5Best

This past week brought Memorial Day, and with it, the unofficial start of summer. It also meant a four-day work week, but even with the truncated timeframe, there were more than enough excellent songs released for us to fight over what had to place in 5 Best Songs and what would be left in the “6 and below” category. Here’s what remained after the dust cleared:

5. A Sunny Day in Glasgow – “Bye Bye Big Sea (The End)”

A Sunny Day In Glasgow albums usually begin with, like, a short cooing intro, or something so airy and romantic you could drift off to it. A Sunny Day In Glasgow albums don’t usually “get going” until maybe the third or fourth track, content to float gradually and let you grow into it. These were things we knew about this band during the four years they were making albums, and things we assumed during these last four years when they weren’t. But that’s all over. A Sunny Day In Glasgow is done being being shy. Literally the first sound you hear on “Bye Bye Big Sea,” the opener to the band’s incredible new album, Sea When Absent, is, like, every bloopy synth, shoegazing guitar riff, heavy drum crash, sugary female vocal line, and well-earned climax exploding. It all sounds impossibly huge and dense, but that effervescent weightlessness is somehow still there in the web of multi-tracked vocals and endlessly building momentum. The subtitle to “Bye Bye Big Sea” is “The End” and I can’t think of a better way to describe it. It is an end, or maybe something that ended back in 2010, but this marks the beginning of something grander than anyone could have predicted. –Miles

4. JJ – “All White Everything”

Sweden is the land of Abba and Ace Of Base and Max Martin and Robyn, and I have to imagine that the nation’s government has laced its school lunches with some sort of top-secret melody-concoction drug. Even badass metallers like At The Gates and skronky post-punkers like Love Is All write triumphant choruses like it’s nothing. That overwhelming national focus on clean, surgical, overwhelming hook-smithery has always made JJ an outlier. Their own gift for melody has long been apparent, but being the stoner weirdos that they are, they’ve tended to drown it in molly water. But then they rebranded, switching the lowercase letters of their name out for capital ones, and came out with a single that sounds like Sarah McLachlan in all the good ways and none of the bad ones. “All White Everything” is a vast, sweeping, tremulous piano ballad, all cloud-shrouded vistas and cinematic regret, and only the “bitches get in trouble” line reminds you that these two used to cover Lil Wayne tracks just to make them even druggier. –Tom

3. Strand Of Oaks – “JM”

It’s a little bit strange listening to “JM,” the towering centerpiece to Strand Of Oaks’ Heal, since I have to admit I haven’t deeply explored the late Jason Molina’s work — but unfamiliarity won’t stop you from being swept up in Timothy Showalter’s grief. “JM” is not a tribute to a personal friend (though they met once), Showalter is really just a massive fan trying to say, “This man is the reason I do what I do.” We all have heroes, musical or otherwise, that we feel a tremendous connection to, and those heroes are all going to die, if they haven’t already. The musical outpour from here is certainly a tribute to Molina’s memory, but it’s also a celebration of the influence he’s passed on. Showalter calls it an admission of his theft of Molina’s work, but when I hear “JM” it makes me want to learn more about the man it’s named for and the legacy he’s left behind. That Showalter can spark such curiosity in listeners through his own music is just about the best tribute you can offer your musical hero. –Miles

2. Ghostface Killah & BADBADNOTGOOD – “Six Degrees” (Feat. Danny Brown)

“Jazz-rap,” as a genre, has a history that’s as noble as it is vaguely embarrassing: Q-Tip namechecking be-bop on The Low End Theory, Grover Washington, Jr. blowing a solo on a DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince track, the stand-up bassist in the Digable Planets’ “Rebirth Of Slick (Cool Like Dat)” video, the entire existence of US3 and Dream Warriors and Guru’s Jazzmatazz. This isn’t that. This is three Toronto kids, kids whose definition of “jazz” has nothing to do with fingersnaps or berets, working up a terse and dark and evocative spy-soundtrack groove and then inviting two of rap history’s great unhinged caterwaulers to let loose over it. There’s no chorus here, no scrap of melody, nothing but blackout knife-edge rapping-ass-rapping, Ghost sounding more driven and vital than he has in years and Brown keeping up just fine. It’s cool like that. –Tom

1. EMA – “Drown”

As Tom pointed out in his review, the songs on Erika M Anderson aka EMA’s The Future’s Void reflect sounds from the past: Nine Inch Nails, Suicide, Laurie Anderson, Joy Division — all desolate, all apocalyptic. A more contemporary peer is echoed on the bonus track, “Drown.” Anderson intones, “They’re obsessed with the concept of failure, and it haunts me too” with the same drained, bleak whisper that Jamie Stewart has scarred us with on some of Xiu Xiu’s finest moments. But from there, Anderson only opens the song up even further, embracing a wider electronic pallet than anything on her new album, with stuttering drum-machine patterns and subtly dissonant synth washes. For an album so informed by the existential terror of the online world, it’s fitting that her voice gradually grows from her iconic husky whisper to an electronically manipulated moan that falls into place with everything else, something louder and more attention grabbing but drained of any humanity. Compared to some of the other songs on The Future’s Void, “Drown” feels like a dive into uncharted electronic territory for Anderson, but conceptually and emotionally it fits so well it could have been the title track. –Miles

Comments (9)
  1. ““Jazz-rap,” as a genre, has a history that’s as noble as it is vaguely embarrassing: Q-Tip namechecking be-bop on The Low End Theory, Grover Washington, Jr. blowing a solo on a DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince track, the stand-up bassist in the Digable Planets’ “Rebirth Of Slick (Cool Like Dat)” video…”

    vaguely embarrassing? why

    • Don’t mind Tom. I respect most of his critiques, but he chose his divide based on the emergence of backpack rap; if he liked Jazz as much as he liked Wrestling, he probably wouldn’t have voraciously gone after that anti-movement as strongly as he did.

  2. Not sure if this is the place to ask, but just wondering…is Stereogum no longer doing lists? It has been a couple weeks since a 10 best songs, and over a month since a list of an artist’s albums from worst to best…are they being phased out? I rarely agreed with your decisions, but I always enjoyed them nonetheless.

    I was also a big fan of the monthly mix, I don’t have a data plan and it was fun to listen to on my commute, but I guess I am the last music blog reader with no Internet on his phone.

  3. Can’t get that damn JJ song out of my head!

  4. We can’t forget The Roots’ “Organix” if we are listing off jazz-rap examples. Pass the what? Pass the vague, backhanded compliments.

  5. Auto  |   Posted on May 31st +4

    Really liking the new EMA track… I can see why it was omitted from the record though, it doesn’t quite fit. Pumped for her gig in Bristol next week

  6. Strand of Oaks has been killing it. Really excited for Heal.

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