With a raging pandemic, an election just a week away, and acts of violence that continue to plague American cities, there's no shame in taking a break from refreshing that news feed. Refresh your mind instead, by diving into these new music releases that match the current mood.
“Somewhere (Alternate Version),” Aretha Franklin
The Aretha Franklin biopic, Respect, was delayed seven months, and will now come out in August 2021. And that's fine with me—whatever it takes to portray the Queen of Soul's life and career accurately. In the mean time, there's a new career-spanning box set album coming out. The 81-tracks on Aretha include 19 previously unreleased demos, rarities and live performances from Aretha Franklin, and the four-CD box set is due out November 20. (Now if only the posthumous Aretha also came in vinyl, too....) The piano-driven song "Somewhere (Alternate Version)" is a lovely taste of the posthumous release, just another example of why we'll be listening to Franklin's voice for decades to come.
“Positions,” Ariana Grande
Yes folks, Ariana Grande is gearing up to drop a new album, and the title track/lead single just arrived on October 23. As expected, it's catchy, R&B-infused pop that is easily enjoyable even if Grande isn't great at enunciating and I have no idea what she's singing about. From what I gather, "Positions" is about Grande's ability to wear lots of different hats; she's a career woman and a woman with needs. The new music video for "Positions" is the most presidential thing you'll see all year, featuring Ari's version of a modern White House administration with the singer at the helm. Ari's cabinet is a slew of women, POC, and LGBTQ+ folks, and of course, fierce fashion choices in the vein of Jackie Kennedy and Olivia Pope abound. SIGH. Although it's probably well into the future, I look forward to the day we have a sexy president again, and/or our first non-male president.
"Only Time Makes It Human," King Princess
Mikaela Straus, the pop artist better known as King Princess, dropped this groovy new single in mid-October. Produced by Straus, regular collaborator Mike Malchicoff, co-produced by her Zelig Records label boss Mark Ronson, "Only Time Makes It Human" is an uptempo dancey number with a relentless beat that will be fun to experience live someday, once we can gather again. The song comes with a new video directed by Quinn Wilson as well, and includes a realistic avatar of King Princess created by 3D artist Pastelae.
"You've Got to Feel," Empress Of, Amber Mark
In addition to launching her own label called Major Arcana, Lorely Rodriguez just released a new Empress Of song into the world. This new collaborative single was co-written by Mark and Rodriguez, and Rodriguez acts as mostly producer for the new pop single, which showcases the soulful vocal prowess of Amber Mark. I don't know about ya'll, but I continue to devour Mark's set of EPs—2017's 3:33am and 2018's Conexão—and I'm always waiting with bated breath for anything new from the singer. The new single is about how to deal with internalizing systemic racism in America; it's both sonically and lyrically eerie, with a slight Halloween vibe: "You've got to feel to let it heal/You've got to love to rise above/You've got to scream like there's a dream/In someone's head, about to crash."
"Remove 45," De La Soul, Styles P, Talib Kweli, Chuck D, Mysonne, Pharoah Monch, Posdnuos
Just today, a bunch of prolific rappers got together and dropped the political single "Remove 45" a week before the election. Trigger warning: The beginning of this song doesn't qualify as refreshing or "taking a self-care break from the news," because it starts with a barrage of layered clips featuring Donald Trump's voice. (UGH!) The song calls out Trump for his many egregious actions and rhetoric he's made as president, from grabbing women by the pussy, to his racist policies, and record number of appointed justices. "What we need to do/We need to arrest the president." Amen! And the "1-2-3/ Remove 45" chant it closes with should be our mantra as we end this election and the year. The finer print here is: Let's remove this shit head/white supremacist/wannabe dictator whether he wins or not.
“Hold On,” H.E.R.
Debuting the song the same day as her SNL performance, H.E.R.'s "Hold On" follows recent single "Damage" and signals an upcoming album from the singer/songwriter/guitarist. The soul-drenched, guitar-forward single is about getting comfortable in a relationship, feeling like the only one holding onto a relationship, and wanting to break free. "I know if i hold onto you/I'm only hurting me," she emotively sings. But it's the guitar solo that does it for me.
“Lonely,” Justin Bieber feat. Benny Blanco
After dropping the faith-focused "Holy" featuring Chance the Rapper earlier this year, Justin Bieber gets real and vulnerable on "Lonely," and it's beautiful. "Everybody saw me sick/And it felt like no one gave a shit." The singer just announced a new YouTube series titled Next Chapter, the follow-up to his web series which promoted recent album Changes on the platform. With his Changes tour on hold until 2021, the pandemic gave him more time to enjoy being a newlywed, and apparently start writing another album. Beliebers, can I get an "Amen"? Listen to Bieber sing an acoustic version of "Lonely" in a recent video—it's perhaps one of his best performances ever.