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.
There’s a Jesse Pinkman movie out today, bitch. There were also a lot of songs out this week. The five best of them are below.
If Rata Negra’s previous songs were swift gales, their latest is a slow-moving storm. The Madrid trio turn up the gloom factor on “”¿Qué Tendrá?,” nervy pinpricks giving way to a billowing cloud. The band adapted the lyrics for the track from an old poem by Spanish writer José María Gabriel y Galán. They pack those words into a song with gothic undertones, a dark undercurrent that feels dangerous as it pulses and bites with a sinister joy. –James
The last Liz Phair song came out five years ago. It was a one-off Chrismas joint for an Amazon playlist. The last Liz Phair album came out nine years ago. It was a self-released bugout that featured Bollywood samples and Liz Phair rapping. Over the years, Phair has been clear that she never considered herself an indie rocker, that she always considered indie rock limiting and unwelcoming. Fair enough. But she’s so good at making indie rock. And so “Good Side” isn’t just the first Liz Phair song in five years. It’s maybe the first Liz Phair indie rock song since Whitechocolatespaceegg came out 21 years ago.
And it’s a good one. “Good Side” has a classic Liz Phair opening line: “There’s so many ways to fuck up a life/ I’ve tried to be original.” It’s harsh and deadpan and self-deprecating, and it all slides into a massive singalong chorus, a thing built for road trips. The song reunites Phair with Brad Wood, her main producer in her early days. He’s always known just how to ornament Phair’s songs and surround her voice, and “Good Side” is full of his touches — the horns bursting in at the climax, the seagull sounds, the big return of the riff. But the real attraction here is Liz Phair, back in classical shit-talking form, no rust on her anywhere. –Tom
Guerilla Toss see life and its endless parade of absurdities as the demented carnival ride that they are. They take dark themes like, say, the impending apocalpyse, or opioid addiction, and twist them into anxious yet exultant knots of danceable art-rock.
“Future Doesn’t Know” is Guerilla Toss at their poppiest, which is still plenty weird — opening with a series of clattering sound effects, leading into a huge, stadium-ready guitar-rock riff, kicking into a rubbery bass groove, then lifting off with a skyward keyboard line that echoes singer Kassie Carlson’s yelped staccato vocals: “Future doesn’t know/ What’s at the ending/ Future doesn’t know/ What’s coming next/ Mazes with no start/ Leading to nothing/ Fading to a pale/ Mirror of me.” The future is ours for the taking, and Guerilla Toss are staking their claim. –Peter
The two albums billy woods has released this year are defined by their claustrophobic intensity. On his own records and as one half of Armand Hammer, woods raps bluntly and unapologetically about what it’s like to live in a dystopia. “Western Education Is Forbidden” shows off the looser, more relaxing side of his sonic palette. The production evokes an easygoing stroll through a neighborhood. Almost half the song is consumed by a soulful guest vocal by Fielded. Even woods’ radical rhetoric is a bit softer than usual, limited to lines like “Everything I learned at community college was a lie.” But here’s the truth: He’s as good on beats that sound smoky like a dive bar as he is on beats that sound smoky like a firebombed warehouse. –Chris
When Nick Cave’s new album Ghosteen arrived last week, it was clear there would be a lot to process. Besides the heaviness of its subject matter, this was a dense album with songs that required several listens before you could reckon with their meaning, before their subtle melodies started to reappear in your head. It’s a difficult album to excerpt a key track from — so much of it feels like one long piece, Cave disappearing into then reemerging from the soft, meditative textures that dominate much of it.
There are several contenders for the most important, the best, song on Ghosteen. “Spinning Song” is an overture for the album’s battles with mortality and loss and what we leave behind, an allusive intro already painting Cave’s own experiences through iconography and mythology, more eternal stories that might give us some way to frame our own tragedies. “Galleon Ship” is a bleary attempt at seeing another sunrise, while “Ghosteen Speaks” and “Leviathan” are heartbreakingly beautiful compositions in which Cave intones the same lines over and over, as if praying them to be real.
But it was the second half, moving like one long 30 minute song with multiple movements, that was the most transfixing and overwhelming passage on first listen, and that remains true after many more. It begins with the gorgeous title track and continues into the spoken word “Fireflies,” and finally the whole album closes with “Hollywood.” In many ways, the song is a harrowing conclusion to Ghosteen — but it also might be one of Cave’s finest pieces of writing.
There is some precedent for “Hollywood” in Cave’s writing, songs that sprawled open into multi-part epics that thread through his favored imagery and settings, but elide the personal narratives and the fables. In recent years, when he’s moved past narrative-based songwriting, you could hear the beginnings of something like “Hollywood” in Push The Sky Away tracks like “Jubilee Street” or “Higgs Boson Blues.” But here it becomes more diffuse and fragmented, stretched out into a sort of haze in which these different sections come into focus, then fade off into the ether to make way for the next.
“Hollywood” ties up the various directions of Ghosteen. Once more, he turns to fantasies to clarify or escape his mourning, the call of a West Coast across an ocean and continent promising a new beginning. Eventually, the song bleeds into a very different story, an old Buddhist tale Cave uses to answer himself within “Hollywood” and across Ghosteen. Everyone loses people — there is nowhere to go to escape this, or to escape your memories. He ends “Hollywood” communicating this, wondering when he’ll be released, in a strained and weathered upper register. It’s a resounding, powerful conclusion to an impossibly moving album, partially because we have never heard Cave like this. We have never heard him as a broken echo of himself, trying to make sense of the part of himself he can never get back. –Ryan