The 5 Best Songs Of The Week

The 5 Best Songs Of The Week

This week, Secretary Of State Hillary Rodham Clinton became the first woman in history to be nominated by a major party to hold this country’s highest political office. The last night of the DNC was a historical moment, regardless of whether or not you’re #withher; it was a big night for the Democratic party, an even bigger night for HRC herself, and an even bigger night for her husband Bill Clinton, who apparently played with balloons for the first time in his damn life. Observe:

Bill Clinton

Meanwhile, Malia Obama did what any normal teenager would do and decided to skip the DNC to go hang out with our very own Scott Lapatine at Lollapalooza. (ICYMI, you can spot a v fun Scott byline on our homepage today). The rest of us are chilling in our respective cities trying to beat the heat. You can listen to our favorite songs of the week below.

5. Slothrust – “Horseshoe Crab”

“Horseshoe Crab” starts off plainspoken and calm. Over five minutes, Slothrust expertly churn to a dark and stormy end, a studied and tempered buildup swelling around wavering guitars that slowly find their sea legs. The controlled skid echoes Leah Wellbaum’s emotional trajectory; her lyrics are repeated twice straight through in escalating dramatics. “When I get better, I’ll treat you like I used to,” she promises. “I’ll do the things you want me to.” She’s charting a nervous breakdown, one in which “words make less sense,” where “everything is so unfamiliar.” She feels displaced, but she’s urging the listener to stick with it, to have as much patience with her as the song has in reaching its conclusion. –James

4. Nas & Erykah Badu – “This Bitter Land”

Last year, Common and John Legend won as Oscar for “Glory,” a lovely song about striving together and overcoming obstacles. They performed it at the ceremony on a staged replica of Selma, Alabama’s Edmund Pettus Bridge, and it was a moving moment. Chris Pine cried. You probably saw it. “This Bitter Land” is another song from a prestige-driven, critically beloved rapper/R&B singer pairing, and it’s from a movie, too, but it probably won’t win an Oscar. The reason why: There’s no optimism to it. Instead, it’s a song about what happens when the obstacles overcome you. “In the ghetto’s where you’ll find me, it’s where I stays at/ Cop shot us up, he get a medal, then retire,” Nas muses bitterly. Badu, her voice in full otherworldly-vibrato mode, levitates above the track, but she doesn’t sing about levitating: “This bitter land does nothing for love/ This bitter land rain pain from above.” Their only accompaniment is a weeping string section that offers no solace. The song works like a grim inversion of “Mercy,” and it probably deserves that Oscar that it won’t get. –Tom

3. IAN SWEET – “#23″

In a misty knot of melodic guitar noise, “#23″ explores the vast expanse between our comfortable inner life and the paralyzing awkwardness of personal interaction. Any introvert can relate to Jillian Medford’s detail-specific accounts of finding security in trash TV or the terror of revealing your treasured private quirks to an outsider. But not everybody can spin a lyrical sequence this evocative: “‘I Believe I Can Fly’/ That was my song at karaoke last night/ I feel like Jordan in my Jordans/ Except I stand in place and ignore him/ I’ll stand right here for another year.” It’s a remarkable piece of music and a reminder that our methods of self-protection might be what damage us most. –Chris

2. serpentwithfeet – “blisters”

It took Josiah Wise some time to settle into his sound as serpentwithfeet because he was settling into himself. That’s not an easy thing to do as a black queer man in Baltimore, or all of America for that matter. But his self solace allows him to openly embrace his every contradiction and flaw in ways most people probably can’t even fathom; hence the “SUICIDE” and “HEAVEN” tattoos on his scalp separated ever so slightly from the mystical pentagram by his faint hairline.

Perhaps that’s why he displays an uncanny comfort melding seemingly incongruous genres that elude many an artist. On “blisters,” classical flourishes, cooleyhighharmony doo-wop, Wise’s quivering operatic falsetto, sweeping ambience, and found sounds not only coexist, but coalesce into a truly absorbing sonic environment. With all of that going on, it could be easy to gloss over the lyrics, but I found that extremely hard to do. Wise’s newfound serenity was at the end of a very dark, confusing path, and his expression of his urgent reaches at deliverance is truly gripping in its gloom. Blisters can be excruciating, but when they heal the skin is tougher. In Wise’s case, his healing has spawned something exquisite. –Collin

1. Jenny Hval – “Conceptual Romance”

“Conceptual Romance” begins with the sound of a stuttering fan as Jenny Hval’s narrator describes a dream in which a partner has left her. Her voice has a familiar monotonous quality to it, and it catches when she describes her awakening: “I wake up high/ High on madness/ A sexual holding pattern/ Stuck in erotic self-oscillation/ This landmine of a heart.” This is why I love Hval: She qualifies specific neuroses and feelings of loneliness by endowing them with scientific definitions. She’s stuck in Erotic Self-Oscillation, a Sexual Holding Pattern she can’t escape. It’s a self-evaluation of her behavior that, if you’ve ever found yourself plagued by feelings of mistrust toward someone you love, feels almost too close for comfort. And from there, Hval brings the partner back, lets them stew in her self-flagellation with a choral hook that is catchy in only the way Hval’s songs can be catchy: “Conceptual romance is on my mind/ I call it abstract romanticism/ Conceptual romance is you/ It’s you and I.”

This is a song for over-thinkers who wish they could be romantics. It’s a song for people who don’t know how to give up control long enough to feel any kind of romance beyond the textbook-definition. “Conceptual romance” is studied like physics, “real romance” is felt only when we’re at our most vulnerable. But getting to that point is an exercise in letting go, which can be an excruciating thing to do when you’re unaccustomed to it. “This blood bitch’s tale goes a bit like this/ I lose myself in the rituals of bad art and failure/ I want to give up/ But I can tell,” Hval’s voice quavers before she plucks reassurance from the ether. “My heartbreak is too sentimental for you.” –Gabriela