This week in headlines: Iceage Are Everyone’s Favorite Danish Lads, We Stan For Kacey Musgraves, Hop Along Got Mad Love For ICP And Ani DiFranco, Lil Dicky Is The Fucking Worst, Westerman Is An Artist You Ought To Look Out For, and Katy Perry <3 Chicken Nuggets.
The five best songs for the week slay. Check ‘em out below.
“Prior Things” is one of the prettiest songs about a shroom trip to ever exist. As Frances Quinlan downs them in the first line, Hop Along follow her into a distorted reality where paranoia and tranquility exist in equal measure. Those opening strings are sweat-inducing, palms clammy as the seemingly life-altering revelations come in waves. Quinlan alternates between omniscient prescience and sounding like she doesn’t know anything, looking over at another person and seeing their totality for immeasurable love and hurt. It’s about the fear of rejection, a complete loss of control — hedging your bets and shielding yourself from pain by not admitting your true feelings.
“When you finally go, when you choose to go, I resume my little lower road,” she sings. “Nobody needs to know, will know that I ever meant to leave my little lower road.” Later on, she morphs that into “Nobody will know that I was only holding your place on this, your lower road,” turning it into one of Quinlan’s trademark circuitous turns of phrase that occupies the entire song, makes it feel like you’re in a room full of mirrors. It’s the sort of nauseous thought loop that probably lasts for only a couple minutes during a trip, but could have an incalculable effect, and “Prior Things” captures that with a fittingly poignant urgency. –James
Empath’s “The Eye” sounds like friendship. It’s careening chaos, the kind that can only be shaped into something substantial by people who know how to have fun together. The song opens with the tinkling sound of wind chimes before a synth begins to echo it, eventually overtaking those delicate twinkles entirely. The spurt of noise that follows is a melodic piece of noisy power-pop accompanied by vocals that move in and out of focus. The chorus reminds me of Tilly And The Wall, a band that knew how to orchestrate madness into something melodic and unhesitant. This is pop music at its scrappiest, the kind of song you’ll hear and think: How do they do that? I wanna do that. —Gabriela
London singer-songwriter Westerman caught the world’s attention, and ours, last month with his new single “Confirmation.” Its B-side, “I Turned Away,” his latest collaboration with producer Bullion, is less immediate but perhaps even more powerful, a minimal and emotionally direct take on his particular brand of cosmopolitan late-night pop. Over a muted pulse punctuated by streaks of guitar and synth, Westerman croons a sort of defeatist anthem, his voice plaintive and raw: “I’m old enough to give up on this romance/ I was hoping we’d deserve more/ I turned away, I turned away, I turned away from all these moments.”
It’s an elegy for capital-R romance, for the starry-eyed dreams beaten out of you by adulthood. But despite all of that, it still manages to maintain some of that magical, melodic spark, echoing in the ample negative space between the notes. If Westerman’s dream, his idea of romance, is life as a successful musician, then songs like this one are going to take him closer than ever. He may have turned away, but now the world is turning to him. –Peter
“Glue” begins in a precarious place, both in the abstract and in the realities of its structure. Initially, the various members of Bernice almost appear to be on their own trip here: Robin Dann’s melody is pretty and clear, but it floats over a minor cacophony of competing elements: basslines and broken-down beats out of sync, random noise interjections. It sounds like a song falling apart before it’s begun, the kind of thing that can make an artist come across as chasing weirdness for weirdness’ sake.
But that’s not really what’s going on here. Rather than hearing a song figuring itself out in the process, you’re hearing a song become itself over the course of its four and a half minute existence. No part seems like it should fit together at first — not the disparate instrumentation, not the off-kilter beginning and the Stereolab-esque space-age lounge jam that it eventually locks into. The title “Glue” might come from the lyrics, but it also applies to what Bernice do over the course of the song. They take all these separate facets and move them around to see how they fit, how they complement or fight against each other. And then when that puzzle is finished, and everything adheres, it results in the sort of gorgeous, surprising end result you can’t quite picture when all the discrete pieces are first spread out in front of you. –Ryan
The best albums produce the worst fucking trope in this column: that hemming, hawing tap-dance where one of us explains that any number of standout tracks from a record could have cracked this list and that choosing between them was an excruciating, Sophie’s Choice-like exercise that nearly tore our poor music-critic souls apart, and that, in the face of such adversity, we steeled ourselves and settled on one song to spotlight in a Herculean feat of self-sacrificial service journalism, all the while assuring our readers that on any given day we might have chosen a different song because have you heard this album, all the songs are so good.
Consider that my preemptive apology for what’s about to transpire. Now, let’s tap-dance.
Damn was it difficult to decide which Golden Hour track would be featured in this space! Even once you set aside the singles Kacey Musgraves already released from the project, the 10 remaining selections are stunners all. You’ve still got the lovestruck digital swoon “Oh, What A World,” as spellbinding as the magic it details, and “Love Is A Wild Thing,” which proves Musgraves can still write a bravura MOR country song when she feels like it. There are the piano ballads “Mother” and “Rainbow,” each one such a classic-vintage songwriting flex that you could probably convince me they were written in 1974 if they weren’t so clearly speckled with Musgraves’ creative DNA. There are “Lonely Weekend” and “Happy & Sad,” two twilight countrypolitan delights that deftly detail the downsides of falling madly in love. The hyperbole could easily carry on down the rest of the tracklist. The title Golden Hour partially refers to the moment of transcendent bliss Musgraves has been experiencing in her personal life, but make no mistake, these are halcyon days for her career as well.
It almost feels like a cheat to highlight side 1, track 1 on an album so overflowing with riches. (Not as much of a cheat as rhapsodizing about a half-dozen other songs before getting around to the actual pick, mind you.) Yet “Slow Burn,” Golden Hour’s casually masterful opening bow, also ranks among the project’s most extraordinary offerings. Even on a record this stacked, you don’t just put any song up front.
As Tom noted earlier this week, “Musgraves could pull a full Taylor Swift and go all the way pop in a couple of albums, and her music would still sound at least a little bit country because it’s ingrained in that voice.” That Texan twang is in there on “Slow Burn,” same as ever, but it’s accented by echoes of artful folk-rock records from a decade and a half ago. The hushed guitar and banjo undercurrent glimmers with a mystique that reminds me of Seven Swans, Sufjan Stevens’ collection of apocalyptic campfire ballads. The lush orchestration that unfolds around that foundation resembles the magnificent sweep of Beck’s Sea Change. Yet the story that unfolds atop this gorgeous canvas is unmistakably Musgraves.
A lot of reviews are quoting a particular line — “Texas is hot, I can be cold/ Grandma cried when I pierced my nose” — because it so exemplifies Musgraves’ talent for turning couplets into something greater than the sum of their parts, as well as the way age is softening her rebellious qualities into something more like wisdom. What you’ll learn when you listen, though, is that “Slow Burn” is full of lyrics that good. It’s a song about taking your time and letting life and love come at you as they may, savoring every detail, and that’s exactly how you should enjoy it. Soak it up. Bask in it on repeat, appreciating every flourish. Just be sure to give the rest of Golden Hour that same level of attention. –Chris