Kesha makes her musical return with the powerfully emotional ballad "Praying," signaling a comeback — and a rebirth. HAIM's sophomore album is full of fresh rock-pop tunes of sharp production like "Kept Me Crying." German producer and DJ Zedd taps One Direction's Liam Payne for his second solo outing on an easy-listening summer track. Meanwhile, under-the-radar grunge-rapper Jez Dior leans into his rap side on catchy new single "Sober," while electro-pop production team Opia drop an EP of unusual — and infectious — new songs.
After a long, embattled hiatus, former pop party starter Kesha is back and all grown up in "Praying," the first single off upcoming album Rainbow. This is Kesha at her rawest: from her emotional lyrics of overcoming adversity and finding self-confidence to the authentic catches in her unrestricted vocal delivery, the gospel-forward ballad is hard to turn away from, especially when you know the fraught back story. And when she breaks out into a flawless whistle tone, it pretty much seals the deal: this new Kesha is stronger than ever, both as an artist and, seemingly, as a human.
"Sober," Jez Dior
The fittingly somber piano-key intro of "Somber" belies its potential as a casual banger, because this is a grunge-rap party track with growing power. Dior, a young L.A.-based artist who's been simmering on the edges of the rap and rock scenes for a few years now, pivots on this track to a more hip-hop sound than his earlier, more melodic songs. But it works: "Sober" is, oddly enough, a clear-headed recollection of a night of mistakes, all told in the catchy key of a looping rhythm.
"Kept Me Crying," HAIM
The sister trio of HAIM can, it seem, do no wrong. With the release of their long-awaited sophomore album, Something to Tell You, the talented group has refined and zeroed in on their ability to craft tightly-structured pop-rock jams, this time leaning in to their pop tendencies. "Kept Me Crying" feels both old-school and fresh in its orchestration: plenty of guitar, a breezy melody (it was co-written with Vampire Weekend's Rostam Batmanglij, after all), and a hand clap beat. But that special HAIM touch comes in the way they follow an angelic backing vocal with a distorted synth on the chorus — and then kick things up with an electric guitar solo.
"Get Low," Zedd feat. Liam Payne
German producer Zedd has been behind a string of club hits lately, most notably the Alessia Cara collaboration "Stay." "Get Low" may be his biggest-name project to date, thanks to the assist from former One Directioner Liam Payne and a pop-forward tone. This is vocalist Payne's second outing as a solo artist — the first was his hip-hop track "Strip That Down" with Quavo — and it suggests he's going to be just fine carving out his own lane. "Get Low" melds the two artists' styles into a tropical-flecked summer bop that you can easily imagine blasting at a pool party.
Opia's "Faded" is something a little different. At times shimmering scales, at times dark, reverberating beats, it's a song that doesn't settle for being slotted into one category or another, rather like the L.A. duo themselves. Fresh off a national tour with similarly vibe-y group Marian Hill, Opia's sweet spot is somewhere in the vicinity of electro-pop, their creative use of vocal elements and instrumental riffs — in this case, a minimalist guitar — setting them apart.