MUSIC

Kesha's "High Road" Is a Beautiful Mess

Kesha enlists Brian Wilson, Sturgill Simpson, and old Ke$ha to create a sometimes jarring portrait of herself, past, present, and future.

Kesha's fourth album High Road begins with a near-perfect hook.

"Tonight is the best night of our lives," she sings over an ear-worm of a chord progression, voice awashed in auto-tune. Suddenly the music stops. "B*tch, pick up your phone," a voice says. "We're going out."

It's jarring, tongue-in cheek, and a bit messy, like the rest of High Road. Kesha's always toyed with the limits of pop, balancing kitsch and genuineness, and true to form, High Road ricochets back and forth between pristine euphoria and camp, between childlike wonder and jaded ennui.

On "Shadow," Kesha flips between reflectiveness and crudeness. "Imma love you even though you hate me," she sings. "Hate is the poison, love's the elixir. If you don't like me you can suck my…." Her voice spirals into a choir of eerily beautiful harmonies, perhaps one of the more elegant arrangements that the phrase "you can suck my" has ever been spun into.

Maybe the contrast is the point. Kesha is an artist, but her medium is pop music's cliches and reliable symbolism. She pulls from other stars, sometimes copying Cardi B's flow, arguably adopting a bit of a blaccent in songs like "Honey." The transition from "Honey" to "Cowboy Blues," an ethereal, deeply beautiful acoustic number that mentions cats and talks with therapists and tarot cards, is also startling. At times, walking through High Road can feel like traveling through a bunch of different sets in Hollywood—a party, then a bedroom scene, then a desert under the stars. It's hard not to think of Lil Nas X's kaleidoscopic rendition of "Old Town Road" at this year's Grammys; Kesha's album feels like a similarly endless rotation through a carousel of lights and sounds.

Hovering over High Road is the well-known story of Kesha's past. Her fraught relationship with Dr. Luke dominated the headlines for months, exploding after Kesha accused him of abuse that nearly ended her life and attempted to free herself of her contract with him. The case dragged on and on, and when Kesha was finally able to break the chains, what followed was 2017's Rainbow, crowned by the breathtaking power ballad "Praying."

High Road finds Kesha borrowing from the ragged seriousness of that era, choosing to blend it with the glittery, vodka-soaked, gold-tooth fragments of her past and adding a sprinkle of openhearted optimism. Some of the album is so saccharine and manufactured that it's hard to listen to—the calliope-influenced, "Potato Song" could soundtrack mind-bendingly annoying TikToks—but it redeems itself with moments of beauty that feel like deep breaths. Similarly, the cosmic folky flashpoint "Chasing Thunder" is an inspiring power ballad which offers more scope than the glitchy cliches of the earlier bangers, but it winds up losing some of its power as it progresses instead of building to a truly satisfying chorus.

Few albums contain such an even mix of beauty and stupidity, of ugliness and effervescence. Kesha pulls it off with a wink, taking the high road and shrugging off the heaviest parts of the suffering that weighed over her for the past decade while not denying their existence. She practices self-confidence, but at the same time, she searches for unreliable men as if they could save her—an absent father and a man she briefly met at a Nashville bar both represent paths towards redemption and innocence that went untaken. Now all she has is herself and her scars, and she both celebrates them and mourns what could've been.

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Maybe that's what we need nowadays—a movement towards optimism that doesn't disavow pain and suffering. Maybe we should be like Kesha on High Road, embracing the fact that none of us are just one thing; we're all collages of shallowness, mistakes, triumphs, Netflix binges, wild parties, best friends, transcendent experiences, days spent in bed, heartache, daddy issues, anxiety, clarity, and everything in between.

Kesha certainly thinks so. "You can be a woman who goes out and you party, and you have drinks … and you smoke some weed, and then you get a tattoo," she said to The Atlantic. "And then the next day you go for a run, and then you meditate, and then you go to the studio and write a song about a totally different emotion. That's just what being human is."

MUSIC

14 Most Anticipated Albums of 2020

Halsey, Dua Lipa, Tame Impala, and more.

While it's plenty fun to revisit music of the last year (or decade), it's equally exciting to point our focus to future releases.

2020 is coming soon, with no shortage of both indie and major-label releases in the early months to keep our ears busy. Below, we've picked just a few that we can't wait to hear.

The 1975: Notes On A Conditional Form (Interscope/Dirty Hit, 2/21)

After dropping their acclaimed A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships late last year, the modern indie pop legends return this year with their fourth studio album. They've released three songs from it so far, including opener "The 1975," featuring teen climate activist (turned Matty Healy's friend) Greta Thunberg.

The 1975 - People (Official Video) www.youtube.com


Grimes: Miss Anthropocene (4AD, 2/21)

The follow-up to Grimes' 2015 magnum opus, Art Angels is "a concept album about the anthropomorphic goddess of climate change." She's released five singles, most recently "4ÆM."

Grimes – 4ÆM www.youtube.com


Georgia: Seeking Thrills (Domino, 1/10)

British producer Georgia Barnes' second album is due at the beginning of the year. If '80s-indebted synth-pop is up your alley, check out her fantastic single "About Work the Dancefloor."

Georgia - About Work The Dancefloor (Official Video) www.youtube.com


Frances Quinlan: Likewise (Saddle Creek, 1/31)

Frances Quinlan is best known as the lead singer of Philadelphia indie rockers Hop Along, but her inimitable voice still packs a punch as a solo act. Her first album under her own name comes out next month. Check out a single from it, "Now That I'm Back."

Frances Quinlan - Now That I'm Back www.youtube.com


Tame Impala: The Slow Rush (Interscope, 2/14)

The Slow Rush is Kevin Parker and company's first album since 2015's instant-classic, Currents. The Australian band has released three singles so far: "Borderline," "It Might Be Time," and "Posthumous Forgiveness."

Tame Impala - Borderline (Audio) www.youtube.com


Halsey: Manic (Capitol, 1/17)

Manic is Halsey's third album. It includes her No. 1 hit "Without Me," as well as features from Alanis Morrisette, Dominic Fike, and Min Yoon-gi of BTS.

Halsey - Without Me www.youtube.com


Beach Slang: The Deadbeat Bang of Heartbreak City (Bridge Nine, 1/10)

Last year, James Alex released the mellowed-out, acoustic-focused Everything Matters But No One Is Listening as Quiet Slang. Now he's back with his full punk band, Beach Slang, with their third studio album. It features Tommy Stinson of the Replacements on bass.'

Beach Slang - Bam Rang Rang www.youtube.com


Kesha: High Road (Kemosabe, 1/10)

After the stream of empowerment anthems that comprised 2017's Rainbow, Kesha is returning to her party-pop roots for her fourth album. Singles "Raising Hell," "My Own Dance," and "Resentment" are out now.

Kesha - Raising Hell (Official Video) ft. Big Freedia www.youtube.com


Mura Masa: Raw Youth Collage (Polydor, 1/17)

Grammy-winning British producer Mura Masa's second record is on the horizon. It features guest vocals from pop darling Clairo, idiosyncratic rapper slowthai, lo-fi R&B upstart Tirzah, and more.

Mura Masa, Clairo - I Don't Think I Can Do This Again (Official Video) www.youtube.com


Bombay Bicycle Club: Everything Else Has Gone Wrong (Island, 1/17)

After taking some time off, London indie pop band Bombay Bicycle Club are back with their first new album since 2013. So far, you can hear "Eat, Sleep, Wake (Nothing But You)," "Racing Stripes," and the album's title track. Read our interview with bassist Ed Nash about the band's return.

Bombay Bicycle Club - Racing Stripes www.youtube.com


Okay Kaya: Watch This Liquid Pour Itself (Jagjaguwar, 1/24)

Norweigan singer-songwriter Okay Kaya's second album is out soon, intertwining her themes of melancholy and anxiety into dark, eerie pop. She's released three singles so far: "Ascend and Try Again," "Baby Little Tween," and "Asexual Wellbeing."

Okay Kaya - Ascend and Try Again www.youtube.com


Wolf Parade: Thin Mind (Sub Pop, 1/24)

Indie rock stalwarts Wolf Parade are back with their fifth album, their first since departure of multi-instrumentalist Dante DeCaro. They've already released two songs from it, "Forest Green" and "Against the Day."

Wolf Parade - Forest Green [LYRIC VIDEO] www.youtube.com


Andy Shauf: The Neon Skyline (Anti-, 1/24)

Canadian singer-songwriter Andy Shauf is soon releasing his sixth solo album. The singles "Things I Do" and "Try Again" are out now.

Andy Shauf - "Try Again" www.youtube.com


Dua Lipa: Future Nostalgia (Warner, TBA)

Dua Lipa's second studio album doesn't have a set release date, but we know it's coming in early 2020. If the two lead singles so far—"Don't Start Now" and "Future Nostalgia"—are any indication, it won't be a disappointment.

Dua Lipa - Don't Start Now (Official Music Video) www.youtube.com