Yeah, it was Weird Al Week round here — from “Foil” to “Handy” to “Tacky” to “Word Crimes” to “Sports Song,” Al coulda claimed spots 1 – 5 on this week’s 5 Best Songs and no one would have disagreed except on the order in which those songs were presented. But we’re taking the Accordion Man as a given, and putting our focus on five other great songs. They’re equally worthy, if not half as funny. Check ‘em out below, share yours on the comments, and have a great weekend.
The music of Sam Ray has aimed for a gentle reflection rather than party fuel, even when he shifts from ambient drone to dizzying EDM. It’s not Ricky Eat Molly; and “p u l l (may15),” the Maryland producer’s first song to feature his own vocals, is a deep, psychedelic look inward as it builds to a drop of sorts, but entirely on its own terms. It sparsely pops and clicks along as Ray’s syrupy pitch-shifted vocals spill out; even with all of the digital masking, it can’t hide an extreme vulnerability. It’s an ego-destroying moment that most producers might be afraid to attempt, but then with one pause to silence, a quick yelp, and a massive flood of bass, the whole song becomes weightless. From there it rides out this well-earned peak, allowing you to just bask in its glow for a few more minutes. This could be the perfect soundtrack for stargazing in a field at night or people-watching on a crowded sunny day. It will makes you feel okay. –Miles
“PSI” is the song in which Lydia Ainsworth sings the title of her incredible debut album, Right From Real, and it’s an important line. Taking away the “wrong” that you typically would hear in place of “real” in that phrase celebrates the all-encompassing sound of her music, which often seems composed with a kind of dream logic. Nothing is wrong here. Dark electronic melodies twinkle like stars over huge sweeping strings. European classical arrangements rub against Eastern-influenced runs of notes. Her voice tends to soar while shifting to a whispered-in-your-ear intimacy. It is at once built on familiar styles while sounding wholly unique. But you won’t think about much of that while listening to “PSI.” It’s a song that you can feel lost in for so much more than its few minutes, every ending snapping you back like waking up from an amazing dream. –Miles
Vashti Bunyan will show you how to do this, son. The British folk singer is nearing her 70th birthday and 44 years away from releasing her cult object of a debut album, and yet here she is, conjuring a fragile uncanny bliss that seems to exist out of time. Bunyan produced this herself, without the help of the freak-folk followers who helped her put together 2005’s Lookaftering, which means the elegant floating synth-chimes and impressionistic strings are, on some level, her doing. The song’s arrangement is a strange thing, all those guitars and keyboards and strings evaporating together into a wispy haze, resisting any ideas about rhythm or structure. And yet the song is simple and direct, and Bunyan’s voice is as crystalline and soft as it was the first time she committed it to tape. –Tom
Mike Hadreas has never been apologetic about his identity. This promo, for instance, pulls no punches. Yet the music Hadreas makes as Perfume Genius, for all its acclaim, has often been quietly pretty stuff that easily fades into the background if you ignore it. There is no ignoring “Queen.” Even before SSION’s striking surrealist video was revealed, the song itself made it clear that Hadreas is not fucking around this time. The tune’s trembling core could have easily been translated as the gentle Perfume Genius of yore, but instead Hadreas cranked up the distortion and the pageantry, fleshing out his mission statement with a grandiose glam-rock glide that completely washes over you and takes no prisoners. “No family is safe when I sashay” — instantly among the year’s most memorable lyrics — triggers a triumphal procession of sorts: low-end grunts whooping it up like Prince Ali’s armed guard, high-end melodies twirling like sparklers, processed vocals detonating like fireworks. It’s a stirring piece of music, but also a welcome reminder: If you’re going to stand for something, really stand for it, damn it. –Chris
There are those of us out there, in the online-criticism world, who always thought Merchandise were bullshit: Rumble-voiced charlatans, practicing their glassy-in-sunglasses look in mirrors, coasting on DIY cred while selling a kind of “pop music” that betrays zero knowledge of the way pop music actually works. To my fellow haters out there: Merchandise got it together. They figured something out, and “Enemy” is the sound of that something finally clicking. It’s grandly morbid Echo & The Bunnymen nu-romantic goth-pomp of the highest order. It’s a jangling chug with an eighth-generation Jim Morrison who found a way to make his poses hard and effective. It’s dark glamor that feels earned, rather than practiced. It’s a sparkling-mud production job from a new-wave veteran. It’s a song that would be in heavy rotation if goth dance nights still existed. (Do goth dance nights still exist?) And if Merchandise can come up with a few more variations on this morbid flutter, they’ve got something. –Tom