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.
This week, we mourned a titan of music history and we watched a fly land on the ghoul who calls himself Vice President. Which is to say, it was certainly another deeply 2020ish week. The five best songs of the week are below.
Detroit might have the richest rap underground in America right now, partly because it’s got a sound and a rapping style all its own. But that sound can still take in ideas from elsewhere. Consider “West Side,” which imports the airy melodic sensibility of old-school LA rap and the growling, strutting, endlessly funky bass of classic Bay Area mob music. “West Side” is about the West Side of Detroit, and Bigg Jo’s choppy splutter is distinctly Michigan. But it feels a whole lot like a ’90s-vintage California-pride anthem, especially when Payroll Giovanni comes in with a quietly crazy display of laid-back mastery. –Tom
I can’t tell you how many times this year that I’ve thought it’s still April. It still doesn’t feel like it can possibly be autumn, even as I’ve yearned for 2020 to just be over already. This year has had that effect, a complete melting and warping of time’s passage, where the world seems to be endlessly tumbling headlong into new disasters while life keeps on feeling static — whether during complete lockdown or in this seemingly endless not-quite-normal-life limbo we’re in now. None of this has anything to do with Loma’s new song “Elliptical Days,” exactly, given it was completed well before our current pandemic circumstances. But man this song feels like 2020.
There’s an eerie quality to new music — and there’s been plenty of it this year — that arrives and somehow seems to lock into the timbre of such an unpredictable era. And “Elliptical Days,” like the other highlights from Loma’s forthcoming Don’t Shy Away, leans into that eeriness; there’s a ghostly conjuring that occurs over the course of the slow, otherworldly build in songs like this and “Ocotillo.” But where that song lurched into a disquieting, horn-laced flirtation with chaos, “Elliptical Days” is something more elusive and more alluring. By the end, as voices and synths rise up around Emily Cross, “Elliptical Days” sounds like a futuristic hymn coaxed from the ether. –Ryan
Frances Quinlan is one of contemporary rock’s most talented lyricists. On her solo album from earlier this year, we saw how strong she could be even when separated from the main Hop Along apparatus. Her new team-up with Ryan Hemsworth for his Quarter-Life Crisis project finds her adapting to yet another canvas.
“Postcard From Spain” was sent to Quinlan more or less fully-formed and she fit her words into it, finding tension in its blown-out kickdrum and gently unfurling melodies. In the chorus, she’s backed by a children’s choir: “A thought half forms/ I’ve pined so long for/ The name escapes/ A few more years, and then the weight will be replaced,” they sing together. “Can you hear that old man running? He won’t make it back.” Her revelations about time catching up to all of us are empathetic and sad. To get a bunch of kids to sing along with such world-weary pondering is kind of a funny choice, but in Hemsworth and Quinlan’s hands it seems to makes sense, like we’re all in a cycle of being constantly defeated but renewed. –James
Matt McBriar and Andy Ferguson, the two Irishmen who make up the London electronic duo Bicep, aren’t exactly the stars of their new track “Apricots.” Instead, that honor goes to the traditional Malawian singers sampled in the earworm of a vocal loop that forms the beating heart of the song, recorded by British ethnomusicologist Hugh Tracey in 1958. Taking sounds from dance music’s collective memory and recontextualizing them for a new era is Bicep’s specialty. Here, they seem to dig into their own past, too, offering a sequel of sorts to their own fan favorite “Glue” with the crystalline synths and ’90s rave beat of “Apricots.” It’s bittersweet dance music at its best, capturing the whole spectrum of emotion from euphoric transcendence to a deep melancholy in its four brief minutes. –Peter
A Billion Little Lights is such a great name for a Wild Pink album because that’s exactly what their music has come to sound like. It’s especially true of the song that lends the new LP its name, “The Shining But Tropical,” which glimmers like the stars over a vast heartland expanse. As with many of this band’s best songs, it’s a landscape that comes magically alive, a waking dream into which John Ross whispers grownup lullabies like “And I want to remember every single thing/ Just not who I used to be.”
Ross says his lyrics were partially inspired by a grim Florida retirement home and the realization that each human being is but an insignificant speck in this world. But the music circumvents the potential despair in that epiphany with a sense of wonder at this universe’s infinite scope. Ross also turned to Carl Sagan’s Cosmos — duh — and Townes Van Zandt’s deeply comforting “If I Needed You,” an influence that manifests in the conclusion to this narrative: “You want peace you want love/ You deserve that much.” I don’t know if a Wild Pink song can bring love into your heart, but gleaning peace from this placid symphony feels like a distinct possibility. –Chris