… explores young adulthood’s diverse experiences with love

Daniel Shen, Editor-in-Chief

Resonating feelings of self-care, loss and romance, Khalid’s sophomore album “Free Spirit” pays worthy tribute to the different versions of love that occupy early adult life.

Ravaged by a seemingly rocky transition out of debut album “American Teen’s” high school experience, the El Paso native plays with multiple musical genres in his 17-track release, with synth, jazz, pop and hip-hop each contributing its own cultural significance to the meaning of their associated songs.

“Intro” begins the album on a heavy synthesized bass sound, ushering in the lamentation of an irreconciliable romance. From the beginning verse one senses the conflicted nature of his emotions: his self-doubt — “Say you can’t deal with me no more” — is juxtaposed by distrust as he calls, “I never know what you feel no more.” His confession at the climax of the song — that “I feel heaven when you’re here with me / I feel hell every time you leave” — is emotionally driven by growing instability in the bass and the desperate employment of his faltering voice.

Delving deeper into his conceptualization of love, Khalid explores emotional self-care in “Self” and “Alive.” His lyrics contain as many contradictions as they do regrets, and while they — purposefully — fail to resolve logically, the important element of frustration is clearly communicated. In “Self,” for example, this frustration stems from self-contradiction: “I’ve ran away from love / It’s gettin’ hard for me to breathe / ‘Cause the man that I’ve been runnin’ from is inside of me.”

Aside from its exploration of romantic and self-afflicted dead-ends, “Free Spirit” remains most strongly driven by Khalid’s trademark hip-hop/pop sound. The associated songs range across the genre spectrum, with “Better” taking on the down-low mood of hip-hop and “Talk” tinkering with jazz. A majority of them — “Bad Luck,” “Right Back,” “Don’t Pretend,” “Outta My Head,” “My Bad” and “Saturday Nights” (standout from 2018 EP “Suncity”) — stand somewhere between, substantiating the album’s most melodically pleasing elements.

In expressing the diverse emotions of regret, infatuation and romance, Khalid calls in a wide set of instrumentation. Such reflects both the album’s theme of emotional maturation and Khalid’s improvement in no longer solely relying on raw vocal talent.

Some opine that there’s nothing that particularly stands out in the album, but that’s not an issue to me. In fact, with high and continually rising popularity among teenagers, it would be particularly unwise and problematic for Khalid to play the role of the intellectual. As long as he fulfills his musical niche of reflecting the everyday experiences of young listeners, he deserves to — and will — thrive.

Other critics claim that there isn’t a consistent theme running through the album. This is misconstrued: the guiding concept is the young adult experience, which, while disillusioning and scattered, can ultimately be simplified as one full-cycled pursuit of love, in one form or another.

With “American Teen,” “Suncity” and now “Free Spirit,” Khalid’s music has imitated, celebrated and expressed life. In a decade juxtaposed between materialistic pleasure and emotional displacement, it’s all the more suitable. So when Pitchfork writer Alphonse Pierre criticizes, “Khalid feels perfect for an era where some of the most popular music is popular because it fits onto Spotify playlists meant solely to be used as background noise,” he’s exactly correct.

Art shouldn’t have to fantasize.

What we need to hear — what music needs — are the euphemisms and jargon of someone just like us, “burning rubber on the Michelin” (“Bad Luck”) with “phone on silent” (“My Bad”). We need Khalid, his timbre tranquilizing us as it loops on repeat.