Yesterday, we woke up with a new broody Drake short film to watch with breakfast, and by bedtime, we had a new broody Drake mixtape to listen to over sleepy tea. If those 17 songs had dropped Wednesday instead, we’d likely be talking about one of them below. But we’ll get to Drake next week. For now, here are five very good, very different tracks that span the romantic, the blistering, the personal, and the political with ease.
When “Raising The Skate” dropped on Tuesday, I mocked the way in which some writers attempt to analyze Sadie Dupuis’ lyrics to no avail. While it’s true that sometimes it’s best not to dig too deep, I will retract some of that initial statement, because “Raising The Skate” might be one of Speedy Ortiz’s most lyrically blunt songs to date. The inaugural instrumental whiplash shoves us into a situation mid-conversation, caught in a narrative that’s been going on for a while. Dupuis is responding to something specific: the way domineering men tend to discredit women in a position of power by labeling them “bossy” or “bitchy” when they should be bowing down. Dupuis is familiar with that kind of power-play; she probably gets called out as being a pseudo-intellectual Stephen Malkmus imitator on the regular, a woman with too many things to say fronting a band of subservient men who do all of the work. Dupuis knows that’s bullshit, and “Raising The Skate” is her pissed-off response to some desperate dude’s attempt at belittlement. She’s not retreating into the shadows and waiting for his insults to blow over, she’s giving him a piece of her undoubtedly superior mind, “I’m not bossy I’m the boss/ Shooter not the shot/ I’m chief, not the overthrown/ Captain not a crony,” and in the process speaking up for any other woman who’s been in a similar position. Dupuis has got nothing to prove, but in case you aren’t convinced that she’s making better rock music than most guys playing the same game, then this one’s for you. –Gabriela
Before this, Braids’ defiant, arching pop explorations mostly interested me on a sonic level, not a lyrical one, but Raphaelle Standell’s lyrics to “Miniskirt” evoke so much. I wonder if you can fully appreciate this song if you haven’t worn a miniskirt? The feeling of power and helplessness that exposing your sexuality gives you — the feeling that embracing your sexual freedom always doubles as entrapment. Look, being a woman in the music industry is fucking hard. I’m sure Raphaelle has had to defend herself and her art to death, as have I. But listen to “Miniskirt,” she’s also had to defend her sex life, her body, her appetite and her reputation against the carnivorous forces of society that assume women are objects to be consumed, chewed up, and spat out. I can’t listen to the first two minutes of this song without crying because, like she says, her brief monologue isn’t personal reflection, it’s universal. When she spits out the slurs lobbed against her, “slut,” “bitch,” “whore,” “the one that you hate,” I feel the stinging memory of every time these words have been tossed at me. Or worse, I think of the times I’ve called myself those things, internalizing society’s misogyny and turning the blade inward. “Liberated is what you want to call it?/ How about unfairly choked?” Standell asks bitterly, through gritted teeth, as static-ridden synths build behind her, illustrating how illogical the language of the women’s rights movement still sounds. Illustrating how illogical it is that we needed to be liberated at all. But we did and we do. It’s an ongoing affair. All we’ve done is loosen the strangling hold, there’s still a clasped grip to pry from our throats. This song pulled back a finger. –Caitlin
Chromatics inhabit their world like no other. Since the rise of Italians Do It Better in 2007, Johnny Jewel and his crew have been putting out sleek, stylish, and savvy pop in a league of their own. Kill For Love is a masterpiece: densely layered but immediately satisfying, it’s an absolute joy to get lost in. And though that album gave us enough to chew on for far more than three years, it’s exciting that we get to revisit their world so soon. “Just Like You” is a haunting mirage of a song — the production is immaculate, as always, and Ruth Radelet’s voice sounds just as mystifying and pained as ever. “He looks just like you, he even loves like we used to…” It captures a quiet unsettling: the feeling that one day, you’ll wake up and the person you’re sleeping next to won’t be themselves anymore, that something about your relationship will have fundamentally changed. That even though you’re you, you’re not you, just a ghost of a former self. They do all of this with their characteristic icy romanticism, and with the same patient and methodical nature that marks the best Chromatics tracks. They’re never showy and they never go for the easy way out. Even among all the retro-futurism and droopy beats and stylized imagery, it often feels like Chromatics are the only band that really has a grasp on the messy, human nature of love. –James
“Last Year” starts out as an absolute rager, a feral punk song in the vein of Huggy Bear, Love Is All, and Priests. It’s nothing but chaos for 56 seconds — strutting, yowling, upending tables by its sheer existence — and if the song ended right there, it would stand alone as a monstrous piece of work. But out of nowhere “Last Year” morphs into a rocket-fueled shoegaze track, a fireball of harmony and distortion and willpower that goes supernova and engulfs everything in its path. The flip from violently salty to gonzo sugar-rush is exhilarating. It makes this song feel like an epic at under three minutes, and it suggests we’ve reached the point where Joanna Gruesome will finally be better known for their musical prowess than for their goofy band name. –Chris
When Kendrick Lamar released “i” last year, a whole lot of people thought it was corny. I would submit that those people were wrong. When anyone, especially a young black man in America, says, “I love myself,” even in a joyous and melodic context, that counts as a radical act. And “The Blacker The Berry,” Kendrick’s big follow-up, represents the flipside of that self-validation. “You’re fuckin’ evil, I want you to recognize that I’m a proud monkey / You vandalize my perception by can’t take style from me,” he snarls, bringing back that breathlessly hoarse and urgent “Backseat Freestyle” voice. And later: “I’m African-American, I’m African/ I’m black as the heart of a fuckin’ Aryan.” The sentiment isn’t that different, but the style of delivery sure is. Over a needling, pulse-quickening beat, Kendrick roars forth a sermon of pure defiance, while the dancehall star Assassin comes through to rain down apocalyptic fury on everything. It’s bracing, it’s necessary, and Kendrick released it the day after he got what someone on Twitter (forget who, sorry) called his reparations Grammys for “i.” Smart move. –Tom