Top Songs of the Week (4/17)

Crystal Castles, Vic Mensa, and Ratatat really surprised us this week.


At what point does the “surprise” signifier stop getting attached to singles and albums that appear without a schedule? When you get an unexpected treat seemingly each and every week, it’s hard to be all that surprised. None of us expected a new single from Crystal Castles, but well, there it was. We were all pretty excited that Vic Mensa made it onto Kanye’s album, but then a track that flips their roles? New studio music from Ratatat and Brand New? The list goes on and on. All of these surprises make choosing a top 10 every week difficult, but we’re always thrilled to do the heavy lifting.

10. Michal Menert – “Jettison”

Michael Menert Jettison

Featuring saxophonist Dominic Lalli of Big Gigantic and Break Science producer/keyboardist Borahm Lee, Michal Menert sourced from the electro-soul scene to co-construct the inspired melodies of “Jettison”, from his upcoming Space Jazz. “Jettison” stays on the heady, more celestial tides of the sound. He minimizes some of the genre’s more familiar, festival-friendly low-end exploits in favor of dusty percussive breaks, intermittent vinyl scratching, and a brilliantly fractured post-production duet. If J Dilla was still rocking beats, he would be quite proud to nab this one. Grab the LP April 21st via Super Best Records. –Derek Staples

9. Vic Mensa feat. Kanye West – “U Mad”

Kanye Vic Mensa

The first thing you notice about “U Mad” is its extreme audacity: Chicago rapper and singer Vic Mensa has shown his potential as a hitmaker with songs like “Down on My Luck”, but this is a new monster, a song that’s obnoxious and proud of it. His verses are rampantly hedonistic (“If she bad I might hit a bitch in the elevator like Ray Rice,” he goes, some might say unforgivably), while his Chicago elder Kanye West offers up one of his most purely entertaining cameos in recent memory. Despite everything, Mensa still sounds like an underdog here, but with a few more songs like this, a takeover is inevitable. –Michael Madden

8. Maritime – “Milwaukee”

Maritime Milwaukee

The largest city in Wisconsin has been getting a lot of indie shine lately. After getting the “clever indie rock tune with a fun video” treatment from Aimee Mann and Ted Leo, Milwaukee gets some of the same from the locals of Maritime — though this time with the heartwarming sincerity that might be expected of these indie veterans with some emo roots. The four-piece dropped this one in honor of Milwaukee Day, with Davey von Bohlen exalting his beloved “one-horse town.” Every city deserves their own “Milwaukee”, but not every city has its own Maritime to do it justice. –Adam Kivel

7. Hudson Mohawke – “Ryderz”

new album Hudson Mohawke

There’s something humble about “Ryderz”, at least at first. Given Hudson Mohawke’s reputation as one of our most inventive producers, the vintage foundation of the track — D.J. Rogers’ 1973 soul song “Watch Out for the Riders” — would seem counterintuitive. Granted, after the sample hangs in the air awhile, HudMo bridges old and new with a head-thump of drums and neon synth melodies, bringing the production into the 21st (or maybe the 22nd) century. Find it on Lantern, out June 16th via Warp. –Michael Madden

6. Nick Diamonds – “Witch Window”

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Islands frontman and Unicorns co-head Nick Thorburn has tried his hand with more than a handful of projects over the years, but his work scoring the smash podcast Serial might have made the most mainstream headway. And, in typical Thorburn fashion, now that his name is a household name in the NPR set, he’s returning to an old moniker for his new solo album: Nick Diamonds. New track “Witch Window” doesn’t exactly return him to the Unicorns sound where the name originated, but it sure is sparkly and multifaceted. Like the best diamonds, the bouncy synths and circular vocal hook are also conflict-free, so there’s no guilt: These wounds “are a triumph against death and decay,” he notes. This one comes from City of Quartz, due June 16th via Manque Music. –Adam Kivel

5. Downtown Boys – “Wave of History”

Downtown Boys Communism

There are saxophones that waft in glitter, and then there are saxes that rip a song open like a raw wound. Guess which kind Downtown Boys prefer? The Providence punks howl and writhe with righteous fury on their latest single, “Wave of History”. Those saxes don’t cut more than a few notes, but like the old Jamie Stewart project Ten in the Swear Jar, their breathy, ragged tone makes its mark. “We are the surge,” shout dual vocalists Victoria Ruiz and Joey DeFrancesco, as if all that history they’re surfing in on is about to make a turn for the radical. Downtown Boys are the kind of band to call their Don Giovanni debut Full Communism, after all. –Sasha Geffen

4. Brand New – “Mene”

Brand New - mene song - new

As far as brand new material goes, Brand New went quiet after 2009’s Daisy, and at just two and a half minutes, “Mene” doesn’t feel like a “comeback single” in the sense of being a grand return. Instead, it gets straight to the point with ominous chords and a burning chorus that culminates with a line (“We don’t feel anything”) that almost feels like a jab at anyone who thinks the band are returning for a piece of the so-called emo revival. No word on a new album yet, but it seems unlikely that a quick single, however strong, is all the music we’ll get from them this year; in fact, the band played another new song, “Sealed to Me”, at a concert in Los Angeles this week. –Michael Madden

3. Ratatat – “Cream on Chrome”

Ratatat 2015

Closing out Coachella’s dance-centric Sahara tent last Saturday, Ratatat showcased their ability to effortlessly fuse the often combative indie and EDM realms. Maybe we should call it InDM? For all those unable to make it out to the desert last weekend, Mike Stroud and Evan Mast were kind enough to offer up “Cream on Chrome” — expected to feature on their forthcoming fifth full-length — just hours before they took the stage. Nearly a half-decade removed from LP4, clever guitar interplay remains the focus of the duo; those strings are just now more flexible as they detour around agitated synth riffs.  Purveyors of some rather interesting sonic choices (like the feline screeches in fan favorite “Wildcat”) “Cream on Chrome” assures fans that the pair have only continued to grow more dynamically cunning with age. Anticipate XL Recordings to drop the still untitled project sometime this summer. –Derek Staples

2. Crystal Castles – “Frail”

Crystal Castles - frail new song

Now that he’s a solo artist, Ethan Kath has pushed onward under the name Crystal Castles with the release of a surprise single called “Frail”. Though the band’s last album, (III), featured Alice Glass’ vocals more heavily than ever, “Frail” picks up right where their third LP left off. It’s full of analog steam, jagged beats, and pained, distorted vocals. Glass’ mournful words don’t appear in the garble, but the sense of loss that permeated (III) carries through to this new endeavor. There’s no word on whether Kath will release another Crystal Castles album, or if this is a one-off parting gift, but it’s good to hear another length of his icy beatwork again. –Sasha Geffen

1. Circuit des Yeux – “Fantasize the Scene”

04-Circuit Des Yeux

Haley Fohr strikes a familiar pose as Circuit des Yeux. She sings and she plays a guitar. You know what that looks like, and nine times out of 10, you know what it sounds like. But the Chicago songwriter’s avant-garde folk project transforms ubiquitous settings into alien landscapes. She sings, but with an eerie, throaty force curling the edges of her earthy voice. She plays, but chases her guitar lines into cramped corners, then back out into wide moonlit expanses. Her new song, “Fantasize the Scene”, taken from the forthcoming In Plain Speech (out May 19th on Thrill Jockey), marks one of the first recordings she’s made with a full band to flesh out her sound. But this domain is still hers, and the spell she casts over it is potent enough to paralyze you. –Sasha Geffen