February 28, 2021


By Kristi Kates | Nov. 27, 2016

The Weeknd — “Starboy” — Republic Records

The much-anticipated return of The Weeknd, aka Abel Tesfaye, is here, staking its claim to electrified alt-R&B on the title track, which finds the artist collaborating with Daft Punk as the tune opens with “Thriller” organs and accelerates to a stadium-worthy end. “False Alarm” contradicts itself with its punky beat and dark melody, while “Party Monster” channels a little D’Angelo. The Weeknd’s second collaboration with Daft Punk (“I Feel it Coming”) is both as mechanical and as dramatic as you might expect. ***

Emeli Sande — “Long Live the Angels” — Capitol

There’s no sophomore stumble on Sande’s second album. This is 18 tracks full of the Scottish singer-songwriter’s impressively controlled vocals, bursting out of their arrangements to gracefully transmit her feelings on love, faith and change as built upon her soulful roots. Tracks like “Sweet Architect” and “Breathing Underwater” almost take a gospel approach, while any trendwagon Sande hops on (working with Jay Electronica on “Garden”) is infused with care into her own original sound. ***

Bruno Mars — “24K Magic” — Atlantic

Does anyone encapsulate “funky” these days better than Bruno Mars? Probably not, as evidenced yet again by his newest collection of tracks, on which he collaborated with Skrillex on production to craft this standout set. There are nods to many of Mars’ own musical idols here, from New Edition to Babyface (as heard on “Finesse” and “Too Good to Say Goodbye,” respectively), but the real standout is that super-catchy title track, a fully fused hybrid of Timberlake hook and Mark Ronson swagger that instantly requires a replay. ***

Alicia Keys — “Here” — RCA

Keys has traditionally been thought of as a soulful, thoughtful piano balladeer, so it’s nice to hear her expanding her musical boundaries to include funk, folk, reggae and more aggressive beats in her newest songs. “Illusion of Bliss” rolls in the big organs and Leslie speakers to channel James Brown and Keys’ contemporary Janelle Monae, while “Work On It” features sharp production from Pharrell Williams. It’s a noticeably shallower set lyrically, compared to her earlier work, but perhaps she’s simply choosing to grow in one direction at a time. ** ½


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