Can you feel it? That slow, soft opening to the year is behind us, and 2019 is officially getting started. This week brought us great-to-excellent albums from Sharon Van Etten, James Blake, Deerhunter, Pedro The Lion, and Aesop Rock & TOBACCO. And the five best songs of the week hint that there are some other exciting releases on the horizon, too. Check them out below.
When sung in Panda Bear’s stoned Brian Wilson warble, even “a slap on a jelly ass” sounds like a Zen koan. Like “Dolphin” and the rest of Buoys, “Token” is composed of just a few building blocks — vocal harmonies, rippling acoustic guitar, cryptic inspirational poetry, a few subtle electronics and sproingy video game-y sound effects — and that minimalism places the focus squarely on Noah Lennox’s voice, right where it belongs. His knack for crafting a simple, sticky earworm of a vocal melody remains as sharp as ever, and “Token” is one of his earwormiest in recent memory. A decade on from Person Pitch and Merriweather Post Pavilion, Panda Bear’s music may sound more comforting and familiar than radical and groundbreaking. But, crucially, it still sounds weird and great. –Peter
My Morning Jacket backing up Tim Showalter on a Strand Of Oaks record is such an inspired idea that I almost can’t believe it really happened, and the first song from that album lives up to all that promise. “Weird Ways” showcases so much of what makes both these bands special. Showalter has a gift for melodies that soar like wounded birds triumphantly returning to the sky; his hooks worked wonders when Strand Of Oaks was still a humble folk-rock project, and they sound even more spectacular in the context of ragged-glory arena rock. Further amplifying the effect is My Morning Jacket’s well-honed ability to infuse such guitar jams with spectral beauty, taking a universal sound and making it inter-dimensional.
Showalter has talked about how he almost quit music before MMJ’s Carl Broemel coaxed him back into the game. Throughout “Weird Ways,” he reckons with that turnaround. “I don’t feel it anymore,” he laments at the start. As the music begins to swell up around him, he remembers the value of “what you make and the people you’ve loved,” and soon he’s facing down the prospect of getting back to work: “Grind your teeth and cut off all your sleeves/ A few good riffs and a sticky bag of green/ You said before, ‘It’s not as bad as it seems/ A grownup kid gets to live out all his dreams.'” By the end, a melancholy euphoria comes roaring across the ceiling, and he’s successfully converted his own redemption arc into the stuff of legend. –Chris
The best punk songs can be built out of almost nothing: a singular feeling, a seething and focused rage. “Conspiracy Theories” is that kind of song. There are only a handful of words to it, but each time they’re uttered you can taste the bile behind it.
The track comes from a source of frustration in the DC music community — namely, that pizza place and venue Comet Ping Pong has become the center of a fringe theory that has resulted in a constant state of anxiety and fear for those that work or go there. “Conspiracy Theories” is an effort to shake all of that tension off, a wriggling wave of a song centered around a universal fuck you. Gauche has a strong pedigree — its members include Priests’ Daniele Yandel, Downtown Boys’ Mary Jane Regalado, and Jason P Barnett — and that means the song is tight and controlled, a circle of anger that invites you in, that cannot be silenced. –James
Weyes Blood’s soft-pop music sounds like taking a nap. I don’t mean that it puts you to sleep, I mean that it stretches out with a relaxed confidence. It asks you to slow down. “Andromeda” languishes in the details, and though it harkens back to dreamy psychedelic pop of the 1970s, there are few contemporary artists who sound like Natalie Mering. Her voice is enchanting, and on this song, she asks listeners to give themselves over to love, as if doing so will allow them to live in her plush, technicolor world a little longer. In Greek mythology, Andromeda is chained up to a rock to be fed to a sea monster until Perseus falls in love with her and sets her free. The stakes are not nearly as high on this song, but the message is the same. –Gabriela
It took five producers — James Blake, Metro Boomin, “Drunk In Love” co-writer Dre Moon, Blake associate Dan Foat, and the difficult-to-Google Wavy — to make something that barely sounds like it’s there. Even more than your typical James Blake track, “Mile High” plays out as an undulating whisper. Here, Metro Boomin’s trap drums are a mere insinuation, and his hi-hats are a ghostly tingle. Melodies and bass tones bubble up out of the abyss and then disappear. There’s a stuttering sample of something — a flute maybe? — that echoes like a birdcall through a rainforest. It’s lovely.
Travis Scott, a man who has twice solicited hooks from Blake, finally repays the favor, turning down his turn-up as far as it’ll go. It’s a true duet, with Scott and Blake trading off lines, meeting each other in some blissful nether-zone. Scott is singing about “ass fatter than a peach,” and Blake is singing about falling in love overseas and falling asleep under a moonbeam. But they find the same cadence, the same tone. Scott turns his depth-charge mutter into an angelic falsetto. Blake turns his angelic falsetto into a depth-charge mutter. And together, they drift off into the astral plane. “Don’t know where you start and where I begin,” Blake sings. He’s probably not singing about Travis Scott, but he might as well be. –Tom