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.
About half of the Stereogum staff is making the annual, probably ill-advised trek down to SXSW next week. If you are too, you should come to our Range Life 2019 shows on Tuesday and Wednesday. The lineup is sick, if we do say so ourselves, featuring many artists who have appeared on our yearly Best New Bands lists. Almost half the lineup consists of recent or semi-recent Bands To Watch, including Westerman, Charly Bliss, Fontaines D.C., SASAMI, Sir Babygirl, Bedouine, Disq, Ellis, Thyla, and the Chills! (JK on that last one, though it probably would’ve been true had Stereogum been founded in the early ’80s.) Anyway, this being the week before SXSW, there was a pretty massive deluge of album news and singles before a good chunk of the industry disappears into a drunken vortex for six or seven days. The five best songs of the week are below.
After the anxious and claustrophobic Sleep Well Beast, the National deserved a breather. But they are already back, their new album I Am Easy To Find arriving under two years after its predecessor. This album clocks in at over an hour, with 16 tracks, several of which have been waiting for a home for years — like fan-favorite “Rylan.” It features many collaborations even by the National’s standards, female vocalists prominently duetting with Matt Berninger throughout. It might prove to be a moment in which the National loosen up, not as pressured to deliver each album as a definitive statement several years in the making.
That’s what its opener and lead single “You Had Your Soul With You” suggests, at least. There are facets that are pure National — especially Bryan Devendorf’s rushing drum parts — and extensions of Sleep Well Beast, its hissing electronic atmospherics reflected in bright, processed guitar work here. But the whole thing moves with a lightness we haven’t quite heard from them in a while (or that some people never attribute to them at all). Those guitar flickers could score a time-lapse video of a sunrise, and Berninger’s and Gail Ann Dorsey’s alternating vocals pull each other further up, like the whole song is one gradual lift-off. After all the darkness the National processed in 2017, “You Had Your Soul With You” does sound like a breath after all. –Ryan
Solange was laying it on pretty thick when she put a song called “Dreams” on When I Get Home. The album plays out like a single extended reverie, like Frank Ocean’s bleary, impressionistic Endless pushed to some deeper level of the subconscious. It’s all so interconnected that to isolate one track feels beside the point. Yet if the album contains a thesis statement, one track to exemplify the vibe Solange conjures so effectively throughout, it’s “Almeda.”
Named for a black neighborhood in Solange’s native Houston, “Almeda” bounces and lurches in the city’s chopped and screwed tradition. The album explores her roots not just in her hometown, but in blackness itself — quite explicitly in this case, as she rattles off a long list of things her people can call their own: “Brown liquor, brown liquor, brown skin, brown face, brown leather, brown sugar, brown leaves, brown keys, brown zippers, brown face, black skin, black braids, black waves, black days, black baes, black days.”
The list arrives amidst a swirl of rattling programmed drums, unfurling jazz bass, eerie funhouse-mirror synthesizers, and graceful keys, punctuated by The-Dream’s falsetto crooning and Playboi Carti’s raspy ad libs. It’s evocative and overwhelming, the sonic manifestation of a big mood. Even as an outsider, hearing it all together like this feels like being baptized in a culture that can’t be washed away, not even in that Florida water. –Chris
So far: four new songs, each one a goddamn diamond, but no cut weirder or wilder than “Sunflower.” Tell me: When, precisely, did Vampire Weekend become this fucking great? I truly musta missed it. I’m sure I’m similarly sleeping on several million influences and references rooted in the soil of “Sunflower,” but my naked ear hears hints of heads like Herbie Hancock, Mahavishnu, and — obviously, admittedly, accept it — Phish. Key diff: All those dudes would noodle for 20 minutes to get two, total, of ecstatic resplendence. Vampy Weeks, OTOH, spent six years editing to give you only those two minutes. Again, I ask you: AT WHAT FUCKING POINT DID THIS UNHOLY LEVEL-UP OCCUR?
Truthfully, “Sunflower” kinda does what this dude was doing when he did The Dude. Oh, speaking of: Father Of The Bride was internally developed under the moniker Mitsubishi Macchiato. Cool name, no doubt, but I’m pleased the band ultimately decided against mixing metaphorical makes, because the “VW” synergy has never been stronger. It’s almost too perfect! Haha. Nah, for real though, you gotta remember that “Fukengrüven” was a play on “Fahrvergnügen” … and what was “Fahrvergnügen”? Here’s Stefan Gies, head of chassis development at Volkswagen: “[It] stands for precision in all that we do — precision in the design and what you feel in the car. Everything the driver touches and controls must instill this feeling of confidence and precision.” Which: yup. Sums up V-Dub v4.0, too. “This feeling of confidence and precision”? Dude. Too perfect. You feeling it? –Michael
Have you ever had a panic attack? Pile’s Rick Maguire has had a panic attack. He was getting ready to move out of his apartment and record the band’s new album in the span of a few days when he experienced one for the first time. “My heart was pounding and I didn’t know what was happening,” he says. “It was pitch black, and I perceived looking at myself and my position to the rest of the world, physically, psychologically, and spiritually, and feeling this overwhelming anxiety.” And then he wrote a song about it.
A panic attack is both a psychic experience and a physical one, and Pile capture that visceral intensity on their new song “Bruxist Grin.” “First your heart pounds in the dark/ In the morning your mouth full of dust/ Tried to reason but your jaw knows where you are,” Maguire sings in a strangulated wail. A roiling, seasick guitar riff see-saws back and forth. A pounding drum rhythm mimics the rising tide of pulse-quickening terror.
And then there’s the comedown. Two-thirds of the way through “Bruxist Grin,” everything slows down. The panic fades into some lovely indie-rock noodling and some even lovelier acoustic strums. But then, just as suddenly, it returns, like a nagging voice in the back of your mind. The tension rises again until the song ends, abruptly, in those familiar, anxiously needling chords. “What you don’t want can find some way to stay with you,” Maguire concludes. This song will stay with you too. –Peter
Some songs just breathe. Bedouine’s “When You’re Gone” is a folk song, at least generally. It has verses and a chorus and a slow, almost tentative intro. There’s structure there. But you can’t hear the structure. All you can hear is the spell that the song casts. It’s a warm, comfortable, blissful zone-out, not a writing exercise. It must’ve taken real craft, real work, to put this song together — to figure out when the strings should come in, or where that glowing Fender Rhodes should sit in the mix. But we can’t hear the work. We can feel the way the song hits our brains, releasing those same calming chemicals as a long, satisfying exhale.
“When You’re Gone” is a love song, and it’s a song about missing someone else’s physical presence: “Dragged my finger around the rim/ Drag around a phantom limb.” Woodwinds and strings float through the song in a way that seems distinctly jazzy — or, at the very least, tied to that early-’70s moment when folk and jazz existed in conversation with each other. There’s plenty of Fairport Convention in the song, but there’s plenty of Roberta Flack and Joni Mitchell, too. And like those tactile, intricate pieces from long-bygone days, “When You’re Gone” fills up a room. It changes the way the light hits. It breathes. –Tom