Mike Quain; James Blake/YouTube; Arbutus Records; Atlantic Record; The Linda Lindas/YouTube Abstract Mindstate, James Blake, Tops, The War on Drugs, The Linda Lindas
Every Friday, EW's music team runs down the five best songs of the week. In today's edition, Kanye goes Abstract, James Blake does some serious soul-searching, The War on Drugs strip down, and Tops just want to have fun.
Abstract Mindstate — "A Wise Tale"
Why sit around waiting for Donda — which, as of Friday, had yet to hit streaming services — when there's a new Kanye West–helmed project already here? Cult rap duo Abstract Mindstate came up in Chicago around the same time West did, before sputtering in 2005. They had no plans to return to music until he came calling in 2018, asking to collaborate. "A Wise Tale," the first offering from their forthcoming Yeezy-produced album, sounds a lot like old times, with Olskool Ice-Gre and E.P. da Hellcat trading playful, sage-like verses over a sped-up soul sample. Her: "One for the pubic, one for the public/I Freudian slipped, y'all/I dig that you dug it." Him: "Avoid the quick fail, take heed to this wise tale." —Alex Suskind
"Say What You Will" — James Blake
In the hilarious, heartbreaking video for James Blake's new single, "Say What You Will," the British smoothie plays a hapless, hopelessly insecure version of himself who becomes obsessed with his rival, hotshot songwriter-producer Finneas. Blake has a Grammy; Billie Eilish's big bro has eight. At the gym, he's a sweaty, out-of-breath weakling; Finneas is fit AF with perfect form. In what amounts to a literal pissing match, the pair even end up at adjacent urinals, with the downcast crooner glancing over to discover that, yes, he falls short in that department too. Will he ever measure up? Should he even care? Whether he is, as Blake sings, "normal," "popular," or "ostracized like a comet blazing through an empty sky," what ultimately matters is finding his own inner peace. A bit hokey? Sure, but as he launches into his trademark rafter-shaking falsetto at the 3:20 mark, you can't help but believe in his message. Besides, when it comes to Blake's lush R&B balladry, there's just no competition. —Jason Lamphier
"Living Proof" — The War on Drugs
With time and age comes introspection, personal reckoning, and, if you're lucky, redemption. "Living Proof" tackles all this, and with an economy that's practically startling coming from a band known for its multilayered production, dizzying soundscapes, and kaleidoscopic interpretations of modern rock & roll (their best record, 2014's Lost in the Dream, is also their most aptly titled). "I know the path/I know it's changing," sings War on Drugs' Adam Granduciel, his voice front and center over acoustic strumming and a delicate piano. "I'm always changing/Love overflowing/But I'm rising/And I'm damaged," he continues, offering up his most vulnerable, unvarnished lyrics to date. As the track edges toward its revelatory conclusion, it pulls off its greatest trick: Rather than a swirling, explosive crescendo, we're left only with Granduciel on electric guitar, delivering an aching solo that feels both cathartic and hard-won. —Jason Lamphier
"Oh!" — The Linda Lindas
The Linda Lindas, a teenage punk band from Los Angeles, went viral in May thanks to a live performance of "Racist, Sexist Boy," a scorching takedown of a "poser… jerkface" student in their class who was being, well, racist and sexist. The group's new single, "Oh!," subs righteous indignation for angst and a poppier hook, without losing any of their trademark riot grrrl bite (the quartet opened for Bikini Kill back in 2019). "Oh, when I say something I wish I had shut up/And when I try to help I always screw things up," they lament over a crunchy drum beat and hard-charging riff, as the titular "ohs" ring out in the distance. In the chorus, they search in vain for a solution: "What can I do, what can I do? Nothing changes/It's all the same." Relatable! —Alex Suskind
"Party Again" — Tops
Countless musicians have tackled life in lockdown, with many of them crafting some of the most thrilling music of their careers. Taylor Swift went into the woods and came back older and wiser; Charli XCX dreamt up a collection of high-octane pandemic anthems about feeling lonely and horny; Jessie Ware begged a distant lover to save a kiss for her under the glow of the disco ball. Now Montreal foursome Tops offer their take on the quarantine blues, a twinkling indie-pop bonbon the group penned last summer after their tour was canceled and they found themselves all cooped up with nowhere to go. "When will we party again?/Missing the touch of your skin," singer Jane Penny coos on "Party Again," her purring vocals conjuring both sadness and lust. "Day, night, nothing seems right/I'm losing it." Luckily, there's light at the end of the tunnel: The band just announced they'll kick off a new set of concert dates in December. —Jason Lamphier