Queer and trans artists, and especially those of color, are marginalized and invisibilized. Michael Paramo constructs a list of what they feel to be the top 20 best songs released be queer and trans artists in 2017 (so far).
Music has always been very important to me as someone who identifies underneath both the queer and trans umbrellas. While my body’s queer expression was (and continues to remain) heavily restricted, my beautifully queer mind flourished through music. And as I continued to grapple with understanding my complex queer asexuality and experiencing heavy gender dysphoria as a non-binary person unable to fulfill their gender expression, it was ultimately music which saved my essence from slowly depleting away into the unending darkness of death. I let music wash over me anew, sprouting feelings of power in the soil of my decaying body. And as the tears that were produced from listening to music would flow down from my eyes, they would feed my spirit and keep me alive. As I came to discover queer and trans artists, I began to further cherish the importance of music in my life, as I felt the voices of those who were similar to myself reach through my ears and touch my beating heart.
And so, as a follow-up to my previous list published on The Queerness entitled “20 songs released by queer artists in 2016 that you should know,” I have created a newly structured one on what I feel to be the best songs released by queer artists in 2017, as a dedication to music in my life, now that the first half of 2017 is coming to a close. Queer and trans artists, and more particularly queer and trans artists of color, have been creating high-quality art deserving of appreciation for longer than I have lived, yet are often relegated to the sidelines at best and completely invisibilized at worst. Thus, I consciously sought to create this list with similar intentions as my original one, with the high purpose of amplification as central. Thus, what dictates the following list is ultimately my opinion on the best music released by queer and trans artists in 2017 (so far), and so I hope you enjoy and find something in these songs as I have.
20. Kehlani – “Keep On”
Kehlani is a contemporary voice and rising star in the music world, already garnering mainstream success at a young age with several hits and a chart-topper surely on the horizon at some point. Here, on her debut album ‘SweetSexySavage,’ she provides just a minuscule glimpse of her staggering potential as an artist to churn out radio-friendly pop jams for mass consumption. “Keep On,” a late single, exemplifies this to the highest degree. It is a pop-R&B song with “crossover appeal” that is soaking in an utterly infectious hook that will keep listeners coming back again and again. “Keep On” serves as a reminder of where Kehlani is headed, as she keeps on ascending into stardom.
19. Naz & Ella – “Blind Eye”
On their short debut EP ‘In Limbo,’ singer-songwriters Naz & Ella grapple with political and social issues on tracks such as “In Limbo” and “Love is Love,” while the closing song “Blind Eye” tells the story of a homeless man who has been ignored by the government and those who pass by him. The unified vocals of Naz & Ella entwine together beautifully here and form a harmonious aura that manifests in a melancholic sound. “Blind Eye,” as well as all of the tracks on the ‘In Limbo’ EP ultimately shine due to their stripped-back simplicity regarding their instrumentals as well as in the vocals. Naz & Ella thus create a memorable sound that has the potential to touch the soul.
18. LSDXOXO – “LOVE POTION HEAD TRAUMA DUB”
After discovering “Cold Wintour,” a dazzling and instantly catchy collaboration between LSDXOXO and rapper Cakes Da Killa in 2015, I have yet to encounter an LSDXOXO track that really fails to deliver. LSDXOXO’s “LOVE POTION HEAD TRAUMA DUB” was released on Soundcloud this year and is simply another addictive fast-paced dance track to add to his impressive discography. Like many LSDXOXO beats, it is simultaneously chaotic yet infectious in nature and here that is wholly heightened. It is as though the beats are dancing around you, enveloping you in their sheer thumping power. They urge you to move, and in their intensity you will likely accept the invitation.
17. Angel-Ho – “Perched”
Many of the tracks in Angel-Ho’s discography possess a certain level of chaos that is almost always alluring, whether on “Auto Shade,” a track on 2015’s ‘Ascension’ EP, or the alluring ‘Red Devil’ released last year. “Perched,” a 2017 Soundcloud release is no different. The song is essentially comprised of a repetitive harsh electronic line that operates continuously as other atmospheric indistinguishable sounds oscillate in and out of the foreground. It is a relatively short piece, clocking in at just over two minutes, and thus is perhaps more of a teaser for a larger project to come in the future. However, it is still magnetic in its own right as a standalone and should be appreciated as such.
16. Courtney Barnett – “How To Boil An Egg”
Courtney Barnett’s deadpan rock style is something that slowly consumes you. It did for me, as I became gradually infatuated with her 2015 album ‘Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit.’ Her latest single release “How To Boil An Egg” exists in a similar vein to the rest of her discography in this respect. While the song really is nothing incredibly special in comparison to her brilliant 2015 debut, it really does not have to be to still be great, revealing the high quality of her music. “How To Boil An Egg” is fairly simplistic in its structure and lyrical content, but excels all the more because of it. Also, her brilliantly catchy guitar work undeniably shines here, which is always a plus.
15. Lotic – “Freefall”
As with many of Lotic’s tracks, such as those released on 2015’s ‘Agitations’ as well as the ‘Heterocetera’ EP released the same year, “Freefall” is an unnerving track of repetition and high-pitched shrieks which spawn a generally unsettling atmosphere. It is a seven-minute journey that makes it feel as though your inner being is destabilizing, as if it were on the brink of collapse. At some moments, the track makes you feel as if someone or something is lurking behind you, waiting to consume you in a quick death. “Freefall” is perhaps simply a glimpse of what the electronic producer has slated for the future, and if it is any indication, it is a captivating direction that indulges in disconcerting agitation.
14. Sassyblack – “What We Gonna Do”
Catherine Harris-White, who goes by the artist name Sassyblack and used to comprise one half of the now defunct group R&B/hip-hop group THEESatisfaction, recently released a new album entitled ‘New Black Swing’ earlier this year. Although the album has gone relatively unnoticed, it is definitely worth checking out, especially the track “What We Gonna Do,” a laid-back alluring message to a lover. Her captivating vocal flow suits the polished beats perfectly, entwining together to form a sleek sound, making it one of the strongest on the album. “What We Gonna Do” feels almost effortless and fluid, exactly what a song of this nature should be, and succeeds all the more as a result.
13. Scissor Sisters & MNDR – “SWERLK”
While Scissor Sisters, one of the most cherished queer-oriented groups of recent memory, have been absent from music since their indefinite hiatus in 2012, “SWERLK” marks a quick return to the music scene. This high-energy dance track attempts to be highly queer, from everything down to its cover art, featuring a rainbow background behind the word “Swerlk,” a dance that involves one to “Pull out your mommy’s old roller skates / Put one of ’em on and like flamingo the other leg / Swirl it and twirl it (swerlk) / And twerk it and swerve / And you know like do all of that / You can do that (girl swerlk).” It is a track that is very aware of its own hyperbolic queerness, intentionally relishing in it for the purposes of Pride Month and as a tribute to Pulse.
12. Aye Nako – “Particle Mace”
Aye Nako are a queer punk band comprised of four members who recently released their third album entitled ‘Silver Haze.’ On this album, the most popular song “Particle Mace” shines through with its twangy guitar instrumental and extended vocal delivery. The song is fairly simple in construction, yet possesses a certain quality that keeps me wanting to listen again and again, whether in its endearing lyrics or overarching sound. Ultimately, “Particle Mace” represents the experience of a rising punk band, one that embodies something different, while simultaneously possessing a familiar punk sound that will likely continue to reach more and more listeners.
11. MUNA – “Crying On The Bathroom Floor”
MUNA, the band name representing three queer women, released their debut album ‘About U’ earlier this year, and their single “Crying On The Bathroom Floor” was released alongside it. Quite simply, the track is mid-tempo yet energetic pop song that somehow excels as a “feel good” anthem despite the title and lyrical content of the song. The song exemplifies what makes MUNA’s debut album one of the strongest of the year so far, aside from utter consistency in sound, which is the ability to inspire a certain desirable vitality in the listener. “Crying On The Bathroom Floor” is a song that exudes a spirit that will transcend physicality from your earphones to your heart and body.
10. Julien Baker – “Distant Solar Systems”
Julien Baker’s latest song “Distant Solar Systems” serves to put its listeners in a mood of sheer tranquility and mellowness. The song is structured around a guitar that caresses you in delicacy as her voice flows like a soft liquid through the deepest realms of your soul. It truly put me in a dream-like state with poetic lyrics like “Its Byzantine structures, churches and all / All of our treasure of oil and gold / All of the empires crumble in stone / Great architecture gilded in chrome” contributing to the whimsical atmosphere. And as the track comes to a quiet closure, it ultimately leaves me feeling comfortable and contented, and I really could not ask for much more.
09. Rostam – “Bike Dream”
Since departing from Vampire Weekend, producer Rostam has released a string of strong singles all containing an almost quixotic aesthetic, in which his airy vocals entwine with a marvelous electronic melody of his own creation. His latest single, entitled “Bike Dream” is similar, continuing this successful set of releases and serving as a single for an upcoming debut album project. It is one of those songs that makes you beam in the purest of ways as its fuzzy-sound works to replenish your soul so sweetly. And so, like many of Rostam’s songs, “Bike Dream” emanates a special positive aura that captures your heart for a brief moment and fills you with life.
08. Azealia Banks – “Chi Chi”
Azealia Banks has yet to deliver a track since her career blossomed post-“212,” that really could be considered objectively bad, especially considering the amazing ‘1991’ EP and her debut album ‘Broke With Expensive Taste.’ Her latest single entitled “Chi Chi” succeeds in this manner as well. As with every Azealia Banks track, the production is robust and compliments her flow perfectly, accented best on the song’s hook, including the lyrics “Puerto Rican papi got that product and that peso / Get that perico on Broadway / Chi Chi get the yayo.” While not her best track, “Chi Chi” operates as a great teaser for any future projects that Banks is planning to release and also exemplifies her ever-growing potential as an artist.
07. Perfume Genius – “Die 4 You”
Perfume Genius has been on my radar since the release of ‘Too Bright’ in 2014, which produced “Queen,” a song that has become one of my favorite queer empowerment anthems of all time. On ‘No Shape,’ the 2017 follow-up project, songs like “Slip Away” and “Wreath” emerge as clear standouts, but it is the sultry “Die 4 You” that truly stole my soul. From the opening line “Limit every second left / Until I’m off balance,” sung in the most spine-tingling manner over a subdued instrumental, I was hooked. While it may not possess the same infectious quality of a song like “Queen,” “Die 4 You” is surely one to remember, as I found myself returning to its opening time and time again.
06. Syd ft. 6LACK – “Over”
Syd, who also serves as the lead vocalist of soul collective The Internet, released her debut album in February 2017 entitled ‘Fin.’ On the critically-acclaimed record, there are many instant standouts, including “All About Me” and “Body,” but the height of the album emerges on the song “Over,” a strong collaboration with 6LACK. The song features a chilling instrumental accompanied by a deep pounding bass that perfectly compliments the lyrical flow of the artists. The chorus is instantly alluring, as her beautiful vocals sing “Is it safe to say it’s over? (Over) / Now (Over) / I think it’s safe to say it’s over” again and again. “Over” serves as a reminder of where Syd’s blossoming career is moving towards.
05. Chino Amobi – “EIGENGRAU (CHILDREN OF HELL II)”
‘Paradiso,’ the latest album by Chino Amobi, co-founder of NON, the electronic experimental label for artists with African roots, houses “EIGENGRAU (CHILDREN OF HELL II),” a distorted high-energy track and sequel to Amobi’s collaboration with Elysia Crampton on her 2016 album ‘Demon City.’ On this project, the track is an absolute standout on ‘Paradiso’ and represents a sound that is wholly contemporary in its absolute chaotic nature, with rapid beats and enraged lyrical work. There is nothing out that really commands this sound as powerfully as Amobi does here, with the pandemonium finally coming to a closure in a carnival-esque call for Paradiso.
04. Hurray for the Riff Raff – “Hungry Ghost”
Alynda Segarra opens “Hungry Ghost” on Hurray for the Riff Raff’s newest album ‘The Navigator’ with “I been a lonely girl / I been a lonely girl / But I’m ready for the world / Oh, I’m ready for the world.” It is a simple message of self-empowerment that perhaps many of us may tell ourselves. Yet, it is the line “Oh, and, I, I don’t need you anymore / So then, why, am I standing at your door?” that makes this message resonate so much stronger, as so many of us have found ourselves grappling with this internal dilemma of self-empowerment through individualism versus needing others who may be toxic for us. As the song closes, Segarra ultimately reassures herself and the audience that she is “ready for the world,” solidifying “Hungry Ghost” as an anthem of struggle and triumph.
03. Arca – “Reverie”
It is difficult to describe the many sounds of Arca without lessening their beauty, and this is most true on “Sin Rumbo” released in 2016 as well as 2017’s “Reverie” from his latest self-titled album. “Reverie” begins with a slinking instrumental aside shivering high-pitched vocals, slowing progressing towards an imminent build-up. The chilling track comes to this concluding apex with a powerful ascension as Arca’s vocals are seemingly churned through a raging windstorm, repeating the words “Ámame otra vez (Love me again) / Si te atreves (If you dare).” To me, “Reverie” is more than just a reminder of Arca’s immense talent and uniqueness as an artist. It is an emotional embodiment of his utter mastery of his craft. The music video linked above is also a must-watch.
02. ANOHNI – “Paradise”
While ANOHNI’s follow-up release to 2016’s ‘Hopelessness’ is not quite as strong of a record overall, it features gems that are definitely comparable, and one of those is the title-track “Paradise.” The song begins with a soft introduction, but quickly explodes into a deep and compelling electro-anthem. As ANOHNI’s vocals soar over the chorus singing “Paradise / World without end / Hopelessness / Sinks into the earth” with an undeniable perfection accompanying strong otherworldly beats, I am reminded of how underrated ANOHNI remains as an artist in 2017. She has received some success and notoriety, yet with tracks like “Paradise,” her songs should be filling dance floors everywhere.
01. Elysia Crampton – “Promesa (Placer County Pride)”
On the surface, Elysia Crampton’s song “Promesa (Placer County Pride)” may come off as simplistic and even tediously repetitive, but it is the enduring piano medley along with the tinkering melody of the track, drowning on for five minutes that succeeds in slowly enveloping your soul in a special beauty. “Promesa” comprises a portion of Elysia Crampton’s latest release entitled ‘Spots y Escupitajo,’ a conceptual album and follow-up to her 2016 masterpiece ‘Demon City.’ It is a slow creeper, working your soul to exhaustion while simultaneously never becoming too exhausting to continuously partake in again and again. As with 2016’s ‘Demon City,’ “Promesa” also disembodies the soul, but rather than placing it in the confines of a dark temple, it releases you along a winding path in the windswept highlands of a distant mountainous region. And as your soul is consumed, you feel as though your body should join it, being filled with desire forevermore.
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