The music gods were really kind this week. We had maybe a dozen legit songs in contention for this week’s 5 Best, and and when we finally narrowed it down five, we could barely even find a way to rank them, because any of them would have been a worthy choice for No. 1. Heck, we couldn’t even narrow it down to five: This week’s 5 Best Songs consists of six songs! This is the first time we’ve had a tie occur in this feature, but this week, a tie made sense. See below, let us know if you agree.
5. TIE: Coldplay – “Midnight”; M83 – “I Need You”
Has this ever happened before? Really, can you give me any prior example of this in the history of popular music? Coldplay is, hands down, one of the biggest bands in the world, right? And M83 … maybe not on the level of Coldplay, but come on, they’re huge, too. So here we’ve got two really popular, successful, acclaimed bands, both three years removed from their respective last albums, and in the span of a single week — on two consecutive days, no less — both release new songs, independent of one another, that (a) sound very little like anything else in these bands’ respective catalogs, and (b) sound a GREAT DEAL like the work of a totally unrelated third party. I’m not saying that any one artist owns the particular vocoder/Auto-Tune style employed in these songs and nobody else should ever be allowed to use it (though T-Pain might disagree), or that Coldplay and/or M83 have totally abandoned their aesthetic identities trying to jack somebody else’s sound, but I bet if you conducted a blind test — multiple choice; demographically appropriate subjects — more than half the respondents would tell you the artist responsible for BOTH “Midnight” and “I Need You” was neither Coldplay nor M83, but Bon Iver. It’s a total coincidence, of course, but can you imagine how it must have felt to be Justin Vernon, waking up late on Tuesday afternoon, to texts from friends saying, “Bro, you gotta hear this Coldplay song”? Then, on Wednesday, pushing a cart around Whole Foods, and his phone blows up again? “Bro … this M83 song.” And on top of all that, both songs are really, really good? I don’t know Justin Vernon or anything — maybe the whole thing just freaked him the hell out — but man, I gotta think that was a really cool feeling, that he went to bed Wednesday night wondering how in the world he wound up here, and what in the world was gonna happen next. –Michael
“Psychic Trauma” is high drama from the beginning, but the gleaming Replacements homage that starts off the track doesn’t even hint at how crazy it’s about to become. About 45 seconds in, without notice, what initially sounded like a beat-up sedan accelerates with the lung-paralyzing horsepower of a Bugatti and hits with the sheer sensory wallop of “Bugatti” — and then it gets even more intense until it’s tumbling down an embankment while still somehow setting the land speed record and Dylan Baldi is shrieking for his life. It’s as completely fucking insane as you’d want a song called “Psychic Trauma” to be. –Chris
If EMA’s Past Life Martyred Saints (my favorite album of 2011, and recently I learned Tom’s as well) was Erika Anderson tearing out her beating, raw heart for viewers to uncomfortably bear witness, then think of The Future’s Void as the organ being prepared rare. It sounds like a polished studio album (and it is), but cut just under the surface and all the blood spills out. “So Blonde” is one of the best examples of that. From the drum lead to the guitars and Anderson’s breathy voice, it sounds like a dead ringer for something that would have been on alt-radio in the early ’90s (and it could have been), but look harder. Producer Leif Shackelford’s violin drones away in the back, cresting and sinking in and out of the mix, keeping you off balance right in time for Anderson’s bloodcurdling screams. That voice is so powerful, so demanding, it completely steals focus from everything else going on, until Anderson finally screams so loud that everything drops into silence — before it comes crashing back. That dynamism makes “So Blonde” grow richer with multiple listens, and it hints that Erika Anderson has made an album with the same passionate ambition throughout (and she did). –Miles
The Horrors have always been a hard band to pin down, and “I See You” collects almost everything this band does well into one beautiful sprawling epic. Over seven and a half towering minutes, planetarium laser-show synths turn into Echo & The Bunnymen-style drama, then into triumphant Britpop anthem-rock, and finally into a staring-into-infinity psych-rock zone-out. But this isn’t a case of a band haphazardly pasting genres together. Instead, it draws all its influences together into one vast cohesive whole, connecting dots and moving ever forward, every new movement making the entire song sound bigger. The Horrors’ last album was called Skying, but that’s also a pretty great name for what they’re doing here. –Tom
When was the last time you heard a song so artfully capture the breathless anticipation, longing, and effervescent tingling that converge in your chest when you’re getting up the nerve to profess your love to someone special? “I might sound simple, but I’m sure/ I just want to be yours” is Kip Berman’s mantra, and yes, the concept is as basic as they come. But there’s nothing simple about the way Berman and his friends bring these sensations to life. “Simple And Sure” is a finely tuned beauty from a songwriter who’s proving to be far more than a mere retro revivalist. And — with all due apologies to our readers in warmer climates, whose lives probably feel like a Pains Of Being Pure At Heart song 12 months a year — as the most brutal winter in recent memory refuses to die, it is exactly the breezy sunshine masterstroke we need. –Chris