This week’s 5 Best Songs is populated by two artists who are never far from this column, two who have never before been featured here but whose respective catalogs reach back to the turn of the millennium, and one with a producer credit on a recent Best Song, appearing here under his own name for the first time. Who’s who, what’s what? Decipher/read/listen below.
The palette of sound that A. G. Cook and his fellow PC Music acolytes have worked with in 2014 includes a glossy sheen, rubbery rhythm, and almost sickening sweetness. Though he’s previously used that sound as a foundation for singers to craft songs alternately touching, haunting, and disturbing, “Beautiful” is mostly a pure showcase of Cook’s sound. There’s a purity and simplicity here that takes a brief vacation from the uncanny valley his music has lived in; it’s a blissed-out club banger that hints at an alternate direction. It’s become increasingly clear that Cook (and his buddy Sophie) could stand toe to toe with maximalist producers like Rustie and Hudson Mohawke if they wanted, and they still very well could. “Beautiful” reinforces the guy’s tremendous skill, and should make some naysayers think twice before dismissing him the next time things take a turn for the weird. This is the second time now one of Cook’s works have made it onto this feature, and I’m willing to bet it won’t be the last. –Miles
On the circa-2000 post-hardcore frontlines, Thursday always stood out from their peers because of their unwavering dedication to a certain grandeur, a dripping-tears-into-the-abyss heedlessness that many imitated but nobody quite equaled. Frontman Geoff Rickly switched fluidly between anguish-howls and burnt-ember-growls, but he emanated a deep sincerity the entire time. He’s still emanating it. With his long-running United Nations project, Rickly turns his attention toward the choppier, heavier, more violent side of the art-punk underground, and “Serious Business” heaves and pummels with the entropic majesty of Deafheaven. But as the blitzkrieg settles into a groove, you can hear that old kid-to-kid earnestness, even in Rickly’s most demonic bleats. –Tom
I can think of very few musicians right now as pleasingly nihilistic as Lana Del Rey on “Ultraviolence.” How something this lyrically upsetting could wear the guise of both a love song and a Top 40 hit is a feat approaching villainy. Dan Auerbach’s elegant, cloudy production and LDR’s sweet voice hide lines about domestic violence and horrific codependency, not unlike how the impact of the actions of Clockwork Orange‘s narrator are softened by his charismatic tone and abstract slang. Regardless of how you feel about Lana’s divisive persona/personality, the fact is this song will play in commercials, kids will sing along to it on the radio, and someone will probably attempt a sultry cover of it on The Voice. That’s deeply fucked up. But that Crystals’ lyric grab is more than just vintage aesthetics; Del Rey is practically screaming: “This is not new.” She may be saying we’re all just as fucked up as she is, but that isn’t what makes this an excellent song — almost the opposite. As most will consume it, “Ultraviolence” makes you smile, nod your head, and complacently not ask those questions, in the grand pop tradition. –Miles
Lo, that unholy combination of bravura and self-doubt, that passive-aggressive I’m-the-shit fury that nobody else will ever be able to pull off like this. “0 To 100″ is the mix-show staple here, the slow-strut banger that will get this track into millions of cars this summer, that will leave other rappers wondering why nobody offered them this beat. And Drake’s effortless snarl here, offering up anecdotes of 2008 studio sessions like they’re evidence of his manifest destiny, remains strong. But it’s “The Catch Up” where Drake really does that public-figure judo, telling a story about a dark night of the soul, tortured by the question of why all these other rappers keep going at him. Drake’s answer, of course, is that they’re jealous, but he treats it like it’s a philosophical revelation and then lets James Blake croon the outro, cooing about catching up but including him there as clear evidence that you, rival rapper, will never get there. Also, if every label head announced his upcoming release schedule with this much panache, the music business might not be in so much trouble. –Tom
Is this really the same guy who made 2003’s maximalist electronic psych onslaught Up In Flames? I thought that album was by Manitoba! (j/k) Seriously, though: among Dan Snaith’s many talents is his ability to utterly transform the style and scope of his music without ever betraying his unmistakable creative imprint. He’s spent the past decade building a universe unto himself, constructing his albums like distinct planets in his personal audio galaxy. Every one of them has its own atmosphere, its own breathtaking terrain, its own distinct environment to explore. But they all belong to Snaith, and they all seem to exist light years beyond most of his peers. “Can’t Do Without You” transmogrifies the futuristic deep house experiments of 2010’s Swim (and the techno odyssey that was Snaith’s 2012’s Daphni album Jiaolong) into moody dance-pop you could actually imagine on the air between Avicii and Tiësto. “Can’t Do Without You” is not nearly so cloying as the cynical radio bait those guys are kicking out, but it’s sentimental nonetheless — more LCD Soundsystem than Lowest Common Denominator. There’s an alluring tenderness in the voices riding this pulse, both the screwed sample that undergirds everything and the fragile falsetto that piles up with the all synth noises on top. That’s what sets Caribou apart from so much of the brainy experimental electronica that ends up in Thom Yorke DJ sets. As a creator, Snaith has never been short on awe-inspiring power, but he’s at his best when you can feel his love. –Chris