16. Brandy Clark – Big Day in a Small Town
Her debut an intelligent bore, Brandy Clark’s sophomore album is the equivalent of a defibrillator. She does disco-inflected country (“Girl Next Door”), sarcasm-crazed Loudon Wainwright (“Daughter”), and well-lit melancholy (“Three Kids and No Husband”). Still too infatuated with details, but she’s singing as if she had to inhabit a Bernard Sumner libretto; she’s coming along fine.
15. K Michelle – More Issues Than Vogue
The year’s best title. Suffering exquisitely while asserting her right to ravish and be ravished, K Michelle is a diva to her bones. If R&B still made pop inroads, female secretaries and clerks would treasure her albums while men would recognize the similarities between their wives and lovers and the women Michelle inhabits and for whom she sings; she’s too practical for self-help bromides. Her priorities demand resolution yesterday. She’s at her best in “Not a Little Bit,” the sturdy piano hook mirroring her determination to get over it; and on “If It Ain’t You” she blasts a man who accuses her of being complicated – “you can take it,” she assures him.
14. Pusha T – Darkest Before Dawn
Possessor of the best sneer in hip hop, Pusha T writes scenarios that draw from headlines as much as from heist films. “I’m my city’s Willy Falcon/How you niggas celebrating Alpo?” he rasps on “F.I.F.A.” Elsewhere he aims his scorn at johnny-come-latelys who eat swordfish. With beats by Metro Boomin, Q-Tip, and even Kanye contributing something listenable, King Push releases a solo album that comes in at a fleet thirty-three minutes. If you bought it during last year’s Xmas rush, give it another listen.
13. Kevin Gates – Islah
“2 Phones” is the mainstream rap hit that won’t be denied, indelible enough to force me into passive voice. The rest of Islah has a slew of other odes to a lifestyle that’s catching up to Kevin Gates but from which he is nevertheless too infatuated with to disavow.