Let’s get right to it, yeah?
Cursed By Calendar
Kiwi jr: Football Money
Big fan of Pavement and The Velvet Underground but tired of waiting for a new Parquet Courts? Well, do I have good news for you. Kiwi jr rereleased their debut this year and it’s just the thing to scratch the itch.
Even better, their second album comes out this month.
Listen: “Wicked Witches”
Cursed By Calendar
Kalie Shorr: Open Book
It was only a matter of time before an artist emerged who so obviously wore Taylor Swift’s influence, but Kalie Shorr’s debut (released late 2019 but given a great deluxe edition update last month) is also as fiery as early Miranda Lambert. Get in on the ground floor. Now.
Listen: “F U Forever”
10. Taylor Swift: evermore
It has a slightly lower batting average than folklore, but I still can’t enough of this side of her: doing what so many of us did this year, hitting pause, and staring unceasingly inward and looking back. Sometimes years. Sometimes generations.
Listen: “Gold Rush”
9. Beach Bunny: Honeymoon
Their debut sounds so effortless, but what takes it to the next level is just how much Lili Trifilio lets herself feel her songs, the ache in her voice as she sighs, “everything’s better in California.” And it gets in and out in just about one Wild Honey, brevity that’s all too rare these days.
Listen: “Ms. California”
8. Run the Jewels: RTJ4
Though their novelty has worn off, here they show us they can really keep this up forever, that they can keep making music that guides us to think deep and then properly channel our rage.
7. HAIM: Women in Music Pt. III
After struggling to replicate the dynamite of the first half of Days Are Gone, Danielle Haim’s songwriting has taken a major leap forward, not only turning up the details in her trains of thought but also broadening stylistically. Women In Music Pt. III sounds like the Haim sisters going exploring. Look what they brought back.
Listen: “The Steps”
6. Lori McKenna: The Balladeer
No flash, all substance. Just storytelling chops for days. Even the sappiest track, “When You’re My Age,” might just end up getting you a little emotional when she dips the narrative another generation deeper.
5. Elizabeth Cook: Aftermath
It’s a little shocking that Elizabeth Cook lacks notoriety to the point where people aren’t giving Wikipedia pages to her new albums, because to my ears she keeps getting more intense, her lyrics both sharper and more beguiling. Stream Aftermath!
Listen: “Perfect Girls of Pop”
4. Waxahatchee: Saint Cloud
If her love songs sound a little sedate, it’s because Katie Crutchfield has been doing the hard work of kicking the substance abuse that she’s been singing about for the last decade. Of course she sounds exhausted, she’s climbed the mountain. It makes the twinges of joy she expresses as she looks out at the horizon just that much more meaningful.
3. Taylor Swift: folklore
Not quite the return to pop country I was hoping for, but I’m all for this detour, and even if there’s sometimes a little less bounce than I like from Taylor, her lyric sheets keep getting more and more incredible. Just look at the key change on “betty” or the prestige on “the last great american dynasty” (“and then it was bought by me”) and marvel at how effortlessly she keeps pulling out new tricks over three albums in just over a year. folklore is a strong case for Taylor Swift as the greatest American songwriter.
2. Rina Sawayama: SAWAYAMA
Borrowing from Grimes and Gaga and putting out a better album than they ever have, Rina will often take a simple phrase (“shut the fuck up,” “who’s gonna save you now,” “I’m so confident,” “fuck this world, I’m leaving you”) and then building around that. But fuck a blueprint! Though she clearly has an ear for song structure, Rina isn’t exactly coloring inside the lines. Each track is entirely its own, and the chaos creates magnificent earned moments of sincerity in “Bad Friend” and the beautifully sappy “Chosen Family.”
1. Fiona Apple: Fetch the Bolt Cutters
That’s four straight top of the line albums in four separate decades now. Here, Fiona expands on the ideas of “Hot Knife” and the children’s screams of “Werewolf,” giving us an album rooted not in melody but in percussion. There’s an almost improvised feel to a lot of this music, best exemplified by the tUnE-yArDs-esque outro to “Relay.” She’s coincidentally given us a homemade album that sure sounds like it during a time where that was the only place to be.
Her lyrics are deep and even inscrutably personal at times (“Hurricane Gloria in excelsis Deo” is literally her bird in her tree), but there’s a strong thread of thankfulness for women and rage on their behalf, from incalculable kindness of “Shameika” to the defiance of “Under the Table” onto the complicated emotions of shared secrets on “Newspaper” and finally the painful, horrifying climax of “For Her.”
There’s something about this music. Fiona Apple sounds so unrestrained and so comfortable, so confident that the world wants to hear her fucking scream “START IT OFF, START IT OFF, BABY, START IT OFF, START IT OFF, START IT OFF NOW!!!”
Pull up any one of her fantastic interviews from this album cycle. Read it. Turn this on. Enjoy her freedom.
Listen: “I Want You to Love Me”
Honorable Mentions, First Class:
Dua Lipa: Future Nostalgia
Jessie Ware: What’s Your Pleasure?
Billy Nomates: Billy Nomates
Flo Milli: Ho, Why Is You Here?
Lianne La Havas: Lianne La Havas
Phoebe Bridgers: Punisher
Chubby and the Gang: Speed Kills
Soccer Mommy: color theory
Juice WRLD: Legends Never Die
Bree Runway: 2000AND4EVA
Jeff Rosenstock: N O D R E A M
Honorable Mentions, Second Class:
Carly Rae Jepsen: Dedicated Side B
Grimes: Miss Anthropocene
Diet Cig: Do You Wonder About Me?
Hayley Williams: Petals for Armor
Miley Cyrus: Plastic Heart
Charli XCX: how i’m feeling now
Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist: Alfredo
Drakeo the Ruler & JoogSZN: Thank You For Using GTL
SPECIAL INTEREST: The Passion Of
City Girls: City On Lock
illuminati hotties: Free I.H.: This Is Not The One You’ve Been Waiting For
Open Mike Eagle: Anime, Trauma and Divorce
Touché Amoré: Lament
Adrianne Lenker: songs
Phoebe Bridgers: If We Make It Through December
The 1975: Notes on a Conditional Form
Hinds: The Prettiest Curse
The Beths: Jump Rope Gazers
Dramarama: Color TV
The Mountain Goats: Songs for Pierre Chuvin
Emperor X: United Earth League of Quarantine Aerobics
KeiyaA: Forever, Ya Girl
Lil Uzi Vert: Eternal Atake
Porridge Radio: Every Bad
Jay Electronica: A Written Testimony
Princess Nokia: Everything Is Beautiful
Bartees Strange: Live Forever
beabadoobee: Fake It Flowers
Ariana Grande: Positions
SAULT: Untitled (Black Is)
SAULT: Untitled (Rise)
Megan Thee Stallion: Bad News
amaarae: THE ANGEL YOU DON’T KNOW
Backxwash: God Has Nothing To Do With This And Leave Him Out Of It