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.
Over the last four years, there have been a whole lot of 5 Bests where it felt impossible to wring an intro out of anything but a kind of sardonic, laughing-through-the-horror, how-are-we-possibly-going-to-survive-this despair. There’ll be more of those, for sure. But this week isn’t one of them. The five best songs of the week are below.
“Christian Boys” is technically about one very specific Christian boy. New Pagans’ Lyndsey McDougall wrote the song about one of her friends who had an affair with a Christian leader in Northern Ireland just before he got married. But, lifted up by the Belfast band’s anthemic cascades of melody and noise, the song transcends those circumstances to become something more universal, an angry rebuke against hypocrisy and those who refuse to take responsibility for their own actions. It reaches its fiery climax just as the elliptical lyrics crystallize into a biting refrain: “Christian boys are the worst I know/ Christian girls should take it slow.” If paganism might be sounding pretty appealing right about now, well, New Pagans are sounding even better. —Peter
In 1831, miners and workers in the Welsh town of Merthyr Tydfil rebelled against mistreatment and exploitation, briefly conquering their own town and expelling British authorities. When troops retook Merthyr, dozens of workers were killed, and more were shipped away to Australian prison camps, but communists and socialists in the years ahead would take inspiration from the Merthyr rebels, flying their red flag.
On “Not The Only One,” one Bad Cal, singer for the UK punk band the Chisel, roars about the Merthyr uprising — “They were screaming for their rights!” — and about how little has changed. That seems like the stuff of an old folk song, and that’s basically what “Not The Only One” is: “Look around, what do I see?/ Our people in the grips of poverty!/ I ask myself, what can I do/ Cause I know we deserve better! I know it’s true!” In the hands of the Chisel, that folk-song sentiment takes the form of riotous gang-chant street-punk — the sort that the Chisel’s comrades in Chubby And The Gang are doing so well these days. (Indeed, Gang frontman Chubby Charles plays guitar in the Chisel.) The Chisel put that idea forward with righteous drive. Play it loud enough, and you might start to feel like you could change something. —Tom
Something about a spoken word track just feels risky. You might get something that feels prophetic, or it could just as easily teeter into pretentiousness. But the way Cassandra Jenkins uses it in “Hard Drive” is nothing short of a magic trick. Throughout, Jenkins is conversational, teasing her way through various encounters. They could be matter-of-fact, they could mean something greater. Jenkins manages to find the latter, small moments that become magnified, even portentous, on a constant journey of figuring shit out.
There’s a conversation about art in a museum, a driving lesson and mentions of therapy, a psychic at a party. Jenkins, at just the right moments, gently glides out of spoken word into a sung chorus — the mind is just a hard drive of these loose interactions and it’s your job to sort through and make something of it, or life is just a hard drive, one in which you might be 35 and just learning how to operate a car or you might be 35 wondering when everything around you will start to make a little more sense. This particular “Hard Drive” could end in wreckage, someone rifling through cluttered thoughts and, even while carefully measuring their words while turning it all over, exiting with nothing but the disorientation of memory. But as Jenkins seizes on the psychic’s words — a refrain of “one, two, three” and “just breathe,” a promise we’re going to put all these pieces together, the atmospheric piano and saxophones raising her up — you can even start to agree with her that a better year could be on the horizon. —Ryan
“Haven’t you heard lately?” Addy Harris begins. “I’m uninspired and lazy.” Beyond its function in the song’s narrative, the lyric feels like a bit of meta-commentary, a preemptive acknowledgement that “Shrug” is extremely on trend. At this point the market is so saturated with ’90s-throwback guitar ballads with a depressive tint that you have to be great to stand out. With her first single for new label home 6131 Records, Rat Tally has delivered just a stunner of that magnitude. The resemblance to the likes of Soccer Mommy and Phoebe Bridgers and beabadoobee is clear enough, but Harris holds her own in such impressive company here with a soft, pretty lament that hits like an emotional sledgehammer.
Against a piercing arpeggiated guitar riff, a mournful string section, and a rhythm section that rolls along with uncommon grace, she pieces together scenes from a romance besieged by mental health struggles. “And sometimes I wanna scream it in your face/ Your dead eyes gawking wide/ I wanna throw a fit, fuck, then forget it/ And sometimes I think you’re worth it.” The optimism quickly fades, and soon Harris has vowed to bury her partner’s memory in “the darkest parts of me/ Along with thе things I don’t want to see/ And the things I already let go/ And I hope that helps.” When the last bleary sounds have faded, she cries out “Fuck!” in frustration, right around the same time listeners might find themselves uttering the same word in amazement. —Chris
Meg Duffy has leveled up with every Hand Habits album and it looks as though they’re about to do it again. “4th of july” starts off sounding like it could have had a home on placeholder, with its sighing vocals and warm acoustics, but halfway through the song explodes into full-bloom. It’s a jolt of excitement akin to Angel Olsen’s “Intern” or Perfume Genius’ “Queen,” lead singles that redefined what those projects were. Hand Habits clearly belongs in that lineage of artists (and it’s no coincidence that they’ve collaborated with both) and “4th of july” is their big moment.
That breakthrough halfway is just sublime, as Duffy’s voice changes from desperate and resigned to hopeful. “Don’t cry, demolition baby,” they sing. “Always blowing it up and getting so stuck.” The track, which was co-produced by Sasami Ashworth, chugs and squeals with classic rock swagger as Duffy tries not to get mired down in the muck. “Both hands in the dirt so you might as well try,” they repeat, letting themselves feel empowered against devastating forces that are out of our control. —James