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These 3 songs capture the spirit of the summer

TONYA MOSLEY, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Rock critic Ken Tucker reviews three new songs by three artists that preach about revolution, throwing a disco party and attempting to define life itself. It's the music of Carsie Blanton, Sabrina Carpenter and Jessica Pratt. Ken says each in their own way is a work of imagination and passion. Let's begin with Carsie Blanton.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EMPIRE")

CARSIE BLANTON: (Singing) Bring me a coat and a parlor guitar. Neon and smoke coming up from the bar. I'm out on the roof with a couple of friends, watching the empire end. I guess America is coming untied. Half of my neighbors are living outside. Whoever don't break better learn how to bend. We're watching the empire end.

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: Carsie Blanton recently released "After The Revolution," an album full of gorgeous protest music. That's a phrase I don't get to use very often. Protest music tends to be strident or self-righteous or just bluntly angry. But Blanton, a folk singer with a rock attitude, knows how to construct songs with real melodies and storylines that don't obscure her messages. Her new batch of songs speak with both idealism and despair at the prospect of ordinary citizens rising up to make this place a better country. On the title song, she speculates on what the aftermath of such a revolution might look like.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AFTER THE REVOLUTION")

BLANTON: (Singing) You and me by the warming sea buying something in a bag. Walking through the war to the corner store, everyone looks poor and sad. So I picked a fight later on that night. I was sick of feeling shame. And I know it all couldn't be your fault, but I need someone to blame. After the revolution, we'll have a better life. You'll be a better husband. I'll be a better wife. We'll have a jubilation.

TUCKER: One of Blanton's strengths is her specifics, and my heart always swells a little when she gets to that couplet that goes after the revolution, we'll have a better life. You'll be a better husband. I'll be a better wife. I recommend every song on Blanton's album. A contrast in tone is the new song by Sabrina Carpenter, her bubbly pop hit single "Espresso." Some people are already calling this the song of the summer. I'm calling it catchy and not a little bit odd.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ESPRESSO")

SABRINA CARPENTER: (Singing) I'm working late 'cause I'm a singer. Oh, he looks so cute wrapped 'round my finger. My twisted humor make him laugh so often. My honeybee, come and get this pollen. Too bad your ex don't do it for you - walked in and dream-came-trued (ph) it for you, soft skin and I perfumed it for you. I know I Mountain Dew it for you. That morning coffee - brewed it for you. One touch, and I brand-newed (ph) it for you. Now he's thinking about me every night. Oh, isn't that sweet? I guess so. Say you can't sleep. Baby, I know. That's that me espresso.

TUCKER: I love the goofiness of that line, I'm working late 'cause I'm a singer. I'm startled by the bald product placement of the line I know I Mountain Dew it for you, and I am baffled by the refrain, that's that me espresso. Sabrina Carpenter became Disney Channel famous as an actor. And on "Espresso," she and her producer Julian Bunetta are enacting a disco session circa 1979. Think Giorgio Moroder and Donna Summer or Nile Rogers and Chic. My third song has bigger ambitions. Jessica Pratt aims to define existence itself on this tune, called "Life Is."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LIFE IS")

JESSICA PRATT: (Singing) Life is - it's never what you think it's for. And I can't seem to set it off, and lately I've been insecure. The chances of a lifetime might be hiding their tricks up my sleeve - used to be the greatest. Now I see. Time is time and time and time again. And what would you say if you can't get out of here? Time is time and time and time again. To make your escape, you've captured the captor's fear 'cause I can feel my luck has turned it all around. And when you've fallen out, get both feet on the ground. The cursеs you keep won't follow you now.

TUCKER: On "Life Is," Jessica Pratt deploys an echoing, classic girl group beat and sings in the arch, declamatory tone of Marianne Faithful or Nico. The effect is to reveal the warm pain that lurks just beneath a chilly exterior. No other song on Pratt's new album "Here In The Pitch" comes close to the kind of immediate, sweeping drama summoned up by "Life Is." Like the songs I've played by Carsie Blanton and Sabrina Carpenter, this is music that creates an entirely new world the moment the woman starts to sing.

MOSLEY: Ken Tucker reviewed new music from Carsie Blanton, Sabrina Carpenter and Jessica Pratt. On tomorrow's show, singer-songwriter Maggie Rogers. She has a new album called "Don't Forget Me." In 2021, Rogers felt burnt out and took a break from music to go to Harvard Divinity School. She's been using what she studied there to make life on the road more sustainable for herself. "Don't Forget Me" is her first album that isn't completely autobiographical. I hope you can join us.

To keep up with what's on the show and get highlights of our interviews, follow us on Instagram at @NPRFreshAir. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Ann Marie Baldonado, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Therese Madden, Thea Chaloner, Susan Nyakundi, and Joel Wolfram. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. For Terry Gross, I'm Tonya Mosley.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IF YOU WANT ME TO")

BLANTON: (Singing) I know that you don't know me, but, baby, will you hold me tight? I want to feel that holy feeling in my soul tonight. Yeah. I'll be a little tender. It's been a little while. But if you don't remember, I'll show you how to smile, (vocalizing), if you want me to, (vocalizing), if you want me to. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ken Tucker reviews rock, country, hip-hop and pop music for Fresh Air. He is a cultural critic who has been the editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly, and a film critic for New York Magazine. His work has won two National Magazine Awards and two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards. He has written book reviews for The New York Times Book Review and other publications.