Despite David Crosby’s protestations regarding Kanye West’s talent, Yeezy undoubtedly made one of the 5 Best Songs Of The Week. Again. So did Courtney Barnett and Chromatics, who’ve both made appearances on this list in the past month, and Kelela, who popped up about a year ago. And then, of course, there’s Carly Rae Jepsen and her explosive reemergence onto music’s main stage. What would Crosby have to say about the rest of this crazy talented, wonderfully diverse crew? Eh, that’s probably not important. Listen.
Someone only tangentially familiar with Chromatics and their ilk could easily make the argument that all of their music sounds the same. And, as much as I love them, I’d eventually have to concede that point. Every Chromatics track is made up of the same elements: synths that lurk in shadowy corners, thumping beats that dominate the landscape, wandering excursions into oblivion. But despite their similarities, each song is a variation on a theme. To the discerning ear, nothing about “I Can Never Be Myself When You’re Around” would feel right on Kill For Love or Night Drive. Each has their own mood — however amorphous that might be — and they each have boundaries for what feels right and what feels wrong. I don’t want to ascribe any vision to Dear Tommy just yet because we’ve only gotten a handful of tracks, but everything we’ve heard so far from this album feels a lot more physical — things hit harder, everything comes across as a little more visceral. Usually Ruth Radelet’s vocals end in an ellipsis, but here she goes straight in for the exclamation point. “I can never be myself when you’re around” isn’t just a catchy hook, it’s a cry for help. It feels like it comes a little earlier than “Just Like You” in the arc of a relationship — the build-up to the inevitable decline. Whereas that song was about waking up and not recognizing the person lying next to you, this one is about deceiving yourself even though you know it’s all about to end: “We live just to love, getting lost on our own/ And we tell all our lies, as our hearts turn to stone.” –James
Kelela released her stunning mixtape Cut For Me way back in 2013, featuring twelve tracks of idiosyncratic electro-R&B that inspired a fair amount of dropped jaws. “A Message” is the first single off of Cut For Me’s follow-up EP, Hallucinogen, which will be released later in May. With help from producer Arca, Kelela crafts an entire universe of seductive sound in just four minutes. “A Message” is a pleading, desperate attempt at resuscitation; letting someone go is never easy, but in this song it just sounds bone-crushingly painful. “If I was your ex-girlfriend/ Tell you what was on my mind/ We could leave it all behind,” Kelela sings, her voice radiating strength despite the dour words it declaims. “I’m gonna let your body go for sure.” –Gabriela
Conventional wisdom suggests that every comic genius is masking a desperate sadness. Courtney Barnett flings zinger after sardonic zinger with casual nonchalance. When she’s furiously rocking out, as on “Pedestrian At Best,” you can hear her rolling her eyes; even when describing a nervous breakdown on her relatively laid-back breakthrough single “Avant Gardener,” she seemed to be smirking. It’s a charming approach, but if she never let her guard down, she’d risk coming off like one of those people who is never Off, who cracks jokes to cope instead of actually dealing with her problems, who won’t actually let anybody in. “Depreston” is the sound of Barnett letting us in. The wry observations and clever turns of phrase are still there, but they’re communicating real feeling, not deflecting it. Shopping for a home in a soulless Melbourne suburb, she pauses to let herself be bummed out, and like the tenderly romantic “Anonymous Club,” the effect is beautifully humanizing. –Chris
There’s usually a wave of giddy excitement that greets a new Kanye West song when it shows up online, but this one has been out there, in various dogshit-sounding forms, for half a year now. It was harder to access that instant rush. But after living with the proper CD-quality cusses-intact version of “All Day” for a week, it emerges as a worthy entry to the Kanye kanon. He’s back to talking shit again, bringing back the fly-motherfucker snarl he had on “Clique” and “Cold” while keeping the maximal, purposeful sonic intensity he had on Yeezus. He’s rapping for the radio for the first time since maybe “Mercy” but throwing in so many N-bombs that the radio can barely play it. He’s employing a full phalanx of rappers as songwriters: Kendrick Lamar, French Montana, Vic Mensa, CyHi Da Prince, Paul McCartney. If I had to put money on it, I’d say the permanently underrated Re-Up Gang head-splitter Ab-Liva was responsible for the duck-dodge flow Kanye brings. And I don’t care how many writers Kanye needs when he’s coming up with bars like these — calling Louis Farrakhan his sensei, sneering in Dennis Haysbert’s direction, clowning people for listening to Sade. (Everyone should listen to Sade, but I still like the line.) Musically, “All Day” takes four minutes to move through industrial stomp-chant, apocalyptic dancehall, anthemic club-rap, spaghetti-western eeriness, and, finally, noise-bass abstraction. Sure, Kanye had plenty of help in making the song. But how many others could cram this many ideas into a piece of music and still have it come out sounding cohesive? –Tom
One the funniest things about the discussion surrounding Carly Rae Jepsen’s brand-spanking-new single “I Really Like You” is that people are acting like this is her second song ever when she has an entire album called Kiss brimming with pop fireworks. But yes, “I Really Like You” is better than any of those songs save the wunderkind, year-defining “Call Me Maybe.” Still, this song has the potential to rival her last hit; it has the big crushing payoff chorus that leads to full-body chills, you know, the ones that Taylor Swift is so good at giving us. So even though it doesn’t really sound like Swift at all, people will compare it to 1989. But it’s also got the chirpy, carnival-ride vocal layering that made Passion Pit sound intergalactic back when they first emerged. A lot of current pop is toothless and adolescent when it comes to sex and relationships — and some people will lump this in under that designation — but I argue that it’s adult in a different way. “I Really Like You” doesn’t try to make the relationship something it’s not. It’s an honest assessment of how shallow things currently are between Jepsen and her paramour, and suggests that there’s no rush or pressure to pretend this is love. It comes from the perspective of someone who knows what love is, and how much strength and maturity it takes, but also realizes you never get this giddy, glorious beginning-feeling again, and wants to mark that. I would almost be willing to skewer the spoken-word section bridge circa 2:15 if it didn’t sound exactly like a Stars song. Kudos Carly, you made a pop song innocent enough to convince jaded, know-it-all adults that there just might be a next time. –Caitlin