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.
Here in New York we’ve finally hit Phase 2 of reopening, which means we’re creeping back towards normal life. And trying to figure out how to feel about it is pretty weird! Supposedly it’s OK to go do stuff here now, but the headlines everywhere else just keep getting more and more dire. Everybody stay safe out there. The five best songs of the week are below.
“Pictures Of Flowers” is a quarantine song, capturing Jess Williamson’s thoughts at the very beginning of lockdown. It’s the end of Los Angeles, the end of traveling — a bunch of dead ends for a musician yearning for the road. Arriving now, all these months later, the song feels weirdly unstuck from time, disorienting in its way. The immediacy of having to process quarantined life has passed, with some of us (likely erroneously) feeling like some kind of end was in sight. Now, Williamson’s native Los Angeles has become a new epicenter of the pandemic. The things she mulls over losing, all of which might’ve felt quaint just a couple weeks ago as normal life crept over the horizon in many places around the world — now, here in America, it feels as if it’s all drifting further out of reach than ever before.
Williamson’s music is well-suited for this kind of situation. She writes hazy meditations, stuff born from the inner channels of our psyche. This was the case across this year’s great Sorceress, and it’s very much the case on “Pictures Of Flowers.” She has a way of making simple glimpses of normal life feel like ancient times: “I used to walk these streets/ And send you pictures of flowers/ I was another woman then.” When she talks about having a dream she was in Japan at the song’s conclusion, it sounds crushing — realizing that the simple idea of being somewhere else seems completely impossible, whether it’s across the word or across a state line. All her melodies are lonesome, the music almost slipping out of focus — our old routines becoming an amorphous daydream, dates on the calendar slipping into the ether. –Ryan
Inlet is undeniable whether you’ve been worshiping Hum for decades or just learned of their existence this week. So many bands have borrowed from this group’s pioneering blend of heavy prog, shoegaze, and post-hardcore, but within a few seconds of their first album in 22 years, it’s clear nobody does this sound like Hum. “Waves” really is oceanic. From the beginning, the band locks into a steady churn, assured of its own elemental power. The thicket of low-end tones is so dense that it threatens to swallow Matt Talbott’s vocals and even the squealing Loveless guitar harmonies that glimmer like stars above it all. But no, the mix is perfect. The arrangement, the performance, the song, the album, the band: It’s all perfect. Let it wash over you. –Chris
We don’t know too much about the mysterious UK group SAULT, but their music speaks for itself. On Juneteenth, they put out a powerful new album called UNTITLED (Black Is), their third release that has dropped out of nowhere in just over a year. “Hard Life” is an early highlight. It starts off sinewy and locked-in, a pulsing bass backing a chant: “It’s a hard life, fight against the weak/ It’s a hard life, threatened by our freedom/ Be on your way, things are gonna change.” The song breaks through to something like catharsis around three minutes in, an explosion of gospel and soul and glorious voices that sweeps the listener up in it. “Finally we’ve reached the end,” everyone sings, expressing hope at a time when it’s hard to have hope. It’s a gorgeous breakthrough, one that sounds like it makes all the hard work worth it. –James
Listening to “KLK” is like listening to a reggaeton banger on acid, in the year 3000, in the Blade Runner universe. Arca’s new album KiCk i is a big step forward for her in terms of accessibility, and the presence of a genuine pop star like Rosalía seems to confirm that this is music meant for popular consumption. But “KLK” is still Arca, which means it’s still unapologetically freaky as hell. Glitchy beats bubble up and ricochet off of each other while bright synth leads cut through the murk like laserbeams, Rosalía and Arca’s voices fragmented and distorted by the hall-of-mirrors production. If this is what all pop music sounds like in another millennium, I gotta work even harder on that time machine. –Peter
If “Black Parade” was just virtue signaling, it would still be cool. Here, we’ve got one of this century’s dominant pop stars making a mythic statement of Black American pride, drawing tribal and cultural connections, and declaring solidarity with the biggest protest movement of her lifetime: “Trust me, they gon’ need an army/ Rubber bullets bouncing off me.” Released on Juneteenth as a new celebratory anthem, the mere existence of “Black Parade” is pretty beautiful. But it’s not just virtue-signaling. It’s a song.
Co-producing with her bandleader Derek Dixie, Beyoncé has put together a rippling, twisting trap-funk symphony. (You might even say she takes us into the city to see a marching band.) She’s surrounded her voice with brass rumbles, twittering flutes, jittery blips and blurps, and gospel-choir majesty, and she’s sunk her teeth into some huge hooks. On the verses, Beyoncé slides easily into the rap cadence she’s been using lately — her husband is a credited co-writer — and talks glorious shit. It all works together as an overwhelming sonic experience, a fists-up declaration. –Tom