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Opinion | Five great new albums by (mainly) women

In June, five albums stood out among the profusion of releases. Ranging from R&B to pop, indie rock and psychedelia, they all featured women

Phoebe Bridgers in a still from her song ‘Motion Sickness’.
Phoebe Bridgers in a still from her song ‘Motion Sickness’.

June turned out to be a month full of delight for music lovers. An array of musicians released new albums. On top of the list, for obvious reasons, were the albums by two veterans: Bob Dylan’s Rough And Rowdy Ways, his first set of original songs in eight years, and Neil Young’s Homegrown, a classic that he recorded in the mid-1970s but chose to release only now. But a host of other, newer musicians across a range of genres released fine albums too. From hip hop and R&B to indie rock and psychedelic experiments, there was so much last month that it could be overwhelming to navigate the profusion.

Here are five albums that stood out. First off, indie rock singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers’ Punisher. All of 25, Bridgers’ new album is only her second solo effort, but over the past couple of years she has made a mark with her collaborations—with The National’s Matt Berninger; with Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus in an all-woman trio called Boygenius that they formed, releasing an acclaimed self-titled EP; and with Conor Oberst in a band that the two named Better Oblivion Community Center.

Bridgers is an artist whose rise to fame—in a span of just three years since she released her debut album, Stranger In The Alps—has been spectacular. The new album is an introspective, slow, stream-of-consciousness look at the journey. Bridgers likes to tell stories in her songs. In Kyoto, she reflects on the loneliness she felt during a Japan tour: Day off in Kyoto/ I got bored at the temple/ Looked around at the 7-11/ The band took the speed train/ Went to the arcade/ I wanted to go but I didn’t/ You called me from a payphone/ They still got payphones/ It cost a dollar a minute/ To tell me you’re getting sober. Punisher is a brooding album; predominantly acoustic, it is soft and slow and intimate. To thelistener’s ear, it is delectable.

Jessie Ware, 35, is a British pop and R&B singer whose fourth album, What’s Your Pleasure?, is pleasurably disco-infused. Fabulously produced, it’s a 53-minute euphoric trip from the get-go. Coming at a time when happiness is at a premium, it’s like a timely godsend. Funk and disco beats, complemented with Ware’s upbeat lyrics, make What’s Your Pleasure? an album that is instantly appealing. The standout track on it is Mirage (Don’t Stop), on which Ware’s opening line (Last night we danced/ And I thought you were saving my life/ Caught in the haze of the moon/ In the break of the lights/ I know what I want/ You can do what you want) segues into a deep bass-driven, funky dance beat so infectious that you can hardly keep sitting even if you, like me, have two left feet. If you are in self-isolation, lockdown, or just simply feeling low, it’s the album to spin.

HAIM, comprising three sisters (Este, 34; Danielle, 31; and Alana, 28), are a Los Angeles-based pop rock band. Women In Music, Pt. III is only their third full-length but by every reckoning they are veterans, having already garnered accolades. Their music has sometimes been likened to that of Fleetwood Mac but they are no imitators. The three sisters traverse pop, R&B and folk rock and manage to blend those genres to create their own unique sound. The 16 songs on Women In Music are like a line-up of hits, catchy, uptempo and bursting with energy. Los Angeles, which the sisters appear to love with passion, surfaces almost all the time in their songs, particularly on the opening track (also titled Los Angeles) where they cheekily sing: New York is cold/ I tried the winter there once, nope/ Clearly the greatest city in the world/ But it was not my home/ I felt more alone. Got the blues? Try this unadulterated pop rock.

From the cover image to the mammoth 23 songs on The Album, Teyana Taylor, 29, a New York-based singer, choreographer and model, makes a statement. The cover is a tribute to the veteran Jamaican-born singer Grace Jones, now 72, and the songs a diverse range of R&B and hip hop, all themed on Juneteenth (19 June, when the album dropped), the commemoration of the end of slavery in America. Unapologetically black, Taylor collaborates with a wide range of people: her husband and NBA player Iman Shumpert, Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, Missy Elliot, King Combs and Rick Ross, to name a few. The songs deal with womanhood, sex and black pride and the album, divided into five sections, is an experimental effort that pushes the boundaries of R&B. That Taylor is gifted with an extraordinarily versatile voice makes it an indispensable listen.

The fifth album is the only one not solely by a woman. It is Texas psychedelic trio Khruangbin’s latest album, Mordechai. Khruangbin are usually an instrumental band whose lead guitar-driven music melds influences from Eastern, Middle-Eastern and Western music. On Mordechai, though, the band, which has a big cult following, adopts vocals on nearly every track. And that is thanks to bassist Laura Lee Ochoa, who is in her 30s. While the band’s driving force is the lyrical and exceptionally melodic guitar riffs by Mark Speer, 40, the vocals add a whole new dimension to the music. Khruangbin’s music has always been unusual yet riveting. Ochoa’s vocals, including some delivered in the Latin style (for example, in the song Pelota), make this album a compelling listen.

First Beat is a column on what’s new and groovy in the world of music.


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