SZA Credit: courtesy RCA Records

On her major-label debut, CTRL (RCA), New Jersey singer SZA lays bare the complexities, insecurities, and contradictions that accompany sex and romance in the modern world—at least for folks in their 20s. The album title refers to a keyboard command, but the word it truncates is entirely ironic here: the tales SZA spins, in songs that straddle soul and contemporary pop, seem to describe an emotional life that’s utterly out of control. On “Love Galore,” a duet with rapper and singer Travis Scott, an impending romantic reunion is fraught with uncertainty bordering on ambivalence. On “The Weekend,” SZA seems OK with the fact that her lover is with someone else during the week—until she’s not. And on “Supermodel” she chastises a boyfriend for cheating and then describes her revenge: sleeping with one of his friends. Maybe because I’m a couple decades older than SZA, this all feels harrowing, and a bit scorched-earth—a reality where sex seems to function more as a weapon than as a bond. The stylistic collisions in the music go down a lot easier; with her strong, supple voice, SZA can hop from old-school slow jams to rhythmically agile machinations a la Rihanna (whose song “Consideration” she cowrote and sang on). She also ventures well outside the usual models, leaving room for colorful bursts of indie pop and ethereal electronic music.   v