We decided on this week’s 5 Best Songs only after a fairly brutal culling process: No question, Mastodon, Mr. Twin Sister, EMA, Beach Slang, and John Southworth deserved to be on here, and there were numerous others that made a strong case for themselves, too. But what eventually made it did so virtually unanimously — there was no argument whatsoever among Team Stereogum that each of these songs had to be on this list. You guys, though? You might argue. Check out the list below, and refute in the comments.
Arca is a dance-music tinkerer whose music exists within its own headspace, but “Thievery” is what happens when he keeps in mind the idea of moving bodies. The drum pattern at the heart of “Thievery” doesn’t sound like a broken washing machine or a Tourettic jackhammer. It’s pure dancehall, a staggered pulse that actually moves, that allows for a rhythmic push-pull. When most of Arca’s peers favor heart-murmur arrhythmia and circus-bloop supercharge, that simple decision feels revelatory. And when Arca layers on the sinister gothic keyboard and the echoing chimes and the haunted-house glimmers, those parts all sound like pieces of a song, not distancing effects. “Thievery” is a cold, hellish apocalyptic synthscape, but it’s a cold, hellish, apocalyptic synthscape that you can grind to. –Tom
Ariel Pink seems like such a creep, so hearing him ask a lady to put her number in his phone and beckoning her to “get some time alone” is vaguely unsettling. In a sense, the cognitive dissonance serves as a stand-in for the gnarled, nauseous production that has so often shrouded Pink’s gift for gorgeous sound in the past. Good, then, that “Put Your Number In My Phone” doesn’t pile on that kind of noise. There’s still a bit of a chillwave tinge to its breezy soft-rock aura and echo-laden production — fitting since Pink’s back catalog played such a prominent role in spurring that whole scene — but the song mostly lets its beauty sparkle and shimmer unhindered by static. It sounds like the Nerves on muscle relaxers — a marvel of cascading arpeggios and deadpan crooning, bathed in an ethereal bliss that makes it feel like it’s being beamed into AM radio from outer space. –Chris
When was the last time an indie rock song made you uncomfortable? There used to be a queasily distinct death-drive running through postpunk and its variants — X, the Birthday Party, the whole Amphetamine Reptile scene — but it’s largely gone now in favor of friendlier, more welcoming sounds. In that context, then, it’s refreshing to hear Cult Of Youth frontman Sean Ragon bleating and gnashing and gurgling harder than he ever has before. “Empty Faction” is a squirming, rickety bug-out of a song, an urgent anthem of anxiety. Ragon’s voice has gone from gypsy-goth growl to early-hardcore bellow, and his band is cranking out trashcan-surf at a frightening clip. The resulting song sounds like how it feels to wake up in the middle of the night covered in sweat and convinced that something is very wrong. –Tom
Here it is: Vince Staples’ signature song. In an age when self-pity and self-aggrandizement have been at the core of so much of the best rap music, “Hands Up” is a reminder that many of the genre’s greatest triumphs have come from rappers reaching outside themselves. Over production that fuses ominous historical gangster-rap sounds with the simple DJ Mustard synth blurts that reign today, Staples flips hip-hop’s eternal command, “Put your hands in the air,” into an incredibly timely social statement. The mood is unmistakably post-Ferguson, but lines like, “They expect respect and non-violence/ I refuse the right to be silent” could refer to any American city where “your color is enough to get you under arrest.” Which, unfortunately, is still most of them. Many others have attempted to step up with a song for these troubled times, but Staples says more in a pair of verses here than a dozen more established MCs managed on “Don’t Shoot.” His album can’t arrive soon enough. –Chris
Right out the gate Perfume Genius’ blindly intense Too Bright got comparisons to Scott Walker’s Tilt and Kate Bush’s The Dreaming, but while those influences were mostly felt in spirit on the colossal first single “Queen,” they become explicit on the sinister fever dream “Grid.” It opens with a panicked drum pulse and moaned vocals similar to Walker’s “Face On Breast,” and later sparks the kind fury Bush tapped into when she was screaming “I LOVE LIFE” on “Pull Out The Pin.” But this song’s strength doesn’t come from its influences. What “Grid” really feels like is a culmination of so many of Mike Hadreas’ strengths. It’s a brief epic without a second wasted, and it comes with a music video that feels flush with moments from “Hood,” “Queen,” and “Gay Angels” cementing him as one of the best video artists of this generation. Then there’s his structure — directed by an emotional progression rather than any chorus or verse — a constantly shifting bloodletting that grows from ominous to outright terrifying once the chants and raw howls begin flowing. And just like that, all the fears invert like a photo negative, and “Grid” becomes the sound of Hadreas rallying all of those strengths to make something bold, distinct, and profound. So while it’s exciting to hear Perfume Genius earn those comparisons to his influences, “Grid” inspires the far more satisfying propspect of the next generations of musicians who might grow brave enough to make their own Tilt, their own The Dreaming, or their own Too Bright. –Miles