If you’re reading this, I’m assuming you care enough about music to know that Drake dropped a “playlist” this month called More Life. So as much as I have been enjoying that record this month, I’m not going to plug it here in favor of highlighting some lesser-known artists who released music in March. From fluttery, eerie folk, to an emerging R&B star, to a tracklist packed full of rap’s brightest stars in 2017, March had more good music than I knew what to do with. Whatever genre you’re into, there was something for you this month. From folk to protest blues, from British songwriters to Atlanta trap legends, here’s a taste of the absolute best of the best.
Thelma’s eerie, fluttery folk self-titled debut is one of the best albums to come out in March, yet I haven’t seen a lot of people talking about it yet. Natasha Jacobs’ spectral voice runs the full spectrum from fairy to goblin across the seven tracks on Thelma, but it never loses its chilling intensity whether the edges of it are pretty or growling. If you hear some familiar discordant harmonies here, they might have been courtesy of Girlpool, aka Harmony Tividad and Cleo Tucker, who guest on the album’s incredibly strong opener “If You Let It.” In case the record wasn’t impressive enough, it’s also worth noting that Jacobs produced it herself. Expect to hear a lot more from her in the coming weeks and months.
Khalid, American Teen
R&B is going through a weird phase right now, as it seeks to reinvent itself after a surge of greatness in the ’90s, and Khalid might just be the poster boy for that reinvention. Plenty of singers are now surging into rap to create a hybrid alternative to the balladry that marks traditional R&B, but Khalid is content to sing his heart out — with that voice, he should be. The Frank Ocean comparison is the easiest to draw, the two have similar tonalities and delivery habits, but Khalid is an 18-year-old kid from Texas with plenty of his own personality and experiences to share. On American Teen Khalid wears his heart on his sleeve, embracing his age and vulnerability across sleek beats and tender synthy production. It may not be an opus, but it’s a fantastic peek into the life of a kid who is about to become a star.
Jay Som, Everbody Works
In an interview with Steven Hyden, Jay Som’s Melina Duterte talks about her love for Steely Dan, and that kind of idiosyncratic crackle pop is definitely the backbone of her debut record Everybody Works. Duterte combines dream pop elements with intelligent, inventive lyrics that explore mundane topics like bus rides, pinky promises, and bedhead, and turn them into sparkling, sky-high experiences. This is the perfect album to play late at night while the stars come up, or in the early morning when opening your eyes feels tedious and tough. Everybody Works is like a vacation from real, and a reminder that everybody goes through the same difficult stuff, it’s all a matter of what you do with it.
Mount Eerie, A Crow Looked At Me
There is little you can say to a man who has just lost his beloved wife, the mother of his infant daughter. At a time like this in someone’s life, when the world is so painfully heartless, the best thing to do is listen. In listening to A Crow Looked At Me, perhaps fans of Mount Eerie can help shoulder some of Phil Elverum’s grief. And perhaps his grief will help listeners parse their own. When things are this bleak and life seems so absurd, I believe the most powerful act is to continue loving anyway, even though the loss of it is mind-numbing in every way. A Crow Looked At Me is Elverum’s declaration of love in the midst of his pain, and his choice to let us into this process deserves attention.
Hurray For The Riff Raff, The Navigator
Hurray For The Riff Raff is by no means a new band, but I’m guessing The Navigator will be an entry point for a lot of new listeners. Alynda Segarra grew up in the Bronx, hung out in the punk scene of LES, left home as a teenager to travel the country, and finally settled down in New Orleans. As a Puerto Rican American, she brings her own cultural sensibilities to the tried and true rhythms of the blues, unpacking the struggles of living in the city, living as an immigrant, living as a woman, and living as an artist. Segarra draws on the foundations of folk music to erect her own towering collection of songs that loom far larger than that genre, and stretch out into the world with such grace that they may provide a balm for the damaged American spirit. The rollicking and sweet “Nothing’s Gonna Change That Girl” is an absolute must-hear.
Mike Will Made-It, Ransom 2
On Ransom 2 Rae Sremmurd rap alongside Kendrick Lamar, Gucci Mane, Chief Keef and Swae Lee shows up on a solo track, “Bars Of Soap.” If it were only for these facts alone, this album would be worth it. For all the glory he’s given us — and truly, Mike Will Made-It is the most influential producer of our time — perhaps his greatest gift is still the Brothers Sremmurd. Their infectious, silly and flex-worthy raps on Ransom 2 are one of the highlights, but the list of collaborators stretches on from there. Future, Rihanna, Lil Wayne, Young Thug, Big Sean, YG, and Migos are all here, as though Mike wants to remind us who helped catapult most of these artists up the charts. But on Ransom 2. Mike remains the star — the beats are sharp and brilliant, obsidian slick, outperforming even the voices he made into stars. If you want a succinct picture of the best parts of rap in 2017, look no further.
Laura Marling, Semper Femina
Laura Marling is one of the most talented and prolific folk songwriters of our generation. At the age of just 27 she’s already released six albums that have won the kind of critical acclaim that makes most musicians fold under the pressure. Not Marling though. Semper Femina is her latest and greatest work, a collection of love songs for women written from a place of deeply passionate platonic tenderness. It’s a wild, fierce, gorgeous meditation on the prospects and pains of womanhood, and a record that I can already confidently say deserves to be at the top of any 2017 year end lists.
Sorority Noise, You’re Not As ______ As You Think
Cam Boucher of Sorority Noise is an open book. In an interview with Zac Gelfand he was frank and forthcoming about the way writing songs helps him process his own experiences with death, grief, and depression. You’re Not As ______ As You Think further challenges the listener’s expectations in the name alone, asking them to fill in the blank with whatever arrogance or self-loathing might be whirring through your brain. The band go even darker and deeper beyond their particular strain of emo rock, verging on the very heavy and crashing right down into melodic noise with a renewed, sweeping confidence. This is one of the most inventive, challenging, and beautiful rock records of the year. Dive in.
Raekwon, The Wild
When you’re as legendary as Raekwon, sometimes it’s easy for people to stop checking for you. It’s strange, right? Sometimes our instinct is to let the iconic figures sit on the shelf and rest easy in the knowledge that of course they’re great. Raekwon is having none of that on The Wild. In conversation with our Real Talk editor Corbin Reiff, he insisted that he’s a “legend that still has it,” and damn if the album doesn’t back that sh*t up. There’s plenty of soulful, classic beats that sound completely fresh in 2017 and The Chef can still out-rap most of your favs. Instead of arguing online about who Kendrick is taking shots at, or whether or not Big Sean deserves his shine, why not dive back into an album that is so good it brooks no argument?
Country music remains a forgotten genre in much of the mainstream music writing world, which is a damn shame. Artists like RaeLynn reveal exactly why you can’t write things off wholesale without missing gems — she came up off a stint on The Voice and worked her way past a feminist hullaballoo and a middling EP to a full-fledged classic country-pop album. In this month’s country music column Country Grammar,I broke down the way that WildHorse reveals her growth as an artist and contains all the elements that a great country album should have. Clear proof of RaeLynn’s songwriting chops (she co-wrote 11 out of 12 tracks here) can be found on the excellent “Love Triangle,” a twist on the perspective of a child of divorce that’s poignant and painful in the best way. After hearing that track, odds are you’ll stick around for the grit and spitfire of “Graveyard” and quiet defiance of “Lonely Call.” Fair warning, this is not alt-country or outlaw country or throwback country, it’s 2017 country that draws just as easily on dream pop and drum machines as it does Texas rain. I will continue to argue that’s a good thing as long as I live.