All the songs chosen for 5 Best Songs this week are, intentionally or not, crushingly self-reflective and introspective. They concern relationships and how we actually relate to others emotionally, not just romantically, as well as how we treat ourselves. But that’s a lot to think about on a Friday afternoon. Let’s say that they’re all just great pieces of music, pleasant reminders of how differently musicians can conjure poignancy and depth within their chosen realms of songwriting and exploration. Yeah, that sounds good. Let the weekend begin.
Katie Crutchfield never fails to meet her audience halfway; Waxahatchee songs manage to digest giant emotions — insecurity, depression, anxiety — and turn them into tiny turns of phrase. These small moments are so invaluable that they make you want to pluck them out of a song and put them in your pocket, advice for a shitty day or situation to come. She counts down at the beginning of “Under A Rock” in anticipation of what can only be described as a momentous purging of exasperation. The song is a declarative “fuck you” to anyone easily labeled as “emotionally unavailable,” a defiant and loud assertion that no one is as complicated as they would like to think. “I know how to break inside/ The brick house that you built around your cranium/ You wear it like a crown,” she taunts. Whenever I listen to the song’s concluding lyrics, I can’t help but be reminded of Fiona Apple’s “Periphery” and her gaunt announcement, “I got bored trying to figure you out.” In turn, Crutchfield sings, “Your ravenous, insatiable, appetite for the expendable/ Will leave you just as hollow as your requiem/ You bang it like a drum,” bitterly shrugging off disappointment in the way people do when they know that they’re right. She’s not really asking for the subject to go figure their shit out; instead, she’s standing ten feet above them and looking down like, “Oh well. Your loss.” –Gabriela
I was drawn to Sufjan Stevens’ music first and foremost because we share similar backgrounds: We both grew up haunted by the twin ghosts of a turbulent parent and an inexplicable dedication to Christianity. During my childhood, I mostly listened to Christian music, which I sensed from an early age was deeply uncool to the peers I most wish it impressed. So hearing Sufjan — a cool folk musician — speak freely about the tenets of my faith that I held most dear felt like a get-out-of-jail-free card. Especially in rural Oregon, Sufjan was our indie folk demigod and if Isaiah 55:12 was good enough for him, I sure as hell wasn’t going to be ashamed. His return, then, to the expressly Biblical language of “No Shade In The Shadow Of The Cross” over a decade later, felt like coming home. More so even than physically traveling to Oregon could, although he did that too. Now, like Sufjan, getting drunk, getting laid, taking one more hit, these are all a part of my Brooklyn life. But for those of us raised in this looming shadow, the language never leaves your heart. Prodigal or not, welcome back from The Age Of Adz, Sufjan. Sin, shade, or rolled away stone, at least we have each other. –Caitlin
Since Das Racist broke up, Heems has madly pingponged between the dizzy cleverness that brought his old group so much attention and the brown-power racial polemics that always lurked right under the surface when he was in Das Racist. His new album Eat, Pray, Thug is global in scope; it’s a powerful personal statement about growing up rap in post-9/11 America. But “Home” is the moment where he breaks away from all of that, getting simple and personal and small-stakes with a pointed, conflicted, specific breakup song. He acknowledges where things when wrong in the relationship just like he acknowledges the reasons why he misses it, and he ends with the the irresistible let’s-stay-together plea “be my remix to ‘Ignition.'” Meanwhile, Blood Orange drizzles ’80s adult-contempo synth-tones and Paul Simon watery-Afropop guitars all over everything, adding a hazy, swoony, beautiful atmosphere to a sad and real song. –Tom
“Deeper Than Love” is a truth bomb in musical form, an internal monologue made up of a ring of unending, unanswerable questions about the metaphysics of human connection. “I wanna know real love so desperately, but I think it’s gotta happen scientifically,” Green half-sings, half-spits out over a revolving, suffocating bass line. “‘Cause I’m scared, afraid of real intimacy — you know, the kind they say happens psychologically.” “Deeper Than Love” is the dark, unflinching heart of I Want To Grow Up, a dead-eyed stare into the depths of the human condition. It’s the anxiety of feeling like you’re never going to be good enough, all while observing people around you who are happy, and wondering if you just weren’t cut out for that. It’s the fear of giving yourself up completely to someone, investing in a future that will inevitably come to an end. “How can I give you my life if I know that you’re just gonna die?” These are the thoughts that keep you tossing and turning at night, these are the dark shadows that call out to you from the corner of your bedroom and encourage you to pull the covers over your head and give up. Is true love a biological connection or something that happens because of fate? Does it even exist at all? “I don’t wanna think about it, it’s too scary,” she repeats, pushing the idea out of her head. In our interview with Green, she talks about how she was apprehensive to share this track with her bandmates, and that fear is understandable. This song is so uncompromising and unreservedly bleak that it’s a little bit hard to swallow. There’s no silver lining here. But it’s also hyper-relatable, a scary accurate depiction of the fears that weigh us down every day. “The closeness, the intimacy: I’m afraid it might kill me.” –James
We must begin by acknowledging that “WOE” — as in “Runnin’ through the 6 with my WOEs,” this song’s deceptively simple, slang-addled hook — is supremely dumb. Allegedly, “WOE” = “Working On Excellence” = Drake’s whole crew and anybody else who’s out there pursuing greatness. So “WOE” is basically the opposite of “woe.” Right. OK. That interpretation completely changes the tone of “Know Yourself,” shifting it from a tale of solitary night-drive melancholy to a chronicle of chasing the high life with your hometown entourage. Doesn’t matter. Either way, this thing GOEs (Guarantees Overwhelming Elation). Boi-1da’s beat is all streetlights and skyline and ominous black sky, the sound Drake has spent his past few releases sharpening to a point and using to disembowel his enemies. (Foes?) He’s got a lot of them, as he reminds us on “Energy,” one of a half-dozen other new Drake songs that could have cracked this list this week. Still, for all the lyrical hostility on If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, Drake’s lyrics here mostly turn that post-midnight cinematic sweep into the sound of anticipation, one of his patented flashbacks to his days as a hungry kid with impossible dreams. “Know Yourself” feels like the possibilities of a night and a lifetime opening up in front of you, that sense that something huge could be just around the corner. You know how that shit goes. –Chris