This week's selections are less a 2013 retrospective (it is, after all, the last High Five of the year) and more a preview about what sort of stylistic diversity the coming year might offer. Between Rick Ross's throaty boasts, St. Vincent's kinetic "party record you could play at a funeral," and Angel Olsen's gritty ambivalence, we're presented with an exciting glimpse of 2014. See you next year!
St. Vincent - "Birth In Reverse"
It's both relieving and nerve-wracking to know that Annie Clark, the virtuosic and idiosyncratic mastermind behind St. Vincent, is fully in control of indie rock's stylistic trajectory. On the one hand, her music has only gotten fiercer, weirder, and more astonishing in the last six years. She's proven her dynamism again and again, warping peculiarity into beauty with a gothic virtuosity.
The flipside, though, is that watching her develop is a bit like holding a lit cherry bomb: you get the sensation of being just seconds away from something horribly loud, brutal and out of control. "Birth In Reverse," a hugely promising first track off St. Vincent's forthcoming, self-titled album, skitters along at a breakneck clip. It's crammed with all of the Annie Clark signatures -- the honeyed melodies drowned in fuzz, the jagged and funk-flecked rhythmic arrangements, the oblique bridge. There are more moments that feel like "pop" here than ever before, but that's hardly a concession for Clark. Rather, it's an indication that she knows exactly where to steer us next.
Sisyphus - "Calm It Down"
Leave it to the trio that comprises Sisyphus -- Sufjan Stevens, Son Lux, and the rapper Serengeti -- to produce such an ambitious and delightfully scatterbrained exercise in ... what, exactly? Progressive chamber rap? Trip-hop-pop? Something else, possibly with "-core" in the title? At any rate, this track hiccups and pulses in the most delightful and unexpected ways. Though Sisyphus' three members may seem at first like an inchoate trio, their power comes from their capacity to get out of each other's way. "Calm It Down" is tough to categorize because it's actually three different categorizations, working in volatile tandem.
Angel Olsen - "Forgiven/Forgotten"
Whittled to its purest, most sandpapery essence, Angel Olsen's appeal is this: she's got a penchant for tongue-twister ambiguities sung in sweet yet crunchily forceful ways. Here, in "Forgiven/Forgotten," the mood feels severe, but the message is wide-eyed. "I wasted my time/Making up my mind," she sings. "I don't know anything/But I love you." Her frustrations aren't so much expressed as they are conveyed in burbling eruptions.
Rick Ross - "The Devil Is A Lie," Ft. Jay-Z
If the devil is indeed a lie, as Rick Ross asserts several dozen times over this greasy haunch of club fodder, then certainly ol' Mephistopheles will forgive five straight minutes of good old-fashioned Greed. The first sinner: Ross himself, here to report that yes, he's been intimate with just so very many women; that yes, he's been doing quite well, financially; and that yes, he has in fact been known to literally drink "Bordeaux in Bordeaux." Then, of course, there's Hov, seemingly airdropped in from a golden helicopter to fulfill a contractual word count, yet still capable of delivering a sly jab or two when so moved. If nothing else, this song has a sort of time capsule-y charm: In 20 years, when rappers finally have to confront the fact that their business has become just another boring business, they'll look back fondly at the days when riffing on wealth and wealth alone still meant something.