Quite a week here at Stereogum HQ! Tom and Chris were in town to spend some time with the rest of ya #squad. Chris did a reading with a bunch of other great writers at Words & Guitar; Tom got drunk with Deafheaven at St. Vitus; and we all hung out and talked about Grimes. But those guys went home yesterday and we miss them. Fortunately, we’ve got these five songs — Grimes among them — to commemorate a great week.
On last summer’s excellent debut Friend Of Mine, The Duo Formerly Known As DJ Dodger Stadium took a few smart samples and spun them into massive loops of swelling sound. “Love Songs” and “Never Win” were emotional steamrollers in part because of the contrast between their distant, ghostly vocal samples and the production’s visceral sweep. So incorporating live instruments and original vocals is the kind of fixing-what-ain’t-broken overhaul that could have ruined what was so good about these guys in the first place. Instead, DJDS delivered the best of both worlds; “Stand Up And Speak” sounds like a weary spiritual being that suddenly sprouted a body. That relentless techno pulse remains the music’s heartbeat, but with the assortment of musicians they recruited on Craigslist bringing in the noise and/or funk, it takes on new resonance, new life, new hope. Having mastered music for drifting away into melancholia, now they’re here to help you pick yourself up and press on. –Chris
Even with the upgraded ’80s synths, the new Frankie Cosmos songs still feel comfortably small. “Young,” the shining star of her Fit Me In EP, is the grooviest track Greta Kline has made to date, but it doesn’t aspire to soundtrack much more than a solo dance party in your bedroom, makeshift disco ball bouncing light off the walls. “Have you heard I am so young?” she sings, addressing the constant narrative surrounding her project that focuses on her age. But for an artist that’s so often called “young,” her songs never feel young — no, they’re impossibly old and ancient, but still filled with wonder. And even though you probably can’t relate to being pigeon-holed by the press, the song hits on the all-to-relatable feeling that everyone sees you as just one thing, instead of the multitudes you undoubtedly contain. Kline has always been great at finding beauty in banality, and on the back half of this track she paints her most vivid portrait yet, an “oasis in the parking lot,” confessing that she doesn’t desire much: “I just want to be alive, that’s it.” Ah, to be young. –James
I’ll start by admitting that I knew very little about Eric Church up until this week. Our former staffer Caitlin White (who just wrote a dope piece about Church’s new surprise album) and I had a conversation about this song last night in the booth of a bar, and it was there that I started to piece together why I fell for it. Nothing about the structure of “Mr. Misunderstood” is particularly revelatory, but man, Church makes me feel like a nostalgic old geezer better than damn near anyone else. And I mean that in the best way, because “Mr. Misunderstood” is a very tender, generous song. Church sings to the kid in the back of a classroom who doesn’t fit in, the one who likes the same music as his dad and doesn’t really know how to hold a conversation about Top 40 radio. Maybe other kids think he’s a loser, or a loner, or a burnout, or any of the myriad labels that get taped to your back as an adolescent when you don’t know how to streamline your personality quirks. Ironically, those quirks are what make you a cool, interesting, fun person to be around when you’re an adult, but it fucking sucks to be the outsider, the weirdo, when you’re young. Church is that fully actualized adult singing down to this kid, and he does so by name-dropping Jeff Tweedy and Jackson Pollack and a beautiful girl he met named Alabama Hannah who turned him onto art and gin and into the badass that he is now. And then, midway through the song, Church reveals himself to be the kid he’s telling this story to. He used to be Mr. Misunderstood, a skinny guy with a passion for music, a lot of heart, and something to prove. It’s an aspirational song about finally feeling like you’ve made it, written for anyone who doesn’t know how to be like everyone else. –Gabriela
“Scream” is a weird song. But it’s not weird in the way that Visions trained us to expect a Grimes song to be weird. Nothing about it could be described as “ghostly” or “airy.” Hell, it doesn’t even seem like a Grimes song at first — Claire Boucher is responsible for the production and the blood-curdling screams that explode in the closest thing the song has to a chorus, but everything else is Taiwanese MC Aristophanes, rapping and snarling and purring and grunting about sex, in Mandarin, with a stomach-churning physicality. That video game battle music guitar riff is the track’s backbone, grounding all of the clattering beats and whistles, and even though it’s aggressive and strange, the clarity and punchiness of the production make it sound sort of like an actual pop song. But it’s a pop song from another planet, or a parallel universe, or someplace where they have only a vague idea of what our pop music sounds like. It’s not the best song off of Art Angels — for my money, that’d be “California,” or “Kill V. Maim,” or maybe “Pin,” which will all be eligible for 5 Best Songs next week — but it is one of the most interesting, because it shows how far Grimes can expand her aesthetic while still sounding like no one but herself. Even with (literally) someone else’s voice dominating the track, “Scream” is unmistakably a Grimes song, partly because it sounds nothing like any other Grimes song. –Peter
Daniel Lopatin makes hellacious, disorienting synth-drone as well as anyone else, but his music tends to become more interesting when it starts to incorporate idea of melody or structure, sounds from outside that outsider-music bubble. On “Sticky Drama,” he finds room for all those ideas. He starts it out with haunted piano-plinks that remind me of Aphex Twin’s “Avril 14th.” The it turns into desolate, lost-in-the-world dubstep. And from there, it becomes a computerized Lawnmower Man version of death metal. It’s still a broken, brain-atomizing piece of music, but its progression, and its moments of peace and beauty, mean the ugliness has more power. –Tom