The 25 Best Albums of 2016 (So Far)

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The 25 Best Albums of 2016 (So Far)

This year has already seen no fewer that eight surprise releases, making it an interesting one for consuming music. Luckily, Paste’s staff, writers, and interns, have diverse tastes and listening habits, and between us, we debated and determined the 25 best albums of the year (so far).

25. Fruit Bats, Absolute Loser

Though it sounds perfectly natural in the line of succession of Fruit Bats albums, it’s the five-year hiatus preceding Absolute Loser that makes all the difference. That album, as cohesive and strong top to bottom as anything frontman Eric D. Johnson has made, gathers its sense of purpose from the sort of self-reflection and search for meaning that caused Johnson to put Fruit Bats on the shelf after 2011’s Tripper. But Absolute Loser unfolds as a rock-solid example of what Johnson has done best for more than 15 years. Although the album stacks more of its mellower songs toward the end—trading some of the enthusiastic spirit Johnson brings to Fruit Bats’ return for a finale that sounds thoroughly peaceful—in the end, anyone who’s tapped feet or nodded along to Fruit Bats in the past will find plenty to embrace with this new batch of familiar, comfortable tunes. —Eric Swedlund

24. Tim Hecker, Love Streams

The latest work from sound artist extraordinaire Tim Hecker finds the Canadian native slowly moving past the syrupy, brash compositions that made up fellow masterpieces Virgins and Ravedeath, 1972. The colors and shapes are still there, but are becoming a lot more well-defined amid the haze. Building off a foundation of medieval choral songs turned into digital detritus, Hecker and collaborator Jóhann Jóhannsson use real voices and woodwinds (manipulated throughout by computers) to construct an edifice that juts out at daring angles and sparking and humming in a mildly unsettling yet strangely alluring fashion. You can’t help but want to get closer and inspect every last inch of it. —Robert Ham

23. Lucy Dacus, No Burden

Virginia singer-songwriter Lucy Dacus’s No Burden is astounding for two reasons. First off, this is the young artist’s debut album, but it is surprisingly genuine and mature. Second, she reimagines the indie folk and rock scene because she does not fall victim to the one-dimensional melancholic trope and rather opts for a frank and beautiful style.

With her warm, dreamy voice, Dacus has an artful swagger and constructs wry and acute observations about her experiences. Accompanied by her mesmerizing guitar, Dacus bravely traverses and articulates the inner workings of her self in songs like “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore” and “Map on a Wall.” A self-described restless soul, Dacus is on a quest of endurance, “how to survive the bendin’ and breakin’.” With a breezy attitude, Dacus’ drops the “g’s” from “-ing” verbs in a charming manner, but she still maintains a modern elegance. All the while, No Burden has a tinge of optimism and hope, making it a gorgeous and insightful work. —Taylor Ysteboe


ANOHNI’s debut album is bruising and beautiful, made indelible by its dissonance—the glittering lust with which its creator flings herself towards an apocalypse. Perfectly summed up in its announcement as “an electronic record with some sharp teeth,” HOPELESSNESS is a passionate protest record as dazzling as it is devastating—co-producers Oneohtrix Point Never and Hudson Mohawke create gorgeous, glitchy soundscapes, but its ANOHNI’s ethereal vocals that animate them. Toni Morrison said all good art is political—even by that measure alone, this album is fucking great. ANOHNI begs to be a target on undeniable opener “Drone Bomb Me” and prays for catastrophic climate change in stellar second track “Four Degrees,” yearning for doom as if in an attempt to convince herself it’s what she wants, since it’s so clearly what she—what all of us—are going to get. HOPELESSNESS will convince you it’s what we deserve, but despite its fearless eye towards the world’s horrors, this album is anything but an admission of defeat—it’s a rallying cry. “Let’s be brave and tell the truth as much as we can,” ANOHNI urged upon its release. Yes, let’s. —Scott Russell

21. Margo Price, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter

Back in September of 2015, Third Man Records gave a teaser of the forthcoming Margo Price project. A few months later with the release of Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, there are songs that tug at your heartstrings, and there are songs that encompass the emotions that run the gamut of the human experience from love, loss, confusion, anger, resilience and fear. Price’s voice is equally as engaging as her writing, going from mournful to exclamatory, oftentimes in the same song. There have been comparisons to Loretta Lynn, which must be flattering to the up-and-coming singer. To write, sing and relate to your listeners as she does is a rare trio of traits. While Price has faced a number of setbacks to get where she is today, her talent beams golden bright on this album. —Eric Luecking

20. The Hotelier, Goodness

There’s a certain, cathartic kind of rock ‘n’ roll—anthemic and honest above all else, inspiring fist-pumps and throat lumps in equal measure, impossible to sit still to—that gets me every single time. Massachusetts indie-punks The Hotelier (formerly The Hotel Year) have achieved exactly that with their ambitious third album, Goodness, which lives up to its title in just about every way. The album, much like its cover art, lays bare life as a mixture of beauty and ugliness, joy and agony that is nevertheless unquestionably worth embracing. The propulsive, driving guitars of “Piano Player,” humanized by lead singer Christian Holden’s impassioned howls, are electrifying, the kind of musical kick in the ass that makes one want to get up and go live. “Make me feel alive / Make me believe that all my selves align,” Holden exhorts on “Soft Animal,” giving out exactly what he longs to get. But these life-affirming moments of passion and yearning are counterbalanced by the uncertainty of “Two Deliverances,” the pain and regret of “Settle the Scar”—the struggles that give the triumphs of Goodness so much meaning.—Scott Russell

19. Esperanza Spalding, Emily’s D+Evolution

“Who is Esperanza Spalding?” That was the question that burned up search engines after the then-26-year-old won an unexpected Grammy Award for Best New Artist in 2011. With 2012’s Radio Music Society, it appeared that she was answering that question by sanding down her most avant-garde edges in order to embrace sophisticated, classy pop and R&B—choices that felt a bit too safe for an artist of her talent and ambition. But with Emily’s D+Evolution, the answer has changed again. This time, Spalding has indulged every experimental impulse, creating a shape-shifting album that blends riff-heavy prog rock, dazzling jazz fusion, and probing singer-songwriter pop—often within the same track. It’s also a concept album about a young girl exploring questions of love, race, and identity, consistent in theme and tone yet utterly unpredictable from track to track. Who is Esperanza Spalding? Thankfully, we may never get a clear answer. —Matt Fink

18. Margaret Glaspy, Emotions and Math

If there’s anything Margaret Glaspy can’t do, it’s not apparent on her first full-length album. Emotions and Math pretty much has it all—deftly written songs, effortless musical chops and a fierce attitude that is at once brazen and somehow also understated. “I don’t want to see you cry, but it feels like a matter of time,” she sings on breakout single “You and I,” a song that opens with Glaspy telling a moon-eyed suitor that he’s only there temporarily, to satisfy a need. She’s just as frank throughout the album, ruefully parsing her own diffidence on the title track, offering questionable advice from an elder’s perspective on “Parental Guidance” and asserting herself over a wonderfully abrasive guitar part on “Pins and Needles.” “I don’t want to watch my mouth,” she sings on the latter song, and that’s welcome news, indeed. —Eric R. Danton

17. Kendrick Lamar, untitled unmastered.

Kendrick Lamar is a pretty varied guy, as horny as he is existentialist. His harrowed and ongoing metamorphosis into a butterfly is the narrative he’s chosen and is the story he’ll likely stick with for the foreseeable future, but untitled unmastered. shows that the holes in his willed chrysalis might be more interesting than the beauty promised by the cocoon. Featuring many of the same collaborators, themes and sonic templates as To Pimp A Butterfly, untitled unmastered. necessarily lives in that album’s shadow. Each song is time-stamped and untitled, stillborn inside the To Pimp a Butterfly session in which it was conceived. But that’s precisely this album’s beauty: instead of shying away from the long shadow of To Pimp a Butterfly, untitled unmastered. happily embraces that shared DNA, reveling in the subtleties that set it apart. This isn’t just a collection of b-sides: this is Kendrick’s What If version of his own mythology, flaws as alternate histories, unrealized retcons. —Stephen F. Kearse

16. White Lung, Paradise

Paradise might just be the year’s best pop album so far. Go ahead and process. While sensational visions of “true” punk look like a deleted scene from Trainspotting, the fact is that punk and pop have always been pretty tight. What makes Paradise so damn good isn’t some complex music theory mystery. It’s those hooks. Every one of the album’s ten tracks is replete, brimming even, with the kind of one-two punch verse chorus set up that defined groups like The Ramones and pretty much every artist on Motown Records in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Between vocalist Mish Way, guitarist Kenneth William, and drummer Anne-Marie Vassiliou, Paradise is White Lung elevating the punk group gone catchy narrative beyond what often becomes the beginning of the end for similar groups. Much of that success falls on the band’s penchant for keeping their punk roots edge just as sharp while adding radio-friendly flare into the mix. The simple fact is that White Lung knows what the hell it can and can’t do, and that’s the kind of band self-awareness that results in something like Paradise. —Jonathan Dick

15. Thao and the Get Down Stay Down, A Man Alive

Gone are the John Congleton-produced horn arrangements and blues piano of Thao & The Get Down Stay Down’s excellent previous release, We The Common. In their place is tUnE-yArDs’ Merrill Garbus’ electronic organica, which elevates the most deeply introspective, experimental and well-formed release from Thao yet. A Man Alive is a dissection of Thao’s relationship with the father who left her and her family when she was young. And when the mish-mash of Garbus and Thao’s sounds come together, it can break you to pieces in the most powerful ways possible. —Adrian Spinelli

14. James Blake, The Colour in Anything

Consider the fact that it’s only his third full-length, and James Blake’s The Colour in Anything becomes all the more impressive. Just six years removed from his debut EP, The Bells Sketch, Blake doesn’t disconnect from the hazed out dubstep-meets-Daryl Hall of his early material. Instead, the 27-year-old London native smartly capitalizes on what’s continued to be his music’s most dynamic characteristics. Whether you chalk it up to the bass drop or the distinctive fragility of his tenor voice, Blake’s instinct for pairing the cold mechanics of the music with the unpredictability of his vocals is the primary reason for his sustained renown and success. With The Colour in Anything, Blake’s use of electronic nuance and rhythmic pulse takes a backseat to what is the clearest indicator yet of just how versatile a vocalist and composer he is. Blake’s choral manipulation against the rhythmic backdrop brings a song like “My Willing Heart” a kind of unlikely hypnosis comparable to what Michael McDonald might have sounded like if only he’d had access to Logic Pro or a sampler. To that end, The Colour in Anything is an outstanding look at the dexterity and evolving medium of soul music. —Jonathan Dick

13. Lucius, Good Grief

Lucius spent most of 2014 on the road. Yet, all that time on tour following the 2013 release of Wildewoman, their first full-band album, has honed the fivesome into a tight musical machine. It’s also steered them in a more pop-centric direction, which they say reflects the way the band has evolved as a unit onstage. But on Good Grief, Lucius skips a couple decades of influences since Wildewoman’s ‘60s pop. For all its ’80s touchstones, Good Grief is very much a forward-looking record. Wolfe and Laessig have grown as songwriters, and their deepening confidence—and already enviable vocal ability—makes them willing to push in new directions and play with different sounds and styles, in conjunction with bandmates Dan Molad, Andrew Burri and Peter Lalish. Ballad or banger, the result is song after song with earworm potential, finishing with a masterful four-song stroke that culminates in “Dusty Trails.” Wolfe and Laessig’s voices dominate the understated song, which is at once a post-tour catharsis and a succinct summary of the band’s progress so far. “I know I’m no doctor/ But if I was guessing I’d say it was just growing pains,” they sing. “And painful as growing is/ We can’t forget/ it’s our ticket to taking the reins.” Just to further mix the metaphor, let’s say Lucius is now firmly in the driver’s seat. It will be a pleasure to see where they’re planning to go. —Eric R. Danton

12. Pinegrove, Cardinal

We’re always told to remember where we came from, but sometimes, we don’t really want to. Montclair, N.J. is pretty unremarkable to anyone who didn’t grow up there or go to high school with Stephen Colbert’s kids. The suburban town means a lot to Pinegrove though, and its eight-track album, Cardinal, is all about the geographical fetters that never leave us. Evan Stephens Hall is part of the quarter-life intelligentsia who sneak words like “solipsistic” and “labyrinthian” into a song, but he’s probably the only one who’s doing it well. It’s hard to imagine anything besides his rubbery falsetto so effectively conveying the little fuck-ups along the scaffold of near-adulthood. After all, it’s the little things that kill you the most in retrospect, like forgetting to tell your friends that you love them or seeing your ex-girlfriend’s new fling at the Port Authority. Pinegrove are the cartographers of our innermost anxieties and heartbreak—forcing us to orient ourselves with the latitude and longitude of our early lives in those moments when we feel completely lost. —Mady Thuyein

11. Frankie Cosmos, Next Thing

As the second album by acclaimed New York indie pop outfit Frankie Cosmos, Next Thing acts as an aural scrapbook of Greta Kline, the mastermind behind the project. Instead of most albums detailing one specific point in time, Next Thing collects songs from Kline’s independent Bandcamp releases and new material that invites listeners into the many facets of the world of Frankie Cosmos. Even in the album’s dreariest moments, Next Thing is a mature, introspective album full of bouncy guitars and youthful vibrancy. Tracks such as “On the Lips” are playful and spunky, but Next Thing adopts a punk edge on songs like “Sinister” and “Is It Possible/ Sleep Song.” The subtlety and simplicity of Frankie Cosmos has ways been endearing, but Next Thing shows that it is in the smaller nuances that Kline finds her greatest talents. —Kurt Suchman

10. Rihanna, ANTI

Some of us can still remember that magical time in the mid-to-late ‘90s, when R&B and hip hop really started to merge. Atlanta supergroup TLC became an emblem of the blurring of such lines. I still remember that time when Blaze magazine published a list of reasons they should be officially labeled a rap group (one being, “they’ll burn your motha— house down!”). TLC’s legacy comes to mind when you listen to ANTI, particularly the intoxicating single “Kiss It Better,” which will make you go and listen to “Red Light Special,” only to come back to “Kiss It Better,” because you’ve never heard the words “fuck yo’ pride” sound so beautiful. There’s another group that won’t be mentioned enough when we talk about Rihanna and modern R&B or pop artist, but ANTI is, in so many ways, an SWV fan’s dream come true. In the same way that Rihanna manages to take TLC’s crazy/sexy/cool vibes and build an entire album off of it, she took the boldness of an album like SWV’s 1997 Release Some Tension and created something that actually feels legitimately new (see “Needed Me”). What’s brilliant about ANTI is that, unlike the women of SWV and TLC, and even her contemporaries, Rihanna didn’t need a slew of rap verses and features to make a collection of tracks that feel so hip-hop. Those artists paved the way for someone like her: someone so much of the culture and so gangsta in her own right, that the sole rap verse on the album actually detracts from some of that gangsta (sorry Drake). With production from Hit Boy (on the brilliantly pulsating “Woo”), Timbaland (on the smooth, bad girl anthem, “Yeah I Said It”), Mick Schultz (on the hypnotic “Desperado”) and a host of other greats, ANTI rivals Kanye West’s Yeezus in its eclectic, genre-bending approach to storytelling. Unlike Yeezy, Rihanna’s not so blatantly concerned with the political and social atmosphere that informs her music—the album title is miraculously accurate in this way. ANTI resists so many boxes and labels—all of them, in fact. It’s the kind of intimate creation so specific to its artist—like a Frieda Kahlo self-portrait, or Virginia Woolf’s memoir writings—that you can’t believe how much you identify with it. Or maybe it’s just that, deep down, we all want to be a little Rihanna, and ANTI finally gives us that chance. —Shannon M. Houston

9. Anderson .Paak, Malibu

All thanks and praise to Anderson .Paak for releasing this warm, boozy album right at the start of a chilling year in both temperature and social climate. Malibu is a wonderfully generous cocktail of rap, R&B and soul. It’s intoxicating music, the kind of stuff that gets you up and moving without realizing it. Paak is more than just good vibes though; he’s conscious of the issues regarding his mixed race, and uses his pro-sex slow jams like “Room in Here” and “Without You” to encourage the world to toke up and leave the problems at the foot of the bed. Whether it’s the brass blasting funkdown of “Come Down,” the champagne-soaked “Heart Don’t Stand A Chance,” or joyous victory lap of “The Dreamer” .Paak is more than happy to welcome all for a good time “whatever the occasion/fuck your reservation.” —Reed Strength

8. Kanye West, The Life of Pablo

“Name one genius that ain’t crazy,” Kanye West requests on “Feedback,” a hypnotic, erratic highlight from his seventh LP (eighth if you count his Watch the Throne collaboration with Jay Z), The Life of Pablo. The line reads like a throwaway for a lyricist of Kanye’s caliber, but it resonates in the album’s real-life context, as the rapper-producer’s bizarre Twitter rants and obsessive tracklist fiddling have prompted some spectators (including former collaborator Rhymefest) to question his mental stability. “I been out of my mind a long time,” Kanye raps over droning synth tones. “I been saying how I feel at the wrong time.”

Where previous Kanye albums were rolled out with red-carpet hype, Pablo felt like a purposeful clusterfuck. Not only did he unveil the tracklist on a piece of fucking notebook paper, he scrapped it multiple times. The album’s various title shifts—damn, I really miss Swish—dominated headlines for months. He hadn’t even arrived at a definitive product after unveiling the songs at a high-dollar Madison Square Garden fashion event. The final album drop, hyped on an uneven SNL performance, was protracted and filled with technical glitches. (Adrift in Pablo’s turbulent waters, you get the sense the songs still aren’t finished. And they might not be: Kanye recently tweeted he was going to “fix ‘Wolves,’” failing to explain what that might entail.)

One thing’s clear: Kanye is searching for answers. Weeks before its release, he defined Pablo as “a Gospel album”—the equivalent of constructing a steeple on a Walmart and calling it a church. This isn’t a gospel album, despite its occasional, vivid bursts of feel-the-spirit belting (that’s Kirk Franklin on opener “Ultralight Beam”) and Christian references. In fact, Kanye’s never focused so hard on carnal pleasures, often aggressively so.

The Life of Pablo is a fucking mess—the scattered, contradictory work of an icon straining to keep up with his own brilliant pace. “But I’mma have the last laugh in the end,” Kanye promises. Pablo is just powerful enough to keep the faith. —Ryan Reed

7. Parquet Courts, Human Performance

So far, Parquet Courts has shown little interest in straight lines. Rather, having released four stylistically diverse full-length albums and two EPs between 2011-15, the Brooklyn band veers all over the place, as if they’re in a hurry to capture all of today’s ideas before a fresh burst of inspiration sends them scurrying off in a new direction tomorrow.

As such, Parquet Courts folds disparate impulses into 14 new songs (including one digital-only track) on Human Performance, an album that is impressively well balanced among hooks, smarts and sharp edges. There’s some of each on opener “Dust,” a hypnotic tune piling catchy unison guitars and droning keyboards over a propulsive rhythm that feels like it need never stop. “Outside” is as simple a song as they’ve written musically, yet singer Andrew Savage crams a lifetime’s worth of existential uncertainty into a minute and 46 seconds, and makes you want to hear it again. But for all their obvious musical ability, the band’s real skill here is blending so many unexpected elements into a coherent whole that is at once adventurous and accessible, even if—or maybe because—you have to hustle a little to keep up. —Eric R. Danton

6. Sturgill Simpson, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth

Following his 2014 breakthrough, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, Sturgill Simpson’s A Sailor’s Guide to Earth is more ambitious by an order of magnitude than anything the Kentucky-born singer has done before. It’s a country album at its core, but there’s a whole lot more happening here besides. Simpson dips into the sound of vintage soul with horns courtesy of the Dap-Kings. He often evokes the countrypolitan flipside to the outlaw movement with lush string charts and full-throated vocals that suggest there’s a “Rhinestone Cowboy” for every generation. And he indulges his moody inner teen with a cover of Nirvana’s “In Bloom” that swells from spare and brooding to full on rhapsodic by the end. But as an album of songs that he mostly wrote for his son, Simpson captures the passion, joy, anguish and exhaustion that are part of first-time parenthood. It makes the album a powerful tribute to his son, while establishing Simpson as an artist who, despite his country heart, simply won’t be confined by notions of genre or, for that matter, anyone else’s expectations. —Eric R. Danton

5. Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool

Radiohead has seemingly run out of reinventions, but that could be for the best. A Moon Shaped Pool, the quintet’s ninth LP, is more summary than new chapter. Thom Yorke’s oceanic piano loops, half-mumbled falsettos and reversed vocal wails recall the insular Kid A-Amnesiac era, while Greenwood’s dense string orchestrations echo the warmest stretches of The King of Limbs and its more organic predecessor, In Rainbows. Slow-burn synth-rock epic “Identikit” climaxes with their wildest guitar solo—arguably their only real guitar solo—since OK Computer. Collectively, A Moon Shaped Pool proves that Radiohead has resumed its greatest winning streak in modern popular music. Not by flaunting any new tricks—just by delivering their normal quota of catharsis.—Ryan Reed

4. Chance the Rapper, Coloring Book

Coloring Book, Chance the Rapper’s third mixtape and his second project distributed via Apple, is deafeningly religious, brimming with testimonies, exaltations and blessings that are loud enough to rock a megachurch and its town-sized parking lot. Purged of the drug-addled skepticism of Acid Rap and pulsing with the free-wheeling spirit and zeal that bolstered Surf, Coloring Book is a breezy listen: direct and purposeful.

Forgoing a narrative of redemption, repentance or struggle, Chance spends the bulk of the album insisting that he’s already found salvation. But while the volume of Chance’s piety may feel like evangelism, Coloring Book is far from gospel rap. Chance The Rapper feels that he has been blessed with family, friends, talent and opportunity, and few things give him more joy than extolling those blessings. This isn’t the music of someone who’s been born again. It’s the music of someone who is constantly thrilled to still be living. —Stephen F. Kearse

3. Car Seat Headrest, Teens of Denial

Will Toledo is the creative force behind this Bandcamp success story. The new album is out after his Matador debut, Teens of Style, which culled from his self-released records for songs he wanted to give a more official treatment too. Now though, he’s coming through clearer than ever. His voice isn’t shrouded by reverb and distortion, and his songwriting is crisp as can be. This style of indie rock can benefit from the lo-fi treatment, and it did for most of his career, but the clarity here puts on display that his talent really carries through as well if not better with a cleaner production style.

With Teens of Denial, Toledo has practically guaranteed himself a viable career for years to come. The fact he did it while still in his early 20s after laying a foundation of solid self-released records proves even further that his most creative days are probably still ahead of him. This is an album that makes you really fucking glad to be alive. For that matter, the very fact albums like this are coming out is enough reason alone to hope you get to stick around on this planet for a long, long time. —Mack Hayden

2. David Bowie, Blackstar

True to the ironic (or maybe intentional) timing of the record, Bowie is almost a spectre throughout Blackstar. Musically, his vocals are often doubled in tight harmonies, or given an alien-like echo that might as well be broadcasts from the beyond. He never sounds less than marvelous, through. After 45+ years of work, his voice has lost a little of its high end, but is possibly stronger. It’s definitely capable of reaching more sinister aims on songs like “Whore” and “Girl Loves Me,” and with a smattering of vibrato, he can unearth some still-rich wells of emotion.

Blackstar’s theatrical bent is what is most striking. That quality has been a hallmark of much of Bowie’s work over the years, weaned as he was on dance and mime. Here, it feels a little more blatant as some of the material recorded got double duty, using it for this album and for his stage musical Lazarus. In both cases, Bowie is accepting and embracing his status as demigod.

Yet, Bowie’s biggest reveal comes at the end of Blackstar, pulling back the curtain long enough to let us know that for as much of himself as he has offered up to the music lovers of the world, as the title goes, he can’t give everything away. As he sings it, it doesn’t come off as pleading or defiant. It’s a simple statement of fact that, like this brilliant album, should be more than enough for fans to absorb and appreciate. —Robert Ham

1. Beyoncé, Lemonade

The album Lemonade tells the story of a woman experiencing the high highs and low lows that come from loving, from believing, from existing. She’s confident (“6 Inch”), she’s scorned (“Hold Up”), and she’s vengeful (“Don’t Hurt Yourself”). She’s painfully aware (“Pray You Catch Me”), blinded, then restored by love and lies. She’s open, she’s hopeful (“Sandcastles”), and she’s incomprehensibly fierce (“Sorry”). She is everywoman—in love and in pain (“All Night”), defined as much by her romantic life as she is by her parents (“Daddy Lessons”), and the cultures and worlds that birthed her (“Formation”).

But the film Lemonade tells a story that takes all of this and socializes and politicizes it—as it should be. Songs about heartbreak no longer merely signify love lost, but must be understood alongside certain losses unique to women in the black community. Anthems about reclamation of power in the aftermath of an unfaithful lover take new meaning, when you see images of black women gathered. I stress the word because of all the different ways Lemonade the album and Lemonade the film embrace the notion of black women gathering. Useless lovers who have failed to appreciate a certain magic in their midst must be gathered—as in almost violently collected, if only to be torn apart; a community of women bound together by a history that stretches from the continent of Africa, to the Caribbean Islands, to the French Quarters must gather to share collective tales and to pull on each other’s individual talents for strength. And of course, the reaction to Lemonade reflects such gathering. Since the album was released, black women have been gathering to speak, write and reflect on the impact of the album, to share syllabi—required reading to understand the layers Beyoncé veils and unveils—and to simply exist in a certain glory that we only feel in the presence of those who know us well—Toni Morrison, Ntozake Shange, Julie Dash, Kara Walker, Mara Brock Akil—those women whose work we have been gathering around for years. Now of course, Lemonade is to be enjoyed by every gender and every race the world over. And it has been. But if anyone feels the need to ask why Lemonade exists, and how Lemonade came to be and what it means that the album arrived at this time in American history, well, I believe Bey made herself quite clear. Everyone else (the others) gets to look on and listen in, as she sings her own interpretation of a deceptively simple hymn that’s been passed down through generations of black women, to the black women of this moment: Gather, heal, slay, repeat. —Shannon Houston