Every week the Stereogum staff chooses the five best new songs of the week (the eligibility period begins and ends Thursdays right before midnight). This week’s countdown is below, and you can listen to a playlist of all our 5 Best Songs on Spotify.
Two weeks ago, something good happened: The Grammys were actually on-point for once and awarded Kacey Musgraves Album Of The Year for Golden Hour. And because the universe needs to balance itself, or skew towards general disorder, get ready for Bohemian Rhapsody to win at the Oscars and a torrent of aggrieved tweets and thinkpieces to follow. At least it’ll be another night of getting “Shallow” inextricably stuck in your head one way or another. Anyway, check out the 5 best songs of the week below.
During the rollout for their new album The Seduction Of Kansas, Priests have been insisting that, despite their roots in the DC DIY scene, they are not a punk band. Fair enough. The group’s unique twist on rock music has always resisted easy categorization, and these new singles find them continuing to stretch themselves in exciting ways.
On “Good Time Charlie,” that means funneling their frustrations with a laughably bad Tom Hanks propaganda flick into a spin cycle of pounding toms, squealing synths, and humongous Pete Townshend windmill power chords. The song traces back to Katie Alice Greer’s revulsion toward Charlie Wilson’s War — “think of the movie Team America, except the filmmakers weren’t joking,” she writes — and you can hear her barely contained contempt in the way she belts out the melodies here: “Like all great pornography, the story is touching! It’s something that I wanna see!”
Soon deadpan spoken word outbursts are intermingling with her hooks, the whole jumble of noise unmooring you even as it carries you unceasingly forward like a storm front that refuses to dissipate. The confusion, the anger, the resignation: This is what it feels like to follow global politics from the sidelines — and to see Hollywood reflect dystopian realities back at you as normal. Yet on the musical axis, a story of endless regression takes the shape of progress. –Chris
Tierra Whack became one of 2018’s most-hyped rising stars when she released her ridiculously great album Whack World. The collection is made up with songs that clock in at under a minute long, and they’re built on hooks that showcase the young Philly rapper’s dexterity. Those hooks turned heads, but they left some people wanting more, and others wondering whether Tierra could deliver a full-length album filled with, well, full-length songs. A short track is an accomplishment in itself, but damn would I kill for an extended version of “Hungry Hippo.”
This week, Tierra debuted “Only Child” and it is blessedly about four minutes long. Tierra alternates between rapping and singing as she rhapsodizes and simultaneously criticizes a selfish and spoiled man who did her wrong. “You must be the only child because you’re so stingy/ I just wanna go buck wild when you don’t defend me,” she sings the chorus in a bubbly, playful cadence that sugar-coats a truth that’s hard to swallow. “Used to arch my back for you and now I’m your arch-nemesis/ All men should be feminists, Donald Trump fucks immigrants/ I don’t want to work it out, so cancel our gym membership,” Tierra reveals on the second verse. She knows how to hit that sweet spot, even when it hurts. –Gabriela
“It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both,” Niccolo Machiavelli famously wrote in The Prince. The fear/love marriage is something Rico Nasty has mastered, and if she were rapping during the Renaissance era, she would’ve been the toughest bitch in the running. Rico has mean girl charisma — blunt and bratty, but alluring and lovable. She made that clear on her 2018 major label debut mixtape, Nasty, and has continued to do so with a string of singles this year.
Rico knows how to make you nervous, taking aggression and discomfort and spinning them into euphoric catharsis. On her latest track, “Sandy,” the Rico effect is in full force. Kenny Beats, who handled most of the production on Nasty and her recent singles, underscores Rico’s gritty flexing with ominous guitar static and booming bass thumps. She strikes a perfect balance between playful and harsh. If anyone can make a SpongeBob reference sound threatening (“Smoking out the bowl like the bitch named Sandy”), it’s Rico.–Julia
You can almost hear the other forms “Killer” could have taken. Its hazy atmospheres — all ambience and guitars as if fried by a desert sun — could provide the backdrop for yearning romantic reverie. Its patient unspooling could make for a languid highway song. But “Killer” is, of course, not those things at all. Ellen Kempner explained that the source of the song is “murderous fantasies,” dreams of exacting vengeance on those who have abused or hurt the people close to her. It’s a song of latent, righteous, ever-present rage — never quite letting it all rush outward, but foreshadowing it.
Musically, “Killer” is suggestive, quietly cinematic; it sounds like the smoke drifting upwards as a film character who’s seen some shit takes a drag mid-monologue. Kempner, too, sounds like she’s seen some shit here. “I wanna be the one who kills the man who hurt you, darling,” she sings on the chorus, her voice full of weight and curling itself around the word “darling” as if to conjure the violent cowboy mythology to which the song’s vaguely Western aesthetic and revenge narrative nod. In the end, we never get the explosion, that moment of vicious justice. Loose guitar lines tumble along, searching. And in a way all of this is more satisfying than volcanic distortion or cathartic screams. Instead, “Killer” lingers in the air, a whisper of furious resolve. –Ryan
When Freddie Gibbs and Madlib first got together more than seven years ago, the appeal was the disconnect. Madlib was a hero for making heady, discursive, halfway-broken beats and for working with fellow underground heroes like MF DOOM. Gibbs, on the other had, was a mixtape murderer who, at the time, was part of Young Jeezy’s CTE crew. They were an odd couple. But when Gibbs locked in over Madlib’s woozy, staggering tracks, they worked.
Today, as they gear up to releasing the follow-up to the great 2014 album Piñata, they’re not such an odd couple anymore. Gibbs is now, like Madlib, an underground veteran, and the different branches of the rap underground are a lot closer together than they used to be. And when Gibbs rides that off-kilter, constantly-changing Madlib beat, he sounds like he’s home.
The title of “Flat Tummy Tea” comes from Gibbs being his nasty, evocative self: “I be all in these bitches’ stomach like flat tummy tea.” But over the song’s two and a half minutes, Gibbs gets into heavier subjects. The legacy of slavery: “Crackers came to Africa, ravaged, raffled, and rummaged me / America was the name of they fucking company.” The mental wages of growing up around crime and poverty: “Niggas won’t let you live in peace but love to see you rest in peace / Broke and popping and drinking on all the rest, they got the best of me.” The sad state of criminal-justice reform: “Obama can’t make the law retroactive, what the fuck happened? / Congress cock-blocking niggas from coming home to they family.” Even Gibbs’ own dissatisfaction with the legends of black cinema: “Fuck Spike, he mostly show Malcolm on coke and white whores / Did the shit so he can get funding up from them white boys.” It’s a quick, messy, virtuosic tour-de-force. And if we’re lucky, its a sign of things to come. –Tom