It's here: Billie Eilish's long-awaited debut album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? is out, three years after the teen artist first came to the attention of the music industry. Meanwhile, Sky Ferreira — once a rising pop star, now an enigmatic artist of uncertain genre — finally dropped the first song, "Downhill Lullaby," off a long-gestating new project. Rosalía, Spain's voice of flamenco-pop, teams up with J Balvin for a reggaeton track that shows off both their strengths on "Con Altura." Another smart pairing: Cage the Elephant and Beck, two of alt-rock's top acts, on collaborative single "Night Running" ahead of a joint tour. And Tank and the Bangas prove they've got plenty of surprises in store with the flirty, summer-ready "Nice Things."
"bad guy," Billie Eilish
Since she's just 17, it's easy to categorize Billie Eilish as a Gen Z wunderkind, the kind of precocious pop artist who satisfies a teen fandom. But on her debut album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, Eilish proves she's got the range — and should be taken seriously as an artist with perspective and musical chops, not just a trend. "bad guy" is her case in point: simmering with jazzy intensity, it's minimal pop at its finest, bold and experimental and deeply catchy. Eilish's talent is making everything look easy; her voice barely rises above a throaty whisper, but the tension is palpable, even as the song ends in a surprise trap breakdown. "My mommy likes to sing along with me, but she won't sing this song," Eilish winks: "If she reads all the lyrics, she'll pity the men I know." Lucky for the rest of us, Eilish's teenage rebellion comes in the form of music we can all get behind.
"Con Altura," Rosalía and J Balvin feat. El Guincho
Rosalía and J Balvin keep things simple and effective on "Con Altura," the newest release from the Spanish flamenco-pop artist, the Colombian reggaeton star and Spanish producer El Guincho. Over a minimalist reggaeton beat, Rosalía — whose second album El Mal Querer was a critical favorite when it came out in November, and who has since collaborated with artists like James Blake — sings in Spanish and nods at both the traditions of reggaeton and other classic Latin musical forms. As usual with Rosalía, you don't always need to understand the lyrics to appreciate her voice, which is crystalline with just a whisper of a rasp. J Balvin's rap verse makes for a nice balance.
"Downhill Lullaby," Sky Ferreira
It's taken Sky Ferreira six long years to put out new music, following her critically beloved punk-pop album Night Time, My Time in 2013. If you previously associated Ferreira with the bubblegum pop of early hits like 2010's "One," be prepared for an entirely different flavor: "Downhill Lullaby" is a moody, gothic opera of sound, replete with oozing, screeching violins. Sometimes it's a messy cacophony, Ferreira's voice melding into the mix; other times it resolves into sweet symphony. As she explained in a tweet, her references were diverse: "George Antheil, Krzysztof Penderecki, Mica Levi & John Cale." It's a slow burner, stretching time and expectations, and an introduction to a whole new era for one of pop's most misunderstood stars.
"Night Running," Cage the Elephant and Beck
Kentucky band Cage the Elephant and Grammy-winning mainstay Beck are two of alternative rock's most consistent hitmakers of the past decade, so perhaps it was only a matter of time until they teamed up. "Night Running," that joint effort, is a strong offering from both: a reggae beat underscores an indie rock jam with hints of funk, and the lyrics are a quick-moving hodgepodge that flows just right. While this song will ultimately appear on Cage the Elephant's upcoming album Social Cues, they are heading out on a co-headlining tour with Beck in the summer as well.
"Nice Things," Tank and the Bangas
Tank and the Bangas broke out after winning NPR's Tiny Desk Concert in 2017. But the New-Orleans-based five-piece group has turned out to be much more than a one-hit wonder; "Nice Things," off of their upcoming album Green Balloon, is full of their signature creativity and delight with plenty of fun to spare over a summery funk-soul beat. Lead singer Tank has an elastic, surprising voice that oozes energy, turning simple lyrics into full stories just with a twist of the syllables; perhaps it shouldn't be so unexpected, given her background as a slam poet. "You should do some nice things for me," she suggests. It's flirtation in song form, and it absolutely works.