The Playlist: Black Eyed Peas Get Serious About Injustice, and 12 More New Songs

Posted January 14, 2018 6:02 p.m. EST

Pop critics for The New York Times weigh in on the most notable new songs and videos — and anything else that strikes them as intriguing. Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O releases a solo song, the first new Lil Peep song since the rapper’s death arrives and Hayley Kiyoko puts a twist on the jealousy song.

Black Eyed Peas, ‘Street Livin’

Before the Black Eyed Peas devoted themselves to pop party hits, they had moments of social consciousness. But none was as bleak and focused as “Street Livin’,” an indictment of systematic racial oppression: poor education, police killings, violent neighborhoods and high incarceration rates, with more African-Americans “in prison than there ever was slaves cotton-pickin’.” The track looks back to the 1990s, with a measured beat behind a moody trumpet phrase (from “Pouca Douracao” by Deodato). Fergie is absent, leaving the group’s founding rappers to deliver rhymes that are slow and uncluttered, determined to be understood. And the images in the video clip underline how little change there has been.


Karen O featuring Michael Kiwanuka, ‘Yo! My Saint’

Karen O enlisted Michael Kiwanuka for the male role in this troubled lovers’ duet, with the retro-loving producer Daniele Luppi giving it a vintage, early-1960s soundtrack ballad sound. Kiwanuka professes passion, wariness and vulnerability; Karen O starts out singing about being torn between love and the urge to disappear. But she doesn’t break away; the last two minutes of the song have her quietly in thrall to “my one and only.”


Marshmello x Lil Peep, ‘Spotlight’

The first new song by Lil Peep to be released since his death from a drug overdose in November, “Spotlight” is a slow-rolling, drained-mood seether. Marshmello thankfully doesn’t overwhelm Peep here, but merely matches the decay in his voice with similar desperation, giving Peep ample space to lament: “I don’t care if you believe in me/I still wonder why you’re leaving me.”


Ryan Porter, ‘Night Court in Compton’

For those compiling a history of the West Coast Get Down — that crew of enterprising young Los Angeles jazz musicians that includes Thundercat and Kamasi Washington, and has been playing together since the early 2000s — the trombonist Ryan Porter’s forthcoming album is an enviable document. Porter, a prodigious improviser and an integral part of Washington’s touring band, recorded “The Optimist” in 2008-09, joined by 11 fellow up-and-comers in Washington’s parents’ basement. A full helping of lively crossover material and thoroughgoing spiritual jazz, it will see the light of day next month. The first single is “Night Court in Compton,” a track that starts with inflections of woozy, mid-60s Blue Note postbop — think Herbie Hancock and Andrew Hill — and quickly sinks into a hypnotic groove.


Palace Winter, ‘Take Shelter’

“Take Shelter,” from the Copenhagen-based duo of Carl Coleman and Dane Caspar Hesselager, oozes with minor chords that satisfyingly resolve while the subject matter wanders into unsettled terrain. A home has burned, and as the pair reminds us, “all that’s left will slowly fade to the earth.” Something about this broody track — its slowish, insistent beat, its close harmonies, its combination of fuzzy and bright synths — stops short of despair. It’s a darkly intoxicating potion.


Carrie Underwood featuring Ludacris, ‘The Champion’

For a song that’s conceptually four years late, drippingly tacky, yanks Carrie Underwood into rock diva territory she’s not wholly comfortable in, needlessly resurrects a long-dormant Ludacris and is a profoundly craven attempt to be licensed by broadcasters for use during sporting events, not bad.


Hayley Kiyoko, ‘Curious’

The classic jealousy song gets a smart gender twist with Hayley Kiyoko’s “Curious,” which asserts, “I can handle it/If you let him touch you touch you touch you touch you touch you/the way I used to” and adds, “I’m just curious/Is it serious?” The music rotates through three chords and a hollow beat with a lot of echo in its empty spaces; Kiyoko, whose catalog includes songs like “Girls Like Girls” (the line continues “like boys do”), has a light touch with deep claws.


Tal National, ‘Akokas’

A high whoop followed by a stretch of free-rhythm drum rolls and raw guitar squiggles — both annunciatory and tense — open “Akokas,” a song from the album due next month by Tal National, a band from Niger in West Africa. Then the groove kicks in: fast and funky, as an urgently raspy vocal rides a jabbing modal desert-blues guitar line. The song is a jump-start; if it didn’t fade out, that groove could run forever.


Gregory Lewis, ‘Green Chimneys’

Lewis, an organist of commanding aplomb and rugged counterintuition, has now released four albums dedicated to the compositions of Thelonious Monk. On his instrument, notes swell past their boundaries; it doesn’t allow for the kind of clumpy, abraded harmonies that tend to define Monk’s music (especially when you’re using a hefty charge of distortion, as Lewis does). So he has to pry these tunes apart and solder them together with simpler and bolder harmonies. On “Organ Monk Blue,” Lewis’ newest disc, he takes on Monk’s blues (and blues-adjacent) compositions with help from the outré guitar master Marc Ribot and the pliable drummer Jeremy Clemons, known as Bean. On the opening track, Lewis turns “Green Chimneys” — a Monk classic — into a reggae shuffle. Where Monk used to press up against the front of these notes, articulating them a tad before the beat, Lewis drags back against the flow, exchanging crimped jabs with Ribot and soloing in short, punchy bursts until he hits a cruising altitude around the 2:00 mark.


Jorja Smith featuring Stormzy, ‘Let Me Down’

Most of the promising British soul singer Jorja Smith’s best songs have pulse and swing — she’s a torch singer who understands that even slow burners need to have a quick step today. “Let Me Down,” her new single, begins with a confession sung boldly: “Sometimes I wouldn’t mind if I was less important.” The song never accelerates — she’s lost in her own resigned misery. Even a properly penitent verse from Stormzy (“So girl don’t love me, I mean it/when I say I love you, I mean it”) doesn’t make her whole.


Rhye, ‘Song for You’

At first, as Milosh’s whispery falsetto floats over serene guitar picking, wispy electric piano notes and a gently ticking beat, it seems like Rhye’s “Song for You” would blow away in the slightest breeze. He’s trying to console a lover who’s in pain, bleeding, perhaps dying. Around him, the music thickens with bass tones, additional voices and swells of orchestral arrangements: all the fears he’s trying not to show.


Gogo Penguin, ‘Bardo’

The contrast between fixed, repetitive motifs and improvisatory variations drives Gogo Penguin, the acoustic jazz-minimalist trio from England. “Bardo,” from an album due in February, is both hypnotic and analytical. It’s hard to tell whether close-miked acoustic resonances or electronic sustains hover behind “Bardo,” especially because Chris Illingworth plays both inside the piano and on the keyboard, though I’d suspect electronics are involved. Rob Turner’s drumming seesaws between hip-hop and jazz, while much, but by no means all, of the piano’s melody and countermelody are stated and repeated. Nick Blacka’s bass migrates between vamps and melodic outbursts. But there’s no need to parse this music; it’s in perpetual motion.


New Faces, ‘West Village’

New Faces is a band featuring six young, standout voices on the roster of Posi-Tone Records, a prolific label in the straight-ahead-jazz vein. The group’s first album, out Friday, is “Straight Forward,” a collection of amiable melodies with slippery swing feels, most written by the band members and other Posi-Tone artists. “West Village” is an affectionate ode to a neighborhood in New York where jazz clubs still thrive, written by pianist Brian Charette (not a member of the group). It gives a platform to the lithe trumpet playing of Josh Lawrence. But the song’s low flame is kept alive by the interplay between vibraphonist Behn Gillece and pianist Theo Hill — both on a tightly wreathed interlude and on Gillece’s lyrical solo.