Neil Young’s Call to Action, and 14 More New Songs

Neil Young’s Call to Action, and 14 More New Songs

When “Shut It Down” appeared on “Colorado,” the 2019 album Neil Young made with Crazy Horse, it was a stomp-and-drone reproach to climate change. A few months later, with economies worldwide partly shut down, Young’s words about “People trying to save this earth from an ugly death” register differently, especially tied to a video showing deserted landmarks worldwide and the efforts of medical workers, as well as Young and Crazy Horse in the studio (long before social distancing). The music is a slight remix of the album track, while events have shifted everything. JON PARELES

Laura Marling’s quietly magnificent new album, “Song for Our Daughter,” contemplates the many ways a relationship can crumble: “Note by note, bruise by bruise/Sometimes the hardest thing to learn is what you get from what you lose,” she reflects in “Blow by Blow.” The album’s music could have come out of Laurel Canyon in 1972: rooted in folk, with instruments and vocals in close-up, but more than adept at graceful studio illusion. In “Blow by Blow,” discreet piano chords are joined by strings and distant voices, and nothing obscures the emotion. PARELES

Sometime in self-quarantine, Tyler Joseph wrote his first song on the guitar, a delicious bit of ’80s pop-funk that revels in its simplicity — a less-common choice for Joseph, the duo’s songwriting engine and a studio maximalist. Anxiety has always been a core part of the Twenty One Pilots proposition, so its first lines, “Panic on the brain, world has gone insane/Things are starting to get heavy,” are familiar terrain. The solution here is a personal connection — a quarantine partner, someone to calm his itchy mind. The video shows Joseph and the drummer Josh Dun at home with their families and passing back and forth a memory stick (Postal Service style, sort of), ending with a calming promise: “We’ll be OK. We’re gonna be OK.” CARYN GANZ

Charli XCX battles her own affectionate sentiments in “Forever,” a song at odds with itself; two electronics-loving producers, A.G. Cook and BJ Burton, share the credits. From the start, her neat, poppy melody is besieged by distortion. Although the noise recedes for a chorus that insists, “I’ll love you forever” before an impending separation, it returns, scraping and hissing and whooshing and revving up, as if to insist that there’s no way things will go smoothly. PARELES

It’s hard to believe that Alison Mosshart, of the Kills and the Dead Weather, hasn’t made a solo single until now. “Rise” stays close to the bluesy foreboding of her other bands. A thumping drum and a bare-bones guitar shuffle surge into visions of dire times and a promise to outlast them. PARELES

Into the grand global slowdown seeps Frank Ocean, his voice powerful and a little reluctant. These new songs — he debuted versions of them at his PrEP+ parties last fall — show Ocean reducing his sound to a kind of ambient folk music, overlaid with soul plaint. The result is like new age music that doesn’t soothe: The pace is molasses, the anguish will make you wince. These are marked as acoustic versions, though they feel like a post-technological kind of acoustic, slightly dirty and uncertain. (“Cayendo,” which includes Ocean singing in Spanish and echoes of Sade’s “Love Is Stronger Than Pride,” is the more jolting of the two.) On the vinyl releases of these songs, though — which were put on sale last fall but have not yet been released — the B-sides are both dance remixes: Justice on “Dear April,” Sango on “Cayendo.” JON CARAMANICA

How are you ending your conversations these days? “Stay safe”? “Stay healthy”? It’s getting repetitive, right? Not to mention a little dispiriting. How about “Stay beautiful”? This newly released single from Damon Locks, a sound and visual artist based in Chicago, was left off last year’s “Where Future Unfolds,” the debut album from his Black Monument Ensemble. Locks begins the track with a poem about lying in bed sick and finding a bouquet of flowers at his bedside. It’s accompanied by a note that ends with the words, “Stay beautiful.” In the five minutes of music that follow, those are the only lyrics — sung by a half-dozen voices in a cascade of swelling harmonies while the percussionists Dana Hall and Arif Smith stutter through a lethargic dub beat, and Angel Bat Dawid adds quiet puffs of bass clarinet. GIOVANNI RUSSONELLO

The Korean-American songwriter, singer and producer Yaeji has made an aesthetic out of feigned tentativeness. “Ahem, 1, 2” is how she begins “When I Grow Up” from her mixtape “What We Drew.” She builds electronic beats and bass lines from half-muffled sounds; she sings and raps, in Korean and English, in a voice that only moves between a whisper and the mildest coo. But her beats are insidiously kinetic, and her enigmatic lyrics are far from dance-floor throwaways: “Feeling like I, I’ve been exposed/To the ones I shouldn’t know.” PARELES

The one-man studio band Ernest Greene has been releasing woozy electro-pop since 2011 under the name Washed Out. “Too Late” marks his return to Sub Pop, the label that released “Within and Without” and “Paracosm,” both outstanding examples of what was once called “chillwave.” His new track picks up where he left off there: lush vocals, quavering synth bass, throwback electronic drums and an intense sense of longing. GANZ

A tender, not fully formed singer-songwriter with a fervent online fan base, Alec Benjamin has been inching his way toward ubiquity for the past few years with songs that often sound so fragile they might shatter. “Six Feet Apart,” his entry into the quarantine-pop sweepstakes, plays to his strengths — a warbly voice, a Sheeran-esque sense of simplicity. “I miss you most at six feet apart/when you’re right outside my window/but can’t ride inside my car,” he sings. Benjamin still sounds fragile here, but it’s all held together with a heavy dollop of the thickest, most viscous sap. CARAMANICA

“What’s that silence inside me/that expands into the dark?” Samantha Crain sings to start “Holding to the Edge of Night.” With resonant fingerpicking, foundational electronic bass tones and a hint of Crain’s Choctaw heritage in her vocal quavers, the song gazes inward, serenely questing. PARELES

Somber piano and plush strings carry Toni Braxton’s most sisterly, consoling voice as she proffers clear, increasingly insistent advice: ditch the psychologically abusive boyfriend before he does any further damage. “Even God don’t understand why/You forgave him so many times,” she chides, ever so sympathetically. PARELES

Please do not make me go through this again. Not all earnest gestures are worthy ones. Here’s the direct link to donate to the Recording Academy Musicares Covid-19 Relief Fund — skip the song, there is enough misery floating around. CARAMANICA

An industrious pianist, bandleader and organizer, Arturo O’Farrill comes by his vocation by way of family tradition: His father, Chico O’Farrill, led an influential Latin jazz big band in the mid-to-late 20th century, and Arturo has passed along the trade to two musician sons. In his own music, O’Farrill has never stopped rolling forward while also keeping faith with the fundamentals of Afro-Caribbean folkloric music. On its surface, “Baby Jack” is a sharply contemporary piece, but at moments the rhythmic tumble of rumba creeps in from below; elsewhere, the harmonies of the horns make a subtle nod to the romantic tradition of Cuban danzón. RUSSONELLO


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