It’s been a week of big releases. Travis Scott dropped his much-hyped album Astroworld and lo and behold Nicki Minaj is back with Queen. It’s going to take some time to parse that one but fortunately we have a whole weekend to get into it. Check out the five best songs of the week below.
“Blue Vapor” is about people becoming diffuse right in front of you. “I’ve been foreign/ I’ve been turning into blue vapor,” Marissa Nadler sings in the chorus. The composition itself is similarly elusive — you can imagine it as a fragile and unadorned folk song, a brokenhearted country lament, or a damaged ’90s alt-rock anthem. (On the latter note, the song’s mournful orchestration is reminiscent of the moving cello accompaniment on Nirvana’s “Dumb.”) Like many of Nadler’s best songs, “Blue Vapor” exists in a space between all those things, like a wandering ghost.
As a writer, Nadler is adept at conveying hurt and loss through surging, stormy music. But “Blue Vapor” is a song for the morning after the storm, the grey dawn when mist lingers, waiting to be broken. It’s a fitting sound for the specific kind of distance “Blue Vapor” traces. This isn’t the sound of someone growing unrecognizable through whatever turmoil wedges itself between people. Rather, it’s a snapshot of the aftermath, when it’s as if a person’s face dissipates into the air like smoke, eventually drifting out of view entirely as if you never knew them at all. –Ryan
Mitski opens her latest single “Two Slow Dancers” like a sad comedian at an open mic. “Does it smell like a school gymnasium in here? It’s funny how they’re all the same,” she sings, her voice echoing with a soft keyboard. The idea of someone performing alone onstage threads through Be The Cowboy, Mitski’s forthcoming album. Her previously released single “Nobody” conjured a lonely lounge singer, grooving under the spotlight. On “Two Slow Dancers,” the lights have dimmed. It’s the final song of the album and of the evening in her mind. It’s the slow dance at prom and she’s sharing it with a former love, mourning each fleeting moment as it passes them by: “We’re just two slow dancers, last ones out.”
Mitski, a 27-year-old, sings with the longing and hindsight of an older woman looking back on her life: “It would be a hundred times easier if we were young again.” The tension heightens to the tune of a weeping synth. “But as it is, and it is,” she trails off and returns at her boiling point. “To think that we could stay the same.” She may have someone to dance with, but she’s definitely alone. –Julia
“Like a light!” “Like a light!” “Like a light!” “Like a light!” That’s Drake and Travis Scott tossing a line back and forth, sounding like Harlem Globetrotters flummoxing their theatrical clueless foes, having the time of their lives. They’re not even rapping about anything cool. They’re just talking about Drake popping half a Xanax before jumping on an international flight so that he can fall asleep. And yet, in that brief moment of joy, we can hear something that’s too absent from Scott’s new blockbuster Astroworld, and from present-day rap in general. We can hear the sweaty, organic joy of collaboration.
In general, “Sicko Mode” includes everything good about Astroworld: the churning troika of expensive-sounding beats, the big-name world-conqueror collaborators, the wormy little hooks. It also has everything dumb about Astroworld: Travis Scott mentioning Jamba Juice on two separate occasions, Travis Scott threatening to “turn this function to Bonnaroo.” But it takes flight on the third of its three parts, where the rising Memphis producer Tay Keith comes in with something catchy and hard and where Drake does his menacing charismatic sleepwalk thing all over it. It might be months before you get the “like a light” bit out of your head, and that’s fine. That bit belongs there. It’s home now. –Tom
Back in April, I had the pleasure of attending the National’s inaugural Homecoming Festival in Cincinnati. The National headlined both nights, and each set was among the best concerts I’ve ever seen. In my review, I repeatedly poked fun at lead singer Matt Berninger, who appeared to be pretty heavily under the influence of alcohol throughout the whole fest. I laughed it off as entertaining rock-star antics, but the first comment on the article cast the presumed intoxication in a different light: “I wish that whenever I get blackout drunk, my wife would describe me as ‘delightfully loopy’ and ‘slaphappy,’ instead of threatening divorce.”
Two days later, my friend and former editor published an article at the Huffington Post headlined “I Drank Like They Did On Mad Men. It Nearly Destroyed Me.” It tracked her progression into alcoholism — from social drinking to medicating work and family stress to waking up in a field with no memory of how she got there — and ends with her discovery of a better life beyond booze. Reading it the same week I’d cackled my way through that National writeup was, um, sobering.
So when Katie Monks describes her new single as “a celebration of sobriety, in the midst of an industry that is anything but,” I feel her. I feel for her. When you play thunderous, lurching rock music like Dilly Dally’s, it must be so easy to get sloshed at every show. It’s practically expected of you as a rock star — a prerequisite for throwing yourself fully into each guttural howl and power chord detonation. “Alcohol is so romanticized within our culture,” Monks writes. “Knowing that it can send so many people into a downward spiral, I wanted to step forward and do the opposite of that, and present people with a different image.” On “Sober Motel,” a story of empathy and strength born from an epiphany in a hotel shower, she’s done just that. As ever, this latest slice of Heaven is a sneakily catchy onslaught of clobbered drums, fiery guitars, and vocal chords shredded to hell. It will have you feeling like a superhuman — no substances required. –Chris
It’s called “collapse,” and collapse it does. “T69 Collapse” begins its life as a relatively straightforward Aphex Twin track — which means it’s still plenty mind- and ear-bending, the jittery drill ‘n’ bass beats blasting its burbling melodic synths into strange new shapes. But then the headfuckery really begins.
The moment that it all falls apart is the moment that it all comes together. About two minutes in, the song seems to pull itself apart in real time, slowing down and speeding up at once, taking a sharp left into eerie, dissonant synth tones and the dizzying rhythmic complexity of an entire drum factory falling down an M.C. Escher staircase. It sounds like a dogfight between two starships caught in an alien tractor beam, maybe, or the universe collapsing in on itself.
And then, just as suddenly as it began, it’s over. The burbling, melodic synths come back, and the song rides that relatively straightforward groove into oblivion. Two decades after he first started melting brains, Richard D. James may not sound like a new unexplored future anymore. But “T69 Collapse” shows that he still has the capacity to surprise — and delight. –Peter