The 5 Best Songs Of The Week
If you are one of the many, many people in this country waiting out the polar vortex and/or hibernating, you are probably over this week. Hopefully, you didn’t get stir crazy enough to do something ill-advised, like having someone tattoo “Japanese BBQ Finger” on your hand. (Relatedly: It is now unfortunately easy to imagine a double bill at SXSW featuring Surfbort and “new up-and-comers Japanese BBQ Finger.”) Perhaps you heard some of the week’s best songs already and they provided a solid soundtrack for endless hours indoors. If not, check them out below.
At this point, you pretty much know what you’re going to get from a Makthaverskan song when you hit play. The Swedish crew has been pumping out towering dream-pop songs for a decade (!) now, but they consistently work at such an elevated level that they can pull from the same bag of tricks over and over again and still deliver. “Onkel,” the B-side to their latest 7″, has everything you’d want and expect from Makthaverskan — a soaring vocal melody, a jangly intensity, a crystalline finish. And here Maja Miller uses those sunny components to scrape at the confusion and darkness of loneliness and uncertainty: “I’ve had too much to drink/ And no one’s here with me,” she wails. “Where can I go?/ I just don’t know/ I’m so alone.” –James
From krautrock to its descendants in post-punk and new wave, there are certain tropes about movement. This was music made from new technology, simultaneously imagining a futuristic world and yet depicting how we could dehumanize ourselves through our new creations. Automobiles and the space they traverse could mutate from images of the freedom we’ve built for ourselves to ones of machinery, the architecture we’ve bracketed around ourselves to stay in patterns. That is (at least) one of the stylistic traditions the young London quartet Black Midi exists in, and on their latest single “Speedway” they also tap into those recurring images of our bright technological destiny turning into containment.
A speedway, after all, is a controlled place in which you can flirt with the limits of human experience and self-destruction while still trapped within a particular rhythm. A closed loop. So far, Black Midi’s early singles and live show have hinted at a band that operates this way in general: rigid and anxious instrumentation and detached vocals, periodically spilling over into noise and bug-eyed screams. Already, they are nervy masters of the build-and-release, or the build-and-refuse-to-release. On “Speedway,” the band locks into an understated-yet-intense groove that feels as if it should break apart or erupt at any given moment and never quite does. It just further intensifies with repetition — like a driver pressing the gas pedal further down each time around the track, almost daring himself to careen outside of its boundaries. –Ryan
Last year, the producer Kenny Beats tweeted a short and beautiful mission statement: “i just want people to hear that woah kenny and know for the next 2 minutes and 30 seconds i got your back.” This is a fine goal, and he’s accomplishing it. Kenny Beats’ collaborations with rappers like Key!, ALLBLACK, and Vince Staples are some of the most reliable things we have right now. But that regular “Whoa, Kenny!” drop doesn’t appear on “Roof.” Instead, we get something better: Rico Nasty’s voice trilling “Kennyyyyyyy!” Anytime we hear that, we know some shit’s about to happen.
Kenny Beats and Rico Nasty are ideal collaborators, and “Roof” shows just what they can do together. The beat is strange and rumbling: discordant guitar notes, off-kilter bass explosions, drums that sound like car doors slamming, tension-building moments of silence. It sounds like a hyphy remix of an old Korn song. It’s a demanding beat, and Rico attacks it with absolute delight, exhilarated at her own ability to rip this thing to shreds. I don’t know how she manages to radiate absolute excitement and absolute disdain at the same time, but she does it: “Diamonds on me blind you / Ballin’ on ‘em, Caillou / I look good in every angle, so you don’t like me beside you.” –Tom
King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard have always known how to boogie. They already have a song called “Cut Throat Boogie” and another called “The Bitter Boogie.” But now, they’re doing a different kind of boogie. They’re doing the “Cyboogie.”
King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard have never known how to sit still. The Australian goon squad released a ridiculous five albums in 2017, ranging from freaked-out prog-psych to pastoral jazz-folk to hard-charging garage-rock. And yet “Cyboogie,” with its tongue-in-cheek novelty sci-fi flair, still feels different from anything they’ve done before.
For one thing, there are no guitars. Five of the band’s seven members play synth on the track. The result is a monstrous seven-minute electro-glam groove that sounds a little bit like Daft Punk singing about a depressed robot over Tame Impala’s “Elephant.” If you’re not sold by the 50th vocodered “BOOGIE!,” I just don’t know what to tell you. –Peter
Maxo Kream may be the single greatest storyteller in rap today. Punken, his great 2018 LP, overflowed with details that transported you directly into his world. And with his first single of 2019, he’s done it again, delivering a marvelously nuanced portrait of some harrowing realities.
“Meet Again” explores the painful consequences of the drug trade, the way it sweeps up entire communities of people who feel they have no other options and lands most of them in jail or a coffin. Maxo paints a rich and enthralling portrait, piling up one moving illustration after the other without ever breaking out of his casual Houston drawl. To a friend denied visitation rights, he writes letters instead, filling him in on what’s up with his mom, who his lover is screwing, who did and didn’t survive the latest shooting. All of this comes across with a matter-of-factness that reminds us these struggles are the norm and belies how awful the situation is.
Pretty much every line is quotable, but the ones about broken families hit hardest. Here’s what he tells one friend: “Let me tell you ’bout your daughter/ Yesterday she tried to walk/ Every day she gettin’ smarter/ Other day she tried to talk/ You can’t be there like a father and it’s fuckin’ with you mentally/ Court-appointed lawyer got my bro a half a century.” Here’s what he says about his own clan: “Right now I’m out on bond/ Madu, he on probation/ My lil bro on the run, he think he on vacation/ My pops back in the system, he might just die in prison/ My mom is co-defendant, so she got locked up with him/ He got snitched on by his own sister, she the eyewitness/ Now every time I see my blood cousins, I don’t even feel ‘em.” Set to Teej’s soulful backdrop with mixing by Houston legend Mike Dean, it’s dazzling and numbing all at once. –Chris