Iced-coffee season hit NYC outta nowhere this week, like a month ahead of schedule. (Thanks, Obama!) And next week, Team Stereogum is shipping out to sunny Austin for burritos, networking, and perhaps a cold beverage at SXSW. (Are you going, too? Come to our show!) So moods over here are kinda upbeat, and coincidentally, so are the week’s 5 Best Songs. Or is it … not a coincidence at all?! Eh, probably best not to look too deep into that Illuminati mess. Just play the music.
Anna Wise is the sugar coating on the choruses of good kid, m.A.A.d city’s “Money Trees” and “Real”; she’s Kendrick Lamar’s echo on the more recent To Pimp A Butterfly track “These Walls.” Being a feature is flattering — and in the case of someone like, say, Vince Staples, it’s a catalyst for stardom — but it can also be reductive to be frequently referenced alongside your very famous collaborator. Especially if you’re trying to make a name for yourself on your own, and especially if you’re a woman. No shade to Kendrick — the two seem to have an enviable relationship — but it’s fitting that Wise’s new single (which she released separate from her work with Sonnymoon) is an empowering one that negates feeling like an accessory, or a vessel designed explicitly for the pleasure of others. On “BitchSlut,” Wise carves out her own space by reclaiming two derogatory words and reversing them into a single term of endearment. “I, I know what kind you are/ If I say no, I’m a bitch/ Say yes, I’m a slut,” she laments her catch-22 on the chorus. The song is peppered with situations when the narrator’s actions could have been interpreted as “asking for it”; sitting at a bar next to an empty stool, wearing a short skirt, looking a man directly in the eye. Wise turns down all of her predators with a covetable confidence that makes me wish every tween girl in the world could hear this song at the exact moment a man calls her a “bitch” or a “slut” for the first time. Maybe instead of feeling like trash, she’ll own both and spit in his face instead. ¯\_(?)_/¯ –Gabriela
In today’s post-hardcore ranks, Touché Amoré have risen to the top because they understand tension-and-release dynamics better than any of the other bands doing it. They know when to let a song breathe, when to descend into quiet contemplation before dropping the hammer. But with his side project Hesitation Marks, TA frontman Jeremy Bolm has other things in mind. “Teeth,” the first thing we’ve heard from the band’s debut album, Awake For Everything, is all release, all hammer-drop. It’s a minute and a half of surging, pounding, full-speed-ahead hardcore. There’s no build-up; it’s just 0 to 100 until it grinds to a stop. Somehow, this version of Bolm sounds no less tortured than the Touché Amoré one, and Hesitation Wounds’ noise is no less cathartic. –Tom
How wild that
the music industry God gave us two titanic Van Halen throwbacks — this and Kvelertak’s equally worthy “1985” — on a single day in 2016. “Life Pass” lives up to its name, securing D-Planet a permanent approval rating of “Hell yeah!” It finds the Nashville rockers flexing vocal harmonies that match the majesty of their four-guitar arsenal — no small feat. Technically it’s marvelous, but compositionally it’s simple and to-the-point — a no-nonsense arena-rock banger that has me thinking about saving up for a Camaro every time I press play. –Chris
ANOHNI’s inimitable voice could move mountains if such a thing were possible, but does it have the power to change the world? That’s what she aims to find out with HOPELESSNESS. “Drone Bomb Me” frames the political in stark black and blues; she uses the semantics of love to call attention to drone warfare. The title almost sounds like a come-on, but one with shattering implications — it’s a desperate plea to no longer exist in a world were one can be the victim of horrific violence at any given moment. The sentiment could easily come across as defeatist — Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never’s insulated production certainly points towards no easy escape route — but ANOHNI’s voice contains multitudes, playing with tension, the push-and-pull of wanting to survive and wanting to curl up and die. “Drone Bomb Me” exhibits an all-or-nothing approach that feels idealistic, but all too necessary when confronting such a serious political impasse. Change is only affected by dramatic gestures — could this music be enough? –James
I got the same feeling listening to To Pimp A Butterfly as I do walking down Harlem’s famed 125th Street. 125th Street is so viscerally black. The history and culture emanating from the Apollo Theater, so many black homeless and addicts roaming the streets as night falls, and the gentrification that threatens Harlem’s future are all omnipresent. Even as a black man I wonder if the credit on my black card is enough to qualify me for a “relaxing” stroll down the strip. TPAB is also deeply rooted in black history, expresses ambivalence and concern for the black present, and spawns hope and yearning for the black future. It was just as daunting and conflicting and prideful for me to take in. untitled unmastered. shares many elements with TPAB musically and politically, but we also get to see Kendrick just rap and have some fun. On “untitled 07,” after listing what not to prioritize to elevate the mind, body, and spirit, some warning shots for peers eyeing his spot, and wondering if his financial decisions will lead to positivity and longevity, we are in the room with Kendrick as he workshops a song off-key with the homies. That glimpse of the seemingly few moments of joy in the creative process for an album that was probably just as difficult to make as it was to digest makes this song great. I don’t know about head being the answer or the future, as he jokingly sings, but the pleasure we hear Kendrick delight in is a much-needed reprieve from the artful gravity of everything he does. –Collin