Gwen Stefani’s Ska-Pop Flashback, and 10 More New Songs

Gwen Stefani’s Ska-Pop Flashback, and 10 More New Songs

12/11/2020

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 theplaylist@nytimes.com and sign up for our Louder newsletter, a once-a-week blast of our pop music coverage.

Gwen Stefani, ‘Let Me Reintroduce Myself’

When the brash, sneering No Doubt frontwoman Gwen Stefani emerged in the mid-90s to break up the boys-club monopoly of alternative rock, it would have been hard to predict where she’d be now, at 51. She is arguably even more of a household name than in the “Tragic Kingdom” days, but occupies a space at the deadest center of centrist pop — a fixture on a broadcast TV singing competition that is (somehow) in its 20th season, and an occasional (if sonically ill-suited) duet partner with her country-star fiancé. Her new single, the not-so-subtly-titled “Let Me Reintroduce Myself,” gestures back to Stefani’s middle period of, roughly, “Rock Steady” through “Hollaback Girl,” assuring the skeptical listener that she’s still “the original, original old” Gwen. A few clunky verse lyrics protest a bit too much (“It’s not a comeback, I’m recycling me”), but when her brassy voice rises to match the ska instrumentation of the chorus, there’s a fleeting rush of that old No Doubt magic. LINDSAY ZOLADZ

Troye Sivan, Kacey Musgraves and Mark Ronson, ‘Easy’

The neon-kissed “Easy” was already a highlight off the Australian pop sweetheart Troye Sivan’s recent EP, “In a Dream,” but a new mix by Mark Ronson and guest vocals from Kacey Musgraves kick it into another gear. Ronson’s production expands the song’s spacious atmosphere, accentuating an echoing New Order bass line, starry synth flourishes and cavernous percussion. For all her disco flirtations on “High Horse,” Musgraves has never lent her benevolent croon to a song so straightforwardly poppy before — but she sounds so at home that it’s worth wondering if this hints at a potential post-“Golden Hour” direction. ZOLADZ

John Carpenter, ‘The Dead Walk’

The director John Carpenter is a full-fledged musician who has also composed the scores for many of his films. “The Dead Walk” is from an album due in 2021, “Lost Themes III,” of music without movies. It’s a martial, suspenseful, pumping, minor-key synthesizer melody, with a guitar overlay, that has its beat drop out midway through, for blurred piano arpeggios, only to resume with even more ominous intent. JON PARELES

George Coleman Quintet, ‘Sandu’

In 1971, seven years after his tenure with Miles Davis’s famed quintet, the saxophonist George Coleman was revving up his career as a bandleader in his own right. On this newly discovered live recording, “The George Coleman Quintet in Baltimore,” Coleman — an inveterate weight lifter — drives the band like a personal trainer, while syncing up with the colorful trumpet phrasing of Danny Moore and the brawny Midwestern swing of Larry Ridley’s bass. On “Sandu,” a classic Clifford Brown blues, Moore nods to its author with a few upturned, pretty lines, but he’s working out his own shapes. On Coleman’s solo, his fits of circular breathing seem to call back to the old R&B saxophone hollerers of generations before. GIOVANNI RUSSONELLO

Funkmaster Flex featuring King Von, ‘Lurkin’

The first single from the forthcoming Funkmaster Flex compilation — 1990s back! — is a taut example of the storytelling rap that made the Chicago rapper King Von, who was killed last month, such a compelling talent. JON CARAMANICA

Benny the Butcher, ‘3:30 in Houston’

Benny the Butcher raps “3:30 in Houston” from a wheelchair — the result of getting shot last month in an attempted robbery. At first, he’s laughing a little — after all, he notes, he’s been on the other side of a robbery in his day. But midsong, as he relives the moment of the attack, the mood sours:

Rolls-Royce truck basically stood out
Only one mistake, I ain’t have a lookout
Quarter in jewels, shopping at Walmart
Take me out the hood but can’t take the hood out

Soon, it’s a deadpan revenge tale, including the suggestion that someone’s “pinkie finger’s getting sent to me.” CARAMANICA

King Princess, ‘Pain’

“Cheap Queen,” Mikaela Straus’s 2019 full-length debut as King Princess, was a relatively subdued affair, full of mid-tempo tunes that telegraphed laid-back cool. So the in-your-face energy of her latest single “Pain” is certainly a departure, but it works: The kinetic maximalism of the song’s early 90s touchstones — a “Freedom! ’90” keyboard riff; some “Tom’s Diner” do-do-dos — keep the song from wallowing in the muck of its moody subject matter. “I can’t help turning my love into pain,” Straus croons. The playful music video, directed by Quinn Wilson, conjures some cartoonishly masochistic imagery, with that titular word suddenly appearing like the bam and pows in an old “Batman” episode. ZOLADZ

Sturgill Simpson, ‘O Sarah’

“Oh Sarah” is a desolate Southern soul ballad on Sturgill Simpson’s 2016 album, “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth,” losing itself in the loneliness and transience of the road: “Too old now to learn how to let you in/so I run away just like I always do.” On “Cuttin’ Grass — Vol. 2 (Cowboy Arms Sessions),” his second album of bluegrass remakes from his catalog, it’s far more reassuring, rooted in string-band picking. It’s a vow of enduring love despite the separations: “Don’t worry baby, I’ll come home.” PARELES

Elle King, ‘Another You’

Bitterness seethes and crests as the string section swells in Elle King’s “Another You,” a knife-twisting response to a message from a despised ex. In the verses she details his failings, almost singing through clenched teeth; in the chorus, she belts with vindictive joy about a new romance, proclaiming, “It wasn’t hard to fill your shoes.” PARELES

El Perro del Mar featuring Blood Orange, ‘Alone in Halls’

“I’m going through changes,” El Perro del Mar — the Swedish composer and singer Sarah Assbring — sings and speaks, again and again, in “Alone in Halls,” over two organlike chords that feel like inhales and exhales. She’s joined, now and then, by the voice of Blood Orange (Dev Hynes). Aren’t we all going through changes? PARELES

Moontype, ‘Ferry’

“I wanna take the ferry to Michigan,” Margaret McCarthy sings, buoyed by oceanic guitar distortion on the chorus of “Ferry,” the first single from the Chicago indie-rock trio Moontype’s upcoming debut album. “Ferry” marries the woozy swoon of Beach House with the rising sweep of a Galaxie 500 song, though McCarthy’s voice cuts through the haze with direct emotional lucidity. ZOLADZ

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