All of this week’s best songs boast a balls-to-the-wall letting go in their own respective ways. Some are aggressive, others are shy and muted, but none of these artists are afraid of asking themselves difficult questions. This is one of the most subtly cohesive lists we’ve had in awhile. Dive in.
The B-side wins again. For Record Store Day, Future Islands initially recorded their new single “The Chase” at Abbey Road, their first venture into that sort of hallowed ground, and its strutting thump and big chorus show how comfortable they’re getting at playing to the cheap seats after years of treating tiny hole-in-the-wall venues like they were arenas. But for the proper single release, they recorded in Austin with Spoon drummer Jim Eno on the boards and its flipside is the sort of contented sigh that fits this band even better. The drum-beat is those iconic “Be My Baby” cracks rendered as muted mechanistic heartbeat, and the rest of the song dials things back accordingly. Everyone eases back into the pocket, and Samuel T. Herring’s firecracker voice goes into back-porch storyteller mode, calmly rendering longing rather than blowing it out into something huge. This is a middle-of-the-afternoon song, a road-trip song, a cold-beer-in-the-fridge-when-you-get-home-from-work song. Sometimes, that’s the best kind of song. –Tom
Tamaryn’s muted, cosmic “Hands All Over Me” pulses with prom night rebellion. It’s achingly sexy, but in a subdued, innocent way, like a pop song set to cruise control. Huge pistons of angular, blaring synths interrupt the smooth surface of her voice, spewing insistent, eager, feverish maximalism all over her glassy vocals. “Waste another moment with me / It’s a matter of courtesy,” she commands with regal, barely-restrained desire, changing her mind halfway through and demanding more — the mischievous thrill of love gone public: “Let me take these kisses into the light!” Sometimes we forget that the real power lies in a confident, guileless demand. That’s how it’s akin to teenage love; there are no doubts holding her back, no back-burner fear. It’s raw, unabashed, and naive, a seething pop lacework on the verge of hitting hyper-speed. This entire song rests on the possibility of hyper-speed though, not the quickness itself. Instead, the whole thing churns over a sea of white noise, Tamaryn cooing her “freestyle pop” through the slow-surging, static mesh from Shaun Durkan and Jorge Elbrecht. The song never kicks into overdrive because none of this has happened yet. “Hands All Over Me” is a fantasy about love yet to come, the best kind. –Caitlin
A great video can do a lot to elevate a song. Not that “Lonely Town” isn’t awesome on its own, but hearing it for the first time paired with the dance-like-nobody’s-watching visuals is perfect, because that’s just the kind of song this is. And the end of the video purposefully undercuts the sentiment of the song. This isn’t meant to be taken as some glamorous depiction of a guy missing a girl so much that it makes him feel like a loser — this song is fucking creepy in a weird, darkly obsessive way. “Now I’m standing outside your house and I’m wondering, baby … Did you lock the door when it shut? Did you see the knife when it cut?” This could be the horror funhouse accompaniment to a slasher flick — think the climax of The Guest — and it knows it. That adds a whole other layer of subtext to the track, but on the surface this is just one hell of a jam. The chorus is an absolute powerhouse that feeds into the ’80s nostalgia: “Spinnin’ like a Gravitron” — come on, that’s genius! The Brandon Flowers revival is here, and it’s awesome. –James
Kehlani doesn’t have the booming voice to shatter glass, but she writes lyrics that cut through hardened skin more effectively than any shard might. Her intonations are small, cautious, and filled with conviction. “The Letter” is a ballad; it’s sentimental, and riddled with clichés. We’re often taught that in order to be an adept wordsmith, it’s crucial to avoid clichés, that it’s better to be inventive than rely on tropes. But in the case of songs like “The Letter,” it’s important to remember that clichés exist for a reason: to convey intense, emotional experiences in ways that will resonate with a larger audience. That doesn’t make them disingenuous. When Sufjan Stevens sings “Fuck me, I’m falling apart” on “No Shade In The Shadow Of The Cross,” you believe him, because in that moment, so are you. The language of heartache always sounds familiar, and on “The Letter,” Kehlani bravely picks out every moment of self-doubt from her subconscious and scatters them across just-barely-there instrumentals. “There’s an emptiness, that only few ever feel, and I somehow missed/ The meaning of love that is real, and it complements/ My scars that will never heal.” Hers are the thoughts that surface at three in the morning, when your own sense of loneliness is so cavernous that it practically echoes. “The Letter” is about being abandoned, conveyed with enviable intensity that makes Kehlani nothing if not brave. The only hint of a perpetrator responsible for her sorrow surfaces well past the halfway point: “Every girl needs a mother/ And damnit, I need you.” Kehlani’s voice catches in the song’s closing moments, the heave before a gut-splintering sob, as she continues to question where it all went wrong. –Gabriela
Traditionally, I have been the kind of person who fears a 93-minute Titus Andronicus rock opera more than I anticipate it. Having witnessed New Jersey’s fiercest anthem-slingers level a Columbus hole in the wall and triumph on a massive Chicago festival stage, I am not so foolish as to write them off. I’d even call myself a fan. But The Monitor never clicked for me like it did for so many people; as with Fucked Up’s David Comes To Life, the sheer size of it has always been more intimidating than inspiring to me. (“Upon Viewing Bruegel’s ‘Landscape With The Fall Of Icarus’” is still the Titus song most likely to give me chills, for the record.) So maybe the relative compactness of “Dimed Out” is what drew me to it, but holy shit was I drawn. I must have listened to this thing 15 times in a row yesterday morning. Everyone’s favorite part of a Titus Andronicus song is when everything explodes into a massive visceral crescendo; true to its concept, “Dimed Out” skips straight to that part and keeps getting bigger from there. Patrick Stickles and friends pile their rhapsodic self-empowerment rhetoric atop an upward avalanche of guitars — “Now I turn a brave bully to shy coward! I make a loud lout silent as a quiet mouse!” — building, building, building (along with your pulse) until a transcendent Owen Pallett string arrangement swoops in and carries the whole thing to heaven. They couldn’t have come up with a better trailer. –Chris