It is hard to believe that we are only a quarter of the way through 2017, as we have been mercilessly hit with enough fantastic music to compile a year-end list already. And yet somehow we have three full quarters left to go.
Even disregarding the first two months of the year, March gave us some real treasures. Drake’s More Life was of course finally unveiled, and it proved to be far better than any of us were prepared for. Kodak Black gave us his debut record, Kendrick Lamar popped up out of no where with new music, Charli XCX has honed her pop-princess sound into something truly dark and nasty, and experimental electronic stepped up to the plate thanks to work from artists like Jacques Greene and Kelly Lee Owens.
It’s a lot of work sifting through the greatness, so we did most of it for you. We rounded up the ten best albums and the 20 best songs of March 2017, see below for our picks:
Amir Obè—‘None of the Clocks Work’
Detroit-made musical talent Amir Obè has a voice like crushed velvet and an ear for production to match. Following interest from OVO in 2015, rumors circulated that he would sign to the Canadian label. Instead, he went on to work with PARTYNEXTDOOR and sign to Def Jam. This week he released his first major EP with the label, None of the Clocks Work. It’s a vibe-filled future classic that astutely builds on traction from the project’s lead single, “Wish You Well”.
Charli XCX—‘Number 1 Angel’
Joining with SOPHIE, A.G. Cook and the rest of PC Music was the smartest move of Charli XCX’s career. It set her apart from the crowded pack of pop-stars and allowed her to flourish in the dark, slightly off-kilter work so effortlessly created by her new musical partners. After the excellent, but brief, Vroom Vroom EP from last year, they have returned with their most fully-formed piece of demented pop yet with Number 1 Angel. Come for the singalong choruses of failed booty-calls, stay for the paranoiac jams about snorting pills and midnight rides through London.
Chicago rapper cupcaKKe dropped her highly anticipated second studio album in the nick of time and obviously it’s as deliciously gusty as she is. The follow up to last year’s Audacious finds cupcaKKe as unapologetically badass as ever. “I don’t hand out pussy, that’s like handing out gold” on “Barcodes” is merely one of hundreds of insanely on point lyrics that could easily be made into a “Live Laugh Love” style inspirational wall hanging. Also that album cover? Iconic.
“He’s done what he said he would in ‘Providing a soundtrack for your lives,’ and has accommodated remarkably this mantra to his following, which is now arguably the single largest audience in world music. The playlist is forged from a huge variety of backgrounds that he’s weaved together sporadically, yet very effectively. It’s without doubt one of Drake’s most imaginative and most universal projects to date.”
Freddie Gibbs—‘You Only Live 2wice’
Also dropping just in the nick of time for our end of month list is Freddie Gibb’s You Only Live 2wice. Whereas other rapper’s mixtapes can often ramble longer than they need to, Freddie’s 8 tracks pack a powerful punch. It’s still hard af, but also incredibly soul-stirring. The production throughout, while often quite extravagant, is simply sublime.
Jacques Greene—‘Feel Infinite’
Canadian electronic genius and number one Raf Simons enthusiast finally released a full length after a slew of incredible singles and EPs, and of course it’s lowkey sublime. Feel Infinite subtly combines the best of R&B, techno, house, and pop – there’s even some trancey synth lines in there. We’re definitely going to be feeling infinite af for months to come with these 11 gems of tracks.
Kelly Lee Owens—‘Kelly Lee Owens’
It is difficult to think of an electronic debut as quietly self-assured and pristinely polished as this self-titled from Welsh singer Kelly Lee Owens. Not only does she demonstrate formidable vocal skills, with a breathy coo that truly feels like the whispering of a spirit, but her precision behind a soundboard is astoundingly astute for someone so new to the game. Tracks like “Birds” and “Lucid” are proper four-on-the-floor bangers, while “S.O.” and “Keep Walking” are calm, collected ambient masterworks. The year’s best debut? We shall see.
19-year-old singer-songwriter Khalid’s American Teen is straight-up teen angst in molasses smooth R&B form. Oddly enough, that’s what makes it great. At its core, the project is an exploration of that frightening time in which one exists on the cusp of childhood and adult life. Yet in Khalid’s hands adolescence becomes something light and effervescent – a time in life that is inherently beautiful, even when it hurts.
Kodak Black—‘Painting Pictures’
“You know I’m a hot boy, but I ain’t never lose my cool” is the line that opens Kodak Black’s first studio album. True, Kodak, true. He’s still hustling and he’s still got it, despite the fact that he’s currently behind bars. With features by Young Thug, Jeezy, and Future and killer production by Mike WiLL Made-It, Metro Boomin Ben Billions, the wait was definitely worth it.
Regardless of the time of year, sometimes you just need to get dark and droney and weird. Pharmakon’s Contact is the perfect soundtrack to these sentiments. While her last album Bestial Burden, focused on the disconnect between body and mind, Contact is all about “the moments when our mind can come outside of and transcend our bodies.” Sometimes all you need is a healthy dose of bizarrely meditative, euphonious noise to step outside your body and into somewhere you’ve never been before.
Oh how we’ve missed you, Actress! Back with some more extended electronic sorcery, we humbly thank you for dropping this extreme, shuffling banger as part of your forthcoming album AZD. We’ll stop referring to you as if you’re our cult leader when we start getting sick of your music…
The latest single dropped by Arca in support of his upcoming self-titled record continues to show that a serious artistic reinvention is at hand. The enigmatic producer has displayed a radical vulnerability often hidden in his previous work through the use of his haunted vocals, and “Reverie” is his strongest showing of this trait yet. Add in the truly nightmarish visuals that ushered the track in and you have what feels like a career best for the artist.
Berlin-based Bonaventure’s latest track is one of the most powerful sonic statements we’ve heard all month. Get heavy as she digs into systemic racism with the help of thundering percussion, synths that cut like knives, and choice samples from activist and hip hop artist Sister Souljah’s renowned interview with Bill Moyer.
Charli XCX—“Drugs” ft. Abra
Charli XCX’s artistic union with the producers of label PC Music only continues to blossom, but what a dark flower is taking shape indeed. “Drugs” is the pop princess’ most overtly foreboding lyrics yet, comparing the love of her life to all of the drugs that she likes, with the line between the two blurring at an alarming rate. “It hurts but I can’t stop,” she sings, lamenting her last kiss like a bitter ecstasy pill on her tongue.
Chase Atlantic—“Right Here”
If you were to take the same noir-tinged, brooding atmosphere of The Weeknd during his House of Balloons era and add a dollop of atmospheric alt-pop, you might end up with something a little bit like Chase Atlantic. The Aussie trio have put an unmistakably R&B spin on their alternative sound, and for them, it works.
“The history of rap songs employing the panpipe is woefully short. Few would dare to use such an instrument, and even fewer would dare to use it as the backbone of a track. Because the fact of the matter is that it is an absurd instrument. Memes have already sprung up pointing out just how goofy “Portland” is. But it sells, and sells wonderfully, because Drake’s savvy self-awareness has rarely been as exceptionally honed as it is here.”
“‘Chanel’ is, without contest, Ocean’s most shockingly subversive work to date. While the subtext may be lost on the casual listener, the duality of ‘Chanel’ is quite bluntly addressing Ocean’s bisexuality and the pratfalls of gender expectations therein. “My guy pretty like a girl and he got fight stories to tell,” he begins before brusquely describing a sexual encounter with ‘one that’s straight acting.'”
Freddie Gibbs—“NO PRBLMS Freestyle”
Fresh from returning to action and addressing his time spent in jail on “Crushed Glass,” Freddie Gibbs stays busy dropping more and more fresh heat with this “NO PRBLMS Freestyle.” Taking rising artist 6LACK’s atmospheric, R&B jam and laying down his slick coke bars on top of it, Gibbs takes the original beat to an entirely different, thugged-out realm.
Gorillaz—“Ascension” ft. Vince Staples
Of all the new Gorillaz tracks, our personal favorite so far is “Ascension,” featuring Vince Staples, with the best lyrics we’ve heard in a while – “The sky’s falling, baby, drop that ass ‘fore it crash.” It’s the perfect blend of triumphant yet dark, danceable yet apocalyptic goodness; a mood that will definitely be present on the rest of the album.
“The project is a triumphant return to the New York club scene, a place that built, broke and rebuilt the artist time and time again. A brash mix of distorted rhythms rooted in ballroom, trance, house and techno, it is Joey’s reclamation of the club as a place of moshing, madness and letting go.”
Jorja Smith—“Beautiful Little Fools”
Jorja Smith, the emerging neo-soul vocalist approved by Drake, aptly dropped the gorgeous video for her track “Beautiful Little Fools” on International Women’s Day. This is for sure our new favourite slow jam inspired both visually and conceptually by classic novel The Great Gatsby.
The Mike WiLL Made-It produced track is obviously incredible, but the video is truly something to behold. Catch Kendrick channeling the Pope and recreating iconic moments in art and cinema – The Last Supper and Being John Malkovich. Aside from the amazing visuals, we are very much here for the line “sit down, be humble,” as well as his assurance that his album is going to put us all “in a spiral.”
Style, substance, urbane sophistication and groove; 22-year-old Kwaye has it all. The London-based singer-songwriter’s debut single “Cool Kids” is a slyly hypnotic trifecta of neo-soul, funk and future rhythms, and frankly, it’s downright hypnotizing. Don’t call it a breath of fresh air, call it a tempestuous gust of spring wind that slaps you in the face, but nicely.
Truthfully, we weren’t expecting much from the new Little Dragon album. But if the rest of the upcoming work comes even within the faintest amount of striking distance to the exquisite electro found in “Sweet,” you best believe we’ll be waiting for it.
Nicki Minaj—“No Frauds” ft. Drake & Lil Wayne
After weeks of relative silence, Nicki finally blessed us with her Remy Ma clapback and naturally it goes hard. Not that she needs other rap heavy weights in the studio to prove that she’s at the top of her game, but having Drake and Lil Wayne roll along for the retribution ride certainly doesn’t hurt her claim for queen of the rap game.
Objekt—“Theme From Q”
If you need a trippy start to your weekend, look no further than Berlin DJ/producer extraordinaire Objekt’s latest. Inspired by the now-shuttered Basement Q, a club in Berlin underneath a glue factory, it’s a reinterpretation of a mysterious, unreleased early morning anthem at the institution. Breakbeat, a bizarre vocal sample, and crazy plucked strings that sonically appear out of nowhere, what’s not to love?
Perfume Genius—“Slip Away”
Whatever Perfume Genius (alias Mike Hadreas) has been up to in the years following his massive critical-breakthrough Too Bright, it has clearly been something amazing, beautiful and transcendent. “Slip Away,” the first taste of his forthcoming follow-up album No Shape, is colossal, in every sense of the word. He has lost none of his ability to convey intimate, personal heartbreaks, but in both songcraft and production these feelings are being transplanted onto the largest scale possible. It is, from start to finish and everywhere in between, triumphant.
Snoop Dogg & BADBADNOTGOOD—“Lavender” (Nightfall Remix)
Possibly the best music video of the month with its apt satire of the current United States of America and the clown who is somehow in charge, the Snoop-featuring, Nightfall remix of Lavender goes hard. The production by Kaytranada and BADBADNOTGOOD in and of itself is sweetly sinister, but anything grace with Snoop Dogg’s presence automatically reeks of dank badassery. You know you’re poppin’ in 2017 when you have personal beef with Donald Trump.
Yves Tumor’s name is instantly striking, yet his music is inherently more subtle. “Limerence” manages to capture an awful lot of atmosphere and emotion for something so ambulatory – a deft feat from the PAN artist with a meteoric future ahead of him.
ZAYN—“Still Got Time” ft. PARTYNEXTDOOR
Two of our fave soft power boys team up for the lowkey song of the summer (we’re calling it now). ZAYN continues to prove he’s fine on his own, in every sense of the word, but having PARTYNYEXTDOOR around almost too much sonic sense. Summery afrobeats? Check. Sultry harmonies? Check. Gentle autotune? Check. The lyric video is cute, but we’re in need of IRL ZAYN x PARTYNEXTDOOR frolicking on a beach or something.
Portions of this article appear in previous iterations of our Best Tracks of the Week series.
Be sure to check out our picks for the best music of February right here.
- Text: Jake Boyer, Jacob Davey, Bianca Giulione, Stephanie Smith-Strickland