This week in headlines: Father John Misty Talks Balls (and releases a new album), Alex G Is Now (Sandy) Alex G, John Mayer Really Wants You To Forget That He’s The Worst, LCD Soundsystem Played Some New Songs Last Night, and the World Will End Imminently. Here are the five best songs.
As its title implies, “Lose My Cool” is a song about flipping out, about getting angry, and on its surface, it finds 23-year-old Amber Mark sort of apologizing to someone — a guy, I think — for flipping out on him. In the song’s most evocative lyric, she sings: “Yes, I think the drinking was a bit excessive/ But just to be frank, the drinking ain’t what caused me to be aggressive.” At no point over the course of the song does Mark explicitly tell either the guy or the listener what caused the aggression … or the drinking, for that matter. But there’s a backstory here: Mark is dealing with the death of her mother. The artist’s upcoming debut, 3:33 am, is something of a concept EP, wherein each song grapples with an individual stage of grief experienced by Mark over the course of her mother’s passing in 2013. That show-don’t-tell style of storytelling is almost Hemingway-esque, and it illustrates a response to loss that is entirely human. Rarely do we address the root of our pain; much more often, we do self-destructive stuff like drink too much and lash out at people around us — people who are often unaware of how they wound up in the middle of our shitstorms. Mark’s grieving is also belied by the music itself, which is supple, relaxed, and absolutely gorgeous. “Lose My Cool” sounds a bit like Sade singing over a tropical house beat, and that compositional core is buttressed by a loose collage of other upbeat elements from Mark’s musical upbringing. But the brightness here feels like a bold choice rather than a contradiction. It’s not that Mark is incapable of going all Carrie & Lowell on ya (as she proves on 3:33 am’s confessional “Monsoon“); it’s that she contains multitudes even in her very lowest moments (for additional evidence of this, check out the EP’s stunning banger “Way Back“). Mark wrote and produced every song on 3:33 am, and her confidence, ability, and ear would be remarkable from any musician, regardless of age or resumé. From an out-of-nowhere rookie, it’s downright daunting. But Amber Mark has experienced some real serious life in her 23 years, and even if you don’t hear her pain right away, there’s no mistaking her maturity or presence. It’s that of a real serious artist. –Michael
There’s something offputting about the levels of calculation in the strategy: A just-beginning-to-fade EDM superstar finds himself a second life merely by teaming up with a series of beloved right-now pop forces, playing party host and staying out of the way. But it worked on “Slide,” with Frank Ocean and Migos, and it works here. This time, it works with Young Thug, a force of joy so pure that it seems like he was always meant to rap-howl over bubbly beachside-disco productions. Anarchy is what Thug brings to just about every track he gets ahold of; like the Cat In The Hat or the Cookie Monster, he’s an agent of euphoric chaos. But here, he stretches out his legs, kicks them up in the deck chair, and relaxes, while still somehow bouncing maniacally the whole damn time. (Stay out of that deck chair’s way! Don’t get hurt!) Pharrell, he of the sly Curtis Mayfield impression, and Ariana Grande, she of the million-dollar voice, are mere foils, there to complement something greater. Calvin Harris himself is barely even that. But his formula is working; may he play the background for, at the very least, the entire festival season. –Tom
Those steel drums might be the sound of “9 (After Coachella)” tiptoeing to the edge of the uncanny valley without falling in, holding onto its humanity even as it flirts with android status. As PC Music’s uneven output has proven, that’s a precarious balance to strike, but Cashmere Cat and SOPHIE pull it off with a mix of booming trap music and a digitally enhanced MØ who seems to value “the way your body movin'” as much as “the way you spread confusion.” That’s one half of the track; the other recklessly plunges past that man-machine divide toward clanking, clattering chaos as abrasive as its counterpart is sweet. It’s like two entirely different songs welded together. In theory it should not work at all, but in practice each side functions as a miraculous palate-cleanser for the other. In that way “9 (After Coachella)” caters directly to short attention spans — maybe the most contemporary element of a hypermodern song. –Chris
(Sandy) Alex G’s latest single from the forthcoming Rocket initially comes across as a gesture of affection. “I’m so proud of you/ And everything that you do,” he sweetly sings to an unknown recipient over barroom piano licks and a peppy rhythm guitar. Yet Giannascoli quickly follows his train of thought to a darker place, and all of a sudden his message becomes a bit murkier. His praise seems built on self-debasement, and “Proud” soon enough reveals itself to be a plea: “If I sink/ I don’t wanna be the one to leave my baby out without no bottle to drink.” Turns out, the song isn’t for whoever Giannascoli may be singing to — or at least it isn’t about anyone else. It’s an anxious, bopping reflection of Giannascoli himself, much the same way the success of a loved one can threaten you into a self-pitying downward spiral in fear of your own capacity to do good. Eventually, he lets out a biting, vulnerable admission: “I wanna be a fake like you/ Walk around with rocks in my shoes/ I just wanna play the game/ Big and fat and insane.” But throughout every lyrical shift in tone, the song maintains its infallible skip. On the wistful “Bobby,” Alex G dove unexpectedly into alt-country and came out the other side with an anachronistic should-be standard. Now with “Proud,” (Sandy) Alex G has gone and proved that this step wasn’t a one-off, but rather the beginning of a full-on stride. –Pranav
There’s a beautiful contradiction at the heart of every Charly Bliss song. The band traffics in sticky, sparkling hooks, but Eva Hendricks’ lyrics are, for the most part, deliciously twisted and dark. On their forthcoming debut, Guppy, Hendricks plays with the stereotype of the crazy, obsessive (sometimes ex)-girlfriend with gleeful abandon. “I laughed when your dog died/ It is cruel but it’s true,” she sings on one; “I don’t wanna scare you, I don’t wanna share you,” she echoes on another. All of this is done with a wink and a nod, but not in a way that ignores the validity of the jealousy inherent in the root of a relationship. Nowhere is this more effectively communicated than “Black Hole,” a macabre carnival ride filled with delightful imagery that contains a monster of a chorus that hammers home the band’s subversive intentions: “Take me on a date, take me anywhere, was I insane?/ Purple in the face, laughing all the way home, I thought, ‘Burn me at the stake, lead me anywhere, was I insane?'” It acts as both a rejoinder to those moments when our mind gets the best of us, and a mocking celebration of those times when love makes us question our own sanity. –James