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Janet Jackson, Gregory Porter, Grimes, more: songs you need to hear this week

Editorial Staff

Each week, staff from CBC Music, Radio 2, 3, Sonica and CBC regions across the country collect songs they just can't get out of their heads, and make a case for why you should listen, too. Press play below and discover new songs for your listening list.

Let us know in the comments or via @CBCMusic what catches your ear, or if you have a new song you just can't stop playing.

‘Holding On,’ Gregory Porter

Jazz vocalist Gregory Porter released his latest album, Take me to the Alley, on May 6. The album opens with a reworked, acoustic version of “Holding On,” the track he co-wrote and sang with EDM duo Disclosure for its 2015 album, Caracal. It’s a testament to Porter’s songwriting that the same song works so well as both an electronic dance number and a neo-jazz tune. Soulful and supremely communicative, Porter is backed by great playing from his band — led by pianist Chip Crawford — that on this track includes a marvelous muted trumpet solo by Keyon Harrold.

— Robert Rowat (@rkhr)

‘Dammn Baby,’ Janet Jackson

Janet Jackson slays in her new music video, "Dammn Baby." Though the song was released on her seventh studio album, Unbreakable, last year, her performance delivers something new in every single way. From the backup dancers rolling their necks, to Jackson dancing with sass, the song embodies an empowering message. Her lyrics, "You gotta get up off that grey line/ and can't nobody tell you/ what you can't do/ shut that down automatic/ and I'll guarantee they'll fall in line/ watch 'em all go," talk about being yourself and having your own identity.

— Kiah Welsh (@simplykiah)

‘Til it Happens to You’ (Lady Gaga cover), Kesha

While Kesha continues her fight against longtime producer and alleged abuser Dr. Luke, the pop star has slowly made her return to music over the past few months. From live performances to the announcement of some upcoming tour dates on Diplo’s Mad Decent Block Party, Kesha is not letting her legal battles hold her back from taking the stage once again. Many were disappointed by her return on Zedd’s new version of “True Colors,” but the fact remains that Kesha has an incredible voice that deserves to be heard, musically and otherwise. At the Humane Society Gala, Kesha covered friend Lady Gaga’s Oscar-nominated song, “Til it Happens to You,” a song about sexual assault on school campuses. Kesha delivered an emotional rendition of the song, ultimately pulling through with a strength that shows just how much of a warrior she is. Warning: you may ugly cry while watching this.

— Melody Lau (@melodylamb)

‘It’ll Rain Today,’ Michelle Willis

If you have yet to hear the beautiful music of Michelle Willis, it's about time I introduce the two of you. Willis has the rare ability to place you directly into the music by connecting with you on an emotional level. "It'll Rain Today" is a song about being there for the people you love in their hardest times. It reminds you that life comes with its fair share of tough times, but with the right support system, you'll get through it, and be stronger for your experience. Within the first 30 seconds, "It'll Rain Today" will make you think of somebody you love deeply; by the last 30 seconds, you'll be dialing their number just to hear their voice.

— Kerry Martin (@OhHiKerry)

‘Sexe Machin/Sex Machine,’ Jef E. Barbara

A bilingual, space funk, R&B break-up jam that is equal parts self-protective shrug, kiss-off, and lament? Damn, Jef E. Barbara, I’m so glad you’re back. Barbara’s voice is still their trademark — clear, high, sweetly acidic — but on this track, their vocal performance is also a masterclass in great shade. You can hear the side-eye in every line, bouncing in sing-song fashion over plucky synths and guitars, layered beats and drum machines, and teasing organ. But the best part might be Barbara reiterating this beautiful triple entendre: “Well, in the end, I still have my staff and my crown,” they sing, proud, defiant, still standing after the heartbreak. Listen to the song here.

— Andrea Warner (@_Andrea Warner)

‘Vanilla,’ Harrison feat. Ryan Hemsworth

With Harrison's innovative video for "How Can it Be" up for a Prism Prize for best Canadian video next week, it looks like the Toronto producer decided to waste no time and submit a video that could be considered for the 2017 award. Directed by Alex McLeod, the 3D animated video is a colourful feast with a transport theme that is anything but what the song's title would suggest. As for the track itself, squelchy synths give way to vintage video-game effects on this teaser. While it's not really evident what Harrison and/or Hemsworth do on this track, it's a harbinger of a fruitful relationship between the Last Gang signees.

— Del F. Cowie (@vibesandstuff)

‘California,’ Grimes

Grimes just released a new video for "California," featuring a new version of the Art Angels track and guest appearances by her brother, Mac Boucher (who also co-directed it), Purity Ring's Megan James, Hana and Born Gold. The song's dreamy, bleep-bloopy sound tries to mask the dark heart of the song with its hand-claps, but this isn't about any sunny state: "When you get bored of me, I'll be back on the shelf/ and when the ocean rises up above the ground/ baby I'll drown in — California." Go find your sun somewhere else.

— Holly Gordon (@hollygowritely)

‘Happy,’ Annabel Jones

Annabel Jones isn’t just Davy Jones’ daughter — but it is worth noting that she inherited her father’s pop sensibilities. Her latest single, "Happy," is a continuation of her amped-up, catchy, indie-electro-pop sound. (Her previous single, "IOU," was released at the beginning of the year — you can watch the video here.) Jones’ new track dropped a couple of days ago and it’s just as good as the previous one, charged with light beats, decent lyrics and strong vocals. It’ll have your head bopping in no time.

— Nicolle Weeks (@nikkerized)