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.
When celebrities and politicians orbit too far around their confessions, we consider it grating and uncouth. Sometimes we even call it perjury. When musicians do it, though, the results are often quite satisfying. This week's selections all cut different paths around their own problems and arguments. The routes taken there are by turns lush and sparse, earnest and sardonic. No one is giving away much, but there's an immense amount to be gained nonetheless.
Eleanor Friedberger - "Stare at the Sun"
Given this song's clear debt to Elvis Costello's trademark gimmicks -- the throaty and clenched vocals, the pulsing keyboards, the skittish energy -- it might be easy to write Friedberger off as an exuberant copycat. The only problem with this proscription is that she is staggeringly, wickedly astute -- a sniper of life's banal absurdities. "Give me your toothpaste, give me your ointment, give me your body in bed," she sings. The implication is that a relationship's crucial landmarks are often disguised as its most unremarkable mini-drudgeries. But even when she's satirizing all the dopes who fall in love, she can't help but drink some of the Kool-Aid herself: "I'm far from town, in the suburbs of your pleasure. I've been in exile so long."
Papa - "If You're My Girl Then I'm Your Man"
Has the undefined, plasmatic amoeba-thing that we still reluctantly refer to as "indie rock" now become so postmodern that we demand from its auteurs a state of perpetual emotional and stylistic paradox? Must declarations of love -- no matter how genuine and dire -- forever be delivered with an off-the-cuff groan? Must every lick of sweetness coexist with a jolt of melancholy?
Yes, Dammit, proclaim L.A. rockers Papa on this track. If it's a poignant anthem about rekindling lost love, it's also a warning about showing too much of yourself. "I'll take as much as I can stand," drones frontman/drummer Darren Weiss in "If You're My Girl, Then I'm Your Man." Hardly a daring bet, and barely a confession. But it feels utterly worthwhile anyway.
J. Cole - "Crooked Smile" ft. TLC
There's so much ground covered in this uplifting, omniscient booty shaker that Jay-Z protégé J. Cole seems barely capable of keeping it all straight. Over a tidy beat and TLC's satisfying coos (the world has missed these coos, TLC) he first owns up to having a "twisted grill" and eyebrows that are "thick as hell." He then pivots, bewildered, into praise of shorties the world over: "I don't know how you deal with all the pressure to look impressive and go out in heels." From there, he marches seamlessly into sweeping proclamations about our nation's trials. We are, he posits, "a crooked smile braces couldn't even straighten." There are many triumphs ping-ponging around in this song -- some of them meaningful, some of them throwaways. The main victory is that it never feels weighed down by its own sense of responsibility. And, as always, bonus points for a gospel outro.
Kate Boy - "The Way We Are"
If Ace of Base gobbled a bunch of E and then fell into a well, you would begin to approach the stylistic meanderings of Swedish pop/dance collective Kate Boy. "The Way We Are" is both brooding and infectiously danceable. It somehow thumps and skulks at the same time. It skips along, erupting and bubbling with the menace of a tar pit that's just sucked in some poor creature.
David Lynch and Lykke Li - "I'm Waiting Here"
No one was really surprised when, in late 2011, the director David Lynch released "Crazy Clown Time," an ambitious (if wildly disjointed) debut album. Featuring Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Karen O. on a couple of tracks, the work tugged listeners over all sorts of stylistic terrain and into the most perplexing nooks of his dark, campy mind. Perhaps because no one really expected Lynch to chug along with his musical endeavors, "I'm Waiting Here" feels refreshing. It's the first track released off of his forthcoming album, and it features all the sonic curio he's known for -- the narcotized surf guitar plucks, the '50s slow-dance energy. Exactly what we would expect from him, had we been expecting it.