This was the first full week of 2015, and the week in which winter fully set in on most of the country. (As Slate weather writer Eric Holthaus noted yesterday: “It’s so cold out (how cold is it??) that Minneapolis cancelled school today. Minneapolis!”) NYC felt it too; it snowed here all morning, and this was the warmest day of the week by a noticeable margin. Some of this week’s best songs sounded like winter, and maybe that’s why we liked ‘em so much; we identify with their spare darkness on an elemental level. A couple others sounded like warmer months, though — and maybe that’s why we liked them so much, too: We need something to look forward to over here. In any case, there’s enough fire here to keep us warm.
Over the past half-decade, we’ve really only heard Noah “40” Shebib’s glassy, beautiful synth-beats with Drake and whoever Drake’s got guesting on a song rapping over them. 40 acts as Drake’s musical supervisor, tweaking and curating Drizzy’s tracks so that they fit with the overall aesthetic that the two have painstakingly assembled. 40 never really ventures outside the Drake-iverse. And even at his thirstiest, Drake never really comes off as a real-life knuckledragging dirtbag. But here comes Action Bronson, hopping out the Studebaker with Anita Baker over a particularly gorgeous 40 beat. That contrast — 40’s space-age smoothness with Bronson’s burping, farting humanity — just works. These two sound somehow inside and outside their comfort zone, and it means Bronson finally has a song that rap radio might touch with a 10-foot pole. Also, not for nothing, but “I’m in the Humvee looking like a young me” is just an incredible line. –Tom
Some bands would consider “Scene Sick” the skeleton of a song, but it’s more like the heart. In the grand indie-pop tradition, Diet Cig distills music to its component parts: a groovy beat, a captivating melody, and some chords to fill in the space between, FOH with your window dressing. It would be great on that basis alone, but what elevates this thing to genius level is the way its casually blunt lyrics mirror the musical approach. Alex Luciano boils a certain kind of longing down to its essence by dismissing all the contextual bullshit outright. You can fuck your romance, too, as long as it’s getting in the way of actual human connection. “I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care,” she sings, which I think is twee for, “Now throw your hands in the air…” The result is a smartly uncluttered song about slicing through the clutter — basic in every way but far from basic. –Chris
If following up a debut album titled No Regrets with a record called Time To Go Home isn’t some kind of statement, then I don’t know what is. It’s been about a year and a half since Chastity Belt recorded their debut straight out of college, and they’ve spent enough time in the real world to get acclimated to its brand of peculiar discomfort. Gone are the fuck-it-all anthems of “James Dean” or “Pussy Weed Beer“; instead, they lead off their album campaign with a title track that documents the queasy, seasick feeling you get at the end of the night. It’s a darkness they explored on their debut, but they commit to it full throttle on their followup. “Everything is beautiful because we’re delusional,” Julia Shapiro says, acknowledging that any form of happiness they’re feeling or singing about is fueled by a mixture of alcohol, drugs, and misplaced confidence. “I just wanna have a good time, I hope you have a strong heart” rings out like a warning: whatever comes next sure isn’t going to be pretty, but it’ll be fascinating to listen to. –James
The cover of Walker’s forthcoming album Primrose Green looks exactly like something you’d find in the dusty back corner of a neglected used-record store. It’s like some underappreciated early-’70s singer-songwriter record traveled through time and found itself in 2015’s indie rock release calendar. That’s how the title track, sounds too: A loose, warm, jazzy piece of ambling stoned folk music, something that one of Donovan’s weirder friends might’ve made. Period pastiche is a difficult thing to pull off; to do it right, you need to make something that could hang with the heavy hitters of the time you’re evoking. Walker pulls it off. In its soft amber beauty, “Primrose Green” would’ve sounded amazing in 1973. It sounds amazing now, too. –Tom
No one is shitting all over “Silhouettes” for channeling Joy Division the way they shat on Interpol for channeling Joy Division, maybe because Interpol were post-punk cartoon characters and Viet Cong feel as shadowy as “Shadowplay.” There is real emotional heft in “Silhouettes”; you’re peering into darkness here, not the bright lights. Viet Cong feels machinelike in that they mechanistically chug along toward obliviion, runaway-train style. But for all its violently stabbing sharp corners, this music is too human to be “angular” — or, given the beastly howl that carries “Silhouettes” to its conclusion, too alive at least. –Chris