The 5 Best Songs Of The Week

The 5 Best Songs Of The Week

By this time next week, the United States Of America will have a new president-elect. Can you believe it? Obviously you’d better get your ass to its designated polling place on 11/8, because this one really counts. Like, extra. Don’t waste your weekend following the polls, though, because it’s gonna be a cluttered, confusing shitshow, and you won’t be able to do a damn thing about any of it till Tuesday. Instead, jam out on some songs. And, seriously, enjoy them, because come next Wednesday, the lyric “And it got me all fired up/ To go far away” might take on a whole new meaning.

5. Old Gray – “Everything Is In Your Hands”

This is going to sound cynical, but I’m not one for the “we are all one” or “what unites us is stronger than what separates us” bullshit. I think individual humans are very different and we should acknowledge the things that divide us, not overlook them, and enjoy each other anyway. That said, there are some things that are universally difficult, like dealing with the loss of loved ones.

There’s no way you could listen to “Everything Is In Your Hands” and not feel the devastatingly palpable grief and yearning. Partly because Old Gray aren’t shy about it from the opening lines: “Painting broad strokes of black brings blood down my head/ I can’t handle any more phone calls telling me another friend is dead.” But it’s the subtleties that elevate this song above ordinary melancholy — things like the bloodcurdling-yet-weary wails in muted harmony like screaming into a pillow, and bursting into all-out ululations when it feels like holding in the sorrow for another second will be too much to bear, just as the surrounding calamity is at its most punishing and unrelenting. As someone who has experienced plenty of loss, I found it impossible not to be moved. –Collin

4. Priests – “Pink White House”

In four days, we’ll end an absolute circus of a presidential election that would’ve made for a ludicrously entertaining reality TV show but makes for a sobering, terrifying reality. We’re all exhausted, and the systemic and societal problems that led us to this point won’t disappear overnight, something that Priests know all too well. On “Pink White House,” the second single from the fearsome DC punk band’s debut album, they recognize that the American dream is now rooted in passivity. Katie Alice Greer lists off the current pinnacles of national exceptionalism: sitcoms, streaming, nostalgia, nineties TV. Our political climate has morphed into just another form of mindless entertainment, and we have as much control over it as we do over the fictional characters on the other end of the screen. “A puppet show in which you’re made to feel like you participate/ Sign a letter, throw your show, vote for numbers 1 or 2,” Greer sings. “Consider the options of a binary,” and when neither is all that appealing, where are we supposed to turn? –James

3. Metallica – “Atlas, Rise!”

The Atlas myth is so commonly associated with the novels of Ayn Rand — and thus, the fundamental tenets of libertarianism — that it’s easy to assume Metallica intended “Atlas, Rise!” as socioeconomic commentary. This is, after all, a band whose best-selling album features the “Don’t Tread On Me” snake deeply embedded in its otherwise blank sleeve art. I don’t think that’s it, though. As a lifelong Metallica superfan who sits on the opposite end of the political spectrum, I choose to read “Atlas, Rise!” as autobiographical. At their peak, Metallica were the best band in the world and the biggest. They were titans. But in Greek mythology, the Titans were the old gods; they went to war against younger gods — the Olympians — and lost. Atlas was leader of the Titans, and for him, the Olympians reserved an unusually painful and humiliating form of punishment: He was forced to hold the heavens on his shoulders for eternity, and that weight left him immobile, in agony, hobbled, crushed. After Metallica’s era as rulers came to an end, they were endlessly clowned for their every move, from cutting their hair to protecting their copyrights to recording an admittedly outré LP with an art-rock legend. Don’t get me wrong here: Metallica were absolutely not making music worthy of their name during these years. But even so, it had to burn. It had to hurt. So it’s not exactly a stretch to imagine Metallica’s own experience as being metaphorically represented in lyrics like these:

“Masquerade as maker/ Heavy is the crown/ Beaten down and broken/ Drama wears you down/ Overload, the martyr stumbles/ Hit the ground and Heaven crumbles/ All alone the fear shall humble/ Swallow all your pride.”

Right? I’ll take it another step, in fact. I dunno if this was a Freudian slip or an intentionally buried Easter Egg or a random coincidence that only obsessives like me would even think deserves actual significance, but let’s arrange that “martyr” line so it looks like this:

“Over Load, the martyr stumbles…”

In my reading, the exclamation point in the song’s title is crucial. This is not Zeus giving Atlas permission to rise; this is Atlas forcing himself, commanding himself, to finally get off his damn knees and stand tall: to walk the Earth again as a Titan. And Metallica don’t merely deliver that narrative — they embody it. They own it. “Atlas, Rise!” takes less than 30 seconds to reveal itself as a renunciation of the past three decades. That moment arrives when the introductory cacophony clears way for that dry, palm-muted thrash riff. If you’re a Metallica fan, that guitar connects with your consciousness like a haymaker to the face. It knocks you down, leaves you dizzy and dazed. Did that just happen? Is this for real? By the time you’re aware of what’s going on, your ass is getting kicked: that chord progression from the bridge into the chorus; oh man, holy shit, that chorus; that voice; that blazing breakaway at the song’s midpoint; that sound … it’s been an actual lifetime since Metallica sounded like this. It’s almost unbelievable — almost impossible — that they sound like this today. But the song is proof. It’s undeniable. The old gods have returned. Rise, motherfucker. –Michael

2. Charli XCX – “After The Afterparty” (Feat. Lil Yachty)

Shades of countless classic party-all-night anthems in this one, from “Ignition (Remix)” to “Tik Tok” to “We Can’t Stop,” yet it plays like 100% Charli. The woman has been cornering the market on such excess for years now — remember the hotel-trashing exploits on “Fancy”? She’s unnaturally good at crafting melodies that brighten your eyes and quicken your pulse, and the voice she delivers them with is like a middle finger with a neon manicure. It worked wonders throughout the criminally slept-on Sucker, and it’s even more potent on this self-professed bid for radio airplay. As for Yachty, based on this and “Broccoli” he should be applying his Auto-Tuned mumble to every exultant pop song available. –Chris

1. Japandroids – “Near To The Wild Heart Of Life”

Chinese Democracy, the 2008 comeback from Axl Rose’s no-other-original-members version of Guns N’ Roses was a bad album, but the way it began was great — some muffled sampled dialogue, a distant police siren, a tense and punchy and ultra-processed guitar riff, and Rose’s helium howl swooping in before the drums even kicked. When you’re a rock band that’s been away for a long time, that’s how you return. Japandroids know something about that.

“Near To The Wild Heart Of Life,” the first Japandroids song in more than four years, begins with that same sort of slow, goosebumps-raising fade-in: guitar feedback and rushing drums starting out near-silent and getting louder and louder over 28 seconds before suddenly exploding into the sort of dizzy, joyous guitar riff that the band has made into a calling card. Unlike that “Chinese Democracy” intro, everything that happens after that opening rush is amazing: the ohhh-oh! backing vocals, the dizzily intense drum fills, the lyrics about last calls and “bedlam in my bed” and getting all fired up to go far away, the guitar riff that sounds a whole lot like the guitar riff from Blink-182’s “The Rock Show.” It’s all big sweaty and fun and life-affirming — rock’s oversized labrador retriever puppies welcoming you home with a huge, sloppy lick-attack. But everything after that intro is a bonus. That intro is where you know that Japandroids are fully back, that they’re finally ready to do this shit again. So let’s do this shit. –Tom