5. Björk, Utopia — Leave it to Björk to find new ways to embrace the weird and hallucinatory. Utopia unfolds like a personal, guided tour of the sprawling psychedelic paradise that exists within the Icelandic singer’s imagination. “I don’t have enough clothes for all the people I become when you’re kissing me,” she sings on “Blissing Me,” just one of many lines that lands like a bucket of cold water amid the harps and spacey synths. After the raw catharsis of Vulnicura, Björk seems more than ready to revisit love, a feeling she elevates to a transcendent, almost metaphysical level on Utopia.
4. Perfume Genius, No Shape — The meticulously crafted moments of dissonance in No Shape echo an idea running throughout Mike Hadreas’ work as Perfume Genius, that beautiful things should have teeth. Otherwise, they risk fading into the background or disappearing entirely unless they also contain something just a little off, or jarring, or, if you like, queer. No Shape is fittingly one of the most beautiful albums of the year, an achingly honest self-reflection on what it means to inhabit a vulnerable and ostensibly flawed body, and the strange sense of wonder and reverence at the reality of finding that body in a relationship with another. (Full review.)
3. Kelela, Take Me Apart — Kelela’s debut EP was well worth the wait. Clearly bored by basic love songs, Kelela reserves much of her attention for the fraught liminal states on the edges of love, from the tense expectation of single life to the angst-ridden fraying edges of a relationship to the cautiously-felt elation of a new love. Take Me Apart is a mature and sober reflection on modern relationships carried by an impressive vocal range and hypermodern arrangements that probe and tug at the boundaries of pop and R&B.
2. St. Vincent, Masseduction — “I don’t turn off what turns me on,” sings Annie Clark on the title track of her wry, thoughtful and career-defining fifth album as St. Vincent. This turns out to be an understatement. Far from burying her turn-ons, Masseduction turns them up all the way up to an ecstatic ode to the pursuit of desire. Throughout the masterfully produced album, Clark revels in the reckless pursuit of decadence, yet stops short of outright celebrating it, preferring to give the self-destructive side of hedonism its due as well. (Full review.)
1. Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner, James McAlister, Nico Muhly, Planetarium — Rich, sprawling, and dense with layers of meaning, this collaboration between Stevens, Muhly and Dressner embraces both the humanity and the divine inscrutability of the Olympian gods and projects them on a cosmic scale onto our solar system. From the tense and manic “Saturn,” to the melancholic “Pluto,” to the exultant 8-minute “Earth,” Planetarium is an ambitiously imagined and magnificently realized ode to the universe, and a meditation on our place within it. (Full review.)
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