So last Friday, everyone was all amped on that pope single, but come balloting time for this week’s 5 Best Songs, @Pontifex doesn’t get a single vote! Really says something about our attention span as a music-listening populace, you guys. Anyway, all of us here at Stereogum HQ have been stocking up on batteries and candles in preparation for this hurricane, but it seems like we dodged that. Instead, we just got a whole bunch of wind and rain. And these five songs.
Modern Baseball are getting heavier with age. It’s just a one-off, but if “The Thrash Principle” is any indication of what their next album will sound like, it’s yet another new direction for the young band. Where most of the tracks on Sports and You’re Gonna Miss It All bounced, this one drags its feet. The band has always been good at balancing dark thoughts with a bit of levity, but they seem to have reached a tipping point, and this is the first time they feel really weighed down. Years of heartbreak and rejection have taken their toll, and relationships start to blur together like memories you’d rather forget. Brandon Lukens’ always sharp lyricism twists and turns dynamically, as he subtly corrects himself as he goes along: “Didn’t watch your ex’s set,” oh, wait, no, “couldn’t watch your ex’s set.” “And I’ve known you forever…” Or is it “yet I’ve loved you forever”? “You suggested I write a song about the first time we met, but I can’t seem to remember…” shit, nope, “I don’t wanna remember there or then.” All of these shifting thoughts provide ammunition for the kicker: “So is this the hook you wanted? Is it stuck inside your head? Can you sing it with your friends, or alone?” The final twist of the lyrical knife leaves the narrator rejected and alone, laughed at, for what feels like yet another time. The weight is real; Modern Baseball don’t have space for jokes anymore. –James
Jack Antonoff and Tinashe Kachingwe are two vocalists so fundamentally different from one another that they might as well be from different planets. Antonoff, from Bleachers, is big and nasal and shouty and declarative, like someone who should be playing the lead in a Broadway jukebox musical about the mall-emo era. Tinashe, on the other hand, is subtle and elusive and rhythmically focused. Even on her club-centric R&B hits, that voice slides and slithers, and it never punches the obvious note hard. So credit her for finding a way to translate “I Wanna Get Better,” a manic-depression anthem comprised of nothing but big notes. The drum crashes and triumphant synth-bursts of the original become distant echoes, and Tinashe just struts though the shadows. But she isn’t shy about that big melody, or about the big sentiment that it contains. Even though her delivery is so fundamentally anti-Broadway, Tinashe actually is an actress, word to those 2 And A Half Men checks. So even if she’s not a fundamentally broken person — and I have no idea whether she is or not — she absolutely sells the idea that she didn’t know she was lonely until she saw your face. –Tom
The first thing I loved about Annie was how she reduced men to chewing gum. The second was her heartbeat. The third thing I loved about Annie was she didn’t give a fuck about your band. I came to all these late, missing the initial rush of blog excitement that chased her from 2004 to 2009, and then resurfaced briefly in 2013 for her A&R EP. I’ve always listened to Annie with the quiet wonder of a latecomer, someone who missed the initial moment but feels the aftershock of her power still surging. “Cara Mia” is one of those surges, sidling much closer toward the heroically outspoken yet still shy Annie of the early ’00s than, say, her 2014 stomping political kiss-off “Russian Kiss.” Annie remains the prototype internet pop star, because like that medium, she expertly oscillates between jittery arrogance and moonstruck serenity. “Cara Mia” certainly falls into the latter camp, reducing euphoria past its boiling point, clarifying passion into long, slow love. A late night, wide-eyed club song about love that’s settled into routine, goes to bed early, uses pet names. Faithfulness celebrated like lust; this is the latest thing I love about Annie. –Caitlin
On “Remember Me,” Kyle takes one of rap’s most familiar narratives — the sudden emergence of leech-people when you achieve the slightest degree of success, and the alienation that follows — and makes it fresh again by framing it in deeply personal and distinctly modern ways. There are a lot of standout lyrics here, but this is the passage that sticks with me: “Hey look the happy rapper’s not so happy now/ I remember when I used to laugh a lot, nowadays I only lol/ Through text ’cause I don’t want to talk/ Don’t touch me, I don’t want to feel/ Rewrote this verse a couple times/ First time I kept it way too real.” His confessions crossbreed playfulness and distress in a way that mirrors the production’s blend of Social Experiment jubilance and Noah “40” Shebib melancholia. He delivers each fairweather-friend putdown in a nasal, almost-annoying free-flow that contains bits of Eminem, Big Sean, and Chance The Rapper (who shows up here to deliver a singsong hook and otherwise stays out of Kyle’s way). The laughter in his delivery barely masks his exasperation; you can almost hear him throwing up his hands. –Chris
“Brittle Boned” takes place under the anxiety-inducing fluorescent lights of a hospital room. Julien Baker describes her surroundings in detail — a dull TV, a stack of magazines, blood work, whirring machines — as a nurse reassures her that whatever they’re doing will be painless, “quick and easy.” And, as she’s put under, Baker slows down our sense of time just as we’re starting to find her place in it. Nothing about this song is performative, and it’s not an impassioned diary entry either. Instead, Baker cooly recalls a particular situation without leaving any space for hysterics, even when there should be. This is what the 19-year-old musician does extraordinarily well in all the lyrics we’ve heard off her forthcoming debut album: She drops us into her headspace so that we can re-experience pivotal memories along with her. There’s always the possibility that these aren’t true stories — they might be invented tales told in the first-person, lending some credibility to a false narrative — but the way Baker recalls very specific imagery leads me to believe that we’re privileged to be let into these tortured and tight corners of her mind. We don’t really know exactly why she’s laying there in that room with sunken eyes and a faint pulse echoed by a lone, cavernous drumbeat, but she leaves us with a single hint, a harrowing admission: “Because I’m so good at hurting myself.” –Gabriela