“blackSUMMERS’night” One of R&B’s greatest talents for two decades running, the singer-songwriter showed off his gift for crafting simmering, seductive soul on the follow-up to 2009’s “BLACKsummers’night.” Intricately arranged, with brushed drums and dry horns framing Maxwell’s sharp observations on the ups and downs of grown-up love, “SUMMERS” brings the heat on tracks like the sprawling “Lake by the Ocean” and the jittery “Lost.”
“Strangers” The seventh full-length from Jamaica Plain’s Nadler reinvents the American Gothic ideal, spinning yarns about solitary lives over uneasiness-tinged folk songs. The characters she sings of — the phone-assisted voyeur who narrates “Shadow Show Diane,” the shadow dweller of the title track — have life breathed into them by her spectral voice and arrangements that give the feeling of a dreamlife existence.
“We Are KING” Bringing together the vintage-synth geekery of Paris Strother and the gorgeously entwined vocals of Amber Strother and Anita Bias, this R&B trio (two-thirds of which attended Berklee) crafted a sumptuous debut that reached back to the eras of Quiet Storms and robo-funk jams while also having their gaze zeroed in on soul music’s future, balancing radio-ready gems like the punchy “The Greatest” and the powerful “Oh Please!” with gently blooming psych-soul meditations like “Red Eye.”
“Grandfeathered” Chaotic and joyful, this Russian shoegaze act’s pile-it-all-on approach to music goes beyond kitchen-sinkdom and into “entirety of the housewares department” territory. The guitar feedback, crashing drums, crackling synths, and giddy utterances of vocalist Lyubov Soloveva would all just be a bunch of noise if not for the band’s keen ear for simple yet potent pop hooks, which anchor the maelstrom.
“The Weight of These Wings” Nashville’s favorite female outlaw defied expectations with this double album, which shows how country music’s central ideals can be communicated through honky-tonkin’ hoedowns and riff-heavy rock anthems alike. Songs like the regret-filled “Vice” and the dream-pop-leaning “Highway Vagabond” would have been alt-rock smashes two decades ago; tracks like the slide-guitar-accented “Well-Rested” and the real-talking “Ugly Lights” show why she’s at the top of country’s game now.
“Redemption” Freed from the expectations placed upon her by her former group Danity Kane, Richard has blossomed into one of R&B’s most potent innovators. Her third album takes inspiration from the club and the bayou alike, celebrating her Louisiana roots on tracks like the Trombone Shorty-assisted “LA” while asserting her unwillingness to be put in anyone’s box on the sparse “Vines” and steadying a jittery dance-floor-ready beat on “Voices.”
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
“Skeleton Tree” This year, three rock titans — David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, and Nick Cave — who had made peeking into the abyss crucial parts of their discography released records that dealt with mortality. Cave’s sweeping, urgent album takes a step back from the murder balladry he’s often engaged in and looks at death from the edges, with abstracted lyrics playing off the grandly dissonant music supplied by his bandmates.
“A Seat at the Table” The third album from Knowles is a testament to the power of unapologetically asserting oneself that gains its strength through its sparse arrangements and arresting lyrics. Balancing declarations of self (“Don’t You Wait,” “Don’t Touch My Hair,” “Don’t Wish Me Well”) with odes to her forebears (the gently bubbling “Junie,” a series of brief chats with her mother and rapper/mogul Master P), Solange has crafted a personal statement that derives its potency from nuanced self-assuredness.
Thao & The Get Down Stay Down
“A Man Alive” In order to fully explore the fallout from her father’s abandonment of her at a young age, Bay Area singer-songwriter Thao Nguyen switched up her sound, enlisting longtime friend Merrill Garbus to add jagged textures and about-to-burst loops to her vibrant pop. Songs like the bare-bones “Meticulous Bird” and the pensive “Astonished Man” are urgent and life-affirming, and the album is a powerful and hook-filled testament to art’s ability to heal.
“Anti” A searing look at womanhood from one of the most photographed stars in the galaxy, “Anti” turns its spotlight on the side of Rihanna that isn’t visible in her many paparazzi shots. Whirling through styles — clamorous trap on “Woo,” dub-tinged sourness on “Consideration,” towering balladry on the soaring “Love on the Brain” — “Anti” puts the peculiar type of loneliness and weariness particular to this always-on age on full display.
“No Sorry” Combining post-punk’s spikiness, doom-metal’s sludgy low ends, twist-tie approaches to songcraft, and the confetti-cannon presence of vocalist Carrie Furniss, this Boston band explodes every expectation currently laboring under the rubric of “punk.” Their delightful, breakneck debut turns sighing ballads into platforms for dissonant guitar noodling (“What Am I Today?”) and throws mud in the eye of “women in rock” ideals (“Sex Bias”).Maura Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.