The 5 Best Songs Of The Week
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 the week before Thanksgiving, and that means a lot of music came out ahead of the quieter holiday season/the noisier end-of-year season. There were some seriously great songs this week, and the five best of them are below.
At some point, Dry Cleaning's formula seems like it should stop working. Florence Shaw's deadpan free-associative/found imagery spoken word over wired post-punk instrumentals made the British group's early EPs engaging; the combination made them stand out amongst a whole new generation of guitar bands from the UK and Ireland. But it was also such a specific sound that you could just as easily imagine Dry Cleaning running up against the edges of their aesthetic and needing to figure something else out. In some ways, you could feel like the formula should've stopped working already.
Well, that's not what's happened with "Scratchcard Lanyard." The first taste of a new era — the band's signed to 4AD, and presumably have a full-length on the horizon — "Scratchcard Lanyard" doesn't lose any of what was entrancing and cerebral and oddly catchy about the earlier Dry Cleaning material. At the same time, it subtly expands on their sound: The band keeps the music dynamic and shifting beneath Shaw, moving away from punkier territory towards something that's almost, shockingly, pretty. (It's also fitting that on their first 4AD single, Dry Cleaning are messing around with the kind of classic indie college rock style that helped make the label legendary.) And then of course, as always, there's the askew poignance of how Shaw strings together these random, striking images — I mean, a woman in aviators firing a bazooka? Some of her lines are just bizarrely awesome, but Shaw still makes her way to some kind of realization or mantra: "Do everything, feel nothing." Dry Cleaning's music always speaks to that, a sort of information overload and numbness. But on "Scratchcard Lanyard," they continue to use that as the first step in some kind of spell, turning what seems like an overwhelmed blankness to an overwhelming release. —Ryan
Just imagine this level of wish fulfillment. Here we have a New Jersey artist, one who’s proudly owned his heritage — from a youth spent at fire hall gigs to starting an Asbury Park fest called Shadow Of The City. Here we have an artist who has revisited his home over and over again in song, and has done so with the kind of earnest, yearning bombast inspired by the iconic works of this home state’s most famous musician. Here we have a guy who has ventured off, worked with a whole bunch of visionary pop artists, and is now coming back home, literally and metaphorically. Jack Antonoff wrote a song torn between a city and a town, about crossing back over the river, and guess who he found on the other side to help him sing this particular song? Bruce Fucking Springsteen.
“Chinatown” is a mesmerizing haze of a Bleachers song. There’s the same dense synth backdrops and dramatic vocal layers, but less of the gushing catharsis of Antonoff’s best past singles under the moniker. That works in favor of a song that’s about in-between states, the collapse of one life and the tentative steps into a new one.
In that sense, Bruce is like a comforting voice, turning a song that could be a conversation between lovers into one between an elder and a spiritual descendent. And it is a moment when he enters the song. It happens all the sudden: one second Antonoff is singing lead and then BOOM! Bruce Springsteen is singing that same melody! (The video pulls off a neat trick too, when Springsteen abruptly materializes on the car next to Antonoff.) Springsteen sounds incredible here, perfecting a more resonant gravel than the twangier approach he often uses over full E Street arrangements today.
Once upon a time, it would’ve been a young Jack Antonoff’s work of fan fiction to imagine “chinatown” happening, and now it’s enough to compel fan fiction from the rest of us, picturing what might happen if Antonoff brings his production acumen to a meditative latter-day Bruce album. For now, “chinatown” is, one would have to imagine, one big holy shit moment in Bleachers' career, and a gift to the rest of us: When Springsteen takes over the words “I wanna find tomorrow with you,” it flips the song’s meaning again. It sounds like he’s reaching out not just to a flame, or to Antonoff, but to all of us in this hell year. —Ryan
Lande Hekt is used to operating as part of heavier machinery with the fearsome UK trio Muncie Girls, but judging from what we've heard from her debut solo album so far she can stand powerfully enough all on her own. "Undone," her latest single, has all the fire of her main band and more. It's a song about losing our own definition as we get too wrapped up in someone else and you can hear the moment when Hekt decides to stop being so amorphous and indecisive and take control of her own life. Percolating acoustic strums give way to a driving hook that carries the song home, as Hekt tries to make sense of her life in the messiest ways possible. "I want to stop being miserable/ I think I used to be fun," she sings on it. "I want to put myself back together/ Because I've come undone." —James
For decades, Black Thought has been joined at the hip with rap's most famous drummer, so maybe there's something just a tiny bit rebellious about how he's laid a monster of a verse on a track with no drum sounds whatsoever. But then, that's par for the course for underground rap in the post-Roc Marciano age. What's remarkable about "Pravda" is how it unites different generations of underground rap. Black Thought and El-P are holdovers from different '90s versions of rap nerdery, and the fact that both are thriving now is a testament to their own adaptive brilliance. Droog, Mach-Hommy, and Fahim are a team of frequent collaborators who have carved out their own mutually supportive corner of the rap universe. But you can't hear those generational differences on "Pravda." Instead, it's just five extremely gifted rappers going in hard over a hazy, misty beat — everyone respectfully trying to outdo everyone else. —Tom
Tamara Lindeman just won't stop leveling up. If her music was already striking, it's now become all but impossible to deny. "Robber," the first single from her upcoming Weather Station album Ignorance, seemed to signal a total sonic reinvention, fracturing her signature folk-rock beauty into a jazz-addled rhythmic haze. "Tried To Tell You" is a little more straightforward but no less stunning, using its driving rock beat as a foundation to layer Wurlitzer and strings up into a stirringly graceful monument to the heavens. "Would it kill you to believe in your pleasure?/ I tried to tell you," Lindeman sings. She's attempting to get something across, and with songs like these, we'd better listen. —Peter