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Top 10 Songs of the Month: The Killers, Saba, Queens of the Stone Age

A little bit of hip-hop, a little bit of rock, a little bit of pop, a little bit of greatness

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As I wrote in the intro to Monday’s Most Anticipated Albums of Fall 2017 feature, it can be hard to tell if the world of music is speeding up or slowing down at this time of the year. We’re running lower than ever on Friday release dates, and December usually brings only a handful of releases worth rolling out of bed for. And yet, to look at the top songs of August, you’d think the best might still be yet to come. We have buzz-worthy up-and-comers ready to burst, longtime favorites bidding a fitting farewell, a curious super-duo we’re dying to hear more from, and alt and indie rock royalty at every turn. To those ready to call it a year and go into hibernation as soon as the final days of summer wane, I’d strongly urge against it. In fact, grab that rake and maybe even a snow shovel. So far, the good music shows no signs of stopping, or even letting up at all.

–Matt Melis
Editorial Director

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10. Kelela – “LMK”

Listen: Kelela doesn’t play games. On new single “LMK”, she lays all her cards on the table and puts it plainly: “It ain’t that deep either way/No one’s trying to settle down.” All she wants is for the object of her attention to let her know if he’s down too. Considering how long we’ve been hankering for a debut LP from Kelela, it shouldn’t be too hard to just tell her that we’re ready to match her straightforward statement of intentions. Plus, producer Jam City’s electro-R&B bass wobble suggest that there’s a lot more sensuality coming around the corner. The finally-almost-here debut LP Take Me Apart drops October 6th via Warp.–Lior Phillips
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09. Brand New – “Same Logic/Teeth”

Brand New is one of those rare bands that a generation has not only grown up with but taken along with them into adulthood in a meaningful manner – not merely as a nostalgic throwback. Rarer still, however, is that some of the songs released last week on Science Fiction, what will likely be the band’s final album – they’ve proclaimed 2018 will be their last year as a band – are gaining as much traction as longtime favorites. “Same Logic/Teeth” fits that bill to a T. The song plays out like an intense conversation between voices in one’s mind, voices that reveal tendencies towards depression, unhealthy coping mechanisms, and self-harm, but at the same time, a desire to keep trying to fix oneself – all while those around the person lack insight into, and perhaps sympathy for, what he or she is enduring. In a year that sees rock stars struggling with the demons of mental illness, honest songs like this one can open up critical dialogues that save lives. Please be kind and listen to each other. –Matt Melis

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08. Phoebe Bridgers – “Motion Sickness”

Los Angeles songwriter Phoebe Bridgers will release her debut LP, Stranger in the Alps, on Dead Oceans in September, and the collection is largely made up of quiet, melancholy compositions that incorporate highly detailed observations pulled from her life. But where the majority of her songs use subtle instrumentation to accentuate her keen insights, “Motion Sickness” shows what she can do as a veritable bandleader. The song harkens back to a 90’s sound that would have felt comfortable at both alt and adult contemporary stations, where mid-tempo, straight-ahead songwriting held a firm place in the musical consciousness. These days, in the words that Ryan Adams used to describe her, Bridgers seems more like a “musical unicorn.” She tosses out quips about the song’s object singing with a fake English accent and giving her money to see a hypnotherapist, but the lightness serves as a foil for the song’s weight. “I try to stay clean and live without,” she sings, likening the man to an addiction, and finding just the right tone to describe the roller coaster of love. –Philip Cosores

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07. Julien Baker – “Appointments”

In 2015, 20-year-old Memphis singer-songwriter Julien Baker stunned folks with her debut album, Sprained Ankle. The spare arrangements, plaintive vocals, and candidness about how she relates to everything from significant others and herself to times of trouble and God’s mysterious presence in her life were all striking revelations, especially from such a young voice. Now, about to release her second LP, Turn Out the Lights, first glimpse “Appointments” finds Baker seasoned far beyond what you’d expect two years later. “Wanted someone who I used to be like,” she sings, “now, you think I’m not trying/ I don’t argue; it’s not worth the effort to lie.” It’s such a perfect description of one member in a relationship at odds with his or her partner’s internal struggles. She’s expanded her still-minimalist instrumentation to include piano and ambient parts and trusts her voice to harmonize and draw attention to itself by raising her volume when the song calls for it. If the rest of the record shows similar growth, we’ll be keeping our appointments with Baker and Turn Out the Lights for a long time to come. –Matt Melis  

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06. Rae Sremmurd – “Perplexing Pegasus”

Still in their early twenties, the success that Rae Sremmurd‘s Slim Jxmmi and Swae Lee have already experienced has been meteoric. There was the wave of singles that captivated both the clubs and the airwaves ahead of their first album, and then their first No. 1 single for “Black Beatles” off their second album. While we don’t have word on when SremmLife 3 will drop, “Perplexing Pegasus” finds the duo right back in the hit-making driver seat. Mike WiLL Made-It is on the beat as per tradition, as the song banks on a similar reflective vibe that made “Black Beatles” one of the most ubiquitous rap songs in recent years. Does it matter than the track is mostly about foreign cars? Not really, as the pair have earned the right to graduate from their “no flex zone.” When paired with Mike Will, there is an undeniable chemistry that’s palpable in the music they create together. That’s worth a joyride on its own. –Philip Cosores
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05. LCD Soundsystem – “Tonite”

”Touch me, touch me, touch me, touch me tonight!” I know we’ve all been over this a million times by now, but it’s still unbelievable that LCD Soundsystem are back. And, as if to wash away the years of sobbing, they’re incredibly present. In fact, they’re here “tonite”, ready for the dance floor. The rolling rhythms and squidgy synths keep bodies moving while James Murphy returns to the therapy couch to dissect love, pop, you, himself — only he’s the therapist as well, and that only makes the analysis that much more mesmerizing. But just as with the best LCD tracks, you’ll have plenty of fun grooving out to the layered rhythms even without digging into his brain. You can grab “tonite” and the rest of American Dream tomorrow. –Lior Phillips
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04. Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile – “Over Everything”

Finally, after months of waiting, Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile detailed their forthcoming collaboration, Lotta Sea Lice, due out October 13th. Consisting of new songs, covers of Belly (“Untogether”) and Jen Cloher (“Fear Is Like A Forest”), and covers of themselves (“Peeping Tomboy”, “Outta the Woodwork”), you get the sense that this was a fun project that blossomed into something that was simply too good to quit. That’s kind of the best way to describe their new joint single, “Over Everything”, a summery, feel good anthem that lasts around six minutes and capitalizes on the best of their respective abilities. What are we saying? They’re both unbelievable lyricists, scorching guitarists, and sing with iconic voices … which is why this is such an enjoyable stroll, and why they earn every second of their sprawl. It’s also a straight-up relatable jam, a meditation on how music tunes everything out: all the bullshit, all the drama, all those feelings that insist you’re alone and miserable. Yeah, music is good like that, and we’re happy two indie titans are making more of it together. Damn. –Michael Roffman
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03. Queens of the Stone Age – “The Evil Has Landed”

At a certain point, middle-aged bands reach a level where they no longer need to change. They know what they can consistently deliver on, fans know what to expect, and it’s a mutually beneficial understanding. Queens of the Stone Age, 21 years into their career, are one of those bands that could keep supplying the same quirky, riff-heavy alt rock they always have, and you’d hear no complaints. That tacit understanding made it all the more surprising and endearing when they released Villains’ swinging first single, “The Way You Used To Do”, and, later, an Instagram clip of frontman Josh Homme, equal parts Elvis and the Fonze, popping the collar of his leather jacket and sliding across a dance floor. Second single “The Evil Has Landed” confirms what the first had hinted at. If you up the tempo of Queens’ style, you can get an extremely danceable track. Bouncing, funky, and packed with Homme’s undeniable falsetto, the Mark Ronson-produced cut finds a groove and continues to subvert expectation, right up to its funky sprint to the finish. To quote the band, “Feet don’t fail me now!” –Matt Melis

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02. Saba – “There You Go”

Less than a year after he released his debut mixtape, 2016’s Bucket List Project, Saba has produced two anthems that evolve his endearing mythos beyond the city limits of Chicago. Back in January, he dropped “Monday to Monday”, a moody jam befitting of the harsh winters that ravage the Second City, and eight months later, he’s returned with “There You Go”. Co-produced with Oakland multi-instrumentalist Daoud, the song is a decidedly more sunny affair, grooving off piano and horns seemingly stripped right out of a ’90s Spike Lee joint. “Im in a deeper zone than on my last one,” he admits early on, alluding to the fact that this is the first song he’s released since the tragic death of his cousin. He’s in no dour mood, though, leaning heavily on realism as he champions the idea that he’s in for the long haul, leaving us with this: “I’m partially studious, partially ignorant/ I’m not here for the 15 minutes/ All my team is winning, Imma need a minute.” With songs as reassuring and organic as “There You Go”, Saba can take his sweet ass time for all we care, because really, he’s not far off from turning lines like “I drop a classic that’s Abbey Road” into agreeable truths. –Michael Roffman

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01. The Killers – “Run for Cover”

In terms of first singles, “The Man” accomplished all The Killers could hope for in 2017. It has already become a bit of a cultural touchtone, and found a nice home at alt radio. But the 80’s Bowie swagger of the song still feels like an outlier in what were know and love about the Las Vegas band, which makes “Run for Cover” that much more impactful. Harkening back to their Sam’s Town anthems, “Run for Cover” is an up-tempo barnburner, the kind of song that demands the windows rolled down and the peddle pushed to the floor. It’s surprising considering the band failed to find a single this definitive on their previous LP, 2012’s Battle Born. Hell, Brandon Flowers even dares to get topical by shouting “fake news” in the song’s bridge. For a group that’s returned with every new album seeking to redefine some aspect of themselves, it’s refreshing to hear a song this at peace with its own identity. On “Run for Cover”, the Killers embrace their crowd-pleasing nature, living up to the Wonderful Wonderful album title.

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