By Jon Pareles, Jon Caramanica and Giovanni Russonello for New York Times
Hear tracks by Empress Of, Khalid, Brandi Carlile, Madame Gandhi and others.
Every Friday, pop critics for The New York Times weigh in on the week’s most notable new songs and videos — and anything else that strikes them as intriguing. Just want the music? Listen to the Playlist on Spotify here (or find our profile: nytimes). Like what you hear? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org and sign up for our Louder newsletter, a once-a-week blast of our pop music coverage.
Esperanza Spalding, ‘You Have to Dance’
On her last few albums, Esperanza Spalding has embraced pop and rock convention with one hand while reaching into esotericism with the other. As her writing has grown more literary, she’s also been making music that’s directly, physically engaging. Those contradictions — or complements — come to a head in “12 Little Spells,” the album she just released song by song, in video form, over the past two weeks. Informed by her studies of Reiki and other spiritual healing practices, each tune is meant to cast a liberating spell on a different area of the body. In many, the deftly constructed music is snarled around wordy verses: You have to let go, allow the $5 verbiage and shifting melodies to swim around you and become a kind of manic trance. But on some pieces — the sensuous “Touch in Mine,” the bluesy “Thang” and the clipped funk of “You Have to Dance,” meant to aid in the “ability to move one’s feet freely in accompaniment with the movement of one’s inner feeling” — the music becomes cool and repetitive, truly intoxicating. GIOVANNI RUSSONELLO
Empress Of, ‘All for Nothing’
Lorely Rodriguez, the songwriter, singer and producer who records as Empress Of, looks back toward the transparent, staccato arrangements and seemingly guileless vocals of early 1980s synth-pop. The songs on her new album, “Us” (which follows the 2015 album “Me”) track a romance from newfound infatuation to disillusionment. “All for Nothing” arrives near the endgame: “By now you’re used to my tears/Enough to fake being sincere,” she realizes. The track starts out skeletal, but sustained tones envelop her as she admits her despair. JON PARELES
Post Malone and Swae Lee, ‘Sunflower’
Tender, elegiac lo-fi electro-R&B from the soundtrack to “Spider Man: Into the Spider-Verse” from Swae Lee (of Rae Sremmurd) and Post Malone. Both singers blend sweetness with mournfulness, and this is a love song that blooms slowly. Swae Lee sounds like he’s recalling a faint dream, and Post Malone follows him with a verse that hops and skips. JON CARAMANICA
Madame Gandhi, ‘Bad Habits’
Self-improvement and historical gratitude converge over a groove that just keeps on sprouting new levels of percussion and polyrhythm. “All my bad habits have got to go,” Madame Gandhi sings, adding, “We can be so much better.” The verses name Mahatma Gandhi and Fela Kuti as inspirations (though in the 1970s, Nigeria was not a “colony,” as she sings, but a military dictatorship). The rhythmic foundation is an electronic take on Kuti’s Afrobeat; along the way it adds handclaps, strummed and plucked strings, clattering cowbells, synthesizer blips and more women’s voices, like a movement gathering momentum. PARELES
Check out the full lineup here!!!