Pretty much everything east of the Mississippi has been brought to its knees by this unforgiving winter, especially the hellstorm that rolled in this week. It’s hard to believe February is even now only half over — 14 days down, 14 to go — harder still to picture it ever coming to an end. Fortunately the music has been great, and every track in this week’s 5 Best is hot enough to melt whatever the fuck gets in its way: ice, iron, faces, hearts.
Angel Olsen’s stunning Burn Your Fire For No Witness is filled with some wonderfully emotive vocals, yet the moment that hits the hardest comes via the seven minutes of deadpan delivery and lyrical purge that make up “White Fire.” Olsen’s voice barely rises above a whisper, the guitar never grows much louder during its insistent plucking, and the lyrics create images, but piecing the story together is like grasping at smoke. Rather than the big emotional and melodic fireworks that occur on nearly every other track on the album, here Olsen conjures a terrifying stillness, uncomfortably staring you down for as long as she sees fit. Thank god it’s the only song on the album like it; another one would have been too much to bear. As heart wrenching as it is, “White Fire” becomes the emotional anchor to one of the best albums of the year. –Miles
Sometimes, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and this is a textbook example. On his own, the L.A. producer Shlohmo doesn’t sound like this. But on his own, Shlohmo doesn’t get to play with a natural wonder like Jeremih’s voice. Shlohmo might be able to use his laptop to access any sound ever recorded, but that’s nothing compared to a singer as gifted as the Chicago R&B star, whose slippery and airy falsetto is its own universe. When these two first linked up, on the 2013 one-off “Bo Peep (Do U Right),” you could hear a sense of discovery in what they were doing together, both of them thinking, “Wait a minute, I can make music like this?” That giddy flush of excitement is still there, but now there’s an exploratory sense to it, both of them just beginning to map the terrain of what they might be able to do with each other. –Tom
While “Wanderlust” came charging in with a flood of synths, Wild Beasts take their time actually hitting the titular sweet spot on this track. They come in with spindly guitar lines and snapping drums as they weave rhythms together, creating the same atmospheric rock for nearly half the song before the gates open and the band begin layering their buzzing, chilly synths around pained, ghostly vocals. If there is one trait Wild Beasts have mastered on their new album, it is control. There’s that sense of control in every single note the band plays, every trancelike groove they lock into, but it’s there in the lyrics, too. While “Wanderlust” demanded, “Don’t confuse me with someone who gives a fuck,” “Sweet Spot” asks, “Don’t make me suffer for that.” It’s a desperate plea, and a moment of vulnerability that you could almost miss in the midst of the overwhelmingly tight instrumentation, and a glimpse of humanity from a band whose playing seems anything but. “Sweet Spot” came right in time, a perfectly fucked-up love song for anyone rolling their eyes on Valentine’s Day. –Miles
“Kerosene Girl,” the first single from Young Widows’ forthcoming fourth LP, Easy Pain, is a study in minimalism: The Louisville power trio’s three instruments are frequently in monolithic lockstep; Evan Patterson’s guitar and Nick Thieneman’s bass are more percussive than melodic — they stay inside a three- or four-note range, mostly accentuating Jeremy McMonigle’s unflinching rhythmic beatdown (and vice versa). Even when when Patterson lets loose a spastic solo that can no longer be contained, he keeps it to a single note, taut as piano wire, and it’s still shadowed exactly by the bass and drums. So “Kerosene Girl”‘s ridiculous power derives from its sheer punishing pulse, its highly pressurized blast-furnace dynamics, and Patterson’s Cave-ian vocal, which veers from louche to hysterical with all the wild-eyed charisma and fury of a Pentecostal serpent handler. It’s a highlight not just of this week but of the year to date and — I’ll predict, here and now — the year to come. –Michael
Giorgio Moroder built a sound worth imitating, but too many of his Italo-disco disciples have studiously recreated his unfurling-into-infinity space-bloop repetition without grasping the sense of play that the man had. That in itself can be awesome, but credit the Norwegian producer Todd Terje for doing his contemporaries one better. Terje has long made a form of house that even dance-music doofuses like this writer could appreciate, but here he’s made a Moroder pastiche so full of joy and life that it feels like its own complete things. “Delorean Dynamite” struts with a bounce in its step even before the bass-slaps and marimba tinkles come in, and somehow squelches its way into Quincy Jones orchestral-funk territory before it finally whirls into pieces. Somewhere, there’s probably a 30-minute disco edit of this thing that will actually stop and restart time. –Tom