The High Five: 5 New Songs That You Need to Hear
This week's selections are best understood and savored through steady repetition. While songs by the Weeknd and Neko Case build steadily into heart-wrenching wails, the antics of Hellogoodbye and Sebadoh reveal their sparkling complexity at a slower clip. The common thread is that you'll need some time to digest. Pull up a chair.
"Live For" - The Weeknd (Ft. Drake)
At their sharpest, Drake and The Weeknd craft sonic experiences in which excess wilts into emptiness and pleasures float fuzzily just out of reach. "Crew Love," from Drake's 2011 release, Take Care, was a cavernous and staticky masterpiece, equal parts insecurity and braggadocio ("I guess we'll never know what Harvard gets us," he raps, "But seeing my family have it all/Took the place of that desire for diplomas on the wall"). The song's main triumph was helping to inject sadness into a genre that had, for years, been counting its bills and guffawing falsely.
"Live For" doesn't stray far from this path, and that's a good thing. Hip-hop has only just begun tapping into its deep reserves of despondency, and Drake is among this movement's most eloquent ambassadors. His secrets tend to trip into stilted, croaking confessions: "Things I shouldn't share/I mean for the sake of my career/I'm not trying to stunt/I'm just telling you the truth, I swear." He has a way of telling us everything while making it seem like he's giving nothing up.
"Night Still Comes" - Neko Case
Perhaps because "Night Still Comes" is a slow-simmer ballad -- or perhaps because it's not as combustible and sardonic as "Man," the first single from Neko Case's forthcoming album -- it hasn't yet garnered much attention. But give it time. A paean to Case's struggles with clinical depression, the song seems to steadily peel away at its own defenses. Her sadness, initially framed as "A hilarious joke for some dead pharaoh," eventually warps into a desperate refrain, at once beautiful and haunting: "You never held it at all."
"Born Too Late" - Dent May
There's something unmistakably cinematic (some would say gaudy, but we'll stick with cinematic) about "Born Too Late." Is it the string section? The wailing, unabashedly disco-flecked chorus? At any rate, the sheer aural pleasures of this song make a strong case for looking the other way at its somewhat pervy lyrical content. To wit: "Born too late to tell you that I love you baby/but I want you to know I've been thinking about you lately." Is this a comment on our generation's emotional numbness, or a Woody Allen-style call for acceptance of "unconventional" love? Whatever it is, heed and savor that shimmering, shimmying chorus.
"Everything Is Debatable" - Hellogoodbye
With such flatulent synths and such a careful lacquering of disco guitar, it's up for debate whether or not lead singer Forrest Kline's proclamation that "It's such an arbitrary line that we dance" is some sort of inside joke. Indeed, it goes without saying that throngs of hormone-drunk teens (and twentysomethings, for that matter) will grind and neck mindlessly as this song soundtracks summer's imminent wane. And yet, to write it off as a mere synth-pop dance jam is disingenuous. The orchestration, though doubtlessly built for booty shaking, carries enough complexity to feel redeeming. And the overall theme -- that nothing is certain -- is at least a bit more introspective than traditional dance music's forget-everything-and-get-down narrative. A little doubt goes a long way.
"State of Mine" - Sebadoh
After a 14-year recording hiatus, the men of Sebadoh locked themselves in a studio in Massachusetts and began working on their forthcoming album, Defend Yourself. Given these circumstances, it's no surprise that "State of Mine," the first single, feels simultaneously reckless and retro. The no-frills sound that the band perfected throughout the '90s is still intact, but there's something well-worn and masterful about this track. It feels like a statement the band had been meaning to make for years.