Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial beginning of summer, but the songs we’ve chosen to send you into the holiday weekend are uniformly dark and despairing. Strand Of Oaks and DJ Dodger Stadium turned deeply personal strokes of melancholy into two very different sorts of anthems. Tombs and Mirel Wagner evoked two distinct breeds of spookiness. Morrissey was Morrissey. If these tunes are downers, though, they’re downers that give us high hopes for the upcoming albums from all five artists. Get into them below, then share your own favorite songs of the week in the comments.
When I saw Strand Of Oaks at Sasquatch! last year, Timothy Showalter brought an intensity and heaviness to his performance that hadn’t quite surfaced on the intimate Pope Killdragon. As he explained in our interview, that has changed on his new album HEAL, where he lets out his inner rock star. It’s a musical breakthrough, but it’s not the only thing that’s different. Showalter’s previous work was gripping, but he was more likely to disappear into a fantasy than discuss his difficult past, which was fine when those fantasies involved Dan Akyroyd torturing and killing John Belushi’s drug dealer. That changes on “Shut-In” as soon as you hear that ragged, beautiful voice sing “So I’d just get loaded, and never leave my house/ It’s taken way too long to figure this out.” It’s a moment of serious reflection from someone whose music often reveled in emotional escapism. That raw emotion and honesty lets him connect like never before, but its universality (“You’ve got problems, I’ve got mine”) and the man’s triumphant playing puts him into full Springsteen rally-cry territory. –Miles
Who knows where the sample comes from, but it’s the substance of the words that draws your ear: “Lately, I’ve been singing love songs by myself.” The voice singing those words is actually a chorus of voices, not one singing by itself, and those voices deliver that sentiment with a dry, matter-of-fact precision that belies the heartbreak implicit. DJ Dodger Stadium (a duo, not one guy) have taken those words and looped them over and over, building a stumbling, gasping seven-minute emotional techno anthem out of it. The track waxes and wanes without doing that obvious EDM buildup-breakdown thing, carrying echos of past geniuses like Masters At Work instead. It’s heartfelt, instinctive dance music, dance music that knows it can expand and contract and sprawl and swoon without making a big deal out of any of it. Sort of like those voices. –Tom
Morrissey’s outsized persona makes his side gig as a maudlin, self-righteous bastard so entertaining that sometimes I forget how fantastically talented the guy is at his day job. “Istanbul” plays out like “How Soon Is Now” reborn as a gnarly, swaggering blues-rock beast — undergirded by guttural guitar scuzz, peppered with percussion straight out of “Sympathy For The Devil,” swirling with Bond-movie strings. But all that pageantry can’t match the majesty of Moz simply opening his mouth to warble. Even when singing a story-song about a father searching for his son in Turkey instead of dressing down the crown or bemoaning his own miserable fortune, he is unmistakable and unfuckwitable. His every quaver remains a revelation. –Chris
Michael usually likes to save the best metal songs for Black Market, but while he’s at Maryland Death Fest we couldn’t resist including this crushing new track from NYC’s Tombs. As frontman Mike Hill explained in this week’s interview, his band’s new album Savage Gold strips away some of the atmosphere from the excellent Path Of Totality, but they do it with thrilling results. The closer of the album, “Spiral,” is the final mad dash of aggression before the whole thing bottoms out into a brief and very-well-earned comedown. Everything before it though is pure mayhem, a pummeling sprawl you can let trample you as a whole or take time to parse out incredible one-off moments (the brief guitar riff at 2:45…I could listen to those five seconds all day). “Spiral,” and all of Savage Gold for that matter, is the sound of a band getting down to the bones of their music, cracking them open, and feasting on the marrow within. –Miles
Mirel Wagner makes stark, haunted folk music, folk music that will suck all the hope out of your soul and leave you shaking. Sasu Ripatti makes a few different kinds of music, but he’s best-known as Luomo, a producer of sparkling, hushed, minimal, gorgeous dance music. (Remember the last decade’s microhouse boomlet? He’s one of them.) These two have basically nothing in common beyond very personal senses of minimalism and home addresses in Finland. And yet, judging by “Oak Tree,” whoever paired the two of them made an amazing decision. Ripatti is producing Wagner’s forthcoming Sub Pop debut When The Cellar Children See The Light Of Day, and his touch is as subtle as it is in his own work. He has an architectural ear for elegantly sculpted harmonic vocals, and the shimmering ghostly backing harmonies here give “Oak Tree,” already a tingling song on its own, a quiet extra dimension of creeped-out atmosphere. Let’s keep this seance going. –Tom