|1. Ctrl by SZA
SZA wrote one of the best albums of the year and the soundtrack to my summer. She wrote about the tension between sexual freedom and a need for sustained intimacy, self-worth and self-reflection, and the ongoing existential crisis that is one’s twenties with wit, compassion and brutal honesty.
|2. Ison by Sevdaliza
The Iranian-Dutch singer’s debut trip-hop album and accompanying music videos are both inviting and jarring, laden with grandiose soundscapes and warm layers of orchestration perfect for a pensive mood. If you like Björk or FKA twigs, Sevdaliza is for you.
|3. 1992 Deluxe by Princess Nokia
Destiny Frasqueri, better known by her stage name “Princess Nokia,” is a queer, self-possessed rapper who is vocal about her Afro-Puerto Rican and Taíno heritage. If you need convincing and love New York City, start with “ABC’s of New York” or “Green Line.” Otherwise, meet Ms. Destiny in her early music videos and you’ll be listening to Deluxe from start to finish in no time.
|4. Fin by Syd
Unlike most artists on this list, Syd isn’t as interested in centering a sense of vulnerability in her lyrics. On Fin, the lead vocalist of the soul-rooted band the Internet emotes a sometimes icy, always seductive confidence I find it helpful to try on from time to time. Throw this on at the after-party.
|5. About Time by Sabrina Claudio
While I’m partial to Claudio’s EP Confidently Lost, also released earlier this year, she delivers lush, low-key ballads about love and loss on both. Prepare your heart and your mood lighting now.
|6. Trip by Jhené Aiko
My friend Mankaprr once dubbed Aiko “an R&B woodsprite” and she could not have been more spot on. Trip is a dreamy mediation about relying on romantic relationships and psychedelics to process the loss of her brother to cancer. Though almost 90 minutes long, Aiko’s seamless transitions from pop to soul to groove is a journey that never drags.
|7. Take Me Apart by Kelela
The synth-filled futurescapes of Kelela’s latest album wade in the space between progressive electronic music and contemporary R&B. You might hear her in the club but Take Me Apart is just as appropriate in the bedroom or during late-night drives.
|8. Blonde by Frank Ocean
Frank Ocean finally graced fans with Blonde, his long-anticipated follow up to Channel Orange, and didn’t disappoint. His stripped-down meditation on loneliness and nostalgia is three-dimensional, his lyrics piercing and his falsettos as lovely as ever. The always excellent André 3000 makes a guest appearance, too.
|9. RELAXER by alt-J
Turns out I didn’t only listen to alt-R&B this year. The trio’s third album doesn’t necessarily push the envelope but feels fresh and — like each of their albums — provides a complete experience.