As Chris cannily noted in his last The Week In Pop, “the TV-shows-about-the-music-industry industry is booming,” even as the music industry itself melts deeper into Pompeii-level hot messiness. It is ironic: 10 million people every week are watching a TV show about a record company, but nobody is buying records. So yeah, the machine appears to be broken — lucky for us, though, right now, it’s just randomly, uncontrollably spitting out candy. Two of this week’s best songs came from two of the world’s best artists; they arrived totally unannounced, and we were totally unprepared, and our lives were immediately, magically enriched. This is now a regular occurrence. This is a boom time.
Slutever’s friends and former tourmates in Girlpool have a fascinating take on those old DIY punk tropes: two voices, two guitars, no drums, a homespun pop-music beauty where the ferocity comes entirely from their lyrics and the way they deliver them. Slutever do things differently. Slutever don’t deconstruct anything. Instead, they take that old sound, and they play the fuck out of it. “Smother,” with its bash-riff and its cagey snarl-roar and its two-minute running time, comes steeped in West Coast punk rock history; Black Flag and Agent Orange and Bikini Kill and Mika Miko rattle around in its DNA. But the song isn’t a history lesson. It’s an elbow to the face. You can’t make this kind of musical adrenaline-jolt when you’re emulating old heroes. You can only do it when you see an ass that needs kicking. Play this loud and go knock some trash cans over. –Tom
Is it worth it to try and make a living as an artist? That’s the question that “Billz” seems to ask. I guess it could be interpreted as questioning the value of an interpersonal relationship, the push and pull between love and success. But I think it makes a lot more sense as an examination of the dynamic between an artist and their art. “Will it elevate me? Will it educate me?” The implied answer is yes, “but is it gonna pay my bills?” If the art that you’re making has no significant monetary value, does it have any value at all? That’s a question most of society doesn’t even have the comfort of being able to ask, but it’s easily distilled into something universally relatable: Why do we do anything that we love when there’s no financial reward? Ava Luna have long been painted as music nerds — their last album, Electric Balloon, brought together influences too disparate to even list, transforming them into a jittery, impeccably produced blend that both paid homage to their forebears while rejecting them in favor of a fresher approach. And it makes sense that a band that’s as studied and carefully composed as they are would take the time to muse on whether or not any of their experimentation is even worth anything. But Ava Luna seem determined to go ahead with it, and they’re doing a bang-up job: “Billz” is among the best songs they’ve put out so far. “Our love ain’t gonna pay my bills,” but they’re sure as hell going to try to at least take some of the edge off. –James
Tobias Jesso hit our radar, not long ago, making spare and delicate solo piano tunes. And even if “How Could You Babe” isn’t the first song we’ve heard from his forthcoming debut Good, it’s the one that really shows, for the first time, what he can do when he has some firepower behind him. “How Could You Babe” is, more or less, the opposite of a solo piano tune. It’s big and hearty, with choirs and organs and a chorus that seems to well up from the sea like a cleansing storm. But even with all those embellishments, Jesso still sounds like a kid with a piano. In his time in Girls, producer Chet “JR” White became a master at turning tremulous inner feelings into anthem fodder, and that gift serves the song beautifully. “How Could You Babe” is a jealous, clingy ex-boyfriend’s helpless scream, and there’s nothing admirable about that sentiment, especially when Jesso is brushing off the idea that the ex has moved on: “I’m just waiting for the day when I can say that you are mine again.” But with Jesso’s flattened conversational delivery, and with that gloriously melodramatic AM-gold arrangement, the sentiment achieves a dignity that it doesn’t deserve. –Tom
This phenomenon is not as pronounced as some people believe, but it’s possible some of the stars visible in the night sky have already burned out. They’re gone, but their light shines on, still bringing beauty into the world. So it goes with Aaliyah’s “At Your Best (You Are Love).” Five years ago it provided the basis for “Unforgettable,” a titanic Drake/Young Jeezy collaboration that absolutely lived up to its name. Now Frank Ocean, the most cultishly beloved R&B singer since Aaliyah, has delivered his own take on “At Your Best.” Ocean’s version, titled “You Are Luhh” because why not, is shapeless and ethereal — a moonbeam streaming through a cracked-open door, a disembodied Patrick Swayze spirit-hug. It’s just keyboard and vocals because that’s all Ocean needs to melt you. And so that light keeps right on shining. –Chris
If you know anything about Björk’s new record Vulnicura, you know it’s about heartbreak — deep, soul-smashing despair wrought by the end of her relationship with longtime partner Matthew Barney. Even if you haven’t read any of the numerous Vulnicura breakdowns (I recommend that you start with Tom’s Premature Evaluation), the record’s opening track, “Stonemilker,” clues you into the proceeding tumult. Adding to the anguished reliance on string arrangements, the lyrics to “Stonemilker” play with images of a once celestial, harmonious balance, fractured. Björk delivers the opening line “Our jux-ta-po-si-tioni-ng fate” in pieces, as if each syllable is a cumbersome shard of glass slicing its way through her vocal cords. It’s a painful admission, one that hits even harder when it becomes clear that this juxtaposition is in no way an intriguing duality — it’s an inescapable schism. “Find our mutual coordinates/ Moments of clarity are so rare/ I’d better document this,” she continues. Despite its obvious emotional weight, “Stonemilker” doesn’t feel angry, and it isn’t distressing to listen to. Something about the way Björk rolls her R’s cushions even the most desperate utterances. That, paired with her willingness to spit out torment in staccato, is a reminder that Björk is still making art to be reckoned with despite self-professed emotional decay. –Gabriela