Weekend Replay: Releases from ZAYN, Carrie Underwood, Bebe Rexha, and more

Happy Saturday! This will be the first in a series of posts catching up on new music released that week. Obviously, I won’t be able to talk about everything that came out, but I’ll share some new tracks that were notable for me.

Let’s start with Zayn Malik. His most recent release was a track with Sia titled “Dusk Till Dawn,” which came out last September, but then he went quiet. That is, until “Let Me.” It’s a sweet song that’ll be a feature on modern romantic playlists for the next few months, at least. Lyrically, it’s a quintessential love song: “Baby let me be your man so I can love you / And if you let me be your man, then I’ll take care of you for the rest of my life.” It’s sugary, but nothing particularly new or groundbreaking. But the real highlight, as with the majority of Malik’s music, is his voice. He makes every note, even the highest runs, sound effortless. Maybe it’s the cheesy sincerity of the lyrics, or maybe it’s the falsettos, or something about the beat, but there’s a quality about this song that reminds me of late ’90s/early ’00s boy band music. Not that that’s a bad thing. Considering his debut solo album tried a little too hard to fit the modern mold, a little positive nostalgia doesn’t hurt.

Next up is Carrie Underwood. Back in November, she made celebrity headlines after injuring her face in a fall, requiring stitches. So to complement her upcoming public reappearance at the Academy of Country Music Awards on April 15, she released “Cry Pretty” on Wednesday. It’s a welcome change from the singles she’s released over the last few years—as opposed to older chart-toppers like “Two Black Cadillacs,” “Little Toy Guns,” and “Church Bells,” “Cry Pretty” is less plot-focused and finally seems to showcase the nuances of her voice. It opens with Underwood singing over a simple bass line, and builds into a soaring chorus that declares: “You can pretty smile and just walk away / Pretty much fake your way through anything / But you can’t cry pretty.” It’s an earnest ode to human emotion and the fact that sometimes, we just have to let it out.

Bebe Rexha‘s name might not sound familiar, but her voice will. Perhaps best known for singing the chorus on “Hey Mama” alongside Nicki Minaj, David Guetta, and Afrojack, or most recently from her collaboration with Florida Georgia Line on “Meant to Be,” Rexha quietly released two solo tracks this week. “2 Souls on Fire,” featuring Quavo, follows the electro-pop path she’s established as the bread and butter of her discography, but it feels boring next to “Ferrari.” “Ferrari” lets Rexha’s unique voice shine, with the vocals laid over a bass-driven track that opens to an airy chorus of ‘oohs’ interspersed with the sentiment: “Living in the fast lane’s getting kind of lonely.” Many artists have a song that reflects on the effects of notoriety, and this is Rexha’s version, touching on getting caught up in the culture of fame: “Not trying to say I’m not grateful for everything / I’m just going too fast to see all the good things in front of me.”

5 Seconds of Summer all but disappeared after wrapping up their headlining tour in 2015. But in February, the pop-rock band made their comeback, dropping a brand-new single—”Want You Back“—and embarking on a small-venue tour to start previewing new music. This week’s release, “Youngblood,” shares a name with the upcoming third album. Where “Want You Back” dipped into ultra-modern production and fell flat, “Youngblood” is sadly not the Green Day cover I initially thought it would be, but is a much more successful sonic progression for the band. Incorporating contemporary effects alongside the guitar-driven sound they already do so well, the vibe of “Youngblood” as an interesting one. It’s melancholic and angsty but energetic, closer to kind of sound that became emblematic of the pop-punk sound that the band have been saying is one of their biggest influences—just with the right touches that bring it into 2018.

Florence + The Machine, too, have been fairly quiet since their 2015 album, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. Heralding the group’s imminent fourth album—which will be titled High As Hope—”Sky Full Of Song” is a striking song in its power. The instrumentation consists of soft strings that serve as an ambient backdrop for frontwoman Florence Welch’s voice. The melody is simple, the lyrics written in a poetic meter, and if anyone with a less charismatic voice tried to sing this, it would be boring. But it’s not. Welch’s voice is exactly what this stripped-down song calls for. She tells the listener a story of a lonely ascension (thematically, it could be the wiser, older cousin of Rexha’s “Ferrari” from another universe), each lyric written for maximum effect: “I want you so badly but you could be anyone / I couldn’t hide from the thunder in the sky full of song.” And on top of all this, it’s also deceptively catchy.

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