Guys, it has been A WEEK. Woof! No need to recap. We all lived through it, we don’t need to do it again. And if we can survive this circle of Hell, we can survive anything. But enough about “Walk On Water”! That pile didn’t drop till today, and therefore wasn’t even eligible for this week’s list. Next week, maybe? Haha. No. NOOOPE. Nah. Well, maybe. Look, we can never say never, but friends, let’s put it this way: If that song is on next week’s 5 Best, it will have been a truly dire week. This week sucked, make no mistake, but at least we got some motherfucking tunes.
Watching the Staves and yMusic perform together for the first time at Eaux Claires last year was one of the highlights of the entire festival, and to see them capture those confidently uneasy first steps of collaboration together and harness them into something as great as their upcoming album, The Way Is Read, is a pleasure. “Trouble On My Mind” is a true beauty. It combines the Staves’ earthly voices with yMusic’s elegantly gentle pull, working in tandem to create something that feels and sounds weightless and refined. That’s reflected in the video for the song, which was directed by yMusic flautist Alex Sopp, and features do-it-yourself classical sculptures that look graceful but simple, attainable but incomparably beautiful, much like the music that the Staves and yMusic have made with each other. –James
“Told You So” is a great Miguel song, and great Miguel songs are usually about fucking. But in a recent interview with Billboard, Miguel seemed to indicate that his new album War & Leisure would be about, well, a very different kind of getting fucked: “We’re dealing with these same problems, this injustice, wars between politicians with egos. Like, 140 characters are going to get us into a war right now?” On its surface, “Told You So” is another song about sex and love, but the video features flashbacks of protests and explosions as Miguel dances in a barren wasteland, and there’s an oddly apocalyptic feel to his pronouncement that “Every pleasure you taste has its price, babe.” But whether the “devilspeak” on his tongue is meant to be the sweet nothings of a unrepentant lothario or an actual devil luring humanity to its self-inflicted doom, “Told You So” works because it sounds so damn good. Miguel is a chameleon of a performer, and he sometimes got lost in the psychedelic wilderness of 2015’s still very good Wildheart. But “Told You So” is sleek, lithe, and focused, driven by a squelchy synth-bass groove and stabs of funky guitar. It is, in other words, a great Miguel song. I don’t want to say I told you so, but… –Peter
If Kamaiyah’s Interscope debut, Don’t Ever Get It Twisted, ends up forever banished to the same dark ethereal record-label void where Birdman is imprisoning Tha Carter 5, we as a society will have suffered a profound loss. Thankfully, all she does is dope shit, so Before I Wake, the stopgap mixtape she unveiled this week, provided a satisfying fix in the meantime. The Oakland queen remains a fun, endearing, understated presence on the mic; here her syllables crawl across a loop of 808 kicks and creeping bass, assembling a string of casual flexes like “Bitch please/ My K-Swiss cost more than your weave.” As ever, she says a lot with the simplest turns of phrase. –Chris
The phrase “what a time to be alive” meant one thing when Drake and Future used it as an album title more than two years ago. It means something very, very different now. North Carolina punk staples Superchunk have never been an especially political band; up until now, their greatest on-record nemesis was an asshole boss on “Slack Motherfucker.” But on the title track of their forthcoming album, Superchunk take in the full wreckage of American life in the year 2017: “The scum, the same, the fucking lies/ Oh what a time to be alive.” Musically, the song is exactly the sort of fired-up, joyous pogo music that Superchunk have always done really, really well. But there’s real spite and acid in the way Mac McCaughan diagnoses the shittiness of his fellow aging white men: “A shadow breathing through a straw/ Clinging to the myth that you were cheated/ Yeah, the myth that you were robbed.” –Tom
From a pure songwriting standpoint, Johanna Warren is an underrated artist in our time: Her music is unfailingly beautiful, and often manages to find a place where it can be relatable and emotive while remaining enigmatic. Then, of course, there’s also the whole other part of her identity, her being a practitioner of healing arts, or her stories, like having a ghost co-write a song (i.e., a literal “ghostwriter”). This is the kind of stuff that could turn some listeners off, or could at least become a “narrative” heavy enough to overshadow Warren’s inherent strengths as an artist. Just as often, it’s an invitation for a deeper connection with her music, like “Here To Tell,” a new preview of her forthcoming Gemini II.
Warren’s background benefits her music on two levels. It gives her a channel to craft each record with a grounding concept — Gemini II is linked to last year’s Gemini I, both of them about particular Geminis in her life and featuring easter egg ties between songs — making it all a little more layered than straightforwardly confessional folk music. Or, you don’t have to give a shit about any of that at all. The fact is that Warren’s spiritual inclinations seep into the music and make it feel like something more than a structural arrangement of, in the instance of “Here To Tell,” meditative guitar and twinkling piano and her dreamlike melody. The way Warren puts these elements together, gentle backdrop keens puncturing her incantatory vocals, makes the song unfold like a hazy ritual. Like the best of Warren’s writing, “Here To Tell” starts melancholic but winds up being transportive. Initially, it sounds haunting. But by the end, you feel cleansed. –Ryan