The “Hotline Bling” video tried to teach us how to dad-dance like Drake, and yet I chose to listen to these instead.
Act of Tenderness
A profoundly private-sounding record from Vancouver’s Cindy Lee (aka Patrick Flegel) that traffics in the strains of saddened ’60s pop, Velvet Underground wooziness, and Glenn Branca–style guitar damage. All of this supports a glass-fragile falsetto that balances bitter truths with a closing wish: “Don’t let the world get you down.”
Bleak and brutal, crust outfit Cult Leader’s latest has vocalist Anthony Lucero working through his depression above the flesh-rending fury of his bandmates. Though the record is impressively devastating, a welcome sliver of hope arrives on “Sympathetic”, where an optimistic burst of melody peeks through the oozing isolation, if only temporarily.
Further contorting her ever-evolving approach, Half Free finds U.S. Girls’ Meg Remy sanding away previously mastered glam-rock textures to reveal elements of bomb-dropping dub and pillow-soft ’80s R&B. Her vibrato-heavy narratives channel a diverse range of characters, making this her most well-rounded release.
D’Angelo and the Vanguard
A full 15 years in the making, but arriving not a moment too late, R&B master D’Angelo’s Black Messiah was a godsend. The whirlwind of deeply bumped funk, interstellar balladry, and ’20s jazz motifs lets D’Angelo get passionate and raw, whether discussing society’s faults or a filthy night at home with his lover.
Sound & Color
Whether she’s howling for another’s approval on “Gimme All Your Love” or coolly clacking her tongue above a mellow vibraphone on “Sound & Color”, Brittany Howard’s golden-throated performance on Alabama Shakes’ sophomore record is brilliant beyond belief.
On Your Own Love Again
This sophomore release from California’s Jessica Pratt offers plenty of psychedelic flourishes, from tape-manipulated melodies to ethereally playful vocals. The lo-fi recording’s grittiness likewise captures the imagination, with accidental, far-off sounds of emergency vehicles blending blissfully with the neo-folkie’s plucked acoustic guitar.
To Pimp a Butterfly
The latest epic from King Kendrick bounces flows above postmodern baps, P-funk–approved grooves, and wild acid-jazz arrangements. Lyrically, it hits big with prideful poetry, society-damning critique, a conversation with the late 2Pac, and the determined rallying cry “We gon’ be alright.”
Aside from the spectacularly sleazy groove of “Snakeskin”, Fading Frontier finds Bradford Cox and company especially relaxed, with tranquillizer-dart haziness and a few airbrushed synth sounds bringing them ever closer to enlightenment.
A gloomy shoegaze spirit hasn’t entirely vanished from Tamaryn’s sound, but a surge of swerved synths and peppy vocals puts Cranekiss closer to the Cocteau Twins circa Heaven or Las Vegas. That, or whatever you’d imagine Patrick Bateman pumps through his Walkman headphones during his morning crunch routine.
Though Divers is as grand as you’d expect, it’s refreshing that harpist extraordinaire Joanna Newsom opted for a concise, single LP this time around. The album is still plenty deep, whether offering Ozarks balladry or the title track’s folky rumination on life, death, and everything in between.