Zayn Malik, "Mind of Mine" (RCA)

Malik's unexpected exit last year from One Direction, at the height of the boy band's stadium-filling fame, seemed like one of the most ill-advised moves in pop music history at the time. Now, with the release of his debut, exactly one year after he left the band, Malik's move seems nothing short of brilliant.

Timing is everything. And "Mind of Mine" now positions Malik at the tail end of the Weeknd's promotional cycle and before Frank Ocean unleashes his much-anticipated follow-up to "Channel Orange." Malik's brand of R&B bridges the gap between the two, with a bit of pop-leaning Justin Timberlake thrown in for good measure.

The mix is obviously right on time, considering how his first single, "Pillowtalk," debuted at No. 1, something One Direction has never done. "Pillowtalk" is a good introduction to the album, featuring the push-and-pull of a relationship that refers to their bed as "It's our paradise and it's our war zone."

However, "Mind of Mine" only gets deeper and more impressive from there. On "It's You," Malik's clear, swooping, Sigur Ros-like falsetto rings true on the tender, spare ballad, which producer Malay opens with an organ sound similar to the one he used for Ocean's memorable "Bad Religion."

While Malik may not have Ocean's lyrical depth just yet, this is also no teenybop album. The 23-year-old's skill makes "Befour" — which seems to be a rebellion against the constraints on him during his time in One Direction — a sleek, groove-filled good time, even while adding the final kiss-off, "I've done this before, not like this."

Whether it's the decadent, lush "Drunk" or the stark "Wrong," "Mind of Mine" is clearly Malik's creation, one that may take him to unexpected new heights just by being himself.

Glenn gamboa, Newsday


Margo Price, "Midwest Farmer's Daughter" (Third Man)

Price arrives with no shortage of hard-core country cred. The Nashville guitarist and songwriter, who grew up in Illinois on a family farm that failed, recorded her solo debut at Sun Studios in Memphis, and it's the first straight-up country record on Jack White's Third Man record label. The lead single, "Hurtin' (on the Bottle)," is a rowdy, classic country drinking song about the folly of attempting to drown one's sorrows with a would-be remedy "that don't touch the pain you put on me."

The album cuts deeper than that, though, with songs like the emotionally devastating "Hands of Time," tired-of-waiting "Four Years of Chances," and "This Town Gets Around," which hints at casting-couch sleaziness in the way business gets done in Music City. All those, and the quiet closer "World's Greatest Loser," bring a sharp singer- songwriter sensibility without watering down the whiskey-swigging traditionalist approach that's at the heart of Price's music.

dan deluca, Philadelphia Inquirer

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