Welcome to the Weekly Fiver, where I’ll pick five recently released songs of varying degrees of quality and thoroughly break them down for you. No two songs will be on the same tier, and they’ll be listed from best to worst. The top song will be an excellent must-hear tune, while the bottom song will be one you ought to stay away from or else you will make your ears sad. It’s all very scientific.
Interesting how the influence of the 80s is so incredibly prevalent in modern music, but it’s really only mined from a handful of artists? There’s a whole decade of sounds to use and yet most acts only take cues from U2, Prince, INXS, The Cure, and Bananarama.
Jack Antonoff though, being the drama geek he is, knows that the most emotive moments are sometimes also the most heavy-handed. And he’s not embarrassed to telegraph his appreciation for those moments. “Don’t Take the Money” has hints of Erasure, Simple Minds, and even a little Howard Jones in its DNA. It’s decidedly uncool, but after years of constant plastic jangle-funk “coolness” from every other band in the world, this New York love story is a welcome island of respite.
Pretty Decent Song of the Week
Ordinary Idols- Cold War Kids
Emboldened by the massive breakthrough success of their excellent song “First”, Cold War Kids decided that their new album….would have several carbon copies of “First”. That song’s boom-stomp formula is repeated more than a few times on LA Divine, only run through a modern lens that includes “soulful” oversinging (thanks, Imagine Dragons and Fall Out Boy) and 70s singer-songwriter chord progressions (thanks, Hozier).
Ironically enough, the best song on the new record is not one of the many “hip” stylized tunes but a straightforward basher called “Ordinary Idols” that spells out its mission from the start. It’s an indie rock tune, it has a piano hook, and it has a crash cymbal filled chorus. And even though the verses sound uncomfortably close to a generic Katy Perry song, the rest of the song is dynamic enough to enjoy.
Meh Song of the Week
Slip Away- Perfume Genius
This one’s perplexing, because this song is anything but “meh”. In fact it could potentially fit in the top two categories, as well as the bottom one. It’s far from generic- but it is amazing and frustrating in equal measure, and those parts balance it out to settle right here in the middle of the write-up.
The pieces are all there. This could be one of the best indie-pop songs written in years, if frontman Mike Hadreas had bothered to put them in a classic song structure. Instead it’s haphazardly tossed together, going big at the wrong moments, too briefly, and not enough. At a scant 2:45, it functions more like an iTunes preview of itself rather than a full song. It’s an enjoyable fragment, but it can’t stand on its own even with its collection of platinum hooks.
Below Average Song of the Week
This is basically the band seeing what they can get away with. It’s just a bunch of their sonic trademarks mashed together in a silly mess. Yeah it sounds like an alt-J song, but it’s not really. It’s one hook surrounded with a bunch of disjointed sounds. The first few songs from this new record have both been let downs, so the prospect of another hit album from the band is looking increasingly dimmer.
Disappointing Song of the Week
Empire- Vancouver Sleep Clinic
Cool name. Cool aesthetic. Poor execution.
Like (actual) Canadian act Banners, this Australian solo project aims to be “ethereal stadium rock”. Tim Bettinson even sounds like Michael Joseph Nelson– a wheezy falsetto that sounds like air rushing out of a hole in an inflatable mattress. They also both have an incredibly bland sense of songwriting. Very meat-and-potatoes. Vancouver Sleep Clinic do it better only because their arsenal of production tricks is much bigger, so you’re at least getting some cool drumbeats with your lazy whoa-oh-oh hooks.
But this song is the very epitome of “bad idea only done because everyone else did it”. It’s got some cool aspects like the overt Auto-Tune and the brass section, but nothing worth mentioning melodically. Fairly monotonous chorus that stays reserved each time it comes around, but promises to go big towards the end. There’s a massive instrumental build-up- and the payload never arrives. The song’s over. Not only is it incredibly cheap, it’s overdone and boring.