Today we ran a lot of features. Like, A LOT of features. Since it’s the one year anniversary of Prince’s death, we gathered some of the best “Purple Rain” covers and ranked his albums. On top of that, we published anniversary essays on Yo La Tengo’s I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One as well as Feist’s seminal album The Reminder. Pranav wrote a kickass, measured review of the forthcoming Gorillaz LP, and Phil Freeman offered up his latest Ugly Beauty jazz column. Needless to say, we’re all looking forward to taking it easy this weekend; check out the five best songs of the week below.
“Slip Away” was a killer lead single, grand and operatic and glorious. But it’s “Go Ahead,” a much subtler beast, that Mike Hadreas singled out as his favorite track off of his new album No Shape during a Twitter AMA the other day. Where “Slip Away” was all explosive catharsis and euphoria, “Go Ahead” lurks beneath the surface, Hadreas’ voice snaking around a skittering beat and squelching, subterranean electronics. But if the song’s sonics traffic in shadows, there’s nothing hidden away or uncertain about its message — “Baby, I’m already walking in the light,” as Hadreas croons. “Go Ahead” is another expression of the kind of bold queer defiance that marked “Queen,” sexy and self-confident and supremely over it. There might not be any line as instantly iconic as “No family is safe/ When I sashay,” but “Watch me walk on by/ Honestly/ Next one won’t be free” sure comes pretty damn close. Just go ahead. Go ahead and try. –Peter
Juana Molina doesn’t just write songs, she creates environments. The singles off of her forthcoming LP, Halo, have all demonstrated an emotional depth that seeps into your skin and stays there throughout the course of the track’s run time. These are places you can inhabit for a while moreso than they are just nice things to listen to. “Lentísimo Halo” is a sparse arrangement of sounds, some of which come from traditional instrumentation (guitar, piano) while others are random samplings of noise, field recordings that could’ve been made long ago that have been repurposed for a new era. The content of this song is timeless, too. Molina sings to a someone undefined, begs them to come closer, promises to reveal her secrets to them. This is a song about desire, but beyond that, it’s just a straight-up beautiful thing to put on and listen to over and over again. –Gabriela
Red state anxiety has threaded itself through Erika M. Anderson’s music since the beginning, but she’s gotten explicitly more political and frustrated as the years have gone on. The string of one-offs that came out soon after 2014’s The Future’s Void — “Active Shooter,” “False Flag” — are angry and disillusioned, and they seem especially prescient in light of the dark turn that reality has taken. “Aryan Nation,” which Anderson says that she wrote three years ago, comes from that same time period of discontent, and its message still rings true today. The South Dakota native sets up an us vs. them scenario, but neither side is necessarily as clear-cut as we’d like them to be: “Getting high, it’s a family tradition/ Adding one more kid to a cycle that’s vicious/ Can appeal, can appeal, can appeal, but you’ll still be them.”
What makes Anderson’s reflections of middle America different from the onslaught of slice-of-life dispatches from “Trump country” that have been written in the wake of the election is that, while there’s empathy and understanding and even recognition in the impoverished white America that Anderson is singing about, she makes no excuses. “As a person who came from heartland america, I also believe that there is another way than directing your anger at those who often have less power than you,” she wrote in a statement accompanying the song. “Don’t let your discontent or your patriotism be exploited. Don’t look down, look up.” We’re all being exploited by forces that are bigger than us, but Anderson’s worldview is not one of complacency, and “Aryan Nation” is a powerfully conflicted statement of intent. –James
Waxahatchee has always been one of those solo projects that masquerades as a band. At various moments, it’s been Katie Crutchfield and an acoustic guitar, or Katie Crutchfield and whatever friends happen to be there that day, or Katie Crutchfield and whatever she and her producer can find lying around the Long Island house they’ve rented. And it’s a testament to how great a songwriter Crutchfield is, and how resourceful a recording artist, that past Waxahatchee albums have never felt emaciated or auspiciously lo-fi. But on this glorious first taste of Out In The Storm, the fourth Waxahatchee album, Waxahatchee suddenly sound like a band. And that matters.
This time around, Crutchfield and her collaborators, including twin sister Allison and Sleater-Kinney touring guitarist Katie Harkin, recorded all in a room together. And you can feel the fizzy, liberating energy of it, all these harmonies and melodies and fuzz-drenched guitars building on one another. Crutchfield is singing about the moment a relationship ultimately falls apart, the moment when you reach the point of no return: “The kiss on my lips starts to feel unfamiliar / A part of me rots / My skin turns all silver.” But she doesn’t sound beaten-down. Instead, the song bursts with momentum, with possibility. It’s an endorphin-rush reminder that every ending is a beginning, too. –Tom
Every time Kendrick Lamar speaks, he’s bending language into his own orbit. Kendrick never wastes a word, and more importantly, he frames every word purposefully. Just listen to the flow he employs on “DNA”; how he jettisons you straight into a sprint with that explosive intro, but never settles into cruise control from there, instead finding new pockets to tap into that have your neurons constantly firing to keep up. You can’t get comfortable listening to a Kendrick song; there’s no room to adjust. I don’t know how many times I’ve stopped and rewinded the song just to hear to how he maneuvers through the lines: “I know murder, conviction, burners, boosters, burglars, ballers, dead, redemption/ Scholars, father dead with kids, and I wish I was fed forgiveness.” He’s employing these mind-boggling internal rhyme schemes alongside double-take alliterate deliveries that feel denser in those brief bars than a good deal of rappers can manage in an entire album. I mean, if DAMN. really is Kendrick entering back into the rap rat race to claim his rightful title as the greatest rapper alive, he’s stepped up way higher than he ever needed to — so high that he’s truthfully not even playing the same game anymore. You can’t listen to Kendrick pull new ways of speaking seemingly out of thin air on “DNA,” which rides one of Mike Will’s hardest beats to date — both the first two-thirds that saunter with a menacing, woozy snap worthy of our newfound hero Kung Fu Kenny, and the latter third of choppy, bustling mania — and not immediately find all other music tiredly two-dimensional.
“DNA” isn’t simply lively, visceral music; it lives through its audience long after they reach the track’s end. Everyone’s been walking around since last Friday screaming “I GOT I GOT I GOT I GOT” and “YOU’S A YOU’S A YOU’S A YOU’S A” with unstoppable glee. But they’ve also been chanting on loop “I got loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA,” and it’s the adoption of the latter mantra that confirms Kendrick’s argument against Fox News and anyone else suggesting rappers are a problem that society needs to rid itself of. Hip-hop doesn’t damage the youth; it speaks on their level and gives them a means through which to define a world that has long been ruled by the oppressor. How can you call Kendrick’s DNA an “abomination” when it’s traditionally “white” culture that to this day continues to hold up police brutality and the prison-industrial complex? More so than any kind of admonishment, “DNA” is a battle cry reaffirming Kendrick’s will to be celebrated in spite of a country that wouldn’t so much have shed a tear if the alternate ending presented on the album’s closing track “Duckworth” had actually played out. But that’s not what happened, and Geraldo Rivera be damned we still have Kendrick to celebrate. It isn’t something we should expect to stop doing any time soon. –Pranav