Every Friday, pop critics for The New York Times weigh in on the week’s most notable new songs and videos — and anything else that strikes them as intriguing. This week, Julien Baker returns with a beautifully haunting song, Miley Cyrus drops the title track from her new album and Radiator Hospital release a dreamy indie-rock tune.
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In 2014, just before he took a hard turn toward the dance floor, Justin Bieber released “Home to Mama,” a lithe acoustic duet with the Australian would-be teen dream Cody Simpson. His singing was casually tender, his best mode — Mr. Bieber is a singer who sounds more impressive the less pressure is applied to him. I bring this up because each time I’ve played the new Bieber single, “Friends,” Spotify auto-plays a different song afterward (including “Home to Mama”) and all of them have been more effective. “Friends” sizzles but doesn’t innovate — it’s the singer at his most manipulated. Play it til the end, then see what comes next. JON CARAMANICA
There are few voices in indie rock more conspiratorial, more resilient, more casually harrowing than Julien Baker’s. On “Appointments” — the first single from a new album, “Turn Out the Lights,” due in October — she sings with fervor and fever, amplified by dizzying, haunted stacked harmonies and a piano rumbling toward a low squall. J.C.
“I’ve got all the trouble I’m ever gonna need, and I just don’t want no more,” Lee Ann Womack sings in this bitter blues — at first accompanied only by a bleak low drone. Then, as she goes further into bitter tribulation, she’s propelled by a snowballing production that starts like roots-rock but surges toward much darker, more desperate realms. JON PARELES
A post-Lil Yachty melodic piano-rap ditty by a teenage Lothario flirting by telling his girl that her body is as hot as a certain condiment — sure, why not? Absurd like a Lonely Island sketch and aw-shucks tender like MattyB, this song exists both as straightforward fun and meme-culture eye-roll. “When you come around, you spice it up,” Marteen sings, both in on the joke and also very much not above it. J.C.
Perhaps Miley Cyrus is the most modern of pop stars because she treats her career like a series of tech product launches: every new cycle has effectively begun with a hard-drive cleanse, purging old modes, thoughts and controversies so as to make room for new ones. Or maybe she’s effortlessly at peace no matter the circumstance. “Even though it’s not who I am, I’m not afraid of who I used to be,” she belts on her new single, “Younger Now,” the title track from her new album, due in September. In the video, she sports an Elvis pouf and a rockabilly aesthetic, which given her history, is laden with meaning, but which given her penchant for remaking herself on the fly, might not mean a thing. J.C.
Mr. Speed plays a number of reed instruments, and it’s led to an inevitable hybridity. Even when he’s playing the tenor saxophone, his main instrument, Mr. Speed’s muted warble bears the delicateness of a clarinet. It serves him finely on “Platinum on Tap,” his new album with the bassist Chris Tordini and the rugged drummer Dave King. It spills with gleeful interplay, often over a tumbling swing feel, but Mr. Speed starts the album gently, with an original ballad, “Red Hook Nights." The tune boasts the kind of simple, heart-swelling melody that’s hard to come by anymore. GIOVANNI RUSSONELLO
The independent hip-hop antihero MF Doom began his career as Zev Love X in the group KMD, which released one outstanding album, “Mr. Hood,” in 1991, and then was dropped from its label when the lynching-themed cover art for its second album, “Black Bastards,” was deemed too controversial. It took years before MF Doom re-emerged and when he did, it was as a tragic poet, a sterling rapper with an aching presence. He’s released several albums under several aliases, but “True Lightyears” marks the first song billed to KMD in a decade, and the first single from a coming KMD album, “Crack in Time,” which will be the group’s first full-length release in 25 years (missing DJ Subroc, Zev Love X’s brother, who died in 1993). The song stutters beautifully, with Doom leaning in to his whimsically disruptive imagery, and featuring a characteristically gnomic verse by Jay Electronica. J.C.
The brightness and sweetness of Radiator Hospital is always masking something that’s, if not sinister, then at least reflective and sad. The concise, dreamy “Dance Number” — the first single from a new album, “Radiator Hospital Play the Songs You Like,” due in October — is no different. The frontman, Sam Cook-Parrott, is an effective pleader, and unafraid of letting his anguish show: “I’m feeling sick and tired/in new and frightening ways.” J.C.
Residente, from Calle 13, recorded the plangent vocal chorales for “Guerra” in the Caucasus, drawing music from both sides of a longtime war zone. The lyrics begin with the rapper “made of war,” personified as a pitiless, incessant force of nature. But at the end there’s a message of reconciliation: “War loses all its battles/when enemies listen to each other.” The video Residente directed has soldiers and civilians shooting, fleeing and bleeding in rubble-strewn streets, then moves to the faces of people in a refugee camp on the border of Syria and Lebanon. Over a guitar-noise coda, the video shows a blonde, oblivious suburban family, with a scowling son concealing a book titled “Revolution” — a warning, perhaps, that the cycle isn’t over. J.P.
At this point, we can say it plain: If a Chicago jazz musician of any repute puts out an album, give it a shot. The city never lost its place as a hub for improvised music, but nowadays the bounties run especially thick. Mr. Reed, a drummer and club proprietor, is one of the scene’s major driving forces. His latest album of original music, “Flesh & Bone,” out next week, began as a reflection on a harrowing (and, this week, newly relevant) experience: On tour in the Czech Republic, he and three band mates found themselves trapped for hours, fearing for their lives, in the middle of a violent neo-Nazi rally. Written in the wake of that misadventure, “Flesh & Bone” shines its light through a fog of bewilderment and outrage — moving from Mingus-esque miniature arrangements to open-air improvisations to the occasional splash of spoken-word poetry. On “A Separatist Party,” Jason Stein’s bass clarinet dances in a coy, misfit step with the Greg Ward and Tim Haldeman’s saxophones. On bass, Jason Roebke locks in with Mr. Reed for a head-down, sticks-up rock beat. G.R.