Mavis Staples releases her fifteenth studio album, If All I Was Was Black, full of reflective and resonant soul. Sweden’s dark-pop queen Tove Lo dives into the dangers of love on her third solo album, Blue Lips. Rising singer-songwriter-rapper blackbear tries on his acoustic side with “g2g ttyl,” and Jaden Smith tests the limits of mixing genres and styles in one track with “Falcon.” Finally, dance production duo Sofi Tukker amp up the weekend’s party playlists with the Portuguese-language “Energia.”
“All Over Again,” Mavis Staples
“Sometimes I have regrets,” sing-hums Mavis Staples in the lowest, most resonant of registers, “but I ain’t done yet.” The iconic soul artist — she’s been performing since the ’60s, as part of the The Staples Singers and in support of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — has decades of stories and experiences to draw from. In All I Was Was Black, written with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, Staples hits a key more powerful than ever, at once optimistic and clear-eyed. And on “All Over Again,” the closing track, she finds a rich, warm nostalgia over a simple acoustic guitar thrum. It’s just a pity the song doesn’t go on longer. But also a perfect reminder to start the album again from the top.
“cycles,” Tove Lo
Over three albums now, Tove Lo has proved herself a prescient — and unflinchingly honest — singer-songwriter of the darker side of passion. “Cycles,” off new album Blue Lips, is one of her prettiest songs yet: her spare and lilting vocals see her voice at its sweetest and clearest over a sticky back beat. “Falling again, don’t understand, never my plan,” she seems to sigh. “I’m in a cycle, yeah I admit it.” It’s a familiar predicament, made fresh by her sharp production choices.
“Falcon,” Jaden Smith feat. Raury
One thing Jaden Smith has never lacked is confidence. The actor-rapper-activist-fashion icon has a new album out — SYRE — and he comes out swinging throughout, especially on the eclectic creation that is “Falcon.” Starting with a rapid-fire flow over a minimal snare, the track builds in complexity throughout its run time, layering in a deep-house melody, a pretty acoustic maybe-chorus, and a further synth-boosted section with the mellifluous contributions of Raury, all before circling back to some heavier rapping. Smith closes things out with spoken-word musings, leaving behind the memory of a track that bears re-listening.
“g2g ttyl,” blackbear feat. THEY.
If you haven’t heard yet of blackbear, now’s the time to start paying attention; the singer-songwriter-rapper is a versatile artist on the rise, with a full album out Nov. 27. While his comfort zone is often in ominous rap beats like the aggressive “bright pink tims” and “gucci linen,” “g2g ttyl” takes a sweeter tack, choosing an acoustic guitar melody to set the foundations over which blackbear lays down his wistful verses. “Everything was right and now it’s wrong now,” he complains. But if heartbreak results in a song that sounds this nice, maybe it’s not such a bad thing.
“Energia,” Sofi Tukker
Sofi Tukker is actually a production duo, but the singular name might just fit their unified sound. You could call their genre jungle pop, or tropical dance music. Or you could call it a bop. That’s “Energia,” anyway, a bright and zesty pick-me-up of a track. One half of Sofi Tukker — Sophie Hawley-Weld — does the singing, crooning a Brazilian poet’s verses in Portuguese over a bouncy beat that’s both warm and, thanks to some unusual Andean instrumentation, refreshingly minimal. “We kept pushing the tempo faster and faster just to see how fast we could make it,” Halpern told TIME about the process. The result is a song that’s like caffeine in musical form, revving you up to dance.
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