This week’s 5 Best Songs cover a pretty big age range, career-wise. We’ve got the old guard still kicking ass and taking names (in a really pretty, gentle way), a relatively young band taking a step forward, and — perhaps most excitingly — the top three slots are all taken by artists who have yet to release a debut album (and one who has yet to officially release anything, period). We’ve only got one more month of summer, but it looks like there’ll be plenty of good music to take us through the dog days. See our picks below, and share your own in the comments.
J Mascis’ voice was all crestfallen and hangdog and world-weary even when he was young, even on Dinosaur Jr.’s most blazingly triumphant songs. So the laid-back roots-music solo singer-songwriter format suits the middle-aged version of Mascis awfully well. On his 2011 solo album, Several Shades Of Mine, Mascis showed that his fiery solos could still kick every conceivable variety of ass without effects pedals or amplification. But on “Wide Awake,” he does something else, adapting the old folk fingerpicking style and working as his own rhythm section. Chan Marshall might be a famous guest, but she doesn’t act like one, letting her beautifully sleepy voice float through like a texture, not too different from the cello buried so deep in the mix there. Meanwhile, Mascis might not be a quarter the singer that Marshall is, but his lead vocal here is comfortable like an old cracked leather couch. –Tom
The tragic story behind Cymbals Eat Guitars’ third record provides an important context, but “Warning” reminds us that LOSE’s greatness never hinges on its backstory. While you can find devastating implications to lines like “And you’re looking mighty ghostly just like Bowie on Soul Train” or “Friendship’s the biggest myth,” the album also includes lyrics like “You don’t know these people, so what could this mean to you?” With their new lyrical bravery comes a new musical directness, and “Warning” doesn’t just embrace that, it celebrates it. The guitar flashes with a hysterical ferocity, raging with distorted fits, collapsing into a gentle melody, sometimes just disappearing completely. Taking the dynamic hugeness of “Jackson” and pairing it with the pure hook-filled immediacy of “Chambers,” “Warning” shows just how focused CEG are right now, and that focus has them producing the best music of their career. –Miles
If you haven’t seen SOPHIE perform live, trust me that it is one of the most disorienting fucking things around, the kind of show where you stumble out of the club like you just got off a tilt-a-whirl. The majority of people come for “BIPP.” They will not hear it. What they will hear is a short set that shifts between beats so elastic and abstract that it takes a while to find a way to dance to them, and by the time they get there, everything could just as easily shift to several minutes of beat-less harsh noise. Those moments only make it more satisfying when SOPHIE abruptly cuts to something so bright, light, and musically effervescent that your whole body tingles. The greatest of those moments, which I still haven’t been able to forget, we now know is the brief dazzling hook to “Lemonade,” which, just like in SOPHIE’s set, explodes from seemingly nowhere and disappears before you can grasp it. Just as “BIPP”’s title was onomatopoeic, this is a song that sounds as tart, sweet, and refreshing as its titular drink. Of course, just like those crazy live sets, everything is teased out, but at least here we can hit hit play again and go back for seconds. We’re going to do that a lot. –Miles
Such a fragile song in spirit, yet rock-solid in its composition. “True Love” proves there are still amazing accomplishments to be had by way of a beautiful soul poured out at a piano bench. It is John Lennon’s secular humanist anthem “Imagine” reimagined by Randy Newman as a deeply personal twee character sketch — trembling in delivery, towering in impact. It will warm your heart and shiver your spine, and it will most certainly whet your appetite for more. –Chris
The word “pendulum” implies a steady, predictable rhythm, a grandfather clock thwocking back and forth. That’s not what we get with the FKA Twigs song “Pendulum.” The track might be built around a central internal throb, but the drums sputter and flutter, jumping back and forth between speaker channels, speeding up like a palpitating heartbeat. It’s a nervous song, a song about forcing yourself to tell someone something and having no idea how they’ll react but knowing that it’ll change everything. But “pendulum” also implies swinging between extremes, and “Pendulum” does have that. It’s a sex song, but it’s also a song about distance, about trying to get close to someone who moves further away whenever you try. “I’m your sweet little lovemaker,” Tahlia Barnett pleads. But also: “So lonely trying to be yours/ What a forsaken cause.” –Tom