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.
It’s really crazy just how many ways 2020 can make you feel like you’re hallucinating, but you’re not. For example: There is actually a new Taylor Swift album primarily produced by Aaron Dessner! Who saw that coming? folklore has consumed the internet in the last 24 hours, but there was also some great music released just before Taylor season abruptly began again. The five best songs of the week are below.
“Is anybody really up for this one if I don’t hold nothing back?” Bartees Strange asks. He doesn’t, and truly I was not ready for it. Strange came on many people’s radars this year by releasing the National covers, and the National haven’t released a song this hard in a minute. Hard does not necessarily equal good — I’ve spent hours happily immersed in the bleary midtempo Matt Berninger zone — but Strange going full “Mr. November” on this one reminds me just how exhilarating an urgent uptempo rock song can be.
“Mustang,” named for Strange’s Oklahoma hometown, is one of those breathless-rush master-strokes I cannot wait to see in concert someday. The drummer bashes the shit out of his drums. The guitars and bass are similarly relentless, veering into discordant chord changes at the song’s shout-along peaks. Brightly glowing high-pitched synth squeals are the equivalent of black streaks under a football player’s eyes for music that could demolish a tackling dummy without losing an iota of momentum.
Leading the charge are Strange’s vocals, hearty bellows that rise up into piercing howls. He rages about hating America, lying for a living, coming home with a mouth full of blood. He quotes the Antlers, another stylishly solemn indie band from his youth that has rarely sounded this visceral: “You’re screaming and cursing, I’m smiling, you’re killing me.” The overall tone of his lyrics is cynical, but the music says something else entirely. It sounds like racing frantically away from this current chaos, willing some better, brighter future into existence through sheer anxious force. –Chris
Even the people we love the deepest will always be unknowable in some way. It’s a crushing realization, and that’s what Madeline Kenney tries to process on her new song “Picture Of You.” It captures a moment of incapacity spurred on by seeing a photo of a loved one as a child. There’s so much we’ll never be able to know about someone, even when we think we know everything. “Growing up is so hard,” Kenney sings. “I don’t know why, but we still fight.” She sounds triumphantly sad in her not-knowing, enlisting the help of Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack to craft a song that shimmers and rises above like the best Wye Oak songs do themselves. Kenney and Wasner duet at the very end, singing a resounding chorus of “I’m waiting for this to get easy” when it never really does. –James
In the last few years, how many times have you read the phrase “dance party for the end of the world”? How many times have you read it on this very site, from us? Probably too many! But while our collective/cultural slouching-towards-apocalypse mood certainly makes a whole lot of anxious bangers feel like opportunities to lose yourself when you need them most, when the world really does feel more precarious than before, Annie has really taken the whole concept and made it literal.
Appropriately titled “The Bomb,” Annie’s latest preview of Dark Hearts is an icy, clattering dance track. Like its equally excellent predecessor “American Cars,” it was written in the context of an imaginary movie soundtrack — and in answering the Drive atmospherics of “American Cars,” Annie positioned “The Bomb” as an intense song for the third act, when shit really starts to go down. And she makes all that pretty explicit — “SOS!” punctuating the whole song, clips of dialogue from the ’80s nuclear war movie Miracle Mile. Even while there’s layers of filmic references going on, of course it all feels too real, with us just standing on a different precipice than in the ’80s. But, anyway, as things go these days: At least Annie made a hell of a contribution to our new armageddon nightclub. –Ryan
Oddisee’s new EP Odd Cure is a record born of stress. The Maryland-rasied and Brooklyn-based rapper and producer, who’d gone three years between projects, recorded the EP under quarantine, after a last-minute pre-pandemic return from Thailand. In between songs, we hear Oddisee calling family and friends, checking on them, reminding them to stay inside. And yet the EP’s single is one of the most profoundly relaxed head-nodders that’s come along in a long time.
Musically, “No Skips” recalls the beats that Pete Rock and Large Professor produced in the ’90s — the artfully stacked samples, the perfectly-placed basslines, the organic crack of the programmed snares. Oddisee works with a live band — recording the musicians remotely — but he makes them sound like old dug-up samples, finding a comforting strut-glide glow. Lyrically, he’s calm and unflappable, and his flexes have grown-man authority: “Not impressed if a restaurant got a waiting list/ Travelled enough to know polenta’s just a plate of grits.” “No Skips” is a casually elegant workout, a display of laidback mastery from someone who can always find a way to sound centered. –Tom
Boldy James and Sterling Toles’ stunning collaborative jazz-rap masterpiece Manger On McNichols was 13 years in the making. When they started recording the album, James was practically a kid. And the whole thing ends at the beginning: “Got Flicked (the rebirth),” an update of “Gettin’ Flicked,” James’ track that ended up on Cool Kids’ 2010 mixtape Tacklebox and kickstarted his entire career as a rapper.
In its original form, produced by James’ cousin Chuck Inglish, “Gettin’ Flicked” was a minimal thump streaked with whining sirens and drum machine clicks, an anxious recollection of drug-dealing and getting chased by the cops. Reimagined by Sterling Toles, the veteran Detroit producer and composer, it’s a free-wheeling eight-minute psychedelic jazz odyssey. Woodwinds and synths and wordless vocals and drums spiral and crash around James’ voice outside of time, aged and world-weary even then, coalescing into something singular and transcendent. –Peter