It’s been two years since Mikky Ekko shared the spotlight with Rihanna on “Stay,” and the singer wouldn’t have been faulted if he’d set about crafting an album that drafted off of his previous smash. Instead, “Time” seems to view that song as an anomaly; even “Comatose,” its closest soundalike, carves out an identity that’s clearly Ekko, rather than just Rihanna redux. His music takes the spare depth of Lorde and Tove Lo as a starting point, adding a sharp precision that — along with a floating tenor alternating between a less-sappy Sam Smith and a steelier Jeff Buckley — fuels the tense urgency of “Riot,” and sells even insubstantial material like “Love You Crazy.” As precise as the sounds are, though, they’re still chosen for emotional effect; rather than holding Ekko back, they focus him. “Mourning Doves” makes his grand, reach-to-the-sky romantic gesture, but it’s also intimate: a message from one lover to another, not to the world. “Smile, the worst is yet to come,” Ekko sings elsewhere, earning both the pessimistic desperation and the comfort inherent in sympathetic company. (Out Tuesday)
ESSENTIAL “Riot“Marc Hirsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.