Of the myriad records that made their way across my desktop this year, these were the ones that most stuck
10. Fontaines D.C: Dogrel
Fontaines D.C. singer Grian Chatten has a voice like a fist, and he deploys it to destructive effect on the Irish punk band’s ripping debut. Bonus points for this one being a favorite of our 3-year-old. (“Daddy, can you play ‘Sha Sha Sha’?” Yes, of course. Any time.)
9. Michael Kiwanuka: Kiwanuka
The third album from the British soul man stands as his best, Kiwanuka gracefully navigating a violent, racist world. “Please don’t shoot me down/I loved you like a brother,” he sings mournfully on “Hero.” “It’s on the news again/I guess they killed another.” At its core, though, the songs are underpinned by a hope that surfaces most cleanly in the album-closing “Light,” which suggests that promise can be found in one another.
8. Woods + Segal: Hiding Places
Brooklyn rapper Billy Woods and L.A. producer Kenny Segal teamed for this dark, dense, economically bleak affair, which finds the pair flipping Public Enemy’s “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos” for the crowdfunded health care generation. “I got a letter from my insurer the other day,” Woods raps on “Bigfakelaugh.” “Opened it and read it/Said the treatment wasn’t covered.”Get news and entertainment delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our daily newsletter
7. Purple Mountains: self-titled
This is an album full of sad, mournful musings made even more so by the death of creator David Berman, who died by suicide prior to touring a record that had been billed as his return to the indie limelight. But while it’s tempting to parse the lyrics, treating the release as an extended suicide note, Purple Mountains has really stuck because the songs are so goddamn full of life, even in those moments when Berman can’t quite shake the dark.
6. Raphael Saadiq: Jimmy Lee
Billed as an examination of the cycles of addiction plaguing black communities, it’s the album’s personal details, given shape by the passing of Saadiq’s brother, Jimmy Lee, who died of a heroin overdose after contracting HIV, that make it hit like an emotional wrecking ball.
5. Jake Xerxes Fussell: Out of Sight
Out of Sight could have easily been titled Out of Time. Fussell, joined by pedal steel, violin and organ players, harks back to turn of the century folk field recordings without ever feeling beholden to that tradition.
4. Julia Jacklin: Crushing
As previously noted, Crushing lives up to its title, with Jacklin addressing weighty issues such as body autonomy, the difficulty of extracting someone from your life and the sense of personal rediscovery that can accompany the end of a relationship. These revelations are often jarringly concise, landing like rib shots in menacing slow burners like “Body” as effortlessly as more rollicking turns such as “You Were Right.”
3. Dave: Psychodrama
Essentially crafted as one long therapy session, the album finds the British rapper delving deep into his own psychoses, the historical weight of blackness (the staggering “Black,” which is posted below and to which I highly recommend you listen) and, on “Drama,” the effects of his older brother’s incarceration. “Losing dad was big, losing you was even bigger,” he raps. “Never had a father and I needed you to be the figure.” In unpacking these internal struggles, the MC proves himself fully capable of standing on his own.
2. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds: Ghosteen
The pace is often glacial, and though it’s billed as a Bad Seeds record, there are many moments when it feels as though Cave is alone in his grief, the still, atmospheric songs shaped by the passing of the singer’s teenage son, Arthur, who fell to his death in a tragic 2015 accident. But while there are undoubtedly painful moments (the part on “Hollywood” where Cave sings of a child dropping his bucket and climbing into the sun rips a hole in me every time), there are needed reminders to soldier on, and of the ways we carry those we loved with us always. “I am beside you,” Cave sings on “Ghosteen Speaks,” sounding so close to his late son in that moment that the two can almost touch.
1. Jamila Woods: Legacy! Legacy!
Jamila Woods' unshakable confidence is evident from just a glance at the tracklist for this stunning release, which takes its titles from a range of dark-skinned titans: “Zora,” “Baldwin,” “Basquiat,” “Sun Ra.” Throughout, the Chicago poet and singer steps ably into these outsize shoes, delving into black history as a means of locating her own standing within this rich heritage. “A hundred muthafuckas can’t tell me how I’m posed to look when I’m angry,” she offers on “Giovanni,” a nod to American poet Nikki Giovanni. “How I’m posed to shrink when you’re around me.” But Woods’ refusal to be intimidated or cowed drives this bold, beautiful record — a soul classic with deep roots made all the more fascinating by those farthest-reaching, new-growth branches.