Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds — “We No Who U R” (Bad Seed Ltd.)

With a title following the grammatical rules of Prince or internet shorthand, “We No Who U R” finds Nick Cave and his entourage amid a desolate soundscape, brooding or comforting depending on the listener’s ear. A morose lilt is in Cave’s voice as he speaks of forest life progressively rendered asunder, the perspective of his narrator ambiguous as he intones, “And we know who you are/ And we know where you live/ And we know there’s no need to forgive.” Perhaps the online lingo of the title holds the key to the song’s meaning — is it an elegy for the forsaken solace of the natural world, lamenting the current state of a technologically and digitally pervasive epoch? Is Cave’s narrator the current age itself, reflecting on how globalization, social media and the like’s constant interconnectivity between individuals have squelched privacy? Maybe the title’s incorrect spelling indicates the opposite, of one abnegating the conventions of the modern world to seek sanctuary in a deliberate backslide to primitivism. Musically, the two differing contentions are juxtaposed masterfully. The minimalist, clangy percussion simulates today’s cold and artificial era, while the haunted woodwinds and spooky feminine harmony vocals serve as souvenirs of a bygone time. It’s a provocative song, showing Cave remains at the top of his game even as the release of his primary band’s 15th studio album looms. – Cole Waterman

Frightened Rabbit – “The Oil Slick” (Atlantic)

The closing track off Frightened Rabbit’s Pedestrian Verse, their fourth full-length overall and major label bow, is a lean, emotive affair, ending the fine record on an appropriately contemplative note. Even better, it has a touch of meta playfulness that undercuts any self-seriousness that could trickle in. Lead singer and chief songwriter Scott Hutchison uses the oil slick of the title as a metaphor for his own gloppy, gooey feelings that can ponderously darken his songs, noting, “Only an idiot would swim through the shit I write.” Hutchison has noted that he originally intended Pedestrian Verse to be relatively free of relationship songs, until a breakup during the creative process thwarted that plan. “The Oil Slick” comes across as his cleverly abashed way of acknowledging his own inability to steer clear of the lovelorn pining that has long been the lifeblood of pop music. – Dan Seeger

Five Knives – “The Rising” (Red Bull Records)

Still relatively unknown, the Nashville four-piece known as Five Knives are a dark amalgam of Crystal Castles, Die Antwoord and Shiny Toy Guns. With shout-along hooks and infectious yet schizophrenic grooves, the Anna Worstell-led outfit creates club-ready pop music fully amped on Grey Goose, Red Bull and possibly some powdered party starters. Serving as the title track from the group’s recent five-song EP, “The Rising” is an angst-fueled proclamation to the current music gatekeepers: “You can keep your money because I’d rather go hungry/ Make your bed where the cash is/ And be a bitch for the masses.” From there, the track only grows even more incendiary. To download the entire EP, just hit up fiveknivesmusic.com. – Derek Staples

Phosphorescent — “Song for Zula” (Dead Oceans)

Matthew Houck has taken on a number of different styles over the years, settling briefly on a shambling folk-country sound that made for an enjoyable collection of Willie Nelson covers and the more raucous turns of Here’s to Taking it Easy. “Song for Zula” is an intoxicating reminder that for every new sound he tries out, Phosphorescent is really about the consistent presence of Houck’s reedy vocals. Their fragile, disheveled beauty lends Phosphorescent its most interesting feature—one that successfully masters weary songs like Nelson’s “Reasons to Quit,” and finds its most comfortable fit in this new track’s striking mix of drifting strings and ghostly synths. His emotion-drenched voice bobs along with this tranquil wash, cracking and rising as Houck weaves together prose as dreamy and mysterious as this newfound instrumentation. Phosphorescent sounds bigger, more abstract and fully realized, as if this airy place is where he always intended to be. – Michael Merline

Foxygen — “San Francisco” (Jagjaguwar)

Sure, you can look at “San Francisco” as a goofy pastiche, an insincere mashup of ‘60s flower-power anthem “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” and the American standard “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” Nevertheless, repeated listens to this standout track from the new Foxygen record reveal a heartfelt, beautiful meditation on unrequited love and youthful dreams never fully realized. The main lyric on the chorus, “I left my love in San Francisco,” is answered by a small, echo-y chorus singing, “That’s ok, I was bored anyway” and “That’s okay, I was born in L.A.,” viewing the sad realities of heartbreak and lost youth through an optimistic prism. From the striking description of San Francisco as the city where “the forest meets the bridge” to the dreamy sonic texture, featuring tremolo-centric guitars, flutes and lush strings, “San Francisco” deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as classic songs about the City by the Bay. – Jacob Adams

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