Miguel, “War & Leisure” (RCA)
Until his newly released “War & Leisure,” Miguel Jontel Pimentel — Miguel to you — was an electro-soul lover man from Pedro, Calif., making sensual moves in the midnight hour. Although he started off needing and pleading through a conventional R&B palette with 2010’s “All I Want Is You,” by 2015’s “Wildheart,” Miguel was getting strange with Jim Morrison-like poetry about fantastic L.A. and weird scenes inside the gold mine to go with his robo-soul.
“War & Leisure” luxuriates in its spare, psychedelic edge while trading synths and sequencers for echoing guitars, and finds its crooner/songwriter trafficking, lyrically, in a lousy political and environmental climate.
Issues of immigration and inequity waft through the spacious “Now” like smog on a hot Los Angeles afternoon. The frisky funk of “Told You So” is a lover’s lament that teaches with a whisper rather than preaches with a scream. That said, it’s never as though Miguel’s given up the slow, sexy burn or the ribald come-on while addressing politics and consciousness. He’s just mixing it up with sociocultural bon mots, as on the pre-sex epic “Pineapple Skies,” and the fuzz-toned “City of Angels,” the latter tale balancing the downright torrid with the unjustly tragic. With a buzz-worthy word here and phrase there, Miguel infuses “War & Leisure” with the vibe of a red-light news crawl.
A.D. Amorosi, Philadelphia Inquirer
Sevyn Streeter, “Girl Disrupted” (Atlantic)
It was the album that many fans of Sevyn Streeter thought might never happen, and the singer didn’t either. Nearly 15 years into a career that included stints in two short-lived groups, writing credits for R&B pop stars such as Ariana Grande, Chris Brown, Brandy, Kelly Rowland, Alicia Keys, Tamar Braxton and Fantasia Barrino and two well-received EPs, Streeter was ready for the world to hear her debut album.
She had everything an upstart could ask for — the backing of a major label, a sturdy fan base, countless industry co-signs, a platinum radio hit and a Grammy — yet Streeter kept finding the project stalled while she navigated some heavy personal and professional hurdles.
As the adage goes, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned — and “Girl Disrupted,” the singer’s resulting project, is proof of that. “I lost a fight with my heart, I lost my way in the dark. But look at me now,” she sings on the album’s raw opener, “Livin’,” a track that details the depression that once suffocated the singer.
Like her earlier EPs, “Girl Disrupted” updates the sweet era of ’90s R&B when strong female voices such as TLC, Mary J. Blige, Mariah Carey, SWV and Brandy balanced lush, soulful harmonies with swaggering, hip-hop-dipped edge.
Love, loyalty and liberation are a central thread of the album. Woozy bangers from The-Dream and Tricky Stewart, Hitmaka, Bangladesh and Cam Wallace were made for moving bodies, especially songs that re-imagine retro R&B hits from Faith Evans, SWV and New Edition into sultry new grooves.
But the album hits its highest notes when Streeter is focused on tender, revelatory moments. Bedroom grooves such as “Been a Minute,” “My Love for You” and the risqué “Peace Sign” are breathy, seductive delights, while “How Many” is a scathing tongue lashing from Beyoncé’s school of “Lemonade.”
If you check out only one track from the record, let that be the Stereotypes-produced “Before I Do.” It’s a lush groove that recalls the timeless love ballads of Whitney Houston and is one of the year’s finest R&B jams.
Gerrick D. Kennedy, Los Angeles Times
• Jeremy McComb, “Troublemaker”
• Watain, “Trident Wolf Eclipse”