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.
Grammys weekend is always a big deal around these parts, and this time around we also have the Senate impeachment trials in full swing. That means this year we get not one but two shitshows more than likely to have dispiriting outcomes. Fun times! For less disappointing results, look no further than the following list of this week’s five best songs.
It often feels like Wye Oak can lowkey do no wrong. These new standalone singles preceding their JOIN tour are of the same high quality we’ve come to expect from the band, but there’s something more special going on here too. With Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack living in the same town for the first time since before Shriek, it feels like they’ve tapped back into some essential part of their songwriting and connection. First with “Fortune” and now with “Fear Of Heights,” they’ve given us new songs that exist in some perfect sweet spot between the melodic sensibility of their earlier days and the sonic malleability of their more recent albums.
The immediate takeaway from “Fear Of Heights” is just how strikingly pretty it is. Over carefully placed piano embellishments and searching guitar figures and burnt amber horn flares, Wasner weaves one of her characteristically sighing-then-blooming melodies. After the more intense “Fortune,” “Fear Of Heights” at first counteracts with a salve. But it’s a song that compares the deepening of a relationship to scaling a peak and considering the precipice. This is a song looking inwards, trying to make sense of our behaviors and how we interact with each other — all conveyed in that enigmatic, melancholic Wye Oak tone. Fittingly, there is an undercurrent here. Just like losing yourself in a relationship, Wasner’s layered, swooning vocals are intoxicating and transfixing, but also just a bit unsettling. –Ryan
If death is life’s biggest cosmic joke, then Katie Gately tries to come away with the last laugh. Gately wrote “Waltz” during the last weeks of her mother’s life, finding solace by listening to Leonard Cohen’s “Take This Waltz” on a loop. Her “Waltz” channels his own goofy resignation, the same poetic approach to death. Gately’s song is Gothically macabre, with cackling laughs and lyrics written in a stream of consciousness that sound like a Grimm fairy tale. “A hunger that’s wider and thicker than tricks/ Tripping your grandma to get to her scripts,” she snarls. “A hunger that’s fickle and spotted with ticks/ Lock all your cupboards, I’m here for my fix.” Gately’s compositions are densely layered and haunting, and they feel like a great big release. If death is life’s last dance, then let’s make it a good one. –James
Hayley Williams co-wrote “Simmer,” her first-ever solo song, with Taylor York, her longtime Paramore bandmate, and with Joey Howard, the band’s touring bassist. York produced the song. York and Howard both play on it. And yet Williams was entirely right to release this one under her own name, rather than as a Paramore song.
Paramore have gone through plenty of stages over the years, but the jittery, twisty pop wriggle of “Simmer” sounds nothing like any of them. Instead, it’s a sticky mutant groove of its own. Williams’ powerful voice skitters over bass-churn and percussive rattle, finding rhythmic eddies and corners that Paramore’s bright pop-punk never allowed for. And yet the song is just as full of Williams’ personality as any Paramore song. If more Spotify-core was as daring and distinctive as this, then people might not complain about Spotify-core so much. –Tom
“Bliss Out” demonstrates just how vast Drug Church’s sonic world can be, how elastic the concept of hardcore has become. As the track builds from its pseudo-“Zero” intro to its swirling shoegaze outro, Patrick Kindlon toggles between virulent yelling about a fateful visit to the fortune teller and “Sweater Song”-worthy spoken asides that work as dark comic relief in the midst of Drug Church’s weaponized pessimism. The way Kindlon delivers the line “Oh man, what a loss/ Catch you at the vigil” cracks me up every time, but the real emotional reaction arrives at the end, when he turns his own self-loathing into a visceral mantra: “With so many reasons to hate me, why lie?” It’s relatable content for anyone who’s ever been hyper-conscious of their own faults, but with a song as accomplished as this one, the opposite sentiment is just as appropriate. –Chris
Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield wrote her new album Saint Cloud in the wake of her decision to get sober, and it’s full of plenty of hard truths and realizations. But lead single “Fire” is more gentle than you might expect — a daring escape from the cycle of shame and regret, a love song to the self born not of passion but of hard-won acceptance.
“I take it for granted/ If I could love you unconditionally/ I could iron out the edges of the darkest sky,” Crutchfield sings on “Fire”, exposing the grain in her voice as it rises and falls above the song’s understated groove. “Tomorrow could feel like a hundred years later/ I’m wiser and slow and attuned/ And I am down on my knees/ I’m a bird in the trees/ I can learn to see with a partial view/ I can learn to be easy as I move in close to you.”
“Fire” is one of the most immediate pop songs that Crutchfield has given us, its comfortingly repetitive melody pushing further and further into your brain as the slow-burning Americana arrangement builds from its minimalist beginnings to a wide open vista of sound. “For some of us it ain’t enough/ It ain’t enough,” Crutchfield sings in the refrain. “Fire” is more than enough. –Peter