This week, the Dixie Chicks excited legions of longtime fans with their long-awaited return in the form of “Gaslighter,” the statement-making title track from their upcoming album. Plus, Bad Bunny revels on the rollicking YHLQMDLG, Jhené Aiko sets down the vibe in Chilombo, Diana Gordon gives her new song “Rollin'” an equally worthwhile acoustic version and young pop singer-songwriter Christian French reminds us that we’re not alone to want to opt out of the party on “crowded room.”
“Gaslighter,” Dixie Chicks
A warm welcome back to the Dixie Chicks, the beloved country trio who released new music this week after an absence of nearly 14 years. Their fifth album is out May 1; it’s named after this title track, which sets the tone for a rollicking, unapologetic comeback. In typical fashion, they’re not playing nice. “Gaslighter, denier, doing anything to get your a-s farther,” they shake their heads. “Save your tired stories for your new someone else, cause they’re lies.” The lyrics have been widely interpreted as personal, but like the group’s best anthems, they can also apply more broadly. You could say the Dixie Chicks know gaslighting pretty well by now; they were punished harshly for speaking out, as perhaps one of the first big musical acts to be “canceled,” after criticizing President Bush during the Iraq War. (Compared to 2020’s even more fraught political scene, their critique seems practically quaint.) Then, it was enough to set them back. Now, it sounds like their righteous anger is alive and well as ever.
“Está Cabrón Ser Yo,” Bad Bunny feat. Anuel AA
Puerto Rican star Bad Bunny is at that place in his career where his powerful cult of personality could threaten to supersede his work. Never fear; Benito is still very much on his game. He may have spent the best part of this past year touring at major concert venues, protesting political incompetence in his homeland, releasing a joint album with J Balvin and making transgressively progressive statements through his aesthetic and fashion choices — oh, and performing at the Super Bowl Halftime Show — but he also made time to put together YHLQMDLG, a 20-track album of delightfully fresh, forward-thinking reggaeton (with a splash of pop-punk thrown in for good measure). “Está Cabrón Ser Yo” is menacing and catchy from the trap-beat jump; the lyrics are somehow both self-effacing and knowingly confident, nodding both to humble roots and astonishing successes. There’s plenty to love on YHLQMDLG, an acronym that translates roughly — and appropriately enough for the independent-minded Bad Bunny — to “I do what I want.” “Está Cabrón Ser Yo” is a good starting point for those late to the Bad Bunny party; the appeal of the sinuous, deep-voiced singer-rapper and his chosen companion for this track, fellow Puerto Rican trap star Anuel AA, is immediate. They close things out with laughter and mindless banter, artists reveling in their power.
“B.S.,” Jhené Aiko feat. H.E.R.
Jhené Aiko’s entire new album Chilombo is what they call a mood: a chilled-out, winding trip through her laid-back, spiritually-attuned R&B world. Aiko’s touch is delicate, her dreamy-sweet voice floating blissfully over the beats. (About the production: sound bowls were used across the project to set the tone; that meditative spirit is a constant presence throughout.) “B.S.” lets Aiko do her thing in singsong verses over a tinkling melody. It’s a kiss-off of a song (“Flex on my ex, in my Model X”), but there’s no rancor, just sensual reckoning (“Back up on my bullsh-t, back up on the scene,” she hums, “Done dealing with you.”). H.E.R. comes in to play counterpoint, her voice a lower register and welcome complement.
“Rollin’ (Acoustic),” Diana Gordon
The original version of Diana Gordon’s “Rollin'” is pretty much a rock song, sung in the register of punk-folk intensity. The new acoustic version is an intimate, searching take that spotlights Gordon’s versatility and expressiveness. Her instrument is her voice, over simple guitar strums, and her message is a kind of screw-it-all abandon. (“Take the night and mix it with the pain / Say some sh-t you know you shouldn’t say / Find someone who wanna do the same,” she urges us.) In the past, New York-born singer-songwriter Gordon has taken home songwriting and producing Grammys, working alongside artists including Beyoncé, Mark Ronson, Dua Lipa and Jennifer Lopez; she’s not new to this industry or its challenges, having released her debut album back in 2011. Her journey, it seems, has only given her more range.
“crowded room,” Christian French
The not-good-at-parties theme is becoming something of a sub-genre in contemporary pop. To wit: Alessia Cara’s “Here,” Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber’s “I Don’t Care,” Troye Sivan and Lauv’s “I’m So Tired” and now Christian French’s “crowded room.” French was a med student three years ago when he made the switch to pop, thanks to some early Soundcloud success and his lyrical relatability. New song “crowded room” is catchy and appropriate for the time in more ways than one. “I’ve been so overwhelmed with trying, don’t wanna be at parties,” he sings here: “I just wanna be nobody with my thoughts in my room… Taking a breath is getting hard to do.” In this moment of anxiety, he has a point.