Welcome, time-crunched and over-stimulated music fan, to All Shook Down's High Five -- a place where Byard Duncan wades through the shit to find you the hits. Well, five of them, anyway.
It's not too much of a stretch to say that this week's selections are united by their meticulous construction. Whether it's Laura Mvula's dense operatics, Best Coast's soaring woes, or Janelle Monae's bouncy funk jaunt, the songs all share a careful density - sometimes measured, sometimes spontaneous, always thrilling.
Like the Morning Dew" - Laura Mvula
Despite its Victorian hues, thickly layered melodies, and plinking glockenspiel, this song carries all the raw hurt of a peeled-back pinkie nail. In line with compassionate accounts of heartbreak like Maps and Atlases' "Old and Gray" (and Adele's "Someone Like You," if you want to get all dramatic about it), "Like the Morning Dew" doesn't make triumphant claims about being Better Off Alone, nor does it conjure "scorned lover" revenge fantasies. Instead, it riffs on the devastating realizations inherent in any love that shines bright and then goes dark. "Tried to write the perfect song for you," Mvula sings, "Then I realized it didn't belong to me."
"Q.U.E.E.N." - Janelle Monae feat. Erykah Badu
The following questions, among many others, are posed rhetorically in this jittery, zippy synth banger: Am I a freak for getting down? Is it peculiar that she twerk in the mirror? Am I weird to dance alone late at night? Is it rude to wear my shades?
Get used to these inquiries. Ponder them. It's important that you begin formulating answers now, for you will be asked two trillion times in the next three months -- most likely from a series of creakily installed car stereos. The good news is that it's a painless -- even blissful -- interrogation: Borrowing heavily from Prince's "Erotic City," "Q.U.E.E.N." burbles, squeaks, and pivots at all the right moments. And of course, Badu's declaration that "the booty don't lie" is expertly mewed -- a sugar-coated cherry atop five and a half minutes of unrefined pleasure.
"Fear of My Identity" - Best Coast
Ever purveyors of stony and nostalgic California demi-grunge for stony and nostalgic California people, Best Coast continues to do more with seemingly less than ever. In this case, the group's characteristic sparseness careens into full-blown cliché -- "The nights are getting longer, the pain is getting stronger," Bethany Cosentino groans, as usual -- then somehow shoots skyward, baptized by its own simplicity. The end result is yet another Lego castle of a song: achingly simple, but elegant, fun and colorful nonetheless. We should have expected as much.
The Changing Colors - Good Times
Sluggish and mournful, "Good Times" skulks forward with the sort of ghastly beauty possessed only by the most carefully composed folk. The song's refrain, "Oh I am the mess I made me" certainly refers to the overall tone, but the same can't be said of the song's construction. Clocking in a just over two minutes, it packs an emotional wallop that's disproportionate to its length.
TEEN - "Carolina"
This sing-songy gem from Brooklyn rockers TEEN piles surprises atop each other with a wide-eyed abandon. Genre-wise, it's hard to pin down, even a bit dizzying: Dramatic anthem? You could say that. Moody meditation? Yes. Noise-rich kitchen-sink composition? Also yes. Like any strange dream, its conclusion is abrupt and jarring; the song doesn't so much end as it does eject you from its hypnotizing grasp. But that's the point, obviously. TEEN giveth and TEEN taketh away.