Kimbra, “’90s Music”
For an ostensible comeback single (or, more realistically, new-artist launch), this is bizarre. It doesn’t sound retro. What it sounds is mechanical, like it’s from one of those YouTube videos where someone rigs a dot-matrix printer to play “E.T.” It doesn’t sound particularly ’90s, either. You could maybe reconstruct someone’s imagination of the decade from these pieces — you’ve probably got the Spice Girls in there, definitely R&B, perhaps kids’ commercials, if the kids were surly enough at taping to sound like they’re doing The Most Unwanted Song. But as usual, entire swaths of actual ’90s music are left out; the ’90s, here, extends as far back as Michael Jackson (permanently ’80s, Xscape notwithstanding) and far forward as Kimbra’s own immediate past — she sings “that song we used to sing” with the exact rhythm and melody of her part on “Somebody That I Used to Know. It’s so scrambled that it takes a trip to a lyrics page to realize what’s going on: a straightforward conceit, old music conveying memories of old love, that’s compressed, made lossy, fed through WordPerfect and back out, until what’s left of the emotional hook is nonsense like “love like, love like” and what’s left of the relationship is corrupted and irrecoverable. I imagine this song won’t fully make sense for a few decades. 
La Roux, “Let Me Down Gently”
This is two singles, actually. The first is a good ol’ indulgent brood, nothing but morose chords and screwface flanging, and Elly Jackson’s found the one context in which her flat pitch and affect works: for sulking. Even the backing vocals do it: literal sulks. There’s a false stop — it lasts a little too long — then begins single number two, the sadness transmuted into a luminous dance breakdown, like that’ll solve anything. Five minutes, and it’s already outdone Lykke Li’s I Never Learn as a wistful/shiny soundtracks for wasting rainy Fridays deciding to miss people. It’s still a La Roux song, so it’s not perfect, but a few clunky “hide your frowns, frowns” are worth a closing, closureless “you’re not my life, but I want you in it.” 
Little Mix, “Salute”
Little Mix and their writers (one of whom goes by Megatron, which is awesome) achieve female empowerment by pastiching as many Beyonce songs as possible. The chassis is “Video Phone,” the bridge, militarism and conceit are “Run the World (Girls),” the vague Middle Eastern motifs and backing vox are “Baby Boy” or “Naughty Girl,” the spoken-word is probably “Diva,” the rhythm and threaded harmonies are “Jumpin’ Jumpin,” and I know I’m forgetting a lot. Unsurprisingly then, once “Salute” gets going it moves like a destroyer ship, and “get your killer heels, sneakers, pumps or lace up your boots” is weirdly, in its High Street bait way, as inclusive a statement as any songwriter’s managed. (Hazel Robinson’s written about that; sometimes what makes you feel strong is being a Jesy with enormous hair.) For substantiveempowerment you’d probably want Beyonce, not the incomplete sum of her old parts, but few singles this year pack more sheer pop force per minute.