WITH his 2017 debut, ''American Teen,'' Khalid [last name is Robinson] arrived a teenager from EI Paso, speaking for fellow teens-

With a peer group of ''young dumb broke high school kids'' - a little proud, a little humble and mostly just dazedly matter-of-fact.

With his long-breathed croon floating over unassuming low-fi production, he sang about circumscribed but smartphone-connected lives, misfiring romances and looming life choices.

The immediacy of his melodies, the Everyteen sensibility of his lyrics and the direct yearning in his voice quickly found a wide audience.

More than a billion streams, five Grammy nominations [though no wins] and a 2018 EP [''Suncity'']  later, Khalid's second full-length album, ''Free Spirit,'' grapples with a more singular, more isolated experience :

Coming to terms with fame, wealth, broader horizons and lingering insecurity. ''Is this heaven or Armageddon?'' he wonders in ''Free Spirit,''

He has moved from ''we'' to ''I''.

The music cushions his unease, It's a generous album - 17 songs - that rolls along smoothly for nearly an hour, one leisurely midtempo groove after another, while Khalid's voice conveys far more longing than agitation.

He has upper-echelon producers now [among them John Hill, Digi, Charlie Handsome and Hit-Boy], and he's separating himself from the twitchy, narrow-band approach of the  SoundCloud rap crowd.

He's also learning from R&B's more distant past. On the row album, Khalid embraces a fuller sound that often harks back to the 1980s and 1990s, with pillowy synthesizers, tickling guitars and multiple layers of his own vocal harmonies.

''In ''Self',' Khalid strives to balance self-doubt - ''The man that I've been running from is inside of me'' - and self-preservation; the track produced by Hit-Boy, lurches forward on a boom bap beat and surrounds Khalid with glimmering keyboards and echoey vocals.

In ''Twenty One'' his current age - Khalid woos someone while he confesses his own turmoil :
''I'm in pain/ But I'm to blame.
To end this fight/I have to change.''

Yet there are handclaps, poprock guitars and layered vocals to bolster him and make sure he gets through.

The World students Society thanks author Jon Pareles/Album Review.


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