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Jon Pareles, Isabelia Herrera, Giovanni Russonello and
Every Friday, pop critics for The New York Times weigh in on the week’s most notable new songs and videos. Just want the music? Listen to the Playlist on Spotify here (or find our profile: nytimes). Like what you hear? Let us know at [email protected] and sign up for our Louder newsletter, a once-a-week blast of our pop music coverage.
Like “Fearless” before it, Taylor Swift’s rerecorded and reclaimed “Red (Taylor’s Version),” out Friday, features a trove of newly recorded material from the vault. One of the best offerings is “Nothing New,” a melancholic meditation Swift wrote in 2012 and returned to nearly a decade later, enlisting the singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers as her very capable duet partner. The song is kind of a shadow version of “The Lucky One,” Swift’s incisive but ultimately peppy track about the price of fame on the original release of “Red.” “Nothing New” is much darker in tone and more sharply critical of a culture that moves from one young ingénue to the next: “How can a person know everything at 18 but nothing at 22?” Swift asks, foreshadowing some of the themes she’d explore on her 2020 album “Folklore.” Most striking, though, is the bridge, in which she imagines meeting the Eve Harrington to her Margo Channing, a predecessor with “the kind of radiance you only have at 17.” It’s hard not to picture the longtime Swiftie Olivia Rodrigo (“She’ll know the way and then she’ll say she got the map from me”), who seems to have fulfilled this prophecy to a T. But in the time that has passed from when Swift wrote this song to when she finally recorded it, the mournful “Nothing New” has transformed into something triumphant: It’s proof that Swift has outlasted her novelty and stuck around longer than her detractors imagined. Plus, she doesn’t seem to mind Rodrigo calling her “mom.” LINDSAY ZOLADZ
Beach House’s music contains many gifts, but it’s the group’s ability to magnify life’s small dramas into sky-sized emotions that glitters. “Superstar” is a prodigious torch song that fits comfortably among other beloved anthems in the band’s catalog: the blissed-out “Myth,” the romance of “Lover of Mine.” Here, the duo immerses itself in the cosmos, the trick of light of a falling star guiding the nightmare of a relationship’s end. “When you were mine/We fell across the sky,” sings Victoria Legrand as the band once again harnesses an indescribable feeling and bottles it. ISABELIA HERRERA
There’s nothing subtle about the message of Black striving and ambition in “Be Alive,” Beyoncé’s song for “King Richard,” the movie about the father and tennis coach of Venus and Serena Williams. “This is hustle personified/Look how we’ve been fighting to stay alive,” she sings. “So when we win we will have pride.” The beat is blunt, steady and determined, and as Beyoncé pushes her voice toward a rasp, she girds herself in vocal harmonies, a multitracked family. The song insists on the community effort behind the triumph. JON PARELES
The pandemic has been a time of renewal and reinvention for Taylor Swift. After releasing two quarantine albums, the singer is in the process of releasing the rerecordings of her first six albums.
“Open the gates, we arrive — energy time,” Camae Ayewa (a.k.a. Moor Mother) commands in the title track to the new album by Irreversible Entanglements, which backs her spoken words with a shape-shifting jazz quartet. “Open the Gates” is a concise but packed two-and-a-half minutes, with a six-beat bass vamp holding together prismatic, multilayered percussion and horns — a welcome that promises eventful times ahead. PARELES
“Amores de Droga” doesn’t require much to glow: a steady four-on-the-floor rhythm, the weightless melodies of the Mexican R&B chanteuse Girl Ultra, a couple of bleeding-heart lyrics. “A mi nadie me enseñó a querer,” Girl Ultra sings. “Yo no nací pa’ enamorarme.” (“No one taught me how to love/I wasn’t born to fall in love.”) It’s a refutation — a detox from poisonous love and all its dangers. HERRERA
Ethiopia is consumed in a civil war as its Tigray ethnic minority, formerly in control, moves against a democratically elected government that has been taking its own brutal measures. On Nov. 2, the government declared a state of emergency. That was the day Teddy Afro released “Armash,” a nine-minute plea for Ethiopian unity sung in Amharic. It has two chords, an expanding horn line and a voice with deep sadness and a tinge of Auto-Tune, as he sings, “Longing for a country, here, in my own motherland.” It has logged more than three million listens on YouTube, but music can’t heal everything. PARELES
In 2017 Melanie Charles self-released “The Girl With the Green Shoes,” a tantalizing, 30-minute mixtape that sampled Kelela, Nina Simone and Buddy Miles, and shined a light on Charles’s rangy talents as a vocalist, flutist and producer. She returns this week with “Y’all Don’t (Really) Care About Black Women,” her debut for the major jazz label Verve, and this one is a mixtape too, of sorts: She samples or reworks a song by a different Black woman ancestor on nearly every track. Abbey Lincoln gets covered twice, in a medley that starts with “All Africa,” a rolling rumination on the ancient power of the drum originally on “We Insist! Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite.” Charles layers four-part harmony and swathes of effects onto an incantation of “The beat!” and her band kicks into a scorching, slow-motion groove. It opens onto a blasted-out cover of “The Music Is the Magic,” one of Lincoln’s most enchanted compositions, but after just over a minute, it fades out. The proof of concept is there. Now we’re waiting for more. GIOVANNI RUSSONELLO
Most of Shamir’s songs have been wrapped in sweetness. Not this one. “Cisgender” is an uncompromising declaration of gender fluidity: “I don’t wanna be a girl, I don’t wanna be a man,” Shamir declares. “I’m just existing on this God-forsaken land/You can take it or leave it.” The track is industrial, with brute-force drums and distorted guitar, insisting that limits are being pushed; variations of a four-letter word pop up in the lyrics. In the video, the singer has deer horns and cloven hooves. PARELES
There’s sleek, poppy sheen to Mitski’s latest single, the second from her newly announced sixth album, “Laurel Hell,” but beneath the distortion-scorched surfaces of her early work, she’s been writing melodies this catchy and anthemic since her great 2014 album “Bury Me at Makeout Creek.” Co-written with Semisonic’s Dan Wilson, “The Only Heartbreaker” is propelled by punchy percussion and retro-sounding synthesizers that explode into a dramatic conflagration during the song’s bridge. Like so many of Mitski’s best songs, this one is about embracing emotionality and the inevitability of messiness: “I’ll be the bad guy in the play,” she tells a relatively reserved partner. “I’ll be the water main that’s burst and flooding/You’ll be by the window, only watching.” ZOLADZ
“Last month in Alaska,” Evan Stephens Hall sings at the beginning of the latest song from Pinegrove, stretching out those vowels with a twangy sense of yearning. (In the next verse, impressively, he’ll wring a similar kind of musicality out of the word “Orlando.”) Taken from the New Jersey indie-rockers’ forthcoming album “11:11” (out Jan. 28), “Alaska” is one of those cozy winter songs you want to wrap around yourself like a wool blanket. The lyrics showcase the vivid poeticism of Hall’s writing (“like a ladder to the atmosphere, the rungs each come again and again”) while the song’s driving rhythm and fuzzy guitars create an atmosphere that’s at once emotionally restless and as warm as a hearth. ZOLADZ
Following the righteous punk anger of Camp Cope’s great 2018 album “How to Socialize & Make Friends,” the Australian trio’s first single in three years is something of a departure: “Blue” is a twangy, acoustic-driven reflection, its sonic palette akin to something off Waxahatchee’s “St. Cloud.” But subsequent listens reveal singer Georgia Maq’s emotional perception to be as receptive and unflinching as ever, as the song depicts a relationship in which both partners are struggling with their own forms of depression: “It’s all blue, you know I feel it and I bet you do.” ZOLADZ
“Two Ribbons,” the title song of an album due in April, puts a serene facade on all-consuming grief. It backs Jenny Hollingworth’s voice with, mostly, two chords from a calmly strummed electric guitar, along with underlying tones; Velvet Underground songs like “Pale Blue Eyes” are predecessors. Her voice and her words cope with suffering, death, mourning, survival, and moving on; the song is quietly shattering. PARELES.
Mdou Moctar, a Tuareg guitarist and singer born in Niger, and the other three members of his band, set up to perform on a bank of the Niger River during a scenic sunrise to play four songs — “Tala Tannam,” “Bissmilahi Atagh,” “Ya Habibti” and “Chismiten” — from the album they released this year, “Afrique Victime.” With just two guitars, bass and calabash, the music is live, unadorned and pristinely recorded. Drone harmonies make it meditative, even as the rhythms and guitar lines streak ahead. PARELES
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