We had this list laid out last night, hours before Mark Kozelek dropped a new track off the upcoming Sun Kil Moon record, Universal Themes. No surprise: It was — and is — a very good song. So we had to reassess and reorganize. Sharon Van Etten’s “Remembering Mountains” was ultimately dropped so we could make room for “Garden Of Lavender.” But she deserved to be on here, too, so when you get through with these songs, go listen to that one.
Celebrating sadness is an act of empowerment that can have negative consequences. It’s important — necessary, even — that people share their struggles with depression with the surrounding world, but at what point do dour portrayals of ailing mental health become more of a parody than an actual act of liberation? The “sad kid” persona has grown into a kind of spirit that one can embody; an emo kid for the adult, professional world (see: @sosadtoday). The number of times that I read a depressing anecdote on a friend’s Twitter feed and wondered whether I should call them and ask if they’re okay, or just laugh and fave, is alarming at this point. Telling the universe that you wish you were dead over the internet isn’t always a cry for help, especially when there’s a ;) attached to it, which is what makes the fetishization of depression so problematic. Sure, it’s okay to be sad and it’s okay to talk about it, but it’s not okay if you’re donning that cloak to fit into a stereotype — to seem “complex” or “troubled” or “interesting.” Sorority Noise’s new song “Art School Wannabe” is a commentary on the societal pressure placed on creative individuals to be tortured, or at least seem really tortured, in order to be taken seriously. But Cam Boucher also recognizes that this is a perceived expectation, that not everyone thinks he should be a total bummer all of the time: “Maybe I’m my own greatest fear/ Maybe I’m just scared to admit that/ I might not be as dark as I think/ Maybe I’m not the person that I never wanted to be.” In debunking the mythology for himself, Boucher reminds us that no one can comfortably squeeze themselves into a stereotype. Everyone’s complex in their own way, and in this song, Sorority Noise assert that you can wear black on the outside and still be happy on the inside. –Gabriela
When things get fractured we search for something outside ourselves to make us whole again. Some people end up being the glue that keep us from self-destruction, and Tanline’s “Pieces” traces a particular sort of implosion: when the person who held us together leaves. Most of Highlights has a sunset ambience, a backwards-glancing wistfulness; as the album’s opening song, “Pieces” instantly sets the mood. Jesse Cohen’s thumping, heartbeat-in-your-ears drums and Eric Emm’s bubbling, elastic voice usher in the devastation and shut the door behind it. “Pieces” is opulent grief splayed out in tropicalia flourishes and the heady rush of regret. It’s balmy like the end of summer, stretching itself to encompass every type of blues; the end of an era, or the end of a relationship, the moment when all the glory and gold fade out of your life. Tanlines have funneled every kind of grief into this brilliant song of near-exuberant electro-pop: a dancefloor gem for your darkest moment. –Caitlin
Until now I’d never noticed how much late-period Mark Kozelek has in common with Drake. Kozelek has always sung sad stories about his own life, but on the recent run of Sun Kil Moon albums that has significantly elevated his profile, he’s traded the poetic symbolism of his early days for an extreme diaristic specificity. He shares confessions, names names, and references events from his lifetime as if they’re part of a bigger-than-life mythology. He hasn’t mentioned Courtney from Hooter’s on Peachtree yet, but more than seven minutes into the foreboding dirge-sprawl that is “Garden Of Lavender,” a gorgeous chiming guitar part descends and Kozelek launches into a stream-of-consciousness narrative that spans decades and continents, referencing myriad minor rock stars and old flames along the way. At various points on the timeline, he namedrops his agent Ed and Mojave 3’s Neil Halstead, gets choked up when Gomez covers his Red House Painters classic “Grace Cathedral Park” at CMJ Music Marathon, and explains from the stage at Shepherd’s Bush Empire that he doesn’t actually hate Wilco guitarist Nels Cline. (Long story.) But the kicker is this tidbit from Madrid 1998: “I was with my girlfriend Marina, but I managed to sneak in an unforgettable kiss with Rachel backstage, one of those kisses you take to your grave.” Marina, if you’re reading this it’s too late. –Chris
Danger Mouse is an executive producer on the new A$AP Rocky album, and there’s something terrifying about that. Rocky has built his name on layers of mystique, swagger, and expert curation. Danger Mouse, meanwhile, has built his name on thin drums sounds and Beatles reverence. He is as middle-of-the-road as you can get while still claiming any sort of musical relevance, and it’s easy to imagine him derailing Rocky’s whole strut by making Captain Obvious decisons: “Hey, why don’t we get Mark Ronson in here to sample an old Rod Stewart record?” But what sounds like a dad-rap nightmare actually does turn out to be a great decision, with the focus snapping between Stewart’s craggy black-and-white howl and Miguel’s saturated-color croon, and with Rocky high-stepping over psych-blues organ drift. And that mid-song beat switchup has a very real kick to it. –Tom
Jamie xx’s In Colour isn’t an album that often allows itself to be happy. From the relationship dramatics of “Loud Places” to “Gosh”‘s paranoid buildup, or even the airy lilts of something like “Sleep Sound,” there isn’t much place for actual joy — only brief intonations of the feeling. But on “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” — the only song on the album that features vocals from someone who isn’t in Jamie’s usual cadre of xx singers — Jamie xx lets himself go, just for a few minutes. Built around a sample from a capella group the Persuasions — one of those classic samples that you feel like you’ve heard before, but probably never have — he lets his collaborations influence his production choices for once, instead of feeding into them, and he comes out with the happiest and chillest Jamie xx track to date. He told XXL that he had a few artists lay down verses over this before deciding to splice together the Popcaan and Yung Thug ones, but those two make their mark on the song so distinct that I’m not sure anyone else would have sounded as good. Thug lends his soon-to-be-iconic wails to breathe life into the track, while Popcaan lays down the track’s dancehall bounce. “Good Times” has all the right elements to make it the underground song of the summer, and it very well may be. –James