The Best Albums of April 2021: Dawn Richard, Taylor Swift, Remember Sports, Brockhampton, and More

Dawn Richard, Second Line

R&B artist Dawn Richard has taken a winding path through her nearly 20-year career. Now, she finds herself on the North Carolina indie-rock label Merge with her sixth LP, Second Line. It may be an unexpected place for her, but the record feels like a culmination of all her experience, suffused into an album that threads decades of music and heritage into a thrilling, organic whole. the decision by Richard to anchor much of Second Line in house and other forms of electronic club music has a poignant energy all its own. Just as the early pioneers of Chicago house created a futurist sense of musical and sexual identity, there’s a feeling here of following any impulse you want, no matter where it takes you. J.D.

Brockhampton, Roadrunner: New Light, New Machine

The mutable 13-member rap group’s sixth album Roadrunner: New Light, New Machine manages to be the easy listen that Ginger was not, which is surprising since it was created amidst tragedy. Roadrunner is influenced by the suicide of groupmember Joba’s father. For years, the specter of suicide has lingered over Brockhampton’s music. Now, they’ve been forced to process it in reality. Joba’s loss has pushed him to meditate on passion and purpose, and while there are no holds barred when Joba confronts his pain, the album as a whole feels inspired, and even hopeful. Brockhampton has experimented with what it means to be an “American Boyband,” acknowledging that rap is pop’s present and future, while subverting the aesthetic expectations that comes with the “boyband” moniker with their candid confessions. Interestingly enough, even as founder Kevin Abstract admits he’s weary of the signifier, the group leans further into the accessibility of a boyband than ever before. M.C.

Taylor Swift, Fearless: Taylor’s Version

Swift begins the massive undertaking of remaking her back catalog with Fearless, the album that established her as a crossover star. Unlike most rerecordings, this time the new versions somehow sound less slick than the original. Her voice feels lower in the mix this time around, but for the most part she’s gone to extreme lengths to mimic the polished Nashville textures and soundscapes of the first Fearless; she brought back several of the album’s session musicians and even recruited Colbie Caillat (a primary influence on the 2008 version of Fearless) to redo her backing vocals on “Breathe.” Swift has clearly studied her vocal intonations on Fearless, down to the awkwardly recreated laughs and hiccups sprinkled throughout “Hey Stephen.” But her thirtysomething voice is richer, deeper, and more sure of itself. She embodies her earlier country affectations but only to a point: No longer does she try to make “back” rhyme with “laugh” on the deep cut “Come in With the Rain.” J.B.

Remember Sports, Like a Stone

Matt Sweeney and Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Superwolves

Will Oldham, who performs as Bonnie “Prince” Billy, and Matt Sweeney are perfectly matched collaborators, which helps to explain why their joint 2005 album Superwolf has become a cult classic. Their new sequel features a larger cast than its predecessor, with Tuareg guitar marvel Mdou Moctar and his bandmates appearing on a few tracks, but as with its predecessor, the record’s strongest moments are the ones that show off Oldham and Sweeney’s sturdy rapport in the sparest way. “Good to My Girls” is a classic Oldham character study that depicts a brothel madam with a clear-eyed view of her role, and on “My Popsicle,” Sweeney’s eerie, descending melody line and spectral backing vocals heighten the intrigue of Oldham’s elliptical lyrics. H.S.

Marianne Faithful and Warren Ellis, She Walks in Beauty

Marianne Faithfull has loved as deeply and lived as tragically as any of England’s celebrated romantic poets of yore, but unlike most of them, she has lived to tell her tales. So on She Walks in Beauty, a spoken-word collaboration with violinist/songwriter Warren Ellis on which she recites some of her favorite entries from Palgrave’s Golden Treasury, her warm, lived-in voice finds new depths in verses by Lord Byron, John Keats, Percy Shelley, William Wordsworth, and others. When she reads a line like “My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains my sense” in Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale,” she does so with a sense of knowledge from hard-worn years of crushing life experience that the poet, who died at age 25 of tuberculosis, would never know. K.G.

Earth Man Blues could be the GBV’s best album since 1995’s Alien Lanes. While that might seem like a lofty claim — especially with a discography as expansive as GBV’s — Earth Man Blue squarely hits all the marks that make Guided By Voices great — again and again and again. A collage of previously unfinished or rejected songs resurrected and forged into a rock opera about Pollard’s childhood, this is GBV as pure id: bonkers lyrics, aural experimentation, and hooks for days. Just try to get “Sunshine Girl” — a sweet little rocker that sounds like the Monkees on downers — out of your head. Pollard and his “race car mind” are now a permanent part of your hippocampus. B.E.

The Who, The Who Sell Out: Super Deluxe Edition

The Who Sell Out was rock’s first perfect package of irony — a wry marriage of highbrow and lowbrow art disguised as a concept album where the only real notion was that the Who wanted cash. They linked the songs together with tongue-in-cheek commercials for deodorant and pimple cream and even hired a real ad agency to pour Heinz beans over Roger Daltrey for the cover art. Although the collection is structured like a conventional box set — two discs devoted to the album in stereo and mono with B sides, another to outtakes, a fourth to abandoned takes, and a fifth to Pete Townshend’s demos — everything in it provides a holistic look at the period surrounding the making of the LP. K.G.

Gojira, Fortitude

The Mars Volta, La Realidad de los Suenos

Hasaan Ibn Ali, Metaphysics: The Lost Atlantic Album

There are obscure figures in jazz, and then there’s Hasaan Ibn Ali, a late Philadelphia pianist who, until last month, had exactly one recording to his name, a 1965 album led by master drummer Max Roach. As heard on that LP, Ali’s technique was as impressive as his aesthetics were bizarre: His compositions lurched and scampered, and his improvisations swung hard while veering off on wild, obsessive tangents. Around nine months after the Roach session, Ali led a lone record date of his own, which was shelved after the pianist was arrested for narcotics possession. Now, more than 40 years after the original tape was destroyed in an Atlantic Records warehouse fire, the record is finally out, thanks to a dubbed copy that recently surfaced. While it lacks the cold-water shock of the Roach album, Metaphysics confirms that Ali was a true original on the post-bebop landscape, akin to but absolutely distinct from forebears like Thelonious Monk and Herbie Nichols, and contemporaries like Cecil Taylor. A major bonus here is the presence of his protégé Odean Pope, whose brawny, volatile tenor-sax sound is the perfect match for Ali’s resolutely offbeat approach. “Lost” albums don’t always live up to their backstories, but this one is a major find. H.S.

Assertion, Intermission

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