Group Bombino: Tenere (2009)
Jose Gonzalez: Open Book (2015)
Group Bombino's Tenere kept me warm this week: music from the desert, guitar and hand claps, each lapping rhythm emitting a kind of radiant heat. Sometimes harmony doesn't even matter: Just sing things at the same time, strum and syncopate, fill up this drafty room. Sweden's Jose Gonzalez seems to have been keeping warm in the same ways. His splendid new album is as cozy as the ones before, but I hear the influence of Mali's Tuareg people more than ever. Acoustic music that shifts with a certain disquiet, different shades of evening, the sense that a hand clap is both a way of keeping time and a trick for counting the instants until whatever tragedy happens next.
Pussy Riot: I Can't Breathe (2015)
I Can't Breathe is the best song Pussy Riot have ever released. This is an odd compliment. Despite their reputation as musicians, the balaclava-clad Russian activists have always seemed ambivalent to tunes. Songs such as A Punk Prayer and Putin Will Teach You How to Love were just vehicles for slogans or excuses for music videos. I Can't Breathe, inspired by the death of Eric Warner, is different. It's hypnotic, chilling, catchy. Furthermore, its makers aren't wearing any masks. Whereas Pussy Riot was once a collective of anonymous female punks, it is now apparently an alias for its two famous leaders, Masha Alyokhina and Nadya Tolokonnikova, working with well-known musicians such as Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Nick Zinner, punk pioneer Richard Hell and members of a Russian indie band called Jack Wood. By surrendering their anonymity, Pussy Riot have lost some of their invincibility: People are more venal than symbols. But it could also keep them honest: Art is at its bravest when its makers have something to lose.
Blur: Go Out (2015)
On Thursday, Blur released the lead single from their first album in 12 years. It is bugged-out and lurching, the kind of fun you have when you're also partly food-poisoned. The hook is a lazy, disaffected "oh, oh-oh, oh-oh-oh-oh oh-oh" – the inverse of 1997's Song 2, where Damon Albarn happily shouted "woo hoo!" Britpop's optimism was poured into the Thames a decade ago. Go Out is an anthem for an age of austerity: "Do it on your own," Albarn mumbles, "go to the local," and, maybe, "go get a gun."
Tegan & Sara featuring the Lonely Island: Everything Is Awesome (2014)
If the Academy Awards were bestowed by eight-year-olds, Let It Go, from Frozen, would somehow be receiving its second Oscar on Sunday. Instead, the academy is mostly old, white dudes. They'll probably give it to Glen Campbell's I'm Not Gonna Miss You, an overbaked tear-jerker from a legendary old, white dude. Personally I hope the award goes to The Lego Movie's earworm Everything Is Awesome, which looks, sounds and smells like pap. The best satire, alas, is almost indistinguishable from what it's skewering.
Sean Michaels received the 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize for his novel Us Conductors. He is the editor of the music blog Said the Gramophone.