The 5 Best Songs Of The Week

The 5 Best Songs Of The Week

By Michael Nelson / January 17, 2014

This week, 2014 kicked into top gear, musically speaking, leaving us with way more than five great songs competing for space in our list of the week’s best. We had to leave out truly excellent cuts from Protomartyr, Woods Of Desolation, and Primitive Parts, as well as long-awaited new tracks from longtime favorites like Jenny Lewis and Liars. You could probably make a case for that list comprising an alternate and almost equally impressive 5 Best. Almost — but not quite. So what did make it? This:

5. Chlöe Howl – “This Song’s Not About You” (Demo)

We’d heard a few promising tracks from Chlöe Howl at this point, but wow, this is next level. Starting with its pounding intro, “This Song’s Not About You” charges through its choruses, verses, and many, many hooks with a growing confidence. Howl only builds momentum as the song progress, all the better for a song about leaving a bad relationship. Considering this is only a demo, it doesn’t look like she’ll be slowing down anytime soon. –Miles

4. Tree – “Probably Nu It”

We’ve written several times over that young Chicago rap circa 2014 can’t be so easily polarized into the chilling lunkheaded drill music of Chief Keef and Fredo Santana vs. the brainy, sensitive expressionism of Chance The Rapper and Vic Mensa. Tree might be our surest living proof of that thesis. There is no easy label for “Probably Nu It,” a song that manages to bang even as it creeps on the low. Even Tree’s own clever “soul-trap” designation doesn’t cut it for a song so understated, albeit one that does sketch lines between Gucci Mane and bare-bones blues. This music is not quite revolutionary, but it’s strikingly individual all the same. –Chris

3. Real Estate – “Talking Backwards”

I’ve written at length about bands that thrive by simply doing what they do, bands that are actually better off not evolving, bands that respond to the objection “It all sounds the same!” with a hearty “So what?” Whether you put up with such lack of progression is almost entirely dependent on whether you enjoyed the starting point. So people who don’t really care for Real Estate can scroll down, and those of us who can’t get enough can glory in the glow of what promises to be another splendid LP. “Talking Backwards” is as simple, straightforward, and lightweight as Real Estate songs always are. Built from a basic chord progression, it drifts forward casually, overlaid with gentle jangle and sighing swoons. Real Estate’s signature sound has come into crisper focus since the band’s early years, but even in hi-fi they still sound like a dream. –Chris

2. Sun Kil Moon – “Ben’s My Friend”

On his staggering new album Benji, Sun Kil Moon’s Mark Kozelek deals with the weightiest possible themes: Death, impending death, the certainty of death, virginity-loss memories, bad knees. But Kozelek doesn’t work in big gestures, and so those ideas come out in sideways, offhand ways, through his casual and conversational lyricism. Case in point: Album closer “Ben’s My Friend,” mostly structured as a story about our middle-aged narrator going to see the Postal Service live, remembering when his friend Ben Gibbard was nowhere near as famous as he was, feeling too old and uncool and out-of-place to even be there. Kozelek’s lyrics and delivery tell us that it’s no big deal, but those of us who have experienced something similar know that it is a big deal — it’s absolutely a big deal — to realize that you’re, in some ways, obsolete. But the jazzy, expansive splay of the music is something else, too — a prettier, more evocative piece of sound than anything Kozelek’s friend Ben has managed in years. –Tom

Sun Kil Moon – “Ben’s My Friend”

1. Childbirth – “I Only Fucked You As A Joke”

One one level, it’s top-shelf alt-rock novelty: Two minutes of choppy and minimal guitar and quotable lyrical sneer, a Tumblr-era “Valley Girl” or “Detachable Penis.” But if you let the song linger, it becomes something else: cold, hard, brutal realness. This is pick-up culture blues — one of the meanest things one person can say to another person rendered as giddy garage-punk, like practically every song Bratmobile ever recorded. One line here — “Ooh baby, I can’t make good decisions everyday” — takes every moonily passive-aggressive Drake line ever, balls it up, and throws it in the garbage. (Bonus: Everything on Childbirth’s streaming-on-Bandcamp album It’s A Girl! is nearly this much fun, even if it doesn’t cut as deep.) –Tom