There are some major releases stacking up for the end of the year, and all last month, 5 Best Songs was filled with heavy hitters. This week felt like the eye of the storm. Most of the artists on here might have gotten overlooked if we’d been hit with another TV On The Radio or Ariel Pink single, or maybe that new song Kanye promised us. Those are all probably coming in the next few weeks, but we’re glad they didn’t drop this week, because the songs that wound up making the list are killer and they deserve some attention.
To use some modern points of reference, Mitski sounds a little bit like if you put Annie Clark and Angel Olsen in a blender and what came out was stronger and more capable than either one (bold statement, I know). But Mitski is also completely incomparable and in a league of her own, timeless and wholly enchanting. She got her start at SUNY Purchase studying classical music and directing a 60-piece orchestra, but drifted away from that by the time she graduated. “I awoke to the fact that music didn’t have to be this difficult and academic thing to be ‘good,'” she said in some press stuff. She’s carried over that attention to detail in her new music, but has also imbued it with a feeling of spontaneity. “I Don’t Smoke” is a smoldering song, devastating in its vulnerability and directness. There’s an enveloping sense of atmosphere that is at times angry and frustrated and a little unsettling, but it’s tempered by sincerity and intimacy and a sure sense of self. Mitski is still growing as a songwriter, sure, but that’s exciting because the possibilities seem endless. –James
“Unclassified” is an example of what happens when a rapper and producer gel into that perfect, symbiotic relationship. Here you’ve got Etnik’s craggy, fat beats that leave open plenty of space for Blanco to run through sharp verses, often as funny as they are fierce. But it goes both ways. Those beats are aggressive and sinister enough to match Blanco’s looming presence — no easy task. They pull each other up, and even though the song is credited to Etnik, with Blanco as the feature, they’re both the stars of this show. If they ever did get around to making some dream collaboration it’d be cool to see them simply pick a neutral name. “Run The Jewels” is taken, but I bet these two could come up with something great. Actually I bet they could come up with a whole lot. –Miles
“Not That Bad” pulls PC Music’s pioneering electro-pop back from the edge of the uncanny valley just far enough that you can revel in the musical wizardry without being haunted by surreal horrors. Even with her voice morphing like the audio equivalent of a funhouse mirror, GFOTY sounds like an actual human being pinballing amongst the hyperkinetic neon joy machines. Some of this genre’s devotees might be put off by the absence of sheer plasticine terror here because without that you lose the amplified “Barbie Girl” critique of singles like QT’s “Hey QT.” But if pressed to choose, I’d take a wildly pleasurable futuristic pop song over brilliant commentary-as-music any day. Fortunately, I don’t have to choose. –Chris
A big, bold Stone Roses throwback is not what we expected out of the Copenhagen scene that birthed Iceage, Lower, and Vår. Let’s all consider it good news that not everyone in Denmark is so darkly deranged. For everything there is a season, you know? “So Long Sun” begins like the first rays over the horizon and ends up as big as the sky. It’s an anthem that lives up to its band name, the sound of a bunch of people reaching for the heavens together. In its best moments, it scrapes that sort of bliss. –Chris
Tinashe made her name with “2 On,” the minimal DJ Mustard-produced banger. But coming from her, that song was an anomaly, a hard-edge cube from an artist who prefers to sculpt soft, bleeding, incandescent goo-piles. “Bet” is one such pile. It’s a song about feeling that kind of attraction that makes it feel like the ions in your body are somehow affecting the weather: Of course it’s storming in Southern California for the first time in months. You’re feeling that way, aren’t you? The song has some of that chiffon, cloudy feel that Hynes brings to his own music as Blood Orange, but it also has DJ Dahi adding some of the perfectly timed bass-burps and 808 thuds he brought to Drake’s “Worst Behavior.” And when the song feels like it should end, Hynes rips through the fabric of time with a guitar solo that screams like a miniature “Maggot Brain.” R&B is lucky to have these three people, Tinashe and Hynes and Dahi, operating on the same wavelength at the same time, even if it’s only for one song. –Tom