Billboard’s First Stream serves as a handy guide to this Friday’s most essential releases — the key music that everyone will be talking about today, and that will be dominating playlists this weekend and beyond.
This week, PARTYNEXTDOOR resurfaces with a superstar friend, Coldplay take another sonic detour and Summer Walker continues to impress. Check out all of this week’s First Stream picks below:
The Song That’s Got an OVO Standout In His Feelings:
PARTYNEXTDOOR feat. Drake, “Loyal”
PARTYNEXTDOOR has largely been absent from the music world for the past two years, and for his highly anticipated comeback track — featuring his OVO label boss Drake, no less — PND has offered something simple, sweet and effective. “Loyal” has a straightforward sound and message, with both artists waxing poetic about romantic commitment over drums and little other production: “Pain goes away when you’re with me,” PND declares in Hallmark-card fashion, and Drake later croons, “You’re my best friend / You’re my best friend.” As PARTYNEXTDOOR returns to the scene (he has also released a solo track, “The News,” signaling more new music to come), the Canadian singer-songwriter does not overthink what would make a satisfying first step forward, and succeeds.
The Album That Wants To Start a Few Serious Conversations:
Coldplay, Everyday Life
When we last saw Coldplay, they had been palling around with the Chainsmokers on the smash single “Something Just Like This,” after releasing the colorful, happy-go-lucky album A Head Full of Dreams in 2015. Chris Martin and his cohorts have developed a habit of swerving away from their previous motifs, and Everyday Life is indeed a dramatic departure for the stadium rock band: a double album that focuses on broader human rights while embracing a pastiche of world music, the project finds Coldplay valuing experimentation over anthem-building. “Trouble In Town” includes a harrowing, real audio snippet of a policeman harassing a man for being nonwhite, while “Champion of the World” is an introspective rocker co-written by the late Frightened Rabbit frontman Scott Hutchison. There are strings, piano ballads and meditations on world politics elsewhere; Everyday Life demands a larger conversation instead of a quick description, and Coldplay sounds as vital as ever on its first album in four years.
The Song That Will Have You Dusting Off Those R&B Cassette Tapes:
Summer Walker feat. London On Da Track & Chris Brown, “Something Real”
It’s barely been two months since Summer Walker’s debut album Over It helped her break through as a bold new voice in mainstream R&B, and she’s already back with a new song that would have been an album highlight had it been included on the track list. “Something Real” lays out its pining-for-love themes while recalling ‘90s jams by Mary J. Blige and Boyz II Men, buy if Walker’s sound — courtesy of boyfriend London On Da Track, who’s pulling double duty as a guest vocalist here — is a throwback, her lyrical approach is deftly modern: “It’s some bullshit that I been through / Hope it’s not the same with you,” she clarifies. Walker is not wasting time on fake emotion, just as she’s zoomed into her genre’s spotlight in a very short time frame.
The Album That Finds an Alt-Rock Legend Dipping Into New Pop Sounds:
Ever since Beck shocked the world by winning the album of the year Grammy for the pensive, folk-first Morning Phase in 2015, the veteran singer-songwriter has been adamant in brightening up his sound, first with 2017’s radio-ready Colors and now with the dreamy Hyperspace. Co-produced by Pharrell Williams, the album keeps its song lengths lean and mostly sidesteps slower tempos (sorry, Sea Change fans), with the trippy “Chemical” contorting Beck’s voice like a balloon animal and “Die Waiting” combining an acoustic strum, drum machine and backing vocals from Sky Ferreira. Hyperspace grooves out more than it beckons to the dance floor, but Beck’s latest musical journey will entertain both novices and diehards alike.
The Song To Send Your Life Partner Midway Through the Work Day:
Maggie Rogers, “Love You For A Long Time”
Surely “Love You For A Long Time,” released one day after Maggie Rogers landed a Grammy nomination for best new artist, was not designed as a victory lap. Yet the new single, which follows Rogers’ debut LP Heard It in a Past Life from earlier this year, displays the gifted songwriting that has helped Rogers become one of the most compelling new voices of 2019. “Love You For a Long Time” is stripped of bells and whistles, with a simple vocal hook breaking up verses and a chorus all about enduring attraction: “So many things that I still wanna say / And if devotion is a river, then I’m floating away,” Rogers sings as the cymbals snap on the crisp pop-rock production. The timing of a post-nomination single release was coincidental, but “Love You For a Long Time” is a lovely reminder of why Rogers deserves to compete with Billie Eilish, Lizzo and Rosalia for best new artist in January.
The Album That Rocks The Hardest This Week (Even If It’s Not a Rock Album):
Jason Aldean, 9
“We cut the best songs we could find,” Jason Aldean recently told Billboard about his new album, 9. “It’s life stuff and it is what it is.” Indeed, the “life stuff” at the center of Aldean’s ninth studio set remains drinking, pickup trucks, family and a simple way of life; thematically, 9 is well-worn territory for Aldean, although the surprisingly hard-charging guitar work on the album is what sets it apart in his discography. From the snarling riff of opener “Tattoos and Tequila” to the electric interplay of hit single “We Back,” the most interesting moments of 9 are found when the mix makes Aldean sound like the leader of a late-‘80s hard rock band. The singer-songwriter is not trying to reinvent the wheel on 9, but Aldean’s full-throttle moments here will keep longtime fans engaged.
The Song That (Already) Wants To Be On Your Summer 2020 Playlist:
Harry Styles, “Watermelon Sugar”
Harry Styles’ 2017 self-titled debut was an exploration of classic rock songwriting structures that visited folk, psychedelia, hard rock and indie arrangements. As sophomore album Fine Line approaches, Styles is settling into a sound, and seems to be having a blast doing so. “Watermelon Sugar” is soulful and riotous, a full-blooded sing-along that forcefully loosens up any self-serious bone in Styles’ body and begs to be performed in front of a grooving crowd (Styles has already played the track on Saturday Night Live). As his solo music becomes more playful, Styles has sounded even more confident in his aesthetic; “Watermelon Sugar” is enjoyable enough to not need a hard sell, but Styles makes sure the listener is invited to his party, too.
The Album That Lets a Star Get Back To Being Herself:
Tinashe, Songs For You
Tinashe has become an artist whose industry struggles have defined her narrative as much as her excellent tunes: following her 2014 debut album Aquarius and its undeniable single “2 On,” the rhythmic pop newcomer saw her sophomore album Joyride delayed for years, and finally released in 2018 to little fanfare. Now an independent artist, Tinashe has unveiled Songs For You as a reclamation of that narrative: the 15-song project focuses on her strengths as a nuanced vocalist, capable of climbing to a captivating falsetto as well as hunkering down on rhymes, while also trying her hand at trap, house and dreamy soul music as R&B remains her home base. Songs like the throbbing dance cut “Die A Little Bit” and the somber 6lack collaboration “Touch & Go” showcase how multi-talented Tinashe remains, and how, with the right behind-the-scenes strategy, she’ll be around for the long haul.
The Song In Which An Unlikely Combo Pulls Off The Team-Up:
Stormzy feat. Ed Sheeran & Burna Boy, “Own It”
British rapper Stormzy’s 2017 album Gang Signs & Prayer was a tour de force, with bruising hip-hop tracks composing the majority of the track list but a pop sensibility snaking throughout the project. The 26-year-old leans more heavily in radio’s direction with “Own It,” a collaboration with his mate Ed Sheeran as well as soaring Nigerian star Burna Boy, after Stormzy guested on Sheeran’s No. 6 Collaborations Project earlier this year. Sheeran’s arrival midway through the track takes a little time to sound anything other than jarring, but “Own It” congeals around a savory R&B hook and holds up on replays. Most importantly, Stormzy sounds more than comfortable as the ringleader of this pop show; hopefully sophomore album Heavy Is the Head, due out in December, will compel American audiences to pay further attention to this U.K. star.