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.
Exactly 20 years after Radiohead released Kid A, Donald Trump tested positive for COVID-19. Coincidence?!? OK yeah it’s probably a coincidence. This week’s best songs are below.
To coincide with International Safe Abortion Day, Amanda Shires and Jason Isbell have turned the extremely heavy experience of contemplating an abortion into an extremely heavy country-rock ballad. Throughout “The Problem,” the real-life spouses powerfully articulate the questions that come flooding in upon news of an unplanned pregnancy, building emotional tension until the levee breaks and a guitar solo bursts forth like sunlight after the storm. “I support a woman’s right to choose, and I know these choices are never easy,” Shires wrote in a statement accompanying “The Problem.” Neither is writing a song this effective, not that you’d know it based on this couple’s track record. –Chris
What is Scandinavian pain and where can I get some? “Salt Licorice,” the chaotically good new team-up between Jónsi and Robyn, makes sadness feel ecstatic. It sounds like ice castles melting, blistering noise and pulsating beats thumping through the frustrations of two people never fully connecting. “Why can’t you just be OK? You’re such an ice breaker on me,” they sing at each other. “Why can’t you just be led astray? ‘Cause you’re a heartbreaker only.”
Throughout, the music masters from the North sing about their “Scandinavian pain,” treating this malaise as something inextricable. They make you want to feel that pain right alongside them, twitch out your problems on a dance floor or even just alone in your own room, as the two of them do in the ridiculously fun “Salt Licorice” music video, which finds them shaving their heads and smearing themselves with goo just as a way to feel something new. –James
We all have a soft spot for the music of our misspent youth, the songs and the artists that blew our tiny minds when we were first delving into the hidden world of music fandom. For Kisses’ Jesse Kivel, who came of age in the ’90s, those bands were Oasis, the Smashing Pumpkins, Primal Scream, and Polaris. His new song “Northside” is a love letter to that time in his life, but beyond the extremely ’90s, My Bloody Valentine-inspired drum programming, it doesn’t exactly sound like any of the aforementioned groups. It’s not pastiche, an exercise in pure nostalgia. Instead, it just nails that same wistful, yearning melodic warmth that his idols so often trafficked in. And maybe, just maybe, some kid getting into music now will have the same experience with “Northside” that Kivel did with “1979” or “Soon.” –Peter
Along with their (extremely good) debut album World House, the Toronto hardcore band Mil-Spec have published a huge and generally entertaining zine, one with essays and comics and movie reviews and one extended intra-band conversation. There are also annotated lyrics for every song on World House, dense and specific pointers to all those lyrics’ allusions to Don DeLillo and Joan Didion and Alan Watts and Leatherface. The members of Mil-Spec would like you to know that all references to quarantine and contagion on their towering, rampaging song “Colony” are unfortunate and coincidental, written before the pandemic hit. But intentional or not, current circumstances lend a jolt of urgency to a song that would’ve already been plenty urgent.
If you’ve ever been a fan of hardcore, there’s something almost reassuring about Mil-Spec’s sound — the chunky riffage, the rhythmic switch-ups between sprint and stomp, the strangulated and passionate vocals. But Mil-Spec put a lot of thought into everything they do, and they aren’t just at play in the fields of genre. They’re using their gifts for speed and melody and intensity to make something raw and self-assured and moving. You might not know the Audre Lorde quotation on “Colony” — “my silence has not protected me” — but you’ll feel it in your bones. –Tom
I’m not sure what I was expecting from Romy Madley Croft’s first single, but it certainly wasn’t this. The xx singer has, of course, been at the center of a dance song thanks to Jamie xx with “Loud Places,” but even that was sultry and restrained in the way you’ve come to expect from the xx. In contrast, “Lifetime,” her first track as a solo artist, is an undeniable jam. Written and recorded during lockdown, it’s a pure explosion of energy, born of a moment when even the most introverted among us are struggling with being constantly isolated.
“Lifetime” is joyous; it hopes for a future when we can all reconvene together on the dance floor. “Once in a lifetime/ You’ll be right beside me, I’ll be right beside you,” she sings over and over, an affirmation that we shouldn’t take any moment for granted because we’ve seen how quickly all those moments can slip away. When I’m at my first party after all this has passed — whether that’s months or years away — I’m stealing the aux and blasting this as loud as I fucking can. For right now, while we’re still all apart, it’s a necessary reminder of how elating being together can feel. –James