It’s been a slow-ish week in terms of new songs, and it seems like that will continue to be the case till SXSW is behind us. Yesterday on Twitter, Tom noted that March 11 is pretty short on viable Album Of The Week candidates, and he’s right: Based on the actual records scheduled to drop that day, it might as well be New Year’s Eve. But really, it’s just the first day of SXSW Music. So this week’s 5 Best features fewer household names than usual, which of course makes it way more interesting and worthwhile, too.
If you haven’t heard “Crime” yet, but you’ve listened to Real Estate, then you already know the song. This may sounds like a slight, but it’s one of Real Estate’s greatest strengths. By embracing in music and lyrics such modesty, calm, and emotional in-betweenness (i.e., how most people feel, most days, most of the time, most of their lives), Real Estate have established a signature sound that never feels redundant. For most bands, just one “Crime” would seem like an achievement; that Real Estate have racked up over 30 of them now is staggering. It’s a gentle wave, a barely there mist, a light simmer maintained over years. This song sounded great in 2009, even better in 2011, and in 2014 it’s making them one of the best rock bands around. –Miles
Ex-Blonds member Boots is all over BEYONCÉ, and you can hear traces of the creeping thump that underlies Bey’s “Haunted” in his marvelous first solo release. Over a foreboding, muffled low-end rumble, amidst detailed descriptions of a passionate affair that he doubts is good for him, Boots poses a question: “When I’m with you, who am I?” It plays out as a Weeknd song from the prey’s point of view, darker than anything on BEYONCÉ, with a vulnerable epilogue that suggests this dalliance did not end well. Flickers of warmth flash briefly into the flame, but more often “Dust” is utterly frigid; consider it the murky, morose complement to Young & Sick’s sleek serenades. –Chris
The first time I ever really listened closely to Chelsea Wolfe was last year when she opened for Swans. Her voice and music are extremely beautiful, yet there lurks such a sinister quality, too. That comes to mind especially on “Be Free,” as King Dude nails the same dry, country tone that Michael Gira started fucking with in ’90s Swans material, developed with Angels Of Light, and then mastered with the reunited Swans. But these two are not playing opposites here; both of them are so good at delivering that pitch-black folk they can simply trade lines, back and forth, building a completely unified piece of music in the same way Nick Cave and PJ Harvey did on the classic “Henry Lee.” These are two good artists who’ve made good albums, but “Be Free” really makes you hope this continuing partnership will yield more than just one single a year. –Miles
On the intro, Herb mutters, “Feel like the beat is talking to you, don’t it?” Well, yes, actually. And what it’s saying is this: “Clams Casino has just eaten a fistful of steroids and he’s here to consume your soul.” Apparently, though, that combination of Quaaludes-opera float and thunderous low end is saying something else to Herb, the tremendously exciting teenage Chicago rapper. It’s saying something like this: “Rap as if your life, and the lives of all the people you hold dear, depend on it.” Because goddamn. As the title implies, this is the third entry in a furious series. I hope Herb makes a hundred of them. –Tom
Live in concert, Hundred Waters immerses listeners in vast pools of sound, but until now the Florida group’s studio output has only hinted at the scope of their powers. “Down From The Rafters” does far more than hint, even if it’s delivered barely above a whisper. The song manages Bjork-worthy theatrics without betraying its miniature scale, Nicole Miglis evoking deep sensation with each breathy syllable, the synthetic symphonics behind her morphing from psychedelic swells to music-box twinkles. Rarely has such a commanding performance sounded so gentle. –Chris