1st Releases of 2017

Photo by Alice Moore

by Lily Lyons

We’re barely two months into 2017 but things are already heating up musically, with everyone from Lorde to Chuck Berry teasing new albums. From instagramming studio sessions to releasing surprise singles, our favorite artists are hard at work keeping us hungry for more from them. Here are 4 singles we’re excited about that have already dropped in the new year, reviewed for your listening pleasure. 

1.) Kehlani “Do U Dirty”

If “Do U Dirty” is any indicator, 2017 is going to be the year Kehlani shows us all just how much of a badass she is. Swaggering, pitch-bent synth strings and growling 808s wrap around her urgent, vulnerable vocals. But it’s her lyrics that really get to me: “Up for days been rollin’/ sweatin’ bullets don’t regret the choices that I make cause I’m still growing,” she sings in the second verse with a genuine self-kindness that we need to hear more of on the radio. Kehlani’s willingness to write about putting herself and her music first breaks the common storylines that writers often give female artists in a needed way—she’s taking up space, comfortable with her power and honest about her flaws.

2.) Laura Marling “Wild Fire”

With chords like hipster folk, and stream of consciousness lyrics like Joni Mitchell, Laura Marling meanders through a song that has little to do with wild fire and a lot to do with the strangeness of being watched. Over fluttering snares and gentle guitar she muses about a very human desire—wanting to know how other people perceive her—while also feeling the burden of her body and personality being seen. Marling has a light, dry voice that makes you feel like she is talking to herself as she sings, offering up disjoined thoughts without explaining them. She keeps the listener at arm’s length. But the distance works in her favor often, the lyrics becoming more arresting because they are open to interpretation: “no sweeter deed may be then to love something enough to wanna help it get free.”

3.) Julia Michaels “Issues”

After cowriting some of the most infectious pop hits of the past two years, from Justin Bieber’s “Sorry” to Selena Gomez’s “Good For You,” Julia Carin Cavazos—stage name Julia Michaels—has stepped out into the spotlight with a single of her own. “Issues” is an exultant take on something most people avoid celebrating: being insecure. “I got issues but you got them too/so give them all to me and I’ll give mine to you,” she sings over anxious, breathy quarter notes in the backing vocals. The most striking thing about Julia’s writing is the melodies: the rhythms are playful, and the phrases rush forward and then brake abruptly in a gorgeous reflection of the song’s message. The production is also an act of emotional bravery—90% of it is only Julia’s voice and plucked strings, meaning that the single relies on her vocal performance and the quality of the songwriting. Luckily both are spot on.

4.) Matthew Koma “Hard to Love”

“I rule the world from my sweatpants/ I got a bitchin’ collection of headbands,” Matthew Koma sings at the beginning of “Hard to Love.” These beautifully awkward and self-aware opening lyrics unfold into a track that is about being nerdy and proud of it. I love how Koma doesn’t feel the need to use words based on how pretty they are. He presents himself as vulnerable without trying to romanticize vulnerability, with a scientific, almost cruel eye for the mundane details of his life. Although Koma has written for some of the biggest names in EDM—from Zedd to Steve Aoki—the production is the weakest aspect of “Hard to Love.” It has cheeky riffs that contrast the lyrics nicely but the build into the second chorus is a cop out of electronica tropes. Luckily for us, Koma has released an acoustic version of “Hard to Love” as well, allowing his anxiety-ridden vocals and deprecating lyrics to take their proper place in the spotlight.

5.) Sam Hunt “Drinking Too Much-8pm”

Sam Hunt has one of the sharpest ears for lyrical detail I have heard. I may not be 100% sold on his hybrid of country and half-rap, but when I listen to his songs I feel—viscerally—that I’m there with him and that the story he is telling is real. “Drinking Too Much” doesn’t let me down in that regard. The official single version feels a little maudlin but the stripped down “8pm” version has the kind of freshly wounded vocal performance that only happens right after a song is written. Towards the end of the song Hunt indulges in the longest pause anyone dared to put in a country single in recent memory. It’s an intense—and not entirely successful—risk but his willingness to keep pushing the boundaries of country makes him a compelling artist. 

Bonus Track:

Grimes Ft. Janelle Monáe “Venus Fly”

This may be breaking the rules a bit as the song wasn’t technically released in 2017—but the music video for it was and its one of the most dazzling, epic visuals I’ve seen in a long time. Monáe and Grimes move through a color-drenched landscape as warriors from some future, globalized society. Instead of being watched by the camera, they gaze back at it intensely. You can feel the power of two women feeding off each other’s energy and making art to suit their own aesthetics.

This may be breaking the rules a bit as the song wasn’t technically released in 2017—but the music video for it was and its one of the most dazzling, epic visuals I’ve seen in a long time. Monáe and Grimes move through a color-drenched landscape as warriors from some future, globalized society. Instead of being watched by the camera, they gaze back at it intensely. You can feel the power of two women feeding off each other’s energy and making art to suit their own aesthetics.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE NEW MUSIC SO FAR IN 2017? LET US KNOW IN THE COMMENTS!