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Song of the Week: Phoebe Bridgers Returns With “Sidelines”

CLAY, The Walters, SEVENTEEN, and Tomberlin also released essential tracks

sidelines phoebe bridgers
Phoebe Bridgers, photo by Melissa Menzinger
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    Song of the Week breaks down and talks about the song we just can’t get out of our head each week. Find these songs and more on our Spotify Top Songs playlist. For our favorite new songs from emerging artists, check out our Spotify New Sounds playlist. This week, Phoebe Bridgers more than delivers on her first solo release of 2022. 


    For an artist whose discography is packed with piercingly sad lyrics, there is perhaps no line as nihilistic in Phoebe Bridgers‘ catalogue as the closer to her latest, “Sidelines”: “I used to think you could hear the ocean in a seashell/ What a childish thing.”

    Written for the upcoming Hulu adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends, “Sidelines” is another slow, sad yee-haw from the indie singer-songwriter, the type for which she’s become so rightfully beloved. She has a knack for unlocking big, existential questions through the lens of hyper-specific, pedestrian details — “The billboard said the end is near/ I turned around, there was nothing there,” she says in  “I Know the End”; “I’m high and feeling anxious inside of a CVS,” in “Silk Chiffon.”

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    In this track, it’s the somber relatability of “I used to fetishize myself, now I’m talking to my house plants” that sticks after the final chords have rung out. Overall, the atmospheric, string-laden song feels perfectly attuned to the moody worlds Sally Rooney crafts in stories like Conversations with Friends, in which characters are good and bad, messy and forgivable, kind and cruel.

    It’s interesting to consider the thread that ties Bridgers to Paul Mescal, who exploded after an award-winning turn in Hulu’s first Rooney adaptation, Normal People. Is this a love song? Is it an ode to the freedom that can come with cynicism? She emphasizes over and over again that she’s not afraid of great tragedies or a terrible death, but she is afraid of losing someone, or reaching the end and realizing that none of this matters. Like the often contradictory and painfully human characters in these stories, the song has the freedom to be whatever it wants.

    — Mary Siroky
    Contributing Editor

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    Honorable Mentions:

    The Walters – “Million Little Problems”

    Best known for their viral hit seven years in the making, The Walters have returned with their first new song since their 2017 hiatus. “Million Little Problems” sees the Chicago indie pop act trading in the boyish romanticism and chorus pedals of Mac Demarco found on “I Love You So” for a subtler, more refined sound akin to Melophobia-era Cage the Elephant. Hooky as ever and laid back with a touch of melancholy, the track is perfect for anyone that feels slightly more optimistic with the onset of summer, but no less moody. — Jonah Krueger

    Tomberlin – “sunstruck”

    Sarah Beth Tomberlin has the power to fit entire universes into her often spare folk-rock. While her previous releases grappled with abandoning her Baptist faith and exploring the rest of the world — literally and metaphorically — her new single “sunstruck” puts the focus back on herself.

    Tomberlin describes “sunstruck” as “a love song to the growth that often can take place if you choose to tend to your own life’s garden.” Its fingerpicked guitar feels like the first blooms of spring or the refreshing scent of freshly cut grass; subtle, yet ever-present reminders that growth and transformation are always possible. “I went looking/ For myself/ By myself/ And it wasn’t close to easy/ But it sure did help,” Tomberlin sings. What good came out of anything easy, anyway? — Abby Jones

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    SEVENTEEN – “Darl+ing”

    The 13-member K-pop outfit SEVENTEEN has arrived with their first English-language single, a breezy, flirtatious summer anthem. WOOZI, the leader of the act’s vocal subunit, often has a hand in production and composition, and is credited with lyrics, production, and composition here, too. It’s another self-produced entry from the energetic, playful group — yes to a line about a shot of tequila! — and SEVENTEEN never lets the listener get comfortable. The guitar riff towards the end of the bright track makes sure of that. — M.S.

    Alec Benjamin – “Speakers”

    This sweet mid-tempo from Alec Benjamin arrives with his new album, (Un)Commentary, available today, April 15th. Benjamin’s distinct vocals always have the ability to paint a portrait on their own, but the rich strings act as prime accompaniment. The impression the artist gives off here is one of growth, a step into a new era of a career, and a confident, mature track from someone comfortable with what listeners love to hear. — M.S.

    M.O.O.K.Y. – “Faces (Live)”

    Recorded at the Cleveland singer-songwriter’s recent concert at the Kent Stage, this unreleased fan favorite is a raw, triumphant show-stopper. There is something remarkable about the pure tenacity in M.O.O.K.Y. (aka Gabe Reed)’s voice. “This is a song about death,” he announces to wild cheers at the beginning of the track — but in a delightful juxtaposition, his performance breathes undeniable life into the song.

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    Reed unleashes his attention-commanding, spine-rattling howls atop clean, careful guitar playing. Hearing Reed sans the rattling instrumentation of his studio work is arresting — it’s clear he can stand on his own two feet just fine. — Rachael Crouch

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