It’s been an exciting week at Stereogum dot com. Kanye is tweeting again and has two new albums on the way, AND we have a new staff writer. Her name is Julia Gray and you might recognize her byline from the time she spent interning with us. Please join us in welcoming Julia! We are so, so stoked to have her on the team, and you’re gonna feel real lucky too when you start reading more of her stuff. She contributed her first ever five best blurb to the list below; dive in!
“Honeycomb” is the correct name for this: so many layers, so much buzzing noise, and oh so sweet. Not sweet in the cute sense, mind you — Deafheaven may have earned their rep for appealing to non-metalheads like me, but they haven’t crossed over into twee preciousness. (Yet.) Sweet as in soft? Sure, sometimes; most of the back half of this 12-minute epic is a deeply pretty post-rock exercise that could easily handle Explosions In The Sky’s emotional heavy lifting on Friday Night Lights. Mostly I mean sweet as in kickass, as in exhilarating, as in “the new Deafheaven song is fucking sweet.” Because it is.
The thing Deafheaven are best known for doing — that convergence of hellish black metal and heavenly shoegaze — is what they give you up front, and man do they give it to you. Brutal blast beats; shrill guttural shrieks; amps-to-11 guitars strummed so fast they blur into noise; flashes of pure, soaring melody. It’s the sound that made Sunbather such a revelation. It remains that good shit. But where “Honeycomb” goes in its fifth minute is what renders the song so delightful.
Deafheaven spent parts of New Bermuda steering their sound away from Sunbather’s violent dream-state aesthetic toward other classic metal touchstones. “Honeycomb” does that too, except the touchstones aren’t exactly metal. Just after the four-minute mark, an intense drum onslaught leads into a section I can only describe as hard rock at its poppiest. The drums bash away with straightforward urgency. The bass is not only audible in the mix, it rolls playfully across every drum fill as if we’re hearing some ’60s rock rave-up by Hendrix or Cream. A guitar solo worthy of Thin Lizzy breaks out, and so does my smile, every time. For a solid two minutes this could almost pass for Foo Fighters (and I do mean that in a nice way). And then suddenly, having proven they can work wonders on everybody else’s turf, they’re back on their own, completely owning it as usual. Sweet. –Chris
“Thoughts and prayers” has become the catchphrase bandaid for an injury-prone era. The empty condolence has long served those on the outside of heavy, uncomfortable situations — like the death of an acquaintance’s mom or a missing dog — as a knee-jerk apology for someone else’s strife. Lately though, social media users and superficial politicians have stretched those words to address, and typically disregard, larger universal tragedies. Of course, thoughts and prayers don’t heal bullet wounds, nor do they reverse sexual assault or stop hate crimes.
Musicians have been turning their frustration with this political apathy into anti-establishment anthems, which, for whatever reason, don’t usually stick with me. “Thoughts And Prayers” by Black Dresses, however, has crawled under my skin. The Canadian duo, comprising Rook and Girl Rituals, spit matter-of-fact confrontation over buzzing industrial noise: “Go ahead and escape a couple times a day, will do you good but don’t forget to bring yourself back to what you’re terrified of.” Panic drips from every word, bubbling over as they mock the feigned allyship behind the song’s titular expression, “Thank god I’m not gay … thank god I’m not scared … thank god it’s not fucking happening, thoughts and prayers, thoughts and prayers.”
The opening metronome instantly takes me back to GarageBand-made MySpace pop, a pumped-up sensibility that advances throughout the song. It makes you want to scream and dance and face your demons, the essence of a true rallying cry. Their rage, and the emotional labor carried by so many others, is crystallized in a closing bout of catharsis, “LEAVE US ALONE, WE JUST WANNA HAVE CONTROL OF OUR LIVES, WE JUST WANNA GET OFF, AND FEEL SAFE AND DIE.” –Julia
I’ll be honest. For a few seconds, I thought this was “A Song For Migos,” and I got excited. And then, for a few seconds after I corrected my own mental error I was bummed. Because “a song for mogis” isn’t about Migos, or about any other Atlanta rap group. It’s named after a dog, and the dog is named after Mike Mogis, the longtime Bright Eyes member and Omaha-indie creative force.
It’s not really about Mogis, though — not the person, and not even the dog, even if the first line is “If I didn’t have a dog, I’d probably blow out my brains.” Instead, it’s about feeling like an absolute human disaster, about not being able to put your life together at all: “And goddamn, I’ll be 35 / Probably sleeping in somebody’s basement the rest of my life / Get over it, I should get over it.”
This is heavy, hopeless stuff. And yet worlds greatest dad render it in ways that feel bright, propulsive, even triumphant. That’s the emo traditionalism running through them. You could be singing about your own inward apocalypse, but you still end up singing about it with huge, fists-up, ceiling-raising singalong hooks and immaculately crunchy riffs — despair, rendered as a blinding starburst of joy. –Tom
Josh Tillman has a way of fooling us. Maybe, after Pure Comedy, you thought he’d go all-in on sprawling, state-of-the-world commentary epics. Maybe, with “Mr. Tillman,” it came across like he was embracing the zonked-out LA shaman-madman we glimpsed on Fear Fun. But Tillman’s canniness isn’t limited to his songwriting; it’s present in how he releases music, too. These aren’t feints in bad faith, but he does know how to do plot twists, how to keep your attention.
So, if you took a closer look at “Mr. Tillman,” it turned from another FJM misadventure to an unnerving, nightmare-hiding-under-the-dreaminess breakdown narrative. It’s an overture to a lot of God’s Favorite Customer, an album full of songs that sound like they’re about a life that fell apart and a person’s attempt to find their way back, piece it together again.
“Just Dumb Enough To Try” is the song right after “Mr. Tillman” on the album. And as far as heartbroken comedowns go, it’s a deeply beautiful and mournful one. Over lilting acoustic guitars and the periodic intrusion of humid fuzzed-out guitar, Tillman sings “I’m just dumb enough to try/ To keep you in my life/ For a little while longer/ And I’m/ Insane enough to think/ I’m gonna get out with my skin/ And start my life again.” The thing is: Josh Tillman did do that before, when he abandoned Fleet Foxes and J. Tillman and became Father John Misty. Thanks to that moniker and the idea that a persona came with it, he’s been a lot more personal in the past than may have been readily evident. But there’s a whole different weight to “Just Dumb Enough To Try.” Here, he reckons with “Mr. Tillman” and FJM alike, speaking from a crash landing and wondering whether he could pull off the unlikely feat of rebirth one more time. –Ryan
Flasher are a band that resist easy classification. In ethos and aesthetic, they’re a punk band. They came up in the DC punk scene. They use their songs to interrogate big societal questions and institutions. And even when it’s pretty, there’s a raw, desperate urgency to the music they make together. But they don’t sound like a punk band, exactly. More than anything, they sound like the moment when post-punk started becoming new wave, and they bring everything from dream-pop to shoegaze to krautrock into their musical orbit.
It’s an appropriate approach for a world in which most things resist easy classification. Their new song “Pressure,” the latest from their upcoming debt album Constant Image, is about feelings that also resist easy classification. Desire and fear are often two sides of the same coin, and per the band themselves, “‘Pressure’ is a song that treads the line between queer delight and delirium, and crushing isolation and survival.”
It sounds like it. “Pressure’ unfolds like an anxiety attack, with the band members’ vocals twisting around each other as they relate snapshots of discomfort and alienation in breathless stop-and-start fragments. But it sounds like a dance party, too, gathering a nervous kind of manic energy as its needling guitar riffs and barely-there synths chug along. It’s the sound of barely keeping things together, and somehow, it sounds great. –Peter