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 Valentine’s Day installment of this column, which kicks off with a song that’s a prelude to a breakup. That, and the rest of the week’s best songs, are below.
There’s something very specific and impressive about Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever’s songwriting. Every time you hear a new song from them, it sounds good, but you expected that. It kinda feels predictable, like it’s just another RBCF song. And then it steadily, patiently weaves itself into your mind. Soon, all the little details and layers pop; the fact that there’s like half a dozen earworm hooks stacked into one song becomes evident. I don’t know how they do this, but it happens pretty much every single time.
“Cars In Space” does have plenty of RBCF’s calling cards. It’s apparently about “the swirling words and thoughts before a breakup,” and it’s insistent pulse effectively mimics the feeling of a relationship’s breakdown, like a train barreling forward just before flying off the tracks. But again, that’s one of the things this band just does exceptionally well — the intertwined vocals and guitars, the crisp and propulsive drums, the little touches like that break where you can’t quite tell if it’s horns or a processed guitar riff. There’s an ease to “Cars In Space” that belies its subject matter, that kind of highway sunset cruise sound this band has mastered. But maybe that’s fitting, taking a heavy topic and making it sound pleasant, taking something difficult and making it sound not difficult at all — because writing singles this bulletproof can’t possibly be as easy as RBCF make it seem. –Ryan
Ian MacKaye isn’t a great singer in anything resembling a classical sense, but his voice — throaty, declamatory, ready to choke on the bullshit of the world — always communicates a whole lot of feeling. When MacKaye has the right collaborators, that voice is capable of moving mountains. Amy Farina, MacKaye’s partner in life, was also his bandmate in the Evens, the duo who made three albums of tender and forceful and beautiful songs over a decade. Coriky is MacKaye and Farina alongside Joe Lally, the great bass player who spent more than a decade playing in Fugazi with MacKaye.
“Clean Kill,” the first song that Coriky have released, carries the weight of all that history effortlessly. It sounds like old friends picking up their conversational rhythms once again after years apart. MacKaye’s voice, and his flinty and prismatic guitar, make sense over Lally’s meditatively propulsive basslines. They also make sense next to Farina’s tricky, cyclical drums. The three voices mesh in ways that feel completely intuitive. The passion is still there, and so are the push-pull dynamics. Coriky are brand new, but they sound like they’ve been in a band together for years — because, in a way, they have. –Tom
3. Against All Logic – “If You Can’t Do It Good Do It Hard” (Feat. Lydia Lunch)
I have literally not been able to stop listening to “If You Can’t Do It Good, Do It Hard” — the highlight from Nicolas Jaar’s second collection of sweaty club songs as Against All Logic — since in came out last week. When I wake up in the morning, when I feel the creep of self-doubt, even when I drove to the beach yesterday to not do work — there it was. It led me to text one of our dearly departed coworkers (Gabriela, RIP): “this has been my lil bitch get stuff done anthem.” I feel invincible for just a few minutes when this song is on.
Jaar clangs and clashes through two-and-a-half minutes before the big payoff, chopping and twisting Lydia Lunch’s grizzled mantra into something that I feel like I can hold in my hands: “Because if you can’t beat ‘em, kill ‘em/ If you can’t kill ‘em, fuck ‘em/ If you can’t fuck ‘em, kill ‘em/ If you can’t do it good, do it hard.” Hit repeat. It does what Jaar has always done so well: make music that you wouldn’t expect to take over your entire life that somehow does anyway. I cannot get enough of it. –James
I Break Horses appeared in this column just last week, with “Death Engine.” As an introduction to Warnings — the first new album from the band in six years — it was a bold statement. A long, moving meditation written in response to a friend’s suicide attempt, “Death Engine” had all the atmospheric qualities we knew from the older I Break Horses material, but landed differently. It was a sad, beautiful piece of work, deeply human and empathetic even while it still sounded otherworldly.
It didn’t take long to return with the next single, “I’ll Be The Death Of You.” And while this song does something similar in balancing the tangible and the unexplainable in its aesthetic, it’s also a totally different beast than “Death Engine.” In many of Maria Lindén’s compositions, she manages to find a balance that is seductive, dreamlike, and unnerving all at once. That’s where “I’ll Be The Death Of You” — a song she describes as a “somewhat darker and more nihilistic approach to when passion takes a more eccentric turn” — lives. In all of its lush synth textures, there is something transfixing; in Lindén’s ghostly, disembodied reading of the title, there is something haunting. It’s like rendering a doomed love story, the kind where two people are lured together but are absolutely going to destroy each other, in grand romantic neon. –Ryan
“At The Door,” the first new Strokes song in nearly four years, doesn’t really sound like a Strokes song. It’s a slow, expansive synth ballad. There are no drums at all. There aren’t even any guitars for much of it. As many have noted, it sounds more like a song from Julian Casablancas’ non-Strokes project the Voidz, or maybe Daft Punk featuring Julian Casablancas.
None of that matters. Because regardless of who or what “At The Door” sounds like, it’s a great song. Casablancas’ inimitable croon has rarely sounded so nakedly emotional, crackling with longing as he sings about losing it all and the impossibility of escape. And every time a guitar does come in, in the chorus or on the celestial vocoder bridge, it feels like an old friend returning home.
In fact, part of the reason that “At The Door” is so good is precisely because it doesn’t sound like a paint-by-numbers Strokes song. How many bands this deep into their careers still retain the capacity to genuinely surprise? “At The Door” might be an outlier, or it might signal a new path forward. But whatever it is, it’s weird and beautiful. –Peter