The 5 Best Songs Of The Week

The 5 Best Songs Of The Week

Slow week over here at Stereogum. HAHAHA j/k. To quote one Kanye West: “Release dates is played out. So the surprise is going to be a surprise. There go the surprise.” And here, again, Kanye was right. Release dates are a thing of the past. The surprises are somehow endlessly surprising, even when we really should know better by now. And there were so many surprises this week. How the hell is anyone supposed to keep up with this? The deluge will surely continue into next week (and beyond, forevermore), but let’s take a damn minute to look back at the last seven days before looking forward to the infinite surprises still to come.

5. Told Slant – “Tsunami”

Told Slant have boasted a dedicated Tumblr/Bandcamp/Brooklyn DIY following for about half a decade, but some of us are just now catching on — and with songs as compelling as this one, we’ll also soon be catching up. It’s called “Tsunami,” but it reminds me of the mountainous Pacific Northwest, or at least the indie rock that proliferated there some two decades ago. Modest Mouse looms large: the trembling vocal, the ragged sway, those ghostly guitar squeals cast against a banjo’s melancholy jangle. There’s also a childlike innocence tracing back to K Records twee, that quivering call-and-response between voices high and low. Sonically, it’s a loaded nostalgia trip, and that’s usually enough. Yet Felix Walworth makes this sound their own via uniquely devastating lyrics about the terror of personal connection when our social buffers are removed. “I am not a tsunami, so don’t look at me that way,” they begin, eventually admitting, “I don’t know how to talk to you without a can in my hands.” The line you’ll walk away singing, though, is the one that finds Walworth working up the courage to plunge toward intimacy after all: “Isn’t this silly and aren’t you beautiful?” –Chris

4. Radiohead – “Burn The Witch”

Let me preface this by saying I purposefully stay out of the fray when it comes to Radiohead. They were a large part of my rock education in middle school, venturing out from the rap, R&B, jazz, and soul I basically came out of the womb with a predilection for. So Kid A and Amnesiac hold a special corner of my heart’s real estate, but I am far from a stan and don’t know everything there is to know about them. That said, I like “Burn The Witch” and I don’t care what it means for their legacy and current importance. I appreciate that they continually push their sound and are inventive in doing so. The fact that they made a rock song almost completely devoid of guitars, putting Jonny Greenwood’s film scoring chops to use and letting his strings take the helm, is dope to me. Those strings build to a wonderful suspense. The drums are cleverly syncopated and understated. Thom Yorke hasn’t suddenly lost any of his songwriting ability or his velvety, tender voice. The expectations are extremely gassed on every new Radiohead song, but if you can manage to deflate those expectations, this is a good song. “Daydreaming” is admittedly better though,¯\_(?)_/¯. But that’s a matter for next week. –Collin

3. Braids – “Companion”

Braids released a song last year called “Miniskirt,” which I included on my list of favorite songs. I hate to call “Miniskirt” “moving” because any good music should “move you” in some type of way, but that song upended me. I wrote a lot about it because it’s rare to hear an anthemic single with such an unflinching, direct message. “Miniskirt” is a song about sexual assault and abuse, a reclamation of the body and soul sung with the conviction of someone who knows how stifling being silent about these things can be. Braids’ Raphaelle Standell-Preston published an essay earlier this week about the trauma that inspired that song, and though it’s a personal essay, the thesis of her piece is not the revelation that she herself was a victim of sexual abuse. The thesis of her essay is that many, many, many people have experienced rape and abuse, that confronting trauma through music can be cathartic, but it can also be disarming. “Miniskirt” is scaffolded like an upside-down triangle. Standell-Preston begins with an anthemic overarching narrative of female victimization and then she narrows her scope and zooms in on an anecdote pulled from her own life. “Companion” is being presented as a continuation of that narrative. In it, Standell-Preston sings to her then-stepbrother, “It had nothing to do with you, how can I make that more clear?” Accompanied by a synthetic organ, Standell-Preston’s words carry so much weight and depth that this song sounds like the declamation of an open-letter to someone she she lost long ago, as she intended. But even without having read her essay, this song is a beautiful reminder of the healing power of music, the infinite ways it can offer us closure when someone is torn from us against our will, “whether we liked it or not.” –Gabriela

2. James Blake – “Radio Silence”

During James Blake’s interview with Annie Mac during which he announced that his new album would be arriving sooner than any of us expected, he mentioned that “Radio Silence,” the former title track to The Colour In Anything, was the first song he wrote for the record, the one he had been sitting on for the longest. The fact that it’s been floating around out there in the universe for that long — first in his head, later as a live performance — adds to its power. That he felt the title didn’t encapsulate the feel of the record anymore, that he’s found some “colour in anything,” is a comforting progression, because this song comes from an incredibly bleak place. It’s the persistent, longing dial tone of a phone hanging off the hook with no one around to pick it up and put it back in its cradle. (A metaphor that, admittedly, would work better if anyone still owned a landline.) Blake’s tracks have always been constructed around silence and negative space, building cushions around the absence of sound, and “Radio Silence” feels like it’s had the air completely sucked out of it. “I can’t believe that you don’t want to see me,” he croons, interpolating lyrics from a Bill Withers song he’s covered live before. “Just please,” he begs, but the only thing he has to keep him company are the noises rattling around inside his head. It’s the desperate pitter-patter of a heart broken, a flatline with little hope of resuscitation. “I’m sorry I don’t know how you feel,” Blake apologizes, but there’s no one around to hear. Except us, I guess, but we’re still so far removed. –James

1. Mitski – “Happy”

Happiness is a fuckboy. That’s the basic premise at the heart of “Happy,” but Mitski imbues what could’ve been a jokey one-note metaphor with so much pathos and lyrical specificity that it becomes achingly, uncomfortably real, capturing the exact moment when you find yourself alone and happy suddenly curdles into sad: “And I turned around to see/ All the cookie wrappers/ And the empty cups of tea/ Well I sighed and mumbled to myself/ Again, I have to clean.” But although her lyrics find only a weary sense of dejection in the endless cycle between fleeting moments of happiness and the perpetual comedown of living, the song still manages to point towards a reason to keep trudging forward: it sounds so fucking good. “Happy” is one of those Mitski songs that builds from hushed beginnings to what feels like an explosive outpouring of life force itself, and here, her fuzzed-out guitar is joined by a skronking baritone sax that’s enough to turn any pity party into a dance party. It might not last, but it’s enough. –Peter