’ve been listening to and mentioned elsewhere here already. Re-listening to The War on Drugs in prep for seeing them in Portsmouth on Wednesday – that’s if I go, just been blown out by my sister. You don’t fancy coming with me do you??
    Tonight I’ve listened to Allan Rayman’s Roadhouse 01 album from February and his EP that came out on Friday called Courtney. Just so wonderful. On Friday I also listened to The White Buffalo’s newest album Darkest Darks, Lightest Lights. It needs another listen I think. I wasn’t really paying proper attention.
    I’m seeing Jesca Hoop in a couple of weeks – looking forward to that.
    Not listened to Moonlandingz so shall correct that imminently.
    I’m just putting together a very long playlist of some of this year’s releases. Not sure how I’m going to manage choosing 3 for the festive Spill….

    • Thanks Sarah.

      Really tempted by the War on Drugs – my brother saw them last night and was blown away (rather than blown out). But I’m away for work next week, and have got a load of stuff to do between now and then.

      Portsmouth’s eminently doable for a gig though. Maybe we could arrange something in future? A Spill Southern Social…

  8. Really enjoyed a lot of that. The Elbow and John Grant is a highpoint but I like the poppier tunes equally:, Sol, St. Vincent, Moonlandingz, Sampha and Loyle Carner are just ace but maybe Alvvays is my fave and could’ve/would’ve been on one my mixtape playlists.

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