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15 standout summer albums, from Beyoncé and beyond

Beyoncé's "Renaissance" is one of the summer's best.Chris Pizzello/Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

We asked Globe music contributors to choose their favorite albums of the summer. Here’s what they picked, spanning pop, indie, rock, world music, hip-hop, and jazz.

Beyoncé, “Renaissance”

Some artists like showing their imperfections, letting you glance bits of their perspiration and mortality. Not Beyoncé — her albums shimmer as rare visitations from the heavens, meant to awe and inspire. Where “Lemonade” (2016) played as a propulsive reconstruction of confidence, her new “Renaissance” finds the trap disco diva having realized the fullness of her power from the outset. As she sings on “Cozy,” she’s comfortable in her skin, replete with self-love. Even her song transitions are seamless, wedding each track to the next. But as peerless as she finds herself, Beyoncé doesn’t just broadcast her strength for its own sake: It’s a display of power that imparts upon her audience that they are, like her, gods, heroes, survivors of their own narrative.

Mrs. Knowles-Carter has delivered an album that transports listeners to a realm of clubbing, dancing, and reaching toward the sublime. She unleashes herself on “Heated” and testifies to her own gravity on “Virgo’s Groove.” Clocking in at just over an hour, “Renaissance” is expansive, an exquisite tapestry of interpolations and citations, which comes to crescendo with her invocation of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” on the album’s final track, “Summer Renaissance,” where Beyoncé embraces the listener as a partner — even if only as a summer fling. — Brendan McGuirk


"Something Borrowed, Something New: A Tribute to John Anderson"EASY EYE SOUND

Various artists, “Something Borrowed, Something New: A Tribute to John Anderson”

Long before this New England native learned to appreciate the finer twangs of Southern music, I was beguiled by the Mekons’ version of “Wild and Blue.” That magnificent waltz was a chart-topping country hit for John Anderson in 1982, when most of his peers were preoccupied with engineering gloss. Anderson was one of the “New Traditionalists” who effectively picked up where the outlaws of the ’70s left off. Many of their successors have gathered here to bring him his flowers. It’s a thoroughgoing keeper, beginning with the late, great John Prine’s version of the nostalgic “1959″ and ending with Jamey Johnson’s “I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal.” In between, the Bluegrass State’s Tyler Childers imports the bootlegging romp “Shoot Low Sheriff!” and Luke Combs nails one of the honoree’s truest gems, “Seminole Wind.” Brent Cobb, who is 36 but sings as though he’s already lost all his teeth (a compliment!), aptly gets “Wild and Blue,” while newcomer Sierra Ferrell brings the whole thing up to date with her lovely take on “Years.” That one’s a wistful beauty about aging that Anderson wrote for his 2020 collaboration with the indefatigable Dan Auerbach, who likewise produced this mint-condition tribute. — James Sullivan


Kendrick Lamar, “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers”

Now that we’ve had time to fully absorb Kendrick Lamar’s complex new record, it’s clear it is one of the most thrilling and revelatory musical experiences in recent memory. From its opening lines, “I hope you find some peace of mind in this lifetime,” “Mr. Morale” plays like a sonically diverse and intricately conceived performance art piece exploring the evolution of a man as he comes to terms with responsibility, trauma, grief, and the contradictions of love. While Lamar’s reach may exceed his grasp at times, the 18 songs add up to a revealing song cycle, culminating in “Mother I Sober,” a moving meditation on the effects of generational trauma on the Black community. Album of the year. Ken Capobianco


Tyshawn SoreyJohn Rogers

Tyshawn Sorey, “Mesmerism”

Tyshawn Sorey, in the notes to “Mesmerism,” acknowledges “having been typecast as being a so-called ‘avant-gardist’ for nearly two decades.” But his new trio album is a testament to his affection for straight-ahead jazz, with covers of the standard “Autumn Leaves” and pieces by Horace Silver (“Enchantment”), Bill Evans (“Detour Ahead”), Paul Motian (“From Time to Time”), Muhal Richard Abrams (“Two Over One”), and Duke Ellington (”REM Blues”). Sorey, on drums, is joined by Aaron Diehl on piano and Matt Brewer on bass. The Ellington blues is especially appealing, perhaps partly for having originated on “Money Jungle,” Duke’s classic trio album with Charles Mingus and Max Roach — the standard-setter for avant-gardists displaying their love of jazz despite their aversion to being confined by it. — Bill Beuttler

Cheekface, “Too Much to Ask”

On its third album, LA trio Cheekface shows off its talent for offbeat, talky indie rock that flows like a Twitter timeline: witticisms, memes, and twitchy non-sequiturs stacking up for maximum context-collapse chaos. One minute, lead vocalist Greg Katz quips that he’s “statistically likely to be wearing a shirt,” seconds later, he’s declaring “if woke dudes must die, I’ll go first!” over a hunky-dory beat. Across the record, the trio leans on irony and absurdism to poke at contradictions between self-serving gestures, self-care-bot platitudes, and meaningful political action, but they throw in plenty of whimsy for its own sake, too. “Election Day” even features a guest appearance from Boston’s own Sidney Gish, who sounds right at home among jaunty riffs and ultra-referential wordplay. — Karen Muller


Neil YoungAmy Harris/Amy Harris/Invision/AP

Neil Young and Promise of the Real, “Noise & Flowers”

“Noise & Flowers,” recorded live on Neil Young and Promise of the Real’s 2019 European tour, sounds like Crazy Horse in all its mid-’90s ragged glory. With Promise of the Real — fronted by Willie Nelson’s guitar prodigy son, Lukas — they throw down an epic “Throw Your Hatred Down” featuring throbbing drums and trademark Young & Co. wild, rangy guitar; a wonderfully moody “On the Beach”; a raw, pulsing “Mr. Soul” that needs to be cranked to 11; and a plucky, too-rarely played “Field of Opportunity.” “Rockin’ in the Free World” sounds for all the world like a late ‘90s encore at Great Woods. The album not only delivers that raw, live Young passion to a T, but proves that POTR has Horse power. — Lauren Daley

Marci, “Marci”

“Marci,” the self-titled debut of Montreal singer-instrumentalist Marta Cikojevic, filled the hole in my heart that developed when Carly Rae Jepsen took a couple of years off from releasing sincerely sweet ear candy. Inspired by the sophistipop sounds of the mid-’80s — think lots of layered keyboards and plush vocal harmonies — “Marci” is a delightful summer listen. The swooning “Entertainment” is one of my favorite singles this year, a love song to the head rush offered by perfect tunes and dancefloor love affairs, while the shimmying “Terminal” recalls the synthpop period of Scritti Politti with its ruminative lyrics and squiggly synth accents. — Maura Johnston


Vince StaplesMatt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Coachella

Vince Staples, “Ramona Park Broke My Heart”

Vince Staples’s fifth album is both an homage to and lament for the North Long Beach neighborhood he grew up in, where there’s “no yellow brick road/ just public housing.” Taking a more linear approach to his lyrics and music than his more experimental work, the MC delivers sharply focused, hook-filled songs in which he embodies different narrators desperate to find a better life than the one they were born into. While melodic, these tracks are infused with sadness and despair — flowers are bought for graves, not lovers. It makes for a bracing record of hip-hop verité that ends with the mournful repeated mantra of “pray for me.” It’s Staples at his finest. — Ken Capobianco

DaShawn Hickman, “Drums, Roots & Steel”

Recent years have seen a sizable number of releases by Black gospel steel guitarists raised in the once-hidden “sacred steel” tradition. Proving the sound’s versatility is Hickman’s debut, which marries sacred steel with African rhythms. Jazz man Charlie Hunter produces and plays bass and Hickman’s wife, Wendy, sings, but what really makes the release stand apart is the West African percussion of Atiba Rorie and Brevan Hampden. Songs like “Morning Train” and “Don’t Let the Devil Ride” have long been in the repertoire of sacred steel artists like the Campbell Brothers, but they’ve never been played like this before. — Noah Schaffer

"Household Name" by MommaPolyvinyl Records

Momma, “Household Name”

How many ‘90s guitar heroes can an album pay homage to before alt-rocking too close to the sun? More than we might’ve guessed, according to the latest release from Brooklyn band Momma. The cheekily-titled “Household Name” goes all-in on throwback sounds for the sheer fun of it, channeling everyone from Liz Phair and Veruca Salt to early Modest Mouse with palpable enthusiasm. It works because they make it their own: On opening track “Rip Off,” dual vocalist-guitarists Etta Friedman and Allegra Weingarten envision climbing the charts, surging into sugar-coated harmonies while squaring up against predictable music industry dynamics. Unburdened by the “sellout” anxieties of their predecessors, they bring next-big-thing swagger to “Rockstar” and demonstrate range with cuts like the brooding “Tall Home” and breezy joyride “Speeding 72.” — Karen Muller

Doris Troy, “Sings Just One Look & Other Memorable Selections”

The title of Doris Troy’s 1963 debut record, just reissued on vinyl by Real Gone Music, points to the classic song that gained her notoriety as a so-called one-hit wonder. But “Lazy Days,” “Somewhere Along the Way,” and the other vintage, smoldering soul the record contains, all powered by Troy’s marvelous, hint-of-rasp singing voice, testify to the second part of its title. And when you get to her fervored take on “Stormy Weather,” “memorable” is hardly adequate to describe the 2½ minutes of anguish she turns the song into. — Stuart Munro

The Sadies' "Colder Streams"Yep Roc Records

The Sadies, “Colder Streams”

Sadies member Dallas Good opens the bio he wrote for “Colder Streams” by declaring it to be the best album made by anyone, ever. He follows that mockery of the typical PR album bio with an anti-bio that seems quintessentially Sadies, stating what anyone who is familiar with the band already knows: They “don’t really fit tidily into any genre . . . [they] just are. And have been for a very long time.” They “just are” like no other band around, residents of a minor-key territory where nothing, from rumbling instrumentals to spaghetti-western twang and swamp-rock, surf and punk, reels and breakdowns, garage and rockabilly, country and psychedelica, is beyond their ken. “Colder Streams” finds the Sadies once again being what they are, but it will certainly be the last album made by Dallas Good as a Sadie, and perhaps even the last made by the band, because he died suddenly a few months before it was released. It’s too early to say for sure, but it might also, just possibly, turn out to be the best album made by the Sadies, ever. — Stuart Munro

Lupe Fiasco, “Drill Music in Zion,”

An adroit rhymer and shrewd observer, Lupe Fiasco sketches thoughts with such precision that it halts you. On “Drill Music in Zion,” the Chicago MC uses ornate verses to illuminate a world on fire. It’s an elegiac album, with Lupe prodding skeptically over jazzy melodies. Whether he’s decrying the ills of crass commercialism from the middle of the mall or mediating on the ever-fraught dynamic between artists and audiences, Lupe’s work here belies an artist who holds personal integrity in the highest regard. He wants revolution but sees only celebrity and degradation. Rap comes easily to Lupe, at this point, whether he’s firing off a litany of Malcolm X puns or riffing on hands as a means of communication. Everything he says has purpose — he’s trying to make you think. — Brendan McGuirk

Noori & His Dorpa Band, “Beja Power! Electric Soul & Brass from Sudan’s Red Sea Coast”Ostinato Records

Noori & His Dorpa Band, “Beja Power! Electric Soul & Brass from Sudan’s Red Sea Coast”

It’s no surprise that Sudanese musician Noori makes innovative music. He invented his own instrument: the tambo-guitar, which combines the four-string lyre-like tambour with the electric guitar. His instrumental sextet locks into a deep groove that allows for stirring solos from both Noori and haunting tenor saxophonist Naji. Noori’s mission is to raise awareness of the Beja community, which has long strived for recognition from the Sudanese government. This is the first international release of Beja music, and it came after a German label saw the Dorpa Band on TikTok. Given the global popularity of both Saharan desert electric blues and East African rhythms, one hopes we’ll get to see Noori on tour in the future. — Noah Schaffer

Sally Seltmann, “Early Moon”

“Early Moon” comes a poky eight years after Seltmann’s last, and even as she begs for forgiveness from a friend she’s wronged right at the very start with “Please Louise,” the whole album is suffused with a warmth exemplified by the soft smile of the Australian singer’s voice. (The subject of “Female Pied Piper” is her own heart, but it could easily apply to Seltmann — who long ago performed as New Buffalo — herself.) The aims are modest; the album is like Florence + The Machine scaled down in every possible direction. But Seltmann’s lush bedroom pop sounds like sunshine peeking out from behind a cloud. — Marc Hirsh