The 5 Best Songs Of The Week
Well, here we are: September, somehow; the unofficial end of another Cruel Summer. The days are already getting shorter, the temperature is already dipping. All the signs are in the air, but Labor Day Weekend puts a stamp on it. No more Summer Fridays; school’s in for autumn. But you’ve got three more days. THREE MORE DAYS. And after that? You can’t wear white anymore. You just can’t! Ahem, yes, this is directed at you, Mr. West…
— TeamKanyeDaily (@TeamKanyeDaily) August 29, 2016
So enjoy it while it lasts. And what better way to ring in the new season than by listening to the 5 Best Songs from the final week of the old one?
5. Sylvan Esso – “Radio”
Some of the best genre movies are conceived as a comment on their genre’s conventions: think Scream with horror movies, or Mean Girls with teen comedies, or Shoot Em Up with action flicks. “Radio” works the same way. Amelia Meath’s lyrics are all about the vapid economy of attention that drives the pop music ecosystem in 2016. “Do you got the moves to make it stick/ Yeah, to get the clicks?” she sings, adopting the posture of some imagined executive, before pondering, “What can we do to get you on the news?” Eventually she contrasts that spotlight life with her own chosen path of “highway blues and gasoline fumes,” nodding to the invisible wall between pop and “indie” pop. The irony is that Meath delivers these maxims in the context of a brisk synthpop body-mover that would fit in well on the airwaves, from its sloganeered hooks all the way down to its pointed 3:30 runtime. And lest you think Sylvan Esso are delivering this critique from a pedestal, Meath concludes the second verse with a knowing wink: “Faking the truth in a new pop song/ Don’t you wanna sing along?” –Chris
4. HEALTH – “Crusher”
On last year’s Death Magic, HEALTH found the sweet middle ground between the dancier and noisier elements of their sound, but it took me watching them at Coachella to really appreciate how powerful that coalescence could be. Their new Adult Swim Singles Series track “Crusher” sees them in top form: pummeling drums that sound inviting, menacing synths that act as both clouds and clarity. Jacob Duzsik uses his cavernous voice to ask the big questions with the hefty amount of emphasis they deserve: “How long have we been scared? How far have we strayed? How long have we been here?” HEALTH fills the space that these broad existential musings allow with static and shock that feels weirdly personal and all-encompassing. –James
3. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – “Jesus Alone”
“You fell from the sky, crash landed in a field,” Nick Cave gravely intones. We know who he’s singing to, or at least we think we do. Last year, Arthur Cave, Nick’s 15-year-old son, fell from a cliff outside the English seaside town of Brighton. He died. Knowing this, it’s impossible not to read heavy, overwhelming implications into everything Nick Cave does on “Jesus Alone,” the one song that we’ve been allowed to hear from the Bad Seeds album that comes out next week. Like the occasional novelist and screenwriter that he is, Cave obfuscates things, painting scenes that have nothing to do with his son: “You’re a drug addict lying on your back in a Tijuana hotel room,” “You’re an African doctor harvesting tearducts.” There is pain that goes beyond what Cave is feeling. Cave knows that. Maybe he’s acknowledging it. He sounds flat, all his energy sucked out. But with the chorus, the one time he lets melody creep into his voice, Cave brings it crashing back home: “With my voice, I am calling you.” Behind him, a rising and doomy drone raises goosebumps. This next album is going to be some serious shit. –Tom
2. Sampha – “Blood On Me”
It’s kind of wild that Sampha hasn’t released a full-length album. That’s about to change, of course, but still, it’s a little surprising. The guy has had a fully-formed sonic identity for years now, and his features on songs by big-name artists have been strong enough to register them in my mind as Sampha songs. We already know he can absolutely murder a contemplative piano ballad — see previous 5 Best Songs honorees “Plastic 100°C” and “Timmy’s Prayer” — but “Blood On Me” is a very different beast, and possibly even better. It’s a paranoia-fueled anthem, anxiety-pop that flips a jittery drumbeat and piano line into the aural equivalent of a chase sequence. “I hear them coming for me,” Sampha sings in the chorus, but really, it’s the other way around. –Peter
1. Vince Staples – “War Ready”
It’s a bold move to put André 3000 on your track, even when it’s old. André has already fulfilled his one-unbelievable-verse-a-year quota on Blond(e), but heads fiend for his lyrical gymnastics in any form they can get them. Vince Staples ain’t ever run from nothin’ but the police, though, so he’s war ready. It’s not a “yeah I sampled your voice, you was using it wrong” situation, but Staples ups the caliber of 3 Stacks’ “stronger weapon that never runs out of ammunition” and riddles “War Ready” with thought-penetrating bullets.
Rap is slight work compared to living life as a young black man in America, and especially as one in gangland Long Beach playing a deadly, never-ending game of tag that older generations bequeathed. So when Staples says, “Learned the power of words we was younger/ Saying fuck the sign on his curb can make him hunt you,” you know why he uses his syllables with fatal precision as he executes the plans drawn up in the war room that is his mind. Unfortunately, he has to do that to survive, and though it’s been said “a black man is better off dead,” he will not be killed or even silenced. –Collin