For all the fresh beefing we were made to endure this week, it’s nice to have the 5 Best Songs to help us remember why we listen to music in the first place. Musicians dissing each other is fun (and often very, very funny), but at the end of a long week, it’s about so much more than that. It’s about small pockets of organized sounds making us feel euphoric and stuff. All it takes is a listen.
The Norwegian producer Hans-Peter Lindstrøm has tried a lot of things — 20-minute disco-prog odysseys, ’70s studio-pop goofs, slickly slinky vocal house. But his definitive work, and his calling card, has always been his 2005 “I Feel Space,” a wordless track that did Hawkwind things with Giorgio Moroder sounds. Lindstrøm’s form of dance music is the type that stares off into the infinite, and “Home Tonight,” with its nine-minute sprawl and its endless percolation, is no exception. But in “Home Tonight,” Lindstrøm finds room for play, bouncing taut melodies off of each other and moving from one hook to the next with an assured grace. It’s a lively track even before Grace Hall, of the R&B duo Skin Town, dips through and blasts personality all through it. “Home Tonight” has space-disco scope, but it keeps its feet moving even as its gaze reaches skyward. –Tom
Back before Ben Gibbard’s unfortunate divorce, the prevailing wisdom went something like this: “Can’t wait for the inevitable post-breakup Death Cab album! It’s bound to be really good!” That’s a shitty way to think, but don’t try to deny that it never crept into your mind. That kind of thinking speaks to the nastier side of fandom, especially when a band’s best work is built on heartbreak. We want our favorite artists to keep producing great art, personal circumstances be damned. If a divorce is what it takes to get us something on the level of Transatlanticism or Plans, so be it! Gotta please the people, right? Now that the moment is finally here, it feels a little weird to tell you that Kintsugi is the best, most vital Death Cab album we’ve had in a while. I’m not sure why that is: Maybe it’s because of the divorce, maybe it’s because the band knew that Chris Walla’s departure was imminent, or maybe all that Death Cab needed to feel fresh again was a new set of eyes in the form of producer Rich Costey. Probably all of the above. But “No Room In Frame” is a shining example of the new, reinvigorated DCFC. It keeps the sonic clarity of their later albums while borrowing some of the punchiness that made The Photo Album so great. And it’s one of the cleverest lyrical turns in recent Death Cab memory: “Was I in your way? When the cameras turned to face you? No room in frame for two.” (Come on, Ben, it’s hard not to read into that just a little.) The song takes a ton of familiar, unmistakable DCFC tropes — driving up the West Coast, overanalyzing a failed relationship, an elating sense of escape — and interprets them in a way that feels surprisingly fresh. “You cannot outrun a ghost/ Speeding southbound lanes with abandon” — that’s just some damn fine writing. As someone who grew up on Death Cab, it’s good to know that they’ve still got it after all these years. –James
Mac McCaughan rose to prominence as a chronicler of youthful anger and exuberance at breakneck speeds. As the Superchunk/Portastatic/Merge Records founder has aged into elder statesman status, he’s developed an equally potent canon of songs about loss; in particular, Superchunk’s I Hate Music was largely about the experience of beloved friends dying and of wondering whether staying in rather than going to a show constitutes its own kind of death. McCaughan’s new solo album Non-Believers — his first under his own name — turns his new perspective on his old self. It’s billed as a nostalgic reflection on both his own adolescence (the ’80s, when punk turned introspective and yielded bands like the Cure and Cocteau Twins) and the messiness of adolescent self-discovery in general. That approach renders songs like “Lost Again,” with all its moody post-punk accoutrements and years-later perspective, something new for McCaughan in terms of both style and substance. It suggests this solo album will add fascinating shades to his already captivating discography. In another sense, though, “Lost Again” does exactly what McCaughan songs have always done. The guy has an impeccable ability to turn standard-issue rock ‘n’ roll resources — a few chords, a basic arrangement, and a wounded heart — into unmistakably powerful songs. He makes blissful catharsis look so easy that most of his peers seem like slack motherfuckers by comparison. –Chris
Sometimes, instead of falling for a song’s content, we fall into the gaps between chords, or the intake of breath that strings two words together. When I attempt to visualize Yowler’s song “Water,” I imagine Rubin’s face-vase optical illusion, a reminder that sometimes an examination of a work of art’s negative space reveals its buried meaning. On “Water,” the hiss of room tone stands in for the little bits of poetic deliberations best left unsaid, coddling moments of articulated emptiness. “I am nothing/ I am but a shape, but a shape,” Maryn Jones half-whispers. In James’ Q&A with Jones, he mentioned that the pauses between breaths is where Yowler’s debut tape, The Offer, thrives; an aptly titled effort to usher us into the darker recesses of her memory. “Water” is confessional without being forthright, arresting in its overcast beauty. –Gabriela
No one writes about the body like Megan James. On Shrines she wielded lyrics like barbed spears, slashing through our psyches, and on Another Eternity she continues mercilessly drawing blood. A body is a vessel. Merely that. A body isn’t us, it isn’t our being. When you know someone, when you know them, you know their being and their state of physical manifestation — but those two things are separate. The exquisite pain and pleasure of corporeality lies in this separation, in the space between our bodies and our selves. James inserts herself into that gap in “Bodyache,” trying to find the place in someone else where the self fuses with the body. On the heady chorus, James’ spun-sugar voice hiccups into a near-cry, spattered across pealing synths and Corin Rodick’s wobbly, water-bed bass line, but imagine all that as the body of the song. In the song’s being, a dysmorphia is sounding forth. You don’t know how a body can ache until you know someone who has been assigned the wrong one; the alienation of self from form. “Bodyache” is a surrogate sorrow, pain encased in amber pop empathy. It’s a sad, gorgeous song so spectacular that it makes you happy to inhabit your own grief, aches and all. –Caitlin