December 14, 2018

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The Playlist: Esperanza Spalding’s Intoxicating Groove, and 12 More New Songs

The Playlist: Esperanza Spalding’s Intoxicating Groove, and 12 More New Songs
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Hear tracks by Empress Of, Khalid, Brandi Carlile, Madame Gandhi and others.

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Esperanza Spalding released her new album,“12 Little Spells,” in videos over the last two weeks.CreditBrian Snyder/Reuters

On her last few albums, Esperanza Spalding has embraced pop and rock convention with one hand while reaching into esotericism with the other. As her writing has grown more literary, she’s also been making music that’s directly, physically engaging. Those contradictions — or complements — come to a head in “12 Little Spells,” the album she just released song by song, in video form, over the past two weeks. Informed by her studies of Reiki and other spiritual healing practices, each tune is meant to cast a liberating spell on a different area of the body. In many, the deftly constructed music is snarled around wordy verses: You have to let go, allow the $5 verbiage and shifting melodies to swim around you and become a kind of manic trance. But on some pieces — the sensuous “Touch in Mine,” the bluesy “Thang” and the clipped funk of “You Have to Dance,” meant to aid in the “ability to move one’s feet freely in accompaniment with the movement of one’s inner feeling” — the music becomes cool and repetitive, truly intoxicating. GIOVANNI RUSSONELLO

Lorely Rodriguez, the songwriter, singer and producer who records as Empress Of, looks back toward the transparent, staccato arrangements and seemingly guileless vocals of early 1980s synth-pop. The songs on her new album, “Us” (which follows the 2015 album “Me”) track a romance from newfound infatuation to disillusionment. “All for Nothing” arrives near the endgame: “By now you’re used to my tears/Enough to fake being sincere,” she realizes. The track starts out skeletal, but sustained tones envelop her as she admits her despair. JON PARELES

Tender, elegiac lo-fi electro-R&B from the soundtrack to “Spider Man: Into the Spider-Verse” from Swae Lee (of Rae Sremmurd) and Post Malone. Both singers blend sweetness with mournfulness, and this is a love song that blooms slowly. Swae Lee sounds like he’s recalling a faint dream, and Post Malone follows him with a verse that hops and skips. JON CARAMANICA

Self-improvement and historical gratitude converge over a groove that just keeps on sprouting new levels of percussion and polyrhythm. “All my bad habits have got to go,” Madame Gandhi sings, adding, “We can be so much better.” The verses name Mahatma Gandhi and Fela Kuti as inspirations (though in the 1970s, Nigeria was not a “colony,” as she sings, but a military dictatorship). The rhythmic foundation is an electronic take on Kuti’s Afrobeat; along the way it adds handclaps, strummed and plucked strings, clattering cowbells, synthesizer blips and more women’s voices, like a movement gathering momentum. PARELES

The young R&B star Khalid has made a career of teasing out beauty from teenage pain, and “Saturday Nights” — from a new EP, “Suncity” — is blurry and warm, a safe space made into song. “All the things that I know, that your parents don’t,” he croons at the hook, letting the object of his affection know that he can provide succor, and assuring all the uncertain listeners that they deserve it, too. CARAMANICA

Brandi Carlile’s solo version of “Party of One,” on her album “By the Way, I Forgive You,” was wrenching enough: a desperate reckoning with a partner the singer knows she’ll never leave. Her live-in-the-studio duet with Sam Smith — in his most otherworldly register — turns it into a dialogue of tension and reconciliation, raising it to near-operatic drama over swelling strings. It’s a benefit single for Children in Conflict, which helps children affected by war; the war in the song is a private one. PARELES

“Revelation” comes from the soundtrack to “Boy Erased,” the film about forced gay-conversion therapy due for November release. “How the tides are changing/As you liberate me now/And the walls come down,” Troye Sivan sings on his humblest tones, refusing any triumphalism. The production applies the reverential tone and cavernous reverberations of Sigur Ros — tolling piano notes, slow cymbal crescendos, shivery string tremolos — while Jónsi’s high voice hovers, in wordless oohs and ahs, like a distant benediction. PARELES

Laraaji has been making meditative music since the 1970s, centered on the shimmering resonances of his electric zither. On the new EP “Arrive Without Leaving” he collaborates with Arji OceAnanda on flutes, percussion and mbira and with the Texas electronic trio Dallas Acid, who edited a six-hour group improvisation into the 36 minutes of music on the EP. The imperturbable rhythmic pulse comes from the zither, as washes of synthesizers and wisps of flute melody only enrich the music’s much-needed serenity. PARELES

Farao is Kari Jahnsen, who was born in Norway and is now based in Berlin. In “Lula Loves You” — named after the character in David Lynch’s “Wild at Heart” — she ponders love and loneliness in a welter of thick, gelatinous, wavery tones. They come from analog-era synthesizers, like the Soviet-made Polivox shown in the video, and Farao piles them on profusely throughout her new album, “Pure-O,” evoking amorphous feelings in architectural blurs of sound. PARELES

I mean, a smash. Just brutally effective. Light as a fall breeze, concise and cheerfully saccharine. Though this duet is, at heart, a battle between two generational ideas about flirtation, Luis Fonsi’s classically intense singing and Ozuna’s digital come-ons are an idyllic pair. CARAMANICA

Rubén Blades wrote “El Cantante” in the 1970s, before he was a star, and it became Hector Lavoe’s signature song. Soon after, Blades would inherit Lavoe’s mantel as the reigning cantante on New York’s heady salsa scene, and nowadays he wears the distinction with a pride of purpose. In a 2014 concert with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, out Friday as an album, “El Cantante” becomes a pliant musical zone. The orchestra swims between Afro-Cuban son montuno and languid swing, and near the end Blades ad-libs an acclamation: “Canciones que usted escuchará siempre/Un repertorio que no pasa de moda” (“Songs you’ll always listen to/Music that never goes out of style.”) RUSSONELLO

Future the elder teams with one of his spiritual and aesthetic children, Juice WRLD, for the strong collaborative album “WRLD on Drugs.” They are a natural pair — narcotic melodists with keen pop sentimentality without sacrificing fundamental grit. Several songs on this release are apt pairings, but “Red Bentley,” which also features the distended squeals of Young Thug, feels like an object lesson in the deconstruction of traditional flow. CARAMANICA

Keith Jarrett has been on professional hiatus for years, but his archive of live recordings still contains plenty of untapped treasures. ECM Records has just released another, “La Fenice,” a lengthy solo piano recital recorded at the titular opera house in Venice. Like many of his solo concerts, this one is largely improvised — there are elegant ballads invented on the spot; adamant, atonal bombast; and, on “Part III,” the rock-driven, major-key vamping that has been a Jarrett calling card since “The Köln Concert.” RUSSONELLO

Jon Pareles has been The Times’s chief pop music critic since 1988. A musician, he has played in rock bands, jazz groups and classical ensembles. He majored in music at Yale University. @JonPareles

Jon Caramanica is a pop music critic for The Times and the host of the Popcast. He also writes the men’s Critical Shopper column for Styles. He previously worked for Vibe magazine, and has written for the Village Voice, Spin, XXL and more. @joncaramanica





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