20. Isaiah Rashad – Cilvia Demo
Last year “Shot You Down” impressed me; this mixtape provoked a similar reaction. On the title track Rashad wonders if his son will look at him the same way Rashad looked at his own deadbeat dad, the one whom, according to “Soliloquy,” Rashad left in ’97. Occasionally the beats sound as if they were programmed in ’97 too; there’s no “Man of the Year” on Cilvia Demo unless “Menthol” gets a doozy of a remix (it also sports the best simile: a gun “knock caps like it’s senior year”). Still, bring on the album.
19. Leonard Cohen – Popular Problems
To revise what I wrote in September: On first or even fourth listen it sounds slight: Ten Croaked Hymns. Female backup singers in “Did I Ever Love You” do the lifting; when Cohen actually sings on “Did I Ever Love You” he sounds like someone lifting a Buick off his back. But I’m Your Man, Ten New Songs, and Old Ideas sounded slight on fourth listen too. With Patrick Leonard’s organ licks prominent and essential, Cohen offers more melodies than the fans who think he’s a words first guy are willing to admit, starting with “Samson in New Orleans” — a farewell to an idea, graced by a violin solo so fulsome that I hope Alkexandru Bublitchi stays in Cohen’s band forever. Placing “Slow” first in the lineup was shrewd, for it contains one of his truest confessions: “I always liked it slow…and not because I’m old,” he rasps over a blues riff played by a somnolent horn section. If he retired tomorrow, “You Got Me Singing” would be the envoi.
18. Beyonce – Beyonce
Avoid or de-friend or whatever any person who thinks the creator of “Pretty Hurts,” “XO,” “Rocket,” “Partition,” and “Jealous” isn’t a feminist. If he or she has patience, recommend this essay, particularly the line about how marital sex allows “for the political incorrectness that can make fantasies transgressively tantalizing.” She’s supposed to infuriate — most couples do.
17. Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters – Lullaby and…the Ceaseless Roar
The best solo album in almost thirty years from the only boomer legend never to embarrass himself because it isn’t a solo album: it’s a full collaboration between Justin Adams, Billy Fuller, Dave Smith, Liam “Skin” Tyson, John Baggott, playing the traditional instruments, and Juldeh Camara, coloring the songs with kologo and riti. And what songs. Lullaby plays like one of those Cuban records I hear at family gatherings this time of year in that the stitching of influences is so obvious that I wonder why it hasn’t occurred to anyone else.
16. Neneh Cherry – Blank Project
Thirteen songs “that sound almost suspended in air, combining hard beats, gothic silences and meta-pop futurism,” wrote Ben Raitliff about the wrong album. “Sneak in the dark, snuck to my bed/Crawling my spine, time has gone by” from “Spit Three Times” sums up my experience with Neneh Cherry’s fourth album. Collaborating with Four Tet produces tracks that get sparer and sparer; this album contains the most ominous whispers and allegations of the year, with Cherry weighing syllables as judiciously as Four Tet does beats.
15. Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else
Steve Albini’s departure means I can concentrate on the rush and not the chalky aftertaste. At first this album sounded redundant. Now “I’m Not Part of Me” and “No Thoughts.” As I wrote in April, the surprise is “how little John Congleton interferes with the ferocity, how quickly the band mows down the corn.”