There’s always beef, but beef doesn’t always result in songs. That’s a shame! Who among us wouldn’t want to hear a Kanye diss track directed at Blur guitarist Graham Coxon? Huh? None of us? OK, bad example. But this week was defined by one beef, and that beef has already delivered three songs (so far). Only one of those songs made our list of the week’s 5 Best, though. Does that constitute a verdict? Nah, they’re both winners. We’re all winners. But this week, these five songs won harder than everything else.
Angel Haze is coming for blood — the industrial beat for “Impossible” sounds ferociously tinny, a militaristic rallying cry and middle finger to white America and anyone else who might try to hold them back. Haze takes on the position of the wizened outsider, the leader of a movement that calls out injustice where they see it and, more importantly, promises action. Take this threatening bar: “Considered suicide, I do that these days/ I thought about what I could do with my grave/ Google search how to make a grenade/ Toggle my aim, scribble some names/ Took a few breaths, blew out some steam/ And I sent that shit out and I blew up the game.” It allows for the vulnerability inherent in admitting that society has a problem with who you are, and admits how overwhelming that can feel on a personal level, but then turns that vulnerability into a weapon. Later, Haze describes their state of mind: “Fuck you, you could never break me/ What you mean, my nigga?/ Thought I told you I’m not human/ I’m machine, nigga.” Haze fires off “Impossible” like a warning shot, and it’s both mobilizing and a little terrifying, which I’m pretty sure was the goal in the first place. –James
When I interviewed Sports for their recent Band To Watch profile, I asked lyricist Carmen Perry about a motif that surfaces in “The Washing Machine.” “You’re the reason why/ I can never hide” is a line that appears in the first song on Sports’ debut release, Sunchokes, and in Perry’s world, it’s an apt illustration of the chasm between expectations and reality: “I was trying to convey somewhat of a movement from, like, basically daydreaming and idealizing stuff to the idea that there is a reality that exists, and it is hard sometimes, and you have to do laundry and people get upset and stuff.” Sports’ forthcoming album, All Of Something, is riddled with references to laundry, and Perry claims that to be one of her central points of inspiration, not because she’s obsessed with cleanliness, but because the washing-machine cycle imitates that of her obsessive thought patterns. In this song, small anxieties tumble around the narrator’s head, and laundry becomes a stand-in for a greater annoyance. If Perry’s narrator’s thoughts are articles of clothing, then she’s mixed her darks with her whites, and shrunk at least half of her T-shirts by the time the second verse comes around. She’s frustrated by the fact that she can’t separate one stream of consciousness from the other, before eventually deciding that “it’s OK to feel all of something.” Sometimes relying too much on a metaphor can be tiring, but this one towers above so many others because it takes the jumble of one young person’s polarizing emotions and consolidates them into something we can all relate to: Laundry sucks, self-doubt sucks, and relationships aren’t always easy to maneuver. –Gabriela
It started off as an unfair fight: Drake isn’t a rapper; he’s a pop star. It started off as an unfair fight: Drake is a former TV star, current superstar, and Meek Mill is a mid-level rapper with a rough past who just got out of jail. Even so, ghostwriting allegations are deep water in the rap world, and “Charged Up” was oddly tepid — like that smudgy string of PARTYNEXTDOOR tracks on If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. The thing about Drake, though, is he’s used to winning, and he’s used to criticism. So instead of sulking over the lukewarm reception to his first track, he just put out another one. And this one, which is labeled as a freestyle, holds its own against some of the best tracks off his new tape. Drake never really snarls, but instead flips into his puffed-chest head voice, a theater kid technique that translates surprisingly well to rap. One of the best things about “Back To Back” is it features so many of Drake’s signature phrasing styles and flows, subliminally arguing for his creativity as a performer outside of written/lyrical context. It succinctly highlights his stylistic strengths, undermining the argument about whether or not those reference tracks were important. With his snake-oil charm, Drizzy goes right for Meek’s weak spot: Nicki Minaj (while still shouting her out as a boss bitch). And after all that, he still has to slip into hook mode for a sec — “I got the drink in me goin’ back to back/ goin’ back to back” would be workshopped into a functioning chorus if this song’s release wasn’t time sensitive. Meek’s subsequently fumbled response, and the ensuing tone-deaf mockery of those who had no fucking clue who Meek Mill even was till yesterday, turned an exciting beef into a sour mess. But “Back To Back” is skating past all that, destined for a cushy cameo spot in Drake’s future setlists. I can already hear the crowd gleefully chanting back “I don’t want to hear about this ever again!” on his next tour. Antagonize an artist and see what they reveal about themselves; Drake revealed that he really is a great one. It wasn’t a fair fight, but that doesn’t make Drake’s victory any less triumphant. More people should make Drake go out of his fuckin’ way. –Caitlin
At a certain point, the process of making guitar-rock music becomes like knitting a quilt and selling it on Etsy, or brewing a beer in your basement. These are things that people used to do en masse, but now time has moved on and made these things anachronistic. Maybe guitar-rock will never again move the world the way it once did, but it can still mean a whole lot to someone. And so a song like “Skin” works like a really beautiful, intricate hand-knit quilt. There’s nothing shocking or new or groundbreaking about it, but there’s something so warm and comforting about that longing voice and those deeply sincere lyrics and those reverbed-out strands of guitar all working together the way they do. It feels good to hear this stuff, done with this kind of craft and care and emotion. It matters. –Tom
As someone who has publicists and artists feeding an endless stream of new music into his inbox all day, I can assure you that there are hundreds, maybe even thousands of upstart bands out there trying to pull off an effervescent ’80s pop sound, and most of them lack the necessary fizz. I hear so many of these Chvrches wannabes that they have all started to bleed together, and I’m starting to dread them. Quoth Phil Anselmo, the trend is over! But as with any movement reaching its saturation point, there are a handful of truly genius artists that rise above the rest and remind me why this sound caught on in the first place. Besides Chvrches themselves, Wet, School ’94, and Ballet School are great recent examples of groups who’ve turned to the Reagan era not as a bandwagon but a vehicle for a singular vision. And now we can class MUNA among them. Katie Gavin’s blunt honesty and breathy vocals are major selling points. When she belts out, “I don’t know if I can!” it’s tempered with a bewilderment that paints her struggle to swallow her pride as real, raw, and relatable. But Gavin’s arresting performance is only the beginning of the appeal where “Promise” is concerned. The composition, arrangement, and production are all stellar; it’s one of those tracks that feels as natural as the breeze but could only be the product of meticulous craftsmanship. Ultimately, that’s how MUNA have transcended their trendy aesthetic: Rather than a genre exercise, they’ve given us a towering work of art. –Chris