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Stream it or skip it? Death Cab for Cutie and Jagged Edge make their returns

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Every week, there are hundreds of thousands of new songs hitting the airwaves. It’s too much for just your two ears to handle. With all those options, you can’t be wasting your time on tracks worthy of a thumbs down button. Don’t worry, we’re going to save you the hassle. We listen to some of the most hyped and interesting songs each week and tell you when you should stream it or skip it.

Death Cab for Cutie – Black Sun

Death Cab for Cutie is back. If you didn’t know they were gone or you did not follow them into the dark, then you didn’t realize that an indie rock institution was missing. The quiet hit makers are nearly 20 years in the making as a band now, and we can still hear their eerily catchy tunes floating around in the ether like an apparition, howling, but not to be feared.

We’re not going to lie, Black Sun sounds pretty much exactly how you’d expect a Death Cab for Cutie song to sound. It’s the familiarity of Ben Gibbard’s distinct and unmistakeable voice, which sounds like an old friend calling you on the phone just to say “Hi,” that does it. There is a bit more sheen on the track — a production of band guitarist Chris Walla — a synth-y flavor that is more reminiscent of the Postal Service. But this is very much a DCFC song, which is to say, it is very good.

Verdict: Stream It

Jessica Pratt – Back, Baby

If you heard Jessica Pratt without the context of who she is — a 20-something oddball folksy singer plucking away at guitar strings and making magical melodies appear out of nowhere — you’d probably place her voice somewhere around the Simon and Garfunkel era of the folk movement.

On Back, Baby, the young artist’s sound comes through so effortlessly, it sounds like she’s sitting on the front stoop of her California dwelling and playing freeform to create some improvisational tunes. There’s a sun-drenched sound to her strumming, and her voice makes you smile even when she’s singing things with a heavy emotional tilt like, “Sometimes, I pray for the rain.” She sounds gentle, fragile even at times. But she is so earnest, she’ll have you praying for rain, too.

Verdict: Stream It

Keith Urban – Raise ‘Em Up

There’s nothing about country music that says it has to stick to the formula that its artists too often resort to in recent years. It may be the genre with the heaviest levels of pandering toward its audience, too often playing a role that country artists may think they need to fill, instead of genuinely showing off some personality.

That’s not to say that there probably aren’t plenty of country artists who genuinely do love their solo cups and their trucks and whatnot. But when Keith Urban and Eric Church get together on Raise ‘Em Up, it’s like they just threw country-sounding ideas into a crockpot and mixed them all up with no real interest in how they go together. Lighters at a concert, a pickup truck, a glass of whiskey, your voice, your fist, the American flag, a family. These are all the things you can raise up, according to this track. One thing you should lower: the volume if this song is playing.

Verdict: Skip It

AWOLNation – Hollow Moon (Bad Wolf)

The project of former Under the Influence of Giants and Hometown Hero frontman Aaron Bruno, AWOLNATION had a strong pedigree coming out the gate in 2009. Riding in as part of the wave of new electronic rock, the band has had its music all over the place in just a short period of time, thanks to the nearly universal appear of the dirty rock sound and sparkling electric kick.

Those elements are present again on Hollow Moon (Bad Wolf), the first preview of the band’s upcoming album Run, which is due out in March 2015. Repetition is almost always a strong suit for electronic-influenced music, and it works wonders on Hollow Moon. While the verses carry more bite, the chant-like chorus, repeated over and over, is what will get this track stuck in your head.

Verdict: Stream It

Lil Wayne – CoCo

Lil Wayne fans have been put on hold for a while now, awaiting the arrival of Wayne’s Tha Carter V, which has been put on hold for nearly two months due to a dispute with rapper Birdman and Cash Money records. That hasn’t kept Wayne from being just about everywhere, popping up on guest features with Young Money cohorts Drake and Nikki Minaj.

And now Wayne’s fighting back against Cash Money by dropping some music on his own. The mixtape Sorry 4 The Wait 2 is pretty much a album-length list of complaints that Wayne has in regards to his label situation. It’s also exhausting. From the title track CoCo, Wayne goes in on the topic ad nauseam. Bars like “Cash Money is an army / I’m a one man army,” and “All I got is Young Money, no more cash,” and “Birdman Jr., more like Ugly Duckling,” are all over the place. Wayne’s frustration is understandable, but releasing a bad mixtape is not a great coping mechanism.

Verdict: Skip It

Pond – Elvis’ Flaming Star

Pond is the bizarro world Tame Impala, with many of the members shared between the groups. The Australian psychedelic outfit is like the stoner cousin of Tame Impala, with a more far out, zoning sound to their output. But as we’ve often learned over the years with music, the influence of drugs isn’t always a bad thing sonically.

The Pond side-project may serve as an outlet for the band members to be more out there. And it works wonders for them, as evident on Elvis’ Flaming Star. Even the title is a little odd, but the track has an otherworldly feel to it that will have you floating in a new headspace. There’s a glam-rock aesthetic at play, and an inherit joy that is present in Pond’s music. If you’re looking for something playful, a little silly, and definitely catchy, give this one a listen.

Verdict: Stream It

Jagged Edge – Love Come Down

It’s been a minute since Jagged Edge have been particularly relevant in the world of pop music. The R&B group that dominated the charts for the early part of the 2000s disappeared, not so much from making music but from people hit makers. It’s hard to keep up that dominance for long stretches, but the group fell off as the decade wore on.

Now the likes of Brasco, Case Dinero, Quick, and Wingo Dollars are back on the scene and, well, there isn’t much in terms of new sound that they’re bringing with them. Love Come Down sounds like an R&B jam from 2000 with some modern production flair thrown in. It’s nothing particularly new and it’s nothing that was missing from the pop charts.

Verdict: Skip It

Menace Beach – Come On Give Up

Menace Beach is young and fresh and still has the film coating of youthful exuberance atop their music that makes them an exciting listen. Their first full-length studio album Ratworld is out this week, which will mark the official arrival of the a group that has been tearing up the rock scene in England since releasing their first EP back in 2012.

If there’s one thing working against Menace Beach and their young sound, it’s that they aren’t quite their own yet. It’s something that is noticeable on Come On Give Up and throughout the record, though it’s not unexpected. Influences always shine through in early years. Luckily for Menace Beach — and for us — they have some really good tastes in influencers and they do a darn good impression.

Verdict: Stream It

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