The Playlist: George Michael’s First Posthumous Music, and 12 More New Songs



08.11.2019 18:29

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.

A new George Michael song has emerged from his archives for the movie “Last Christmas,” and it suavely carries some deeply troubled reflections about drinking and smoking marijuana. In the years before his 2016 death, Michael was repeatedly arrested for drunken driving. A wistful introduction, backed by elaborate pizzicato strings, leads to an upbeat mesh of flamenco-tinged guitars and pulsating synthesizers as Michael sings, in plush multitracked harmonies, about pressures toward getting high: parental example, cultural cues, personal problems. The song draws ethical lines: “I never picked a fight in my life or raised a hand to my wife or saw my children as things to bully/I never dropped a pill in a drink, I know how low you can sink.” But he understood his difficulties. “I will always try to get my life together,” he sang. “Guess we always knew that it would be stormy weather.” JON PARELES

Lush disco from the eerily precise R&B singer Jessie Ware, delivered with an echo of Bananarama’s “Cruel Summer.” JON CARAMANICA

After dabbling in reggaeton, Rosalía moves on to something far less categorizable in “A Palé.” It’s a two-parter. A high-voiced, choral lullaby invoking a star that protects her segues abruptly into a stark electronic groove, with a slow, terse bass line tugging against spiky percussion and vocal syllables. Rosalía raps in a low deadpan about her own inventiveness: “Bite if you have to bite,” she taunts. In the video clip, Rosalía flaunts long pointed nails and gold teeth, rides a conveyor belt and does a parkour-like running leap across shipping containers — flamboyantly enigmatic. PARELES

Each of the myriad Spanish-English collaborations of the post-“Despacito” era arrives with a slightly different calculus. Someone loves the music of another culture. Someone craves another fan market. Someone believes cultural borrowing is, like, super easy. With each new entry in the category, you have to assess the intentions and the subtext anew. So here’s Nicki Minaj, rapping in Spanish and English alongside the Colombian singer Karol G, on “Tusa,” a benignly catchy song about heartbreak. For Karol G, it’s a strong dose of validation, and adds needed texture to the song. For Minaj, it’s a late-in-the-game play for cross-market attention, and an opportunity to be blithely filthy. (Cardi B said she passed on appearing on the song.) And then there’s Drake, on a remix of the lite baile funk hit “Ela É do Tipo” by MC Kevin O Chris. As a global boost for the sound of Brazil’s favelas, this is an unqualified win. For Drake, it’s a way of nodding at the by-now pat collaborations his peers are still trying to perfect, and skipping the line altogether to something more advanced and exciting. CARAMANICA

“Fool’s Gold” is a nervous waltz, smoothly sung but driven by insistent acoustic guitar picking, about the aftermath of a New Year’s Eve party where relationships got damaged: “He’ll blame the alcohol and you’ll blame the full moon/She’ll blame the fall of man, but I blame the part of you/that can’t let up on the reins.” It’s the song that completes Lucy Dacus’s EP “2019” of songs — mostly covers — tied to holidays, and it’s equal parts sympathy and cold clarity. PARELES

Eric Revis unfurls a trance-like, six-beat bass line while the drummer Chad Taylor plays at and around the rhythm, sounding earthy and magnetic but rarely representing the beat directly. After all, this tune’s name comes from the Moroccan city of Essaouira, where the layered, hypnotic rhythms of traditional Gnawa music are played at a major annual festival, attracting attendees by the hundreds of thousands. Over Revis and Taylor, Avram Fefer plays a long, cool melody on the tenor saxophone; the guitarist Marc Ribot sometimes doubles him in the upper register, or dishes out a mix of crinkly, punctuated chords and Cy Twombly dashes. The track, which concludes this veteran saxophonist’s new album, runs for 10 minutes but never loses steam. GIOVANNI RUSSONELLO

Cacophony and bravado briefly give way to tenderness in “I’m the Man,” a solo blast from Jehnny Beth of Savages. Drums slam hard, stopping and starting, and electronics screech and sputter and blare, hurtling ahead as Beth channels male arrogance. But there are second thoughts: The beat vanishes, hazy keyboard chords waft up, and Beth turns to crooning: “Look at my hands, look at my heart.” But that’s only temporary, perhaps too vulnerable; at the end, the noisy armor comes crashing back. PARELES

The tinkly bell tones that united the producer Mura Masa’s past hits as they straddled pop, hip-hop and club tracks are nowhere to be found in two songs he released this week: “No Hope Generation” and “Deal Wiv It.” He’s gone punk and post-punk. He’s major-key, upbeat and sarcastic in “No Hope Generation,” as he sings, “Everybody do the no hope generation/the new hit sensation craze sweeping the nation/Give me a bottle and a gun and I’ll show you how it’s done.” And he backs the thickly accented rapper Slowthai with post-punk overdriven bass and jagged, distorted, dub-tinged electric guitars in “Deal Wiv It,” a rant against gentrification and mortality. PARELES

Doja Cat, the stage name of Amala Zandile Dlamini from Los Angeles, is methodically establishing herself as a brash, raunchy genre-hopper, a successor to Nicki Minaj: singing, rapping, dancing, showing lots of skin and wearing lots of wigs. In the perky “Cyber Sex,” she flaunts and teases at the distance between physical and virtual carnality, between face-to-face interaction and FaceTime. “I love when we get freaky on camera,” she cheerfully lilts, but she’s also mocking what passes for personal contact online. PARELES

Of the sweet-voiced Atlanta sing-rappers, Lil Baby is growing into the most well-rounded. “Woah,” his new single, is both hypnotic and narratively detailed, an absorptive blob and an impressive lyrical exercise: “She said she miss it and sending emojis/No time to kick it, I’m always in motion/Can’t say I miss you, I don’t got emotions.” CARAMANICA

If you thought there was a clear dividing line between ferocity and tenderness, allow David S. Ware to set you straight. Ware, who died in 2012 and would have turned 70 this past Thursday, projected a blazing, tremulous sound on tenor saxophone: He could play raging, off-the-handle free jazz without losing his composure and seriousness; he could turn a ballad into a declaration of strength. After the 2007 breakup of his landmark quartet, he formed a new band with the guitarist Joe Morris, the bassist William Parker and the drummer Warren Smith. That group is featured on “Théâtre Garonne, 2008,” a newly released live recording. On the original “Reflection,” he treats the piece’s main motif as a general shape, a mood to inhabit or return to, rather than — in the more typical jazz style — a melody to recite and then depart from. RUSSONELLO


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