The National, Sleep Well Beast (4AD) – Vocalist Matt Berninger was wise to take time off for his EL VY duo project in 2015, as The National has returned with an expanded sense of fun. The 12 tracks here may not hit the consistent peaks of 2010’s High Violet, but cuts like “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” are among The National’s best.
Deerhoof, Mountain Moves (Joyful Noise) – While Deerhoof members have dispersed from their Bay Area roots, founders Greg Saunier and Satomi Matsuzaki have forged onward. On Mountain Moves, Matsuzaki recruits co-vocalists from Jenn Wassner to Awkwafina to bring Deerhoof’s Zen-koan lyrics almost into the pop mainstream.
Street Eaters, The Envoy (Nervous Intent) – Oakland, California’s irrepressible duo of “truewave” punk has conceived an album based on two novels of Ursula K. Le Guin. Street Eaters may have toned down the exuberance slightly, but the album still offers more insights than most concept albums in any genre.
Ted Leo, The Hanged Man (SuperEgo Records) – After a duo project with Aimee Mann, Ted Leo is back with powerful angst-ridden tragedies both personal and cultural. His last album with The Pharmacists, 2010’s The Brutalist Bricks, was a sad work, but this solo hour-long effort covers everything from a miscarried child to the Trump administration, with wisdom and despair in equal measure.