Some pretty good albums out today! Mitski’s Be The Cowboy, for one. Ariana Grande’s Sweetener, for another. We named advance singles from both LPs to this list in previous weeks, and any tracks they held back until release day are eligible for inclusion next week. In the meantime, we present the following jams, songs so great they managed to stand out in a week full of worthy contenders.
5. Tirzah – “Do You Know”
Devotion is definitely an album album, in that it’s best experienced like one gently flowing body of water. It’s hard to pick just a single song from it that’ll completely sum up what it’s like to listen to it, but a good place to start is “Do You Know,” the breathy stop-start that serves as its second track. It’s a little gritty and definitely dreamy and extremely hypnotic, and it has a million different versions of Tirzah’s immaculate voice, showing off both the attitude and the vulnerability that’s present throughout Devotion. The song shifts on a dime, with the help of Mica Levi’s steady hand, and Tirzah’s questioning (“Do you know?”) feels like an eternal loop, both coy and brash and completely encompassing. –James
4. Swearin’ – “Untitled (LA)”
Three years ago, Swearin’ broke up, and it didn’t look like they were getting back together. Allison Crutchfield released a really great solo album, and it seemed like everyone had moved on. Suddenly, here they are again, with another album ready to go. It doesn’t feel like a step backward.
“Untitled (LA),” the second song we’ve heard from Swearin’ 2.0, is charged with energy, with freedom. Crutchfield sings about distance, about feeling close to people who are on the whole other side of the country, about how the west side of a city can feel like “another planet.” It’s a song about isolation and longing. And yet she sounds fully locked-in with her bandmates, their sunny charged-up fuzz-punk bounce buoyant and driven and alive. It’s like they all suddenly remembered how much fun it was to be in a band, like they managed to recreate that feeling through the pure force of will.–Tom
3. Low – “Disarray”
The material we’ve heard from Low’s Double Negative is deeply strange, almost impossible to contextualize. You could imagine this as the sound of alien hymns, something legible to human ears as music but where the line between beautiful and horrific is nearly imperceptible. Much of the album feels claustrophobic, its elusive and dark songs suffocating you within layers of impressionistic sound. But along the way, there are moments of reprieve, the sound of coming to the surface for air or of light cracking through a blackened atmosphere.
“Disarray” is one of those moments. In its way, it’s still just as unnerving as more explicitly bleak tracks like “Dancing And Blood.” But there’s something soothing about the structure of “Disarray,” its floating pulse, and the way Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker’s vocals intertwine into first a hypnotic melodic litany and then a wordless refrain. In the world of Double Negative, this is what salvation sounds like, the closest you’ll get to hope. Arriving at the end and sonically rising above the turmoil that precedes it, “Disarray” is almost peaceful, but still haunted by all the wreckage before it. –Ryan
2. Fucked Up – “Normal People”
On their earliest records, and live in concert, Fucked Up are a wild-eyed, ferocious basement hardcore band. On their albums, they’ve increasingly become a heavy, anthemic classic-rock band. And for years, they’ve channeled their weirdest, artiest impulses into their long-running Zodiac series of EPs, releasing 20-plus-minute experimental excursions under names like “Year Of The Snake” and “Year Of The Hare.” On their new album Dose Your Dreams, though, they are all of these things at once and a dozen more besides. They’ve found a way to make genuinely weird, psychedelic music that still rips and manages to work as pop.
At this point, the biggest signifier tying Fucked Up to the hardcore world is Damian Abraham’s voice, a huge, earth-shaking beast of a thing. On their last single, “Raise Your Voice Joyce,” they tempered that roar by cutting it with Jen Calleja’s sweetly melodic backing vocals. And on “Normal People,” Abraham doesn’t even enter the picture until nearly two minutes in. Instead, the song opens with a spoken-word intro from John Southworth before leading into drummer Jonah Falco singing, in clean vocals, over a guitar-driven groove that basically amounts to power-pop. When Abraham’s voice finally does come in, it feels like a joyous homecoming.
“So why can’t I figure out/ How to feel alright?” he growls. “I know this could be mine again/ If you would just tell me what I need to change.” He’s singing in character as David Eliade, the perennial hero of Fucked Up’s complex mythos, who’s fallen into a rut at his soul-sucking desk job until he meets the revolutionary sorceress Joyce Tops. But he could just as easily be singing as himself. In the Billboard interview that accompanied the premiere of “Normal People,” Abraham talked about the “desperate exhaustion” he felt during the making of 2014’s Glass Boys, Fucked Up’s attempt an making a “simple rock record.” And what did he change to feel alright again? He followed guitarist Mike Haliechuk’s weird, wild muse down the rabbit hole. Above all else, “Normal People” is a rejection of the norm and an embrace of the other, and the results are more than alright. –Peter
1. Cloud Nothings – “The Echo Of The World”
Look — it’s nice to know Dylan Baldi has range. The lo-fi tracks that comprised Cloud Nothings’ earliest recordings are still some of my favorite songs he’s done. The group’s crisper, cleaner power-pop records, such as their 2011 self-titled LP and last year’s Life Without Sound, are solid and largely unsung. I can appreciate variety. The band’s discography is richer for it. It’s Baldi’s prerogative what kind of music he wants to release. Etcetera, etcetera.
That said: Hell fucking yes. Cloud Nothings are back in ballistic insanity mode on new album Last Building Burning, and it feels so good. It’s not quite right to say lead single “The Echo Of The World” returns to the sound that made Baldi a legend because like 2012’s violently scraping Attack On Memory and 2014’s blisteringly intense Here And Nowhere Else, the song has its own distinctive qualities separating it from the rest of the Cloud Nothings discography. Its particular mixture of chaotically tumbling drums and jagged gleaming strums represents another new shade in Baldi’s palette of scrappy rock music. He’s not simply doubling back.
But when that grand finale kicks in, holy shit goddamn, it’s a rush you cannot mistake for any other band. In the song’s final minute, Jayson Gerycz brutalizes his drumkit, Baldi shreds his throat, and the amps sound like they’re immolating under duress. Every sound is blasted to its breaking point. In turn, my muscles clench up, my entire nervous system starts to tingle, and when it’s all over, I have to catch my breath — never mind that I’m not the one exerting myself here. Few experiences in music are more exhilarating than a climactic Cloud Nothings bombardment. I am glad to have that feeling back in my life. –Chris