Tyler, the Creator
Music Inspired by Illumination & Dr. Seuss' The Grinch
Tyler Okonma quickly lost interest in offending people, citing a desire to make “weird hippie music for people to get high to” in 2011. Since then, he’s made three more full-lengths of increasing musical complexity, inspired by the jazz chords of his musical hero Pharrell Williams. Each LP has charted higher than the last, with 2017’s Flower Boy earning him a Grammy nod. But his work for The Grinch movie is the first time he’s actually courted the mainstream, shoehorning his deadpan rapping into the classic “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and appending this 10-minute stopgap to the official soundtrack, the palette of which can be summed up as Neptunes-remixed-Stevie Wonder. Only two of the six tracks contain real words: “Lights On,” a PG-rated Christmas carol that borrows Ween’s helium, and “Big Bag” a holiday-friendly rap about seeking paper that matches his green skin. If only he had the charm to match his ambitions, he might get some. — Dan Weiss
Meg Baird & Mary Lattimore
(Three Lobed ***)
Philadelphians Meg Baird and Mary Lattimore moved to California — separately — before they wound up formally collaborating. Both women made their bones in a Philly indie scene influenced by late 1960s British folk bands like Fairport Convention and Pentangle. Singer-guitarist Baird played with the mid-'00s freak folk band Espers, and Lattimore is a side musician frequently heard on recordings by contemporary rockers like the War on Drugs and Kurt Vile, and is a soloist known for such fabulously titled compositions as “Wawa by the Ocean.” Ghost Forests entwines their stringed instruments together on five originals plus a cover of the traditional British ballad “Fair Annie.” The results have a contemplative, mystical quality that transport the listener away from the hurly-burly of the modern world. But the songs are not merely pretty: Lattimore plucks her strings with rhythmic force and aggression, and one song, “Painters of Tygers” is intentionally distorted as though to make the point that no amount of bucolic beauty can provide complete escape from the anxiety-inducing noise that surrounds us. — Dan DeLuca
El Mal Querer
(Sony Latin ****)
There’s always one year-end release that screws up critics’ Top Tens, and this is it: the sophomore release from the Spanish-language, flamenco-pop singer Rosalia, whose new music is as radically experimental and free as it is coolly contemporary, memorably melodic, and R&B-scented.
Like Shakira without the hiccuping vocal tics, the husky baritone Rosalia can sing quietly but dramatically of being treated badly, yet winning immediate respect on the spare, clacking “Malamente.” She can then turn up the theatricality quotient, and loudly croon with a hearty quaver through the obsession-based lyrics and dense electronic bass of “Pienso en Tu Mira” and the FX-heavy, disco-ish “De Aqui No Sales.” With flamenco’s toque and palmas (guitar strum and handclap rhythms) as El Mal Querer’s gentle framework, Rosalia also tips her hat to her classical training by sampling cellist Arthur Russell, then similarly brushes up to Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River” on her own bruised cut “Bagdad.” Always though, there is the sense of the visceral and the empowered -- of a 25-year-old woman testing all boundaries and pushing all envelopes -- on this album.