Hello! I’m Jackson, and this is my weekly music column, -core. As you all will primarily be getting to know me through my musical opinions and the like, I figured what better way to introduce myself than with some songs? Before I do that, though, here’s a bit about me and why I started this column. I’ve been into music for most of my life. As with many others, I grew up hearing music on the radio and from my parents, usually classic rock, 80s hits, and 2000s pop. However, it wasn’t until my early teenage years that I was exposed to the emo and punk music that eventually led me to where I am today. Along with being an amateur musician myself, I’ve always found music and the discussion around it fascinating, especially in the online music criticism community that’s grown in recent years. Talking about music with others is one of my greatest joys, and one of my hopes for this column is to get some good conversations started around music. In brief, for this column I’ll be covering new and not-so-new releases, local artists, specific genres / eras, and whatever else interests me. I’m entirely open to feedback and suggestions, so if there’s an artist, album, or anything else you’d like me to talk about, let me know!
Now, with that out of the way, here are five of my favorite songs at the moment.
1. Oblivion – Grimes
Starting off my current favorites list is “Oblivion”, the famed single from Grimes’ 2012 record Visions. I’ve encountered people (including my former self) who question the indie credentials of enjoying an artist’s most popular song, but in many cases, including this one, there’s a good reason why that certain song is so popular. Despite being nearly 10 years old, “Oblivion” is a futuristic work of genius, in both its production and songwriting. The stuttering beat that loops through the majority of the song is instantly ear-grabbing. The bright pianos in the post-chorus and the vocal samples that dominate the outro are lovely touches as well, all combining to create a rich, blissful sonic landscape. Yet the real appeal lies in Grimes’ vocals, which weave through the instrumental with an airy but effective presence. Add in the lyrical detail of her attempts at empowerment following a horrific assault, and you’ve got one of the most compelling pop songs of the past decade.
2. Easy/Lucky/Free – Bright Eyes
I had long been aware of Conor Oberst and his musical endeavors (Desaparecidos, Better Oblivion Community Center, etc), but had never taken the time to check out his main project, Bright Eyes. I recently listened to their pair of 2005 albums, I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning and Digital Ash in a Digital Urn, this song being the closing track on the latter, and I’ve been unable to stop coming back to it. It’s a unique song for Bright Eyes in that it sounds huge, filled with dreamy guitars, swaying grooves, and an irresistible, yearning vocal melody. Outside of the strange inclusion of a sample of a baby crying, it could almost be a Beach House song. The bleak, dystopian lyrics contrast the breezy sound of the song, all talk of police states and bombs being dropped. The phrase “refrigerators full of blood” is especially chilling, not least for its resemblance to the “I open my wallet, and it is full of blood” line in a similarly apocalyptic track by Godspeed You! Black Emperor, “The Dead Flag Blues”. But despite its inherently dark nature, by the time Oberst near shrieks his final chorus of “Don’t you weep”, and the song glitches and skips like a broken tape, it’s hard not to feel a bit more content in the face of our inevitable future.
3. Immaterial – SOPHIE
I would be remiss to not include something on this list by the late, great producer SOPHIE. Primarily known for her contributions to the bubblegum bass and electronic pop field so popular today, she’s produced for the likes of Vince Staples, Charli XCX, Let’s Eat Grandma, and Madonna, as well as her own work. While I never dove deep into her work before her tragic death this past January, I always held her in high regard for just how influential and innovative of a force she was in music. This track from her sole studio album, Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides, showcases her skills as a master of sound and style. It’s bold and loud, but never overbearing or tacky. I don’t know how else to describe it except that it goes hard. Everything from the pulsing, blown out beat to the bright synths to the earworm chants of “immaterial girls, immaterial boys” just works. Once people are able to go out dancing again, I’m hopeful they’ll play this track, among others of hers, in an homage to her power as a wildly important trans artist, and to the joy she brought so many.
4. Plug In Baby – Muse
We’re throwing things back a bit with this one. I’ll be upfront: I think this is one of the greatest rock songs of the 2000s, and possibly of all time. Maybe I’m biased; it was one of the first riffs I learned on guitar that I actually felt cool playing, so I have a soft spot for it. However, I didn’t really pay attention to the song as a whole until earlier this year when I went through some of Muse’s earlier work. For me, listening to “Plug In Baby” is pure joy and adrenaline. Nothing gets me hyped like the blast of distortion before the guitar comes in. I could go on about the riff forever, but in brief, it’s one of the most seamless, well-composed melodies I’ve heard on guitar. There are some sour notes in there, but that just makes it more impressive that it all flows so smoothly. Outside of the riff, the actual performance of the song has great energy coming from every member: the bass and drums lock in together tightly, the guitars are noisy but not overbearing, and frontman Matt Bellamy’s voice is remarkably dynamic. His ability to enhance the drama of a song, as well as his knack for composing razor-sharp melodies, is seen in spades here, especially in the chorus. In my view, this song is essential because it operates on one simple notion: keep things to the fundamentals. Every part is entirely necessary, and as such, it doesn’t need any bells or whistles to make it great. It just is.
5. I Know the End – Phoebe Bridgers
I won’t go too deep on this track, as I plan on talking about the album it comes from, Punisher, in a future post, but I figured I should at least include it for the somewhat recent “controversy” it raised when it was performed by Bridgers on Saturday Night Live. Near the end of her and her band’s performance, she smashed her guitar in similar fashion to countless other rock musicians before her. I didn’t think too much of it other than that it looked cool, despite being a little cliché, but the Internet went pretty nuts over the whole thing, mainly old men who get angry about women doing anything men have already done for decades. It was completely ridiculous, but thankfully Bridgers took it well, responding in an Instagram post, “next time I’ll just burn it and it will be more expensive”. As far as the song itself goes, “I Know The End” is the dramatic conclusion to an already emotionally intensive record. It builds over the course of six minutes from a standard Bridgers ballad to a grand, expressive climax featuring horns, screaming, and a reprise of the harrowing melody heard on the intro to the album. It is simultaneously life-affirming and completely devastating in the way only a Phoebe Bridgers song could be. It is everything I want in a song from last year, and I’ll be listening to it long after the chaos that birthed it has passed. Hopefully, at least.