After an amazing year of music in 2016, the first month of 2017 has proven that this trend is destined to continue, if not succeed its predecessor. With both big artists making their return with fire in their bellies and rising acts ready to prove their mettle, here are the best songs of January.
Father John Misty – “Two Wildly Different Perspectives”
In the title track and first single off his upcoming album, the six and a half minutes of “Pure Comedy” cycles through the miracle of birth, politics, religion, and all of the hot topics in-between. While parts of the track capture classic FJM lines — “They worship themselves yet they’re totally obsessed with risen zombies, celestial virgins, magic tricks, these unbelievable outfits” — as the song continues to build and eventually descends to its closing line (“I hate to say it, but each other’s all we got”), you start to feel as if this is more Josh Tillman speaking.
Cue “Two Wildly Different Perspectives,” one of Tillman’s most straightforward and earnest pieces yet. Released three days after President Donald Trump’s executive order halting all immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries, Tillman added one comment to the song’s video on YouTube: “More kids are going to die now thanks to the unbelievably selfish immigration policy of places like Saudi Arabia and the USA.” Dedicate three minutes to taking in every word of this track, for our radical divisions come at the greatest cost of those who come after us.
Thundercat – “Show You The Way”
Thundercat is releasing his new album on Feb. 24, and among its mammoth 23 tracks are features from three of today’s biggest names in Kendrick Lamar, Pharrell, and Wiz Khalifa. For the album’s first single, “Show You the Way,” Thundercat unveiled the only other two features included: ’70s/’80s legends Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald. And just like that, yacht rock lives again. Somebody call Stephen Bruner, because he’s in the danger zone!
Bonobo – “Bambro Koyo Ganda”
Bonobo’s new album Migration is the year’s first exceptional release, proving to be the highlight on the same weekend that The xx dropped their latest effort. While almost any of its 12 tracks are worthy of this list, it’s his collaboration with the Brooklyn-based Innov Gnawa, a traditional Moroccan gnawa band, that proves to be the album’s most unique. You’re going to want some heavy speakers for this one.
Joey Bada$$ – “Land of the Free”
A lot of artists have released protest tracks right before and after Donald Trump’s inauguration, but if we had to chose one as our anthem, it would be Joey Bada$$’ “Land of the Free.” Beyond its powerful political examination of the current state of the U.S., Bada$$ goes all in on the second verse, rhyming the same syllables bar after bar.
Jamiroquai – “Automaton”
The last time we heard from Jay Kay and crew was in 2010, but because technology has transformed us all into near-cyborgs who are losing our ability to connect with other human beings, Jamiroquai is back with a new album, Automaton. Sharing the title track and its new video, Jamiroquai trade in much of their funk some serious Daft Punk vibes, and Jay Kay even has a new futuristic spiked helmet.
Daye Jack – “Raw (Remix)”
“‘Raw’ is about being yourself to the fullest. It’s an ode to the kid who’s picked on for not fitting into society’s boxes. It’s liberating to look in the mirror, accept your flaws and say ‘I’m fucking awesome,'” Atlanta artist Daye Jack told The Fader. In 2017, celebrating the flex of individuality and diversity is as important as it gets, and Daye Jack, along with recruits Denzel Curry and DP, indeed does it raw.
Gabriel Garzón-Montano – “Crawl”
Gabriel Garzón-Montano’s debut Jardín is full of minimal funky pop that feels like it is plucked out of the late ’60s; slim and sexy. Album standout “Crawl,” as Garzón-Montano explains, is about “making love to someone you find irresistible. It’s about honoring their beauty, and appreciating what they do for you and doing it back.” With Valentine’s Day approaching, you now have your playlist opener.
Syd – “Body”
The Internet’s Syd proved she was capable of becoming a pop star on her own with “All About Me.” On “Body” she gives the slow jam a much needed facelift, providing us with the “baby-making anthem of 2017.” (You now have the second song on your Valentine’s Day playlist.)
Phoebe Bridgers – “Smoke Signals”
It’s amazing that an artist can pair lines like “”I buried a hatchet / It’s coming up lavender” with the far less poetic “With you riding shotgun / Speeding, ’cause fuck the cops.” Yet, Phoebe Bridgers pulls it off on “Smoke Signals,” like some sort of beguiling, beautiful ghost story you want to hear again and again before you go to sleep.
Sampha – “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano”
On the first single, “Blood On Me,” from his debut album, Sampha pulled out all the stops, crafting a song that seemed to be perpetually chasing its own climax. Follow-up track “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano” is its opposite, featuring only Sampha’s vocals and (to no surprise) a piano, but no matter what tools Sampha is given, his magic can’t be stopped.
Dirty Projectors – “Little Bubble”
How can a song sound both so embedded in traditional elements and so strangely ultramodern? We don’t know the answer to that, but we hope we can sit in David Longstreth’s, returning to solo form for the upcoming self-titled effort, little bubble forever.
Bearcubs – “Underwaterfall”
Bearcubs’ latest release sounds a lot like a James Blake record (see “Life Round Here”) with some steel drums action a la Jamie xx (see “All Under One Roof Raving”), and for what it lacks in individuality, it more than makes up for in proficiency.
Maggie Rogers – “On + Off”
Maggie Rogers is three for three since she brought Pharrell to tears, and, as “On + Off” proves, even when she veers closer to a more straightforward pop cut, she still brings an element that outside minds simply can’t provide.
Rina Mushonga – “Atalanta”
In Greek mythology, the tale of Atalanta is one of female power, and Dutch-Zimbabwean artist Rina Mushonga modeled her new song, stylized “Ata|antA,” in honor of the independent and strong female, and those who seek to reduce her. It’s a bizarre cup of alt-pop that features some old-school synth stabs that your dad can get into.
Ailbhe Reddy – “Relent”
The beat/tempo switch just before the minute-and-a-half mark would be more than enough to make this song spectacular, but the Dublin singer-songwriter’s “Relent” gives us many reasons to care about folk music again.
Jazz Cartier – “Tempted”
Effortlessly switching between croons and raps, the first release from Toronto’s hottest new name in hip hop upcoming album, Fleurever, is the bouncy club banger we all so desperately needed at the start of this year.
Check out more of our favorite songs from January in the playlist below.