Next Tuesday marks the official start of SXSW’s music conference — which runs through next Sunday — meaning a good percentage of the industry will be in Austin for the whole week. To account for this, the industry was on overdrive this week, flooding Soundcloud and YouTube and the inboxes of music bloggers with new songs, rushing to capitalize on the final moments before everyone and everything goes south. Not surprisingly, then, this week’s 5 Best Songs is pretty well loaded (the same thing occurred last week, too). Expect next week’s pickings to be considerably slimmer. But that’s no reason not to revel in the bounty while it’s before you.
S. Carey may be a member of Bon Iver, but “Crown The Pines” is pure Michigan-vintage Sufjan Stevens. Until, suddenly, it’s Shields-era Grizzly Bear, after which it quickly morphs into something like Owen Pallett’s swirling strings. At which point you realize it’s S. Carey, and he’s been carefully studying what makes grand orchestral folk-rock like this tick. And, OK, it also sounds a lot like Bon Iver, which is all the rage again lately whether you’re a member of Bon Iver or not. –Chris
What do the Oscars even know anyway? Owen Pallett did great work on the score for Her, but he clearly has bigger things on his mind, if “The Riverbed” is any indication. On the lead single off Pallett’s appropriately named In Conflict, the drums rush with military momentum, strings sweep in, and Pallett lets his voice soar in a way that reminds us how long it’s been since we’ve heard him in this role, and how sorely missed he’s been. Through its primal pull and high drama, the song is muscular in the same way as the work of another Arcade Fire collaborator, Colin Stetson. “The Riverbed” debuted with a music video, one depicting the building frustration from an elderly man being humiliated on a date by a young bully as he trains to deliver severe retribution. And really, its haunting final shot ends in the same place that “The Riverbed” begins: with the sound of Pallett charging head first, impassioned to the point of nearly losing focus, ready to destroy anything that dares get in his way. –Miles
These Vancouver punks’ older records sound like skittering basement chaos, but now they’re grand, powerful, in control — the evolutionary version of 7 Year Bitch that we didn’t know we needed. Kenneth Williams’ splintered surf guitar still sounds like it’s being torn apart in a hurricane, but now there’s a depth and dimension to it that wasn’t there before. And where frontwoman Mish Way once sounded like a buried scream, she’s now the focused center of everything, taking charge of the track and projecting it right into your motherfucking faces. Sometimes, DIY punk bands lose their focus when you put them in a proper studio. Not this time. –Tom
As unique as Tom Krell’s How To Dress Well project sounded in 2010, did anyone really expect him to become this influential? From the opening moments of Love Remains you can trace a lineage to the more recent successes of Rhye, inc., Autre Ne Veut, Majical Cloudz, Jai Paul, and the Weeknd. Even the overdue recognition for Forest Swords (who will be opening for HTDW this year) can arguably be traced to a killer collaboration that put him back on people’s radars. “Words I Don’t Remember” is Krell’s greatest song to date. It spends over half of its six-plus minutes in a crystal-clear focus, reestablishing the way we think of this project. “Who knows if I love you baby, but you’re the only one on my mind,” sings Krell, evoking simple honesty over sadness while he generates musical fake-outs that build up only to snap back to the most fragile and quietest sound. The production here is so detailed, so full, but it’s closed off in comparison to the final floodgate-crashing minute when every romantic hesitancy and musical restraint gives way to pure, overwhelming feeling. “Words I Don’t Remember” is a complete creative breakthrough, one that ensures wherever Krell goes from here, we’re ready to follow. –Miles
On two and a half albums with Girls, Christopher Owens proved himself a master of classic-pop songcraft and theatrical slow-dissolve ache, and the wounded optimism in his voice meant you could compare him, without hyperbole, to Buddy Holly. For a minute there, I was sure Girls were going to be our generation’s version of the Smiths, but they had their own messy breakup before that could happen. And with last year’s Lysandre, Owens showed that maybe he wasn’t ready to be our solo Morrissey; the album had good songs and interesting ideas, but its chintzy mid-’60s ornamentation and heartsick concept-album arc felt small and undercooked. So what a joy it is to hear Owens back in the business of conveying feelings so big and all-encompassing that they feel like actual physical objects. Over four and a half beautiful minutes, “It Comes Back To You” moves from brushed snares and organ sighs to howling guitar solos and wailing gospel choruses, building assuredly and sticking to its own internal logic. If Owens has a full album of these in him, then maybe we can stop feeling sad about Girls. –Tom