Some notes on methodology: We compile this list at the end of the day Thursday, so the 5 Best Songs Of The Week recognizes “the week” as as a seven-day period that starts on Friday and ends on Thursday; e.g., anything that came out today is eligible for next week’s list. This week, Death Grips fucked us a little bit — which is basically Death Grips’ M.O. — by dropping a great new song, “On GP,” on Thursday night: too late to be eligible for today’s list, and too early to be considered for the one we’ll publish next Friday. Maybe we’ll make an exception come next Thursday, because that’s a goddamn good song. But it’s probably for the best that we didn’t have consider it this week, because this list goes hard top to bottom, one goddamn good song after another.
“Let It Happen” is a jailbreak of a song, a picked lock dangling off a swinging open door. Kevin Parker’s meticulous melodies are what make this song what it is, sure, but how can you read it as anything but a wild gallop away from self-imposed strictness? “Let It Happen” is an open palm to the universe, a crash course in psychedelic joy, the brief easiness of losing control after years and years of imprisoning all your best secret impulses toward freedom. At times it sounds like the theme of Phantom Of The Opera funneled in from an alien landscape; at others, a lost Brian Wilson harmony, stuck and skipping over and over on an abandoned record player. Tame Impala has always been cyclic, that disconcerting backwards-feeling, the grueling marathon of staying above pettiness, a return to solitariness every time those around you can’t commune in the way you ache for. Here, we get Parker’s crucial ouroboros: “Something’s trying to get out / and it’s never been closer.” How long will he pace the cage? “Let it happen” isn’t a go-with-the-flow admonishment at all, but an urgent, visceral cry for escape. A prayer whispered through gritted teeth until it becomes imperative. So, the spacey mid-section of the song works like a long hallway, connecting the longing of the first half with an internal debate that must end in freefall. No more eyeing the lock, this song is a vision of rebellion become manifest in bleeding technicolor. –Caitlin
Over the past few years, Downtown Boys have become a staple on the punk circuit, known for their high-octane, bracing, politically charged shows. That energy is translated ferociously onto “Monstro,” the lead single from the Providence band’s upcoming sophomore record. Victoria Ruiz serves as the harbinger, forcefully taking our hand and shoving it into a pot of boiling water until we can’t help but cry uncle. It’s an empowering, damning takedown of a society that is designed to oppress. The only punk song in recent memory that has lit a fire under my ass like this one was when Meredith Graves screamed, “I have lost all desire for feeling” for the first time almost two years ago. “Why is it that we never have enough with just what’s inside of us?” Ruiz roars in the intro. “Today, today, we must scream at the top of our lungs: We are brown! We are smart! That nothing that they do can push it away!” The bulk of the song is delivered in Spanish, breaking the language barrier once and for all and proving that emotion knows no bounds. They get to the heart of injustice without getting preachy, all pummeling forward motion and brassy reprieves. It takes a special kind of band to go up against the cold-blooded monster that is society, and Downtown Boys have all the ammunition to pull it off. –James
Every word out of Frances Quinlan’s mouth suggests her soul is ripping apart. The Hop Along singer is indie rock’s very own Janis Joplin, delivering each lyric in the form of volatile wails that suggest her larynx is made of sandpaper. That kind of cat-screech risks turning Hop Along’s songs into fingernails-on-chalkboard irritants, but instead Quinlan’s abrasion is electrifying, rendering every track on the band’s new Painted Shut an urgent emotional firestorm. “Waitress” is among the best of them — a tumultuous, triumphant blast of furious melodic noise that will have you flipping over tables with a smile. –Chris
Girlpool’s self-titled 2014 EP drew a lot of its power from its direct sparseness: Two guitars murmuring to each other like old friends, no drums or bass, two voices chanting naggingly catchy provocations together. That simplicity could’ve been the first thing to go when they finally got around to making a full-length album, but blessedly, that’s not happening. Instead, Girlpool have widened their scope without losing the chilly space of their music. They’re a punk band, then as now, and there’s a brash intensity in the way their two voices clash. And in “Ideal World,” they’ve come up with a grand, all-consuming song about the moment you notice that the world is a fucked-up, unjust place, and that sometimes “the idea of you” is as oppressive a force as anything from outside. –Tom
After hearing the first two singles off Sufjan Stevens’ forthcoming Carrie & Lowell, it’s already clear that this new record is a hard-fought effort to forgive. A reckoning. Both “No Shade In The Shadow Of The Cross” and “Should Have Known Better” eschew the grandeur found in most of Stevens’ work and instead whittle away at a smaller concept: his sense of self. A fair amount has already been written about Carrie & Lowell, most of which focuses on Stevens’ relationship to Carrie, his estranged mother, who died in 2012. Carrie passed in and out of Stevens’ life; she struggled with debilitating mental illness and substance-abuse issues, and abandoned Stevens and his siblings when he was only a year old. The album is molded by memories of the extended periods of time that Stevens was able to spend with her, and with his stepfather Lowell, in Oregon, when he was growing up. Sometimes, knowing the meaning behind a song collapses its many intricacies, but understanding the weight of “Should Have Known Better” does the opposite. It becomes all at once a song about insecurity, about family, about trying to understand your place in the world when the person who you are told should always be looking out for you is either somewhere off the deep-end or nowhere to be found. It’s true that Stevens abandoned some of his tendency to mythologize in order to make this record, but he doesn’t hesitate to appropriate one of the most iconic images in American folk music: the black shroud. Traditionally, it’s a symbol of mourning, but to Stevens, it serves as a blindfold, used to block out emotionally wounding memories. Painful in its pointed simplicity, Stevens sings, “When I was three, three maybe four/ She left us at that video store.” “Should Have Known Better” is by all accounts a chronicle of childhood trauma, but there’s hope at the end when the image of Stevens’ brother’s young daughter surfaces. He describes her as an illumination, a bright and pure presence that stands down any aforementioned black shroud and makes reconciliation with the past possible. –Gabriela