We’re gearing up for year-end season over here at Stereogum HQ. There’s some exciting #content coming down the pipeline, and pretty soon we’ll be sharing our 50 Best Albums Of 2018 list with you, our loyal readers. We’re still keeping our ears open for new music that excites, though, and this week’s five best list happens to contain two (!!) covers that we think you’ll dig. Dive in below.
5. Phoebe Bridgers – “Christmas Song” (Feat. Jackson Browne) (McCarthy Trenching Cover)
There are a lot of different ways to go about covering songs, but I think my favorite always ends up being when a more established artist shines a light on an under-appreciated song. I’d admittedly never heard of McCarthy Trenching before Phoebe Bridgers covered one of their songs this week, but Dan McCarthy is a helluva songwriter if he can pull off a great Christmas song, which is harder to do than it seems. It’s encouraged me to travel down the rabbit hole into his extensive catalog.
“Christmas Song” is sad but not maudlin, and Bridgers’ rendition, which also features Jackson Browne on backing vocals, is beautiful. It’s always fun to hear a familiar song in a different light, but sometimes it’s even better to be exposed to something entirely new through someone else’s affectionate lens. Bridgers follows on in the grand tradition of folk musicians lifting lesser-known artists up by paying homage to them, and “Christmas Song” is the sort of timeless and malleable song that lends itself to that treatment. –James
4. Wild Pink – “Favourite Colour” (Carly Rae Jepsen Cover)
A successful cover will make you hear a song differently. Such is the case with Wild Pink’s version of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Favourite Colour,” off of her career-defining album E•MO•TION. Every song on that album is about falling hard and fast for someone, and “Favourite Colour” describes it as a kind of synesthesia: “When I’m close to you/ We blend into my favorite color/ I’m bright baby blue/ Fallin’ into you, fallin’ for each other.”
When Jepsen sings that chorus it’s a declaration. When Wild Pink’s John Ross sings that chorus it’s a realization. He hits every note, but he’s really reaching for them, and as a result, it sounds like you’re listening to someone work out their feelings in real-time. –Gabriela
3. Silverbacks – “Just In The Band”
Apparently Dublin is a post-punk hotbed. A few years back the Irish capital gave us the explosively agitated Girl Band, and more recently it birthed Fontaines D.C., whose sardonic and incendiary “Too Real” cracked this list two weeks back. Now along come Silverbacks, yet another great young Dublin combo with its own spin on tense, gritty, mechanistic guitar rock.
“Just In The Band” flashes me back: to that late-’70s moment when punk was first damaged by art, to the early aughts British scene that yielded Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand and Arctic Monkeys, to when Parquet Courts blew my mind with “Stoned And Starving.” It fits so well into an NME-approved lineage that I wonder whether the horizon it’s speeding towards is actually the past, but the memories it evokes are extremely positive.
Silverbacks have three guitarists, and on this song those guitars race through the rhythm section’s fervent motorik backbeat like sports cars in a cityscape, crashing and tangling along the way. Daniel O’Kelly rants and croons about “a life at short slack,” swaggering like Julian Casablancas on “New York City Cops.” By the time it gets loose and dirty at the end, the song has pulled off a pulse-pounding, head-bobbing, body-twitching version of post-punk that rarely sounds this fresh anymore. It makes me wonder what else Silverbacks have in store and who else their city has waiting in the wings. –Chris
2. Malibu Ken – “Acid King”
Here’s how Aesop Rock, born on Long Island in 1976, describes the 1984 version of Long Island: “Mary Lou Retton, Excitebike, AIDS, Jeopardy! / Wake up the Orwell in me.” Also: “Sabbath and Judas and all tunes prudent / Seems tame now, but then it was devil music.” This is an introduction to Aesop’s telling of the tawdry, River’s Edge-esque tale of Ricky Kasso, a 17-year-old Long Island metalhead who stabbed his friend to death while high on acid. The murder led right into a hyper-localized Satanic panic, which then hung over Aesop, another Long Island metalhead, for the rest of his youth.
On “Acid King,” Aesop tells that story with breathless urgency, spelling out a whole miniseries’ worth of twists and betrayals and tragedies. And he does it over a tense, freezing synth-beat from Tobacco, whose junked-out electronic psychedelia is oddly perfect for Aesop’s dense, writerly rap. These two are about to get into some shit. –Tom
1. Sharon Van Etten – “Jupiter 4
If “Comeback Kid” teased a radical new direction for Sharon Van Etten, then “Jupiter 4″ connects the dots between the uptempo synth-rocker Sharon Van Etten and the darker, moodier Sharon Van Etten we already know and love. “Jupiter 4″ is just as electronics-heavy — it’s named after a Roland synthesizer, after all — but here, the buzzing synths are in service of a windswept gothic atmosphere, heightened by streaks of tingling post-rock guitar.
On its surface, “Jupiter 4″ is a love song. “Baby, baby, baby/ I’ve been waiting, waiting, waiting my whole life/ for someone like you,” Van Etten sings in the chorus. “It’s true that everyone would like to have met/ A love so real.” But there’s an element of dark, all-consuming hunger in the way she sings it, an obsessive need only intensified by the haunting drones and theremin whines. “My love is for real,” she insists, almost daring you to believe her. What is real, undeniably so, is the song, and the hypnotic spell it casts. That’s what matters. –Peter