We commemorated a lot of important events in music history this week. The death of the Notorious B.I.G., the 50th anniversary of The Velvet Underground & Nico, and 10 years of LCD Soundsystem’s Sound Of Silver. Next week is SXSW, and if you’re headed to Austin, be sure to catch up with us at our official showcases! Real Estate, Julie Byrne, Girlpool, Jamila Woods, and a bunch of others are playing. Check out the five best songs of the week below.
Last year, upon being electrified by PUP’s “Doubts,” I marveled that such an exhilarating three minutes of music could be created with more or less the same tools employed by every mediocre punk band in the land. Something similar crosses my mind every time I hear a Joan Shelley song, but in this case it refers to folk instruments and her rare ability to set me adrift in gently rendered beauty. How can a song like “Wild Indifference” be so much more powerful than the average acoustic ballad? Based on this song’s gentle rebuke toward the self-centered and self-protective, Shelley might argue that it has something to do with an artist opening herself up to the world and letting herself be moved by it. Maybe, but there are plenty coffeehouse hacks who seem pretty in touch with their feelings. Whatever the X factor is that sets musical geniuses apart, my feelings about it are anything but indifferent. I want more of it — and thankfully, Shelley’s got another album full of it right around the corner. –Chris
The hollow pitter-patter that opens Flasher’s “Winnie” is a frantic introduction to the song’s stream-of-conscious narrative. The lyrics on “Winnie” piece together random excerpts from a CNN newscast about Flight 804’s Mediterranean crash and an advertisement from a pharmaceutical company. The two bits of media came together during an automatic writing exercise, and they coalesce to create a subtle critique of American consumerism and media hysteria that’s never heavy-handed. It kind of just sounds like what it feels like to stare at a screen with a billion tabs open at a time. Oh! and it’s also just a really good punk song. –Gabriela
In the beginning, before the world was big, it was quiet. On their 2015 debut, Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad channeled unvarnished intimacy into punk-rock intensity, alchemizing one guitar, one bass, and two voices into an understated magic. Then Girlpool said, “Let there be drums,” and it was so, and Girlpool saw that it was good. “123” is the band’s first song since the addition of drummer Miles Wintner, and it makes the most of that fact, exploding out into crashing cymbals and distorted guitars once the anthemic chorus hits. But it’s more of a small maturation than a big Dylan-goes-electric moment, one more step in the long process of growing up that Girlpool chronicle so well. It’s the same world, the same honesty, and the same Girlpool, just a little bit bigger. –Peter
The world’s first taste of Pallbearer’s upcoming Heartless was “Thorns“: track #2 (of seven total) on the LP, and a truly goddamn inexplicable choice for its “lead single.” It’s an amazing piece of music, but an almost useless introduction to the masterwork from which it has been excised. In its proper context, “Thorns” feels like one of Stanley Kubrick’s smaller “non-submersible units,” and Heartless plays like 2001: A Space Odyssey. Fortunately, the song released by Pallbearer this week is a nearly perfect introduction. “I Saw The End” opens Heartless, and it gives you a reasonably accurate preview of the LP’s scope, ambition, and ability. You can hear it in those churning riffs, those keening vocals, those unearthly melodies. You can hear it in those visceral and unconventional structural shifts, those graceful arcs and swells. You can hear it in that moment when the winding vocal lines coalesce, achieving the power of a choir, just flying — and, my god, the bracing lead that launches into orbit once they’ve cleared the atmosphere. You can listen to “I Saw The End” followed by “Thorns” and hear Heartless’ first two songs in the order they’re meant to be heard. You will then have heard roughly 15% of the album. And don’t get me wrong, that 15% is magnificent. But it’s such a small piece. There is so much more. I promise, and you can hold me to this: You ain’t heard nothing yet. –Michael
You know that thing when a song enters conquer-your-life territory? When you hear it for the first time and just start giggling because of how good it is? When you play it over and over and annoy everyone in the immediate vicinity? When you start using the song as a tiny personal reward, like you’re working through some bullshit drudgery but you get through it because you’re going to let yourself hear the song again when you’re done? I am 37 years old. I am married with kids. I pretty much missed the entire waiting-for-a-text era because we were still in the flip-phone era when I met my wife. “Answer My Text” should not conquer my life. But it has.
There’s a universality to the song’s whole situation. The verses are specific and detailed and yet entirely relatable: “I lost seven pounds in water weight just asking for your number.” The buildup to the chorus is a total endorphin-rush. And that chorus — its grand anthemic hammer-drop line, the grand and simple guitar-crashes, the theatrical frustration in Liv Bruce’s voice — is absolutely built like a destroyer. After the second chorus, Bruce launches into a delirious Angus Young riff because that’s the only way the song can wind down.
If you’ve seen PWR BTTM live in the past few months, then you know that “I Wanna Boi” has already reached full-room singalong status. It is an anthem. And “Answer My Text” is an anthem, too. I cannot wait to see what “Answer My Text” does to a crowded room the next time PWR BTTM come through town. –Tom