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.
This week, we officially launched one of our most ambitious projects to date, a high water mark in Stereogum history: Nochella. Polls have opened for you, the faithful Stereogum readers, to decide which random festival we’ll be sending our intrepid writer Julia Gray to cover this year. Those polls close on Monday! This is your final reminder! Go vote, and then check out the week’s best songs below.
Lily Konigsberg and Matt Norman make wonderfully weird pop music that sounds like it was created by cartoon characters with a taste for the experimental. There’s something just off about it — not in the melodies and chord changes, which reveal a deep understanding of how to construct a song, but in production and performances that always come at you from odd angles (itself a marker of smart songwriting, come to think of it).
On “Unit And Bucket,” that manifests in a drum machine that sounds like it might fall apart at any moment, a gigantic funhouse keyboard riff that smothers everything in its wake, and gently cooed lyrics from Konigsberg about the impossible glory of falling in love. In under two minutes, the song whisks you into her blissful disbelief and then abruptly concludes with a kind of acceptance that’s difficult for pessimists: “I’m in love with you/ It’s just that way.” Not only is her happiness real, it begets more happiness every time we circle back to listen again. –Chris
In the context of Big Thief’s new album U.F.O.F., “Cattails” is a banger. Given, it is still a gentle acoustic rumination in the context of everything else. But while many of U.F.O.F.‘s songs patiently unspool and wander, “Cattails” rushes out. The song, appropriately enough, came to Adrianne Lenker quickly, in a burst over the course of a night. And there’s a kind of effervescence to it as a result, like Lenker and the band channeled that moment immediately, letting it spill out of them.
“Cattails” is easily one of the catchiest songs to come from Big Thief — the kind of thing that’ll be stuck in your head upon waking up, morning after morning — but the directness doesn’t diminish the mystical qualities of U.F.O.F.. The song has a circular, ambling feel, tumbling and intensifying ever so slightly as it continues. It sounds like Lenker casting a spell. And once that washes over you, it leaves you with all kinds of images, bright and hopeful. If its predecessor “U.F.O.F.” was an enigmatic piece, burrowing deeper into strange places, “Cattails” is an answer that opens things back up, the soundtrack for cresting a hill at daybreak and considering the new day ahead. –Ryan
When the Stereogum staff first heard Hatchie’s forthcoming debut Keepsake, one of my coworkers said that many of the songs felt custom-built to soundtrack prom montages from an ’80s or ’90s coming-of-age movie. And when the “Stay With Me” video dropped earlier this week, it was clear Hariette Pillbeam has a good understanding of her aesthetic. A simple but evocative clip, it takes place in a club, colors flashing across the room and reframing Pillbeam’s face. She’s alone in the center of the camera, surrounded by revelry but addressing someone who isn’t there. There’s something perfect about it, and not just because it makes you realize “Stay With Me” has a more subtly dance-oriented beat than many of Hatchie’s other songs. It’s perfect because it reflects that mixture of euphoria and longing that characterizes “Stay With Me” and so much of Hatchie’s work otherwise.
“Stay With Me” begins with a couple of quietly resounding synth flickers, almost mimicking the way the sound begins to approach and envelop you as you enter the sort of club Pillbeam occupies in the video. For about the first half of its runtime, “Stay With Me” uses those synths to build something dreamlike, a person calling out to a lover in the moment they’re becoming as intangible as dreams themselves. Then, almost a full three minutes in, “Stay With Me” takes flight. That drum break hits, and the song could suddenly sound triumphant or that much more desperately longing, the titular plea growing more urgent.
As the song escalates, so too does the lyrical content — from the universal experience of trying to make a relationship work when it’s straining and shuddering apart, Pillbeam turns to wondering how it could’ve played out otherwise, what could have been if they had met in a different moment. Soon enough, the song recedes into the same gauzy ether from which it first emerged: a face disappearing back into the crowd across a dancefloor, a person drifting into memory even as you grasp after them, leaving those questions of paths and chances not taken hanging in the air unanswered. –Ryan
You don’t go to a club without a goal, whether you’re looking to hook up, blowing off steam, or seeking social validation. We conceal these basic desires throughout the day and let them loose at night, in the company of other anxious humans. Collective hedonism is the fabric of the club. On “Club Nites,” Vancouver rock outfit Dumb frantically wade through the crowd.
Lead singer Franco Rosino offers flashes of the evening: trying to buy someone a drink, witnessing a public make-out, seeing an old friend, tolerating a douchey pseudo-intellectual. “I get it you’re an artist, yeah you’ve got so much to say about the world and how it got here,” he intones over gnarling guitars. “Until I catch you dancing shut your mouth and take a seat, buddy.” –Julia
The world will end. We all know it. One day we’re gonna die, and whether everyone else goes with us right then is besides the point. We’ll be gone from this Earth no matter what. Throughout Vampire Weekend’s catalog, Ezra Koenig has stared down this ticking of the clock with an academic rigor. But as the final hour draws ever nearer, Koenig has turned towards the light.
“This Life” sounds bright and optimistic in the face of total annihilation. In the grand tradition of “Ironic,” the verses here have maudlin payoffs: being naïve enough to think it never rained in California, forgetting to lock the gate against hate. The hardest-hitting one goes like this: “Baby, I know dreams/ Tend to crumble at extremes/ I just thought our dream would last a little bit longer.”
Koenig and crew are cheating their way through life, hoping to outrun the eternal suffering. Vampire Weekend songs always take place on a grand scale — the context and intertextuality can be overwhelming — but when it comes down to it, “This Life” is a song about humanity, one that argues that it’s in everyone’s best interest to find a community to stick with: “Darling, our disease is the same one as the trees/ Unaware that they’ve been living in a forest.” If the end of the world sounds like “This Life,” then it doesn’t sound so bad. –James