“2 Be Loved (Am I Ready)” — from Lizzo’s new album, “Special” — is a self-questioning self-help pop track with 1980s drum machines and synthesizers pumping syncopated octaves and handclaps over an aerobics-friendly beat, heading toward the upward key change of a classic pop single. As Lizzo sings about temptation and insecurity contending with the promise of pleasure, it’s clear what’s going to win.
Self-doubt turns to defiance and then to righteous anger in “Irrelevant,” a thumping, guitar-strumming, generalized pop-rock protest that makes up in spirit and momentum what it lacks in focus. As the arrangement builds behind her, Pink sings about fear, calls out religious hypocrisy, makes common cause with “the kids” and finally, backed by a mass of vocals, belts, “Girls just wanna have rights/So why do we have to fight?”
Demi Lovato, ‘Substance’
After all Demi Lovato’s travails, the singer wails a 21st-century plaint about superficiality and loneliness: “Am I the only one looking for substance?” The backup is pure professional punk-pop, pushing those loud guitars and muscular drums as Lovato works up to a near-shriek and flings “whoa-oh” as a hook. But the frustration comes through as loudly as the guitars.
Brent Faiyaz, an R&B singer, songwriter and producer, has landed collaborations with Drake, Alicia Keys and Tyler, the Creator. His surprise-released second album, “Wasteland,” which is full of songs and skits about romantic suspense — both good and bad — is poised for a big debut on the Billboard 200 album chart. “Loose Change” backs him with an implied beat — no drums, lots of space — sketched by syncopated chords from a string ensemble, skulking synthesizer tones and his own imploring voice. In a tremulous tenor croon that echoes Usher, he sings about how infatuation can turn to irritation, indicting his own worst impulses and wondering, “What’s left of us, what’s left of our lives?”
The A’s, ‘When I Die’
“When I Die” is morbid but practical, and ultimately affectionate. The A’s are Amelia Meath, from the electronic band Sylvan Esso, and Alexandra Sauser-Monnig from Daughter of Swords. Their new album, “Fruit,” is mostly other people’s songs, but “When I Die” is their own. Singing close harmony in what could almost be a nursery-rhyme melody, they add percussion and synthesizer bass lines over what sounds like marching feet. And they calmly provide instructions for a memorial — loud music, flowers, dancing, toasts and a funeral pyre “to light your way back home” — to remind survivors that “I’m sorry I left you behind/and I’m kissing you through this song.”
Marcus Mumford, ‘Cannibal’
Marcus Mumford, from Mumford and Sons, confronts deep and confusing trauma in “Cannibal,” from a solo album due in September. He doesn’t specify what happened, but he insists, “That wasn’t a choice in the mind of a child.” Most of the track is just his voice and a few guitar notes picked on low strings. But as he faces up to how hard it is to speak about the events, and pleads “help me know how to begin again,” a arena-filling band suddenly materializes behind him; it’s the breakthrough he longs for.
Things go wrong fast in Sabrina Carpenter’s “Because I Liked a Boy” from her new album, “Emails I Can’t Send.” It starts out sounding cozy and old-fashioned, with just an echoey electric guitar playing 1950s chords as she sings about what could be a rom-com flirtation: “We bonded over black-eyed peas and complicated exes,” she coos. “It was all so innocent.” But the chorus changes everything; an ominous synthesizer bass tone arrives and she’s being accused of being “a homewrecker” and “a slut” and getting truckloads of death threats, and the bass and drum machine heave beneath her like the ground is shaking. She keeps her composure, but just barely.
Pantha du Prince, ‘Golden Galactic’
Pantha du Prince — the electronic musician Hendrik Weber — works where ambient and dance music overlap. He’s fond of nature imagery and pretty, consonant sounds, but his music is changeable and contemplative rather than saccharine. “Golden Galactic,” from his upcoming album “Golden Gaia,” uses plinking, harplike motifs, repeating them a few times and moving on, constantly changing up the implied rhythms instead of settling into a loop. That restless motion is enfolded in swelling string-section chords, going nowhere in particular yet not staying still.
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