Pearl Jam – “Mind Your Manners” (Monkeywrench/Republic)

After Pearl Jam’s art house dabblings of Binaural and Riot Act, the streamlined rock of their eponymous LP and the New Wave-leaning Backspacer, “Mind Your Manners” rips and roars like a beast tearing loose of its tethers. Spitting and yowling with the frenetic anger of an ‘80s hardcore band, it is arguably the Seattle quintet’s fastest and punkiest ditty since the minute-long “Lukin” from 1996. Brash in its finger-pointing verses and refrain, Eddie Vedder lambasts the movers’ and shakers’ sanctimony in a tongue-twisting delivery, competing with Matt Cameron’s hammering drums. Come the bridge, the driving rhythm grows transcendent in line with Vedder’s more mature reflections, as even the darkest of Pearl Jam’s tunes since No Code have been laced with a degree of optimism. Before the bridge’s aspirational sentiments can linger, a frenzied and angular solo from Mike McCready sears through like a blowtorch. Seguing the song out is a call-and-response, Vedder and his bandmates trading off, “Go to heaven/ That’s swell/ How do you like/ Livin’ in hell?” As a lead single from the forthcoming Lightning Bolt, “Mind Your Manners” is as much a statement as a song, the point being that Pearl Jam may be continuing to evolve, but not at the expense of their defiance. – Cole Waterman

Run the Jewels – “Sea Legs” (Fool’s Gold)

A digital wave and analog bleeps innocently open the track, but by the conclusion of “Sea Legs,” Killer Mike and El-P (known collectively as Run the Jewels) set the rap community aflame. Not only does the duo adamantly claim to be best the lyricists in hip-hop (“No master mastered these bones/ Your idols all are my rivals/ I rival all of your idols/ I write for the writers that write for the liars that impress you and your parents”) they take a direct jab at Kanye West and Jay-Z (“There will be no respect for the Thrones/ Niggas will perish in Paris, niggas is nothing but parrots.”) The verses are more than empty threats; they are an observation on the climate of hip-hop. Run the Jewels don’t need hype or bloated marketing budgets to move albums—they know that fans of honest hip-hop will find their way to the release. – Derek Staples

Smith Westerns – “Best Friend” (Mom + Pop Music)

Smith Westerns third full-length undoubtedly improves on the glam-choked indie pop of 2011’s Dye It Blonde with more immediate hooks and tighter arrangements, but it’s the band’s newfound lyrical sincerity that helps Soft Will really stick. The album reaches its apex with the bursting third-quarter love song “Best Friend.” It’s impossible not to smile with the song’s grounded, idyllic energy and massive heart-warming chorus. It’s also got one of the most earworm-y guitar hooks of the year, which gets flipped to delicious effect during the last chorus. – Will Ryan

Chance the Rapper – “Brain Cells” (self-released)

Here’s a tab of acid for your ear,” raps Chance the Rapper, and he doesn’t mean it cynically. To him, LSD is the perfect way to connect with music, and he only wants to use every method available to help his growing audience do the same. Chance’s “Brain Cells” contains some of the most densely packed rhymes in recent rap, some of them rhymes for rhymes’ sake and others revealing snatches of Chance’s life in Chicago and his unexpected success as a young MC. It’s the best song about being 19—about the desire to do everything no matter the cost and the feeling that you may be able to—that I’ve heard in years, and I can’t stop listening to it. – Alex Peterson

The Mountain Goats – “Tape Travel is Lonely” (Merge Records)

The extra tracks on the re-release of the Mountain Goats’ All Hail West Texas are strays from John Darnielle’s boombox recordings made 14 years ago on an ailing Panasonic. Now damaged by time, one of the last of these tracks, “Tape Travel is Lonely,” is missing pieces; this song must surely have been brought to us by a gifted physicist, someone who stretched back to the summer of 1999 and grabbed it, hard, just white-knuckled it and ground it into their palms and dragged it into 2013. Not all of it survived, but what did is devastating. This ominous tale of a West Texas summer night opens with an amazing bit of boombox-supplied wheel grind that couldn’t have been more perfectly timed if it was intentional, leading immediately to John Darnielle’s guitar, growling like static, its upper strings slightly out of tune again, a soft but deliberate distortion of expectations. Influenced by everything from Texas blues to Jethro Tull, the driving beat of “Tape Travel is Lonely” is so relentless, Darnielle’s voice so overwhelming, that you wonder if the tape really ran out or if Darnielle just finally blew that whole damn Panasonic apart. – Stacia Kissick Jones

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