We welcomed a new Justin Timberlake album into the world this week and guess what? It’s not great. It’s also not country even though country star Toby Keith is in the credits. Meanwhile, Timberlake’s fellow Bush-era radio stars Fall Out Boy stay true to form on their new album M A N I A, which Chris generously reviewed in The Week In Pop.
As long as we’re on the subject of bloated pop-music institutions: We’re still reeling from the Grammys, and it looks like a lot of other people are too. Recording Academy president Neil Portnow is being asked to step down after he said something stupid about women not trying hard enough and Alessia Cara posted a lengthy, depressing statement addressing backlash over her Best New Artist win. She was the only woman to accept an award during the telecast. Time’s Up everywhere but the music industry it seems. Our five best list this week tells a different story; check it out below.
Honestly, Brianna Hunt had me at the title, but I am pleased to report the real “Which Is To Say, Everything” surpasses the “Which Is To Say, Everything” of my imagination. It does so by demonstrating a subtlety I had not anticipated. Not that this song lacks for drama: Its first half is a shapeless ambient lullaby in which Hunt pines for the literal life partner of her dreams, the musical backdrop meanwhile evoking just such a blissful reverie. Then the static rolls in. Spare percussion booms in the distance. A guitar begins cycling through melancholy curlicues at the intersection of post-rock and emo. All of it congeals into a gorgeous cloud of noise so understated that you don’t comprehend its intensity until it dissipates — at which point you’re left with a single keyboard radiating a longing so deep and alluring it threatens to swallow you whole. It’s Julien Baker by way of the Sigur Rós parentheses album, which is to say it’s everything your fragile heart desires. –Chris
Andrew W.K.’s best album, front to back, is 2001’s I Get Wet. That thing absolutely slaps to infinity. It rips from jump and never drops out of the red. Its worst song isn’t that much worse than its best song — and it has six or seven songs that qualify as its best. Also, it has no “worst” song. However, Andrew W.K.’s best stretch of album is the final third of 2003’s The Wolf: “Totally Stupid” through “I Love Music.” That entire four-song run is pure breathless glory, anthemic bombast that flies in the same rarefied air as “November Rain,” “Wasted Years,” and “Across The Sea.” W.K.’s upcoming You’re Not Alone combines both those strengths: It literally opens exactly where The Wolf left off, and it maintains that altitude for its entire runtime. Single #2, “Ever Again,” fucks with some electro-pop elements that remind me a little bit of Art Angels — probably a coincidence, but it does my heart good to imagine Andrew W.K. finding inspiration in Grimes’ masterpiece — building to a chorus that sounds like Godzilla reading Deepak Chopra while toppling skyscrapers to a Judas Priest riff. Those lyrics … I mean, you can hear a few different layers of meaning in those lyrics, depending on your degree of Andrew W.K. obsession, but most obviously, I think they intend to signal a newfound commitment to the original mission. The man is centered, focused, and at the top of his game. “Ever Again” could easily qualify as the best song on the new album. But this is Andrew W.K., for whom the best is the baseline. You’re Not Alone gets even better. –Michael
Laura Veirs’ forthcoming album The Lookout is influenced by some pretty heavy material: the fucked state of our country, losing people as you get older, the general reckonings that come with aging and starting a family. There’s a plaintive tone to its gorgeous lead single “Everybody Needs You,” but otherwise you might not guess that there was so much darkness surrounding the song. A lilting track build on the interplay of acoustic guitar, strings, a programmed beat, and fluttery synth interjections, “Everybody Needs You” almost sounds like a lullaby. Maybe that’s a very intentional response on Veirs’ part, though: “Everybody Needs You” faces down anxieties and fears that are part of the atmosphere these days, but rather than feed into or rage against them, it offers a reflection, a salve. –Ryan
High school is a teeming pit of insecurity, and Soccer Mommy’s new song is an homage to the cool girls who make getting through the day-to-day hell seem effortless. This character exists in our collective conscience as much as she does in film and TV; she’s Effy in Skins, Michelle in Dazed And Confused; she’s vulnerable and completely untouchable at the same time; she can hang with the guys but she’s not one of them. “Mary has a heart of coal/ She’ll break you down and eat you whole/ I saw her do it after school/ She’s an animal,” Sophie Allison explains, before the chorus hits and she admits to having some obsessive desire to be just like this Mary. “I wanna know like you/ I wanna be that cool,” she yearns as the heavy bassline falls away, consumed by keys and a swirling guitar part.
I, too, had a cool girl when I was in high school. I guess we can call her Mary. She was slender but not skinny with dark black wavy hair and icy blue eyes. She wore simple clothes and this silver and onyx ring. She smoked cigarettes, never dated anyone at school (though I assumed she had a zillion older suitors), and rarely spoke aloud. When she did, it was in this hushed, husky, magic voice. While I’m sure that Mary had a whole host of problems unknown to me, I wanted to be her because she was so good at existing without being the loudest person in the room or the prettiest girl at the party or the nicest friend you ever had. She was simply cool. I wanted to be that too. –Gabriela
Wye Oak are one of the most consistently great bands of our time, and their newest album is perhaps a perfect synthesis of the group’s guitar-rock beginnings and their synth-ier ambitions over the last few years. “The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs” sounds like the sort of high-speed chase through your inner demons that only this band could conjure, and Jenn Wasner imbues so much into her breathy intonations here. It sounds methodical and haunting, a persistent echo and ache: “I search for patterns/ Sense that isn’t there/ You can have everything/ And still have nothing,” she sings. “So I take them all apart/ And then I put them back/ Sometimes it takes a long, long, long time.” The central hook, with its frenetic guitar line and stumbling forward motion, is one of the best things this band has dreamed up, and it serves as the driving heart of a song that’s all about life’s eternal search for grand purpose. –James