The 5 Best Songs Of The Week

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.

5. J Mascis – “Wide Awake” (Feat. Cat Power)

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

4. Cymbals Eat Guitars – “Warning”

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

3. SOPHIE – “Lemonade”

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

2. Tobias Jesso Jr. – “True Love”

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

1. FKA Twigs – “Pendulum”

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

Comments (10)
  1. I can’t be the only person who thinks “True Love” is terrible, right? He can barely sing, the melody sounds like late album filler on a Whitney Houston album after she became a washed up druggie, and the lyrics are embarrassingly trite — they don’t even work in a vague, nostalgic way. If it were sung in an actual soulful manner, I might be able to see it getting a spot during the end credits of a Tyler Perry knockoff movie, but it’s not. And the weirdly rapturous reception it’s gotten indicates to me that there is an unbearable blog-curated hive mind that no one seems brave enough to challenge rather than that I’m actually missing something here.

    I would have identified myself as a poptimist a few months ago, but I’m starting to realize something frightening: it seems a lot of “poptimists” just eat up any pop music available to them no matter how shitty instead of treating pop like another genre which features both transcendent and hideously awful music, with a few exceptions (e.g., this site’s trashing of Ed Sheeran, etc.) It’s like y’all were too good for Radio Disney when you were 9 and are making up for it by occasionally lapsing into enjoying hideously contrived music now and using poptimism as an excuse to avoid having to be a discerning music listener. Come on.

    (and I’m fine with getting completely trashed, but I want to actually start a discussion here… not just inspire a flurry of downvotes. Please???)

    • I don’t really see what the song has to do with poptimism. I don’t hear Houston at all, and demo versions of 70s-esque piano ballads don’t exactly scream “contemporary pop music,” to me. I mean, I get it can be classified under the broad banner of pop, but this doesn’t feel anywhere near a rock critic championing Ariana Grande or something.

      I think the song is super soulful and full of emotion. The lack of finesse in the singing is what makes it resonate for me. Just seems more delicate and beautiful that way.

      The lyrics work for me the way a lot of Bon Iver’s work… slightly embarrassing written out on a page, but when caught in fragments in the context of a gorgeous ballad, great.

      Also, what in God’s name is a Tyler Perry knockoff movie?

      • I bring up poptimism solely because most of the discussion I saw surrounding this song seemed to treat it as though it were a lost pop classic form the 70s as you said, but maybe that was just my ire over another irksome phenomenon clouding my judgment about this song in particular.

        I singled out Whitney Houston solely because she is probably the 80′s pop star to have taken the most precipitous drop, and most of that crop of stars has settled into a comfortably middle-of-the-road, bland and inoffensive style with their albums in the last decade. I should have specified that it sounded like a demo for said song as it doesn’t have the soullessly glossy production, but I stand by that assertion.

        It’s interesting that you mention Bon Iver, because his second album is emblematic to me of the mindless and almost universal embrace of shitty music in the indie sphere which honestly parallels the mindless consumption of shitty pop music in that phere. Most of Bon Iver’s music doesn’t even have coherent lyrics moreso than stitched-together cliché phrases that are probably supposed to evoke feeling, but end up coming off as contrived, at least to me.

        Tyler Perry knockoff movie = the low budget straight-to-DVD or TV movies that cater to the crowd which would attend a Tyler Perry movie in theaters; I’m willing to contest that whatever the cinematic merits of Perry’s movies he clearly did tap into a nerve in the Black community and created a new market; some of the films borne from this said movement, however, are probably nothing more than cynical attempts to cash in on Perry’s success (again, an irrelevant topic to the song at hand and probably a lame attempt at a diss, but I did feel I should elaborate).

    • jdg46  |   Posted on Aug 1st +2

      Agree – totally out on this song.

      But I really dislike GIRLS (the band, not the gender or tv show, both of which I like very much!), so maybe I’m biased. I know I’m in the minority but the “bro singing quietly and out of tune in his bedroom” vibe just does not do it for me.

  2. Chance and Foxygen should both be here.

    • I never thought a cover of a children’s television show theme song could be explosive and emotional, but damn did they make it into something special.

      And I love the hell out of that Foxygen track, too. Excited for the double album.

  3. Is no one liking/loving that new Lil B track, ‘No Black Person Is Ugly’? I still can’t figure out if I love it or just think it’s pure trash.

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