Hey gang, happy Friday. It has been a week, right? Half of Team Stereogum is at SXSW and the rest of us are just sitting here on Slack hoping to get some gossip from Austin. Nothing so far, though. They’re all going to shows, seeing bands, wearing T-shirts outdoors. It actually sounds like fun, if you’re into that kinda thing? Tunes-wise, though, it’s been a bountiful week both in and out of Texas. Here are the five best.
The thing about motherfucking craft is: You really only unequivocally have to respect it if you care enough to recognize it. Julian Casablancas sweats every fucking detail, all to provide you with songs that sound as loose as Gary Young-era Pavement demos. The dude doesn’t want you to clock all the time he’s spent in the kitchen, so if you don’t, then he’s succeeded. But if you do? Man, he’s just serving up feasts.
I wrote long about “ALienNNation” the other day, so I wanna keep it tight here. To that end, lemme just hit on a few of the cut’s sweetest details, each of which must have taken the man a month to work out. That fuzzy, fat, summer-heat dub-bass vibration-sound that you ride in (and out) on. The way Julian doubles up the vocal track when he jumps an octave or so on the chorus, and the razor-fine harmony he sings with himself. The slightly varying levels of reverb on every individual track in the mix, making the whole thing feel both impossibly massive and a little unsteady. The way he cuts the reverb altogether on the bridge, just letting that click drum keep you belted in while the progression ascends — first the piano, then the vocal — way up till he gets to that sky-high helium-lung part … RIGHT BEFORE he drops you back into the dub groove like it’s the deep end of a swimming pool. Woosh!
And finally (for now), that silk-slippery motherfucking bass run on the bridge. That right there? That is pure CRACK to these ears. Goddamn! You gotta be careful if you’re gonna do that shit! But “careful” isn’t really an issue here. Julian Casablancas makes a mess now and then, but he cares about these songs way more than you do, and way more than you know. If you care enough to recognize that, you can’t help but respect this. –Michael
Just like his beloved Bruce Springsteen, Craig Finn has reached a certain point in his career where simply hearing his voice again, telling his stories, in his America, can be a comfort to longtime fans. Pitched somewhere between the down-and-out everyman tales the Boss made his name on and the more defeated corners of Kerouac’s work where the American landscape’s promise of reinvention doesn’t quite pan out, Finn’s stories and characters exist in a world that’s disenchanted and worn down. And, somehow, it always feels like a warm welcome when you return to them.
That goes for his new standalone single “Galveston,” in which the narrator says he was hoping the titular city “would be more like the song,” just after someone put a gash in his head. As a song, “Galveston” is a dusty and calmly ambling highway tune, fitting for calling out to far-flung places. But it’s that voice, with the grit and whiskey stains that Finn’s accumulated over the years, that lends the whole thing weight. That, by the the song’s conclusive remarks on faith, make Finn sound like one of his forebears — an everyday prophet passing along stories from out in the wasteland. –Ryan
At first I was like “meh,” then I was like “whoa.” Spencer Radcliffe earned Stereogum Artist To Watch honors for the relatively straightforward guitar-driven indie rock he kicks out under his own name, but before he was doing that, he was concocting experimental instrumentals as Blithe Field. His upcoming album under that guise is called Days Drift By, and the title lends itself to this seven-minute slow-burn, one of two tracks he revealed to introduce the project.
“Love Knot” takes its time skittering and floating to its destination, never demanding your attention but doing more than enough to keep it once your brain tunes in. It progresses surely and steadily, shifting shape and texture with enough confidence in the prevailing beauty of it all not to muck it up with too much overzealous action. By the time it ends, you may find yourself marveling that a song without any true climax could feel so goddamn climactic. –Chris
“Solilunita” begins where Elysia Crampton’s last album, 2017’s Spots y Escupitajo, left off, with a few seconds of what sounds like a classic FM radio promo. But it quickly morphs into something very different, a precise yet herky-jerky musique concrète groove that sounds more like someone rigged a Newton’s cradle with contact mics, all cascading metallic plinks and crashes.
Crampton has often used her work to explore themes of trans identity within Aymaran culture, and in a recent Instagram post , she explains that “Solilunita, referencing the masculine & feminine in the spectrum of the cosmos (sun=masc, moon=femme), signals a dual-gendered (chachawarmi in Aymara, qhariwarmi in Quechua) or ‘dual natured’ figure,” a figure that Crampton herself chooses to embody. But the song functions more on a visceral level than a conceptual one, deconstructing centuries of dance music, both modern and traditional, into two-minutes of naked, exhilarating rhythm. –Peter
One significant side-effect of living in a social-media age: We are constantly coming into contact with strange motherfuckers who feel like they’re our best friends. Courtney Barnett might not be a globally dominant superstar, but as a woman living in the public eye, she must know that feeling better than most of us. That what I hear in the lyrics of “Need A Little Time”: “I don’t know a lot about you, but you seem to know a lot about me / So I need a little time out.” (Maybe I’m reading the whole point of the song wrong, in which case: Hey! I’m the problem!)
It’s a mildly discomfiting feeling that Barnett, as a songwriter, is uniquely able to address. Barnett doesn’t really write about life-shattering moments; she’s better on tiny irritants that, when everything lines up wrong, only feel life-shattering. And her fuzzed-up bittersweet hookiness — like the in-their-prime Lemonheads with just the slightest hint of rootsy country twang — hit that feeling dead-on. You don’t have to leave Courtney Barnett alone, but give her a little time out. –Tom