This list been updated with July releases. Has already seen its best album well ahead of the typically busier spring and summer months? Below, New York music critic Craig Jenkins rounds up the standout albums the year has had to offer so far, to be updated monthly. Beats get by on sparse drum patterns and a sliver of melody, and the flows are tight but never stuffy or showy.
But busier tunes crowded her natural abilities as a melodicist and a writer of biting lyrics. A wealth of great music has been made during quarantine, but the wistful, sighing sadness of folklore actually feels like it. Irish post-punk quintet Fontaines D. Almost 60 years later, as once more we find ourselves stuck at the same impasse, Bob comes traipsing back down whatever mountainside with a trove of new songs, his first in eight years, in the middle of a global crisis, about death and how to prepare for it.
III is a wistful batch of versatile tunes. III lures you into a world of prickly, intense feelings with big, carefree hooks. The Album invites and invokes the legends, and these introspective hooks and verses are more than worth it. Run the Jewels is like if the Alien sequels kept getting slowly and progressively better instead of going the other way around. Love is the message; haters can snack on grenades.
Freddie Gibbs raps are hearty and sinewy, tough chunks of protein best served alongside something light and hydrous. His best work links him with producers that let his perfect timing play metronome, focusing on luxurious melodies instead of crowding him with loud drums. Like the pasta dish on the cover art, Alfredo is a satisfying no-brainer of a pairing; guest appearances from Rick Ross, Tyler, the Creator, and members of Griselda Records add flavor without overpowering the main ingredients.
Petals is an adventurous gumbo piling funk, disco, indie rock, and easy listening sounds into the same bowl, serving a surprise in every bite.
Like a real life hip-hop superhero, Brooklyn rapper Ka is a firefighter by day and a talented rhymer and producer by night. He works wonders with a dearth of sounds; every note and every word is charged with purpose. Songs unfold like mythic poems. Fetch the Bolt Cutters is the album that most resembles so far.
Like all the TikTok videos, Zoom meetings, and Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram livestreams filling up our afternoons and evenings of late, Bolt Cutters is a work-from-home endeavor where the home is an unwitting character.
Lil Uzi Vert contains multitudes. To illustrate the point, he spends the whole of his second album, Eternal Atake , juggling three personas, each with distinct styles and quirks. People treat country and hip-hop like water and sodium metal, a mixture liable to reward your efforts to combine the two with a hot plume of fire to the face. Sam Hunt is that guy. Over a decade after the first promise of a Jay Electronica studio album, it finally materialized, not with the big splash we envisioned a decade ago, but with a suitably biblical early February announcement that the man had holed up for 40 days and nights since December and finished his long-awaited debut.
A Written Testimony is the best-case scenario for a work people have been waiting a decade to hear. Bill Fay is still a force in his 70s. What the new album is, is the most cohesive amalgamation of the interests in rock, soul, rap, jazz, and folk the late Pittsburgh star pursued in his lifetime. With the help of the legendary producer, session player, and film score closer Jon Brion , Mac stepped out into his versatility as a writer and a musician and was rewarded, and rewarded us in turn, with a work that ranks among his personal finest.
What could he have done with another seven years? On her brilliant second studio full-length as Soccer Mommy , singer-songwriter Sophia Allison traverses stress and family illness, closely capturing the bleak hollowness of depression through weaponized slacker rock.
Color Theory is both impossibly catchy and deceptively downcast. At 22, Allison is sort of like the alt-rock songbook made flesh. You hear shades of the neat, autumnal sadness of early Death Cab for Cutie, the rawness of peak Lou Barlow, and the fearless adventurousness of Blur, but even though the touchstones can feel familiar, the writing is always original, personal, and tuneful. Scathing political commentary from chief songwriters Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley is whittled to a sharp point on the rock tunes and bolstered by emotive musicianship on the folk and blues tunes.
This band was born ready for this moment in history. Man Alive! The music lives along the same fault line. Life, it seems to say, is the time we spend between the gutter and the stars.
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