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Yebba, 'October Sky'

It's a hard time to be a champion singer in pop – the kind who can really nail a vocal run, hit a high note with golden confidence and interpret a lyric with a stage actor's bravado. In 2021, murmuring ASMR gurus and gum-snapping rappers dominate. But Abigail Smith, who goes by inverted pseudonym Yebba, shows how to do it on this song that's been haunting my ears since June. "October Sky" starts out in that quiet, inward space so familiar in these Eilish days, as Yebba invokes a lo-fi filtered childhood memory of a lost loved one. Slowly, word by word, she builds tension, until she breaks through with one of those runs – and suddenly the song catapults into space. Mark Ronson's strikingly tasteful production allows Yebba to lead as her memory becomes a burden, a treasure and an open door; she flies through it in the end, in full-throated catharsis. What's remarkable is that she never sacrifices the intimacy of those first tentative notes. A master class in conveying complex emotions.

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Ann Powers is NPR Music's critic and correspondent. She writes for NPR's music news blog, The Record, and she can be heard on NPR's newsmagazines and music programs.
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