Well, well, well … August is upon us and y’all voted for the song of the summer. Only a Stereogum commentariat would manage to put Cardi B, Bad Bunny, and J Balvin’s “I Like It” at #1 and SOPHIE’s “Immaterial” at #2. That’s just the kind of people you are. Dive into the best songs of the week below.
Ultra Beauty’s “Get Pure” opens with a guitar part that sounds like watching a spider crawl up a wall. It lends the otherwise hypnotic post-punk song a sense of unease. “Get Pure” confronts the politics of purity, or as the band explained in a statement, “the violence of the politics of purity.” They do this by running through a series of situations that force a person to wonder whether they must confine themselves to a specific mold in order to be considered “good” or “right” or “normal.” The instrumentation hints that there’s an underlying tension between one’s sense of self and the way they might be perceived by the rest of the world; a distant clave clap, a swerving synth line, the voices of Ultra Beauty’s three band members ricocheting off one another as they repeat: “I don’t think about it.” –Gabriela
When people from different DIY rock undergrounds try to make dance-pop, it should be a recipe for disaster. And yet, “Touchscreen” is the product of three people. One of them, Matty Fasano, used to release sparse, gorgeous acoustic songs on cassette. Another, Dale Eisinger, plays drums for New York noise-rock duo Yvette. The third, Meredith Graves, was a truly inspiring hardcore singer before she became an MTV News host. Together, they’ve made something bright and propulsive and gorgeous.
The production on “Touchscreen” is genuinely funky in a ’90s New York house way. Squirmy, catchy little synth riffs fight it out between one another, while saxophones flutter in and out. And Graves, singing through vocal filters with unguarded enthusiasm, gets into the absurdities of the modern condition: “If you ever feel alone/ There’s a light that never goes out/ And it’s wonderful/ Touchscreen.”
Maybe it’s satirical. We are, after all, living in an era where we can summon just about anything with our phones, and that can be isolating and addictive, but it can also be weirdly liberating. And the way Graves sings about it, she sounds like she’s celebrating it more than she’s mocking it. By the end of the song, electronic effects have turned her voice into its own sort of abstraction, layered and stretched-out and turned into a ghost in the machine. “Touchscreen” is a song about the death of physicality that, itself, sounds hard and physical. And it’s wonderful. –Tom
Jason Pierce has spent most of his career damaged. Through Spiritualized’s nearly-bulletproof catalog, he’s been lovelorn, strung-out, recovering from freak medical catastrophes. So to fight back against his music’s more ragged, defeated passages, against the free-jazz nervous breakdowns, he’s often sought salvation. He’s looked for transcendence via pristinely overblown widescreen psychedelia or healing via the eternal promises of gospel.
The new Spiritualized album is called And Nothing Hurt, and the songs we’ve heard so far — even while being very much of a piece with the rest of his career — may rank as his most consistently gentle. His most consistently peaceful. There might still be demons lingering in “Here It Comes (The Road) Let’s Go,” but the notes are pure beauty. They are pure possibility, taking the proclamation of the track’s title/chorus and rendering them literally: not imagining a space-age escape but locating wonder in the scenes and forms right here on Earth, the ones you’ve always known.
Who knows how Pierce’s inner life is different these days, but in the past a Spiritualized album called And Nothing Hurt would’ve registered as some bleak sarcasm. But when you put on a song like “Here It Comes (The Road) Let’s Go,” those words ring true. The pain washes away. –Ryan
“Grim Seasons” begins in the dregs of winter: “The trees barren, the black ice hazardous/ The black ice slowin’ up the ambulance.” Immersed in Edan’s gothic psych-rap cartoon, Homeboy Sandman sets the scene in a grimy NYC hip-hop cadence evoking Raekwon or Roc Marciano. “No heroes below zero,” he laments. “Dark times, ain’t too much light/ Sun down early, too much night.”
From there he works his way through all four seasons, but even as the hemisphere warms up his perspective grows no less bleak. In springtime, “When it’s rainin’ it’s the perfect time for cryin’/ When there’s plenty flowers growin’/ To pick for decoration at the showin’/ It’s the perfect time for dyin’.” In summer, “Mosquitos out to get me/ Everything including the trigger fingers is itchy.” In the fall, “School of hard knocks back in session/ Stomach’s growlin’ while the wind is howlin’.”
Along the way he touches on kids locked in hot cars, police harassment, and many other horrors of human existence. The sorrow never lets up. Is this extreme pessimism, or just realism? Regardless, swimming in a stew of eerie samples and fried guitar blasts, Sandman’s relentlessly dour perspective is too vividly rendered to ignore. –Chris
The best Robyn songs are about absence. Whether embracing her loneliness while side-eying on the dance floor or flipping the script on the jilted “other woman,” the Swedish pop star has a way of translating abject loss into resilient elation. But on “Missing U,” her first proper solo song in eight years, she’s processing a different kind of loss.
If you wanted, “Missing U” could be interpreted as a breakup anthem, and it can work on that level, but all signs point to it being a mourning song about the death of her friend and close collaborator Christian Falk. It adds a different sort of pathos to the track, and it also makes sense that the song simmers instead of bursts. Typically, Robyn songs pay off in a sparkling climax, but the throbbing of “Missing U” is leveled to a dull ache. It’s a satisfying one, though, like picking at a loose tooth, and Robyn’s never been as empathic as she is in the chorus here: “There’s this empty space you left behind/ Now you’re not here with me,” she sings, the crystal-cut beat echoing with missed time and lost potential and all the vagaries of getting older and losing the ones you love the most. –James