You could probably make a case for a much different 5 Best Songs this week — your parallel-universe list might include Tame Impala, Willow Smith, Elvis Depressedly, Vennart, and/or Moses Sumney. You would still end the week with a really good bunch of songs. It would be hard, though, to envision any 5 Best Songs this particular week that did not include the track at the very top of this list. However, if you went with the version of that song featuring Wale instead of the version of that song not featuring Wale, it would probably drop a couple spots. Why would you do that? No idea. Weird shit happens in parallel universes. In this universe, this is what you get.
It’s fitting that 2015 will bring the respective returns of Sweden’s Refused and Japan’s Envy: In 1998, the former band released the landmark The Shape Of Punk To Come, providing something of a blueprint for just that, and that same year, the latter gave us From Here To Eternity, offering alternative templates for how the genre might develop. In both cases, the word “punk” was probably misapplied; really, both Refused and Envy played a derivation of hardcore, or post-hardcore: spastic, angular, pealing, incendiary stuff. Refused stopped making music after Shape (until now), but Envy expanded their own screamo-based sound to include elements of shoegaze, metal, and post-rock. They toured with bands like Mogwai and Isis, released splits with bands like Jesu and Thursday, and influenced bands like Deafheaven and Bosse-de-Nage. Envy’s last full-length was 2010’s Recitation, but they’ve got a new one, called Atheist’s Cornea, set to arrive in July. That album’s first single, “Blue Moonlight,” doesn’t progress Envy’s sound so much as reinforce it. It’s music that juxtaposes textures — pillowy and cloudlike, glassy and smooth, jagged and sharp — using melody and momentum to deliver climaxes that feel like revelations. Who knew punk would come to be shaped like a mountain, and who knew the views from the top would be so breathtaking? –Michael
The last time Vince Staples made our 5 Best list was back in March, when Earl Sweatshirt dropped the moody and monstrous I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, and included Staples on the concluding track “Wool.” That was typical. Until he released the Hell Can’t Wait EP last year, Staples was always thought of as a collaborator, an exclamation point that punctuated and ignited already great songs. The Long Beach-based rapper will soon release his debut full-length Summertime ’06, and “Señorita” finds Staples on the other end of that worn-out equation, using a Future sample as the song’s central hook and filling out Christian Rich’s minimal production with his own prose. Future owns this track, as he tends to do with many collaborations, and it’s impossible to listen to “Señorita” for the first time and not step away thinking he steals the damn show. “9 millimeter, my brothers my keeper/ Was servicing that ether before I did features.” But there are dozens of intentional lapses in Staples’ verses that scrape your skin the second, third, tenth time you listen to “Señorita.” My pulse skips when his voice catches on the “w” as he implores, “W-what would you murder for?/ Will your name hold weight when the curtains close?” Staples shines in his darker lyrical moments. This is an interrogation of his mortality masquerading as a dance floor banger.–Gabriela
An immense battle is raging within America right now. There has always been a roiling, massive fight bubbling beneath the surface of this incredibly contradictory, beautiful mess of a country, but we live now, feel our injustice now. As I’ve watched Shamir ascend, I kept thinking that in him we’ve finally gotten the pop star we deserve; he’s the yin to Iggy Azalea’s insidious yang: a performer with the understanding that his words will dictate teenage ethos. Not only does this preternaturally wise boy-icon deliver undeniable, cheeky glitter-funk like “On The Regular” and “Call It Off,” but he’s also poised enough to pull off this elegant, political ballad. “Darker” could be a romantic track, sure, but it pulses with a stark spirituality that supersedes a one-on-one relationship. When I hear Shamir’s devastating, tender new song, I see the way it throws a spotlight on the cracks in our justice system. This is a song about being in your own time and living out the legacies of love, hate, and power that can warp history. It’s an urgent, wistful ballad performed with the gravity of someone who knows that the truth he’s fighting for might literally include his own life. What a precious, tragic bit of hope for this dark period. –Caitlin
Meredith Graves’ scream-howl is what brought her to the dance in the first place. But on her first-ever solo song, the Perfect Pussy frontwoman ditches it for a low alto croon, and then she buries that croon in layer upon layer of distortion. “Took The Ghost To The Movies” doesn’t have the structure of a pop song; it has the structure of a storm that gathers force and speed as it goes on. Over six minutes, a low acoustic flutter becomes a quiet roar, and then a louder roar. The drums stay in jackhammer mode, but the guitars rise and encircle. And the whole time, a warm, comfortable, ineffable sadness echoes around everything. –Tom
“Adorn,” the timeless lead single from Miguel’s instant-classic 2012 sophomore set, Kaleidoscope Dream, circulated at radio with an extraneous Wiz Khalifa bridge tacked on. That was annoying — “Adorn” is a flawless gem, and Khalifa’s presence could only mar it — but it was also understandable because Miguel wasn’t quite an A-lister at that point. If Wiz Khalifa is what “Adorn” needed to get on the air, so be it. Three years later, times have changed. Miguel’s WILDHEART is one of the year’s most anticipated albums, and all of us who heard the maddeningly incomplete EP version of “Coffee,” with its abrupt Sopranos finale conclusion, have been salivating about the chance to experience the finished product in all its glory. “Coffee” does not need a clunky guest verse from Wale to make a splash, and it really doesn’t need an “edgy” alternate version that spells out the innuendo. Yet those unwanted elements are strewn across the many alternate takes of this song, and they hit like surprise flying dropkicks to the head. Thankfully, Miguel or someone in his camp realizes this, so we also get the pure, perfect specimen that is “Coffee” unadorned. Miguel has transcended his influences at this point, and his signature sound is gorgeously crystallized here: a dark undercurrent of guitars, a glossy electronic sheen, sensual vocals, the feeling of slowly descending into narcotic bliss. He makes corny lyrics seem profound and synthesizes sounds from across decades into something state-of-the-art. When everybody else gets out of his way, he’s still the best. –Chris