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.
Welcome to the first 5 Best of 2020. Do you feel full of hope and renewal with the new year? Or, like some of us, do you keep getting Pearl Jam’s “Do The Evolution” stuck in your head while imagining Eddie Vedder updating the lyrics to “2020, watch it go to fire”? Well, anyway, plenty of songs came out during our holiday hiatus from this column. Below, you can find the five best of them, not just from this week but from the last four weeks.
Solo vocal and piano performances are such a dicey prospect. You need a hell of a lot of presence, a transfixing voice, to truly sell a form that, more often than not, is a sort of empty shorthand for “emotionally bare.” That’s never a concern with Susanne Sundfør. Her voice is so otherworldly, so heart-shatteringly beautiful, that when she delivers stark songs like “When The Lord” there is no chance they won’t be moving. In Sundfør’s hands, these songs are like hymns sung near a fire on a winter night; you can see the embers and snowflakes flickering together in the air, you can hear generations’ worth of human suffering and grasps at transcendence in every note. –Ryan
Frances Quinlan approaches her songs like short stories, a gradual reveal of a character we’re never going to completely understand. The narrator of “Your Reply” is not Quinlan, but they probably share some of the same characteristics: They make notes in the margins of novels, intellectualizing with old pages that can’t answer back. They bring that same quality to their relationship, allowing room for their partner’s own interiority.
Quinlan doesn’t treat this unknowability as a negative — we’ll always have our own selves apart from whoever we’re with, and that’s OK. “Whether or not I have or was given a little more time/ There just doesn’t seem to be much room for your reply,” she sings, the piano that backs the entire song picking up into a jaunt, allowing space for two people to exist together and apart. –James
The God Fahim is from Atlanta, but his music doesn’t sound like anyone’s idea of Atlanta rap. Rather, as heard on “Iron Fist,” he resembles the headblown hip-hop of the NYC area’s grimy experimental elite — young guns like MIKE, Mach-Hommy, and honorary New Yorker Earl Sweatshirt, operating in the shadow of veterans like Roc Marciano and Ka.
Fahim has worked with many in the former group, and on “Iron Fist,” he reminds us he’s on their level, serving up high-grade Wu-Tang worship (“I can tell you’re frail/ I snap your dragon by the tail”) over a hallucinatory sample and less-is-more boom-bap programming. He’s accurate, packing a blue steel while quarterbacking it; the Shogunn’s backing it, show him your head, he’s cracking it. –Chris
This whole time, we’ve been missing out on the lyrics! The Norwegian band Kvelertak have been around for more than a decade now, and they almost immediately figured out how to weld the ferocity of their region’s black and death metal with balls-out classic-rock kicks. But their songs were always in Norwegian, and unless you spoke that language, you weren’t getting the full experience. The band’s forthcoming Splid is their first with new frontman Ivar Nioklaisen, and it’s the first where they’ve written at least a couple of songs in English. So this time around, we can finally get some idea of what they’re talking about without just copy-pasting their lyrics into online translators. You wouldn’t think that matters. It does.
On “Crack Of Doom,” Nioklaisen teams up with Mastodon howler Troy Sanders, the two of them trading off epically badass apocalyptic absurdities over revved-up guitar thunder. Those lyrics are everything you could possibly want from a band like this. Sanders: “Sabotage! Dehumanize! Gonna crucify! Gonna vandalize!” Nioklaisen: “Born with a lack of PMA! I got judgment day in my DNA!” It’s not like Kvelertak’s songs needed extra kickassery; they already had plenty. But with lines like these, they elevate their joyous brutality to an Andrew WK level of knucklehead beauty. –Tom
All you need is love, right? But what if your partner needs multiple loves? “Polly” is a tender, heartsick ballad about the pitfalls of polyamory, about the pain of not being enough for someone. “If I split my body into two men/ Would you then love me better?/ Octopus myself so you weather this,” Moses Sumney croons, his voice heartbreakingly expressive, over acoustic guitar ripples. And then: “You love dancin’ with me/ Or you just love dancin’/ Polly, polly, polly.” To quote another famous song from the 1960s, love hurts. –Peter