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New recordings: Katy Perry; Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner, and James McAlister; Bryson Tiller [The Philadelphia Inquirer :: BC-MUS-ALBUMS:PH]

Katy Perry

"Witness"

(Capitol (ASTERISK)(ASTERISK))

It doesn't exactly drop through the net with the grace of a Steph Curry three-pointer: "Swish, swish, bish, another one in the basket / Can't touch this, another one in the casket." That taunting chorus from "Swish Swish," the Nicki Minaj-featuring, Taylor Swift-dissing single on Katy Perry's ungainly new album is an "I'm-awesome-and-you're-not" song that lands with a thud. "Your game is tired, you should retire / You're about as cute as an old coupon expired." Such a burn!

"Witness" means to be soul-searching, self-enlightening, and socially conscious while transporting Perry into funkier territory. An expansive promotional campaign has taught us much: Perry has discussed cultural appropriation with Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson and revealed to James Corden that the sexual prowess of DJ-producer and former Philadelphian Diplo ranks third behind that of John Mayer and Orlando Bloom. But the album largely robs Perry's music of the bubblegum thrills of past empowerment anthems like "Firework" and "Roar." "Witness" is still sure to be an enormous success, but on tracks like "Save as Draft," which takes great pains to comment on how we communicate in the digital age, fun is absent. The exception that proves the rule is the genuinely grooving "Pendulum," which features producer Jeff Bhasker (who also helmed Harry Styles' breakout solo effort) and super-bassist Pino Palladino.

_Dan DeLuca

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Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner, James McAlister

"Planetarium"

(4AD, (ASTERISK)(ASTERISK)(ASTERISK))

"Planetarium" is a collaboration between multitasking artists who have moved in similar orbits in indie-rock and contemporary classical music: the National's guitarist Bryce Dessner, classical pianist Nico Muhly, singer/lyricist Sufjan Stevens, and his longtime collaborator percussionist/programmer James McAlister. It began five years ago as a multimedia performance that included a string quartet and a trombone septet (!), but Stevens and McAlister have reworked it, tweaking the original recordings with beats, vocoders, and other effects.

It's a concept album using the planets and other heavenly bodies to contemplate human failings and ambitions, touching on love, sex, and faith and often using mythology as a launching point - "Mars" is a meditation on war, for instance. It's a cosmic trip that veers from ambient quietness (the instrumental "Sun") to electronic cacophony (the conclusion of the 15-minute "Earth"), and from orchestral fanfare ("Venus") to gentle beauty ("Mercury" - which ranks with Stevens' best melodies).

_Steve Klinge

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Bryson Tiller

"True to Self"

(TrapSoul/RCA (ASTERISK)(ASTERISK)(ASTERISK))

Kentucky soul singer, rapper, and songwriter Bryson Tiller eats, sleeps, and makes sonic hay of trap music, with its spare schematics, clattering percussion, sizzling synths, and booming bass-bin rattle that pushes each cut's lower end into the red. It's working for him, too, big-time, as Tiller released this, his sophomore effort, directly onto the top slot of Billboard's Top 200 album spot while simultaneously reaching No. 1 in the categories of Top R&B/hip-hop albums, R&B albums, and digital albums.

Going beyond the bad-boy/lover-man boasts of his rugged first album ("T R A P S O U L.") to say nothing of its reliance on '90s R&B samples, Tiller and his baritone monotone croon find slow, quiet, storming sexual healing and rapid-fire reactionary shots in the trappiest of places, and with the gooiest sets of harmonies surrounding the proceedings. "Run Me Dry" and "Don't Get Too High" harken smugly back to his freshman effort, but the phrase "nice and rough" applies to the rap-sing romanticism of several "Rain" intros into salty seducers, such as "No Longer Friends" and "Teach Me a Lesson." And rather than find religion, Tiller sees something godly in the test (or text) of a woman in "Stay Blessed," with a fresh conversational aplomb.

_A.D. Amorosi

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FOR SALE FRIDAY

DJ Khaled, "Grateful"; Imagine Dragons, "Evolve"; Vince Staples, "Big Fish Theory"; King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, "Murder of the Universe"

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