We listen to music to feel like we are part of something bigger than ourselves. We listen to music to challenge our worldview. We listen to music to marvel at boundless talent. We listen to music to make sense of the senseless. We listen to music to be comforted. We listen to music to feel compassion. We listen to music to remind us that there can be great beauty in sadness and in rage and in bitter resentment. We listen to music to give us hope. We listen to music to resist what we have a difficult time accepting in the first place. To quote the late, great Leonard Cohen: “Music is like bread. It is one of the fundamental nourishments that we have available.” This year has been trying, and this week has been really, really hard for many of us. Here are just a few songs released this week that bring us, as a staff, closer to that needed nourishment. Contribute your favorites in the comments below.
If you’re reading a site like this, chances are you already believe that music has something to offer in a time like this. Sometimes that means Killer Mike and El-P confronting the ugly realities of our country with a sonic fist straight to to the teeth. And sometimes it means someone like Bernice’s Robin Dann proving that yes, this world can still be beautiful. As a song about matrilineal descent, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to politicize a song like “St Lucia.” But more than anything, it’s just a beautiful song, a subtle, shapeshifting thing that morphs from aqueous art-pop to an underwater club banger and back with ease, held together by the casual, open-hearted warmth of Dann’s voice. “Living it up ’cause we need it,” she sings in the chorus. “Talking about all the worries that apply.” Right now, there are a lot of worries that apply, and we need music like this more than ever. –Peter
The most common critique of the xx’s sophomore album Coexist is that it felt too much like a carbon copy of the band’s self-titled debut, going through the same motions without the same conviction. Regardless of whether that was a fair or accurate assessment, “On Hold” suggests no one will be able to lob the same complaints at I See You. The xx’s signature elements remain — that lingering sense of melancholy, those slyly simplistic guitar parts, Romy Madley-Croft and Oliver Sim’s coy vocal interplay, a subtle electronic undercurrent — but they’re infused with a fresh burst of inspiration courtesy of the band’s breakout star. Jamie xx’s production here is a revelation. Flipping an otherworldly Hall And Oates sample into a wistful disco slipstream, he turns this breakup ballad into a closing parenthesis for Drake and Rihanna’s instant classic “Take Care,” perhaps the most famous song to ever benefit from his magic touch. And if that wasn’t enough symmetry for you, this song about falling out of love has sparked my affection for the xx anew. –Chris
He’s been famous for the better part of a decade now, and we still have no idea — at least through his music — who Bruno Mars is. That’s how he likes it. He’s a mimic, a cipher, and a very good one. “24K Magic,” his last big single, was pure Zapp-style bubblefunk pastiche. “Versace On The Floor” is something else — two parts Jodeci, one part Phil Collins, plus a guitar solo that does its very best to sound like Prince. It’s a big, slick, light, silly piece of horny pop excess, and it already plays like something you’d find buried in a time capsule — a relic of that second Obama term that now sounds like distant history. But if the past 60 years or so have taught us anything, it’s that no amount of chaos can keep a good pop song down. And this right here? This is a good pop song. –Tom
I’m finding it hard to wrap my head around music this week in light of everything that has happened, but the soft padding of Vagabon’s “Fear & Force” sounds soothing right now, even though the sentiments contained within are anything but. Laetitia Tamko wrote the song after a lover moved to Vermont and asked her to come along with them; she couldn’t for all the usual reasons we can’t just get up and run away: a fear of uncertainty, the forceful urge to follow our own path. The aching contradiction at the heart of the song is a wish to realign reality with your own desires, to make the world bend to your wishes for just one moment, however impossible: “I thought I had more time,” she sings. “Freddy, I know you love where you are/ But I think I changed my mind.” That sense of abandonment, of haunting resolve, rings painfully true now more than ever. –James
Let’s just give the politics a rest for a second. I tried to come up with something meaningful to write about the intersection of politics and music with all the exultant patriotism of a Veteran’s Day parade billowing in through our office windows, but I’m spent. Besides, the big homey Chris already did that really well. If music is something that will help you cope and move on, cool. If it isn’t, that’s cool too. Just do what you’ve got to do for self-care in the interest of being the best person you can possibly be.
That said, if you don’t want to touch “2100” with a 10-foot pole right now or ever, fine. If you do, there are plenty of reasons to like it, politics aside. El-P always comes extra correct on a beat, and this one is in 6/8 meter giving his and Killer Mike’s bars ample room to stretch out and settle. Both El and Killer Kill’s rhymes are tight with equal measures of hope and bite. They obviously care about the plight of the country, even if you disagree with how they seek to better it. Boots has a knack for lifting RTJ hooks and sure enough, he comes through on this one as well.
RTJ are still great at making music — two of the absolute best we have doing it right now if you ask me. Though it’s unclear whether or not this will be on RTJ3 since it was written a while ago and dusted off because the moment felt right, I will still be excited for the album regardless. I hope you are too. If you’re not, that’s fine. Just live. Really and truly live. –Collin