Grimes gave us Art Angels a week ago today, meaning we had 10 new Grimes songs eligible for this week’s 5 Best (everything except the previously released “Flesh Without Blood,” “Life In The Vivid Dream,” “Laughing And Not Being Normal,” and “SCREAM”). And yeah, we considered giving her all five slots — it would still have been tough to narrow down our choices! But then we got new songs from Pusha and Missy, and we had to get real over here. So Claire Boucher is only represented once on this list, but she probably could have run the table two times over. Spend your weekend listening to that whole album (again), but make time for these other songs, too.
“London Pollen” isn’t a complex song, but it’s an immensely appealing one. “We’ve got to pull the plug/ Or it could go on,” Tobias Hayes sings with intimate, melodic directness over a fuzzily shuffling drumbeat and a meandering guitar figure. It’s sad, sure, but it’s a warm, comfortable kind of indie rock sadness, the kind that wears a wry smile to go with its misty eyes. And as time passes, it gets lighter — there’s a sense of optimism built into the song’s very structure, the sparse arrangement gradually picking up stray threads and weaving itself into a glowing safety blanket. Another guitar part shows up, brighter this time, Hayes doubles his voice as if to offer himself support, and then, seemingly out of nowhere, comes a distorted, casually ambling guitar solo. The whole thing ends with a weird little punchline of sorts: a few seconds of a swaggering rock ‘n’ roll groove playing before it abruptly shorts out. “You were in my head/ But now you’re not.” You let go, and life goes on, and maybe that’s not such a bad thing. –Peter
Every once in a while, a night comes along that feels interminably long and lonely. Kississippi’s “Greyhound” captures it well: You’re in your bedroom, blinding phone light staring back at you, scrolling past better people’s lives playing out in real time. Or maybe you’re on a bus, looking out into the inky black of the highway as it gently rolls beneath you. You mull over past mistakes, slight shifts in attitude that could have made everything better: “I’m not sure where I fucked up,” Zoë Allaire Reynolds sings, begging fate for the person she’s missing so much to reach out. “I’m not sure if I don’t talk enough/ Should have known that you don’t like to be touched.” Perhaps you attempt to manage a few inconsequential things — “picking glass out of the dust,” fixing the bike tires — but mostly you just sit there, unable to ignore the gaping hole at the center of your consciousness, acting as a drain for any optimistic thought you could have had. “Greyhound” plays out like a trance: the same sliding guitar, a circuitous snake that wraps itself around the song in the same way that your head spins around in circles until your stomach twists in knots. The track dissipates into nothingness, no climax, like when you finally fall asleep after a restless night without even realizing it. –James
“My barcode is Netflix Narcos.” That means basically nothing, but it sounds cool as fuck when Pusha T says it. Same with “I made use of every Spanish name I ran across.” Same with “they open the wash bay, I climb it like K2.” That’s always been the way with Pusha. He’s not concerned with the gritty day-to-day of the drug trade, with the broken tiles in the trap-house bathroom or the way it feels when the early morning chill seeps into your bones while you’re out on the corner. Instead, he’s about iconic lines, about the dizzy charge that they can bring: “So much white it’ll hurt your eyes.” For more than a decade, Pusha has made drug dealing sound like the coolest possible job on planet earth, which is ethically dubious but musically powerful. His voice is cold and precise, cutting through everything, emphasizing every syllable. “Untouchable” is his first proper single in a while, and it snaps and hovers with purpose. Timbaland doesn’t make rap beats very often anymore, but this one is all eerie minor-key synth tones and head-slap snares and empty space. And when Biggie’s sampled voice booms onto the chorus, it forces Pusha into the pantheon that he’s always longed to join. If Pusha can string together 12 songs like this — and lord knows, he’s done it before — his next album will be a problem. –Tom
Missy Elliott has always sounded like the future. Since we’ve forged further forward in time than even Marty McFly, her music still seems like a ray of hope from some dystopia we’ve yet to encounter, but now it’s nostalgic too. Anyone who lived through Missy Misdemeanor’s era of MTV domination felt a jolt of recognition and delight when “WTF” dropped. Relief too, and not just because the girl’s still got it. Elliott’s contagious jive and body-moving clatter are all but guaranteed to pump the life back into your deflated existence, no matter where you’re from. (Bonus points for Pharrell once again flexing those rap skills he teased on “Move That Dope.”) –Chris
When faced with the task of deciding which Grimes song would make it into 5 Best thing week, we were torn. So torn, in fact, that I basically wrote a graf about both “California” and “Kill V Maim.” Here’s the thing: Art Angels absolutely fucking slays for so many reasons, but most of all because it’s a concise, consistent vision. It’s Claire Boucher’s dream fully actualized, and there isn’t a single song on it that sounds “kind of like” another. If “Flesh without Blood” is the album’s thesis, then “Kill V Maim” is the execution of Grimes’ introductory “I don’t care anymore” assertion. (She also mentioned today in a Q&A that it was the most difficult song on the album to produce). “Kill V Maim” makes me feel like I’m wasting a bad guy (or maybe I am the bad guy?) in a dark alley before cutting the line at a club around the corner, and it’s the song on the album that makes me hands-down believe in this alternate universe commanded by a slight, 27-year-old woman who pointedly refused to let anyone, especially a man, meddle with her reign.
“Kill V Maim” is an outpouring of sneering aggression, and while it’s immaculately produced, “California” is the most quotable song off of Art Angels. It’s a hard one to write about, since Grimes already asserted that it’s a diss track about the dark side of music journalism, but subtext aside, the beauty of Art Angels’ universe is that it is one so many of us can subscribe to. This is a place where Al Pacino is a gender-bending vampire and angels mourn the destruction of the ozone. “California” is a towering pop song; it swallows up heartbreak and spits it back out in the form of a glimmering gut-punch, and it’s the song off of Art Angels that we’re most likely going to hear on the radio (if we hear any at all). “California” has already been lauded as Grimes’ Top 40 country single, a designation that it wholeheartedly deserves, but below the “oh lords,” handclaps, boot-stomps, and “Pon De Replay” sample is a sonic landscape that’s entirely her own — a cash register “ding,” running water, the in-and-out static of an old TV set. From Manifest Destiny to the Gold Rush to Joan Didion to Lana Del Rey, California is the Neverland of our collective imagination, a place that people escape to in order to live out their life on the beach while smoking some legal weed. It’s where kids go to retire, but if you happened to grow up in California (as I did), then it’s just a place where people live and die like they do in any other state. Transplants eventually figure that out. Though Grimes has lived in LA, this isn’t necessarily a song directed at the actual place. It’s just a recurring trope in pop culture re-appropriated to talk about the two-faced nature of people and places, the way we let ourselves get fooled by the sunshiny stuff of life only to have it drag us under when we think we have it made. “And when the ocean rises up above the ground,” she sings, echoed by a surrounding posse of little Grimes, whose voices loop off into infinity, “baby I’ll drown.” –Gabriela