Music has always been very important to me as a queer person. While my body’s queer expression was, and continues to remain, heavily restricted, my queer mind has flourished through music. Music saved my essence from depleting away into the unending darkness of death. Music sprouted feelings of power in the soil of my decaying body. The tears, the silent screams, and the dances that music would produce, spilled out through my body and fed my spirit. Music brought me to life. Queer and trans artists have allowed me to further cherish the importance of music in my life. I felt their voices and music reach through my body and touch my soul.
I have created this monthly list of music released by queer and trans artists in 2017 that have touched my queer soul because of this. Queer and trans artists 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, especially within mainstream music. I consciously sought to create this list with the purpose of amplification, seeking to connect readers with music and artists who are often ignored by the industry. What dictates this list is ultimately my opinion, and so I hope you enjoy and find something in these songs by these special artists as I have. Enjoy!
At the end of every month this list is updated. This is the October update, meaning that all songs included here have been released between January and October of 2017:
20. Kehlani — “Honey”
The sound of an acoustic guitar introduces you to an intensely warm and soft aura in “Honey” by artist Kehlani. Earlier this year, she released her debut album SweetSexySavage, full of tracks embodying a R&B-pop fusion. In terms of structure, “Honey” is a simple ballad with a simple message, with lyrics such as “All, all, all, all the pretty girls in the world. But I’m in this space with you” exemplifying this message. It’s sweet like a gumdrop, and you are left savoring its taste until it softly closes as another bright moment in the rising artistry of Kehlani.
19. 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” is a standout. It’s a mid-tempo energetic pop song that excels as a “feel good” anthem despite the apparently depressing title and lyrics of the song. It inspires a certain desirable vitality in the listener throughout, exuding a spirit that will transcend physicality from your earphones to your heart and body.
18. LSDXOXO — “I Still Loathe You”
After discovering “Cold Wintour,” a dazzlingly catchy collaboration between LSDXOXO and rapper Cakes Da Killa in 2015, I have yet to encounter a track by the producer that has failed to deliver. “I Still Loathe You” was released on Soundcloud earlier this year and is another addictive fast-paced club anthem. It is simultaneously chaotic, infectious, and eerie. It is as though the beats are dancing around you, enveloping you in their swift quickness. They urge you to move, and in their intensity and power, you will accept the invitation.
17. Scissor Sisters & MNDR — “SWERLK”
While Scissor Sisters, one of the most cherished queer-oriented groups of recent memory, have been on an indefinite hiatus in 2012, “SWERLK” marks a brief return to the music scene. This high-energy dance track attempts to capture a highly queer essence, exemplified most obviously in its rainbow cover art. It‘s very self-aware of its own hyperbolic queerness, and since it was created for Pride Month as a tribute to Pulse, I guess I can see why.
16. Ziúr— “U Feel Anything?”
There is a beautiful surrealist and experimental energy to artist Ziúr’s song “U Feel Anything?” that is simultaneously beautiful, yet unnerving and chaotic. It features screeching beats and swirling echos that bounce through the inner corridors of your ears with a captivating fury. It’s an exciting sound and one that inspires a feeling within me that will serve as a reminder to continue to intermittently check if Ziúr has released anything new in the coming months.
15. FAKA ft. Surreal Sessions — “Isende Lendlela”
South African duo FAKA released their second EP ‘Amaqhawe’ recently and were also featured in the short film: Mykki Blanco Celebrates Johannesburg’s Born-Free Queer Artists and Activists. On this extended play of three tracks, it is “Isende Lendlela” ft. Surreal Sessions that was selected for this list. It’s a track that bounces along on a pounding electronic beat that meshes with their vocals and flow beautifully. It’s strong and deeply powerful, while simultaneously possessing a softness that all works together very well to produce a uniquely special sound.
14. Syd — “Bad Dream/No Looking Back”
There is a pure feeling of relaxation that will envelope you as you take in the glossy and refined sound of Syd’s “Bad Dream/No Looking Back.” It’s another successful moment for the incredibly talented singer, songwriter, record producer, disc jockey, and audio engineer, exemplifying the depth of her artistry. It’s reminiscent of her debut album ‘Fin,’ released early this year, yet emerges as her strongest release of the year in its absolute serenity.
13. Ezra Furman — “Love You So Bad”
The latest single by Ezra Furman entitled “Love You So Bad” is fairly simple in its lyrical content and construction, but like many of Furman’s songs, their soaring vocals are able to transform what would normally be a forgettable yet fun pop-ish track into something more. While this is not as fully realized on “Love You So Bad” as on Furman’s earlier “Teddy I’m Ready” released in 2016, there is still an essence here that makes it worth revisiting again and again.
12. Rostam — “Bike Dream”
Since departing from Vampire Weekend, producer Rostam has released a string of singles all containing a quixotic aesthetic, in which his soft vocals entwine with an electronic airy melody of his own creation beautifully. His latest single “Bike Dream” is no different. It makes you beam in the purest of ways, as its fuzzy-sound works to replenish your soul, emanating a positive aura that captures your heart for a brief moment, filling you up.
11. Cakes Da Killa ft. Ash B — “Shots Fired”
Cakes Da Killa has been consistently releasing high-energy tracks for several years, a host of which were on last year’s ‘Hedonism,’ one of the strongest hip-hop albums of the year. On “Shots Fired,” a collaboration track with Ash B, Cakes lets his flow drive the deep bouncing instrumental and pounds away contributing to the bursting energy of the track. It’s classic Cakes, which is always enjoyable and Ash B closes the track sustaining the energy well.
10. Julien Baker — “Distant Solar Systems”
“Distant Solar Systems” will 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 leaves me feeling comfortable and contented, and I really could not ask for more.
09. Perfume Genius — “Slip Away”
On ‘No Shape,’ the 2017 follow-up project to ‘Too Bright,’ songs like “Die 4 You” and “Wreath” emerge as clear standouts, but it is the energetic “Slip Away” that truly steals the show. It’s a pounding anthem that engages in sounds of both rock and pop. It’s all very airy and lighthearted, yet there is still a seriousness here, whether apparent in the lyrics or in the exploding instrumental that soars at several moments of the track, that entwines it all together to culminate in one of the strongest tracks of the year.
08. Chino Amobi — “EIGENGRAU (CHILDREN OF HELL II)”
“EIGENGRAU (CHILDREN OF HELL II),” on Chino Amobi’s latest album ‘Paradiso,’ is a distorted high-energy track and sequel to Amobi’s collaboration with Elysia Crampton on her 2016 album ‘Demon City.’ It’s a standout on the album, embodying a sound that is entirely contemporary in its chaotic nature, with rapid electronic beats and enraged lyrical work. There is nothing out there that commands this sound as powerfully as Amobi does here, with the pandemonium finally coming to a closure in a carnival-esque call for Paradiso.
07. Azealia Banks — “Escapades”
Azealia Banks has consistently released quality music since the inception of her career. “Escapades,” the first official single off her upcoming ‘Fantasea II: The Second Wave’ album to be released under her own label Chaos & Glory, features her smooth vocals over a alluring instrumental. It all works together very nicely and feels almost effortless in its execution and production. More than anything else, its Bank’s velvety vocals that shine throughout and leave me most excited for what’s to come on her next album.
06. Arca — “Reverie”
It’s 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. It begins with a slinking instrumental aside shivering high-pitched vocals and concludes with a powerful ascension, as if Arca’s vocals were churned through a raging windstorm, repeating the words “Ámame otra vez (Love me again) / Si te atreves (If you dare).” “Reverie” is a reminder of Arca’s immense talent and uniqueness as an artist. It‘s an embodiment of mastery.
05. SOPHIE — “It’s Okay To Cry”
SOPHIE captured my attention with 2013’s “Bipp,” and every single she has released since then has been a pleasure. No more do I wonder whether I will have a positive response to a new SOPHIE song, it’s just a matter of how positive. “It’s Okay To Cry” is more reserved than the high-energy tracks of 2016’s ‘Product,’ engaging in a deeper and softer tone. It’s also her first to feature her vocals, at least without intense alteration. “It’s Okay To Cry” touches the soul before exploding into a vibrant pop anthem for a brief moment at its conclusion, reminding us of the superb sensations that SOPHIE’s signature bubblegum bass can produce.
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 we 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 resonates stronger, as so many of us have found ourselves struggling with this dilemma of self-empowerment versus needing others who may be toxic for us. “Hungry Ghost” is an anthem of struggle and triumph.
03. ANOHNI — “Paradise”
ANOHNI’s follow-up release to 2016’s ‘Hopelessness’ features some gems, like the title-track “Paradise.” The track begins with a soft opening, but quickly explodes into a deep and compelling electro-anthem. As her 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 she remains in 2017. Tracks like “Paradise” should be filling dance floors everywhere.
02. Elysia Crampton — “Promesa (Placer County Pride)”
On the surface, Elysia Crampton’s song “Promesa (Placer County Pride)” may be simplistic and even tediously repetitive, but it is the enduring tinkering piano medley that slowly envelopes you in a surrealist beauty. “Promesa” is the strongest track on Crampton’s latest ‘Spots y Escupitajo,’ a conceptual album and follow-up to her 2016 masterpiece ‘Demon City.’ It disembodies the soul, but rather than placing it in the confines of a lost temple like ‘Demon City,’ it finds you along a winding path in the windswept highlands. It is a slow creeper, working your soul to exhaustion, and as you are consumed, you feel as though your body should break, being filled with desire forevermore.
01. Shamir — “Straight Boy”
“Can someone tell me why I always seem to let these straight boys run my life?” is a chilling opener to one of Shamir’s latest songs “Straight Boy.” It is an instantly relatable anthem that is fundamentally concerned with the implications of gender policing, conformity and non-conformity, fragile and toxic masculinity, as well as grappling with the pain and violence that this matrix produces on those “like me” as Shamir states. It’s open, raw, lyrically powerful, stripped-back and softer than 2015’s ‘Ratchet,’ yet possesses an unmatched beauty that only leaves me in anticipation of the themes that upcoming ‘Revelations’ will surely explore.