Heading into Grammy weekend, it’s kind of fitting that this week’s 5 Best Songs includes a couple artists with a dozen total Grammy awards under their collective belts, and another act that’s up for their first this year, and yet another whose song here takes a (playful) shot at an artist who’s up for seven Grammys of his own on Sunday night. And then two bands who have absolutely no Grammy relevance whatsoever. It was a good week, here’s to a good weekend.
The idea behind “Willow” is that we need to step back and survey the beauty around us — that age-old “Stop and smell the roses!” cliché. Young & Sick communicates the same idea with slightly different metaphors: “Take a little time to see the color,” we’re told. “Gaze at the moon; don’t use your mind; forget about time and live forever.” That last line suggests a break from reality, but detaching from the routine and the mundane is an utterly practical concern unless you’re content with a life devoid of inspiration, a life where “you don’t dream about flyin’ no more.” And while “Willow” probably can’t compete with the splendor of the natural world it describes, the song is an object of beauty worthy of your sustained concentration. The musical ingredients are just as familiar as the message, but reassembled with this much grace into a song with such crystalline allure, they sound like a dream come true. –Chris
“Spit hard as concrete, surprised I got teeth.” He said it, not me. As a rapper, Q’s greatest asset has always been the sense of chaos that he brings. He’s a circle barely holding itself together, an unstable piece of unexploded ordinance. On “Break The Bank,” he’s rapping about graduating from a hellish upbringing to someone’s idea of the good life, but in his erratic phrasing and his ripped-vocal-chord voice, you can hear the stakes in what he’s saying. And when he gets a tense, ominous beat like this one, from Alchemist, he gets the chance to froth furiously in every direction. Best part: When the six-minute track nears its ending and disappears into a discordant piano coda, like Q rapped so hard that he broke the beat. –Tom
Though they’ve been kicking around for a few years now, 2014 seems to be the year that Eagulls will really come into their own, and “Possessed” provides a searing fanfare. It’s a hell of a song, combining plenty of punk aggression even as it lays out sheets of shoegaze gooeyness. It’s a song you could mosh to (and I’ve heard their live shows are absolutely crazy) but it’s just as much the sort of thing you’d want to get lost in with a good pair of headphones, alone in your bedroom. While comparisons to Loveless make total sense, but there’s also a grittiness here that brings to mind My Bloody Valentine’s first record, Isn’t Anything. And that’s cool — Isn’t Anything has always been sorta overlooked. Eagulls’ new album probably won’t suffer the same fate. –Miles
MJB is a legend in her world, justifiably, for her gritty real talk and her soul-baring exorcisms. But in some alternate universe, she’s one of the all-time great dance singers, an absolute natural at translating gospel fervor into physical dance-floor release. Over the years, Blige has only rarely let her inner house diva out; consider, for instance, the staggering, cathartic cover of First Choice’s disco classic “Let No Man Put Asunder” that ended her 1999 album Mary, or the way she tore into that Soul II Soul chorus on her DJ Clue/Jadakiss collab “Back 2 Life 2001.” Before she threw her voice all over it, Disclosure’s “F For You” was already a tense, simmering dance-pop monster-jam. But with Blige’s ecstatic whoops and swooping counter-melodies, it’s practically a lost Crystal Waters/Basement Boys classic, a house-music master class. If Blige recorded an entire album like this, my brain would explode. –Tom
For as long as they’ve existed, my two favorite Beck albums have been Midnite Vultures and Sea Change. Those are the two most wildly disparate entries in his catalog, sure, but we’re lucky enough to live in a world where wacky Beck and sad Beck can coexist peacefully. The man contains multitudes! And while I long to have my bizness mixed again someday, something about this moment (the Polar Vortex? Technology-abetted isolation? The absence of new Beck songs like “Mixed Bizness”?) has me especially attuned to “Blue Moon.” Beck’s vocal is weathered and weary but piercingly authoritative. The arrangement is rich and inventive, sprouting beautiful and unexpected details at every turn. It’s not a Sea Change retread — there’s too much vigor in it — but the same sweeping melancholia that made 2002 such a good year to be 19 and brokenhearted is making 2014 seem like a fine time to be 30 and anxious about the future. “Blue Moon” suggests that we can rest easy about one thing at least: All signs point to Morning Phase being the gorgeously conceived Beck album we’ve been waiting more than a decade for. –Chris