Look, it’s kinda hard to be glib about stuff today, at the end of a real shitty week, a week that only underscores how shitty things have been for a while now. In 2012, after a gun-toting terrorist shot up a gurdwara in Milwaukee, then-Stereogum Executive Editor (and now-Revolt TV Chief Political Correspondent/Last Of The Famous International Playboys) Amrit Singh wrote a moving, smart, thoughtful piece for this site, attempting to make some sense of the stunningly senseless violence. Four years later, his closing paragraph is still as beautiful a bit of prose as any you’ll read anywhere, ever. It is still a strikingly powerful reminder of why we are here and why any of this matters. And it is still, distressingly, as timely as it was on the day it was published. And it went like this:
Here on Stereogum, let the lesson be one of aesthetics and music, of being discerning in what we listen to and what we proselytize. The power of music [is] a reminder of the power of art, and that we are as responsible for the art we make as the art we champion as a community. It’s a reminder that we are doing something valuable by collecting here every day, like a family, to pore over and discuss and analyze and celebrate and criticize music, and the culture surrounding it. Because music is, fundamentally, transformative.
There’s not much else to say. Take a moment of silence. And then, listen to music.
Admittedly it takes a lot of distillation to appreciate this song and only this song for how good it is. It’s hard to not hear Chance The Rapper say “79th 79th 79th, hey.” It’s even more difficult to only hear the music and separate it from Francis Starlite and Justin Vernon’s glorious, hair-flopping, slightly offbeat choreography in the visuals. And what the fuck is Kanye doing? Why is he even there? And why is he wearing a Pearl Harbor reminder? Sorry, I’m supposed to be stripping all of that away to point out how beautifully the textured synth layers, stuttered percussion, and delicate falsettos coalesce. Vernon’s lyrics gorgeously express how shattering and confusing the disentanglement of two lives and souls can be when a relationship ends. Francis holds his own with subtly piercing storytelling. A friendship spawned from a failed romantic relationship is often a cheap, forced consolation prize like the dumb QR codes in Cracker Jack boxes (thanks, millennials). I wish I could express the ambivalence that comes with a romance’s demise even half as gracefully. I’d probably have a couple more friends instead of exes. –Collin
Chicago isn’t an easy place to live. It’s cold and tense and violent. It has problems. But it also has Lake Michigan, stretching out alongside, a vast and beautiful reminder of infinity. It’s not an ocean, but you can’t tell that it’s not when you’re sitting on the beach, or when you’re watching water spray off the rocks on a windy day. The “LSD” of Jamila Woods’ song title isn’t a drug. It’s Lake Shore Drive, the roadway that stretches alongside that lake — a main artery from the South Side to the rest of the town and one of America’s greatest places to just get in the car and drive. “You gotta love me like I love the lake,” Woods purrs. On songs like Donnie Trumpet’s “Sunday Candy,” her voice, with its precise phrasing and its Billie Holiday-esque melodic curlicues, was a shot of pure sunshine. It’s that here, too, but it’s more contemplative — a meditation on glimpsing the sublime in a complicated town. And nobody loves Chicago more than Chance The Rapper, whose quick verse here is pure giddy ebullience. –Tom
Ryan Hemsworth’s latest is a collaboration between himself, British folk singer Keaton Henson, and the all-powerful Mitski Miyawaki. Hemsworth’s production on “Wait” is subdued and beautiful; an arid piece of composition that reminds you how much space there is for sound to fill. What’s most powerful, though, are the songs lyrics, delivered by two of Hemsworth’s favorite singers. “All you leeches suck me dry,” Keaton sings, his voice weighed down by a muted despair. This is a song about disconnect, about waiting for people to change and at some point realizing that they won’t, that it might be time to let them go. There’s no better illustrative moment of that realization than when Mitski sings the following verse: “I’d wait in line just to have you once/ Then you’ll have me once, and I’ll never be happy again.” Most people have experienced this kind of love story and know how painful it is. Here’s the thing: once you ~*have*~ someone, and it doesn’t go terribly, you will definitely want them again. Like, even more than you did the first time. A heart is a hard thing to bear, and the slight tremble in Mitski’s voice captures that perfectly. –Gabriela
Breaking up can be extremely liberating, but more often than not, breaking up suuuuucks. On “Apart,” Johanne Swanson chronicles the latter sort of separation. In the tradition of the Mountain Goats’ “Woke Up New,” Swanson describes returning to the old, familiar rituals she used to share with someone else. She runs until the physical aching drowns out the emotional pain. She drinks up the courage to make a call, then comes to her senses and backs away from the phone. Her entire existence vacillates between a longing for reunion and the bitter triumph of “proving you wrong.” Even without the aid of a lyric sheet, the melancholy sway that props up Swanson’s lament more than gets the point across. –Chris
Clams Casino is mostly known as a hip-hop producer. He’s really good at being a hip-hop producer. But his work has always had more to do with auteurish electronic music than anything resembling actual rap music, and lately, he’s been pushing further and further out of his comfort zone. The last single from his upcoming major-label debut 32 Levels, the Kelela collab “A Breath Away,” showed how good he was at spacey R&B balladry, and the latest, “Ghost In A Kiss,” is even weirder and even better. All of Clams’ music balances at the edge of light and dark, his breathy, blown-out soundscapes somehow sounding angelic and sinister at the same time. “Ghost In A Kiss” takes that mixture and boils it down to its essential parts, constructing a haunting atmosphere out of little more than minimal piano chords, skittering drums, and eerie washes of ambient sound, plus the inimitable rasp of Future Islands’ Sam Herring, who modulates his voice from a dusky croon to a low mutter to a full-on satanic growl. It’s not a particularly long song, but its four minutes feel downright monumental, and now I really want Clams Casino to get into the film scoring game. –Peter