Thanksgiving is coming up, and many of us are dreading the difficult conversations we’ll be having with family around the dinner table this year. By all accounts, 2016 has been rough, but hey: At least we still have the music. Right? RIGHT??!!?! Here are the best songs of the week.
I like it when experimental artists go pop — so sue me. For some people, Jamie Stewart’s darkest and most harrowing songs are the selling point with Xiu Xiu: “This, this is the worst vacation ever, I am going to cut open your forehead with a roofing shingle!” and all that. Those ugly impulses have their place, but when they commingle with rhythms that can seize control of your body and melodies that imprint themselves on your soul, entirely new forms of beauty tend to coalesce. Such is the case with “Wondering,” a song about uncertainty with a chorus so sure and true that I find myself more excited for FORGET than any Xiu Xiu album in recent memory. Bring me more weird, catchy shit like this. –Chris
I have this tweet saved to my drafts: “Don’t be in a long distance relationship unless you have extraordinarily good self esteem and enjoy feeling jealous all of the time.” Experts agree that dating someone long-distance doesn’t really make sense unless the feels are really serious. And even when they are, there’s a lot of disillusionment that comes with pining for someone who’s way far off in the distance. There’s really no one better than the Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt to remind you that love is usually worth it, but it’s never going to fit into your romantic ideals. On “13 Big Enough For The Both Of Us,” Merritt sings about a relationship that traverses 3,000 miles, and in true Magnetic Fields fashion, he tweaks the sweetest gestures with a bit of humor. “First time I saw you, I could feel a stir/ Down in my special body part,” he sings in a low, familiar baritone over a bed of plucky arrangements. “I would like you to take it in your hand/ But please be careful, it’s my heart.” At first, I thought that “throbbing body part” was a dick (sorry), which is exactly what Merritt intended. The Magnetic Fields have always owned double-entendre and sarcasm so well, but they balance that humor with pointed reassurance that love is a complicated, powerful force to be reckoned with. Take this line: “Bet on the seasons to keep changing/ Just like I keep on loving you.” It’s corny, it’s been done, but sometimes corny and familiar is the comfort you need. –Gabriela
“You burn/ In a constant state of flickering/ Between the person you were/ And the one you became.” That could serve as the thesis statement to Fred Thomas’ upcoming album Changer, and probably even his entire discography. “Echolocation” is a song about a very specific time and place in his life — living aimlessly in New York City in the 2000s — but it’s also a song about the more general relationship between the past and the present, the way that things change and still stay the same, the way that our sense of self and geography and memory all become tangled up in the rearview mirror. He ends with an implicit question — What is the point of it all? — musing, “You’ve been moving your trash/ From room to room/ From city to city/ Place to place/ Now you got a pile of trash/ That you can fall into/ Whenever you want to.” Like most of us, Thomas doesn’t have any answers to offer, just the faded beauty of a distant trumpet and a harp sample looping itself into infinity. –Peter
Most of the time, North Carolina rapper Rapsody raps in that dreamy, head-blown staccato spoken-word poetry-slam style. She’s really good at that style — good enough, in fact, that Kendrick Lamar made her the only guest-rapper to spit a real verse on To Pimp A Butterfly. But it’s not all she can do. And it’s a real pleasure to hear her attack producer Khrysis’ dusty, sinister boom-bap beat with the sort of vengefulness she shows on “Ooowee.” She’s not saying anything particularly forbidding, mostly just talking about staying regular even while driving fancy cars. But there’s an edge in her voice and a casual mastery in the way she sinks deep into the beat’s pocket. Meanwhile, Anderson .Paak’s scratchy, nasal howl is practically a sound effect unto itself. He might be one of this year’s big stories, but on his hook, .Paak makes the song sound even more out of time. –Tom
The sky turned gray and fell for many of us, but we’re still here. So it’s only right that it should be lifted up and returned to its “Natural Blue.” Julie Byrne is the perfect artist to do it. Byrne has an unearthly ability to immerse you in a moment, situating you physically within an inward space all her own that also resonates emotionally, and thus universally. You can feel the vastness of “fields that span forever, forever” and hear the whispers of “stars on the back porch that don’t say much” as her vivid descriptors cut through gentle layers of dreamy guitar, classical flourishes, and serene sweeps with a subdued forcefulness. But she also keeps the lyrics vague enough in spots that they will surely evoke nostalgia. She strikes the balance of tangibles versus intangibles with an effortless excellence, ultimately delivering you somewhere you never imagined you would go. The journey itself is so divine on her scenic route that you probably won’t care if you get anywhere at all. –Collin