Let’s all take a moment to thank the powers that Jack White didn’t end up playing Jackson Maine in A Star Is Born. Can you imagine how wack that would be??!?!?!?!?! Anyway, here are the five best songs of the week.
5. SPELLLING – “Haunted Water”
SPELLLING’s “Haunted Water” is steeped in historical memory. Chrystia Cabral sings of the slave ship route known as the Middle Passage and the water that remains haunted by colonial violence. This song is as much a requiem as it is a foreboding piece of gothic pop, and Cabral’s voice is capacious, able to fit dozens of forgotten stories inside a single syllable. There are few vocalists who earn the comparison, but the ease with which Cabral’s voice folds into the churning production on “Haunted Water” reminds me of Björk. Cabral becomes a force of nature on this song; she is the chilling breeze, the choppy waves, the sea foam that laps up onto the shore. –Gabriela
4. Fontaines D.C. – “Too Real”
Last year, the young Dublin band Fontaines D.C. released a single called “Hurricane Laughter,” but it’s their latest offering that really makes you feel as if you’re at the center of a storm. “Too Real” is a seething song, with guitars that whoosh by, drop out entirely as if to make you feel suspended in a maelstrom, then roar back with violent energy. Grian Chatten’s frenzied sing-speak delivery at once sounds like a person desperately shouting against the fray, while also working as one more assailant on the listener’s perception, a flurry of barked vocals intensifying alongside the music. On some of their other singles, Fontaines D.C. have also employed more straightforward Brit-rock stylings. But this is when they are at their best: heaving, skewed post-punk that ratchets up the tension incrementally, with any resolution being hard-fought.
The inspiration behind “Too Real” came from literature, from Eliot and Joyce and the ideas of cyclical structures and the repetitions of life. It originates from a feeling of being trapped, and the composition renders that same feeling by way of a cyclone. Throughout, Chatten circles back to the same challenge: “Is it too real for ya?” It’s a question addressed outwards, with the song itself not providing an answer. As a result, “Too Real” stops short of offering true release from those cycles, demanding we reckon with and face them on our own. –Ryan
3. Dreamcrusher – “Youth Problem” (Feat. Alice Glass)
There are not many lyrics in “Youth Problem.” We hear Oprah Winfrey telling a young Fred Savage, “The vultures are waiting to pick your bones.” Then Alice Glass rides in on a pulverizing torrent of electronic noise, slinging nihilistic mantras: “Grab my hand, let’s enter the void!” “Hey fuck you!” “ENERGIZE!” “Dead by design!” It’s… not a happy song, but holy shit will it fire you up for whatever war you’re preparing to fight.
This thing sounds like a hole opened up in the ground and one of the noise tracks Glass used to sing with Crystal Castles plunged into the abyss to murder every last demon in hell. It sounds like burning to death and coming back as a VERY ANGRY phoenix. It is a grotesque, horrifying, completely enthralling assembly of sound that will lay waste to dreams and nightmares alike — the sound of the last four minutes before complete annihilation. It’s customary to say that a great song “kills,” but “Youth Problem” just might actually do it. –Chris
2. Cupcakke – “Cereal And Water”
Cupcakke wears many hats. The Chicago rapper and openly kinky social activist built a viral audience back in 2015 with her filthy, tongue-in-cheek bangers, “Deepthroat” and “Vagina.” To this day, she contributes as much meaningful commentary on class and race as she does on giving head and roleplaying. And with her latest album and second release this year, Eden, she continues to prove that there’s more to her craft than just shock value.
On its second track, “Cereal And Water,” Cupcakke navigates topics like abuse, systemic racism, and internalized misogyny. “Crazy how y’all pin blacks against each other / “You too dark for blonde hair, look at your skin color” / Bitch my skin look and tastes just like Nutella,” she flexes effortlessly over an appropriately minimal beat. “He black sellin’ weed, he will never see day / That’s funny when abusers ain’t locked away / They in the crib giving more beats than Dr. Dre.” Certain lines read like mini pep talks as Cupcakke wills herself to rise above and lean into the strife, call out injustice, and reject the silence. –Julia
1. Girlpool – “Hire”
From the very beginning, the cornerstone of Girlpool’s sound has been the interplay between Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad’s voices. Whether in harmony or in unison, their two voices meld together with a strange, powerful alchemy that imbues the music around them with a singular electric charge. On their new album What Chaos Is Imaginary, that’s still the case. But things sound just a little bit different now.
Since coming out as trans and nonbinary, Tucker has been undergoing testosterone hormone therapy, a process that has deepened their voice into a tenor. And following their lead vocal turn on “Lucy’s,” “Hire” is the best showcase for that new vocal range we’ve had yet, Tucker’s voice exploding from a melancholic drawl to a raspy shout as the song reaches its emotional climax and fades into a spidery guitar solo.
Perhaps unsurprisingly for a band that made its name on songs about growing up, every one of Girlpool’s albums feels like a maturation, a logical next step. On last year’s Powerplant, that meant drums being added to the spare vocals-guitar-bass setup, shifting the milieu from intensely intimate DIY punk to dreamy ’90s alt-rock. And on “Hire” that means Elliott Smith-indebted indie rock that sounds like a wry smile, sad and comforting at the same time. I look forward to seeing who Girlpool become next. –Peter