4. The Chills – Silver Bullets
Did you know this seminal New Zealander act released a new album this fall? And it’s good! Political skullduggery upsets Martin Phillipps. So does the rape of the oceans. In defiance, he tunes his guitar to sound aqueous; his chords have a turquoise sheen. He still thinks a good pop song is a remedy — not the best. He’s learned enough about panaceas.
3. Miguel – Wildheart
From June: Miguel has never sung this well for so long, and Wildheart is a wonderful album, closer to one of Erykah Badu’s New Amerykah releases than “Adorn”: a dense amalgam of sexual politics and personal apocalypse, of R&B balladry and singer-songwriter strum, of typographical oddities. Ravishing the otherwise ponderous “flesh” with his upper register, multitracking himself into a Miguel Army on “DEAL,” agitating his tenor on “leaves,” he tests the range of his emotive powers; he’s restless, unwilling to sit in any space too long. Two years of vestigial guest appearances should’ve sapped his recording fervor; for a success-has-spoiled-me follow-up Wildheart seethes with possibilities, is alive to the ridiculous. Sex for Miguel is a ritual choreographed to signals sent by his lovers. He wants you to have sex with him, he’s pretty sure you’ll like it, he’s damn sure he’ll love it, and sharing this info with you is part of his natural courtesy.
2. Maddie & Tae – Start Here
Unreviewed at the time but a sleeper, the debut album by the creators of “Girl in a Country Song” have written a dozen sturdy variants in which Southern girls mouth off at stupid boys but still yearn for that cute stupid boy to help spread their wings and fly. Taylor Dye and Madison Marlow write well and sing better. Consider its high placement a full endorsement of what they’ll release in 2017.
1. Jazmine Sullivan – Reality Show
For the first time in more than twenty years of listmaking, an album released in January not long after packing the plastic Christmas tree was so assured that it resisted comers. More than five years after R&B hits that didn’t cross over and a couple after announcing she was leaving the biz, Jazmine Sullivan released the album that I doubt anyone thought she had in her. She can belt, she can rumble below her range, she can howl — over strings, dance beats, and click tracks. Surrounded by aging coworkers and some friends who find solace in pop culture’s definition of “mature music,” which often signifies as a negative position (“I don’t listen to pop music”) instead of choosing, say, Adele, I’ve recommended Reality Show all year as an example of adulthood delineated with the cold eye it deserves. As many of my aging female coworkers and friends know, reaching adulthood doesn’t earn one a wreath; at best it’s easier to accept reality, as “Mascara” makes plain. You’ve had twelve months to buy Reality Show. What are you waiting for?