I don’t care how late this is, these were my favorite albums of last year.
1. Lemonade by Beyonce
There was no way another album could top Lemonade this year. Beyonce delivered an album with a cohesive theme that reflected both the deeply personal and the universally political. She explored multiple genres, curated powerful and meaningful imagery for each song, and had some of her best vocal performances of her career.
2. Good Advice by Basia Bulat
One of my personal favorite artists released a career defining and career shifting album at the beginning of last year. I still listen to the album straight through a year later and relish the steps she took to evolve. Her Natalie Merchant reminiscent voice is still front and center but she’s replaced folksy guitar and auto harp with synths and keyboards. Her whole discography demonstrates she’s always had a great ear for percussion but this album elevated that to new pop highs.
3. Good Grief by Lucius
Between late July to October, if I was listening to music- I was listening to Lucius. This album in particular soundtracked my summer. From driving around Iceland to exploring Paris & Madrid to cruising the Azores to nights on the Cape, I was listening to their heavenly voices. Few bands are so free from genre as Lucius and their expert command of vocal dynamics allows them to create an album full of songs perfect for a variety of moments. “Almost Makes Me Wish For Rain” is pure Whitney Houston circa “How Will I Know” while “Dusty Trails” is a alt-country torch song perfect for a mix tape with Neko Case & kd lang.
4. The Heart Speaks in Whispers by Corinne Bailey Rae
I read an NPR article that mentioned this album and how black women with guitars have consistently been undervalued by the music criticism world. Corinne Bailey Rae is often dismissed as that “Put Your Records On” one hit wonder at worst and a carefree black girl remaking her one hit over and over again at best. However, remove that single and those stereotypes and her new album is a heart building reflection of life after loss. Not the fresh wound of a new loss but instead the life that happens when that wound has begun to heal. “Caramel” invokes the warmth of finding love again while “Been to the Moon” has a groove Prince would be proud of.
5. case/lang/veirs by case/lang/veirs
When I found out about this album, I wasn’t quite sure how these three talents would fit together, but their idiosyncrasies (and their are a lot between them) compliment each other beautifully. I was not as familiar with Laura Veirs but her songwriting contains the same natural imagery of Neko Case creating gorgeous scenes like “Greens of June.” lang’s voice is a standout on tracks like “Blue Fire” while Case brings quiet vulnerability to “Behind the Armory.” This is an album I will come back to again and again.
6. A Seat at the Table by Solange and Blond(e) by Frank Ocean
Unlike the other albums on this list, I don’t keep coming back to these two albums for repeated listens, especially not front to back listening. I spent the week with Blonde when it came out and promptly forgot about it. However, I rediscovered how much I love certain songs after some space from all the hype. “Pink + White” is gorgeous while “Godspeed” still gives me chills. There are moments, like the end of “Self Control,” that speak to just how talented Ocean is, but there are others that feel more like him trying to be “important” or “challenging” (in a musical sense, not lyrically) that get in the way of his songs.
Solange’s album is here partly on just how good “Cranes in the Sky” is and on the overall production of the tracks. I am well aware that this album was not made for me and that she is not singing to me (a white gay guy). Nevertheless, I can appreciate the talent, the story telling, and the hard work present in this album. I love how her vocals evoke Minnie Riperton amongst contemporary production and the transcendence in lyrics like “Rise” and “Weary.” At times, the album feels overly long and the production gets too similar for me, but when Sampha shows up for “Don’t Touch My Hair,” I can’t deny this albums spot.