Here are the five best songs of the week that don’t appear on the A Star Is Born soundtrack. (We promise this will all be over soon.)
5. IAN SWEET – “Holographic Jesus”
“Holographic Jesus” isn’t just some psychedelic image or turn of phrase. When living in Brooklyn, IAN SWEET’s Jillian Medford literally collected holographic posters of Jesus, picking them up at bodegas and dollar stores plastering her room with ever-shifting likenesses of the divine. But the song isn’t really about that; the holographic Jesus is just a symbol that stands in for a time and a place in Medford’s life. Instead, it’s about what many IAN SWEET songs are about: the interalized pressure and anxiety that comes with defining yourself in relation to others, with putting others’ needs above your own. “The sun built me to shade everybody,” she sings over an ocean of needling guitar that ripples, swells and recedes, and finally explodes in a wave of fuzzed-out catharsis. There’s no resolution, but it feels life-affirming nonetheless. –Peter
4. Adrianne Lenker – “From”
Where does “From” come from? A world where danger lurks, where dogs are more trustworthy allies than people, where the idea of giving yourself over wholly to someone else’s care is more intimidating than an indistinct screaming you can’t quite locate. It’s a place ruled by uncertainty, in which steely determination is a person’s best asset and the anticipation of a new life is tempered with a dread that feels like realism. “No one can be my man,” Adrianne Lenker sings. “No one can be my woman.” She knows no makeout partner or doting parent can offer true security in this life of suffering.
If I’m reading it right, “From” rejects sentimentality and embraces survival as the best humans can look forward to. You can almost hear Lenker’s hope fading into grey resignation. Yet the song itself, with its eerie arpeggios and celestial glow, is proof that our existence can be haunted by beauty, too, and not just the low-grade terror that lingers around every corner. It’s practically post-apocalyptic, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road rendered as a harrowing lullaby. –Chris
3. Thom Yorke – “Has Ended”
Throughout much of Radiohead’s catalog, there are recurring glimpses of a particular kind of terror. A stillness, a disquiet, dread building as an apocalypse comes into clearer focus. You could picture some songs, from the simmering suggestion that the title of “Everything In Its Right Place” is lying to you or the Halloween death dream of “A Wolf At The Door,” finding a logical home on horror movie soundtracks. Radiohead’s whole thing has been locating a place that’s beautiful and haunting, not horrific in terms of shock scares but horrific in terms of deep psychological and existential tremors that linger well after the fact.
So when we first heard “Suspirium,” the pseudo-title-track from Thom Yorke’s score for the remake of Suspiria, it made sense. Fragile piano figures and Yorke’s wintry coos conjured that same anxiety his music so often perfectly captures — the low-flying panic attack, someone disappearing completely, madness climbing up the walls. You could imagine it playing as overture or epilogue in a horror movie, the moments of supposed peace before everything ruptures, the wreckage afterwards.
His new song “Has Ended,” however, does not sound like it’s from a horror soundtrack. It’s harder to picture where this one fits in, and in some ways that makes it all the more alluring. Thanks to the synth drones that drift through the whole track, “Has Ended” sounds more like a song that should soundtrack a character embarking on a vision quest in some opulent drug den. It’s doing something a lot different than “Suspirium,” and it’s doing something a lot different than most of Yorke’s other work, whether solo or with Radiohead. We’ve rarely heard him in such a warmly psychedelic mode without there being some more unsettling counterpoint. Who knows where he’ll take us next. –Ryan
2. Sharon Van Etten – “Comeback Kid”
Sharon Van Etten’s made a lot of music over the years, and most of it would be described as sad. Even on her most bombastic songs, there was always a pervasive sense of longing, giving shape to a search for something that was still on the horizon. That’s what makes the first single off her new album, Remind Me Tomorrow, feel like such a transformation.
As listeners, we’ve been with her every step of the way over the last decade of self-discovery. In the time since her last album, she’s taken a few years off, had a kid, pursued a degree in psychology. She packed away the guitar for some synths. She sounds more settled down and settled-in on “Comeback Kid,” even though the persistent stomp of the track feels restless. It’s a little out-of-step with the current indie-rock vanguard — it sounds more like it came out of the late-’00s — but that’s also part of what makes it special, like Van Etten’s just been biding her time until she can get into a place in life where she’s comfortable enough to let this kind of music out. –James
1. Jessie Ware – “Overtime”
Last year, Jessie Ware taped an episode of Pitchfork’s Over/Under series, and there’s an absolutely charming moment in that video where Ware defends Ed Sheeran, her occasional collaborator, demanding that Pitchfork apologize for panning his album. She’s funny as hell in that video, both good-natured and convincingly pissed. But that’s sort of the problem, isn’t it?
Ware is a truly special singer, and while Sheeran once co-wrote a truly great song with her (Ware’s 2014 single “Say You Love Me”), she’s a bit wasted doing hat type of down-the-middle singer-songwriter pop music. Ware got her start singing on tracks from dance producers like SBTRKT and Joker. She’s a gifted singer, warm and communicative and Sade-level smooth. And on top of all that, she can ride a tricky, futuristic dance beat in ways that few of her peers can.
On the new single “Overtime,” she’s back to doing that. It’s a hard, propulsive dance track with an absolutely nasty old-school Chicago house bassline — not the sort of song that most singers know how to handle. But Ware immediately soars above it, whispering and whooping and breathing come-hither invitations: “Meet me at the bar and don’t be late/ I could drink you up like summer lemonade.” And the whole time, she stays in the pocket, pushing the beat and never overshadowing it. Let’s see Ed Sheeran try that. –Tom