This week, the unavoidable question must be addressed: What is 5 Best Songs in a post-Art Angels world? (We found ourselves in a similar position earlier this year, when faced with 5 Best Songs in a post-E•MO•TION world.) So what is it? It is, in part, a world in which other artists pay tribute to Art Angels. As they should! But it’s so much more than that, too. Er, four more, anyway. Here’s what it looks like.
I don’t really like “REALiTi.” OK, deep breath. That’s not exactly true — I just don’t get why “REALiTi” became such a thing. I love Grimes, and I love Art Angels, but this is the weakest track on it for me by a mile, and I didn’t care for the track very much in demo form either. I feel like I’m missing out on what everyone else hears in it, because for me it meanders on way too long and is built around this very corny and contrived motivational mantra. I get why Grimes dislikes it. But listening to Natalie Prass’ cover, I start to get a sense of why everyone has glommed onto this song so hard. Stripped away from the (in my opinion) flat production — both on the demo and the album, save for the latter’s excellent outro — the hook actually feels earned, with every drum beat acting as another kick up the proverbial mountain. Pared back to its barest, the song’s imbued with a sense of soul that I don’t really pick up on in Grimes’ versions. (And it’s not like Grimes is incapable of that — look at “California!”) I honestly like it better than the original, but I also appreciate the original more now that I’ve heard Prass’ take on it. That’s what great covers are supposed to do — reveal layers of songs that were previously unseen. I don’t skip “REALiTi” when I run through Art Angels anymore, and I have Prass to thank for that. –James
Taylor Bennett is the younger brother of Chancelor Bennett — you know, Chance The Rapper. It can feel a bit crass to bring up artists’ famous family members, but in this case, it’s unavoidable. Not because Taylor isn’t talented enough to stand on his own — he is — but because the family resemblance is immediately apparent: Their voices and flows here are similar enough that if you weren’t really paying attention, you might mistake “Broad Shoulders” for a Chance The Rapper song, even before he actually pops in for a verse. And it’s appropriate that this is the song to feature both of the Bennett brothers, a meditation on growing up, on family, and on fatherhood, looking back and looking forward, set to a stirringly nostalgic piano figure that slowly unfurls into its full beauty. Here’s hoping the next generation of Bennetts is as talented as this one. –Peter
Along with being Baroness’ frontman, John Baizley is also an incredible visual artist, so it’s not surprising that his band’s LPs are named after colors: Red Album, Blue Record, Yellow & Green, and now, Purple. What’s next? Probably Orange, maybe Pink, but he’ll start getting into Bob Ross variants before he makes a Black Album. Why’s that? Because Baroness already have too much in common with the band that made “The Black Album”: They share management, share stages, share ambitions, and there’s a horrible coincidental connection involving bus accidents. Beyond that, though, “The Black Album” is seen by many as a rank betrayal — the moment when Metallica stopped being Metallica, the moment Metallica just WENT for it. It was populistic. It was pop. And it worked! It’s the best-selling LP of the Soundscan era. But it was, immediately, Metallica’s worst album, and everything went downhill from there. Baroness know better than to consciously invite such comparisons, but if Purple has one jam worthy of “The Black Album,” it’s “Shock Me,” an unapologetically catchy blockbuster that also goes for it, and also … goddamn, man, it works, too. Those opening synths remind me of Peter Cetera; the chorus has a little Afghan Whigs thing happening; that joyous solo coulda come off a Cars record. It’s just a buoyant, inclusive, deliriously great song, and even though it’s a million miles removed from “Isak,” I love it just as much. Purple is not Baroness’ “Black Album,” but “Shock Me” makes me wish it was. –Michael
We still don’t know what’s going on with this song. Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan were totally intertwined with one another last year, when they made the hit “Lifestyle” and the great mixtape Rich Gang: Tha Tour Part 1. But throughout 2015, they seem to be distancing themselves from one another. They’ve been cranking out solo mixtapes and saying sneery things about each other in interview. And now, out of nowhere, here comes this song (along with the almost-as-good “Contemplate”). It could be a sign of reconciliation, but it could also be a leak of an old collab that was never meant to come out. I hope it’s new. It’s too good to not be new. These two continue to have an amazing chemistry, and Rich Homie tends to sound roughly 800% better on songs with Young Thug than he does on songs without Young Thug. The song is an airy little slap with these great ascending bleeps, and these two fall immediately into their old effortless interplay, bouncing playful melodies off of each other and sounding happy to be alive. The world needs these two to be back together. Let’s collectively will it to happen. Or to keep happening. Whatever. –Tom
There is an amazing story behind the final School Of Seven Bells album, one Ryan Leas recently told in depth, but “Open Your Eyes” requires no context to bowl you over. It’s a near-miraculous burst of TL;DR instant gratification — the single finest synthpop song in a year the blogs bulged with this stuff. There are traces of U2’s “Numb” and Savage Garden’s “I Want You” in the rapid-fire laser-beam vocal, and the sweeping backdrop of keyboards and gated drums calls back to literally thousands of forebears. When it’s playing, though, “Open Your Eyes” feels like the only music that ever was. The message is even older, and it too is imbued with fresh resonance through Alejandra Deheza’s hard-won empathy and wisdom. Acknowledging the terror of moving on, Deheza converts “You’ll fall in love again” from a threat back into a message of hope. Start with this song. –Chris