This week’s been a good one for once dormant forces reawakening in a major way. Post-dubstep auteur Burial, who seems to have no concept of time whatsoever, released his first tracks in six months. Flying Lotus had a Queen-inspired return that marked his first new music since 2014’s You’re Dead! Grizzly Bear unveiled the official first single from the forthcoming Painted Ruins, its first record in five years. Indie rock stalwarts Broken Social Scene shook the sleep from their eyes and gave us the title track to their first album in seven years. If there’s a common link between a few of the tracks found below, it’s that.
But really, as will be the case in future weeks, the five tracks found below (technically six) are just damn good and deserve to be heard.
Honorable Mention: Selena Gomez- “Bad Liar”
This really shouldn’t work. On paper, Selena Gomez singing over the bassline from Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer” is a disastrous proposal. Tina Weymouth’s bass part from that tune is one of the most recognizable in rock music and it’s what gives David Byrne’s unhinged performance so much of its vivaciousness.
Gomez’s “Bad Liar” works because it doesn’t give into wild emotions. Gomez is unflappably cool over the iconic bassline as she talks about trying her damndest “not to give into you.” That she never gets into that urge, that she keeps calm under pressure, is a joy to hear. That, and well, the bass. The bass is pretty good too.
5. Flying Lotus- “Night Grows Pale”
That Flying Lotus’ “return” would feature a flip of a deep-ish Queen cut is sort of perfect. FlyLo’s long proven adept at extracting deep emotion of out weird sources and samples. Hell, one of his most tender moments on wax features Thundercat mostly mumbling. And while Freddie Mercury’s voice is semi-obscured, his voice doesn’t lose any of its impactfulness. Any of the well-timed bass knocks or glistening key parts can’t distract from the rich emotions in question. FlyLo can’t hide his emotions no matter how heady and insular the music gets.
4. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit- “If We Were Vampires”
Jason Isbell gets a lot of praise for his writing and one reason for that is because the guy is good at taking big, knotty concepts and carefully untangling them to their simplest components. It’s true of “Outfit,” which frames the struggle of accepting the good of your upbringing while eschewing the bad on a father telling his son to never lose his accent. It’s true of the cancer meditation in the song “Elephant,” which finds that one of the most debilitating parts of the disease is how others will often refuse to acknowledge it. And it’s true of “If We Were Vampires” from the forthcoming The Nashville Sound.
The recognition that, in some ways, all of us die alone is straightforward enough (if deeply wearying). What Isbell does is track that recognition in a couple that loves each other very much. The best possible outcome for that love, for all of the years of helping each other out, is that one day one of them will die and the other will be left alone. But rather than be crushed by such a heavy realization, they each realize they’ve got to make do with what they’ve got. The ending’s basically a certainty, nothing else is.
3. Vince Staples- “Big Fish” ft. Juicy J
It can be exhausting listening to Vince Staples’ music. In the past few years in hip hop, I don’t think there’s been a single artist as world-weary and borderline nihilistic as the Long Beach MC. Certainly no one who delivers such resignation in such evocative and rich language. And while it can be exhausting listening to Staples’ music, it doesn’t have to be because of how damn good he is at conveying that weariness.
Just peep a critical line from “Big Fish” off the eagerly anticipated Big Fish Theory: “Swimming upstream while I’m tryna keep my bread, From the sharks make me wanna put the hammer to my head.” Nevermind that he’s “counting up hundreds by the thousand” over a sproingy dance beat. The same people that wanted him to fail back in the day are still around, they’ve just traded bullets for briefcases. It’s brutal for sure but the way Staples talks about it isn’t brutish.
2. Amber Coffman- “Nobody Knows”
There can be unmistakable joy in just letting go of the past and boldly embracing the future. It’s freeing. It’s cleansing. It’s relieving. It’s promising. It’s the central joy of Amber Coffman’s funk-pop joint “Nobody Knows” where the former Dirty Projectors vocalist warm hums “When the blows, I just wanna blow away. I wanna say goodbye to today.” It doesn’t even really matter if Coffman makes such a departure a reality. Her affecting consideration of it is more than enough.
1. Grizzly Bear- “Mourning Sound”
When I mentioned artistic re-emergence in the intro, this is the song I mostly had in mind. Re-emergence might not even be the right word here because that would imply, on some level, that “Mourning Sound” has something in common with Grizzly Bear’s past work, which it mostly doesn’t.
Yes, Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen retain some of their dynamic harmonizing and subtle melodicism but much of the rest of the Grizzly Bear playbook gets absolutely shredded. It’s as if the Yellow House has been demolished and replaced with a discotheque run by some super introspective dudes. Though “Mourning Sound” isn’t as inward looking as past Grizzly Bear efforts either. It’s much more attenuated to the moment and able to watch things “burn out and die” without agonizing over that dissolution. “Mourning Sound” is the sound of the band moving forward lyrically, musically, physically, spiritually and emotionally. Not bad for one comeback.