Every year at about this time, I make a big playlist of all the albums I can remember liking one or more tracks from; each year, I find a few album tracks I’d missed first time around, but this year there have been more albums than usual where I’ve found myself thinking, “why didn’t I listen to this all the time?”
I suspect the problem I had with Miguel’s Wildheart is that I liked “Coffee” so much, I forget how good the rest of the album was. And “Coffee” is the best thing on the album; it’s erotic in an incredibly expansive sense, full of the sensuality inherent in all the diverse modes of human connection. While nothing else on the album is as synoptic, many of the tracks do a brilliant job of portraying different slices of the experience summed up so well in “Coffee.” “Simple Things” and “Hollywood Dreams” romanticise the quieter moments of shared interest and investment, while “Waves” and “The Valley” capture eros as the overcoming of lonely individuality, whether that’s the division of the self into body parts in grinding rhythm of “The Valley” or the washing away of the self by pleasure promised in “Waves.”
The problem I had with Ciara’s Jackie is harder to figure out, in that I knew it was great when it came out, but I almost immediately forgot about it. Perhaps I was shamefully influenced by the unaccountable lack of critical love for the album. Perhaps it’s a little off-trend; “Fly,” “Give me Love,” “That’s How I’m Feelin’” and “Kiss & Tell” are all in the icy cough syrup Rave&B mould that was popular in the late 2000s, but that was a great sound and they’re fine examples of it; “I Bet” is a lovely ballad, although admittedly also a bit mid-2000s. The title track, though, is a blast of creativity, pivoting from ballad to rap to imperious drum and bass banger.
Another example of an album with a unaccountable lack of critical acclaim, or, as far as I am aware, any critical attention at all, is Hillary Duff’s Breathe In. Breathe Out. Lead single “Sparks” was a bold attempt to bring donk into the US pop mainstream, while “Confetti” starts out like Girls Aloud’s “Untouchable” before transitioning into disco-pop in the style of Kylie’s recent albums. There was also a comeback from The Veronicas. When I first heard the album, I only noticed the track that was most similar to their previous pop-punk-y songs, “Cruel,” but there are some other good songs, albeit with some caveats. “Did You Miss Me” has some good electro-goth if you can get past the dodgy rapping at the beginning, and “Born Bob Dylan” is pleasingly earnest, although I don’t like the invocation of Rosa Parks as a generic figure of self-affirmation (and surely the striking thing about Rosa Parks’s protest is that she didn’t “stand up”?). “More Like Me,” though, is great, caveat free. It’s the flipside of the tradition of jealous ex songs trashing the imagined perfection of the ex’s new lover (I think my favourite example is Shakira’s “Don’t Bother“), but what’s so striking is the way the singer’s assertion of her own superiority to her partner’s ex is so inflected with self-doubt and desperation: am I compromising myself to keep him? and even if I am, will it be enough?
Sasha Go Hard is so consistently on point that I find it easy to underrate her. Of course Nutty World 2 is great, what else would it be? But the energy and effortless skill of “Vision” or “All I See” deserve an enormous amount of praise. I also tend to underestimate Tink, for a slightly different reason; her skill is in the smallness of her voice and the fragility it can convey. Winter’s Diary 3 showcases this, perhaps to best effect on “There’s Somebody Else,” but it also includes her biggest pop banger to date, “The Afterparty.”
Finally, two dance records that let be overshadowed by one of my favourite records of the year (which I’ll reveal next week), but which are worth your time: Zhala by Zhala (90s hardcore as religious experience) and Lantern by Hudson Mohawke (the intersection of stentorian and shiny).