Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld – Won't be a thing to become (2015)
Like Satie's Gymnopédies, this piece of music, which at first seems ephemeral, even slight, is in fact, I think, suffused with the sort of acute and undissipating sadness that you cannot represent with heavier sounds. It is a terrible slightness, recalling the ease with which a thing may cease, a person may leave, a life may end. Neufeld, who plays violin with Arcade Fire and Bell Orchestre, released a solo set of similar music last year. Stetson, a saxophonist, has also explored this landscape on his own, but he has received more attention for his songs in louder modes: In music, shouted feelings are easier to interpret. To really hear Won't be a thing to become, to process it, I had to keep coming back to it. One song on an album of eight tracks. Neufeld's painterly bow, leaving long lines. Stetson's sturdy brass, pacing between shadows. And a voice: Stetson's, groaning, rising through him as he plays. This low moan might be a farewell or a eulogy, maybe just the sound of missing some dream or some one. I wish this song were longer – a sonata, not a sketch. Then, I could spend a whole afternoon in it. But then, as well, I might not have made out the piece's secret, on a 99th listen: a second human voice, hidden in the mix. A second voice, singing harmony. Amid the lasting sadness, a companion.
Earl Sweatshirt – Solace (2015)
This 10-minute suite, released straight to YouTube, comes only a few weeks after the rapper's second studio LP. But Solace isn't on that record. It's something else, recorded in even deeper shades of indigo and grey, after the album was done. "Try to make some sense of all this shit in my brain," Earl Sweatshirt raps. "One foot stuck in a tar pit of my ways." He doesn't sound so good: Lonely, lost, too much weed and too much Xanax, too few friends. But an artist's gift is the way they cope with these things. Sweatshirt, 21, builds a soundtrack not so dissimilar from that of other lost boys, from MF Doom and Boards of Canada to Harry Nilsson and Vincent Gallo. It's melancholy and beautiful, Sweatshirt in his blue period: a warm chill, wobbly jazz samples. "It's rainin' a bit," he states. "I hope it's a monsoon."
This Is the Kit – Silver John (2015)
And let me give you something lighter to close out the weekend: an apocalypse. A rosy apocalypse – folksong of pretty guitar, winding organ, Kate Stables's briared voice. Stables, who is English, sings to the end of the world. "You apocalypse on us, yes," it goes. "We're not ready yet." As seas rise, as mountains shake, as protesters march rightfully in the street, at the very edge of everything going irreparably wrong, the most courageous act is to demand better.
Sean Michaels received the 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize for his novel Us Conductors. He is the editor of the music blog Said the Gramophone.