With half the year behind us I thought I might stop and share the songs I haven’t put down yet. I couldn’t isolate a running songwriting theme or particular strand of DNA through these tunes — it’s got everything from informally released big-budget pop to micro-label indie-rock — but suffice it to say that each one’s burrowed its way into my brain or heart. And some cases, both.
Timber Timbre — “Hot Dreams”
This, from Canadian magicians Timber Timbre, is the most arresting five minutes of new music I’ve heard this year; it’s eerie, suspenseful and lush, and listens like a noir murder mystery, narrated by Taylor Kirk’s sturdy, clear baritone. But for how powerfully it’s sung, “Hot Dreams” keeps you in suspense not with its vocals but with a single, extended synth note held down for 40 seconds at a time.
Sturgill Simpson — “The Promise”
If you can listen to the golden-voiced Kentuckian Sturgill Simpson sing “The Promise” without sobbing into your beer, then congratulations, you’re more emotionally composed than I am. It’s a cover, believe it or not, of a cornball ‘80s new wave hit, but Simpson’s countrified version gives the song a new life that I think fits the lyrics much better than the synth-pop original.
Justin Bieber, ft. Migos — “Looking For You”
I keep coming back to this one pretty much for the third Migo’s verse, which is absolute magma-grade rap fire (“My life is historic / travel ‘round the world like I’m in orbit). Bieber sets the club setting and capably handles the R&B chorus while Takeoff, Quavo and Offset do vocal backflips all around him, shouting onomatopoeias until each gets his turn to blurt a verse. It’s the hip-hop equivalent of a fizzy soda, crackling and popping with every fresh line.
EMA — “3Jane”
It’s not very often such a slow-moving song produces catharsis within the listener, but that’s what you get with EMA’s “3Jane,” a gorgeous rock ballad and the thematic centerpiece of her second record, “The Future’s Void,” which is fixated on the deterioration of privacy in the internet age. Somehow, “3Jane” doesn’t get completely ruined when Erika Anderson sings the word “interwebs” in earnest, but I figure if Miley Cyrus can perform at the Grammys in front of a giant floating internet cat wearing an outfit covered in pizzas, hey, anything goes.
St. Vincent — “Severed Crossed Fingers”
This is the song that brings indie-rock queen St. Vincent’s excellent self-titled record to a swooning, contented close, and in true St. Vincent fashion, it’s as grotesque as it is catchy.
Young Thug ft. A$AP Ferg & Freddie Gibbs — “Old English”
2014 has not been a banner year for rap and the longer we go without a top-shelf release on a major it seems the greater my expectations build for Young Thug’s major-label debut. “Old English” is a promising placeholder, showcasing Thug’s humor and distinct high-culture-to-low similes (“My jewelry glow like the tokens at Chucky Cheese”) and proving he can hold serve with one of the genre’s most dynamic, in-demand weirdos in Ferg.
Alcest — “Opale”
No idea what Stephane Paut is singing about here ‘cause it’s in French, but it sure is beautiful. “Opale” crests and breaks with the dynamics of a metal song but instead of thunderous drums and overly distorted guitars we get gentle vocal coos and softened melodies. It’s bright and comforting, shoegaze fit for your local Starbucks.
Colourmusic — “Silvertape”
After years of shaking listeners with fleshy, bone-rattling rock grooves, Oklahoma City’s Colourmusic made a delicate, beautiful sliver of pop called “Silvertape.” The song’s title comes from an image in its lyrics, which are about how being in love is sorta like being enveloped into a whole ‘nother person, and since the record came out “Silvertape”’s become my favorite Colourmusic song. Not just because of the beauty of sentiment (“We disappear into one another / We’re not coming back again”), but because of how well it’s matched by the swirling, gorgeous sounds around it.