We just published our 50 Favorite Songs Of 2013, but this week reminded us that the year ain’t over yet. On Wednesday, both EMA and Burial dropped new songs that would have commanded serious consideration if we’d had them even a few days earlier. Needless to say they both landed on our list of the week’s best songs, below. Although, honestly, this week reminded us that this week ain’t even over yet — last night, at midnight, Beyonce released a whole new album with exactly zero warning, and surely some of those songs belong on this thing, too. Not to worry; they’re eligible for next week’s list. And frankly, it would be hard to cut any of the five songs that were included here. Check ‘em out below.
It’s a lot of fun, but the much-anticipated Busta Rhymes/Q-Tip mixtape The Abstract & The Dragon turns out to be a compilation of their last two decades of collabs, not an all-new full-length. Old rappers, you see, do not quite understand how mixtapes work. But they understand how rapping works, and “Butch & Sundance,” one of the precious few all-new songs on the tape, is such a lighthearted but thorough fast-rap workout that it might just render the whole tape essential. Over a bloopy, funky Fender Rhodes loop, Tip and Busta trade off dizzy, hook-free couplets, rapping circles around almost everyone else without ever showing the slightest bit of effort. Fiends follow Tip like a hobbit, Busta has funny dudes looking at him like an ostrich, and your ears strain to catch up. –Tom
We heard Annie Clark’s gnarly side come out on “Krokodil.” The somewhat skronking “Birth In Reverse” is tame by comparison, but it’s still pretty rabid compared to some of the swooning St. Vincent productions of yore. How ancient does Marry Me sound now? Clark’s formidable guitar chops get a starring role here, fighting it out with the aggressive low-end surges and digitized bursts, same as the lyrical imagery (just an ordinary day of taking out the garbage and masturbating) clashes with the photo imagery (Clark, on her throne, looking like some kind of terrifying space queen). And, oh yeah, doesn’t the titular simile suggest this song is about climbing back into your mother’s vagina? Maybe “Birth In Reverse” is Clark at her gnarliest. –Chris
Who’d have thunk you could feel homesick for Chiraq? Producer Cam Osteen (which, if it’s a reference to the health-and-wealth preacher, is a genius name) proves on “Suitcase” that less can in fact be more. Unlike Yeezus, this is what minimalism actually sounds like — and unlike Yeezus, it’s a marvelously pretty version of distress. Out front we’ve got two young studs who are fully capable of spazzing out, reminding us once again that they also know how to hold back. Life has changed for these guys. They used to worry about getting shot in their neighborhood; now they worry about dying in a plane crash. Still worrying, though, and you can hear it in every expertly deployed syllable. (That “Hit The Road Jack” riff still kills me.) The whole song is the auditory equivalent of Vic’s revelation: “Sometimes the littlest things in life don’t seem so big till you’re grown.” These guys are growing up before our ears, and they’re doing all the little things right. –Chris
Past Life Martyred Saints, Erika M. Anderson’s wounded, feverish, utterly powerful 2011 solo debut, was a monumental depiction of personal apocalypse. But if first single “Satellites” is any indication, The Future’s Void, the forthcoming follow-up, might be more concerned with actual apocalypse. “Still we put them way up into space, and we know they won’t return, all alone in the waste,” Anderson howls, sounding like she took Gravity very seriously. (At least, I think that’s what she’s saying. I do know that her voice kicks me in the gut, hard, and that’s what matters with Anderson.) And rather than the raggedly beautiful guitars of her last album, she has a new, and newly appropriate, musical template: stomping, clanging, swirling goth-industrial grind, a sound that pairs with her voice like fear with wonder. On Twitter, Anderson says that the song is “more about the Cold War,” that it predates the whole Snowden/NSA situation. Goes to show: Anxiety this ferocious is a timeless thing. –Tom
“Excuse me, I’m lost,” mutters another one of Burials ghosts at the beginning of the final song on Rival Dealer. We’ve heard these voices so often over the years — Beyonce pitch-shifted until she sounds like a man, Ray J twisted into a feminine falsetto — they are a key element of what has made the mysterious Burial’s music so emotionally resonant. That’s part of why “Come Down To Us” and the perfectly paced story it tells are so special and so overwhelmingly beautiful. Later, amidst hiss and crackles, another voice asks “Who are you?” Then the beat kicks in, and we’re off. What begins as mournful though shyly pretty develops and grows before being interrupted, beaten down by distorted glitches. Something is different though; these ghosts drift in with phrases urging “Don’t be afraid,” “Come on in,” “Let yourself go,” and (very softly) “This is the moment when you see who you are.” Amidst the dark lonely production, a sound no one has ever come close to replicating in what’s growing close to a decade now, these voices struggle, shine, and for the first time in a Burial song, soar. The second half of “Come Down To Us” rises like the sun over the endless rainy night that has been Burial’s discography, an explosion of optimism and hope cutting to silence only briefly to deliver a clear natural voice with a simple message: “You are not alone.” There is one final voice to appear in the closing moments of “Come Down To Us” — that of famous film director Lana Wachowski who only recently came out as transgender, while giving her acceptance speech for the HRC Visibility Award. The full speech touches on many dark moments — alienation in school, beatings, one dark day in the subway when jumping seemed like the best option — but Burial doesn’t include any of that. What he does leave us with is a moment of self-acceptance and bravery: “Years later I find the courage to admit I am transgendered, and this does not mean I am unlovable.” It’s a moment of directness I never would have expected from an artist as elusive (and illusive) as Burial, but it results in one of the finest songs of Burial’s career, and one of the most important songs of the year. –Miles