From Harry Styles‘ bid for rock artistry to Miley Cyrus‘ move toward sun-kissed singer-songwriter fare, these are the best songs and albums from this week.
Paramore, After Laughter
…comes tears? Normally, pop-punk heroes Paramore would never give you the satisfaction, but in these “Hard Times,” they could be forgiven for letting their mascara run a little on the way to the party. Luckily, if the band’s resolution is a little wobblier than usual, so are their rhythms — loose-limbed alt-funk with a beachy disposition that puts the “wave” in their new wave retro. More importantly, the band’s songwriting is confident as ever, with perfect gobstoppers like “Grudges” and “Forgiveness” so irresistible in their intricate melodies and delectable choruses that it might take you a while to reach the lyrical bitterness at their core. In the more literal sense, it’s the band’s weakest album; in the way that matters, it’s one of their strongest. — Andrew Unterberger
Harry Styles, Harry Styles
At some point in the trajectory of a pop group member who goes successfully solo, he or she is no longer considered as part of a former whole, but as their own singular artist. We don’t say “former Destiny’s Child leader Beyoncé” or “former *NSYNC star Justin Timberlake” anymore — and with his self-titled debut, Harry Styles sets forth on his path to erase the “former One Direction member” shorthand. Thankfully, his first solo foray is uncompromising in its vision and unabashed in its influences, eschewing modern pop and presenting a well-rounded ’70s rock fantasia. “Sign of the Times” may never become a ubiquitous smash, but with this album, Styles shows that he’s in it for the long game, separating himself from his boy band past and flaunting a songcraft that would be enviable in any time period. Who needs a radio hit when you can have a rock n’ roll career? — Jason Lipshutz
Miley Cyrus, “Malibu”
While Miley Cyrus’ first single from the proper pop follow-up to Bangerz is certainly a departure from debauchery, it’s not the 180 some might say – after all, “Malibu” (which Miley told Billboard she wrote in a cab en route to The Voice while thinking about fiancé Liam Hemsworth) is cowritten by Oren Yoel, who also worked on Bangerz‘s sublime ballad “Adore You.” As for “Malibu,” it’s a gorgeous mix of early aughts Sheryl Crow and sun-kissed ’70s California radio pop. Unlike Cyrus’ past pop smashes, the chorus glides by instead of bashing you over the head, gently inserting itself into your subconscious by virtue of its loveliness and not its blunt simplicity.
Calvin Harris ft. Khalid and Future, “Rollin”
This year’s best new artist is undoubtedly Khalid, a 19 year old with disarmingly sweet, heartfelt croon. While an imposingly talented singer being that young is surprising, what’s outright shocking is that EDM hitmaker Calvin Harris is taking 2017 as a chance to make music that moves away from the clubs and into critical darling territory. In the same vein as his instant classic “Slide” featuring Frank Ocean and Migos, “Rollin” taps Khalid and Future for a sinuous synth-funk jam that is astonishingly great.
PWR BTTM, Pageant
As queer glitter punk duo PWR BTTM prepped to drop its second album Pageant, allegations of Ben Hopkins’ sexual abuses have understandably overshadowed the album itself (the band has issued a statement on it). But looking at the album on its own merits, Pageant is a stunning, witty and occasionally heartbreaking diary on what it feels like for a young queer person to oscillate between sass and self-doubt on a daily basis. “Answer My Text” is cheeky sing-song pop-punk, “LOL” is quavering indie rock introspection with operatic backing vocals, and the defiant “Sissy” exemplifies why anyone derisively slapped with that word is inherently stronger than the scared bullies who consider “sissy” a put down.