Every Friday, pop critics for The New York Times weigh in on the week’s most notable new songs and videos — and anything else that strikes them as intriguing. This week, a song from Beck’s new album, “Colors”; an international throwdown from Major Lazer (and guests); and a blippy tune from Kailee Morgue.
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Mavis Staples, ‘Little Bit’
Mavis Staples has sung for civil rights since the 1960s, and she knows her work isn’t over. “Little Bit” is from her album due Nov. 17, produced and mostly written by Jeff Tweedy of Wilco and titled “If All I Was Was Black.” A lean, unsparing blues guitar riff carries her through “Little Bit,” envisioning young lives lost to deadly force: “Poor kid they caught him/without his license/That ain’t why they shot him/They say he was fighting,” she sings, bitter, tearful and determined. JON PARELES
Beck, ‘Seventh Heaven’
Beck’s new album, “Colors,” flaunts the infinite overdubbing and polishing of state-of-the-art digital recording. Working with a hitmaking producer, Greg Kurstin (Adele, Kelly Clarkson), he makes every track a glossy tour de force, with quick-changing arrangements and ever more encyclopedic pop allusions. “Seventh Heaven” juxtaposes thoughts of euphoric love and disillusionment — “We shoot for the empire/Land in the dust pile” — amid shimmering keyboards, skeins of intertwined guitars and ever more buoyant choruses. The romance in the lyrics doesn’t work out, but the studio is a paradise. J.P.
Major Lazer and DJ Maphorisa (featuring Nasty C, Ice Prince, Patoranking and Jidenna), ‘Particula’
Major Lazer and collaborators from South Africa (DJ Maphorisa, Nasty), Nigeria (Ice Prince, Patoranking) and Wisconsin (Jidenna) have concocted a sleek, amiable global come-on with a one-sentiment-fits-all hook — “I like you girl in particula” — delivered by Ice Prince in the Nigerian version of a Jamaican dancehall growl. The track meshes the 4/4 thump and four-chord cycle of international dance music with the syncopated percussion of South African kwaito and crucially, the lilt and tickle of countermelodies from African guitars. Not international enough? Jidenna goes bilingual: “Can I see your particulars?/I’ve been screening you like una pelicula.” J.P.
Sam Newsome and Jean-Michel Pilc, ‘Giant Steps’
A soprano saxophonist with a streamlined intensity and a flinty iconoclasm, Mr. Newsome is most often heard these days on his own solo-sax recordings. Here he adds just one more instrument, the piano of Mr. Pilc, who works in splashes of stark color and pushes a centrifugal momentum. “Magic Circle,” their new album, mostly includes reworkings of classic jazz repertory, saxophone and piano circling each other, fleeing comfort and terra firma. John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” is all about harmony; the melody, now iconic, is really just a top note of each fast-changing chord. But Mr. Newsome and Mr. Pilc treat it as something like a dismembered line, a path of twisty illogic unto itself. It flows over and about the outlines of its harmonic riverbed, and freed of any set rhythm. GIOVANNI RUSSONELLO
Rex Orange County featuring Benny Sings, ‘Loving Is Easy’
Rex Orange County’s lo-fi lounge music is soothing, sunny and slightly off-kilter. The British singer-songwriter worked with a kindred spirit, Tyler, the Creator, on his most recent album, but his own music has a meandering charm. “Loving Is Easy,” his latest single, is less barbed than his earlier songs — where he was once dubious about the world around him, here he finally opens up to its possibilities. JON CARAMANICA
The 19-year-old songwriter from Brisbane who calls herself Mallrat has a sleepy delivery and a knack for singsong melodies that grow hypnotically familiar. “Better” seems to be about ephemeral comforts: “Everyone’s alive so everything’s all right but/Maybe when the summer ends I’ll drift away from all my friends.” While Mallrat circles through her melodies, the ingenious track finds endless variety in three chords, morphing imperceptibly from simple guitar strumming to three-chord rock to quasi-orchestral splendor; Mallrat isn’t as nonchalant as her voice might seem. J.P.
Sufjan Stevens, ‘Wallowa Lake Monster’
Sufjan Stevens stayed quiet and folky throughout “Carrie & Lowell,” his 2015 album about the death of his mother. On Nov. 24, he will release “The Greatest Gift,” a collection of demos and outtakes recorded in the same sessions, including this previously unreleased song. “Wallowa Lake Monster” starts out delicately, with wispy but restless picking behind Stevens’s whispery voice; he asks: “Have you heard the story of my mother’s fate?/She left us in Detroit in the rain.” But as he connects his mother to larger forces of Nature and myth, the music swells with electronics, crescendos of orchestral brass and female voices that eventually take over the track for wordless rapture and mourning. It might have upended the album, but it stands on its own. J.P.
Kailee Morgue, ‘Medusa’
Kailee Morgue’s debut single, “Medusa,” is an eerie, floating incantation that’s not as skeletal as it seems. A plinking six-note pattern recurs throughout the song, bolstered by sparse percussion and a few bass notes; harplike arpeggios and cooing voices waft in from above. Ms. Morgue’s breathy voice sketches an encounter with Medusa; in the moment she’s turned to stone, she’s “chosen” to join “ghosts of past heroes” and “fight until you’re hopeless,” and it sounds like bliss. J.P.
Kane Brown, ‘What’s Mine Is Yours’
A tender, determined song about romantic dedication from the promising young country singer Kane Brown, drawn from the recently released deluxe edition of his major label debut album. Mr. Brown isn’t a vocal powerhouse, but his voice is lithe, and he delivers with real shading here. This song cribs part of its melody from Toni Braxton’s “Un-break My Heart,” but Mr. Brown strips out the pomp and imbues it with modesty. J.C.
Kadawa featuring Adam O’Farrill, ‘Shades of a Happy Ending’
A guitar-bass-drums trio of young Israeli-American musicians, Kadawa has just released its first album, a self-titled effort featuring 12 original compositions. The sound is about joy and force in equal measure, full of hummable melodies and moments of proud combustion. On “Shades of a Happy Ending,” the trio is joined by the young trumpet lion Adam O’Farrill and the trombonist Matt Bumgardner. What begins as a giddy shuffle bursts into splayed reverie, the horns tangling and jousting with Tal Yahalom’s guitar, before the melancholy melody takes hold once again. G.R.