Lin-Manuel Miranda’s new song, featuring the voices of over a dozen artists, is at once a celebration, an homage to West Side Story and a call for unification in the face of tragedy, all in service of the people of Puerto Rico. Meanwhile, dynamic R&B artist Kelela searches for new modes of expression in a complex and haunting album that hints at her political agenda. Sweden’s LÉON brings her brand of rich, timeless instrumental pop alive on “No Goodbyes.” Detroit rapper Tee Grizzley has a dark banger on his hands with the unapologetic “Win.” And Brad Walsh releases a body of work with Antiglot that makes us question what music can — and should — do.
“Almost Like Praying,” Lin-Manuel Miranda
Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda has made his catchiest song yet with “Almost Like Praying.” He put this track together in just two weeks in support of the post-hurricane humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico, from which he traces his own roots, and it’s a master feat: mixing strains of Sondheim with modern pop production, Miranda tapped the voices of over a dozen renowned singers — Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, Luis Fonsi, Gloria Estefan and Rita Moreno among them — to list all of the island’s towns in a musical act of unification and support. As for the title of the song? “The name ‘Maria’ will forever have a different connotation on the island,” he told TIME; the hurricane happened to share the Sondheim character’s name. “Most of us know ‘Maria’ as the name of a really great song in West Side Story… My brain started flipping the lyric. ‘Say it loud and there’s music playing, say it soft and it’s almost like praying.'”
“Blue Light,” Kelela
There’s an icy futurism to Kelela, melting smoothly into the warmth of her supple lyricism. On “Blue Light,” off of her long-awaited debut album Take Me Apart, the forward-thinking R&B star starts with the basic building blocks: an eerie instrumental, a bassline, her ethereal voice. Then she throws in the electronic elements, constructing a song that’s both intimate and strong.
“Boadicea,” Brad Walsh
You’ve never heard anything quite like Brad Walsh‘s new album Antiglot before. Composed entirely of “body sounds” — layered lyric-less vocals and the noise he could make without instruments — the ambitious work is a resonant soundscape, in turns arresting and meditative. “Boadicea,” composed and written by Enya, will take you through the emotional ringer. Like a Gregorian chant gone rogue, Walsh’s performance elevates a simple hum into a complex journey, from an ominous depth to something that sounds like hope. Created as a reaction to the U.S. political climate, Antiglot just might be the cathartic listening experience we all need.
“No Goodbyes,” LÉON
It may be called “No Goodbyes,” but Swedish singer-songwriter LÉON‘s lush new song off of her just-released EP Surround Me feels like a welcoming embrace. While the Swedes of her generation are collectively best known for their propulsive pop — think Tove Lo, Tove Styrke, Zara Larsson — LÉON’s sound is more classic. Raised with a musical background, she sticks to a timeless style that’s rich and orchestral. “No Goodbyes” is a perfect example: cascading flute notes find grounded echoes in a voice equal parts floating and powerful.
“Win,” Tee Grizzley
Detroit rising star Tee Grizzley brings total confidence to “Win,” which sees him rap with irrepressible energy over a hauntingly melodic piano backing track. “Had to risk it all just to win big,” he raps at the top of a poignant story.