Best albums of 2016 — full list

The full list:

1. KING – We are KING
2. Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition
3. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It from Here…Thank You 4 Your Service
4. Miranda Lambert – The Weight of These Wings
5. Maxwell – blackSUMMERSNIGHT
6. Britney Spears – Glory
7. Rae Sremmurd – Sremmlife 2
8. Fantasia – The Definition Of…
9. David Bowie – Blackstar
10. Corinne Bailey Rae – The Heart Speaks in Whispers
11. Dawn Richard – Redemption
12. Schoolboy Q – Blank Face LP
13. Kevin Gates – Islah
14. Pusha T – King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude
15. K Michelle – More Issues Than Vogue
16. Brandy Clark – Big Day in a Small Town
17. Maren Morris – Hero
18. Parquet Courts – Human Performance
19. Suede – Night Thoughts
20. Bonnie Raitt – Dig In Deep
21. Beyonce – Lemonade
22. Vince Staples – Prima Donna (EP)
23. Shura – Nothing’s Real
24. Lori Mckenna – The Bird & the Rifle
25. Alex Anwandter – Amiga
26. Paul Simon – Stranger to Stranger
27. Anderson Paak – Malibu
28. Anohni – Hopelessness
29. The 1975 – I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it
30. Katy B – Honey

Best albums of 2016 – Part Five

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.

The best of 2016 — Part four

8. Fantasia –The Definition Of…

I understand Idol worship is not the stuff of which “narratives” are made, not when a hep industry cat can admit to a homosexual crush using Notepad; otherwise he sings about love and loss with as much conviction and less skill as anyone in R&B. Would that Fantasia inspire similar devotion. As powerful as 2013’s Side Effects of You, The Definition Of… puts that chalky voice against electronic settings and gospel pop.

7. Rae Sremmurd – Sremmlife 2

Thanks to mannequins, that eternal mystery called Paul McCartney, and its indelible hook, “Black Beatles” has become the most surprising #1 hit in years. A rarity too: I haven’t gotten tired of it, and every week it’s earned a more fervent listenership. The album doesn’t let up either.

6. Britney Spears – Glory

After releasing the most distracted album of her career three years ago, Britney Jean commissions Justin Tranter, Robopop, and more Scandinavians than the credits to a Bergman film to write and produce a collection as protean, brazen, and sybaritic as any in her catalog. Mattman & Robin are responsible for “Do You Wanna Come Over” and presumably its flamenco guitar runs and the curious line “We use our bodies to make our own videos” in “Slumber Party,” while the NYC axis gets “Just Luv Me,” an electronic crawl through a rueful corner of Spears’ id. Judging from the in-Glory-ious sales, she has much to be rueful about.

5. Maxwell – blackSUMMERSNIGHT

From my SPIN blurb: A piano run here and a hi-hat there are all Maxwell needs to evoke desire, both ungratified and achieved. On his first album since 2009, the neo-soul avatar proves himself master of a terse R&B that has finally caught up to ambitions that his first couple of albums couldn’t support melodically. Shimmering pleas like “Gods” and “Lake by the Ocean” limn their title metaphors with precision and punch. Yet with Maxwell there’s a sense in which the beloved matters less than the valentines he writes: “You are the object I get lost in,” he coos on “Hostage,” admitting that concentration has made him moony. Celebrating his own prowess while pledging his troth on one knee, he’s a classic love man after all.

Best albums of 2016 – Part Three

12. Schoolboy Q – Blank Face LP

A few days ago Blank Face LP sat in the bottom half of my top ten. Replays undermined my case. Its weaknesses are its strengths, though, the sprawl reflecting an imagination struggling over the age-old conundrum: is description criticism? As I wrote in July, It’s hard to figure out what Schoolboy stands for or who he is besides a party boy who in this climate and thanks to his bros (Kendrick, Anderson Paak, etc) summons more interesting beats and backdrops than he would’ve in, say, 2006; it’s like Hillary running as a progressive. But, like Hillary, it’s what I needed in 2016, especially if the tracks are as heady as “Groovy Tony/Eddie Kane” and “JoHn Muir.”

11. Dawn Richard – Redemption

Pairing with Machinedrum for jungle-inflected sparkle machines like “Love Under Lights,” Dawn Richard evokes a drunk-at-3.am. bliss with a handful of catchphrases and her thick soprano. “Lazarus” sounds like Daft Punk’s “One More Time” heard from beneath a pillow. Collaborations with Noisecastle III take greater risks. A despondent Richards wanders “The Louvre” to the accompaniment of distorted violins and punctuative bass drum (“Stare at you like you’re a work of art/You should be on a wall instead of hangin’ in my heart.” Redemption is a meteor shower on a clear cold night.

10. Corinne Bailey Rae – The Heart Speaks in Whispers

This creator of two genteel predecessors finally writes melodies worthy of a Grammy winner, and the result is her best album: a poised example of adult music that foregoes neither an erotic life nor a consideration of what adulthood means. With contributions from the classic (Valerie Simpson) and new (KING’s Paris and Amber Strother) wing of R&B.

9. David Bowie – Blackstar

Not a film star. Not a porn star. Not a black star. He never gave anything anyway.

Best albums of 2016 – Part Two

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.

Best albums of 2016 – Part One

20. Bonnie Raitt — Dig in Deep

“Because [she] has never sounded young or shown much interest in courting the youth market, she has stood in place waiting for us to age into the experiences depicted in her best material,” I wrote earlier this year in a Red Bull Music Academy piece about five good Bonnie Raitt moments. On her best album since the impeachment of Bill Clinton, Raitt has stopped waiting: she’s aging and still playing and writing the hell out of new material, including what might be new material to her. Take “Need You Tonight,” transformed into a stomper with a staccato rhythm and punctuated with guitar blasts. The message? “I’m lonely.” Even my six-year-old niece can identify.

19. Suede – Night Thoughts

“To record songs celebrating anthemic and hysterical responses to adversity is a hallmark of the young,” I wrote in February. I couldn’t shake now “Like Kids” remined me of how I’ve seen parents respond at their kids’ Little League games. Although I ignored it for most of the year, Suede’s second album since emerging from a druggy haze took on new urgency in the last few weeks. Now, the way Richard Oakes’ guitar tracks soar into the upper reaches of phantom cathedrals creates the phony uplift I need.

18. Parquet Courts – Human Performance

Derivative stuff, derivative even of themselves, but the NYC quartet sustain their post-Feelies feel-around. Best line: “Berlin got blurry/When my eyes started telling it to.”

17. Maren Morris – Hero

From June: “Beware of country producers bearing sequencers,” purists might say from a defensive crouch from within Chris Stapleton’s beard. And the song with the sequencer is called ’80s Mercedes,’ no less. On her major label debut, the Texan hooks up with the fella who’s worked with P!nk, Christina Aguilera, and Daughtry for a series of some of the most delicious electrotwang since Big & Rich. Speaking of “rich,” it’s the name of a whip snapper of a second track that cops the Steve Miller Band for the kind of nyah-nyah hook that’ll delight the jokers and midnight takers at her shows.”

Celebrating: Dawn Richard and A Tribe Called Quest

Dawn Richard – Redemption

Dawn Richards aspires to become a cuckoo clock, an ice cream bell, a set of wind chimes. On her third full length release, the former Danity Kane singer, in a move that’s closer to synthesis than subsummation, melds with twinkling and often unsettling soundscapes; Redemption is a meteor shower on a clear cold night. Pairing with Machinedrum for jungle-inflected sparkle machines like “Love Under Lights,” Richard evokes a drunk-at-3.am. bliss with a handful of catchphrases and her thick soprano. “Lazarus” sounds like Daft Punk’s “One More Time” heard from beneath a pillow. Collaborations with Noisecastle III take greater risks. A despondent Richards wanders “The Louvre” to the accompaniment of distorted violins and punctuative bass drum (“Stare at you like you’re a work of art/You should be on a wall instead of hangin’ in my heart”). I haven’t heard a track all year as perfervid as “L.A.,” an aural ecosystem whose creators, like Yahweh on the third day, get carried away with the possibilities: a keyboard like John Cale’s organ part in “Sister Ray,” power chords, and a Dixieland coda by Trombone Shorty that Dierks Bentley could respect. Fans of Blackheart: rejoice.

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

I was in tears when that squirrelly burr joined the snare in the first forty seconds of “We the People.” On point, Tip? All the time. Seizing a historical moment that threatens to flatten them as much as us, Q-Tip and Jarobi write a classic up-with-people anthem that recontexualizes the late Phife Dawg as a voice of cross-cultural protest. Coupled with opener “The Space Program,” We Got It from Here… offers the best one-two punch in a career that includes 1991’s “Excursions” and “Buggin’ Out,” and 1993’s “Steve Biko” and “Award Tour.” With Tip assuming most of the bass duties and some of the keyboard parts, We Got It from Here has the charm of experts reveling in beats and noises like twenty-year-olds. These are tracks thought all the way through: “Melatonin,” anchored by the thwack of a Linn drum programmed to sound like Prince in 1982 for the sake of detailing how the world is too much with us but particularly for black men; the Chris Sholar’s tentative guitar runs jabbing at a worried Anderson Paak’s ribs in “Movin’ Backwards; the ten seconds of silence followed by Jack White’s own guitar squall at the end of “Conrad Tokyo.” 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.

Bold and beautiful: Miranda Lambert’s ‘The Weight of These Wings’

Miranda Lambert – The Weight of These Wings

An unexamined assumption in criticism is the importance of rue. Artists adduce their depth by showing remorse, self-awareness. This is known as the Kanye Clause. No more a sign of depth than admissions of hedonism, rue often fades into an all-purpose melancholy that gums up rhythm and confuses the singer. Country music can handle it because the genre comes equipped with dialectical tension: whether it’s Tammy Wynette or Jason Aldean, country artists sing about mistakes knowing they’re going to pray them away whenever the hangover forces them out of bed. In “Vice,” the first single from Miranda Lambert’s The Weight of These Wings, the protagonist is stumbling out of another stranger’s bed, shoes in hand. The smokey reverb-thick arrangement sounds like the noise in her head, a product of one too many shots of Wild Turkey with a good-lookin’ stranger; the arrangement is a din. Inhabiting a character whom her audience has known all these years but with the distance and analytical self-regard of an experienced stage actress, Lambert has known women like this; she has probably been a woman like this. In her estimation women like this don’t sulk. They keep their poise. The goodness of “Vice” lies in Lambert’s allergy: she and self-pity can’t be in the same room together. Essential is Lambert’s voice – a still point in a turning world, as much as Robert Bresson’s camera eye.

The Weight of These Wings is a double album. These days country artists don’t tend to release double albums. But in the Spotify age when listeners sample tracks and wreck havoc on the ideas of gestalt and sequencing, double albums make more sense than you’d think. The Weight of These Wings has major songs, minor songs, goofs that feel like major songs. Like Brad Paisley a few years ago, Lambert and her co-writers offer Songs About Stuff: a song about pink sunglasses (“Pink Sunglasses”); a song about a covered wagon (“Covered Wagon”); pleasures given, pleasures received. Six albums into a career that shows no signs of torpor, Lambert has retained the insouciance that once came as naturally to Paisley as his solos, an insouciance he lost when he wrote a song about racism without the insight, warmth, and élan that imbued his song about a toothbrush. Lambert loves toothbrushes – they’re probably the only things she packs when she hits the highway.

Early reports suggested that Lambert had used The Wizard of Oz as a unifying concept; a song on the second disc called “Tin Man” (a minor one, by the way) aside, this was a canard. Clarity, focus, record-making savvy – these are not. 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.

First, Lambert sounds like she has a band: a group she’s playing with who understand her material and to whom she’s giving orders or suggestions (call them “Miranda Lambert and the Kerosenes”). The bass lines swing and drums roll (“We Should Be Friends”), the guitars are coated with sludge (“Pink Sunglasses”) or glisten like shards of glass (“Things That Break”). On “Ugly Lights” she takes Lefty Frizzel on a ride through an aural wind tunnel. And her singing – oh boy, her singing. Whether snappin’ at vowels or holding notes in arias of longing, she’s a wonder; no act on the radio has her talent for the demotic. She’s so present, so there, that piffle like “Tomboy” deserves a second listen thanks to the suspense she creates about how to enjamb the title. Longtime collaborators Natalie Hemby, Shane McAnally, and Jessi Alexander join new ones like Eric Church co-writer Luke Laird and Irish performer Foy Vance; so does Pistol Annie sister Ashley Monroe, the subject, I hope, of “We Should Be Friends,” a valentine to mates who use alcohol as a sedative and use “Bless your heart” as a negative. The pretty Anderson East, with whom she’s been linked after she and the oafish Blake Shelton called it quits, shows up too. Loath as I am to acknowledge the potency of biographical criticism, I don’t hear a note of romantic angst on The Weight of These Wings: I hear a singer-songwriter at the apex of her powers, brimming with sunburnt mirth.

No wonder she sticks to the road as metaphor. If the title hints at exhaustion, interpret it as a variant on the Icarus myth: she’s flying as close to the sun without getting singed. Bookending the album with “Runnin’ Just in Case” and “I’ve Got Wheels,” sticking “Getaway Drive” and “Six Degrees of Separation” between them, Lambert can’t stop reminding listeners that she won’t sit still. I suspect self-confidence is a source of the burden: Lambert realizes no one in contemporary country is writing at her level. “I ain’t unpacked my suitcase since the day that I turned twenty-one,” she announces on the Fleetwood Mac-drenched opener “Runnin’ Just in Case.” That’s a stretch – does she even own a suitcase? I imagine her jumping into a truck and headin’ off to the next town. The soundtrack? “Things That Break,” a masterpiece of torch and twang with a guitar as elastic as a moral code, “I’m hard on things that matter/Hold a heart so taut it shatters,” she sings in a tone so delicate it shatters. Should Lambert abandon Nashville for a Cistercian order, let “Things That Break” serve as epitaph. 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.

PS: Band credits unavailable at press time. Matt Chamberlain played on “We Should Be Friends,” Rolling Stone reports.

Kenny Chesney and Youssou N’Dour

Kenny Chesney – Cosmic Hallelujah

My sister was on my case a couple years ago for not giving him a chance, so I’ve spent the last three weeks exploring a catalog whose consistency indicates no cohesion, ideological or otherwise. Aesthetic cohesion, though – let him have it. “All the Pretty Girls” could’ve been written for 2002’s No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems; hell, he could’ve covered XTC’s “All You Pretty Girls” and made it taut. 2014’s The Big Revival sounded like its title; Cosmic Hallelujah can’t decide whether it’s a celebration or a wake. The confusion animates and retards “Rich and Miserable,” an anthem as shiny as a belt buckle whose will to bigness recalls one of those mid eighties Mekons covers but with an “Apprentice”-sized budget. Last week it was callow; after November 8 lines like “We climb a ladder but the ladder just grows” and “We’re too young to know what we want but we want it right now” are New York Times quotes in search of Macomb County sources. I bet you a beer that Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne wrote those verses while Florida Georgia Line/Billy Currington man Jesse Frasure handled the Friday night lights shit-kicking. Where is Chesney? Unable to reconcile the strands, game anyway, even on a better than I thought P!nk duet. He clocks in, clocks out, grabs a beer, maybe votes for Hillary.

Youssou N’Dour – Africa Rekk

The only way to have heard the music collected in 2002’s The Rough Guide to Youssou N’Dour & Étoile de Dakar during stagflation was if listeners had lived in the East Village, Dakar, Paris, or a college town with an exceptional record store. “Crunchy” is my descriptor of choice for Youssou N’Dour’s mbalax: an ever-kinetic hybrid of charanga , salsa, and harsh guitars with a voice as light as air and as keening as a call to prayer (“Afro-Cuban” isn’t marketing taxonomy after all). It repays the devotion and then some. A buoyant, sometimes dopey acoustic move like 2002’s Coono Du Réér (“English moralism and French chanson balancing off tama bursts and danceable homiletics” in Robert Christgau’s phrase), Africa Rekk is weakest when N’Dour has to contend with the English lyrics of “Forgiveness” (maybe) and the Akon-assisted “Conquer the World” (fat chance). With the synth textures of “Ban La” and “Bull Ko Door” reinforcing the grooves, N’Dour has come up with twelve dance-y tunes for late middle aged revelers: ideal wedding party music.

The best albums of 2016 — third quarter update

The last time I post one of these things before December. In chronological order:

Pusha T – King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude
David Bowie – Blackstar
Anderson Paak – Malibu
The 1975 – I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it
Kevin Gates – Islah
Bonnie Raitt – Dig In Deep
KING – We are KING
Corinne Bailey Rae – The Heart Speaks in Whispers
Margo Price – Midwest Farmer’s Daughter
Parquet Courts – Human Performance
Beyonce – Lemonade
Anohni – Hopelessness
Katy B – Honey
K Michelle – More Issues Than Vogue
Brandy Clark – Big Day in a Small Town
Maxwell – blackSUMMERSNIGHT
Maren Morris – Hero
Schoolboy Q – Blank Face LP
Shura – Nothing’s Real
Alex Anwandter – Amiga
Paul Simon – Stranger to Stranger
Vince Staples – Prima Donna (EP)
Rae Sremmurd – Sremmlife 2
Fantasia – The Definition Of…”
Britney Spears – Glory
Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition

Lady Gaga and Leonard Cohen

Lady Gaga – Joanne

Acknowledged as a failure by listeners who forgot her first two albums had tracks that sucked too, ARTPOP sounds tight three years after its release. I suspect the arena-ready electronics weren’t novel enough to mitigate Lady Gaga’s own muddled role playing. The Tony Bennett collaboration was stretch and not-a-stretch: jumping on Rod Stewart’s train a decade too late didn’t disappoint the parents of Gaga followers who liked this nice piano-playing young woman with the grey-haired Grammy-winning eminence on display at Target. After all, this demographic still buys CDs.

On social media the most fervent of her fans aren’t going gaga over Joanne. I understand. The first single “Perfect Illusion” plays like an unfinished single of the kind that Madonna used to denounce in the early days of internet album leaks. Why she and her label didn’t release the stupendous “A-Yo” or the self-referential “Dancing’ in Circles” will boggle minds as soon as Joannebegins its post-#1 chart tumble; at least they didn’t risk flop sweat and release “Come to Mama,” an indifferent valentine to devotees whose honking saxophone edges closer to the glory of a certain Gaga anthem. She must have skeptics like me in mind on opener “Diamond Heart.” “Some asshole broke me in,” she chants over kick drum, but she undercuts it with fades and drops familiar to Calvin Harris in 2009 and the Chainsmokers in 2016. Maybe that’s the point: reassurance for radio programmers, subversion of too subtle a kind for critics. She’s on firmer ground on “John Wayne,” a cock-crazy ode to a love junkie on a three-day bender; and on “Sinner’s Prayer,” which fuses Father John Misty contributions and a Blood Diamonds co-production into the kind of hybrid that Beyonce’s pulled off without a fuss.

That’s four songs, from solid to marvelous. Yet I mourn how Gaga has passed from Barbara Walters hot topic to den mama within the space of a year without the music evolving beyond her idea of Shakira-goes-dance. The title track of Born This Way presaged this ossifying: Gaga as public figure, future host of Human Rights Campaign benefits. Things get grim when she slows down, especially since her idea of emotive vocalizing is imitating Madonna’s Britsnarl from 2000’s Music; on the title track a stranded Moog buttresses a Gaga-ling vibrato that quavers in terror at lyrics about angels. She’s better when she imagines herself as a whirling dervish, a cloud of content-free enthusiasm: “I swirl around like I’m someone else,” she bellows in “Dancin’ in Circles.” The Gaga beloved by preteens at the dawn of the Obama era — the teens who dug “Bad Romance” and “Hair” and “Bloody Mary” — has plenty to show Drake about the honesty of being a poseur than Drake does about the mendacity of being sincere.

Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker

In his third album in four years, Leonard Cohen has recorded variations on Wallace Stevens’ wintry final poems; he could have called any one of those records The Plain Sense of Things. I hesitate to call You Want It Darker his final album or obsessed with death because in the old days Cohen sang about getting head as if the Chelsea Hotel was a sarcophagus. With son Adam Cohen assisting Patrick Leonard on production and theoretical instruments — The violin in “Steer Your Way”; the arpeggio in “If I Didn’t Have Your Love,” a faint echo of Dylan’s “Every Grain of Sand” — You Want It Darker shuffles and heaves to the singer’s will o’ the wisps of melody. I want it faster.

Standing in place: Solange and Drive-By Truckers

Drive-By Truckers – American Band

Horrorstruck that the Southern rock opera they composed over a decade ago has taken the dimensions of farce without the tragedy, the quintet mix up the vocals and the bitterness, foregoing any interest in boogie, let alone opera. Every album since 2007’s career-capping Brighter Than Creation’s Dark has boasted songs as intelligent as any in popular music without the intensity that made fans want to listen to their lyrics, with 2014’s English Oceans the nadir (“Drive-By Truckers began as a great band that wrote good songs, and have turned into a good band that wants to write good songs,” I wrote at the time). If American Band is a slight improvement, credit the collective will of fans who want one of the most feral of bands to explain what the hell’s going on with the election. So “explain” is what Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley do, with rhythm guitar strumming (“Guns of Umpqua) and riffs decent enough to repeat (“Darkened Flags”); sometimes they couple concept and arrangement like they used to (the Zuma-copping “Filthy and Fried”). Helping matter is Hood, who writes songs as solid as Cooley’s for the first time in eight years. Southern in his carriage, Southern in his stance, he’s trying to refute demographics and forty years of cynical electoral calculations. A shame that the moment for a crossover has passed – if it were ever there.

Solange Knowles – A Seat at the Table

Two keepers: the quiet, pained “Cranes in the Sky,” maintaining its composure while the world collapses; and “Don’t Touch My Hair,” a manifesto I can endorse. On the rest Solange Knowles must summon cohesion from melodic vapors. Andre Benjamin helps (“Junie”); so does, of all people, Master P, on the interludes. Listeners who skip them will miss spoken word bits as stirring as the videos for Lemonade absent the robust musical armature.