There were a ton of great songs released this week, but let’s take that fact out of the equation for a second. This might be the most eclectic group of tracks we’ve featured in 5 Best Songs; the only thing they have in common is that they’re all great. We’ve got searing punk rock rubbing up against a proggy synth odyssey, Zach De La Rocha alongside Taylor Swift. Check ‘em out below.
When Southerners move to New York, a certain kind of permanent anxiety sets in, one that comes to feel so second-nature that they only notice it in its absence. That nerve-jangled feeling is all over the first two albums from the Brooklyn-via-Texas Parquet Courts. On “Uncast Shadow Of A Southern Myth,” though, the newly-christened-for-now Parkay Quarts (sure, guys) give themselves room to space out and to meditate on the whole idea of the South. But they exchange that New York anxiety for an older sort of dread, as images of Graceland and lynchings and Sherman’s March creep their way across the lyrics. Meanwhile, the guitars and organs get six and a half minutes to sigh beatifically. –Tom
If you’re experiencing a little bit of déjà vu seeing “Noctilucence” on here, that’s probably because Mark McGuire was in this same spot almost exactly a year ago with a different 12-minute cosmic-jam. Tom said this song could fit in an ’80s-movie bank-robbery scene — and he’s right: Like a good soundtrack, McGuire’s music enhances everything around it, and like a good heist movie, “Notcilucence” just keeps topping itself with a parade of bursting synth climaxes. Play this while you’re doing the dishes — it’ll feel like you’re diffusing a bomb. –Miles
It’s hard for a band to get attention starting from scratch, but it must be just as bad, if not worse, trying to redefine yourself in the shadow of your popular previous group. So it’s understandable that the first single from Viet Cong’s upcoming self-titled debut LP is drawing comparisons to Matt Flegel and Mike Wallace’s old band, Women. “Continental Shelf” have some of Women’s DNA (how could it not?), but the second that triumphant guitar riff and muddy bass come shambling over Wallace’s “Be My Baby”-style drums, Viet Cong are fully out of the shadow of Women. Anxiety builds as the band locks into grinding repetition and Flegel moves from moans to shouts to screams. It should all fall in on itself — and it does — but what’s left after the collapse is startling: a perfect, bright pop song was sneaking around underneath the noise the whole time. It’s only then that they revive the guitar riff that opened the whole thing, until each disjointed piece falls into place for the final minute. It’s like hearing a song gradually come into focus, and it makes Viet Cong sound unstoppable. –Miles
“Shake It Off” had us worried. The greatest pop songwriter of her generation was somehow trying to go Full Pop and ending up with a bratty, sub-“Hollaback Girl” cheerleader chant that Avril Lavigne wouldn’t have been able to sell in 2006. But “Out Of The Woods” shows that Swift is truly built for this, that the plainspoken and perfectly crafted melodies that made her famous can translate beautifully to a synthier context. Co-writer Jack Antonoff, of Fun. and Bleachers, has a gift for piling harmonies on top of each other and building ungainly towers of them, and that’s all over this. But he was once a guy in an emo band, and that’s here, too, in those vague but oddly specific lyrical details: “Remember when you hit the brakes too soon?/ 20 stitches in the hospital room/ When you started crying, baby, I did, too/ But when the sun came up, I was looking at you.” (Swift has always been great at vague but specific lyrical details, too, and maybe she deserves credit for that one, since it’s is really about a snowmobile crash with Harry Styles.) Swift also hits that exhilarated, vulnerable vocal tone that makes her perfectly relatable, no matter how glittery the song. This one glitters beautifully and still hits home. –Tom
The songs Run The Jewels have shared so far from their second record have revealed it to be even more unapologetically brutal than the first one, each track delivering bunches of lyrical punches over noise-rap production explosive enough to vaporize all comers. Like “Blockbuster Night Part 1″ and “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry” before it, “Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck)” is that kind of banger — the kind that either sends fans of hardscrabble hip-hop into a maniacal arm-flailing frenzy or leaves them frozen, muttering expletives in disbelief. Most RTJ songs have that effect, but this one compounds it by virtue of brilliant guest casting. Not many people realized Killer Mike and El-P would make a dream team before they got together, but it seems obvious in hindsight. Similarly, I’m not sure anybody recognized the ideal accessory to their assault would be Zack De La Rocha mustering all his rage against El-P’s clattering machines, delivering that’s-so-Rocha political punchlines like “Only thing that close quicker than our caskets be the factories!” But holy shit, is it ever! Now can someone please get these guys to remix “Bulls On Parade”? –Chris