The 5 Best Songs Of The Week

The 5 Best Songs Of The Week

It’s been cold enough in New York this week that finding the inspiration to leave the office to take a walk and get away from the screen for a little while has been extremely unappealing. Because of this, all of the Stereogum crew that works out of this hellscape of a city has a bit of cabin fever, hence the publication of pieces like Is Microsoft’s Paul Allen The New Jimi Hendrix? An Investigation and Someone Mashed Up The Mountain Goats’ “This Year” And The Space Jam Theme. In other news: Quincy Jones Is Still On One, Carrie Brownstein Talked To Scott Lapatine About All Kinds Of Exciting Stuff, Neutral Milk Hotel’s In The Aeroplane Over The Sea Is 20, and Elon Musk Made A Very Expensive Car Commercial Set To David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” Check out the five best songs of the week below.

5. PJ Harvey & Harry Escott – “An Acre Of Land”

Part of the initial myth of Polly Jean Harvey was that she came from nowhere. Harvey grew up on a family farm deep in the English village of Coscombe, nowhere near any population centers, and her first guitar teacher got her deep into ancestral American blues music. So even when Harvey first emerged as a righteously feral young rocker, her music seemed to speak to a romantic image of desolate, fog-swept moors. On “An Acre Of Land,” Harvey taps deep into that side of her persona. Singing an old English traditional, Harvey’s voice is strong and still and lonely. The film composer Harry Escott surrounds that voice with ominous drones and chilly piano tones while Harvey plucks at a delicate autoharp. There’s a stillness to the song, a sense of quiet foreboding. Harvey contributed the song to the new movie Dark River, a thriller set in the English countryside, and it’s hard to imagine a song more perfectly suited for a movie like that. –Tom

4. Frankie Cosmos – “Being Alive”

The premise of “Being Alive” is simple: Life is a remarkable gift, try not to squander it. Frankie Cosmos has a penchant for writing songs that convey big ideas through straightforward lyrics and melodies that implant themselves into your brain tissue. This song starts out with a count off and rapid-fire spitballing stream-of-consciousness about liking someone so much that you can’t really figure out what to do or say around them. “I see you in everything/ My vocabulary’s limited/ But I wanna tell it all to you/ If I could would you want me to?” Greta Kline sings, before slowing down the tempo and imparting a bit of wisdom after unleashing a flurry of pure feelings. “Being alive/ Matters quite a bit/ Even when you/ Feel like shit.” It’s a sentiment that will mean a whole lot to someone who has fallen out of love or had a crummy day or just isn’t feeling quite like themselves. –Gabriela

3. Katie Dey – “Data”

In the Old Testament, one way God manifests Himself is as a cloud that leads the Israelites through 40 years in the desert and fills up the Temple in Jerusalem on its opening day. Nowadays many people worship a different cloud, finding blessed assurance in a lifetime’s worth of gigabytes safely stockpiled away. “Data” suggests you can count Katie Dey among the faithful. Her latest pop deconstruction is both alluring and terrifying: a love song for intemporal storage space sung by a weary technophile who sounds halfway through uploading her soul. Over disintegrating piano chords and under a halo of distortion, Dey exalts, “Hold it on your servers, hold it on your drives/ Hold me up in your folders, hold me up in the sky.” When the transhumanists take over someday, this one’s going in their hymnal. –Chris

2. U.S. Girls – “Rosebud”

In which Meg Remy makes disco, canonically one of the least cool genres of music, sound cool as hell. Co-written by club remix master Rich Morel, “Rosebud” is sleek, slinky, and understated, letting the ample empty space between its jazzy guitar notes and synthesizer burbles breathe free and easy as the beat shuffles forward. While the other singles from U.S. Girls’ upcoming album In A Poem Unlimited have been outwardly angry in their response to patriarchal society, this is something looser and more elliptical, with Remy exhorting you to liberate yourself from your metaphorical “cage” and “Take a drive/To the back alleys of your mind.” It’s half emancipation and half come-on, but there’s a subtle edge to Remy’s breathy soft-sell. “It’ll hurt/ I promise you,” she concludes her seduction. Everything good always does. –Peter

1. Half Waif – “Keep It Out”

Relationships can be rough. I’m not talking about the run-of-the-mill fractures, the heartbreak or tumultuous fights. I’m talking about the sheer impossibility of maintaining them that lingers at their core. The fact that you can know someone so deeply and still, on some level, never know them at all. The slow death of invisible walls slowly creeping up between you and the person with whom you’re supposedly closest. The numbness of a distance growing around the heart of a relationship, like a cancer whose origin you can’t quite identify.

It’s those sort of romantic struggles, the more fundamental and abstract ones, that Nandi Rose Plunkett is reckoning with on Half Waif’s new song “Keep It Out.” Her lyrics are brutally efficient in taking those ineffable battles and making them concrete. “I’ll keep you out/ So you never see me unraveling,” goes the main line in the chorus; it could be about that classic fear of letting people really see you, or it could be about something more matter-of-fact and final, the moment where you only have the energy to handle yourself and can no longer sustain a partnership.

The second verse is the heaviest, though: “We seek to settle, we make a home/ It’s fun for a little, until it’s old/ And so it withers, like all the rest/ Til we’re sleeping like strangers/ On the opposite sides of the bed.” Plunkett begins with a broadstroke narrative, the anxiety of being young and in a relationship and trying to keep a handle on your identity while going along with what people in relationships do, and then narrows it into that image of sleeping on opposite sides of the bed, a small but thunderous representation of the end-game with which she closes the song: “Watch me while I disengage/ It might even feel nice.” After all that, an ending might be relief.

The words alone would make “Keep It Out” a resounding composition, but the structure of the song is so masterful that it makes Plunkett’s narrative hit that much harder as she moves from reflection to resolve. It begins suggestive and anxious, gooey synths underneath Plunkett’s airy vocal, which recalls Kate Bush. The song shape-shifts, but slowly and subtly, a beat sputters to life and a restrained groove builds up in the first chorus, slight propulsion towards an inevitable destination. By the time you get to the second and final chorus, it feels like a sneak attack: Those synths have grown molten, the airiness of the track has tightened and become suffocating, the way the air wraps and closes around you when a violent storm is approaching.

Then it’s simply gone. Over. It feels like that chorus should happen once more, and it never comes back. In a way, that’s the genius of the song, echoing the lyrics: You can try to give yourself to someone, but sometimes it’s not enough to break through some intangible barrier, and all you have left to do is close back up, shut it down. Cut it off — even while you might sit there wondering what the next part would have sounded like. –Ryan