At its best, Selena Gomez’s new album is absolutely brilliant, at least as good as anything she’s ever done. Selena Gomez has always seemed remarkably poised and careful in her public appearances, which in my mind has always given her an air of melancholy, and the best tracks here express that. The run of tracks from “Hands to Myself” to “Good for You” is particularly good at showing her strengths. “Hands to Myself” moves from a whispered verse over a minimal rhythm (which reminds me of Robyn) to a pre-chorus that uses Gomez’s deep, textured voice to project a hope that’s just a hair away from desperation. “Same Old Love” expands on this second register. There’s a sense of confinement in the way the drama of Gomez’s vocals playing off against the ominous rigidity of the melody (some people have suggested that you can’t tell whether it’s actually Gomez singing, or if they’ve just used Charli XCX’s guide vocals, which is ludicrous; Gomez’s distinctive voice is unmistakable, particularly in the verses). “Good For You” pushes desperation into abjection, the echoing beats and the airy backing vocals isolating Gomez’s fragile vocals. Gomez herself has said the song is about empowered female sexuality, while some reviewers have insisted just the opposite, but what I think makes the song work is how carefully it straddles this line between activity and passivity, in the ambiguity of need. I also want to mention bonus track “Perfect,” which skates on the thin line between jealousy and lust.
There’s been something of a recent trend of R&B vocalists working with minimal dance beats (aside from Kelala, this would also include Jessy Lanza and probably FKA twigs). What’s not always obvious is what the benefit of this particular crossing of genres is supposed to be. Kelala has a particular answer on her new EP, Hallucinogen, where the beats conjure up a fluttery floating that actually reminds me of the twinkly sweetness of 90s R&B.
Sarah Cracknell has a new single out, a broadly country track which is actually a pretty good look for her. It also reminded me that I hadn’t listened to her most recent album, which features some good contributions to the niche genre of louring English folk-lounge (the premier practitioner of which is Goldfrapp).