When Halsey elected to title their fourth album If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power (Capitol), it was a demand to be taken seriously, as though having a baby was no excuse for soft edges. New Jersey singer Ashley Frangipane always had a frank edge, but the gothic film trailers and public breast-feeding photos resonated as “epic.” And a lot is epic here, including appearances by Dave Grohl and Lindsey Buckingham. But Halsey doesn’t go for easy over-orchestrated grandiosity, instead opting for the beautiful and strange.
When Halsey brought early demos to producers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, Reznor told the singer the album was close to perfect, but he could make it darker and more dissonant. This comes through in subtle details (check out the quiet intensity of “Bells in Santa Fe”), though not to the extent of a Nine Inch Nails album. Where Lorde recently offered a choice of go pop or go ethereal, and Taylor Swift said go pop or go indie-folkie, Halsey says abandon pop for a style of musician-motherhood that acknowledges mortality and transcendence at the same time.
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Big Red Machine, How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last? (Jagjaguwar) – When Taylor Swift provided enchanting lead vocals for Aaron Dessner and Justin Vernon’s “Renegade” in early summer, the BRM project seemed like a funhouse-mirror reflection of Swift’s folklore and evermore studio bands. But this is far larger, including three stunning songs with Tony winner Anaïs Mitchell, one with Fleet Foxes, and the simple but breathtaking Dessner/Vernon songs. All 15 tracks of this second BRM album are home runs.
Chvrches, Screen Violence (EMI) – When synth-pop trio Chvrches arose in Glasgow nearly a decade ago, they could do no wrong. In recent years, singer Lauren Mayberry has borne the brunt of pointless troll attacks. This is more or less the theme of the band’s fourth album. The topic of digital apocalypse may seem worn out by now, but Chvrches turn cancel culture and social-media nihilism into a beautifully crafted horror film. Tunes like “He Said She Said” and “Good Girls” already have played the late-night TV circuit, creating a fall soundtrack for the imminent implosion of Twitter and its ilk.