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.
There's a lot to look forward to, jams-wise, this summer. In case you were living under a rock (or, perhaps more appropriately, one of those suspended animation pods), you know that Daft Punk's new album is hogging bandwidth from Paris to Pomona. What maybe you don't know is that there's some simple, elegant and often heartbreaking music in the pipeline, too. So when you have time on a rain day or if you simply need to nurse your sunburns and jackhammer Mojito headache give these others a spin.
Laura Marling - "I Was an Eagle"
At just 23 years old, Laura Marling has somehow inherited folk music's burden of prescribing to the world heartbreaking life lessons over equally heartbreaking compositions. It's a stunning weight she carries. "I was an Eagle" is the second song on Marling's forthcoming album, "Once I Was an Eagle," and though it's just her third release, she already sounds as though she has dozens of records (and at least 50 years of harrowing life) under her belt. Her voice is impressively elastic, fluttering between husky and sweet, imposing and fragile. In Marling's hands, lines like "Every little girl is so naive/Falling in love with the first man that she sees" are not just musings; they are mournful warnings.
Sonny and the Sunsets - "Palm Reader"
Named for an palm reader that lead singer Sonny Smith visited following the murder of a close friend, this song has the loping repetition and the off the cuff lyricism of Sonic Youth's early work. Comments about his palm's contours end up serving as allegories for his band's simple but warm compositions: His love line, for example, "is hard to see but it's still there, underneath."
French Montana - "Gifted" (Feat. The Weeknd)
It may be Montana's name on the title, but this is a Weeknd track through and through. All the tricks that buoyed Drake's Take Care to a tragic masterpiece are at play: On the technical side, you've got your reverb-drenched drum samples, your washes of down-tempo surf guitar, your mournful vocals. On the thematic side, you've got the musings about being young and rich and numb: "These bottles all free/Not a single drink paid" Well why not, Weeknd? "Cause they want me in the club/And if you got the numbers I'll be glad to show you love." Where Drake's voice navigated this money-for-love transaction through persistent, impeccable croaks, French Montana's is looser, less hurried. His verses spread across the beat like an oil slick.
Okta Logue - "Let Go"
Maybe the death of the Doors' Ray Manzarek unleashed within us some long-dormant yearning for brittle, druggified organ rock. Or maybe a passing lyrical reference to a "walk on the sun" churned up a craving for some late-90s Farfisa antics, a la Smashmouth. But for the sake of our reputation, let's stick with the former and make the argument that Okta Logue is channeling something profoundly Doorsian in this track. The chorus is a sparkling reward in and of itself; one imagines it as the retro soundtrack to a teenage boy strutting through his high school hallway, bellbottoms freshly pleated, hippie flower recently embroidered on his stupid hippie smock.
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros -- "Better Days"
You've got to hand it to folk prophet/soulman/maybe cult leader Edward Sharpe: He has a knack for squeezing incredibly concise, satisfying hooks out of an enormous band. "Better Days" is more of the same from him, in the best possible way. Set over a shuffling funk beat, it features his signature soaring choruses and shouted "Hey!"s. As an added bonus, there's some slightly (only slightly) spicy profanities thrown in, along with unmistakable respect to "Son of a Preacher Man." A win.