Solo projects, collective have much to offer

Phosphenes — ‘Find Us Where We’re Hiding’ 
THE GOOD: German collective Phosphenes (primarily producer Harry Starbuck and vocalist Julee Bee) gives us an otherworldly debut.
THE BAD: Pull apart the individual pieces, and you might think the record doesn’t have much to offer. However…
THE NITTY GRITTY: Take in “Find Us” as a whole, and the work is mesmerizing. Upbeat, frothy single “Girls Trip” almost feels out of place, since the remainder of the album sounds much more ambient and “chill.” Close your eyes, drift, and you won’t know where one track ends and another begins. The record is split between songs with traditional structures (sung in English, not German) and more placid, mysterious, instrumental bits.
The mix harkens back to late-period Cocteau Twins and many of those electronic male/female ’90s duos that were all the rage during the latter half of that decade (Olive, Hooverphonic, Mono, etc.). One also detects M83 during the wordless moments. Yet, “Find Us” feels fresh and contemporary, and the band leaves space in which to branch out in the future.
BUY IT?: Surely.

Lykke Li — ‘So Sad So Sexy’
THE GOOD: Swedish singer/songwriter and electronic artist Lykke Li comes back with her fourth.
THE BAD: It’s a definite shift that may alienate some longtime fans. “So Sad” is a far cry from her first couple of gloriously quirky records, particularly 2008’s “Youth Novels.”
THE NITTY GRITTY: Yes, every artist SHOULD progress. Li, however, gives us a trap-influenced album, much of it co-written by collaborator Ilsey Juber (Shawn Mendes, Beyonce, Drake). Not exactly “edgy,” is it?
Cry “sell out” all you want, but the end results aren’t THAT dull. “So Sad” boasts 10 tightly focused tracks exploring relationships, heartbreak and perhaps a new beginning or two. Li’s conversion to this new style doesn’t feel forced; her voice still thrives in a more hip-hop/R&B-influenced setting. And she hasn’t gone full pop, at least not yet.
Li comfortably but carefully walks that fine line between the underground and the mainstream, giving those on both sides of the fence something to embrace.
BUY IT?: Your call.

Mitski — ‘Be the Cowboy’
THE GOOD: Japanese-American indie rocker Mitski comes back with a larger-than-life fifth.
THE BAD: Nothing.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Mitski possesses more than a few mad skills. First, she makes a point rather succinctly and economically. The majority of the songs on “Cowboy” hover around the 2-minute mark (14 tracks fly by in about 33 minutes). But she packs a lot of emotion in those brief moments.
Second, she’s not afraid to turn pop structures and rock arrangements inside out and upside down. You never know when a track is going to suddenly switch directions, get claustrophobic or burst wide open.
Third, she’s the consummate singer/songwriter. Not only are her songs good, but Mitski’s voice also is distinct — lovely in spots, unforgiving in others. Whatever the song needs, she brings. It could be the delicate sing-song of “Old Friend”; the cool funk carrying “Nobody”; the banging, synth-heavy “Washing Machine Heart”; or the stark intimacy painting “Two Slow Dancers.” The woman immediately rises to the occasion within any setting.
BUY IT?: Yes.