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Friday Five September 17th
Kehlani, Nick Cave, Snail Mail, Tonstartssbandht, and Miko Marks.
| Credit: Milo Marks/YouTube; Kehlani/YouTube; Tina Tyrell; Avalon/PYMCA/Gonzales Photo/Thomas Rasmussen/Universal Images Group via Getty Images; Andy White

Every Friday, EW's music team runs down the five best songs of the week. In today's edition, Kehlani has a spiritual awakening, Snail Mail sends a bloody valentine, Nick Cave confronts his ghosts, Miko Marks covers Creedence, and Tonstartssbandht can't catch a break.

"Altar" — Kehlani

The R&B standout's sentimental new single, the first off her upcoming album, Blue Water Road, delivers on the devotional imagery its title invokes. Kehlani gently sings of lighting candles and fixing plates, telling the angels watching over her she "thought I felt you before/Now you're closer" over a drum fill that echoes a heartbeat. Lush background vocals from singer-songwriter peers Jacob Collier and Ambré give the track a choral depth and complete the ritual, letting spirits rise and fulfilling Kehlani's request to "stay just a little bit longer." —Marcus Jones

"Valentine" — Snail Mail

Lindsey Jordan's stellar debut album, Lush, was hailed as one of the best of 2018, so the indie-rock phenom, a.k.a. Snail Mail, knows all eyes are on her as she prepares its follow-up (out Nov. 5). "Careful in that room/Those parasitic cameras, don't they stop to stare at you," she tells a love interest on her sophomore effort's title track, but she's too clever a songwriter not to also be alluding to the pressure that she, at just 22, is under to continue her winning streak. She needn't worry. "Valentine" is as auspicious a first taste as we could hope for, a gorgeously robust and sonically adventurous fist-pumper stocked with warbling synths, crunchy guitars, and a desperate refrain ("Why'd you have to erase me?") that renders her pain not just believable but palpable. Throw in the single's grisly, cake-filled period-piece video — in which a spurned Jordan stabs the man she finds dancing with her female paramour — and it's evident the musician is already a master at chronicling how sweet romance can quickly curdle into a bloody mess. —Jason Lamphier

"Long as I Can See the Light" — Miko Marks & the Resurrectors

In March, after being repeatedly rebuffed by the country music industry, Miko Marks released the anthemic, Americana-tinged Our Country, her first album in 13 years. With "Light," the singer's message is clear: She will never wait that long again to unveil new music. The lead single off her forthcoming covers EP, Race Records (named for the ridiculous blanket term labels used to market Black artists through the 1950s), is an impressive take on a Creedence Clearwater Revival classic. The Michigan singer provides some small but important updates here — out goes Fogerty and Co.'s scuzzy Wurlitzer and saxophone solo, in comes a distorted guitar and Marks' hair-raising vocals — without losing any of the 1969 version's retro power. When you hear Marks — a Black singer who found acclaim in her career only after overcoming hurdle after ridiculous hurdle — deliver a line like "Cause I'm bound to drift a while/Though I'm gone, gone/You don't have to worry, no/Long as I can see the light," you know she means it. —Alex Suskind

"Earthlings" — Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds

It's impossible to listen to any new Nick Cave track and not think of the profound tragedy the Australian rock icon has weathered in recent years. In 2015, his 15-year-old son Arthur fell from a cliff and died after experimenting with LSD, a subject his past two albums have mined mostly obliquely through poignant metaphors, mythic imagery, and analogue synthesizers whose spectral melodies seep into your bones like cold rain into soil. "Children Halloween'd in sheets/Go running up and down the streets/I thought these ghosts had gathered here for me," he sings on "Earthlings," a previously unreleased ballad left off his astonishing 2019 album, Ghosteen, that will appear on October's B-Sides & Rarities Part II collection. Later, over a minimal ambient drone, he confesses, "I thought these songs would one day set me free," before a chanting choir joins him, ushering him toward the light. They may or may not, but for three fleeting minutes, Cave makes you believe that music is the only path to salvation. —Jason Lamphier

"What Has Happened" — Tonstartssbandht

A pleasant, groovy limbo awaits on the latest single from sibling psych-rockers Tonstartssbandht (pronounced "tahn-starts-bandit"). As flickering cymbals rush past, keyboards and (what sounds like) a heavily plucked guitar repeat, filter, and echo off the walls. Yet something darker lurks beneath the surface: "Staring every second, minute, hour, slipping by until your gaze is fully dry/Can't catch a break to even cry" — fitting for a song the group says is "about time traveling at home when you're blue." By the time the choir and falsettoed harmonies pipe in, don't expect things to settle. There's no happy ending, no Marty McFly–like conclusion to be had: "Honestly, what has happened to me? This ain't like me." For this pair, the trouble is just beginning. —Alex Suskind

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