This week Azealia Banks released her very long-awaited debut album, Broke With Expensive Taste, out of fucking nowhere. It was so sudden that she’s going to have to wait till next week to make it onto this list, but that thing has got some serious jams including a remix of an Ariel Pink song that he hasn’t even put out yet … and an exciting new banger titled “212”! In the meantime, enjoy our five favorite songs from this week, below.
The problem with calling your band Diarrhea Planet is the name precedes you. People who will or might listen to your music have to do something with that name — ignore it or embrace it or justify it. They have to contend with it in a way that they do not with a name like, say, Parquet Courts or Krill. It forces those people to ask other questions about you and your intentions. For instance: Is the song title “Peg Daddy” referring to, like, the Steely Dan kind of “Peg” … or the Dan Savage kind? Look, I’m cool either way! But I think we can agree the latter seems plausible enough — after all, the band is called Diarrhea Planet. The other problem is: This music does not sound like whatever “Diarrhea Planet” evokes. “Peg Daddy” is a stirring, towering, raw, melodic anthem — the type of thing they used to call emo, or post rock, or indie rock. It is all those things at once. It is yearning and soaring and muscular and vulnerable. It is earnest. And it rocks. So look, I’ll say it: Diarrhea Planet fucked up with that name. In every other respect, though, they are pretty close to perfect. –Michael
For all of the carnivalesque chaos on Ariel Pink’s pom pom, the closing trio of songs anchors everything else with an emotional weight and sweeping grandeur. “Picture Me Gone” is the first, and arguably best, of them. It’s a good choice of single to follow the gleefully sleazy “Black Ballerina” (which is also how they are sequenced on the album), immediately breaking the uncomfortable vibes with sobering honesty. Most of all though, the track pairs beautifully with the early peak of “Put Your Number In My Phone” — a tune that felt like an innocently romantic ’60s pop song thrust into 21st century culture (how alien would the song’s request have sounded just a decade ago, before smart phones became our new appendages?). “Picture Me Gone” examines loss and death, but in an era where parts of us live on through iCloud, through Twitter feeds, through Facebook pages that will automatically switch into memorial pages once notified that we’ve died. It feels like the Kinks’ “People Take Pictures Of Each Other” with the newest iTunes update. Pink is alternately loved/hated for the way he reconfigures the past in his music, but “Picture Me Gone” is an example of him using that to address something painfully modern and present. This isn’t retro, this is timeless. –Miles
The air tastes different in Sweden. Corners seem sharper, lines more defined. People look at you more intently. Everyone is impossibly beautiful and polite, and yet it feels entirely plausible that you could be horribly murdered at any second. In Sweden, I once swam in a hotel-roof pool that came with a ledge. You could swim to the edge of it, look down at the glass bottom, think of how many different natural forces could send your body flying to the cobblestones seven stories below. In Sweden, even a simple leisure-time activity can, and should, come with built-in reminders of the looming inevitability of your own death. People write articles about how Sweden manages to crank out pop music the way it does, and the best answer I can give is: Things are just different there. Think about that while you let the grand, icy clangor of “The Island” wash over you. In Sweden, even cool and controlled synthpop can hang like a boulder over your fucking head. As with Rebecka Rolfart’s compatriot Fever Ray, the vast and yawning void is as much a part of the song as the melody. — Tom
Jessica Pratt is another in a long line of singer-songwriters working tirelessly to perfect their respective crafts. “Back, Baby” is more a refinement than a progression: It wouldn’t feel out of place on her self-titled debut, which was marked by a disarming and wistful quality that carries over here. These kinds of timeless folk songs aren’t about the musicianship per se — Pratt’s soft plucks, while endearing, are nothing that haven’t been heard before. Instead, music like this finds power through haunting specificity; it leads you gently by the fingertips through a story with a light touch and a dark undercurrent. “If there was a time that you loved me…” The “if” at the beginning of that line is important: love isn’t certain, and the absence of love after you once thought you had it is even harder to take. Was any of it real? Did I imagine it all? “You’d better reconsider all the love you took and then cast aside.” Pratt approaches all of this with trepidation, with the uneasy footing of someone who has just had the rug pulled out from under them. Her mumbly and unfeigned vocals rarely enunciate, so that each line slides deftly one right into the other. Pratt’s stream-of-consciousness feels otherworldly, transposed from space and time, where slowly strumming on your guitar while sitting on your bedroom floor is the same as taking the first step on a moon in a galaxy far away. — James
“Bored In The USA” is so American Beauty you can almost make out a plastic grocery bag floating in the background. Suburban malaise and the hollowness of the American Dream are such well-worn topics that singing about them has become as cliché as living them out. How did Josh Tillman pull this bucket of cold water to the face from such a dry well? It helps that, as was true when we had this conversation circa The Suburbs, critiquing this particular lie will be relevant as long as people are still spending lifetimes pursuing it. More importantly, Tillman’s profound-oddball persona is ideally suited to delivering this particular message. He pulls off lyrics that would sound utterly trite coming from someone with less charisma, emphasizing the absurdity of lines like “Is this the part where I get all I ever wanted?” by playing them straight. Yet Tillman sings those words with incredible empathy, so that rather than above it all he seems as desperately confused as the rest of us. Musically “Bored In The USA” functions the same way, expertly walking the fine line between saccharine Nilsson pastiche and actual Nilsson tearjerker until it’s unclear where the irony ends and the sincerity begins. The end product so fully captures the essence of our current predicament that it verges on prophetic. — Chris