The ballot box for this week’s 5 Best Songs was already overstuffed and brimming with contention even before Wilco dropped a surprise LP last night. The biggest arguments flared up over one Lana Del Rey. Hard to believe, right? Music nerds fighting about LDR? Well it happened. But it’s over now, thank goodness. Ultimately, “Honeymoon” didn’t make the cut, but it seems reasonable to expect Ms. Del Rey’s name to appear in future 5 Bests. Presently, though, this is the stuff that edged her out.
Gemma is the solo project of Felicia Douglass, one of three vocalists in the Brooklyn-based underground super group Ava Luna. The Ava Luna songs helmed by Douglass always come with a sweetened rim, and the single “Coat Of Shellac,” off this year’s Infinite House, was the most instantly catchy, aggressively danceable song to be found on the album. Now, Douglass has presented us with the first single off her solo debut. Presented alongside a shimmering but minimalist electronic backdrop, Douglass’ voice sounds fully actualized on “As Ever.” The song makes erratic jumps across the emotional spectrum with each lilt of Douglass’ voice; it’s sensual, anxious, hopeful, but above all, it’s earnest. You can’t write and perform songs this beautifully if you’re not feeling torn. –Gabriela
The names involved with “Let It Grow” would be first-ballot indie-rock hall of famers if there was such a thing (and they might well find themselves in Jann Wenner’s “official” Rock Hall about a decade from now), but it’s been a while since any of them released music that lived up to their NYC rock resurgence glory days. This song, though, is one of the best things any of them have ever done. Everybody brings their A-game: Karen O returning to her vulnerable singsong side, Tunde Adebimpe bellowing in the background with Bowie- and Byrne-affected gravitas, Dave Sitek slathering the whole thing with futuristic ethereal twinkle. And despite the heavy rhythmic undercurrent of those acoustic strums, it floats like a band called Maximum Balloon should. –Chris
YG’s 2014 LP, My Krazy Life, was a fucking classic rap album and still remains wildly underrated. (Luckily for this website, Tom Breihan is an impeccable critic). If YG’s still got a chip on his shoulder about his last album’s reception, then all that anger is working to his advantage. “Twist My Fingaz” is the first official single off his follow-up, Still Krazy, and it’s a golden bit of West Coast G-funk that sounds straight-up jubilant after a year of brilliant but devastating rap releases. Most of YG’s songs are produced by DJ Mustard; they came up together and helped bring the West Coast back as a dominant force in the mainstream rap game. But here, YG’s teamed with frequent Kendrick Lamar collaborator Terrace Martin and they sound flawless together. The finger twist he’s rapping about on the chorus is that middle finger and ring finger wrap-around that lets you make a W. “Twist My Fingaz” is a song that centers on repping the best coast, grooving through a seriously thick, swampy bass line and a click-track so catchy you can’t help but bob your head when it comes on. There’s even little snippets of pitch-shifted vocals that recall Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories. “I’m the only one that’s made it out the West without Dre,” YG raps, and it’s only fitting that he set this boast to funky production that pays direct homage to the great doctor. This song will be blaring out of car radios from coast to coast because it sounds fun and it makes me want to dance. Even when he’s rapping about haters and feuds, YG never loses his sense of humor, and his relentless competitive streak. If the rest of Still Krazy sounds anything like this, my days of championing YG’s overlooked brilliance will soon be over. –Caitlin
If “Paper Planes” was the song that made M.I.A., then “Swords” is the song that reminds us why. M.I.A. wields weaponry well, and the inaugural sound of swordplay that introduces this track quickens the pulse as easily as the iconic gunshots in “Paper Planes” did all those years back. It’s a motif, and in no way the most intriguing element of “Swords,” but that sound draws you in — it’s rhythmic and snarling and hints at the spitfire tumult to come. M.I.A.’s music is rarely vulnerable, and even when it is, she’s on the offensive. That’s why some people don’t “get” her, and that’s OK — for fans, she’s a force. “Swords” is a hyper-aggressive dance track with fraying edges; it’s not necessarily about one specific thing, as much as it is an attempt to purge a world of frustration in just over two minutes. “Loads of guys can’t handle this ride/ When would they know we’re best by their side/ They keep us down and we take it in stride/ Throw up your head if you’ve still got life,” she sings in the second verse. You can instinctively choose what you want this song to be about, but I’ve already chosen my theme. This is a take-no-prisoners feminist call-and-response, a cry of outrage and uprising. –Gabriela
On The Bones Of What You Believe, Chvrches demonstrated that they had a knack for brutal break-up songs. Through lines like “I’ll be a gun/ And it’s you I’ll come for” or “Take a final look at me/ Take it, and drink it in,” Lauren Mayberry has made a habit of picking at the emotional scars left in a relationship’s wake. That trend continues with “Leave A Trace,” but whereas those older songs were threatening and even a little vindictive, this one has a sense of steely resolve. The same person who once felt the need to go on the defensive is now totally Over It, ready to move on to whatever’s next. “Take care to tell it just how it was/ Take care to tell on me for the cause,” she goads, no longer afraid of whatever consequences may come. Mayberry knows she’s made mistakes — “And I’ll admit that I got it wrong/ And there is grey between the lines” — but she is more interested in reclaiming her own sense of self: “You think I’ll apologize for things I left behind/ But you got it wrong/ And I’m as sane as I ever was.” The remnants of a relationship are no longer a wound; instead, they’ve turned into an armor, a warning of what to watch out for the next time. And even if their sound hasn’t matured very much in the two years since their debut, it’s clear that they’ve grown as people — and, ultimately, that’s more emotionally satisfying than any sonic switch-up could be. –James