It’s pretty hard to get mad at a week that kicks off with a new Radiohead album and closes out with a new Chance album. It’s not hard to envision both of those albums in our top 10 at year’s end. But these days, it feels like we get one or two contenders every week, doesn’t it? How are we gonna fit a hundred albums in our top 10? We’ll cross that bridge when we get there. It’s hard enough picking the 5 Best Songs every week. But we manage. And this week, this is what we came up with.
A wise friend once told me that “we’re all just trying to make shit until we die.” That “shit” we’re trying to make can be a lot of things. It can be art, music, babies, or lots and lots of money. Speedy Ortiz’s single “Death Note” is about writing yourself out of an existential depression, about making art out of the trash cluttering your dark, windowless headspace. “Be kind to your bad self,” Sadie Dupuis sings, “’cause sooner or later you’ll come out all good.” Speedy’s last album, Foil Deer, is a confident gut-punch, and a lot of the vulnerability, the sadness heard on their debut Major Arcana doesn’t show itself as readily. It’s still there, but you have to look for it through the layers of acerbic instrumentation. “Death Note” falls in line with that album’s unfuckwithable attitude. It’s a love letter, a reminder to be kind to your bad self when the going gets rough. –Gabriela
What is it about emo bands and Massachusetts that seems to ignite a creative spark? One of the “revival”‘s most championed exports made an entire classic album trading on Worcester nostalgia; the Get Up Kids crafted a Bay State anthem from all the way in Kansas. The latest in the Mass canon is this propulsive cut off Holy Ghost, a track that sounds most like what Modern Baseball were doing on their previous two albums but also occupies a completely different caliber, maybe because it’s a brighter spot among the rest of their new record’s dour, more mature outlook. Like all of the great songs about Massachusetts, the state acts as a desirable destination. MA is the end goal, but songwriter Jake Ewald is anywhere but — Philly, Nebraska, Austin, and New York State are all name-checked, but the only one that matters is the one that’s wailed out: “My baby’s in Maaaassachusetts, and all this booze is useless.” It’s a breathless displacement, and its one frustrated, pitch-perfect line — “I tried sleeping in our bed without you last night/ But that didn’t work at all because I couldn’t sleep” — solidifies its spot in the hall of fame of on-the-road songs. “Who’s paid to keep these things cliché?” indeed. –James
I have this theory that Ariana Grande should headline Coachella. It’s admittedly not a scientific thing, and it mostly comes from conversations with random kids at last year’s festival who were hoping to see Grande walk out with the Weeknd during his set. But after seeing reports of sparse crowds for LCD Soundsystem and Guns N’ Roses this year, it’s time for Coachella to face the reality that it’s not a rock festival, since the dominant strains of popular music right now have nothing to do with guitars. Grande walks that thin line between “fun, weird kid” and “polished incipient superstar,” and in a very short time, she’s amassed a catalog of absolute bangers. “Into You” is a great example. It’s got a clipped, precise francophone house-music thump to it, but it still leaves Grande room to unfurl that absurdly massive voice. Max Martin’s fingerprints are all over the various addictive melodies swirling around here, as well as the borderline nonsensical lyrics. (“A little less conversation, a little more touch my body” might work if “touch my body” was a noun, but it’s not.) There’s nothing effortless about the song. It’s a labored-over product, but it works. It has life. It would kill at Coachella. It would kill anywhere. –Tom
I am not a capital-f Radiohead Fan. I like Radiohead — a lot — but my appreciation tends to be more intellectual and aesthetic than emotional. I’m not someone who grew up listening to Radiohead, someone who had formative musical experiences with OK Computer and Kid A, and they’ve never inspired the kind of rabid love in me that they do in so many others. But even my cold, unfeeling Radioheart found itself swept up in the mystery and excitement of A Moon Shaped Pool’s rollout, and by the time I actually pressed play on the album, I was ready to feel that rabid love, to feel like a part of something bigger. Once “Decks Dark” clicked into place, I was committed, and after “Ful Stop,” I was convinced I was hearing something special. But it wasn’t until “True Love Waits” rolled around that I finally, truly got it. This was it — this was the emotion I had been missing. I didn’t have the preexisting relationship with the song that some fans had, but the song itself was enough — at once spare and impossibly textured, stunningly beautiful and heartbreakingly sad. Even without the added poignancy given the knowledge of his separation, Thom Yorke’s final words would’ve haunted the album’s conclusion, lingering into the emptiness and leaving a thick, heavy silence: “Just don’t leave/ Don’t leave.” –Peter
Chance The Rapper is a cornball. I could pull a number of his bars as evidence, but my personal favorite is “I’m a wascally wabbit, I know that tricks are for addicts.” Chano’s corniness is all over Coloring Book, but that’s part of what makes him endearing as he colors outside the lines of his genre. He’s had some heavy gospel leanings since Acid Rap, most notably on TLOP’s “Ultralight Beam” and Surf’s “Sunday Candy,” but never has it been laced throughout a full collection like it has on the project formerly known as Chance 3. On the opener, “All We Got,” that God-loving cheesiness is full-fledged, and it would probably be intolerable from pretty much any other rapper or non-secular artist, but as a testament to the Chicago spitter’s charm and skill, not only is it bearable, it’s monumental. No one understands the magnitude of a moment like Chance, so truly “this ain’t no intro, it’s the entrée.” Not only do Chance’s unique goober tendencies shine through, he also manages to announce his return, meld the gospel of the Chicago Children’s Choir and big band with the help of Donnie Trumpet, bring counselor Kanye into the family fold, and spit bars that are so overwhelmingly positive and ebullient that you can’t help but be infected with joy and warmth. Add Trumpet’s triumphant horns and Chad L. Roberts’ whomping bass to bolster and it’s pure elation. It’s no “Ultralight Beam” but it certainly made me beam upon first hearing it, and I’m sure it will continue to do so on every subsequent listen. –Collin