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.
On this week’s Callin Me Maybe, we dug deeper into the big indie mega February we entered last week. Today brings the new Spoon and Big Thief albums, which basically makes it a holiday. In the meantime, a lot of great songs came out this week — here are the five best of them.
Last year, I did something I never imagined I’d do: I hired a personal trainer. I didn’t do it so much because I was depressed (as Sharon Van Etten describes her state of mind when she began working with a pilates instructor, thus inspiring “Porta”); I have chronic lower back pain, to the point where I literally felt vulnerable in my own body. Still, nudging myself to “heal myself,” as Van Etten croons over lush synths and an echoing, very ’80s drum machine, has shown me that I possess strength I didn’t think I could access. Wellness subtext aside, “Porta” is a genuine, energetic blast. Picture it soundtracking a well-earned redemption arc with none of the Rocky-on-the-stairs cheese. —Rachel
Real Lies’ new song is called “An Oral History Of My First Kiss” — a plainspoken title giving cinematic drama to one of those life experiences we all go through at young and uncomfortable ages. The song delivers on that promise, with frontman Kevin Lee Kharas speaking over a bleary dance track, narrating around the moment in question and mulling over the awkward in-between spaces, glimpses into the adult world at an age where those snapshots are still not quite legible.
But the song is also quite a bit more than that. While the music is both washed-out and propulsive, at once sifting through pre-teen memories and firing directly back to that moment, Kharas’ lyrics are a story but also an almost free-associative account of a certain kind of youth in general. In a statement about the song, Kharas said it’s “about girls with Saturday jobs and boys with nothing to do finding magic in each other, in boring places with boring people who have cruel and stupid ideas about anything or anyone who’s different.” It sounds like filmic John Hughes romance, teenage misfits and outsiders finding love.
But anyone who’s grown up in suffocating, dead-end small towns knows the larger feeling Kharas is talking about. Living in a place where there seems to be nothing for you is the exact scenario that makes it easier to live through those movie narratives, or to turn to more destructive escapism as you get closer to that adult world: “I’m trying to come of age, can we change the subject?/ To the powders and the chemicals/ Just talking hypotheticals!” “But there must be a place where things fucking happen,” Kharas sings elsewhere. There’s an irony running through “Oral History”: that youthful desire to get out, to find where life actually is, met with the fact that once you get there, you find yourself remembering scenes like these — all the things that did happen, the formative experiences that still find you in nowhere places. —Ryan
Rosalía learned a lot of things from M.I.A., and one of the things that she learned was this: When people do death-defying stunts in your music video, the song itself, for whatever reason, hits that much harder. The hyper-stylized motorcycle tricks from Rosalía’s “Saoko” video aren’t quite as eyeball-searing as the sideways wheelies in “Bad Girls,” but they jack the song up just the same. And much like M.I.A., Rosalía has a way of refracting cultural artifacts through her own bugged-out lens. On “Saoko,” it’s Daddy Yankee and Wisin’s 2004 reggaeton anthem “Saoco.” On her song, Rosalía swipes big pieces of that track, tricks it out with a distorto-guitar lurch, and uses it to rap-not-sing about the magical power of transformation. The music itself proves what she’s saying. Bad girls do it well. —Tom
Pusha T raps about selling cocaine. It’s his thing. He does it better than just about anyone else. On “Diet Coke,” he raps about selling cocaine over a Kanye Westified version of an 88-Keys beat that dates all the way back to 2004 and a chopped-up Fat Joe sample, and he reminds us that he does it better than just about anyone else. “Everybody get it off the boat, right?/ But only I can really have a snow fight,” he boasts. “Diet Coke” might not be as singular or forward-thinking as the very best Pusha T songs can be, but it’s still hard as hell, one of the best rappers around doing exactly what he does best. There’s nothing diet about it. —Peter
“My Babe” gets bigger and bigger until it seems to burst. Spoon’s latest single begins as a tender love song, almost a ballad, with loose acoustic strums and a lightly tapped-out piano melody. But over the course of four minutes, as Jim Eno’s drums kick in and a groove materializes around the central two-chord vamp, the good vibes pile up into a monolithic tidal wave. Britt Daniel’s vocals intensify as well, ramping up to a roaring proclamation of love as the guitars rise up and swirl around him. It all seems so simple, even (especially) the titular refrain. But turning minimalism into majesty, putting an artful spin on that old-time rock ‘n’ roll — this has been Spoon’s magic trick all along, hasn’t it? It’s why we love them at least as much as Daniel loves his babe. —Chris