H.E.R., “Back of My Mind” (RCA)

Gabriella Wilson got her start as a child star, and since she became H.E.R. in 2016, her career has caught fire, including her showstopping “America the Beautiful” at the Super Bowl this year, her best song Grammy for “I Can’t Breathe,” and her best original song Oscar for “Fight for You” from “Judas and the Black Messiah.”

But while she’s had a flurry of EPs, she hadn’t released a proper full-length debut. She does so with this 21-song opus on which she’s joined by rappers Lil Baby, YG and Ty Dolla $ign, as well as left-of-center types such as Kaytranada and Thundercat.

Despite the guests, “Back of My Mind” never comes across as anything other than an expression of H.E.R.’s vision. Old-school R&B and soul virtues are valorized without ever sounding retro or nostalgic, and so is rock — check out her searing guitar solo on “We Made It.”

Eighty minutes of midtempo moodiness, however, can be too much of a luxuriously languid good thing. “Back of My Mind” gets samey. But H.E.R.’s debut peaks high. Cases in point include “Bloody Waters,” which rides a Thundercat bass line that evokes Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues,” and “Cheat Code,” in which suspicions of infidelity become more certain as H.E.R.’s voice soars skyward over minimal acoustic guitar.

Dan deluca, Philadelphia Inquirer

Ed Sheeran, “Bad Habits” (Atlantic)

Though I could have lived my life contentedly without ever seeing the British musician dressed as a glittery, high-flying hybrid of the Joker, Edward Cullen and Elton John in the video for his new single, the track itself is a reminder of Sheeran’s knack for sleek songcraft. “My bad habits lead to late nights, sitting alone,” he sings over the kind of brooding chords and insistent, minimalist beat that suggests that pop music will continue to exist in the shadow of the Weeknd’s “After Hours.” “Bad Habits” doesn’t quite have the fangs that its video incongruously promises, but it’s a well executed, safe-bet pop song squarely in Sheeran’s comfort zone, which is to say that it already sounds like a smash.

Lindsay zoladz, New York Times

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