British artist Jorja Smith has a voice — and now, an album — to listen to on repeat. So does Michael Blume, who mixes soul and alt-pop in unexpected ways. Boy band Why Don’t We make a summer-ready splash with a fresh piece of catchy pop on the aptly named “Hooked,” Swedish pop artist Lykke Li drops her multi-faceted new album so sad so sexy, and Lily Allen also makes a supremely honest return with her first album since 2014’s Sheezus with a rich, layered new collection.
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"last piece," Lykke Li
Swedish pop artist Lykke Li’s music often feels like it comes from another plane, one where sadness is rich with potential for beauty. Ethereal and haunting as ever on her new album so sad so sexy, she deigns to bless us with songs that are gentle and searching, but with sharp pop and a few well-chosen hip-hop edges. “Last piece” has one of the album’s stickiest melodies — and saddest messages. “So let me keep the last piece of my heart,” she begs, “before you tear it all apart.” It’s almost a dirge, but the lush production elevates it to music you can dance to — you’ll just be dancing alone, in your room, late at night, after heartbreak.
"Maybe Love Is True," Michael Blume
Listening to New York-based singer-songwriter Michael Blume is like getting the most soulful, thoughtful motivational speech injected straight into your veins: this is stuff to soak up and soak in, to use for healing and uplifting. On his sophomore EP cynicism & sincerity, Blume flits from gospel-inflected choruses to rich, mellifluous raps, flowing seamlessly from confession to inspiration. On “Maybe Love Is True,” he deftly mixes stream-of-consciousness reflections with a melody that takes cues from blues, funk and pop. “I wasn’t supposed to miss you, but I do,” he admits. “Maybe I was wrong. Maybe love is true.” The nice thing about Blume is that, just as his sound refuses to be classified, so too are his lyrics willing to explore the grey areas of emotion and self-determination.
"Family Man," Lily Allen
Ever since releasing 2006 hit “Smile,” her debut single, British artist Lily Allen has been known for her tongue-in-cheek songwriting and playful tone — and she’s discussed the attention levied at her in the tabloids. In her new album No Shame, coming after a four year musical reprieve following a lukewarm reception to her last collection, Allen uses her light touch to turn dark subjects into pop that’s in turn glossy and raw. And then there’s the beautiful ballad “Family Man,” arriving midway through the album and seeing Allen mine the delicate reaches of her lower register as she reflects on parenthood. “Every day has its challenges, I just never know what it is,” she sighs as the song slowly picks up into a driving melody. “It’s not always easy being a family man / but baby don’t leave me / I’m just doing what I can.”
"The One," Jorja Smith
Soulful British crooner Jorja Smith has been putting out the perfect slow-burning jams for about two years now, long enough to catch the attention of Drake (she was featured on his More Life playlist) and nab herself a BRIT Award as Critics’ Choice (previous winners: just some people named Adele and Sam Smith). Her debut album Lost & Found finally drops today, and one of the previously-unreleased standouts is “The One,” a cinematic number that starts off with the orchestral drama of a James Bond theme song before adding in jazzier elements that play nicely with her honeyed vocals. Smith’s work often falls somewhere between Alicia Keys and Adele, but with a voice this flexible, she always finds a space to surprise in her own way.
"Hooked," Why Don't We
Boy band Why Don’t We continue to churn out the undeniable earworms, this time in a song rightly named “Hooked.” (Is it the catchy chorus, singalong melody or romantic narrative that the title refers to? Not that it matters.) The five boys (Jack Avery, Daniel Seavey, Jonah Marais, Corbyn Besson and Zach Herron) have a knack for putting out songs that hit that perfect teen pop sweet spot: stuck in your head on the first listen, easy to sing along with and peppered with some smart production flourishes. It’s musical escapism that’s especially apt for a summer fling, no matter your age.