The best albums of the week, from Taylor Swift, Boldy James, and more

Photo Credit: Beth Garrabrant

They’ve been cosmically linked, trading public goodwill, controversies, and quality of output over much of the past decade, but Taylor Swift and Kanye West still can’t escape each other’s orbit. Although fears emerged that they’d be in a release day head-to-head after Swift announced folklore at the eleventh hour on Thursday, as I’m writing this...Kanye’s DONDA has not surfaced on streaming services yet. We’ll say that it doesn’t qualify here, assuming it doesn’t release or he’s feverishly editing it down for later this evening, as he’s done with each of his last three albums. Obviously an artist on their scale can hog the media space for a day — and feel super deflating to artists who’ve spent months promoting a new record planned for the same date. So be sure to check out some of the week’s other releases featured below, including great new ones from Boldy James, Katie Dey, and more.

Taylor Swift — Folklore

Turns out all she needed was a day’s notice! Plagued by poor singles and strange aesthetic rollouts, the last three Taylor Swift albums were misleading vessels for some of her best and worst impulses. The pastel-tinged euphoria of last year’s Lover was home to her finest melodic pop (“Cruel Summer,”) simmering intimacy (“The Archer” and “Soon You’ll Get Better,”) and also... “spelling is fun.” Nearly a year later, and she returns with what might just be her most unified, singular album yet. While her partnership with The National’s Aaron Dessner lends an understated, skittering touch and gorgeous orchestral flourishes from his brother Bryce, Swift’s breathtaking narratives match her career-best in specificity. Yeah, indie is largely a marketing term that can span the gamut of quiet folk, dream pop, or slowcore elements that she’s already toyed with in the past, but folklore — however calculating in its path to get there — feels like the first time she’s through with trying to be everything to everyone all at once.

Boldy James / Sterling Toles — Manger on McNichols

On his second stunner of the year, Boldy James pairs with Detroit rap producer and jazz composer Sterling Toles for the cacophonous Manger on McNichols. Although this comes just five months after James’ joint LP with the Alchemist, The Prince of Tea in China, his latest collaborative effort has been kicking around for far longer. James recorded the vocal parts between 2007 and 2010, and in the interceding years, Toles filled in the initially spare production with a live jazz band, operatic choirs, and near every instrument he could get his hands on. It’s timeless and inscrutable and effortlessly alive in all the right ways.

Katie Dey — mydata

Sometimes you can’t catch a break from Taylor Swift! First, Katie Dey wanted to name her latest release Loving with a multi-colored cover up in the clouds before Lover became a reality. And then, Swift crashed the release date last-second with folklore. It sucks, but the latest from this Australian bedroom pop specialist deserves a day or two to itself. Dey’s a master of building glitchy, shape-shifting songs that capture the vastness and isolation of the digital world rather than just mirroring its overwhelming scope. mydata is her most beautiful, immediate work to date and opens up a broad array of possibilities.

Gulch — Impenetrable Cerebral Fortress

Sometimes you just need a lean, nasty hardcore record for the weekend. The Santa Cruz band, which has built cult-like devotion and raucous live videos ahead of its debut, turned to Deafheaven and Jeff Rosenstock producer Jack Shirley to lend Impenetrable Cerebral Fortress its extra punch. Just 15 minutes of some of the most visceral, smash-happy stuff you’ll hear all week, to the point where it doesn’t feel safe for indoor consumption. Step into the mind palace, it won’t take long.

Jessy Lanza — All the Time

The "quarantine album" was rendered meaningless almost on impact, because that's essentially how some artists were already operating. Take Jessy Lanza: in the four years since her last record, the fleet, elastic Oh No, she worked remotely from creative partner Jeremy Greenspan of Junior Boys. Although he was in Hamilton, Ontario, and she'd moved to New York, they passed the skeletons of these club-ready pop gems back and forth with ease. All the Time is of a piece with what came before it, further cementing her as one of the best at catchy, simmering desire.