The big news of the week is certainly not that Lana Del Ray may or may not be preparing to release a cover of Sublime’s “Doin’ Time.” That said, it’s some of my favorite music news from this week. I mean, upon further reflection it’s kind of shocking that anyone other than Lana wrote that song in the first place. So shouts out to Sublime, one of those bands I have long loved in spite of such things as “good taste.”
Vampire Weekend: “Sympathy”
Newsflash! The new Vampire Weekend album totally rips. I’ve been enjoying it nonstop since last Friday morning (or, all the time this week which I haven’t spent watching and then re-watching I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson). Ezra Koenig and Co. cover a ton of ground in the sprawling album’s 18 tracks, but one of my immediate favorites is the totally wild album cut “Sympathy.” The song races, with galloping guitar strums punctuated with synth chorus stings that sound like they’re straight from Oneohtrix Point Never’s keyboards.
“Sympathy” is one of the many Father of the Bride tracks to dip into religion and politics. I’m no Genius.com commenter, but Koenig uses geopolitical metaphors in “Sympathy” to trace a personal narrative against the backdrop of contemporary Christian and Jewish Islamophobia. As if all of this wasn’t enough to fill up its runtime, at one point the guitar, drums and vocals drop out to reveal a bassline recalling the Mr. Fingers “Mystery of Love” sample in “Fade.” It sets up my favorite extended dance break in an indie rock song since Dirty Projectors’ “Ascent Through Clouds.” It’s a weird and gutsy moment on a weird and gutsy album. Vampire Weekend plays The Sylvee on June 11.
Shawn Mendes: “If I Can’t Have You”
The new smash hit from Shawn Mendes is great radio pop: a brilliant chorus engineered to ricochet off not just Spotify playlists but all of the Top 40 stations still in action on the FM airwaves. Co-written by a host of Shawn Mendes songwriting regulars — the guy sure knows how to work with a team! — there’s not a ton of depth below its surface charm. Shawn is admittedly kind of a boring pop star, and this is the kind of song that totally works with that. (It is clear that I’m recommending this song, right?) All signs point to this song kicking off an album cycle, though I haven’t seen any formal announcement yet.
Mac DeMarco: “On the Square”
In one I Think You Should Leave sketch, Tim Robinson plays a schmo mercilessly attempting to pawn off props from his failed mob movie as prime baby shower gift bag material. “What about Stanzo brand fedoras? They’re nice.” That’s what the prosthetics-heavy Here Comes the Cowboy promo makes me think of. Maybe a fan or a pal who happens to run an elaborate mask company cut him a sweet deal.
Regardless of the press campaign’s genesis, I’m into it. The prevailing narrative around Mac from casual observers is often that he’s sloppy and goofy above all else. It seems he’s tacitly responded with each album feeling more straight faced than the last. His two past high-concept videos are shot nearly portrait-like, as they display the evident funneling of the entire budget into next-level hair and makeup. Is it all a bit? The question’s kind of evergreen with cheshire DeMarco, but the song itself points to “no.”
“On the Square” is a subdued piano ballad; it’s mostly plodding chords under an intermittent keyboard line that’s untethered but not joyful. This final pre-album release single from Cowboy continues the tonal trend of the album’s two prior singles. There’s a lot of quiet depth to the recording, which feels very insular. It’s the kind of music that makes me want to read artist interviews. It feels like there’s a lot more to the song than what’s at the surface, which is a good strategy when generating interest in an album on the quieter side of things. Here Comes the Cowboy arrives May 10.