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New Music Friday: 4 albums to stream this week

Bree Runway celebrates her breakthrough year on a new EP, Ben Frost shares a harrowing film score and SZA unveils her long-awaited second album

The cover of SOS depicts SZA perched on a diving board surrounded by the vast blue ocean. It’s inspired by the 1997 photograph of Princess Diana on Mohamed Al Fayed’s yacht taken one week before she died: “I just loved how isolated she felt, and that was what I wanted to convey the most,” the artist explained. Five years on from the release of her game-changing debut CTRL, arguably one of the biggest breakout albums of the 2010s, SZA’s sophomore album is worth the wait, but that’s not to say she hasn’t been busy in the interim. She’s dropped 16 singles in recent years, including the Oscar-nominated Black Panther track “All the Stars,” with Kendrick Lamar and a handful of cinematic music videos like “Good Days” and “Shirt”.

Clocking in at over an hour, SOS sees SZA channel her innermost feelings and push at the boundaries of R&B and hip hop across 23 tracks. There’s a teenage earnestness to SZA’s lyrics that feel like leafing through the pages of a diary. “Give me a minute,” she asserts on the title track before diving straight into recounting a past relationship: Punk ass tried to replace me/ But the stakes just too high,” she sings to soulful, gospel-tinged pop. Bad bitch one moment, sad girl the next, there’s a relatability to her fluctuating takes on love and heartbreak, and it’s not a stretch to imagine SZA with a box of receipts collecting damages and turning them into bars..

On “Kill Bill”, these sentiments are cranked up to Tarantino-grade levels, with SZA singing “I might kill my ex/ Not the best idea,” getting all her revenge fantasies onto one page with a smooth electric bass, before dryly asserting: “I’m so mature.” Elsewhere on “Blind” she confesses “It’s so embarrassing all of the love I need” but pivots to “You still talking ’bout babies/I’m still takin’ a Plan B”, while her collab with Phoebe Bridgers on “Ghost in the Machine” sees the pair exchange breathy bars about asshole men against chilled-out beats, creating an overall feeling of dreaminess. 

SZA has previously hinted that her current album will be her last, having said in interviews that she is “emotionally, energetically unequipped” for fame – and given SOS’ extensive track list, it wouldn’t be surprising if she means it. While that doesn’t necessarily mean this is the last we’ll be seeing of the artist – she’s making her big-screen debut in an upcoming Eddie Huang film – here’s hoping that this doesn’t mean the end. Elsewhere, Bree Runway celebrates her breakthrough year on a new EP, Ben Frost translates the sounds of the Amazon rainforest into a harrowing score for a Richard Mosse film installation, and Lexie Liu shares a new album, The Happy Star.