Black Star’s First Album in 24 Years Arrives, and 11 More New Songs

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Black Star’s First Album in 24 Years Arrives, and 11 More New Songs


Talib Kweli and Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def) have reunited as Black Star – 24 years after their first and only previous full album together – with “No Fear of Time,” abetted by an ideal choice of producer: the crate-digging , funk-loving Madlib. Most of the new album is exclusive to the subscription podcast app Luminary, but the opening track, “OG” – “On God” – is on YouTube. Over an insistent bass line and swelling organ chords, the rapping is equal parts boasting and worship, insisting “the time is relative,‘ cause the truth is everlasting. ’ Both rappers juggle mortality and persistence, rightfully flaunting their own “Encyclopaedia Britannica flow,” mixing Brooklyn pride and reggae references (and samples from “The Ruler” by Gregory Isaacs), sounding self-congratulatory but still determined to instruct. JON PARELES

The most soulful voice in “Vegas” – by far – is the sample from Big Mama Thornton, rasping “You ain’t nothin ‘but a” from “Hound Dog,” the song that Elvis Presley would latch onto. “Hound Dog” was about a materialist masquerading as a sweetheart, and the rapping and multitracked vocal harmonies of Doja Cat’s “Vegas” – from the soundtrack to Baz Lurhman’s “Elvis” – update it to the life of a 21st-century star: Sittin ‘courtside with your arm around me. ” The underlying three chords are a classic blues structure; Doja Cat borrows their archetypal power. PARELES

Carly Rae Jepsen’s bright, bold pop takes an impressionistic turn on her new single “Western Wind,” thanks in part to production from Rostam Batmanglij. A hypnotic beat and Jepsen’s entranced, closed-eyes vocals make the whole thing sound like a pastoral reverie – an intriguing new direction for her. “First bloom, you know it’s spring / Reminding me love that it’s all connected,” Jepsen sings dreamily. The solar power is strong with this one. LINDSAY ZOLADZ

Holly Humberstone, 22, is the current opening act on Olivia Rodrigo’s Sour Tour, and the two share a penchant for emotionally resonant songwriting and music that sounds like whatever was on the radio shortly before they were born. “Sleep Tight,” which Humberstone co-wrote with 1975 frontman Matty Healy and her longtime collaborator Rob Milton, is a tale of mixed emotions and that gray area between pals and lovers, set to rushing acoustic guitar chords that conjure ’90s pop- rock. “Oh my God, I’ve done it again, I almost killed our friendship,” Humberstone sings. Her delivery is at once as casually conversational as a text message and as shyly secret as an internal monologue. ZOLADZ

Lady Gaga is possibly the only contemporary pop star who could convincingly cover Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away” and Kenny Loggins’s “Danger Zone,” so it’s fitting that her theme from the upcoming “Top Gun: Maverick” channels a little bit of both. “Hold My Hand” is as bombastic and romantic as any of her torch songs from the soundtrack for “A Star Is Born,” but it’s also punched up with soaring electric guitar and gigantic ’80s drums that sound like they were recorded in an airplane hangar. “So cry tonight, but don’t you let go of my hand,” she belts as if her life depended on it, pulling off gloriously earnest pastiche like only Gaga can. ZOLADZ

Danielle Balbuena, the singer and rapper who records as 070 Shake, overdubs her voice into a cascading chorale in “Web,” a cryptic call for personal contact and honesty. “This thing isn’t working / Let’s be here in person,” she chants. “I want to get through to you.” Maybe the song is a reaction to too many Zoom meetings; it’s a gorgeous response. PARELES

Confessions of need and uncertainty lead to monumental choruses in the songs on Sharon Van Etten’s new album, “We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong,” which ponder how to reconcile the life of a performing artist with motherhood, relationships and self-realization . A humble acoustic guitar strum starts “Come Back,” as a tremulous-voiced Van Etten muses about “Subtle moments of past / What a wondering time.” But the chorus arrives in a giant wall of sound – drums, keyboards, guitars, vocal harmonies in cavernous reverb – as Van Etten longs for a return to being “wild and unsure / And naked and pure.” PARELES

With Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill exhorting, “Put your finger in the socket !,” “Mirrorball” is the first blast of post-punk mayhem from “Land Trust,” a benefit album for North East Farmers of Color, which is acquiring land for Indigenous and minority farmers. During the pandemic, Bikini Kill’s current guitarist, Erica Dawn Lyle, and drum tech, Vice Cooler, collaborated with multiple generations of feminist rockers; along with Hanna, the pioneering riot grrrl, the album – due June 3 – draws on members of the Raincoats, the Breeders, Deerhoof, Slant 6, Palberta and the Linda Lindas. While “Mirrorball” flings sarcastic late-capitalism advice like “Stay true to your personal brand,” stomping drums and cranked-up guitars brook no nonsense. PARELES

The songwriter Leyla McCalla played banjo, guitar and cello in the Carolina Chocolate Drops and Our Native Daughters; her parents were Haitian immigrants, and she spent time with her grandmother in Haiti. Her new album, “Breaking the Thermometer,” started as a music-theater work commissioned by Duke University, which acquired the archives of Radio Haiti and has placed them online. The album mingles Haitian songs and McCalla’s own songs with snippets of broadcasts and interviews, examining Haiti’s history of exploitation, revolution, dictatorship and turmoil. “Le Bal Est Fini” (“The Party Is Over”) is based on an editorial by a Radio Haiti journalist in 1980, the year the government shut down the station. The music is upbeat, with syncopated undercurrents of rara carnival rhythms Meanwhile the lyrics, in Haitian Creole, lash out at anti-democratic forces: “Arbitrary, illegal, anti-Constitutional.” PARELES

For ASAP Rocky, “bitch” is an endearment. “DMB” – “Dat’s my bitch” – is a love song; the video clip features glimpses of Rihanna, his girlfriend. “Bitch” is also a usefully percussive syllable in a multilayered production that constantly warps itself with woozy crosscurrents of pride, defensiveness, affection and machismo. Rocky raps and sings through “DMB” with a shifting flow, and for all his aggression, he sounds genuinely affectionate. PARELES

The London-based artist Tirzah makes love songs in the abstract: free-flowing and amorphous meditations on intimacy and interconnection. As on her 2021 album “Colorgrade,” the first record she made since becoming a mother, the unconditional relationship she’s singing about on her hazy new single, “Ribs,” could be between a parent and a child, though it has a welcoming universality about it too. “You see things I can’t see, you see love and in between,” Tirzah sings openheartedly. “Hold onto me.” ZOLADZ

“New Scars” is an eerie, enveloping benediction from Glasser, aka the songwriter, singer and producer Cameron Mesirow. It begins with sparse, bell-like, electronically altered and harmonically ambiguous piano notes, a counterpoint as Glasser sustains and repeats a kind of mantra: “Try to stay with the love / there’s no room for shame.” Eventually, orchestral strings swell around her and her vocals grow into a choir as she moves on to a terse but somehow encouraging thought: “We carry through life.” PARELES


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