Some tough calls to make for the High Five this go-around, people. But in the interest of journalistic objectivity (or something like that), we've tempered the past week's biggest music news with some truly obscure (and at times downright peculiar) gems. Get Kendrick out of the way, then marinate in the exciting, volatile grace of of up-and-comers like Phony Ppl and Juana Molina.
"Control" - Big Sean (ft. Kendrick Lamar)
Perhaps you'd like a hand getting out from under that rock? Some assistance scraping the dirt out of your ears? How about a quick crash course on Kendrick Lamar's "Control" verse, which basically imploded the hip-hop world this past week? Here's the long and short of it: For an unprecedented three minutes, Lamar holds breathless court on the inferiority of other rappers, the inherent competitiveness of hip-hop, and his disdain for social media as a substitute for actual musical output (or, in his words, "Your Instagram can gobble these nuts"). The thing is dense, and packed with subtle references (as well as not-so-subtle ones), and requires repeated listening. But one strategy ought to to be immediately clear: The fact that Lamar has used another rapper's track as his pedestal just furthers his thesis. "I'm gonna get it even if you're in the way/And if you're in it, you'd better run for Pete's sake," he claims. No one's proved him wrong yet.
"Yesterday's Lips" - Phony Ppl
At last: an ode to young love that's more about fickle vicissitudes than it is about absurd things like marriage, kids, or long-term commitment of any kind. The fact that the members of this Brooklyn-based hip-hop/R&B collective are so young - recent high school grads, in fact - only adds legitimacy to the song's main argument: "Daytime, you claim you want the ring/Moonshine, you out shaking your thing/The bottom line is that we both young/So get some and Ima get some, we have our fun." Given how green Phony Ppl are, the beat - a swelling, clipped fragment of the Carol Burnett show's theme song - feels a bit like an inside joke that they themselves only half understand. Still, "Yesterday's Lips" is a stoned, achingly infectious jam that portends great things.
"Eras" - Juana Molina
Juana Molina may be the polar opposite of Phony Ppl. At 50, the Argentinian songwriter produces sparse and challenging meditations that feel more like whispered secrets than actual songs. "Eras" scurries forward in 7/8 time, undergoing several mutations along the way. What starts out sounding like mellow electronic introspection soon blossoms into a pop-tinted chorus, collapses into faint noise, then builds slowly all over again. Molina, meanwhile, switches between Spanish and English, her voice mournful and begging us to join her, to make up for lost time. "Come quickly," she beckons. We are compelled to oblige.
"We Are Golden" - Young Wonder and Black Light Dinner Party
"The world has enough uncertainty. Just add water, and voila!" muses Young Wonder's Rachel Koeman at the beginning of this elastic, hypnotizing track. Somehow twinkling and momentous at the same time, it's more of a tone poem than a pop song. Like fellow boy/girl electronica duo Purity Ring, Young Wonder churns out buzzing, swirling dispatches of love and hurt. What sets them apart, though, is their capacity for remaining wide-eyed and fanciful, even as the clipped sounds of robot heartbreak swell behind them.
"Middle Sea" - Yuck
No surprises here - just purposeful, propulsive, and fuzz-scraped indie rock. The textures are slightly reminiscent of Hum, those scandalously underappreciated purveyors of mid-90s malaise rock, and "Middle Sea's" themes of escape and impermanence certainly wouldn't be out of place in that period. But there's also something tidier going on in Yuck's work. Their refrain here, "I don't want to live forever/I don't want to live; I want you now" feels a bit more grown up (or, at least, comfortable in its own simplicity) than most rock was 20 years ago.