The Playlist: Willie Nelson Is Still Standing, and 10 More New Songs

Posted April 29, 2018 7:14 p.m. EDT

Pop critics for The New York Times weigh in on the week’s most notable new songs and videos.

Willie Nelson, “Last Man Standing”

Willie Nelson, 85, matter-of-factly marvels at his own longevity in “Last Man Standing,” the title track of his new album. “It’s gettin’ hard to watch my pals check out,” he sings, and lists members of his musical generation who are now gone. But the music is no dirge; it’s a sly, New Orleans-tinged mambo full of improvisational byplay, a swinging life force.


Oneohtrix Point Never, “Black Snow”

For Oneohtrix Point Never — the prolific, adventurous and sometimes bewildering electronic composer Daniel Lopatin — “Black Snow” is fairly close to pop. It’s built around a (computer-tuned) lead vocal over a finger-snap beat and a recurring bass line, with melodic verses and a refrain: “a wave of black snow.” As pop, though, it’s peculiar, with dystopian lyrics and dissonant interludes from sources like a daxophone, a bowed electronic instrument invented by Hans Reichel. The video, directed by Lopatin, brings a fanged mutant and perky line dancers to a toxic waste dump — where else?


Mason Ramsey, “Famous”

Only a month or so has passed since the Walmart child yodeler went viral. His appearance at Coachella a couple of weeks ago portended more to come, but even by the warp-speed standards of modern online celebrity, this is quite a lot, and fast. “Famous” is an eminently serviceable pop-country song in the gentleman mode from someone actually wearing a bow tie (and reading the lyrics off a sheet of paper, judging by the video). The conceit of the song is that Ramsey would rather be known for the quality of his love than the quality of his voice, which is undeniably sweet and not at all awkward to hear an 11-year-old muse about.


Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog, “YRU Still Here”

The punch-drunk frustration here comes first as an ambiguous lament, then a clear renunciation of — who else — the president. Marc Ribot, a downtown guitarist of freewheeling insouciance, handles the yelping vocals himself: “We never wanted a swear-in accident/We hate the ground you walk on, and all the rest of this cheap suburban sentiment/Why are you still here?” In the track’s second half things pick up, with Ribot overdubbing three guitars (at least?), conjuring a brew of alienation and riled-up nerves. Drummer Ches Smith and bassist Shahzad Ismaily dip and dot underneath him, as if trying to stay cool under extreme pressure.


Stromae, “Défiler”

The Belgian songwriter, singer, rapper, dancer, videomaker and fashionista Stromae, whose 2013 album, “Racine Carreé” (“Square Root”), conquered Europe, has re-emerged after five years between new songs of his own. The nine-minute “Défiler” (“Unwinding”) is the soundtrack to the runway show for a collection by the Belgian company Mosaert. Yet the song itself glumly notes the inexorability of time — “We watch as it unwinds, the thread of our lives” — and bemoans a fixation on wealth and appearances: “It’s easy to be pretty with money, right?/Money rots people and makes them beautiful at the same time — it’s fascinating.” Factory noises, distant shouts and trap percussion are laced through a track that revolves around four somber but ascending chords, mourning what it’s selling.


Sun Speak With Sara Serpa, “Basin”

How gently can you weave polyrhythms together? The vocalist Sara Serpa joins Sun Speak — the duo of Matt Gold, a guitarist, and Nate Friedman, a drummer — on a new self-titled album, and this track finds her doing what she’s best at: singing without words in a focused, fluid voice, like steam escaping upward through a fine bore. Gold and Friedman climb a pile of post-rock rubble underneath, making a 34-beat cycle that sighs and heaves and finally disappears


Stargate, featuring Partynextdoor, 21 Savage and Murda Beatz, “1Night”

Two decades ago, the Norwegian production and songwriting duo Stargate — Tor Erik Hermansen and Mikkel Eriksen — had its breakthrough with saccharine teen Europop, and in the mid-2000s, evolved into creators of some of this country’s most supple R&B. The pair has recently signed to RCA Records as artists, whatever that might mean. Judging by “1Night,” it suggests a DJ Khaled-like ability to cobble together compelling songs from disparate parts. “1Night” is lightly sinister and maybe a bit gloomy, a dead-eyed celebration of fleeting lust — and certainly less joyful than Lil Yachty’s breakthrough hit of similar name — that comes up for air when 21 Savage arches his eyebrow: “Savage getting married?/ Pshhhh/ Yeah, right.”


Meg Myers, “Numb”

Seething and then exploding is how rock songwriter Meg Myers works, and in “Numb” her target is the kind of mentor — musical or otherwise — who undermines her in the guise of helpfulness. Feeling pressure, she goes numb. The dynamics come directly from the Pixies, with a slow, loping bass line behind the verses on the way to the feedback-frothed power chords of the chorus; she won’t be acquiescent much longer.


Grouper, Parking Lot”

Liz Harris, who records as Grouper, turns pretty sounds and slow, sparse arrangements into haunted reveries. “Parking Lot” is from her 10th album, “Grid of Points.” It’s a brief collection of seven songs that uses only a lone piano and her whispery vocals — sometimes solo, more often wafting in as overdubbed harmonies — all suspended amid reverberations and hiss. She plays tolling chords and hesitantly phrased melodies on the piano, while the words hover at the edge of intelligibility. It’s music at home in perpetual dusk.


Paris, “Shining”

SoundCloud rap’s Sunset Strip moment has arrived in the form of Paris, a melancholy genre hybridizer who’s a clear inheritor of Lil Peep, but also of the morbid arena rap-rock of the early 2000s. Last week he released a strong new album, “One Night in Paris,” that features “Gone,” a yowling collaboration with Trippie Redd, and “Shining,” a catchy tragedy anchored by a clever and taut lament: “Stab me in the back/ All you do is front.”


Todd Marcus, "Ground Zero (at Penn. & North)”

Todd Marcus, a bass clarinetist and community activist in Baltimore who runs the nonprofit Intersection of Change, is releasing his latest album just days after the third anniversary of the death of Freddie Gray in police custody. The LP, “On These Streets,” weaves in testimonials from Baltimore residents with Marcus’ bristling originals, like “Ground Zero (at Penn. & North).” Named for the intersection now symbolic of Gray’s death, the track begins in a dark swarm, then picks up momentum as Kris Funn’s stout bass playing crisscrosses with George Colligan’s quickened piano patterns. Marcus rushes forth, wrangling a proclamation of vision and conviction from the gusty bass clarinet.