We’re practically halfway through the summer, which means that there will be plenty of contenders for our Song Of Summer poll. We will be posting that next week, so start thinking about your faves now! Maybe something from this week’s five best list will make the cut ;) Dive in below.
“You are the reason my heart broke behind my back,” Lillie West sings on “Destroyer.” It’s a biting indictment, the kind of line that you throw in the face of a former lover. But the destroyer she’s talking about? It’s herself. “Does it make you sad that it’s my fault?” she asks later. “I’m sad myself, I ruined it all.” “Destroyer” is a song about self-destruction and self-control, about recognizing the damage caused by the negative feedback loop of your own worst impulses. The raw vulnerability in West’s voice emerges as each plodding verse gives way to the glowing chorus, layering on top of itself in tandem with the chiming guitar line. It’s hard to break out of our own patterns of destructive behavior, but with “Destroyer,” Lala Lala remind us of how necessary it is — and how beautiful it can be. –Peter
Lately, for reasons I can only partially articulate, I’ve been drawn to the most brutal, visceral music available. It feels inadequate to say Birds In Row’s freshly released album We’ve Already Lost The World scratches that itch. Pulverizes it, maybe? Beats it senseless? Tears it limb from limb? The French trio specializes in frantic, ballistic post-hardcore in league with Y2K-era heroes such as Refused, At The Drive In, and Converge, whose Deathwish label counts them as signees. Although their songs often take surprising turns, they’re never better than when bashing away at their instruments with primal fury while yelling their throats raw. The effect is something like a car crash at triple-digit speeds, the nightmarish point of impact stretched out to minutes at a time.
“I Don’t Dance,” the album’s final pre-release single, is outstanding in this regard. It starts out breathlessly intense and somehow escalates from there, working its way up from that car-crash effect toward something more like a series of intergalactic explosions. As always, Birds In Row are in full control of this perpetual chaos, wielding it with a violent and cathartic expertise. There are lyrics involved — evocative lines like “It’s raining knives inside the ballroom/ And you dance on broken glass” — but when you’re looking to translate what’s pent up inside you into kinetic energy, the sheer force of the music says more than words ever could. –Chris
There are a lot of guys out here trying to be Arthur Russell, but the gentle, avant-pop music Will Westerman is making right now draws the closest comparison. His latest, “Easy Money,” doesn’t come on strong but it leaves you with big feelings. Its production is fragile and minimalistic, mostly relying on the beat of a synthetic clave that gives way to occasional flourishes that are practically baroque in comparison. Instead of building to a bombastic, knock-you-over-the-head chorus, “Easy Money” is all prelude; soft and focused, a love song that doesn’t exactly know if it’s a love song. “I don’t say ‘no’/ And I don’t think twice/ Why should I worry?/ Worry makes you ill,” Westerman sings in falsetto.
The words aren’t what’s important here, though. Westerman’s cadence, his delivery, the way he alters his voice from verse to verse, is what makes certain lyrical moments stand out. It’s like staring at a laundry machine cycle, occasionally spotting the red flash of an old T-shirt and feeling that sense of recognition. There is a conflict at the center of this song, but instead of trying to articulate some kind of personal truth, Westerman builds a sonic world out of repeating phrases, mantras that carry him from thought to thought without ever reaching enlightenment. –Gabriela
There’s not a moment of downtime on “Gaslight Anthem (The Song Not The Band).” A second-long guitar fade-in is all Chrissy Tashjian needs to settle into your head. There’s something about her voice, her visceral inflection, that’s so instantly gratifying. Lines like “spit on my tongue while my pride decomposes” sound void of metaphor coming out of her mouth. “A different town / That’s where I had to move / Had to go to get away from you” feels relatable even if you’ve never had such an experience. Fellow Philadelphians Frances Quinlan of Hop Along, Brendan Lukens of Modern Baseball, and Zoe Reynolds of Kississippi join in with backing vocals; a fitting cast for a song about growing pains and facing your demons. –Julia
At first glance, “wildfire” is a perfect word for a new Brockhampton song. Everything about the hip-hop boy band has been furious, spreading out and consuming everything in its path. A debut quickly followed by two more full-lengths to complete a series in just six months, rapidly accruing a fervent, young fanbase along the way. Songs that featured half a dozen voices and way more ideas frenzied and bouncing off of each other, electric with the chemistry between them and the seemingly endless possibilities in front of them. A major label deal amidst promises of Team Effort, then Puppy, then finally The Best Years Of Our Lives. Brockhampton’s world is one of constant movement, but “1999 Wildfire” is a marker, not just the latest missive in an unending flurry. It’s the first official salvo for the next chapter of Brockhampton, the one where the collective could ascend even higher, even faster.
But the half of the title that stands out more is the “1999,” and not just because the song’s hook is pretty damn reminiscent of prime OutKast. The key members of Brockhampton would’ve been small children in 1999, and there’s a generally nostalgic tone to “1999 Wildfire” compared to the frantic energy that often defined Brockhampton’s best singles last year. After all, it’s not like their rise has been uninterrupted; earlier this year, they dismissed one of their founding members and primary rappers, Ameer Vann, amidst sexual misconduct allegations. You could see “1999 Wildfire” a couple different ways: evoking a more innocent time, portraying a more weathered Brockhampton, or rather portraying a Brockhampton that is focusing, honing, defiant in the face of any obstacles. That might make “1999 Wildfire” sound like Brockhampton setting the stage for their next move, but they’ve also lost little of that original charm in the process — elegiac as the song might seem, its most memorable line involves Joba rapping about the Shire, after all. –Ryan