Avril Lavigne goes old-school in a comeback song with soul. Zayn shines in an new project that touches on all sides of moody R&B. Songwriter LP’s penchant for drama plays out perfectly on a rollicking track. Vic Mensa makes self-love cool, even in rap. And Robin Thicke repents and recounts a tumultuous few years in the soft, sensitive “Testify.”
- Inside Mississippi's Last Abortion Clinic—and the Biggest Fight for Abortion Rights in a Generation
- Do Current COVID-19 Tests Still Detect Omicron?
- The First U.S. Offshore Wind Farm Could Be a Lifeline for Struggling New England Cities
- Welcome to TV's Era of Peak Redundancy
- The Key Role a Local Newspaper Played in the Trial Over Ahmaud Arbery's Murder
- TIME's Top 100 Photos of 2021
- 2021: The Year the Grift Kept Giving
Zayn’s expansive, unhurried new project Icarus Falls spans 27 tracks. It’s a meditative double-sided album, letting an enigmatic artist take his time to express a range of sonic ideas. (See: the electric rock of “Sour Diesel,” the One-Direction-style pop-rock balladry of “Good Years,” the R&B-lite of “Entertainer.”) On “Satisfaction,” a lush and reflective track off the second half that is particularly imbued with emotional heft, his voice gets extra space to shine. Zayn has a tendency to give production effects the most attention, but this time he allows us more intimate access to his voice’s bittersweetness, bathed in despondency and set over a brooding beat. “Life is always in the way,” he complains, but at least he’s found time to make music.
"House on Fire," LP
LP has already had a long and varied career as a songwriter, helping out stars like Rihanna and Cher on their own work. But as an independent artist, she has often flown more under the radar. On Heart to Mouth, her fifth solo album, she proves once more she’s a force and voice to be reckoned with: distinctive, uncompromising, surprising at every turn. Her pop leans towards folk, with warmth and a rollicking spirit that draws on everyone from Christina Aguilera — who she has written for — to icons like Bob Dylan. “House on Fire” leans into her most theatrical instincts, rich with flamenco callbacks and spaghetti Western whistles. With full-throated abandon, she crafts a track that’s bold and memorable.
"Deserve It," Vic Mensa feat. Mr. Hudson
Rapper Vic Mensa has always been an earnest, cinematic rapper. On his latest EP Hooligans — “Deserve It,” the closing track — he accesses a fresh sincerity, backgrounded with urgent production that gives his rhymes extra strength. “Even when I’m feelin’ worthless, underneath the surface, I know that I deserve it.” It’s a self-worth anthem that’s about as sweet and uplifting as rap gets, but never strays into the saccharine thanks to a pulsing, atmospheric beat that weaves in and out.
"Tell Me It's Over," Avril Lavigne
Avril Lavigne, skater girl icon of the early 2000s, is in the process of a comeback — and she’s discarded her roots in emo rock for a jazzier soul-pop. No longer disaffected and drawling, the Canadian singer wants us to know she can belt it out, too, as on “Tell Me It’s Over.” With big band orchestration and a retro sound down to the Supremes-style girl group backup singers, it’s a twist that might raise eyebrows, but will definitely win over new fans. It’s technically a heartbreak song — “Tell me it’s over / If it’s really over,” she frets about a relationship in limbo — but Lavigne has never sounded stronger, or more confident that nothing about her is over at all.
"Testify," Robin Thicke
Sweet, confessional, tender: Robin Thicke’s “Testify” is an about-face from his controversial smash hit “Blurred Lines.” Instead, following a spate of challenges in his personal and professional life, he leans into a more sensitive and traditional side, laying the falsetto on thick. “All my reckless ways caught up with me,” he croons. “I lost my job and it haunted me / Me and my lady lost a pregnancy.” It’s a litany of darknesses laid over a smooth jazz tune, but there’s something soothing about letting Thicke have his time to repent or, as he calls it, testify to his past and reestablish his present. “I can be anything I wanna be/ I can love myself again,” he sings softly, and this reinvention feels right.