Since pushing back on attempts to mold him into a mainstream teen sensation during the early 2010s, Ryan Beatty has been taking control of his own horizons, ever ready to explore new forms of expression. A collaborator of BROCKHAMPTON and Tyler, The Creator, the LA singer-songwriter gave us open-hearted, electronically powered pop on 2018’s Boy in Jeans before presenting the liberated experimentation of 2020’s Dreaming of David. Encouraged by the purity and honesty of a favorite record, Joni Mitchell’s Hejira, that intrepid spirit takes him into folkier territory for this third album. His unhurried songs are still appealingly fluid, liable to glide into unexpected but elegant turns, but they largely unfurl on guitars and pianos, enriched but never overwhelmed by a visceral tug of strings or a soft hum of electronics. Shorn of the synthesized shrouds and treatments of Dreaming of David, Beatty’s voice is close and clear, drawing you in with emotion and candor. On opener “Ribbons,” the line “It’s brave to be nothing to no one at all” introduces a central theme of the album: the safety of isolation and Beatty’s struggles with the vulnerability needed to embrace the love being offered to him. Like Hejira, Calico also carries a vivid feeling of place. His stories drop us into forests, lead us onto barroom dance floors, and drive us up highways to hear reflections rendered in poetic metaphors (“I cut all the bruises off the peach/Not as beautiful but still as sweet” on “Bruises off the Peach”) and the sort of personal detail—“My sister’s raising a baby/In the house where my mother grew up” (“Andromeda”)—that only emboldens the record’s ring of honesty. There’s an inescapable sense of an artist uncovering more of his truth on these songs, and the beauty of Calico is that he pulls us close as he does it.