At least initially, it seemed like new music releases would be less impacted by coronavirus than other modes of entertainment. Instead, music streaming is actually down under quarantine, and this week saw some of the most high-profile upcoming releases, like Lady Gaga and Haim, getting bumped off the schedule. With less opportunities for traditional album promo events and touring built in, the entire major label infrastructure can’t operate in the way that it usually does. The next few months could be thin, even if artists who transcend those dated modes could still charge forward with their releases. This schedule persists along this week, with Dua Lipa’s latest a bit earlier than planned, a huge step forward for Waxahatchee, and more.
Dua Lipa — Future Nostalgia
There’s no easier way to feel old than to see the roster of pop superstardom turn over in a year’s time. Billie Eilish’s resounding Grammy success, paired with the quick ascent of Lizzo, Lil Nas X, and the faltering or disappearance of the 2010s’ biggest stars made for a clear changing of the guard. Dua Lipa might just be the best of them, who’s completely unbeholden to pop’s unifying trends of the moment. Future Nostalgia was already set up to be a big deal, and she more than delivers on the promise of “Don’t Start Now.” It’s all upbeat killer pop-funk with finely attuned memory to disco history from well before her time. This effectively upends her previous playbook, and already feels like little else on the charts. She’s good, folks.
Waxahatchee — Saint Cloud
Katie Crutchfield took it easy, sobered up, and might have made the best Waxahatchee record to date. Saint Cloud boldly eschews the charging, anthemic moments of Out in the Storm for a big, warm exploration of her Americana roots. At a time when we’re all cooped up indoors, this is music precision-engineered for open spaces and long drives where the sky’s expanse takes forever to meet pavement. It’s a comforting, well-earned exhale.
PARTYNEXTDOOR — PARTYMOBILE
Rihanna so evidently doesn’t need music at this point, that anytime she pops in on a song it qualifies as an event. On PARTYNEXTDOOR’s latest, PARTYMOBILE, she graces “BELIEVE IT” with about a minute of her time for the hook and backing vocals. PND’s responsible for some of her great songwriting feats, like “Work” and “Sex With Me,” so it’s only natural that she returns the favor when he calls for it. His solo efforts have sometimes felt anonymous despite the underlying chops, but this third record draws closer to delivering on that promise.
Half Waif — The Caretaker
Nandi Rose has a keen hand for intricate, crafty production at the bedrock of Half Waif songs, but never before has it cohered into pop songs this assured. She imagined a character for the second record, someone who's tasked with taking care of an estate and letting both the job and her well-being slip by the wayside. The Caretaker finds liftoff in unexpected moments, and she's grown even more confident in filling desolate space through this context.
Sufjan Stevens and Lowell Brams — Aporia
Teaming with his stepfather, Lowell Brams of Carrie and Lowell fame, Sufjan Stevens isn’t quite giving us the proper follow-up to that heart-rending album. Instead, it's a skittering, often majestic collection of ambient music. Culled from jam sessions when Brams visited Stevens at his New York home, it's an extension of that last record's unfurling transitions. There's been so much talk of staying productive and meditative at home, in order to find a balance between keeping up with and keeping a peaceful distance from the pandemic. Aporia is a soothing enough guide to help actualize that.