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Best Songs Ever: N.E.R.D. are back – and they brought Rihanna with them

Our regular round-up of new songs and singles, featuring Sufjan Stevens, N.E.R.D, Kelly Clarkson, The Beths and more…

SONG OF THE WEEK

The Beths – ‘Great No One’

A thing about making things

As you would expect from Auckland pop-rockers the Beths, their new (well, new-ish) track ‘Great No One’ is chock-full of wonderful, introspective lyrics, frenzied guitars and mind-bendingly good vocal harmonies. Something about the feverish drumming, relaxed vocal delivery, and sweet harmonies hearkens back to the carefree days of rock-lite bands of my childhood, such as Blink-182, Bowling For Soup, and even the poppier moments of Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance. Like a cooler, less emo early Panic! at the Disco with significantly fewer unnecessarily long song titles.

This track directly deals with the exhilarating agony of artistic output – of constantly being caught between frantically exuberant creative progress and questioning whether what you’ve made is actually any good, always being suspended between ‘the ache and the apathy’. Making stuff is so fucking hard, and I applaud the Beths for going meta as hell on this and making a thing about making a thing, and making it such a damn delightful depiction of the anguish of creative stasis. / Lauren Spring

THE BETHS

Sufjan Stevens – ‘Visions of Gideon’

Sufjan splits the difference between his musical selves

Call Me By Your Name was my pick of the film festival, and its soundtrack was an eclectic blend of maximalist ‘80s pop and some gorgeous classical tracks. Interspersed throughout were some new Sufjan Stevens cuts, the best of which is ‘Visions of Gideon’, which closes the film, as Elio stares into a Christmas fire, finally realising the impact that his first love has had on his life. Over what sounds a little like a haunted echo of Bear McCreary’s Battlestar Galactica opening theme, Stevens croons, “I have loved you for the last time / Is it a video?”

Stevens’ style has been all over the place for the last decade, but with Carrie and Lowell he distilled all that to an emotional directness and rawness that was almost unseemly; it’s like your loudest and biggest friend suddenly getting too drunk, sitting on the stairs outside your house and telling you their darkest secrets. ‘Visions of Gideon’ splits the difference between the two Stevens. His falsetto is as raw as ever, and the lyrics are just esoteric enough to stop it from feeling truly raw. As his voice layers over and over again, the song gets anthemic, whoever this Gideon is is being built into some kind of myth, the lines “Visions of Gideon” and “Is it a video” becoming indistinguishable from one another and then put gently away. It’s a song that fits Call Me By Your Name like a glove (or a peach). I’ve been thinking about it since I saw the film a few months ago, and I’m happy that the song stands up outside of that, and now I can listen to it over and over again and get a bit lost in it. / Sam Brooks

Paul Williams – ‘Life of the Party’ Reimagining

The guy from the Max Key song reimagines Chelsea Jade’s hit

Before his semi-viral Max Key impersonation, Paul Williams (comedian, basketballer and, apparently, nascent pop star) wrote this on-point rework of Chelsea Jade’s Song of the Year contender (according to both the Spinoff and APRA members) ‘Life of the Party’. Some people I’ve played this to think his post-Drake remix is too good to be funny. I say – can’t it be both? Decide for yourself. / Henry Oliver

Khruangbin – ‘Maria También’

Interesting-dinner-party- psych rock

Three-piece Texan (though you wouldn’t think it from their name or sound) band Khruangbin ended up on a bunch of knob-out playlists in 2014 with their sleepy instrumental groove ‘A Calf Born in Winter’, an update of Santana’s ‘Samba Pa Ti’ for the chillwave generation. It was the kind of song everyone would ask “who’s this?” at which point you’d regret putting it on because you don’t know how the hell to pronounce “Khruangbin”. The dedicated world music travelers (some good playlists on their Spotify) burrow further down the international psych rabbit hole on their forthcoming sophomore album, with lead single ‘Maria También’ channelling a more Middle Eastern sound, despite the Spanish title. Still good to put on for ‘interesting dinner party’ vibes – just pretend it’s on shuffle if anyone asks the name of the band. / Calum Henderson

N.E.R.D. – ‘Lemon’ feat. Rihanna

Pharrell and the boys are back, but Rihanna is better

Pharrell Williams is, obviously, a very good songwriter and producer – hell, he wrote one of the most popular songs ever (‘Happy’ was the number one single in New Zealand for a record 15 consecutive weeks) – but he’s never been a great rapper. On N.E.R.D.’s first release in seven years, Pharrell comes out okay, rapping over a very good, though definitely dated, Neptunes-esque beat. But, what makes this song a must listen is Rihanna’s rap verse. I’d totally listen to her rap album, though that’s not saying much – I’d listen to her anything album. / HO

Kelly Clarkson – ‘Heat’

Some hits sounds like other hits and that’s okay

As a late adopter of Kelly Clarkson, it’s taken me years to realise that every song I hear of hers, I like. Her new album is decidedly less ballad and more pop clapping, but ‘Heat’, a summer anthem if ever there was one, is mwah. It may sound like a handful of other pop songs but nothing is original anymore so why not blend the sounds of two past hits to make a new hit? / Madeleine Chapman


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