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.
Some of you have already noticed the news. Our company had some layoffs this week, and Stereogum lost two of our staff members — Michael Nelson and Julia Gray. Working in the media this decade often sucks — we’ve all had the floor fall out from under us at some point, we’ve all seen friends lose their jobs. The remaining Stereogum staff members are still wrapping our heads around the new reality here this week, but I wanted to say something about each of them.
Julia was our newest staff member, but in the comparatively short time she was part of Stereogum, she had already developed her own voice on the site. She has a gift for quirky, comedic, first-person reports, venturing into dire scenes like testing out festival-specific dating apps or an EDM fest years after the genre’s peak. Some of you might remember when Kelly Conaboy was a part of the extended Stereogum family, first via Videogum and then as a freelancer — Julia has the same talent for pieces that could be hilarious, sardonic, and maybe a bit surreal. I don’t think I can take credit for coining this, but I always liked to describe her as being the best combination of Liz Lemon and Elaine Benes. Someone should hire her to write for a sitcom.
Michael joined Stereogum way back in the middle of 2012. Later, he became our Managing Editor, and concocted a lot of the columns that defined this era of the site. But, as people are well aware, he’s also a hell of a writer himself. Whenever Michael has a chance to go long on something, you know you’re in for an experience. Whether in his 2016 music business column But Who’s Buying?, passionate and expansive reviews about the Voidz, or exhaustive explorations into the mysteries of Andrew W.K., Michael has an obsessive curiosity — and an ability to draw out connections that you can initially mistake as discursive until they make you see the whole picture differently, more wholly, from a completely new angle. Off the top of my head, my favorite piece of his for Stereogum is his essay about the War On Drugs’ A Deeper Understanding — a blown-out and layered analysis of an album and career fittingly mirroring a blown-out and layered epic of an album. This is my favorite part of that review:
Granduciel is sifting through a pile of dinosaur bones and imagining what the dinosaurs looked like at the very moment before the meteor hit. That doesn’t make him a modern dinosaur, or a reluctant savior of dinosaurs. It makes him an archeologist.
It’s what he does best — pulls you along, and then hits you with an image so succinct and evocative it challenges all of the easier preconceived notions about an artist or album. It’s the best example of how when he writes something, it is unmistakably him, and yet you get the sense he’s responding to the nature of the work at hand, modulating his voice to speak in an album’s own vernacular.
Michael’s tenure at Stereogum reaches back before all of us aside from Tom and Scott. Several current or recent staff members — Gabriela, James, Peter — were once interns hired by Michael. He brought a lot of new voices and ideas to this site across an era in which it was growing, and changing, evolving beyond its origins as a scrappy ’00s mp3 blog. We’re all indebted to him. He left his mark here.
On a personal note, I feel particularly indebted to him. Michael is the person who gave me my first assignment for Stereogum, back in April of 2013. Things really snowballed from there. Later that year, he called me and asked if I wanted to start writing artist profiles for the site, something that was brand new for Stereogum; I was only 23, but he trusted me with that. In the years since, he became one of the most important and thoughtful editors I ever worked with. More importantly, he became a mentor, someone who could talk about the pitfalls of the media but could also give you, casually, little insights of wisdom to take back to your own writing. Most importantly, he became a great friend, excitedly talking about cats or reality TV or Blur or Star Wars, but also someone who was there if life was going awry. I know the latter part doesn’t go away once you no longer work with someone, but I’ll miss that presence at Stereogum every day.
In the end, I owe him a thank you, for taking a chance on me all those years ago. We all do. We all owe him a thank you for everything he did here, for all of us, for the better part of this decade.
Things will be different around here, but I think Michael and Julia each, in their own ways, made impacts on the site that will remain for some time. I’m sad they’re not a part of Stereogum anymore. But I’m excited to see what they figure out next — because whatever it is, I know it’ll be great.
5. NLE Choppa – “Camelot”
NLE Choppa is a 16-year-old child from Memphis. He raps excitedly about getting blowjobs and about shooting you. In videos, he totes guns and flashes gang signs. He should be a walking symbol of a degraded society. And maybe he is that. But he brings such an outsized, overwhelming energy to his music that I can’t find anything depressing about it. These days, Choppa is averaging about one towering banger per week. “Camelot” is one more entry in a wild hot streak, and you can practically feel the potential bursting off of it.
One line on “Camelot,” an extended parade of boisterous threats over a beautifully rudimentary hammering-piano beat, sums up Choppa’s whole thing: “That glizzy knock the meat out ya taco/ Flexing on these bitches, they call me Johnny Bravo.” So: NLE Choppa will shoot you in the head, but not before he gleefully calls back to a beloved Cartoon Network chestnut. Everything that Choppa does — the violence, the chest-out bravado, the caveman-level sex-talk — is pure teenage boy shit. And in this case, that is a good thing. We’ve got too many adults out here anyway. –Tom
All music moves to some extent, but not all music feels like the embodiment of motion. Not all music makes listeners move. Certainly not all music makes you feel like you’re cruising down the Autobahn blasting Sonic Youth and your whole environment is locked into synchronicity, your car barreling ahead in some grand choreography with your racing pulse and this entire rotating planet. But “Blankenship” does all that, which is why “Blankenship” rules. –Chris
“So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings” is a killer song title, and “So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings” is a killer song. It’s the flip-side to previous single “Ocean Of Tears,” reframing the loneliness of a long-distance relationship into a playful, if frustrating, game. “Not like I’m countin’ the days/ But it’s been 25,” Polachek sings. “You’re out there killin’ the game/ But damn, I miss you tonight.” It’s the best Chairlift song we’ve gotten since Chairlift broke up three years ago, a sleek, ever-so-slightly off-kilter ’80s synth-pop jam that zeroes in on the humor and the pathos in Polachek’s controlled delivery, her processed voice slowly melting into a cloud of pure feeling: “Can’t deal.” –Peter
Sophie Allison can paint a sinister picture. She did it a lot on Clean. That haunting image of an animal picking at its bloody teeth after having devoured you whole; her arms, outstretched like Jesus, hands nailed down to a bed. She devotes a whole song to this kind of imagery on Soccer Mommy’s new single, “lucy,” digging into the metaphor for its entire five minutes. The way Allison gradually shades Lucifer in here is nothing less than masterful: black leather and a charming smile, brimstone and fire. By the time she gets to the last verse, descending to a throne to wear his crown in hell, she’s totally sold you on the idea of giving yourself over to the devil.
Lucy is a stand-in for all of her vices, whatever they may be, and she accents it with guitars that wrap themselves around your head: spacey, dissociative, constantly spiraling. “lucy” is absolutely mesmerizing. I can’t help but picture that scene in Buffy, five seasons in, when the vampire slayer finally meets the legendary Dracula and is incapable of fighting against his thrall. Allison gives herself over to temptation on “lucy,” and succumbing has never sounded so darkly delicious. –James
There is often a pristine architecture to Mike Hadreas’ work as Perfume Genius. Crystalline synths that will melt out of focus at just the right moment, expressive melodies that will take left turns into stranger territories — especially in the spacier songs from No Shape, Hadreas has a way of crafting songs that could sound like smoke trapped in a jewel. There is something elusive about them, but his control over it all still results in an emotive, sharpened strain of auteur pop. “Eye In The Wall” is the first new Perfume Genius song we’ve heard in a while, and its fluidity and sprawl are striking for many reasons — not least of which is how Hadreas lets himself expand outward in a way we haven’t quite heard from him before.
Composed for a dance/live-music piece called The Sun Still Burns Here — in which Hadreas will also perform — you can tell he used the opportunity of “Eye In The Wall” to explore different horizons for his songwriting. Between its lightly galloping percussion, fried little guitar outbursts, and alluring melody, “Eye In The Wall” plays out like a desert vision. It sounds as if it was written by a person in a faraway place, calling out to us about the places they can see even further out. Fittingly, Hadreas’ melody has the arc of an incantation, as if trying to conjure up those visions for us. And as “Eye In The Wall” drifts out, he lets himself go entirely, a ghost dissipating. It’s experimentation and disappearance at once — but most importantly, it’s another beautiful Perfume Genius song. –Ryan