There's a strong smack of decay wafting up from this week's selections. Despite their solid craftsmanship, the songs all offer different renditions of morose deterioration -- of faith, of consciousness, of love. Some of them are richly orchestrated; others are spare and raw, like bleached bones in the desert sun.
I Break Horses -- "Faith"
This track, from the Swedish synth pop duo I Break Horses, is an examination of impeccability's inevitable cracks; it gives off the impression of a complex machine upshifting into gear, functioning smoothly for awhile, then breaking apart in slow motion. Lead singer Maria Lindén's droning lyrics are barely discernible, but that's not the point. The instrumentation -- carefully lacquered synths atop a frenetic dance beat -- is the real centerpiece, punctuated by the bittersweet dissonance the band slathered atop the single, "Denial," which came out in August.
Broken Bells -- "Holding on For Life"
Set your favorite Bee Gees record a spin. Then place a full cup of scotch on it, slowing it down to half its normal speed. Finally, sit down with the rest of that bottle, grab an old photo album, and drink yourself into shitty oblivion. That is perhaps the closest experiential analogue to Broken Bells' heart-wrenching gem of disco sludge. The song's chorus, sung by The Shins' James Mercer, is unmistakably Gibbsian, but the real treat is the unexpected surge of Beatles melodicism in the bridge. It's like coming up for air after you've been bobbing for cocaine in a toilet full of glitter. In a good way.
7 Days of Funk -- "Faden Away"
When did Snoop Dogg become so demanding? Years ago, he forced us to spell out the whole name -- the perpetually purred "S-N-O-O-P dee-oh-double-gee." More recently, we were dragged along on an ill-fated fetishization of Rastafarian culture, a la "Snoop Lion." Now, in a nod to Bootsy Collins's gaudy antics, we're being gently reminded that Snoop is not in fact Snoop at all, but rather "Snoopzilla," a jehri-curled purveyor of greasy space funk. With a certain level of renown, some artists seem intent on dragging us by the ear through their own gimcrack revelations. The worst part though? This one's actually kind of good. Dâm-Funk's synths burble and zip, and Snoop, as it turns out, provides a pretty well-sanded simulacra of doobie-fueled funkspeak. It may not be 1981 anymore, but Snoop can take us to the next best thing.
Sway Clarke II -- "I Don't Need Much"
There's a pleasant (if perplexing) charge of emotional frankness shooting through hip-hop these days. Nowadays Drake bleats to the mainstream about his fame's inescapable emptiness, and artists like Frank Ocean and the Weeknd complicate the picture with their own doomy diatribes, too. The theme that runs through all of their work -- and on this gorgeous track from the Canadian newcomer Sway Clarke II -- is excess. What's to be done when you have everything and it's still not enough? "Don't get me wrong," Clarke assures us. "I love to live the fast life." But he's bored by it, too: "I don't get turned on/By the Louis Vuitton/And all the flashing light." This imagery -- the men of hip-hop marooned in the cul de sac of their own aspirations -- is a powerful one. It's where hip-hop is going after everyone seemed so sure it had nowhere left to go.
Sky Ferreira -- "You're Not the One"
Strip away all the hubbub about Ferreira's modeling career, risqué album cover, and Hollywood upbringing, and what you have here is a cheeky, girlish and thoroughly competent cri de guerre. "You're Not The One" borrows gleefully and unabashedly from Cyndi Lauper, but it adds its own sonic contours as well. The message of raucous female independence may now be age old, but it can still be starched, spit-polished, and hung high for all to enjoy.