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4. Miranda Lambert – The Weight of These Wings

In October I thought the second disc was a disappointment after the masterful second. Now I need it all, even the song about the Tin Man and the dear old sun. Big, beautiful, as responsive to affection as a willing heart, The Weight of These Wings has the inevitability that masterful albums wear and none of the self-importance. As I wrote last month, I hesitate to call The Weight of These Wings her best album less than three years after Platinum earned this honor, but here’s the thing: Platinum reflected the confusion of an artist who at the peak of her clout was indulging in wistfulness about VCRs and with a yen for dumb jokes at the expense of women no less hick-ish than the persona she has adopted since Kerosene. Using the road as a controlling conceit and the ramshackleness of the double album structure itself, The Weight of These Wings arrives with a rather unsettling confidence, the questions answered, the referent-rummaging settled. A plain sense of things.

3. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It from Here…Thank You 4 Your Service

Seizing a historical moment that threatens to flatten them as much as us, Q-Tip, Jacobi, and the late Phife Dawg write a classic up-with-people anthem that recontexualizes Phife as a voice of cross-cultural protest. As a conceptual move and palliative, sticking “Lost Somebody” on the second side strengthens the album’s inexorable current; so present is Phife on “Dis Generation” and “The Space Program,” the little bro eulogized by Tip and Jarobi, that the transformation of man into symbol reflects We Got It from Here‘s depiction of the potency of ideals in a dark time. “Mass un-blackening, it’s happening, you feel it, y’all?”? Mass un-everything, Tip.

2. Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition

I imagine the Detroit rapper stepping away from a mic, driving himself home, and opening a bottle of a Catena Zapata in front of House of Cards. It’s not that I don’t believe him when he raps about smoking so much he faints or about lines and lines of coke; it’s that the interaction between his lurid scenarios and his high, barking voice creates a not unpleasant distance. Paul White’s beats are up to Brown’s nightmarish scenarios.

1. KING – We are KING

Too vaporous for some listeners – hell, sometimes too vaporous for me. This most delicate of albums, recorded and produced and written by Paris Strother and Amber Strother and Anita Bias, has a warm glow. Its mildness is a balm. Its dedication to modest sensuality a relief. Adult in the best sense. The Strothers also had a hand in Corinne Bailey Rae’s fine album. Expect to read more credits.