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.
Week Five In Quarantine (NYC Timeline): We have Kanye West out in the world talking about being some kind of superhero savior building fucking domes in middle of Wyoming, and then we have Fiona Apple being an actual superhero savior by giving us her first new album in eight years, the only album any of us will need to listen to for the rest of the quarantine’s duration, earlier than planned. Once upon a time there was also other music, and the five best songs from that time are below.
Initially, you might mistake Ela Minus’ new song “they told us it was hard, but they were wrong” as something rather dark. Greyscale synths hum and buzz, Minus’ vocals a hushed incantation above them. The whole thing feels like the exact kind of electronic music for the deepest shadows on the longest nights, a searching journey inward. That could be claustrophobic; at the very least, it would be moodily reflective.
But: “When everything is taken from us, the ability to choose our attitude and create our own path forward is the only certainty we have.” That’s how Minus described the track. It’s easy to dwell on the circumstances outside every day, all day; it’s hard not to perceive every bit of art somehow through the lens of this experience the whole world is going through right now. Yet at the same time, those words get thrown into a new relief during this. By the song’s intensifying conclusion, you realize that the title “they told us it was hard, but they were wrong” should be taken seriously, that there is something life-affirming coursing through it. The colors haven’t changed by that point. Ela Minus just knows how to locate rejuvenation within them. –Ryan
Pure X spent six years away from us and they return as wearied as ever. “Middle America,” one of two lead singles and the opening track from their new album, is sunburnt and raw. It’s filled with feedback and spectral guitars, a languid haze that simmers like a mirage in the desert. The song is about needing to get away from the middle of the country where time and values begin to distort themselves. “I can feel the rising water/ Everyday it’s hotter and hotter/ Fuck this, I’m leaving/ Going back to where I’m from,” Nate Grace sings, his voice yearning and defiant, hoping that where he’s going isn’t just the same place as where he’s been. –James
For a song that’s all about a lack of drive, “Runaway Dog” sure goes hard. “My appetite is not what it used to be/ Moving onward, counting sheep,” Avery Springer sings, comparing her evaporated passion to the titular runaway dog, something precious that disappears if you leave the door open too wide for too long. But there’s nothing apathetic in the way that Chicago rockers Retirement Party play, gradually but purposefully building steam until the whole song explodes into a fiery climax of guitar- and drum-pounding catharsis. The thing about runaway dogs? They can still find their way home. –Peter
Playboi Carti and his ilk are anathema for hip-hop fans who prize lyrical craft above all else. To an extent, I get it. Rakim he is not. In terms of poetic wordplay he may not even measure up to his label head Rakim Meyers. It’s hard to argue the actual words Carti says on “@ MEH,” his first new solo track in two years, are a stroke of genius. Yet what he does with them is a work of art, a mesmerizing dispatch from the streets of Atlanta that resoundingly communicates Carti’s point of view.
It’s strange to think of this music as an extension of the same genre that yielded Illmatic. Carti is playing a different game, almost speaking a different language. Over production that sounds like Radiohead’s “Worrywort” on speed, he twists lines like “Pussy ass nigga just talk shit” into mantras, enunciating with flair, treating his voice like part of the beat. Like his peer and frenemy Lil Uzi Vert, his words are important, but how he says them is paramount. As personal expression goes, this is an act of fashion as much as music — a random act of flyness that hits like a message beamed in from some other world inside an old arcade console. Except Carti’s evoking extremely real and very much right now. –Chris
You will notice that none of the songs from Fiona Apple’s superlative new album Fetch The Bolt Cutters are on our list this week. This isn’t a fuckup. Our weekly list runs Thursday to Thursday; Apple will have a shot at it next week. But if you’re looking for percussive insanity, you’ll hear a little bit of it in the new single from Jamie xx, another fascinating artist who’s just now breaking a long silence.
“Idontknow” is Jamie xx’s first solo track in five years, and it abandons the floating bliss of his 2015 album In Colour to pummel us with drum noises from all sides. It’s a radical step outside the man’s comfort zone, but all of the chaos is rigidly structure and lovingly sculpted, and it makes for a rich and dizzy onslaught of sound. Sirens scream. Bass-bombs detonate. Voices float in and float out. Drums stutter and skitter and boom. We’re not going to be finding each other in dark and crowded nightclubs for a long time, but “Idontknow” at least captures some of that wild, scrambling euphoria. For now, it’s enough. –Tom