Serious giants occupy 5 Best Songs this week. You’ve got Kendrick Lamar, the architect of a new album so utterly dizzying and forceful it survived its semi-botched surprise release completely unscathed. Then you’ve got Grimes and Bleachers on the same track, plus an explosive new one from Death Grips, and of course, another song from Sufjan Stevens’ warm comeback album. That’s not to diminish the frail breakup music from Turnover featured below, too. They’re all enthralling in their own ways, whether they’re carefully sculpted scenes or scattershot statements of power.
The last time Claire Boucher and Jack Antonoff teamed up, on the Bleachers song “Take It Away,” it was really just Grimes singing backup on a Bleachers song. “Entropy” is something different; it’s a complete fusion of two aesthetics that, on the face of it, don’t make sense together. “Entropy” is a diamond-sharp, mathematically precise pop songs — pop in the Taylor Swift sense rather than the Rihanna sense — and its new-wave guitars and Mariah Carey pianos twinkle just so. But Grimes is still a mysterious, flickering presence, her voice drowned in reverb and layered into piles. And she’s happily singing a song about deep darkness and depression, about feeling disconnected from the world around you, even the birds singing: “Maybe they’re just screaming / Maybe it’s not music and it’s all a lie.” It stings and soothes in the same breath. –Tom
Some people don’t get easier to miss. Some memories are burned too clearly into our minds to be put to rest without a huge cathartic yelp of pain. There are breakups, and then there’s the rock-bottom devastation that leaves you a shell of your former self, wounded and brooding, spooking at any touch. The lead single off Turnover’s sophomore album, Peripheral Vision, deals in the kind of loss that festers and refuses to heal. Frontman Austin Gentz cracks open his heart, mourning the past not with slow, sad tones, but big soaring guitars and cracking flurries of drums that roll in like storm clouds. After Getz is done threading the filmstrip of desperate, tortured memories through his projector, he loses touch with specifics and twists the knife: “Losing you is like cutting my fingers off.” It’s a lightning bolt of a line that strikes with a jolt of jagged agony. Some people don’t get easier to miss. –Caitlin
It’s hard to believe Death Grips are over, because … well, it’s hard to believe anything those guys say. But it’s also hard to believe any band would choose to call it quits just as they’ve begun to expand their sound with such force and magnitude. Death Grips have never been a rap group, but “On GP” really isn’t rap at all — MC Ride does rap, but that’s not all he’s doing here; that’s not even mostly what he’s doing here. He’s barking like a hardcore singer — delivering thunderous verses with a stiff staccato edge — and staring you down with that same intensity. The music behind him starts with a Stooges stomp before transforming into something almost Zeppelin-esque — a comparison I make because of those towering guitars and the haunting organs, but it’s equally earned by Zach Hill’s drumming; Hill comes from a noise background, but here he’s on some Bonzo shit. Suicide has long been a lyrical theme for Ride, but this is as bleak as anything I’ve heard from him: “Last night, 3:30 in the morning, Death on my front porch / Can feel him itching to take me with him/ Hail Death, [what the] fuck you waiting for?/ Like a question no one mention/ He turns around, hands me his weapon/ He slurs, ‘Use at your discretion — it’s been a pleasure, Stefan.'” But the man born Stefan Burnett hasn’t pulled the trigger yet. He threatens to self-extinguish, but he’s still here, Death Grips are still here. Why the fuck would you kill yourself when you are here, so present, so powerful, so goddamn alive? –Michael
We’re so used to hearing Sufjan Stevens songs overstuffed with melody and ideas that it’s almost a shock to discover what he can do when he strips things back. “Carrie & Lowell” isn’t a spare song; it’s an intricate and finely spun tapestry of guitars and banjos and synths and whispery vocals. But all those things combine to form a soft, comforting hum, a sound as easy as breathing. Lyrically, too, it’s a complex thing, with Stevens drawing on oblique poetry and Greek mythology to bid goodbye to his late mother. But he sings it like a lullaby, and that’s what it becomes: A small, perfect sigh. –Tom
“I’m mad!” Kendrick Lamar exclaims. “But I ain’t stressin’.” The rest of To Pimp A Butterfly suggests that, actually, he is stressin’, but for four minutes of sauntering liquid funk he sounds like the baddest man alive. Like all of Kendrick’s knotty new album, this song is a text to be deciphered, a furious flurry of ideas, emotions, and references from Ralph Ellison to Bill Clinton to Michael Jackson to Richard Pryor to LeVar Burton. There are some powerful messages here, but even if you don’t wrap your head around everything he’s trying to say — like most of us, I’m still working on that — the groove alone will probably have you agreeing with Kendrick’s assertion that he should run for mayor. It’s one of the most instantly appealing moments on an album that will fuck with you whether or not you fuck with it. –Chris