Pushing the Boundaries

Raghav Raj | Staff Writer

In spite of the overwhelming whiteness that has historically dominated indie music, there’s been no shortage of absolutely fantastic music from independent Black artists this year. Below are a few of the best boundary-breaking, genre-bending releases from some truly fantastic Black artists not on a major record label.

Live Forever by Bartees Strange

The impeccable, eclectic debut from Bartees Cox Jr. blends together many genres shaped by black artists — rock, rap, country, gospel, soul — but it never feels disjointed. Cox displays a remarkable sense of control throughout these 35 minutes, belting out ragged arena-rock singalongs over wiry guitar on “Boomer” and gliding through melodic raps over trap percussion on the fantastic “Kelly Rowland” with the same ease. Live Forever is a daring record, and the raw vulnerability of Cox pulls the record into a truly cohesive work.

It Is What It Is by Thundercat

The latest record from bassist Stephen Bruner is another truly great work that combines some utterly awesome bass-playing with a profound sense of existential pondering. The breadth of his music is immense, moving from the frantic energy of a song like “I Love Louis Cole” to the breezy, effortless bounce of a song like “Dragonball Durag” with blissful ease. Belying the compositional beauty of his songs with some charmingly sticky melodies, It Is What It Is feels like blissful deception, another charmingly enjoyable record from the Brainfeeder affiliate.

The Passion Of by Special Interest

The anarchic sound of New Orleans-based punk outfit Special Interest is as indebted to Stokely Carmichael as it is to Sonic Youth. Led by marvelous frontperson Alli Logout, the band is unapologetically Black, queer, and radical. Logout’s voice is a remarkable instrument; it’s run ragged on the stunning “Disco III,” and carries the glammy centerpiece, “Street Pulse Beat,” with impeccable panache. The album is truly blistering, an unrelenting manifesto that’s as punk as punk gets.

Forever, Ya Girl by KeiyaA

Chicago native KeiyaA makes raw, unvarnished R&B music that’s as strikingly visceral as it is stunningly ethereal. Her debut is a truly cosmic work, stretching soul music into hypnotic meditations on loneliness, hurt, and growth on songs like the constantly warping “Hvnli” and her subtly funky, off-kilter cover of Prince’s “Do Yourself a Favor.” Forever, Ya Girl may be profoundly insular, but it’s an unmistakably bold entrance from a promising talent.