There’s a new Deerhunter album out next week. Have you read our interview with Bradford Cox? If not, then you absolutely should. What are you waiting for?!?! Happy weekend, dive into the five best songs of the week below.
We all know the longstanding, well-earned pop-music cliché about stiff and mannered white boys, from Paul Simon to James Murphy, looking to Africa for some hint of funky liberation. And so it feels especially liberating when an African woman comes along and swipes the stiff and mannered funk back from them.
On “Tell Me (Doko Mien),” Eno Williams, born in Nigeria and based in London, leads her band Ibibio Sound Machine toward nervous, jittery ecstasy. Williams’ voice is graceful and liquid when she’s singing in English and euphorically disruptive when she’s singing in Ibibio. In both languages, she expertly surfs over her band’s brittle synths and burbling bass, a disco-techno-funk hybrid that spans decades. Where are your friends tonight? –Tom
The new Hand Habits album may be called placeholder, but it’s no mere water-treading exercise. The songwriting, the musicianship, the production — it’s all a step up from 2016’s promising Wildly Idle (Humble Before The Void). One listen to the title track, its zero-gravity coffeeshop folk-rock pierced by jolts of electric guitar out of A Ghost Is Born, is enough to confirm that Meg Duffy is on the other side of a breakthrough.
Getting there must have been painful. These new songs are billed as real-life stories of “accountability and forgiveness,” and the first of them conveys how it feels to be cast aside when your usefulness runs out. In a sweet melody tinged with tired resignation, Duffy sings about being reduced to “a lesson to be learned” and “a tension you retract.” Their only consolation is poetic justice: “Oh but now you’re just a placeholder blinded by desire/ Oh now you’re just a placeholder for someone wasting time.” –Chris
Minneapolis rapper/singer Lizzo’s songs might be best described as “empowerment bops.” Her pop-rap single “Boys” is a horny, feminist anthem. “Fitness” is an ode to her ass. On her latest track, Lizzo credits her shine to the “Juice.” She flexes over glossy, ’80s-inspired funk: “It ain’t my fault that I’m out here gettin’ loose / Gotta blame it on the Goose / Gotta blame it on my juice, baby.” The song comes from a long line of pop-funk, its closest relative being Bruno Mars. “Uptown Funk” is shook. –Julia
Pop music and youthfulness are always bound up in each other: a new artist cataloguing the travails of their teens or early 20s in real time, or the songs a young person chooses to soundtrack formative life experiences, or an older artist looking back on the time lost, the time spent, the paths taken or not, the summers gone. Aging, obviously, is universal — so you can find countless songs through pop history that try to reckon with the passage of the years, the old haunts disappearing, the person you become looking back on the person you were. In “Seventeen,” Sharon Van Etten is as meditative as ever, but sings over a song that’s more surging and hook-driven than her past work. Fittingly, plenty of people might hear it and have similar reactions, connecting with an anthem that allows them to tap into their own nostalgia for a youth fading ever further into the rearview.
I’ve heard a couple people compare “Seventeen” to Bruce Springsteen, one of the main influences Van Etten has cited for Remind Me Tomorrow and a patron saint for a Jersey-raised songwriter like herself. It’s a fitting antecedent: Springsteen might’ve written about cars and beaches and girls in a way that makes listeners remember their younger days, but he mostly did so with a deeply conflicted and damaged romanticism. “Seventeen” is a key track on Remind Me Tomorrow; Van Etten spends much of the album using new sounds to convey her new life, one of motherhood and a more contented sense of self. This is one of her only new songs that looks directly back, to innocent times, to the tumultuous times that followed. You can hear it as Van Etten singing to her younger self and warning of the trials that await, you can hear it as interior dialogue taking place today as she reckons with discarded identities, you can even hear it as being addressed to her young child and imagining him growing up and walking the same streets she did.
So it feels like, on one level, “Seventeen” is almost a feint. The synth blares, the conversationally infectious chorus, that moment her vocals erupt and fray — everything is deployed just right to be that little nostalgia conduit for all of us, equal parts joyous and melancholic. But if you know Van Etten’s life and arc, lines like “I used to be free” and “I know what you’re going to be” feel loaded in a different way. Sure, there is some wistfulness here. But at the same time, the song races away from these memories, almost as if it looks back and remembers a complicated journey and immediately wants to return to a better present. It’s a nostalgic song that doesn’t want those days back, the sound of Van Etten resolving to leave the past where it is. –Ryan
Priests will always be a punk band at heart, but even their earliest songs had an itching energy that made it clear their scope would inevitably widen. Nothing Feels Natural’s closing song, “Suck,” is practically a dance track — so much so that it got its own remix collection last year — and they made the leap for the lead single of their sophomore album, actually making a dance track, one that reaches back into dusty crates to evoke a feverish disco.
It’s striking how they mold their political vigor into a glossier finish. The band’s lyrics have long been fixated on an old-school Americana mythology that’s fallen out of favor for glitzy skyscrapers, a “drawn-out parody of what a country thought it used to be.” “The Seduction Of Kansas”‘s sonic framework writhes in that disconnect. It takes the geographical and purported ideological center of the country and presents to it a devil’s bargain of recognition. Katie Alice Greer’s sneering chorus echoes the litany of politicians and corporations that pander to middle America voters, turning them away from progressive values to embrace bad actors who don’t have their best intentions at heart.
Priests don’t talk down in their music, though, and they recognize that that individuals rarely have enough power by themselves to rise above the system — it takes a collective, working together towards a common goal. “The Seduction Of Kansas” practices a radical empathy, urging a move away from the scourge of relatability and towards recognizing what’s best for society as a whole. That they packaged all of this in a sound that most would deem more “accessible” is a stroke of genius. –James