TIME Music

Watch the Video for Erik Hassle’s Funky New Single ‘No Words': Premiere

The Swedish crooner's new single has the makings of a summer smash

 

Take a look back at Erik Hassle’s discography, and you can watch a young talent finding his footing in slow motion. There’s the potent, precocious singer, breaking through with straightforward pop; the bruised, lovesick guy incorporating his beloved soul music into throbbing, greyscale electro-R&B; and now the seasoned veteran, ready for a leap to North American stardom and striking a balance between swirling, sunny joy and familiar longing. Hassle has just released the first single from his upcoming third album, the funky “No Words.” Today, TIME is premiering the video for that song, which captures two friends receiving an unexpected guest — and ultimately a messy breakfast.

It’s not hard to imagine “No Words” streaming from car windows and beach radios this summer. It might be the finest thing Hassle’s released to date, and you can hear little pieces of his diverse taste in each new minute: the sprightly little riff, pulled from some lost French touch classic; the prim, excited strings emerging in the chorus; his expressive vocals, brushed with grit and able to scale impressive heights. There’s a palpable warmth to the song that differs from the chillier material on Somebody’s Party, the 2014 EP that counted rising rapper Vic Mensa and “2 On” star Tinashe among its guests. But if you slip beneath the surface, there’s a helplessness running through the song, the kind that emerges when you realize you can’t put your feelings into words — the kind, as Hassle puts it, that you feel when “you’re not able to speak up at the right time.” It was inspired by what Hassle calls “a really weird love coma.”

“I knew that I wasn’t gonna get this girl that I wanted, but I was still so stoked about her,” he says. He’s hoping to release his album later this year, and promises it’ll be “more groovy [and] more up-tempo,” while expanding on the emotional and lyrical themes expressed on Somebody’s Party.

Hassle also counts himself among the members of Sweden’s most recent wave of exported pop musicians, a diaspora that’s more stylistically diverse than ever. A far cry from the halcyon days of ABBA and Ace of Base’s goofy, impeccably structured pop, contemporary Sweden is a hub for moody, brash electro-pop, thanks to performers like Icona Pop and Tove Lo; chart-conquering EDM from Avicii, Swedish House Mafia (and its individual members), and Alesso; and introspective, idiosyncratic singer-songwriters like Lykke Li and The Tallest Man on Earth. To hear Hassle tell it, there’s a real kinship between these artists. “Sweden is not very big in the music community,” he says. When he moved to Los Angeles a few years ago, he found that former classmates and acquaintances were right in his neighborhood, recording music halfway around the world. “We’re everywhere right now,” he says.

He’s currently touring across North America supporting avant-pop dramatist Twin Shadow, keeping an eye on his beloved Paris St-Germain — Hassle was an aspiring footballer as a kid, and PSG is vying for both the French domestic championship and Europe’s top trophy, led by Hassle’s countryman Zlatan Ibrahimovic — and continuing to prep material for his next full-length. And if “No Words” becomes Hassle’s first major hit on this side of the pond, aided by a little heat and summer sunshine, it’ll just be a matter of time until Hassle’s crossing the continent as a headliner.

Watch the video for “No Words” up top.

TIME Music

This Is Why Joni Mitchell Is Your Favorite Musician’s Favorite Musician

Pre-GRAMMY Gala And Salute To Industry Icons Honoring Martin Bandier - Arrivals
Steve Granitz—Getty Images/WireImage Singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell attends the Pre-GRAMMY Gala and Salute To Industry Icons on Feb. 7, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.

The singer-songwriter, who was hospitalized last night, gave voice to musical feminism in an era where women had to fight with tooth and claw for artistic legitimacy

Music fans around the world steeled themselves for tragedy on the evening of March 31 when Joni Mitchell was hospitalized after being found unconscious in her Los Angeles home. Recent updates indicate that Mitchell is doing well and recovering—a tweet from her official account sent early Wednesday morning placed her in intensive care, but “awake and in good spirits”— but still, it provides an opportunity to reflect on the sheer weight of Mitchell’s discography and the breadth of her influence, the tendrils of which snake through the last 40 years of popular music.

Mitchell was born in Canada in 1943 and spent her childhood in rural Saskatchewan, a survivor of a late polio epidemic and passionate about the arts. She moved through Toronto and New York as a young woman and moderately successful songwriter before being discovered by the legendary musician David Crosby in a Florida club. She moved to Los Angeles shortly after and released her debut album, Song to a Seagull, at the age of 25. This marked the beginning of one of the most impressive decades a musician has ever had, one characterized by incredible productivity and spurts of sheer genius. From the stark, largely acoustic folk-pop of her first few records—an approach that climaxed with Blue, a wrenching post-breakup self-examination that stands as her most popular work—to the pioneering, ambitious jazz fusion of The Hissing of Summer Lawns and Hejira, Mitchell forged a new kind of art-pop: lyrics that moved with the delicacy of poetry and challenged both the personal and political; arrangements and melodies that were complex and winding; a voice that cut through unworthy suitors and flimsy sexism like a knife through butter. Alongside contemporaries like Carole King and Carly Simon, she gave voice to musical feminism in an era where women had to fight with tooth and claw for artistic legitimacy. Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Steely Dan: Mitchell hung with them all. In many cases, she beat them to the punch.

Though the light began to fade from her solo work after the ’70s closed—her most notable releases in the years since have been reinterpretations of songs written then, newly colored by age and experience—she was already impacting future generations’ leading lights. Joni Mitchell will live forever as your favorite musician’s favorite musician, a position she’s held since the dawn of the ’80s, impacting superstars and hidden gems alike. Prince called The Hissing of Summer Lawns “the last album [he] loved all the way through,” and quoted Court and Spark hit “Help Me” on “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker”; Björk counts her 1977 double album Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter among her all-time favourites. There are entire musical sub-genres it’s tough to conceive of without Mitchell’s spirit hanging over them, like the spectral freak-folk that flowed out of California in the mid-’00s.

And then there’s Taylor Swift, pop’s reigning titan, a disciple of Mitchell in ways both obvious and subtle. There’s her writing, ripe with reflection but capable of sharp evisceration, and her complete ownership of the music she makes; there’s the album she named Red, her cap tipped to Mitchell’s Blue. There are songs like “Blank Space” where Swift sings about changing herself for a man and getting drunk on jealousy with a surprising, stately, clipped sort of grace.

It can take you back four decades to Mitchell’s “California,” where she asks a partner, “Will you take me as I am? / Strung out on another man?” even as she’s catching sun and drinking wine in Greece. Mitchell asked the question, but the answer didn’t really matter; listeners knew she’d end up fine either way. Swift is the same, walking the trail Mitchell blazed.

TIME Music

Listen to Rihanna Collect Her Debt on a Swaggering New Single

Roc Nation

The singer follows up the light and lovely "FourFiveSeconds" with the woozy urban banger "Bitch Better Have My Money"

Even in relatively quiet years, Rihanna casts a wide shadow over the world of pop music. The depth of her catalogue of hits is almost unrivaled, with 26 landing in the top 10 in the last decade alone, and she’s sharpened the tools she uses to create them to the finest possible points: a voice that’s flexible enough to fit into any genre, a preternatural sense for sounds and trends ready for a bigger stage, and a devil-may-care je ne sais quoi that resonates with young people in a way many of her contemporaries can’t manage. She’s been dangling her upcoming eighth studio album, widely known as R8, above the heads of fans and label executives for about a year at this point, and she’s just premiered the second single, “Bitch Better Have My Money,” on radio stations across America.

It’s a world away from the gospel-tinged campfire folk of the album’s first single, Kanye West/Paul McCartney collaboration “FourFiveSeconds.” This one is hypnotic, thudding, and confident, but the core’s the same: her voice, which seems to be reaching new heights. Here she’s strident and percussive, hammering out the hook with abandon; it’s surely only a matter of time until Vine’s littered with inspired, barking debt collectors. R8 is on the horizon.

Read next: Get Ready to Whistle Along to Hilary Duff’s New Single

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TIME Music

Why Zayn Malik Has the Makings of a Great Solo Star

16th NRJ Music Awards - Red Carpet Arrivals
Pascal Le Segretain—Getty Images Zayn Malik attends the NRJ Music Awards on Dec. 13, 2014 in Cannes, France.

It's not yet clear what Malik's departure will mean for One Direction—but on his own, he could forge an impressive career

If you found yourself anywhere near a computer or smartphone early Wednesday afternoon—any device with the ability to access Twitter, really—you could hear the muffled wailing of pop fans and cute boy enthusiasts the world over: Zayn Malik, the one with the smoky voice and the perfect hair, announced that he was leaving One Direction, thus rendering the band a foursome. And while that grieving process shouldn’t be compromised in any way, shape, or form, it’s worth taking a moment to consider what Malik’s departure is going to mean for the future of the band, and what his own future as a recording artist might hold.

In the four years since their debut album, 2011’s Up All Night, One Direction have transformed from a ragtag band of imps with more promise than vocal talent into a group of tonally distinct, creatively ambitious young men with appetites and attitudes. To these ears, Malik was at the core of that evolution: he was the band’s strongest and most readily identifiable singer, his voice coloured by a little musk and a pinch of salt. On the band’s latest album, last year’s very strong Four, he led off highlights like the tender “Night Changes” (a song rendered rather poignant if you pretend it’s about the band breaking up!) and anchored the middle of the lusty, crackling “No Control.”

Malik may have a considerable sonic presence on the band’s best and recent work, but he hasn’t had a major hand in their shift towards taking charge of their songwriting. Former bandmates Louis Tomlinson, Liam Payne, and Harry Styles have stepped up the magnitude of their contributions; between the three of them, they were credited with writing all but four of the sixteen tracks that made up Four‘s deluxe incarnation. Malik is only ever credited in tandem with other bandmates, and has only four such credits on the album. He may have influenced the band in other intangible ways, ones that don’t show up in any formal capacity—writing and production credits are just one set of windows into the creative process—but it feels safe to suggest that the band will continue to churn out stadium-ready power-pop, even in his absence. The texture and sensuality he lent to their vocal arrangements will be missed, but they can carry on without him.

His future as an artist in his own right is much less certain. To hear Malik tell it, he’ll be taking an indefinite leave from the spotlight—in his statement, he said that “I am leaving because I want to be a normal 22-year-old who is able to relax and have some private time”—but it’s still fun to speculate about the music he could make when he decides to return. He’s talked about how he listened exclusively to R&B and hip-hop before joining the band, and his voice is well suited to the shadow and sinew that characterizes the sounds of those genres today. It’s not hard to imagine him emulating Nick Jonas’ recent embrace of lithe, lascivious funk, or dirtying up Sam Smith’s pristine pop-soul; if a move were to come out of left field, he could pair well with avant-pop auteurs like Dev Hynes or Jamie xx, or vocalists like Jessie Ware.

He’s still only 22, and his tour of duty with the world’s biggest boy band will earn him plenty of coverage when he decides to make his next move. For now, there’s only one thing to say: goodbye, Zayn. We’ll always have those midnight memories.

TIME Music

Review: Courtney Barnett’s Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit Makes Listlessness Vital

Courtney Barnett
Mom + Pop Music

Even her minor efforts glow and sparkle with attitude, intelligence and good humor

Courtney Barnett likes to write songs that drift and meander, smirking and sardonic, until they snap into impressive focus. When you stumble into one of those moments without expecting it, you’ll find yourself remembering it later with unusual clarity. On her impressive debut full-length, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, the Melbourne singer-songwriter shows herself to be possessed of uncommon wit and incisiveness; she’s come to serve as an avatar for a generation of young people with uncertain futures, iffy finances and one tentative foot into the arena of adulthood.

Barnett’s breakout single, 2013’s “Avant Gardener,” was a rambling journey from her backyard garden to the back of an ambulance, thanks to either a panic attack or a fit of allergies; even as she was being ferried to an emergency room, she couldn’t keep herself from cracking wise about the potential hospital bills and her inability to handle a bong. It’s not an intense or propulsive song by any means, but it manages to pick up steam off the strength of its lyrics, crackling and word-drunk. Like a rapper capping off a freestyle or an author cranking out paragraphs in the zone, you can feel Barnett deriving strength from every wry observation and piece of wordplay. She has a way of making listlessness feel vital.

Her first album-length release, The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas, was really just two smaller releases bundled together, and so Sometimes I Sit and Think… is her true debut. It builds on the promise of her early work and yanks it up a couple notches, with writing that’s funnier and more poignant than ever and music that’s strong enough to match. Barnett is an avowed fan of bands like Pavement and the Modern Lovers, and their influence is subtly exerted throughout the album — “Small Poppies” in particular sounds like the kind of paranoid, smoked out jam Stephen Malkmus could churn out with one hand circa Wowee Zowee — but she’s really participating in a larger tradition of wordy, whip-smart rock bands, one starting somewhere around the Kinks. Her guitar melodies are sharp and bright, but make no mistake: the focus is on her voice and words, the twin engines that drive her compositions. Spending time with any of these songs is like meeting someone new at work or a bar and finding yourself immediately blown away by the heat radiating from their brain, the speed with which their thoughts unfurl, the intensity of their convictions.

There’s something to love in almost all of Sometimes I Sit and Think…, but single “Depreston” has earned a great share of the plaudits directed towards the album, and rightfully so: it’s the best example of the way Barnett can pull off a hairpin turn with just a line or two. She does it there with a handful of trinkets and a handrail in a shower, transforming a gentle short story about a move away from rapid gentrification into a heartbreaking meditation on mortality and the size of the world. By the time she’s repeating the line, “If you’ve got a / spare half a million / you could knock it down / and start rebuilding,” you find yourself mourning the loves and losses of a woman without a name, one who lives only in a song. It’s utterly devastating, and yet the palate cleanser that comes after “Depreston” is even more lovable. That’s “Aqua Profunda!,” a two minute blast from a municipal pool that finds Barnett nearly drowning because she’s trying to impress a looker in the next lane over. It’s funnier than it sounds; in fact, it’s uproarious, dense with quotable quips and pieces of personality, with shiny riffs buzzing like static off a blanket. (The best line, tossed off like loose change: “I sunk like a stone / like a first owner’s home loan.”) This is why Barnett’s made one of the strongest albums of the year: even her minor efforts glow and sparkle with attitude, intelligence, and good humor.

TIME Music

REVIEW: Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly Is an Angst-Filled Anthem for Blackness

Shaun White's Air And Style Music Festival
Scott Dudelson—Getty Images Kendrick Lamar performs onstage at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., on Feb. 21, 2015

The rapper's third album issues challenging questions about black identity and leadership

Kendrick Lamar’s rapid ascent to a place near hip-hop’s creative and commercial peak can be traced to his command of three key skills:

1. On a purely technical level, he’s one of the most exciting rappers of his generation, possessed of both impressive agility and the capacity for tremendous force. When he’s on the mic, beats are less constraints than canvases — he doodles on and around them with abandon.

2. He’s fearless, a quality that frequently manifests itself in the sound and effect of his voice: it cracks and spits, carries feeble melodies, bears the weight of rich stories.

3. As a narrative sculptor, he’s fearsome, stitching together fully realized characters, lived-in locations and generational angst into snapshots of life for the young, black and questioning.

All three are in full effect on Lamar’s third studio album, To Pimp a Butterfly, which had been scheduled for release on March 23, but dropped early, the night of March 15. While the album’s extreme density warrants plenty of digestion time, it’s apparent from the first few listens that it’s worthy of the same sort of praise won by its predecessor, 2012’s good kid, m.A.A.d city.

GKMC was so thick and compelling it earned the subtitle “A Short Film by Kendrick Lamar.” A crackling, tense journey from the streets of his beloved Compton, Calif., to a throne somewhere high above the city — part thriller, part romance, part introspective diary entry — it managed to balance oodles of exposition and plot work with radio-friendly singles and jazzy, intricate composition.

Sonically, Lamar veers in a more contemplative direction. Butterfly boasts a warm, murky stew pulled from the last several decades of compassionate, inventive black music: the 1970s soul and funk of Stevie Wonder and George Clinton’s Funkadelic; the descendant G-funk of mentor Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg; the weird and technically audacious work of the Soulquarians at the turn of the millennium. The instrumentation is live and hyperkinetic, thanks to contributors such as bass virtuoso Thundercat and a crew of other crack session musicians. The focus is on atmosphere rather than hooks or lead melodies.

Lyrically, Butterfly is another plot-centric, thematically complex release. Surprisingly, it parallels the last few releases from Lamar’s rival and sometime nemesis Drake: both artists have been transformed by sudden fame, and their music reflects the trials and joys of their upward trajectory. But while Drake has emerged from superstardom calcified, Lamar questions whether he should leverage his celebrity to become a standard bearer for blackness. The inquiry comes to define the album: How can you fight for love on behalf of your people when you can barely find a reason to love yourself?

The answer doesn’t come easy, and Lamar struggles to uncover it even as he rails against the demons and constraints that make his journey more difficult. He takes them on with characteristic ferocity and incisiveness: alcohol, depression, systemic racism, police brutality. The album climaxes with an imagined conversation with the late legend Tupac Shakur — his responses sampled from a 1994 interview Shakur gave to a Swedish radio host — in which Lamar grapples with the weight of black leadership and galvanization, a responsibility he claims to inherit from a range of black luminaries, from Nelson Mandela to Michael Jackson. It’s certainly a bold gambit, but it’s also a good example of his blinding, mighty ambition. Lamar wants nothing less than greatness, and To Pimp a Butterfly is yet another step forward on that path.

TIME Music

Review: Rebel Heart Is Madonna’s Most Consistent Album in a Decade

Because nobody can poke fun at Madonna like Madonna

The last decade of Madonna’s career is a testament to the power of thin lines: an inch of slippage, and even the most venerated and groundbreaking artists can tumble from pop’s vanguard to a zone somewhere in the back, fighting to catch up. After the commercial and critical debacle that was 2003’s American Life, she temporarily stepped out of the pop arms race, traveling backwards in time to revisit her days as a Lower East Side disco queen with Confessions on a Dance Floor. As a result, she regained some momentum. But when she attempted to rejoin the present with the chunky, rhythmically dense Hard Candy and cold, shiny EDM of MDNA, she received criticism that was disproportionate to the quality of the product. Rather than being celebrated for working hard to stay contemporary after nearly three decades of work, she was called desperate and calculating, assertions that often stunk of sexism. (Try to find examples of similar criticisms being leveled at Giorgio Moroder, or Nile Rodgers, or Paul McCartney.)

It was a reaction that disregarded the fact that she was simply doing what she’d done for every album she’d ever released: cherry-picking collaborators with the relevance and skill to match her songwriting and nose for trends, and attempting to forge a sort of synergy. But the narrative had been set, and handfuls of good songs — like Hard Candy’s “She’s Not Me,” a funky, strobe-lit romp that beat Daft Punk to the nü-Chic punch — were doomed to languish in relative obscurity. For a moment, it seemed like Rebel Heart, her 13th studio album, was going to be submarined for similarly non-musical reasons. When a huge batch of demos and sketches leaked at the end of 2014, she went nuts in response, comparing the leaks to “artistic rape” and “terrorism.” Given all the turmoil, it’s impressive — and a little surprising — that the final product is her most consistent album in a decade, and one that renders any hypothetical “bid for continued relevance” moot by remaining proudly scattershot. It’s an album that places more emphasis on Madonna the person than Madonna the sonic visionary, and it benefits as a result.

Of course, that doesn’t mean she’s completely eschewed the bleeding edge. About half of Rebel Heart lands somewhere between “contemporary” and “innovative,” with songs that evoke the frenetic uncanny valley pop of PC Music, Kanye West’s serrated and menacing Yeezus and Avicii’s country-EDM fusion. (West and Avicii both appear on the album via writing and production credits; Diplo, enigmatic UK producer Sophie, and indie darling Ariel Rechtshaid are also among the small army of collaborators.) Single “Bitch I’m Madonna” manages to somehow pull from all three, and the result is a glorious mess, a whirlwind of unexpected texture and silly sound. But staying ahead of the curve isn’t the album’s ultimate goal, and there are just as many songs that land with surprising delicacy: simple folk guitars, churchy piano melodies, and arrangements that recall the soft, intimate sweep of 1994’s underrated Bedtime Stories. The album presents two faces, neither of which are designed to stand alone: the #1 Baddest Bitch out for sex and blood (“the Rebel”) and the vulnerable veteran reflecting on love, life, and difficult choices (“the Heart”). And while the songs in the former group are great fun, because nobody can poke fun at Madonna like Madonna — the repeated snarl of “Bitch, get off my pole” on the lurid “Holy Water” is funnier than every Twitter joke about her tumble at the BRIT Awards put together — the latter ones are the true stunners.

They’re rich in the same reckoning with faith, sacrilege, and love that have marked Madonna’s work for three decades, but there’s a new and palpable fatigue to the writing and performance. Her voice sounds great, light and a little worn around the edges; it bears the weight of a full love, of love won and lost, real pain and real joy. On highlights like the gentle “Joan of Arc” and weightless fantasy “Body Shop,” she sounds a little like a mother tucking into an old story at the kitchen table, running through the decisions she’s made and the paths she could’ve taken: her years of purposeful provocation, the isolation that stems from defiance, the fight to accept imperfections within yourself. There are albums where it’s been difficult to remember that Madonna is a real person and not just a figurehead, a concept, a lightning rod. That’s not the case with Rebel Heart: it has surprising gravity, and doubles as a portrait of a lion approaching the winter of a career without precedent. It’s the realest, and the best, Madonna has sounded in quite some time.

Read next: The Time Madonna Almost Quit Music for Good

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TIME Music

Listen to Kanye West’s New Single ‘All Day’

It's dark, triumphant and provocative

After months of false starts and exponentially increasing hype — interview quips, leaked demos, a performance at the Brit Awards last week backed by dozens of UK henchmen and a mighty flamethrower — Kanye West is releasing the official version of “All Day,” the lead single from his upcoming new album So Help Me God. Working with contributions from stylish Brooklyn polymath Theophilus London and rising, gritty Minnesotan Allan Kingdom, Kanye splits the difference between the abrasiveness and dark colors of 2013’s Yeezus and his gift for lyrical hooks and radio-friendly structure. It’s not hard to imagine the song’s chorus, and its titular bark, streaming from open car windows around the country by rush hour this evening. (The closing minute, a bizarre stew of cheery whistling and frenzied electronics, seems less likely to land on top 40 playlists.)

Of course, “All Day” is still ripe with the sort of incisive statements about class and race that have marked Kanye’s work from the beginning. Even grandstanding, throwaway lines are wrapped in barbed wire, like his hollered proclamation that, “Like a light-skinned slave boy / we in the motherf—king house!” If this really is “cookout music,” it’s cookout music that demands your attention. So Help Me God still doesn’t have a release date, but with an official single on the books and a promotional machine roaring to life, the release of even more new Kanye West music seems imminent.

Read next: Listen to Haim and M83’s New Song for the Insurgent Soundtrack

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