Welcome to Friday! It’s been a long week. We asked Tegan & Sara to tell the story behind some of their most notable songs, spoke to Mitski about her stunning new album, watched Justin Bieber get into a fistfight in Cleveland, Wye Oak put out a surprise not-album, and Ed Sheeran’s getting sued for copyright violation. This week’s 5 best playlist is pretty varied; dive in.
Abra is a low-key magician. She has an uncanny ability to 1) update some of the most old-school sounds that were popping long before she was born in a way young ’90s revivalist rappers only wish they could and 2) transform those throwback sonics from the party and dance catalysts they once were into raw, vulnerable songs. Her wand/mic is in full effect on “Crybaby.” I had to resist from pop-locking super corny in my seat while those vintage Casio 808s were pumping during the intro. But I was all in my feelings by the time she sings “An ocean of emotion/ And I am not Poseidon/ But I ride him through the rip tide” halfway through. The lo-fi, sung-from-the-other-room feel of the haunting background vocals skulking underneath contrasts the often pristine production and mixing of her peers for piercing emotional evocation. Hopefully signing to True Panther will lead to more jams like this and they get the exposure they deserve. –Collin
Knowing that The Bride presents the story of a woman whose fiancé dies on the way to their wedding, there’s only one way to interpret this spectral ballad, which depicts a late-night visitation from a dead lover: “Joe’s Dream” is a callback to Ghost. And with that movie’s comic relief and questionable graphics removed from the equation, the emotional wallop here is profound. A gorgeous minimal backdrop conjures distant thunder, a heartbeat, and the heavy melancholy that accompanies loss. Even as an instrumental, it would likely raise hairs, and the instrumental isn’t even the best part. That would be Natasha Khan’s bravura performance as a woman struggling to make sense of this gaping hole where her heart used to be, vowing eternal love for someone who has already slipped away: “No more tears, baby, please don’t cry/ I try to tell him everything is fine/ Cross my heart and hope to die/ I won’t say goodbye.” –Chris
They haven’t been active the whole time, but Descendents have been a band for just shy of 30 years. They should not be able to do something like this: a 97-second anxiety-blast that shows the same fire and rigor and melodic power that they had when they were kids. “Victim Of Me” is, in one sense, a grown-up song. Where so many Descendents classics are about girls not liking you, this one is about stress and wage slavery: “I’m a fear-driven service robot/ A spectacle of a man with no options.” But they barrel forward with that old-school melodic hardcore intensity. And as with their peers in Bad Religion, the approach hasn’t aged because it still works. Milo Auckerman’s voice may have hardened a bit over the years, but he still summons the same venom he had on “Hope.” They’re venting newer feelings but venting them in the same ways, and those feelings still need to be vented. –Tom
My two favorite things in this world are Rihanna and money, which makes “Nothing Is Promised” my third favorite thing. When Miranda July profiled Rihanna last year, the singer explained that she hasn’t necessarily been off men so much as she’s been off love, focusing on her career and getting shit done instead. Here is an excellent excerpt: “[Guys] need that nourishment, that little stroke of the ego that gets them by every now and then. I’ll give it to my family, I’ll give it to my work — but I will not give it to a man right now.” Months before the profile was published, Rihanna released “Bitch Better Have My Money,” which was one of the biggest pop songs to come out in 2015 that didn’t have anything to do with falling in or out of love. It’s a song about showing your worth and getting paid. The first single off of Mike Will Made-It’s forthcoming Ransom 2 is another ode to getting paper. “Nothing Is Promised” literally replaces all of Rih’s potential mates with dollar signs. There isn’t a whole lot of lyrical substance to this song, but Rihanna really raps on it, she fully owns it. “I’m drunk and I’m blowin’ a whole lot of gas, nigga/ Ten million in cash/ Put up in a stash, it’s under my mattress.” The song’s concluding verses are my favorite, when I can truly envision Rihanna splayed out on said mattress: “I love you, money, I love you, money/ I’ma never put a nigga above this money/ I’ma wake up and just hug this money,” she serenades. I’ma wake up and just hug this money. Put that on my tombstone. –Gabriela
“Where’s the drop? Fuck, here comes the drop,” Mai Lan goads halfway through her masterful new single before feinting left. Of course, there’s no drop — “Technique” is too good for such cheap tricks. It’s a teetering Tower Of Babel constructed on top of a mess of nonsense and hyperactivity, continuing upward to infinity. “I chose words that had a strong sound and really made sense,” the French producer and singer explained in a statement. “It was a whole different way to write this song as there was no need to find rhymes but just make the words hit together.” The result is a dizzying whirlwind, the sound of incessant scrolling and constant right swiping and information overload. It may be impossible to parse meaning from Mai Lan’s stilted phrases, but it stands as an impressive how-to guide to, well, perfect technique. –James