St. Vincent 'Masseduction'
The hefty programmed beats, emphatic electronic hooks and gargantuan choruses of current pop are the framework that Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent, chose for songs about pleasure, fame, lust and drugs - and their extreme consequences. The songs ended up cryptic and emphatic, tragicomic and bold: taking things to the limit in taut three-minute packages.
Residente, the rapper from Calle 13, tested his DNA and followed the results worldwide to collaborate with musicians in, among other places, China, Burkina Faso, Bosnia and France, as well as his native Puerto Rico, letting each locale suggest lyrics. Then he built hardheaded songs about war, impending apocalypse and the resilience of the world's poorest people.
Moses Sumney 'Aromanticism'
A manifesto disguised as a reverie, 'Aromanticism'
offers cascades of the artiste's falsetto in rhapsodic songs, seemingly free-associative but meticulously plotted. The tracks undulate slowly and diaphanously, while instruments and ensembles materialise out of nowhere and vanish. The sound is intimate and volatile, while the songs set aside pop's expectations of romantic coupledom to explore other kinds of connection and separation.
Julien Baker 'Turn Out the Lights'
Julien Baker's first album testified to trauma and self-destructive tendencies in pristine, barely adorned ballads that could be shattering. This album discreetly broadens her musical palette without getting glossy, and her new songs share her sorrows but also glimpse ways to cope: still vulnerable but looking ahead.
Bjork's latest alternate musical universe is an airy realm filled with flutes, bird calls and electronics, all fluttering and gusting around her voice in unpredictable ways, as she sings about romance, community and ways of healing. The line she declaims most passionately is 'I care for you'.
Kendrick Lamar 'DAMN.'
Kendrick Lamar traded the jazzy density of his 2015 album, 'To Pimp a Butterfly', for tracks built with stark loops on 'DAMN.'. But he hasn't pared back the dexterity of his rhymes or the scope of what he sets out to address, which encompasses his Compton neighbourhood, his career, politics, spiritual matters, and the state of hip-hop.
Breaking up, moving on, getting a crush, hooking up, breaking up, moving on... Lorde plunges into that cycle with very recent memories of what it feels like to be 19 and 'on fire', going to drunken parties where every moment is fraught with possibility and nerves. Below Lorde's sombre voice and precise pop melodies, the tracks pulse with tension, like racing heartbeats behind a cool facade.
How complicated is modern love? Factor in desire, intimacy, self-consciousness, competition, lies, the internet, jealousy, loneliness, rhythm, economics, gossip, insecurity, selfishness and unselfishness, and they lead to the perpetual negotiations that SZA details throughout the shadowy, fitful grooves of 'Ctrl'. The songs suit slow-dancing all alone, wishing for that elusive true partner.
Valerie June 'The Order of Time'
Rootsy, leisurely Americana grooves roll along and evolve behind Valerie June's voices - nasal, clear, cracked, breathy - in songs with a conversational surface. But they often contemplate past and present eternities, from her family's history to the promise of lifelong love.
Vince Staples 'Big Fish Theory'
'How am I supposed to have a good time/When death and destruction's all I see?' Vince Staples raps near the end of his second studio album. It's just one of the questions he grapples with - about neighbourhood, celebrity, love, hip-hop, racism, politics, and private pain - in tracks that use sparse, brittle electronic sounds for jittery syncopation and gaping spaces, an abstracted dance-club backdrop for aspirations and nightmares.