Congratulations: You all made it through one year of Trump’s four (!) year presidency. A round of applause all around! Who knows what 2018 will bring aside from chaos and misery. As we stare down a possible government shutdown, these are the songs you should listen to.
Genre-agnostic trio Young Fathers have been colliding rap and electronic and pop and rock for several years now, carving out a space for themselves as Scotland’s answer to TV On The Radio. But what strikes me about their new single “In My View” is that touring and collaborating with Massive Attack seems to have rubbed off on them. Where in the past their music buzzed and sputtered excitably, there’s a sort of luxuriant darkness to “In My View.” The tension of the track is masterful, a steadily rising wave of clattering beats and processed cries and synth sirens lacing through the backdrop, with the three members dancing in and out for their moments in the spotlight. There’s an unsettling beauty to the whole song, and each time they wrap back around to the chorus it feels like a paean, an attempt to part the clouds that hang around the rest of “In My View.” –Ryan
Mount Eerie’s new single, “Distortion,” begins exactly the way it purports to: with a wave of distortion. That noise eventually fades and we’re left with a rambling first-person narrative about death, one that ties directly into Mount Eerie’s 2017 release A Crow Looked At Me. Phil Elverum’s words are humbling, and though he does directly address his deceased wife in the first verse (“Is it my job to hold whatever’s left of you for all time/ And reenact you for our daughter’s life?”), these lyrics try to make sense of birth and death in a way that is visceral and unnerving and much bigger than one person. As the story goes on, Elverum reveals that he thought he was going to become a parent at 23 when a partner on the road had a pregnancy scare. “But she had her period eventually and I went back to being 23,” he sings. From there he reflects on “a lineage of bad parents and strong daughters withstanding” as he watches a documentary about the ultimate shitty dad, Jack Kerouac. This song creates unavoidable comparisons to late-career Mark Kozelek, but what is most striking about it is not so much the spoken-word rumination on death’s inevitability and the toils of parenthood so much as it is its length. This thing runs for 10 minutes and 58 seconds — an audacious, forbidden length for a single. It’s almost rude to present the public with an offering this hefty and indigestible, almost like saying, “This is what I wanted to say and I know it’s long but if you can’t stick with me that’s fine. I don’t really need you.” If you do stick with it, though, you’re likely to end up in a puddle of your own tears. That’s what it is to be an artist. —Gabriela
Abject heaviness plus otherworldly beauty adds up to such a magnificent rush, even (especially?) with subject matter so hopelessly dour. The towering, graceful, magnificently destructive “Daisy Chain” is a lament about suddenly being left alone because you’re too much to handle and subsequently feeling utterly hollow in the absence of another person’s love. It is Lorde’s “Liability” blown out to widescreen and blasted to smithereens in slow motion. (“Death unto me/ Why suffer through me?” L Morgan sings. How’s that for melodrama?) Rarely do bands come out of the gate sounding as titanically powerful as Bristletongue do here. By way of a throttling post-hardcore churn, faintly glowing dream-pop atmospherics, and fearless vulnerability, the song presents depression and heartbreak in such grandiose strokes that Morgan’s internal turmoil seems to be playing out across the sky — a full-scale apocalypse wrung from one person’s emotional chaos. –Chris
Over the past few years, the Radio Dept. have successfully reinvented themselves as a political band, tempering their blissed-out indie-pop with a dancefloor pulse and using it to soundtrack their antifascist manifestos. But even when they’re putting the Swedish arms industry on blast, they can’t help but make it sound a little bit like a hug. Clearly, they were put on this earth to make very pretty music, and on “Your True Name,” they’ve decided to make the prettiest music they can possibly make, returning to the warm, interlocking guitars of their early work. There’s still a political undercurrent here, but it’s more obliquely optimistic than angry, steadfastly refusing to stop believing in a better future: “As expected, we will reach that shore/ Any time now, any time.” And if that shore is anything like the Radio Dept.’s music, it really will be utopia. –Peter
There’s a lot going on here. There’s the moment where the beat dissolves, James Blake howls a few words through a snowstorm, and then a whole new beat kicks in. There’s the moment when Kendrick Lamar claims to be a “born warrior, looking for euphoria,” or the moment where Kendrick Lamar claims to be “in the Magnum, holding Magnums with a Magnum.” There’s the formerly staid Jay Rock trying out a new stutter-step flow that, it turns out, suits him nicely. Most notably, there’s the moment where Future suddenly adapts a squeaky little kid playground-mockery voice to gibber about “la-di-da-di-da, slob on mi nob.” But the soul of the song might be the very end, when Kendrick, rap’s reigning messiah, rebels against the role into which people like us have slotted him: “Not your message, not your freedom, not your people, not your neighbor… not the title y’all want me under.” And yet Kendrick got Disney to underwrite a weird-as-hell all-star throwdown like this. So he’s something. –Tom