Robyn's first album in eight years opens with a song about death.
Maybe that's no surprise, considering how her friend and longtime collaborator Christian Falk died while she was working on the album.
The Swedish singer-songwriter established herself as one of pop music's brightest stars with a string of hits like "Dancing on My Own" and "Call Your Girlfriend" that combine heartbreak and dance beats.
But, Honey goes far deeper than her previous albums. It's a poignant, yet joyous, journey of healing that you can dance to every step of the way. Starting with the stark realization of "Missing U" and moving through life's rebuilding stages, Robyn eventually reaches the slinky, hopeful "Ever Again," in which she sings, "Never gonna be brokenhearted ever again, only going to sing about love ever again."
Most pop acts would launch their albums with "Ever Again," whose soothing synths and funky bass line conjure up memories of Prince in the "When U Were Mine" era. Honey often has the feel of Janet Jackson's janet album, especially in the gorgeous "Because It's in the Music," which shimmers in its disco-inspired string flourishes and thumping bass line.
However, Robyn is too crafty to do anything that straightforward. The bubbly yet chill "Beach2k20," produced by Mr. Tophat, is like a deconstructed house anthem, mixed with echoes of her breakthrough hit "Show Me Love." On the plaintive "Baby Forgive Me," she teams her breathy voice with a mechanically processed harmony that makes it sound like she's being haunted by the lyrics as she sings them.
The mood pivots in the title track, as if it's the moment when Robyn allows herself to be happy again. That's only fitting considering how much joy Honey will bring to the world as one of the year's best albums.
Hot tracks: "Missing U," "Ever Again," Beach2k20," "Honey"
-- GLENN GAMBOA
B Sam Phillips
World on Sticks
The world is a fragile place environmentally, socially and psychologically on Sam Phillips's 11th album. "How did we find ourselves living on top of the things that we don't want any more," Phillips sings on "American Landfill Kings." Many songs hope for resilience: "I finally taught the grief to walk behind me/today the sky was everything," she sings in the lovely "Candles and Stars."
In the time since 2013's Push Any Button, Phillips has been busy scoring TV projects for Amy Sherman-Palladino (The Gilmore Girls revival and Emmy-dominating The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), and some of the songs on World On Sticks have a cinematic quality, especially when the Section Quartet strings dominate. Others, such as the title track and "I Want To Be You," are clattery and percussive in ways Tom Waits would love (drummer Jay Bellerose is often prominent). Throughout, the songs are compact in length but spacious, with each instrument -- mostly drums, bass, and electric guitars or strings -- in sharp relief. They're tied together by Phillips's intricate melodies, world-weary voice and skeptical worldview.
Hot tracks: "Candles and Stars," "American Landfill King"
-- STEVE KLINGE
The Philadelphia Inquirer
B Usher and Zaytoven
The interminable wait for 2016's Hard II Love found Usher discarding such A-list material as 2014's excellent "Good Kisser," so streamlining his approach is a good look for the now 40-year-old R&B idol. His ninth album, A, is just eight songs entirely produced by Migos/Future whisperer Zaytoven, whose up-to-date trap 'n' B style is best consumed in under 30 minutes anyway.
After a too-typical Future duet for an opener, A is all aces, with the proudly Young Thug-influenced "Ye-la-le-le-la-la-le-le-le" hook of "Ata" flowing into the sexy sparseness of "Peace Sign" and "You Decide," which sounds like a Black Panther soundtrack deep cut gone a bit reggae. The gorgeous but lurid "Birthday" caps off one of the strongest sequences in Usher's catalog, so why does A still feel meaningless in its full effect? Maybe because 2012's thrilling Looking 4 Myself promised more innovations than just chasing the current sounds again, but this guy was also once Beyonce's peer.
Hot tracks: "Ata," "You Decide," "Peace Sign"
-- DAN WEISS
The Philadelphia Inquirer
Troye Sivan and Jonsi, "Revelation"
"Revelation" comes from the soundtrack to Boy Erased, the film about forced gay-conversion therapy. "How the tides are changing/As you liberate me now/And the walls come down," Troye Sivan sings on his humblest tones, refusing any triumphalism. The production applies the reverential tone and cavernous reverberations of Iceland's Sigur Ros -- tolling piano notes, slow cymbal crescendos, shivery string tremolos -- while the high voice of the band's lead singer, Jonsi, hovers, in wordless oohs and aahs, like a distant benediction.
-- JON PARELES
The New York Times
Post Malone and Swae Lee, "Sunflower"
Tender, elegiac lo-fi electro-R&B from the soundtrack to Spider Man: Into the Spider-Verse from Swae Lee (of Rae Sremmurd) and Post Malone. Both singers blend sweetness with mournfulness, and this is a love song that blooms slowly. Swae Lee sounds like he's recalling a faint dream, and Post Malone follows him with a verse that hops and skips.
-- JON CARAMANICA
The New York Times
Style on 11/06/2018
Print Headline: Mourning breaks for Robyn, who focuses on love, Honey