Song of the Week delves into the newest songs we just can’t get out of our heads. Find these tracks and more on our Spotify Top Songs playlist, and for our favorite new songs from emerging artists, check out our Spotify New Sounds playlist. This week, Angel Olsen brings us to a smoky cabaret for her expansive new track, “Nothing’s Free.”
“Here it comes,” coos Angel Olsen at the onset of her stunning new track “Nothing’s Free.” She then immediately describes the feeling of bursting outward, of breaking out of “that old cell, the one you though would keep you safe” — of being, essentially, vulnerable and raw.
But none of this arrives with cathartic fanfare, loud guitars, or sweeping high notes. Instead, Olsen and her band edge slowly along the abyss, melting like butter with each chord change. The track arrives as the first single off Olsen’s upcoming EP, Forever Means (out April 14th), which found its origins in the sessions of Olsen’s expansive 2022 album, Big Time. The consuming feeling of “Nothing’s Free” aligns perfectly with the majesty of Big Time, and it’s fitting that the song overlapped with those sessions.
But “Nothing’s Free” also lives in an alternate, noir-esque universe; guided by a warm piano and a saxophone shrouded in reverb, Olsen channels an aging cabaret singer imparting her wisdom on an indifferent crowd. You’d think a chorus with the phrase “Nothing’s free/ Like breaking free” would be sung with complete abandon, and yet, she utters these words with a hushed, jazzy lilt and a significant amount of weight — almost like she longs to break free as she once had, and cannot find it in her to do it once more.
This emotional conflict is what drives “Nothing’s Free.” As Olsen reminds us “I’m broken down for you like no one else,” there is a complete and utter surrender in that simple idea. So much so that she abstains from vocals after the phrase, letting a wistful sax solo and extended instrumental outro say what she cannot. With its evocative, cinematic slow-burn, “Nothing’s Free” is a gorgeous reminder that a patient bloom can be just as liberating as throwing it all out on the table.
It’s also an example of where Olsen is headed artistically — with a sound that references similar (albeit less country-focused) classic artists acknowledged in Big Time, “Nothing’s Free” is exciting new ground for her to demonstrate her intimate, captivating songwriting.
Sometimes breaking free can be small and solemn, and sometimes it can feel like the weight of the world is bursting out of you. “Nothing’s Free” contains both, and when she arrives with the warning, “Here it comes,” we, too, are ready to break free.
— Paolo Ragusa
TWICE – “SET ME FREE”
Following the release of English-language single “MOONLIGHT SUNRISE,” K-pop queens TWICE have marked the arrival of their latest mini-album with the explosive “SET ME FREE.” The nine-piece act feel unstoppable these days and have entered a new chapter in an already highly successful career; the recent Billboard Women in Music honorees have a remarkably cohesive team dynamic and seem especially comfortable in tracks like “SET ME FREE,” which boast an addictive bassline and disco-inspired flourishes. It feels all too correct that the music video shows the act quite literally taking over the world — TWICE world domination is underway. — Mary Siroky
Barrie – “Empty”
The most recent slice of Barrie’s upcoming EP 5K (out March 31st) is “Empty,” a wistful ode to having, well, an empty head. More than that, it’s about the quest for inner peace, letting go of the fraught negativity that swirls around our brains, and existing in the present moment. Though the song fits into the “running” theme that Barrie has put fourth for 5K, it’s also an example of her infectious ability to put words to feelings in a nuanced way. When she brings up “every pothole and every dip” in the song’s second verse, concluding with, “I’m gonna tax all you fuckers for this!”, there’s a brightness to her delivery that puts us right in her (running) shoes. — P.R.
Alaska Reid – “Back to This”
Alaska Reid wrestles with the past on her new track “Back to This,” the lead single off her upcoming debut LP, Disenchanter (out July 14th). With production by pop extraordinaire and PC Music founder A.G. Cook, you’d think Alaska Reid would be singing across hyperpop beats or Cook’s usual frenetic stylings. Instead, Reid mines nostalgic feelings for an ’80s-esque synthpop gem, letting her hazy vocals emerge vividly for the song’s standout chorus. Overall, “Back to This” is a terrific example of Reid standing out among her indie pop contemporaries, and solidifies her as one to watch. — P.R.
Ratboys – “Black Earth, WI”
Who knew an eight-minute jam from Ratboys was what we all needed as we emerge from the icy grip of winter? Real indie-heads and Bernie Sanders, that’s who. With “Black Earth, WI,” the Chicago rockers come through with a tune that induces sheer excitement and ear-to-ear grins. The gang packs a lot into the song’s extended runtime — sway-worthy tremolo guitar, clap-along choruses, an angular but soulful solo – and yet, the song feels like it’s a quarter of its runtime. It’s a bop so good it’s basically time travel. Put it on if you want to make nearly 10 minutes go by in the blink of an eye. — Jonah Krueger
Indigo De Souza – “Smog”
The first snippet we heard of Indigo De Souza’s upcoming album, All of This Will End, was “Younger & Dumber,” an intimate, piano-backed ballad with a cathartic ending. Now, with “Smog,” fans get to experience a different side of the songwriter, one that’s more energetic, ready to dance, and cry at the party. Unfettering drums and synths persist as her harmonized, effect-laden vocals sing of negative feelings and their very tangible results. Though occupying a different sonic lane than “Younger & Dumber,” “Smog” brings the focus of All of This Will End into an even clearer view. — J.K.
Jeerleader – “Keanu Reeves Saves the Planet”
For a band that references ’80s stalwarts like The Cure and The Smiths amidst newer jangle pop outfits like Alvvays and Body Type, Jeerleader is as refreshing as ever. On their new EP, I’m Fine Until I’m Not, the Brooklyn quartet lays out catchy riff after catchy riff, and standout single “Keanu Reeves Saves the Planet” — an image we can surely all get behind — is the brightest of the bunch. Come for the noodling lead guitar line and warm vocals, stay for that irresistible descending bassline in the chorus.— P.R.
Top Songs Playlist: