Did you hear the news? Gordi and Queens Of The Stone Age made an album together! What a wonderful, totally unexpected surprise. Speaking of surprises: brand new Band New is out and we just might be gearing up for Taylor Swift’s inevitable singer-songwriter album. The week has been ripe with exciting music news and terrible political news; dive into the best songs we’ve heard as of late below.
Brockhampton season is upon us. The LA-via-Texas collective have been on a roll, releasing about a single a week since the beginning of the month. Their latest is a song called “Junky,” which is helmed by the crew’s leader Kevin Abstract. Lyrically, “Junky” takes up as much space as it possibly can. “Why you always rap about being gay?” Abstract (who is queer) poses a question before he immediately turns around and answers it. “Cuz not enough niggas rap and be gay / Where I come from, niggas get called faggot and killed.” That’s about as to-the-point as a verse can be, and Abstract delivers it over a beat that could soundtrack the anxiety-inducing moment in a horror film when the victim unknowingly delivers themselves for slaughter. It’s an airy bit of production that gives Abstract the floor, never stepping into his zone, not even for a minute. “I do the most for the culture by just existing.” This is Kevin Abstract at his most. –Gabriela
On Sprained Ankle, her debut album, Julien Baker told stark, intense, emotional truths over stark, intense, emotional music. She’s still telling those truths. “Appointments,” the first single from her bigger-indie-label debut, is as scraped-raw and devoid of light as anything that Baker has recorded. “Maybe it’s all gonna turn out all right/ And I know that it’s not/ But I have to believe that it is,” she sings, repeating “I have to believe it is” over and over, like an endless reminder. But the music isn’t spare anymore. The guitars ring like Coldplay imitating U2, the pianos hit like icy stabs of empathy, and Baker’s voice has grown vast, powerful, overwhelming. (She produced all this herself, by the way.) When the song hits its crescendo, it’s so gorgeous and huge and stately that it could work as a prom theme, if any proms wanted to use crippling depression for their themes. Baker has found ways to blow her sound out without losing any of the emotional punch. “Appointments” could soundtrack the saddest montage in Grey’s Anatomy history, and that is a good thing. More people deserve a chance to feel that exquisite sadness along with her. –Tom
So many of Makthaverskan’s peers have emerged out of Gothenburg in the years since 2013’s II that we were spared from acutely feeling the lack of new material from this band. Only now that they’re finally back is it sinking in how long they’ve been gone and what we’ve been missing as a result. “In My Dreams” strikes Makthaverskan’s signature balance between swooning indie-pop reverie and bashed-out post-punk urgency, reviving that rare ability to maintain intensity even in soft focus. Maja Milner, always the focal point of Makthaverskan’s glimmering onslaught, remains capable of sending any song soaring right along with her voice, but this isn’t just any song. It’s yet another example of this unit’s knack for rocketing through the cracks between serene subconscious and the harsh reality of waking life. –Chris
Questions of authenticity have dogged rock since the beginning, and Alvvays’ latest single, “Plimsoll Punks,” is a rejoinder to those who make value judgements based on what one wears or what kind of music they listen to or play. The Canadian band specifically frame it as a response to Television Personalities’ sneering track “Part Time Punks,” which claims that the ’70s suburbanites that would come to claim certain aspects of the punk aesthetic just aren’t doing it right. But “Plimsoll Punks” fights back against a continuum of songs that question someone’s punk credentials, and Molly Rankin takes that vapid, empty way of thinking and spins it into confectionary in the song’s first lines: “When I chip through your candy coating, you’re stuffed with insulation/ Just strawberry ice cream floating with a sprinkle of indignation.” Alvvays make bouncy and melodically bubbly music that you can imagine certain people turning their nose up at for not being “authentic” enough, but “Plimsoll Punks” is emphatic in showing how that attitude shuts down the conversation: “Your posture’s blocking out any possible light/ I can hardly see/ This conversation spirals into a fight/ I can barely see.” And it seems like an extra little fuck-you that “Plimsoll Punks” happens to be one of the catchiest and most accessible tracks the band has ever made. That seems pretty punk to me? –James
“Call The Police” and “American Dream” might’ve been the earliest previews of LCD Soundsystem’s long-awaited fourth album, but the first piece of new LCD music I heard since their reunion (aside from that Christmas song, which, whatever) was “Tonite,” the first new song performed at the first of many, many Brooklyn Steel shows the band is playing this year. It was a serious holy shit chills moment to be there in that room, with just under 2,000 other people, hearing new LCD Soundsystem music almost six years to the day since I saw their erstwhile goodbye show at Madison Square Garden. It took a second for the subtle shock of that moment to wear off, and then one holy shit chills moment ceded to another: The first new LCD music I heard in 2017 was fucking great.
“Tonite” felt, and feels, like an instant LCD classic — both a logical extension of their past and a song that plausibly could’ve been on one of their other records. There’s a practical basis for this in that “Tonite” goes all-in on prime LCD elements. There are some surprising and exhilarating left turns on American Dream, but “Tonite” is one of the straight-up dancefloor jams. Built on a synth that sounds like a sputtering laser gun and a repetitive groove, it allows James Murphy to coast through his “late era middle-aged ramblings” on the State Of Things. It’s a gentler, less acerbic echo of “Losing My Edge” for 2017, laced with comments about the condition of the airwaves and pop alongside moments of true poignancy, where it seems like Murphy could be addressing himself about his own standing.
Murphy has allowed himself to be meditative before, but he usually hid it within sardonic critiques or cultural analyses. That’s here, but while he still plays the cooler-than-thou commenter (in a self-aware way), the gradual build of “Tonite” takes it to some older, wiser moments of honesty. “You hate the idea that you’re wasting your youth/ That you stood in the background until you got older/ But that’s all lies,” Murphy sings, first trafficking in the same passage-of-time anxiety that’s often made LCD’s music so resonant. But that flip, that new resolution in a brief refrain of “That’s all lies,” is part of what makes “Tonite” such a jubilant moment, a realization that they’re really back, and it matters. We spent the next five years (OK, six and a half to be precise) waiting for new LCD and, damn, it was worth it: That time away has only deepened Murphy’s perspective. –Ryan