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A Tribe Called Quest, The Body, and Julie Byrne Top Our Top Songs of the Week (11/18)

The search for the next great singer continues...

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So, in case you missed it, we spent quite a while putting together a list of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time. While none of those vocalists produced songs that made their way into this edition of Top Songs of the Week, there are some great performances to be heard, ranging from buried-alive noise metal screaming to some of the sweetest experimental pop. Sing along if you dare!

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10. Nine of Swords – “Two Step II”

nine of swords two step A Tribe Called Quest, The Body, and Julie Byrne Top Our Top Songs of the Week (11/18)

Few people, if any, get to skate through life treated as an equal, and there comes a point in life when you realize that you deserve more respect than you’re getting. There are bosses who fail to recognize your contributions, friends who take that constant ear for granted, and family members who never quite vocalize love the way they should. Rachel Gordon is all too familiar with that, and on Nine of Swords’ new track, she pairs that need for credit with the unbridled anger we’ve all accumulated inside ourselves before. “You recognize me/ Only after I’m gone,” she yells. “This is no excuse/ This is fucking abuse.” It’s accompanied by menacing guitars and constant cymbal crashes — an entrancing look into what the rest of their upcoming album, You Will Never Die, will bring when it drops November 24th. The Purchase, NY, act have been penning thrash-filled hardcore for a while, but on “Two Step II”, they bring their music to a new level where anyone, even those weary of hardcore, can connect. –Nina Corcoran


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09. Willow Smith – “November 9th'”

Willow Smith // Photo by Philip Cosores
Photo by Philip Cosores

“Baby girl, I know you’re tired/ Don’t let the world put out your fire,” Willow Smith sings on “November 9th”, a song she wrote the day after the US elections. “Take my hand and you will see/ Sadness and anger aren’t everything.” The youngest Smith has the presence of mind to at once encourage continued passion, to find hope, and to move beyond the negative emotions of frustration and depression, all wrapped up in a deceptively simple and beautiful melody. Her pitch-shifted vocal harmonies and stutter-stepping guitar match the song’s straightforward message. Willow won’t get bogged down in pain and politics, instead trying to put some purity into the world. –Lior Phillips


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08. Ne-Hi – “Stay Young”

ne hi A Tribe Called Quest, The Body, and Julie Byrne Top Our Top Songs of the Week (11/18)

Though they’re still relative youngsters, CoSigned Chicago indie rockers Ne-Hi are starting to show some signs of maturity — and I’m not just talking about the dope beards. There’s a taut, controlled beauty to their new single, “Stay Young”, something that could’ve tipped over into raw energy or over-blissed giddiness on a previous Ne-Hi record. “Hey, don’t wanna say/ I wanna stay young,” they sing over autumn-leaf-orange guitar from guitarist/vocalist Jason Balla. The big, sighing vocal lines are the kind of thing you sing along to the first time you hear them, and then once you familiarize yourself with the lyrics, the hook sinks even deeper into your brain. Ne-Hi’s new album, Offers, drops February 24th via Grand Jury. –Adam Kivel


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07. Meat Wave – “The Incessant”

Meat Wave // Photo by Nina Corcoran
Photo by Nina Corcoran

Chicago trio Meat Wave are prepping for the release of a new album in 2017, and they’re prepping to greet the new year the way half of America is: with dread, fear, and a question of character given the incoming president represents a wash of greed. “The Incessant” is a mix of guilt and irritation about corruption, but more specifically the roles we play when we don’t call it out. Corporations refuse to pay fees and government entities hold loans, and the more Chris Sutter’s voice yells about them, the more aware he seems to become of his own fears. “The banal sensation of following a dream/ The realization it wasn’t what it seemed,” he sings over elastic guitarwork. “Making eye contact with a dog/ Could always say It’s not my fault.” The incessant is coming for you no matter what you do. The band’s propulsive sound, steered with snarky production by Steve Albini, makes that much clear. It’s how you fight the incessant that determines your character, but if everything is immoral and wrong to begin with, what separates you from what you are villainizing? –Nina Corcoran

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06. The Magnetic Fields – “’93 Me and Fred and Dave and Ted”

 A Tribe Called Quest, The Body, and Julie Byrne Top Our Top Songs of the Week (11/18)

No one raises the bar for ambition quite like The Magnetic Fields. On single “’93 Me and Fred and Dave and Ted”, frontman Stephin Merritt showcases what’s to come off an album of 50 songs that sees him playing 100 instruments. Thankfully, this song comes in the form of a short tale about poverty and bedbugs, making the rest of the album — 50 Song Memoir out March 3rd — and its daunting length somewhat less intimidating. The four characters cozy up in their home, making the best of what they’re given. “All in two rooms with one bed/ So we slept on the towels and rugs,” Merritt sings. “But ah, we were young and vaguely in love/ And who needed money or drugs?” Merritt distances himself from egocentric writing (“I am the least autobiographical person you are likely to meet,” he told NPR), but he delivers the song’s lines like he’s recounting a personal story with comfort. It’s that, combined with the springing instrumentation and gravely vocals, that lend an otherwise sad topic the quirky charm The Magnetic Fields are known for creating. –Nina Corcoran


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05. Sinkane – “U’Huh”

sinkane lli digital A Tribe Called Quest, The Body, and Julie Byrne Top Our Top Songs of the Week (11/18)

It would seem that musicians around the world and across genre are sensing our communal need for some comfort. “‘Kulu shi tamaam’ is an Arabic phrase meaning ‘Everything is great!’” Sinkane offers to those coming to his new song, “U’Huh”, an early taste of his new album, Life & Livin’ It. “We’re all gonna be alright,” he repeats on the hook, along with that beautiful Arabic phrase. The song’s north African polyrhythms and looping call-and-response vocal lines carry an undeniable energy, the kind of thing that can power a whole lot of hope and positivity. Life & Livin’ It will be available February 10th via City Slang. –Lior Phillips


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04. Chavez – “The Bully Boys”

chavez photo copy A Tribe Called Quest, The Body, and Julie Byrne Top Our Top Songs of the Week (11/18)

By releasing their first new music in 20 years during the first half of January, essential indie rock band Chavez are already gunning for that Best Reunion of 2017 title. Led by frontman Matt Sweeney’s inimitable, gruff vocals, the quartet sound fresh on “The Bully Boys”, a straight-ahead rough-up that retains some math rock elements in its interlocking guitar parts. They’ve all been pretty busy in the past two decades, but there’s a viable energy to this one, something that will hopefully propel them past a three-track EP and onto a full return to form. But, if you’re going to return with a single track, you’d be hard-pressed to outdo “The Bully Boys”, a fuzzy, triumphant rumbler. Cockfighters will be available via Matador on January 13th. –Adam Kivel


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03. Julie Byrne – “Natural Blue”

Julie Byrne's new album, Not Even Happiness, comes out Jan. 27, 2017.

Though you might think you know what “blue” is, you get closer to the ideal when you see the sky on an endless summer day or the water off the coast. There’s just a pure version of the everyday color that we think we all know and understand from childhood on. Singer-songwriter Julie Byrne’s latest, “Natural Blue”, captures that feeling and how frequently it’s tied to a special someone, both in its lyrics and its soaring, crystalline harmonies. “Forever and when I first saw you, the sky was such a natural blue,” she sighs, layers of acoustic guitar and self-harmonies hitting like the water and the sky meeting, violins threading between them like ships against the horizon. “Natural Blue” is an early taste of Byrne’s new Not Even Happiness, due out January 27th via Bada Bing Records. –Lior Phillips


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02. The Body – “To Know and To Hide”

the body A Tribe Called Quest, The Body, and Julie Byrne Top Our Top Songs of the Week (11/18)

On their two albums this year (the collaborative One Day You Will Ache Like I Ache with Full of Hell and their superb No One Deserves Happiness), noise metal duo The Body succeeded by scrubbing listeners’ brains clean with volume and intensity. Their contribution to the ever-awesome Adult Swim Singles Program “To Know and To Hide” goes full John Carpenter. After a slow-burning, distorted drum and shivery string march, Chip King’s howled vocals reveal themselves low in the mix, the victim of some malicious force represented by the forlorn and dread of the sub-bass and down-turned synths. Something wicked this way comes — or maybe it’s been here all along. –Lior Phillips


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01. A Tribe Called Quest – “We the People…”

Tribe SNL

When word came that there was another A Tribe Called Quest album coming, it was difficult to expect a whole lot in terms of topical poignancy — rap, as a genre, isn’t the most forgiving to longer-tenured acts, and that’s not even considering the fact that Phife had passed. But then We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service turned out to be a real gem, and songs like “We the People….” had quite a lot to say, here Q-Tip and Phife Dawg (in recordings made prior to his death) discussing racism, homophobia, gentrification, and other types of oppression. In a powerful moment, Q and Phife rail against “The fog and the smog of news media that logs/ False narratives of Gods that came up against the odds,” the boundaries of life and death defeated by the drive to change the world. —Adam Kivel

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