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

Jon Dolan, Mankaprr Conteh, Jonathan Bernstein, Kory Grow, Hank Shteamer and Brenna Ehrlich
·11 min read

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.

STREAM THE ALBUM

More from Rolling Stone

Eric Church, Heart & Soul

Church’s latest project is his most ambitious: a 24-song triple album released over the course of a week in three segments. Heart, &, and Soul further refine the melodic, mid-tempo storytelling Church excels at, offering a moving summation of what he has done well throughout his 15-year career. You get brash statements that recall his irreverent early days (“Stick That in Your Country Song”), as well as maximalist rock-and-soul like the Elton John-meets-Meat Loaf “Heart of the Night,” and the roots rock of “Hell of a View.”Each of these albums has a loose premise (plenty of “heart” tunes on Heart, lots of R&B-leaning funk rock on Soul); taken together, Heart & Soul is a concept record of sorts, about the everlasting power of music — the music he makes and the music he loves, which spans the gamut from the Doors and Bobbie Gentry (“Rock and Roll Found Me”) to Elvis and Guns N’ Roses (“Heart on Fire”). J.B.

STREAM THE ALBUM

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.

STREAM THE ALBUM

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.

STREAM THE ALBUM

Remember Sports, Like a Stone

On their fourth album, the Philly indie pop-punk outfit doesn’t break new ground so much as dig deep into what they do best on this superb collection of sharply-crafted late twenty something anthems (“Like a Stone”) and gorgeous slacker ballads (“Out Loud). Lead singer-songwriter Carmen Perry delivers bruised-heart meditations on early-onset nostalgia, aging and the aftermath of heartbreak, topics she’s been chronicling with her band’s power-pop pathos since their 2014 college-band debut Sunchokes. As she sings on the thrasher-punk declaration “Falling Awake”: “All it ever does it never go away.” J.B

STREAM THE ALBUM

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.

STREAM THE ALBUM

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.

STREAM THE ALBUM

Guided by Voices, Earth Man Blues

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.

STREAM THE ALBUM

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.

STREAM THE ALBUM

Jon Batiste, We Are

Batiste’s latest solo release radiates the same positivity and warmth you get from him every night in his role as bandleader for Late Night With Stephen Colbert, as well as his work as jazz coordinator on the beloved movie Soul. Moving past the comfortable New Orleans settings that have often foregrounded his work, he branches out in pop, hip-hop, and R&B, moving effortlessly between decades and styles, bringing on the St. Augustine High School Marching 100 and the Gospel Soul Children Choir on one ecstatic track, collaborating with author Zadie Smith on another, evoking Al Green’s Seventies soul on the elegant “Cry” and dipping into contemporary rap on “Wachutalkinbout.” The result is a moment of affirmation amidst cynical times. J.D.

STREAM THE ALBUM

Gojira, Fortitude

On their seventh studio full-length, Gojira mix heavy music with heavy concepts, and never once do they sound like a drag. On various tracks, the long-running French metal crew encourage peaceful protests (“Into the Storm”), decry deforestation (“Amazonia”), and advocate living a minimalist lifestyle (“Born for One Thing”). But they never come off as preachy, partially because they have a knack for inventive music. On “Sphinx” and “Born for One Thing,” singer-guitarist Joe Duplantier and lead guitarist Christian Andreu summon squelching, screaming, memorable sounds from their instruments between mosh-worthy riffs. On “Amazonia,” they interweave South American folk instruments into their crushing metal fury, as Duplantier agonizes, “The greatest miracle is burning to the ground,” about losing Brazilian rain forests. And they surrender to the power of a strong vocal melody on “The Chant.” It’s all the rage of death metal mixed with the conscience of punk rock and the musicality of progressive rock, and it’s never boring. K.G.

STREAM THE ALBUM

The Mars Volta, La Realidad de los Suenos

Discovering the Mars Volta has always felt like finding the key to another dimension teeming with monsters and magical arcana; twisted fables and dangerous lore. It’s fitting, then, that their new career-spanning boxset, La Realidad de los Sueños, resembles some kind of trippy, seemingly bottomless treasure chest — an aural history of the band replete with hidden tricks and treats. Lift a hidden lid and a duo of pins tumble out — shift the LPs and a pair of 3D glasses fall to the floor that brings the album art covering the box to shivering life. Including a staggering 18 LPs — the Texas prog-rock band’s entire remastered discography on vinyl (via Chris von Rautenkranz) along with various long-lusted-after lacunae from the Mars Volta’s history — the set is a visual feast, and just sorting through its various volumes will set any fan back a fair chunk of time: from an accompanying photo book to said pins and glasses. B.E.

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

If you know William Goldsmith’s name, it’s likely linked to one of the bands he played with in the Nineties — Seattle emo luminaries Sunny Day Real Estate, and a little group called the Foo Fighters. But Intermission, the debut by the drummer’s new Tacoma, Washington, power trio Assertion, and Goldsmith’s first release following a lengthy hiatus from music, shows that he’s still a vital creative force. The band’s approach is familiar: passionate, post-hardcore–leaning indie rock that makes liberal use of quiet/loud dynamic shifts, in other words, a sound that wouldn’t have been out of place in the heyday of Goldsmith’s former bands. Its execution, on the other hand, is exceptional: Goldsmith, bassist Bryan Gorder, and guitarist-vocalist Justin Tamminga (whose best-known prior outfit is Pig Snout, an adorable band that’s filled out by his kids) perform these nine cathartic songs with a rare fire and conviction. Tamminga’s full, gorgeously organic production only ups the urgency. When the trio kicks into an anthemic gut-punch chorus like the one on “Defeated,” you’ll wish with every fiber of your being that you were howling along at a sweaty club gig. H.S.

STREAM THE ALBUM

See where your favorite artists and songs rank on the Rolling Stone Charts.

Sign up for Rolling Stone’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.