3 Essential Listens: Panic, 5SOS, and Keiynan Lonsdale

2018 has proven to be politically brutal (protest and vote, dear reader!), but to give us some hope in this time of strife, artists have delivered the best pop music I've heard in years. I've not felt so engaged with new music since 2013 (which I consider a watershed year). Last month I did a big round-up of tunes that won me over, and this month I want to recommend one single and two great records to keep your spirits up this muggy July.

"Preach" by Keiynan Lonsdale

Since his turn in Love, Simon, I've had a killer crush on  Keiynan Lonsdale, which has been bolstered by his two new singles. Following the sweet "Kiss the Boy," Lonsdale goes full New Age gospel in his testimony to love, "Preach." The song has a stronger vocal performance and sensual under-current. I hope it foreshadows a full-length debut record.

5 Seconds of Summer's Youngblood

Leaving behind the bratty pop-punk of their teens, 5SOS delivered their first "adult" record, Youngblood. Though the album is more melancholic than their most popular tunes, it's full of hooky, addicting pop, including the title track, lead single "Want You Back," and the 80s-tinged "Talk Fast." Perhaps the most interesting song is "Moving Along," which has the phrasing typical of pop punk, but with more mature lyrics about being disaffected and heartbroken in your early 20s. The tune has layered  vocals in the chorus and an unexpected thundering drum machine ripped right from Katy Perry's Witness. The band's willingness to play with electronic textures and interest in reflecting their evolving perspective make Youngblood a worthwhile listen.

Panic! At the Disco's  Pray for the Wicked

Panic! has experienced a curious success over the past 5 years. Though the band dropped its breakthrough hit in 2005, it's garnered the most consistent critical and commercial success a decade into its career (when most acts decline). This success is due to two factors: the bottomless charm of Brendon Urie (lead singer and the only remaining member of the band) and how Urie's singular vision has shaped Panic!'s most recent records. Pray for the Wicked is a grand, flamboyant album brimming with showbiz antics and melodrama. Pray also feels quintessentially queer and Broadway. Perhaps this is because of Urie's stint in Kinky Boots last year and his recent coming out as pansexual. On tracks like the big-band tinged "Roaring 20s," dance-rock "Hey Look Ma, I Made It," exuberant "Dancing's Not a Crime," and piano ballad "Dying in LA," Urie's voice soars. This is the best he's ever sounded on record. 

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