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.
Man, remember when Friday meant you could go to the bar and drink some beers with your friends rather than waking up to headlines justifying the fact that the president thinks it’s a good idea to drink disinfectant? Anyway, the five best songs of the week are below.
“Please don’t live in fear” is a message that a lot of us could probably use right about now, and “PDLIF” is a song that a lot of us could probably use right about now. At this point, Justin Vernon is an old hand at converting the messiness and anxiety of our modern times into glistening beauty, and he does it again here, refashioning the mournful saxophone motif from Alabaster dePlume’s “Visit Croatia” into a beacon of uncertain hope.
While the fractured deconstructionism of Bon Iver’s recent work can be disorienting, it has the opposite effect here, signifying unlikely unity and transcendence in the face of isolation. The whole really is more than the sum of its parts. “While I’m not going to tell you that everyone’s safe/ I will say/ There will be a better day,” Vernon sings, repeating that last line over and over. Thanks to Bon Iver, this day is already better. –Peter
Kelly Lee Owens’ version of techno can be dense and insular and theoretical, and it can also be anthemic physical dance music. When she suddenly flips the switch from one to the other — as she does halfway through “Night” — it hits like an epiphany. Over the soft textured layers of the track’s first half, she lets her voice float: “It feels so good to be alone.” Then the drums and bass come rushing in, and she switches up her mantra: “With you.” As in: “It feels so good to be alone with you.” Suddenly, an antisocial meditation become a pulse-pounding love song. It feels so good. –Tom
100 gecs probably wouldn’t exist without Charli XCX. In the same way that it was so gratifying to hear Charli get together with PC Music back in 2016 — a match made in internet-pop heaven — so too is it to hear Charli and Dylan Brady finally properly link up on a track. (The “ringtone” remix was a nice appetizer.)
“claws” is a quick two and a half minute burst of pure elation. The lyrics are the best kind of Charli gibberish, earnest and winking in equal measure. There’s a Jeremih (!) reference that’s so fun it should be illegal, and the perfect plugged-in poetry that is: “Slip and slide up my thighs/ Juicy just like clementines/ Sorry if I made you cry.” This is exactly the kind of music that I want to hear right now, music that makes me feel cool and safe and lets me forget about everything that’s going on in the outside world for just a couple minutes. –James
There are so many different kinds of great 1975 songs — the upcoming Notes On A Conditional Form alone has already supplied so many different kinds of great singles — but rarely does this band sound better than when pumping millennial angst into ’80s pop cheese. The template that gave us 2013’s backdoor self-critique “Girls,” 2016’s sharp anthropological study “She’s American,” and 2018’s conflicted heroin love song “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)” has now yielded another banger.
Glossy guitar chords emerge to puncture the shimmering nothingness. A synth-powered rhythm section begins to churn like a raging river streaming through a megamall. Soon the saxophones are blaring — soloing, even! There was a time when a hip young band would have played this aesthetic for laughs, but Matty Healy and friends deploy it with straight faces, and as usual “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)” sounds much livelier than such a pastiche has any right to sound.
Also as usual, the subject matter snaps us back to the present: “It’s about getting naked on FaceTime,” Healy told Annie Mac. He’s proven adept at chronicling the nuances of modern romance, the way age-old conflicts and anxieties play out in this moment. Here he paints a vivid portrait of a situation that could have only occurred in the smartphone era — an addictive relationship that plays out entirely onscreen, one that pushes our narrator to uncomfortable places and leaves us dangling with only implied resolution. But the soundtrack for these trysts is not nearly so elliptical. The band holds nothing back, infusing Healy’s elliptical story with an emphatic burst of pleasure. Go West, young men! –Chris
The new Fiona Apple album was always going to be an event because she’s Fiona Apple. It was always going to be an event, because it was arriving eight years since her last masterpiece, 2012’s The Idler’s Wheel…. It was always going to be an event because 2020 went off the rails and will always weigh on our memories but at least we’ll always recall when we had that new Fiona Apple album to wrap our heads around together. But most importantly: It’s an event because it’s another wholly idiosyncratic, visceral collection from an artist whose strange and vivid career has only pushed further into auteur territory over time, the rare album you simply can’t turn away from.
There’s some balance of comfort and challenge in new Fiona Apple music now — the return of that voice vs. the ways she recalibrates it, reimagining what she and the music she sings above should sound like as she offers reckoning after reckoning. Once the immediate, overwhelming experience of Fetch The Bolt Cutters subsides and you start to soak it up, there are so many gripping moments, both the loud and percussive ones that have defined the album’s narrative and the smaller, finer details.
On one end you have the floating piano figures of “I Want You To Love Me” and the gentle-then-inescapable hooks of the title track, songs that wield a kind of askew beauty even as Apple wades through all manner of difficult topics. You have the dramatic swell of “Cosmonauts,” a would-be anthemic climax where Apple pushes her vocals to their rawest endpoint. Those turns of cleansing abandon are plentiful, too, from the discomfiting rise of “Newspaper” to the dizzying melodic twists of “For Her” and “On I Go.” There is so much disorientation across the album, but so much power in how Apple takes it and wields it as her own.
Which brings us to “Heavy Balloon,” the clattering and intense song that might sit at the perfect middle of everything Fetch The Bolt Cutters does. It’s a song about depression, its title alluding to the metaphorical weight that follows those in the midst of it. Apple relays it all over a stuttering rhythm that, initially, conjures the feeling of being paralyzed while beset by the noise of your own mind.
But like in so many of those striking moments across Fetch The Bolt Cutters, Apple burns it all away. She uses a chorus about fruits and vegetables, inspired by a children’s book, to convey how we still get on, we still survive and grow. She pushes her voice, once more, into its furthest reaches, locating a melody that is somehow both infectious and gorgeous and also one with the intensifying drums surrounding it. There’s a reason Fiona Apple’s new album was a gift, arriving when it did; there’s a reason songs like “Heavy Balloon” are a gift under any circumstance. No matter how dark the subject matter is from song to song, Apple is thrashing against it all, wrestling demons into a shape that starts to look like solace. –Ryan