The Grammys go down this weekend and we’re all quaking with anticipation. Will Jay-Z win the coveted Album Of The Year trophy as we predicted, leaving Kendrick out in the cold again? We’ll have to tune in Sunday to find out. In the meantime, check out the five best songs of the week below.
Yeah, I know the credo — “work hard and say it’s easy” — but still, if you’re Julian Casablancas, it’s gotta burn a little bit. You write the best fucking songs… and then these anonymous dumbasses on the internet talk shit about how you’d be nothing without your old man’s money. You write the best fucking songs… and then you’ve got these four other jokers calling for a “family meeting,” saying it’s only fair that they get to write some songs too, like that’s gonna reflect well on anybody. You write the best fucking songs… and then you wake up on the wrong side of 35, an ensemble player in somebody else’s book, while the Killers and Fall Out Boy are somehow even bigger than they were back then. It’s gotta burn a little bit.
Eventually, understandably, you just bail on the whole tired scene, fuck off outta here, watch the world die from up in White Plains or wherever. Let them eat brunch. But you don’t go full John Galt or JD Salinger. Nah, man. You serve up a ’75 Lou Reed, the real strong stuff. You hire a whole posse of new guns, and this time? You write the weirdest, most irritating, most caustic… “songs”? Would you call them “songs”? Haha. You call them voids, and you spell it with a “z.” Anybody doesn’t like it? Door’s right there. Life iz good! You feel calm, focused, refreshed, loose. You feel free. You’re no longer competing for anything. You’re never gonna be the biggest band, OK, but sometimes — real talk here? — sometimes you look at that guy in Arcade Fire and you think to yourself, there but for the grace of God. As for being the best? Hey, you did that already, now you are trying a different thing. It’s working for you.
But then one day — and who knows why — but one day you go on Twitter and you find out, no joke, you’re getting body-shamed by a 43-year-old herb who has literally spent hundreds of thousands of American dollars on vintage pinball machines that he keeps in a climate-controlled furnished basement or some shit. The same dude whose own “best fucking songs” are droopy covers of “Wonderwall” and Taylor Swift’s 1989. That wack-ass poseur who openly worshipped you and made a whole album trying to clone your old gig but wiped out so hard he had to move to LA. That dude. For real. It’s gotta burn a little bit. Maybe all these dopes need a reminder. Maybe you need one.
So you put down the phone and pick up the guitar. You plunk out a little four-note bass line on the low E. You spend all morning getting that crinkled-newspaper clean tone that you’re gonna kick out low in the mix when a line’s gotta pop just a tiny bit. Your voice sinks into a sweet melody and finds a tight hook — for the bridge, maybe? You can see from here how you’re gonna glide into that shift on the first chorus. However you do it, man; you know how you do it. As the hours (and hours) pile up, the song starts to sound like the thing you hear in your head. When you wrap, it sounds, y’know, absolutely seamlessly divinely perfect: like a lilting breeze that you lazily snatched outta the sky on an early July afternoon. “Never let it bother me,” you sing on the last chorus — the part where you twist the melody and jump to your scratchy falsetto for a sec — “that’s not my style.” Work hard and say it’s easy: That is your style. You actually don’t even have to say anything anymore. You make it look so easy, feel so easy, sound so easy… like anybody can do this. You know the truth, though. Nobody can do this. Nobody else. –Michael
Johanna Warren’s songs sift through spiritual crises and existential questions with alarming ease, and though the conflicts she chooses to write about are often complex, the solutions she poses are simple. On “Hopelessness Has Done Nothing For Me,” Warren’s narrator describes a relationship on the brink of collapse. “How can you be sorry when you don’t even know what you did?/ You can take your stories to hell, I’ve got nothing left to give,” she sings. Warren’s guitar and keys carry you through this argument in a way that feels cyclical; it starts to feel like a song you’ve already heard, a story that’s been told. “And I know it’s happening again/ You opened up your heart and let somebody in/ Now you’ve got a stranger in your home/ You could kick him out but then you would be alone.” That chorus repeats itself, but Warren messes with the wording as a final act of resolution. “Well now it’s happening again/ You opened up your heart and let somebody in/ Now you’ve got a stranger in your home,” she sings. “Might as well sit down and try to get to know him.” –Gabriela
Remember the Peggy-Ted storyline from Mad Men? If you don’t, sorry, I’m about to spoil it for you. Peggy, the young woman who spent the series transforming from from a doe-eyed secretary into a sophisticated creative professional, had been carrying on an emotional affair with older, married ad exec Ted. In the season 6 finale, Ted showed up at Peggy’s apartment to profess his love for her, consummate their flirtations, and promise to leave his wife for her. In the harsh light of day, he changed his mind and let Peggy know he was transferring to the California office to keep his penis as far away from her as possible. “Someday you’ll be glad I made this decision,” he told her. Her bitter reply: “Well aren’t you lucky, to have decisions.”
Hearing Camp Cope singer Georgia Maq scream her guts out here — “Maybe I’ll tell everyone I cried while you sleep next to your wife for the rest of your life!” — I immediately thought of that story and what it exhibits about the fallout from powerful men’s capricious entanglements. The casually intense “How To Socialise & Make Friends” puts surprisingly springy music to those all-too-common feelings of loss and betrayal, barreling along at head-bob tempo as Maq struggles toward some semblance of closure. By the end, she’s getting there: “I can see myself living without you and being fine for the rest of my life/ It’s just me on my bike, yeah, and I wave to you as I ride by.” –Chris
There’s an entire cottage industry of Alex Giannascoli rarities that extends far outside the material he’s officially released and even farther outside the more codified album path he’s been pursuing as of late, most recently with last year’s Rocket. “Fay,” the track that Giannascoli uploaded to his personal YouTube channel last week, feels more in line with something you’d stumble across in a deep internet k-hole. Its lack of temporality is part of its charm — it’s unclear whether this has been kicking around on a hard-drive for a couple years or if Giannascoli made it was recently and was stoked enough on it to share right away — but it so wholly reflects his songwriting qualities that it doesn’t much matter when it’s from.
“Fay” is affecting all on its own, one of the best in a lineage of (Sandy) Alex G songs where he pitch-shifts his voice to adopt another persona. Like “Icehead” or “I’m Not Like The Other Girls” before it, “Fay” feeds off this sped-up tension; the onomatopoeic police siren whine of a hook wouldn’t work nearly as well without it. The rest of Giannascoli’s words feel feverish in comparison: resigned and melancholic and beguilingly catchy. But, really, the entire track is a showcase for the sort of deft layers and insular worlds that Alex G is able to construct so well, a singular gem that absolutely consumes you. –James
“How Simple?” Yeah, right. “How simple my heart can be/ Frightens me,” Frances Quinlan sings, but in reality, our lives and our big, dumb feelings are anything but. “I suppose one who hasn’t seen earlier frames/ Could say I am advancing up this road,” she also sings — it’s all a matter of perspective. From one perspective, “How Simple” is a simple song, Hop Along at their poppiest making a straightforward breakup anthem built around one biting refrain: “Don’t worry, we will both find out/ Just not together.” From another perspective, it’s something messier and more complicated than that, a song about examining yourself and your own uncertain trajectory, cresting and falling with the mercurial timbre of Quinlan’s voice. But no matter what perspective you’re coming from, one thing is certain: Hop Along are a great band, and this is a great song. I guess it is that simple. –Peter