Congratulations to us all! We made it through 2017! Now we’re on to a new year, and you know what they say: New Year, Same Bullshit. Luckily we’re kicking off 2018 with some killer songs. The Stereogum staff took some much needed time off over the holidays, so our five best list this weeks reflects eligible songs from the past three (!!!) weeks. Dig in below.
“Dublin is so far away,” Patrick Stickles sings at one point in the long, unspooling verse that makes up “Number One (In New York).” The line stuck out; “Number One (In New York)” is one of a couple songs from A Productive Cough that, for me, recall the Waterboys in all their ragged and dramatic Fisherman’s Blues-era glory. That might seem in line with the early talk surrounding this album, that its ballad-oriented tracklist will mark some kind of left turn for Titus. That’s only partially true, really. There are songs like “Number One” all over Titus’ catalog, its grandiosity initially reminiscent of The Monitor. The big difference? Where Stickles often crafted his past epics in multi-part structures, “Number One” works over one musical approach toward a catharsis that’s both more direct and more hard-earned. Beginning with a simple piano figure and steadily building up from there, it’s a different kind of Titus epic, one that patiently swells and swells until Stickles roars against it all at the track’s huge climax, a moment every bit as visceral as more propulsive Titus classics. Stickles has always been an accomplished songwriter, but there’s something special about hearing “Number One” come from him now, in his early 30s. It’s a more weathered version of Titus — rather than come out swinging, it offers a road-worn saga that slowly unfolds and sticks with you in a completely different way. –Ryan
In Greek mythology, Persephone is the daughter of harvest goddess Demeter — the one who Hades kidnapped, dragged to hell, and married. She’s the reason why we only have good weather for half the year; her mother is only happy when she’s allowed to return home. For the young Boston singer-songwriter Sidney Gish, Persephone is all those things, but she’s also something else: A word that she’s been saying wrong for as long as she can remember. “I’ve called Persephone by the name Purse-a-phone / Greek godesses aren’t what you grab while leaving home.” And later: “I’d mispronounce and mis-accent for infinity / There isn’t much that you can do to stop me.” Why would you, when a tiny bit of syntactic confusion leads to a song this delightful? Gish, a 20-year-old jazz guitar student, puts her considerable chops in service of sweet, lighthearted bedroom-pop songs as elegant as they are plainspoken. We might live in an arctic hellworld right now — thanks, Hades — but the fact that an unsigned unknown like Gish can throw an album up on New Years Eve and see her music catch on, internet-borne word-of-mouth style, in less than a week is a modern miracle. –Tom
Jeff Rosenstock started this year off on a good note with the surprise release of his latest album, POST-, and the sprawling 7-minute opener “USA” is an early highlight. It’s a stellar example of his talent for dynamic shifts — “USA” goes from incendiary to contemplative and back to fire-starting — but where these energetic bursts would have typically been confined to a breathless couple minutes in past work, “USA” takes its time to build up and break down without losing any of Rosenstock’s immediate fervor. It’s a song about feeling betrayed by the freedoms that this country purportedly espouses, tired of the broken promises that span generations. Rosenstock paints in snapshot vignettes: the “clerk at the midwestern service station,” the “man in a crossover with his family,” all caught up in the same lie. It’s a chorus of the disgruntled and disaffected, and friends and frequent collaborators Chris Farren and Laura Stevenson chime in as the song grows increasingly busy. “Et tu, USA?” they chant at an empty ideology. “We’re tired, we’re bored,” they repeat, an exclamation that changes meaning as the song goes on, from listless fatigue to restless indignation to what sounds like a revolution. –James
“Finesse” was already a jam. On 24K Magic, Bruno Mars mined pop gold from the past few decades of funk and R&B history, and “Finesse” was his new jack swing bite, all “Poison” snare drums and Bobby Brown orchestral synth stabs. But with the addition of ascendant rap star Cardi B, the song becomes something else entirely. If Bruno’s greatest strength as a performer is his chameleonic stage presence, his ability to perfectly embody whatever sound he cares to, then Cardi’s is just the opposite: the sheer force of her own larger-than-life personality, capable of bulldozing through whatever surroundings she finds herself in. And on this dynamite remix, the collision of their two distinct brands of charisma results in more than a few sparks. With a little early ’90s hip-hop in her flow, Cardi sounds more purely fun and mainstream pop-adjacent than she ever has, and with a little Cardi on his track, Bruno has a shot at extending his run of 24K Magic hit singles into the new year. Dripping in finesse, indeed. –Peter
Pop 2 is glorious, but it’s remarkable how much effusive praise the project is enjoying compared to Charli XCX’s previous mixtape, Number 1 Angel, which is every bit as good. Goes to show the extent to which “Boys” reignited public interest in her music, I guess. Anyway, before this blurb about the first song on Pop 2 turns into a blurb about Number 1 Angel, which you should definitely revisit, let’s talk “Backseat.” Charli and Carly, together at last! The duet of every hipster pop geek’s dreams! How could it possibly ever live up to such impossible expectations? The answer is that instead of living up to them, it wonderfully subverts them. Rather than the dance-pop monster jam of our collective imagination, “Backseat” is an epic slow-build worthy of M83, a synth-pop power ballad that slowly submerges our heroes in a digital bath. Essentially it’s the TRON soundtrack meets the Top Gun soundtrack, and it rules so hard. –Chris