This week’s 5 Best Songs is perhaps the most diverse entry in the franchise’s young history. It ranges from polished pop to acoustic melancholia, post-punk wails to cloud rap ephemera. Check it out below.
“Day/Night/Sleep System” is the perfect name for this wonderful trifecta of young talent. The “night” here is Haleek Maul’s sulky verse which casts a shadow over the first half of Ryan Hemsworth’s murky beat. Then comes the “day” in Kitty’s exquisitely cooed verse that hits at the midway point. Finally the “sleep” is in Hemsworth’s dreamy, murky production that sounds halfway between a Clams beat and one of the underwater levels in Donkey Kong Country (still one of the greatest video game soundtracks, and a favorite source of Hemsworth’s in his DJ sets). The brilliance here however comes from the fact that without really changing anything up he manages to produce something that works equally well with the yin and yang present on the track. Just as curation is as essential as manipulation in a good DJ mix, Hemsworth picked just the right vocalists to help bring his debut album to a close. – Miles
Mark Kozelek’s songs have always been deeply, profoundly sad, but “Micheline” is harrowing to the point of heartbreak. In the song’s first verse, its titular subject is observed from Kozelek’s point of view, both of them children, she, an object of mockery in the Kozelek household (“She took a different bus to school than the other kids, and was in different kinds of classes”); it follows her into adulthood, where she’s fleeced by “a neighborhood thug [who] took her down to the bank, helped her withdraw the savings that was put away for her, and he went off with it.” “Micheline” includes three such connected short stories — the second verse is about Kozelek’s friend Brett, the third, his grandmother — and each ends in death. Kozelek’s eye for detail has never been sharper; he’s writing here with the confidence and grace of a Tobias Wolff or Denis Johnson. But even if the words wash over you without making their meanings known, even if they come across as nothing more than gentle, somber sounds flowing over a delicately picked acoustic guitar, “Micheline” is a work of rare and absorbing beauty. Taken in as a complete artistic statement, it’s absolutely masterful. – Michael
With their staggering 2012 album Ugly, Screaming Females proved themselves capable of making a hard, unvarnished basement-punk album with all the scope and ambition and virtuosity of the best classic rock. With “Ancient Civilizations,” they’ve bypassed all that and made a straight-up classic rock anthem. You can still hear echoes of the band’s DIY roots in the clang of Maria Paternoster’s guitars (and the song does, after all, take up half of a split 7″ with glued-together cover art). But the song soars through six glorious minutes, with Paternoster’s guitar flaring and screaming and crying with a triumphant grandeur that few even attempt anymore. – Tom
This isn’t Juicy J’s first pop princess collab of 2013. But where Miley Cyrus’s cameo on Mike Will Made It’s “23” has her singing head-smack-worthy lines like, “I’m naughty by nature / like I’m hip-hop hooray” and rapping like a missing member of White Girl Mob, Katy Perry has Juicy adjusting to her style. There are certainly aspects of “Dark Horse” that make him the proper MC to guest — the syrupy verse beat and intermittent screwed vocals — but instead of a full trippy 16, Juicy J raps about romance. Granted, that means bars like, “She’ll steal your heart / Jeffrey Dahmer” but this is a Katy Perry song, so questionable lyrics are standard. Even when you’re basking in its buoyant ethereal hook, you still have to deal with the fact that she sings, “This love will make you levitate / like a bird without a cage.” That’s called flying, Katy. Birds do not levitate. But most of us at Stereogum HQ have taken a hearty listen to the Prism stream and while we each have our faves, this is definitely the standout from the LP. Katy got bandz. – Claire
Picture, if you will, the climax of a coming-of-age romantic comedy circa 1988: the tension resolved, the lessons learned, the protagonists trading knowing smiles in oversized sweaters and equally oversized hair. Imagine the music that kicks in as the credits start to roll: the shoulder-swinging electro-acoustic rhythm, the jaunty but vulnerable lead vocal, synths on synths on synths. You’re hearing Tegan And Sara’s “Shudder To Think” — appropriate, since the song is coming to us via the soundtrack for a movie set in the ’80s, albeit not one of John Hughes vintage. As if to remind us of their underground pedigree, it name-checks the great genre-flouting ’80s/’90s D.C. band Shudder To Think, but it would fit in fine on top 40 radio between Bush vs. Dukakis campaign ads. Some might see that as yet another sign (along with this year’s Heartthrob) that Tegan And Sara have abandoned the very same underground that weaned them, but expressing such sentiments would demonstrate both obliviousness to cultural currents and lack of appreciation for one of modern music’s great career arcs. The only thing they’ve left behind is the outdated scene politics that would forbid an effortless gem like this. – Chris