Last year was a banner year for big-name artists dropping big-name releases. By strong contrast, was more of a transitional changing of the guard year, allowing space for new faces, like Billie Eilish and Lizzo, to make big splashes and for seasoned veterans, like Wilco and Solange, to create bigger, fresher waves. Buffalo brothers Westside Gunn and Conway the Machine and longtime associate Benny the Butcher are Griselda, a rap crew whose hard-nosed punch lines, effortless flows, and intricate storytelling brought them to the attention of our patron saint of internal rhyme, Eminem. Their Shady Records debut W. Gothic sounds from producers Daringer and Beat Butcha set the scene for grimy stories about the stresses and spoils of hustling. The beats bang, and the quotables run fast and hot, like a river of blood. In four albums, Kentucky troubadour Sturgill Simpson evolved from a rising country star to a critically acclaimed singer-songwriter to a kind of Nashville outlaw to a rock star making records about the stresses of making records.
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In a hyperspeed world, it is increasingly meaningful to sit with the vision of one artist for an extended period of time. From drowsy hip-hop to pitch-perfect pop, albums of all genres felt more profound than ever. Synthesizing devastating breakups and calling for revolution in every style of sound, these albums went all-in on what matters. Listen to selections from this list on our Spotify playlist and Apple Music playlist. All releases featured here are independently selected by our editors. When you buy something through our retail links, however, Pitchfork may earn an affiliate commission. British electronic producer Sam Shepherd has always exerted remarkable control over his meticulous musical output as Floating Points: With his favored instrument, the Buchla modular synthesizer, he can contour sound waves and alter circuitry to suit his needs. But Shepherd, like the rest of us, has comparatively little control over his input, and the chaos of the past three years—Brexit, Trump—shook something loose inside him. Out came Crush, a record that vibrates with sadness and anger, buoyed by squelching melodies that flutter and pop. The album is a wonderful scenario for an artist a decade into their career: a rewarding balance of consistency and growth, with subtle experimentation instead of the common midcareer misstep of transparently grabbing for radio play.
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Those sounds are more than just another layer of Americana cosplay: her obsession with American archetypes, once dismissed as superficial, has matured into an acute understanding of how they are created and frustration at what they conceal. A subtly defiant assertion that Del Rey is here for the long haul, no matter what. Laura Snapes Read the full review. Until this year, rapper Dave was a singles artist — he managed 11 before his debut album was released — but Black marked a sea change: serious, reflective and grown-up. An absentee father, a sibling in prison his brother Christopher is serving a life sentence for his involvement in the killing of Sofyen Belamouadden , a burgeoning, pressurised music career — it all gets mixed into an urban opera that plays out intensely, and internally. Lanre Bakare Read the full review. Alexis Petridis Read the full review.
The album won't go down without a fight. As the algorithmic thinking of the streaming music era tightens its grip on the record industry and consumer listening habits, artists are still writing and recording collections of new material, releasing them as cohesive units on specific dates, and suggesting that you listen to them in a pre-established order. As a format for enjoying multiple songs and a way of thinking about creative development, it remains essential. Even with all its tumult, didn't change that. There's always good new music out there, providing the soundtrack to the highs and lows of daily life. Sometimes it comes from a new artist you've never heard of before; sometimes it comes from a reliable veteran you perhaps stopped listening to consistently. Either way, great albums make an impression. These are the best records of Like this kind of stuff? A song like the opener "imagine," with its clicking percussion and soaring hook, elegantly moves between moments of intimacy and widescreen catharsis.