Oh boy, if you thought 2018 would be any better than 2017, hopefully the first proper work week of the year dispelled you of those illusions. A lot of bad things happened this week — Jack White’s new songs, for example — but there were some good mixed in there too. We cemented a new superstar in the form of Camila Cabello, we looked at how Drakeo’s difference is his strength, and we celebrated the first great punk album of the year. Oh, and the five songs below came out. Enjoy! Take two Aleve® and keep it moving!
“All I want/ Is something familiar.” Those are the first lyrics in “Hardly Art,” and they’re close to the only lyrics in “Hardly Art.” But Ryann Slauson sings them with such burning urgency that they feel like a complete story anyway, an element mixture of desperation and righteous fury. The music itself tells the rest of the story, tempering Slauson’s white-hot intensity with shades of melancholy by the twinkling melodic guitar work and then accentuating it with a rhythmic assault, pulling back and then surging forward, capturing every nuance of emotion in as few words as possible. And then there’s this: “It’s hardly art/ When I wait for you/ To comfort me.” It may be hardly art, but it sure makes for a hell of a post-hardcore song. –Peter
Ed Schrader’s Music Beat have come a long way. “Dunce”‘s churning underbelly isn’t exactly unprecedented in the ESMB annals, but it’s more immediate and less avant-garde than pretty much anything that the Baltimore duo has ever put out. Part of that can surely be attributed to the presence of Dan Deacon, their friend and occasional collaborator who produced and wrote the album with them, but most of it seems to stem from a newfound sense of drive for Schrader and Devlin Rice’s project. It’s been four years since the band’s put out an album, and it seems apparent that they were a little tired of playing the role of the underdog. “Dunce” is cocky and sneering, sick of being second fiddle against others who don’t have what it takes: “Dunce can’t get a leg up,” Schrader repeats. “Ya got money for rope.” In an era filled with privileged obliviousness and idiot princes, it feels like a welcome corrective. –James
Merge Records might be one of the all-time great long-running institutions in the history of American indie rock, but it’s not exactly known as a place where you will encounter great singers. Maybe that’s wrong. There have certainly been some great voices on Merge over the years, including the honeyed and vulnerable howl of Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield and the droll and withering croon of the Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt. Both of those voices are on “Erasure,” Superchunk’s new song. But the funny thing about the song is that if you didn’t know Crutchfield and Merritt were on it, you never would’ve guessed. Maybe those voices are mixed a little low in the song, but even if they weren’t, they’d be totally overwhelmed by the adenoidal squawk of Merge co-founder Mac McCaughan. McCaughan isn’t a great singer, the way Crutchfield and Merritt are, but he’s always been perfect for Superchunk. And so the joy of “Erasure” isn’t in hearing these other great singers on this Superchunk song. It’s in hearing yet another charged-up, giddy Superchunk basher. After all these years, Superchunk remain one of our greatest sources of bashed-up tunecraft. They simply refuse to disappoint. And “Erasure” is one more song in a catalog full of them. It’s one thing to help found an iconic indie label. It’s entirely another to keep a string of hits going for this long. –Tom
“I don’t wanna be your fucking dog that you drag around” is a brilliant lyric about dysfunctional romance, and the melody Sophie Allison affixed it to may be even better. On “Your Dog,” her vocal interacts with the music’s steady indie-rock churn as if bobbing in the current of a rolling river. As hooks (and leashes!) are meant to do, it carries you right along with it until you’re so beguiled that you’re willing to publicly identify as a fan of a band called Soccer Mommy. I realize it’s still January, but if Allison’s upcoming Clean includes even two or three more songs this good you might as well pencil it in on your year-end albums list right now. –Chris
David Byrne’s always busy with one project or another, but it’s been a while since he released new music, and a full 14 years since his last full-fledged solo album. All that puts some pressure on “Everybody’s Coming To My House,” the first preview of Byrne’s forthcoming American Utopia, and, man, it delivers. As far as legacy artists from his generation go, Byrne is a portrait of aging perfectly. Part of that might be rooted in the fact that, somehow, his voice is stunningly well-preserved, having barely changed over the decades. But what “Everybody’s Coming To My House” really does is remind you that this is a guy who still has a way with blending pop and the avant-garde, who is still very much capable of crafting weird songs you can dance to. There is a lot of information packed into the track’s three and a half minutes, but it never gets weighed down — the whole thing is breakneck, funky, unwavering. How many lackluster Talking Heads-indebted indie bands have attempted lesser versions of this song in the years where Byrne’s been less active musically? Now, the art-rock master is back to show everyone how it’s done. –Ryan