In yesterday’s Week In Pop column, we talked about Q4’s most anticipated pop albums. Nothing from any those records made this week’s Best Songs list (although Ellie Goulding’s excellent “On My Mind” was certainly worthy of consideration), but the five tracks that did make the cut suggest that we’ve got a pretty rich autumn ahead in the non-pop sphere, too. Everything here goes hard. And there’s more where that came from? Yes, please.
The first thing that comes to mind when you think of a jellyfish is their sting. Scary, right? But these perceptively “dangerous” creatures fall apart the more you think about them — they’re flabby, gelatinous blobs with no structure or shape; their scariest claim-to-fame is a scene from Finding Nemo. They’re pretty useless, really. So when Laura Stevenson compares herself to one on her new song, it’s easy to conjure up an image of what she’s talking about: sprawled out in bed, arms and legs out in whatever direction, unable and unwilling to move. Underneath all that laziness and fear, there’s potential for a spark, a jolt, but it doesn’t manage to come through. “I’ll be home indoors because I’m wasting away my life and gifts on being a piece of shit,” she sings in the way-catchy chorus. Stevenson embraces her self-destructive tendencies because it’s easy. Staying in and not facing the world requires no effort at all. Why bother to grow a backbone at all? The act of not doing feels as natural as floating. –James
Even at their prettiest, Deerhunter can’t help but fuck with you. On the second verse of Fading Frontier’s glimmering drift “Breaker,” Bradford Cox paints a seemingly romantic portrait of all-night drives and the way they can make you forget your own mortality for a moment. But no, even the stars above are slowly dying. (“Uh oh.”) Lockett Pundt chimes in, “I can’t seem to stem the tide no more,” and yeah, at a certain point we all have to give in to time’s unrelenting current. But if you’re lucky, the flipside of aging is maturity, something Deerhunter demonstrate beautifully here — relatively speaking. –Chris
Some losses feel like a thunderbolt in the sky: brief, loud, and world-shattering. Others creep quietly into the corners of your universe — slinky late-night thoughts about loves you’ll never get back, lives you’ll never get to live. TOPS are capable of channeling their surreal, desperation-pop in either of those directions, but “Anything” veers toward the latter. Jane Penny has a voice like smudged copper, and she uses it to imbue the pain of losing your whole world inside the departure of a single person. “I don’t have anything,” she laments again and again, stuck in aftermath of a romance abruptly cut short. It’s a song about the kind of loss that comes as quickly and carelessly as a coin-flip — a trauma that hinges on pure chance. This kind of despair grows so big it becomes majestic in its own right, and suddenly, the sadness seems better than the nothingness it proclaims. It towers and looms; it’s there, a presence, a companion in the darkness. “Anything” is quiet devastation of the highest order, a final gloomy comfort before healing begins. –Caitlin
Guerrilla Toss have always been one of my favorite bands to see live, but they aren’t always my favorite band to hear on my headphones. Their music is chaotic and sometimes abrasive, which makes for a life-changing live set, but isn’t exactly easy listening. I used to play G-Toss on my college radio show, and I distinctly remember backlogging the set and saying something along the lines of: “And that last one was OBVIOUSLY Guerrilla Toss.” They’re a band with a distinct sound and a clear vision, and their DFA debut EP proves that their specific vision has streamlined into something a little bit more studio-ready. It has all of the noise and beloved mangy spirit of G-Toss’ beloved earlier work, but a song like “Flood Dosed” is unmistakably danceable. I can’t wait to absolutely fucking lose it when they play this at their next show, but I also can’t wait to listen to this EP on the evening train. –Gabriela
Before it transforms into a roiling, gargantuan hell-beast, “Come Back” opens with 40 beautiful, blissful seconds of still, minimal guitar chords. Those seconds matter. When the last ringing strum fades out and everything turns into black metal apocalypse, the abrupt switch feels like that moment when you reach the summit on the first hill of the rollercoaster, when you’re about to be plunged down into sheer terror. But it’s not just about the effect of that initial whiplash-inducing jerk. Somewhere in “Come Back,” that tranquil stillness lurks, even when Deafheaven are going for full-Emperor omnidirectional-rage overdrive. And by the time the nine-minute marathon ends, Deafheaven are back at that quiet place. The sense of beauty never disappeared. It was always in there, hiding. –Tom