We’re officially a week into spring, and in New York City, at least, it’s actually almost starting to feel like it. Somehow, though, this week’s 5 Best Songs might be the darkest collection we’ve seen yet, filled with loss, regret, fear, and death. Hell of a way to send out winter and welcome in the season of renewal. Read/hear ‘em and weep.
Unlike Miles, who wrote up Yumi Zouma’s “It Feels Good To Be Around You” this week, I have no personal history with Air France, the Balearic duo from Gothenburg that serves as the subject of Yumi Zouma’s heartfelt tribute. Unlike Miles, I did not share the despair that was clearly weighing down the members of Air France when they announced their breakup with a note beginning “We’ll make this brief, because it hurts too much.” But holy shit did this song floor me anyway. It’s a cover of the last single Air France recorded together, a bass-heavy tone poem about feelings too complex to call “good.” To an extent that surpasses even the heartrending original, this new track’s impressionistic swells elicit longings too deep for you, me, or Rich Homie Quan to explain. Alas, unlike Quan, Air France stopped going in. According to that farewell note, Joel Karlsson and Henrik Markstedt dissolved the project because they lost track of the effortless spark that initially spurred them to literally make beautiful music together; they kept trying and trying, but “nothing was ever good enough.” We’re used to hearing such sentiments applied to romantic partnerships, but this career epilogue, laced with wistful spoken-word ruminations from the members of Air France themselves, shows that the death of a once-fruitful creative partnership can be just as devastating. Paradoxically, it’s every bit the masterpiece they allegedly couldn’t pull off anymore. –Chris
A gospel choir, artfully deployed, can still be one of pop music’s sharpest weapons. Up until this moment, potato-faced London crooner Sam Smith has existed at that architecturally precise, quintessentially British intersection of house and R&B and pop, that weird overlap that’s kept the Empire cranking out zeitgeist-grabbing graphic-design anthems since the xx rose up out of nowhere and made Vanilla Ice pompadours cool again. But on “Stay With Me,” Smith leaves all that behind, giving a simple and heartfelt plea for more sympathy sex, or at least sympathy cuddling, from a partner who maybe doesn’t care that much. It’s a small and specific and doubt-laced song, but when that choir comes barnstorming into that chorus (the first chorus, a bold song-construction move), it becomes something grand and majestic, transforming Smith’s sad-bastard neediness into all of our sad-bastard neediness. –Tom
How does a guy who made his name playing some of the world’s best, most distinctive alt-country end up on a label that built its reputation distributing some of the world’s best, most distinctive metal and hardcore? If you’re 16 Horsepower’s David Eugene Edwards, you make that leap by summoning the four horsemen of the apocalypse and setting fire to the sky. You won’t find better reference points for the roaring tumult and ominous raging undercurrents Wovenhand conjures here than Michael did with Swans and Nick Cave. The quality is that high, and “Hiss” plunges into darkness that deep. That all this cacophonous splendor only represents a fraction of Edwards’ ambitious Refractory Obdurate is reason to be very, very excited. –Chris
If The Seer was the sound of Swans hitting the bottom of the pitch-black trench they’d been swimming toward since their 2010 reformation, the upcoming album To Be Kind is the sound of them breaking straight through into hell, and on “A Little God,” Michael Gira wants nothing more than to celebrate. In a sadistic sneer he addresses the entire universe, simultaneously and forever, hateful, beautiful, stinking, and holy, commanding it to “sing in reverse.” In between furnace blast horns, the band builds a menacing groove around their preacher’s ever-growing presence while a multi-tracked chorus lurks on the edges chanting like tiny demons. As the entire song eventually tears itself apart, Gira goes down with the ship demanding “WHAT’S MY NAME,” which sounds like an existential crisis as much as it does Walter White’s famous assertion of dominance. And still, it’s only a glimpse of what’s coming. It might be hard to believe, but in the context of the album, this song amounts to the bright, friendly bulb attached to the colossal gaping angler fish lurking in the dark preying. The song’s called “A Little God In My Hands,” but an earlier Gira lyric from the days when no one dreamed Swans would reform, let alone reach this creative and cultural peak, suggests what he plans to do with his position: “I crush him in my brother’s hand. I am the God of this fucking land. I AM THE GOD OF THIS FUCKING LAND!” In 2014 that sentiment has never sounded truer, and I can’t imagine anyone challenging the man saying it. –Miles
You write something on some website somewhere, maybe just your Facebook, or maybe it’s just a picture or video. Doesn’t matter. What matters is that it feels like you’re sharing some deep and essential part of yourself, and you’re not entirely sure you should be doing this. Maybe you’re proud of what you’re posting, and maybe you’re living in hellacious terror that you’re opening yourself up for some cold, hard rejection. But you post it anyway. And then you keep checking, keep clicking, keep refreshing — for likes, for comments, for any response at all. Maybe they come, and maybe they don’t, but that initial feeling, that waiting period, is a thoroughly of-the-moment feeling of terror and despair that I’ve never heard anyone capture in song until now. EMA knows all about that, and now she’s built a delicate and beautiful and nourishing song about it, naming it after a reference from William Gibson’s present-anticipating novel Neuromancer and building it toward a devastating climax: “It left a hole so big inside of me / And I get terrified now / I’ll never get it back to me.” And then, the inevitable shrug: “I guess it’s just a modern disease.” –Tom