Billie Eilish, “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” (Interscope)
If being a teenager is often such a torturous living hell, why is teen pop such a slick, artificial enterprise? Because sex, romance and escapism sell, I suppose. But so can alienation, awkwardness and uncertainty when packaged in a properly appealing way.
That’s where Eilish comes in. She is a 17-year-old Los Angeles songwriter who makes homemade, woozy, deceptively accomplished goth-electro songs. Eilish, the daughter of two actors, was already fabulously popular before this big-question-pondering debut album came out; she started gathering steam when her “Ocean Eyes” debut single went viral in 2016, and, along with hundreds of millions of song streams, she’s acquired 16 million Instagram followers.
The speed with which Eilish, who has perfected a Marilyn Manson dead-eye stare, has become successful has led to the suspicion that she’s a mere industry creation. Not so. “When We Fall Asleep” is a thoroughly assured effort cloaked in darkness and sputtering effects that features spot-on songwriting at its core, along with a say-no-to-drugs message on “Xanny.” Parents, don’t be concerned your daughters are listening to this disturbingly disaffected new music. Instead, congratulate them on their good taste.
Dan Deluca, Philadelphia Inquirer
Khalid, “Free Spirit” (RCA)
Three years ago, Khalid was an El Paso high school student who played his first show in a coffee shop. This summer, the budding R&B superstar will headline arenas, including Xcel Energy Center July 23.
His new album shows exactly how that meteoric rise happened and why it is totally deserved. Khalid is one of a growing number of R&B artists drawing inspiration from indie rock.
Sometimes the influence is obvious, like on “Outta My Head,” which features John Mayer. And there are elements of latter-day Prince in “Bluffin” and the lush epic “Heaven.”
However, Khalid fares far better when the scales are tipped more in the favor of R&B. The album’s singles — the laid-back “Better” and the gorgeous, EDM-influenced “Talk,” produced by Disclosure — hit No. 1 and 2 on Billboard’s R&B charts. The groove-driven “Right Back” should follow, along with the funky, loping “Paradise.”
But the genre trappings turn out to be beside the point on “Free Spirit.” Khalid’s vocals, from his lower register to sweet falsetto, warm up every song, and his detail-oriented, personal lyrics always draw the listener in.
With “Free Spirit,” Khalid establishes himself as one of music’s best new artists, following in the footsteps of Frank Ocean and Solange, but creating his own path up both the pop and R&B charts.
Glenn Gamboa, Newsday
• BTS, “Map Of The Soul: Persona”
• Anderson.Paak, “Ventura”
• Bruce Hornsby, “Absolute Zero”
• Broken Social Scene, “Let’s Try the After – Vol. 2”
• Glen Hansard, “This Wild Willing”
• Melissa Etheridge, “The Medicine Show”