Rolling Stone magazine has ranked Mizan Kidanu’s new six-song EP Dark Blue among the 20 Best R&B Albums of 2015. Mizan made the pop culture magazine’s annual list along with The Weeknd, Erykah Badu and Janet Jackson.
Mizan, who grew up in Ethiopia, relocated to the U.S. only four years ago. “Her choice of relocation after graduating from college in Delaware was decisive in that it exposed her to whole ecosystems of musicians and showed her, from the benefit of other artists’ experiences, that talent is not the prerequisite of success,
Mizan K’s terrific six-song EP debut is stark and frank. At numerous times it’s just her and her keyboard, confessing neuroses and finding faith that they will subside. The Ethiopian-born New York musician makes confessional songs that resemble the winsome and melancholy electro-pop of Erlend Øye and Junior Boys as much as left-of-center R&B voices like Solange Knowles. She comforts a depressed friend on “Awe” as she sings, “All the color, the golden of the sky/How could you see it, if your darkness never lights.” And she knows how to make songs that make you move, too: “Looking For” casts her as the seductress over a throbbing club beat, but her “what are we looking for” chorus reveals unease over whether she’ll be embraced or rejected. M.R.
Canada’s Abel Tesfaye redefined what it means to be an R&B auteur with his breakthrough second LP. After a series of mysterious mixtape releases built around weeded-out goth moodiness (and one half-baked major-label debut, in 2013), he went for full-on Top 40 grandeur this time, without diluting any of his eerie allure. The sumptuous Max Martin joint “Can’t Feel My Face” got America dancing to a sex-as-cocaine metaphor, thanks to a joyful hook Michael Jackson could have moonwalked to; “In the Night” amped up the violent undercurrents of MJ circa Bad while still feeling like a party; and bleary ballads like “Earned It” and “The Hills” spun gossamer sensuality into unlikely hit singles. Who else but the Weeknd could make a line like “Only my mother could love me for me” work as pillow talk? It’s just that kind of raw honesty that makes him such a revolutionary player. J.D.