Welcome back to The Verge’s weekly musical roundup. I’m Jamieson, I’m still your host, and I can’t believe this is the last time I’m going to write this column in 2015. I’ve picked, embedded, and dissected hundreds of songs since joining the site in June, many of which I might’ve missed if I wasn’t continually hunting for new music to include. I hope you’ve found at least one new favorite in this space. I’ll be back in January when the release calendar starts heating up again — until then, happy holidays!
Remember to subscribe to our Spotify playlist if you haven’t already — it’s updated weekly! — and tune into our Periscope broadcast covering this week’s picks when it airs this afternoon. Let’s go:
Chris Lee (Li Yuchun), "Real Love / Only You":
This week’s selections kick off with one of the year’s most unexpected collaborations. Chris Lee (aka Li Yuchun) is a major Chinese pop star, one who rose to fame by winning an American Idol-esque competition a decade ago. Her two newest singles are produced by PC Music leader A.G. Cook, who must be putting that Columbia money to good use. It’s easy to see how this pays off for both parties: Lee gets introduced to a group of savvy English listeners who might not be familiar with her healthy discography, and Cook & co. impact an audience that’s probably a few orders of magnitude bigger than any they’ve reached before. The songs aren’t bad, either — cool, clean pop from the near-future.
Damien Jurado, "Exit 353":
Damien Jurado is a prolific, underrated musician, one who writes shambling folk-rock and stretches complicated narratives out over multiple albums. It’s not hard to imagine him wandering through deserts and plains with a guitar strapped to his back, documenting the natural world and the strange characters. "Exit 353" is the lead single from his new LP Visions of Us On the Land, which is due out in March; if you’re feeling the fuzz, you should start wandering through his discography.
David Bowie, "Lazarus":
Like the previously revealed "Blackstar," "Lazarus" finds David Bowie revitalized. (I suppose it’s a fitting title in that sense.) "Lazarus" is going to be included on Blackstar, but it’s also the title track of Bowie’s new off-Broadway play, and star Michael C. Hall has been performing the song on Bowie’s behalf for promotional purposes. It’s a moody, mournful piece of music no matter who’s performing it.
DIIV, "Under the Sun":
Most of the songs released in advance of DIIV’s double LP Is the Is Are have documented some kind of darkness — think addiction, loneliness, personal turmoil. That’s what makes "Under the Sun" distinct, even if it’s the kind of tuneful guitar-pop Zachary Cole Smith could churn out in his sleep: it’s a love song, a welcome bit of lightness in the middle of what’s shaping up to be an unrelenting collection of songs.
Fetty Wap ft. Monty, "Merry Xmas":
Fetty Claus is one of the most generous musicians working today — what are "Trap Queen" and "My Way" if not simply melodic, joyous gifts? Almost every Fetty Wap song sounds like it could be a Christmas song if you just tweaked a few key phrases; by releasing "Merry Xmas," he and consigliere Monty just saved you a few minutes’ work. I couldn’t let the last pre-Christmas column pass without including something in the holiday spirit, you know? Play this from your phone while your grandmother cuts up the turkey this year.
Jenny Lee Lindberg’s main gig involves playing bass in Warpaint, and her expertise shows on her debut solo LP right on! The album’s best songs feature assertive, moody bass lines. "never" sounds a little like DIY New Order, caught somewhere between the bedroom and the dance floor.
Lizzo, "En Love":
I love the self-confident bait and switch at the heart of this Lizzo song, a twist that flips it from astral R&B into an empowered, Missy Elliott-esque bit of hip-hop. This is a hilarious, hearty, and playful display of personality.
Sicko Mobb ft. Jeremih, "Expensive Taste":
This charming one-off from three of Chicago’s finest moves just a hair faster than you think it’s going to; it feels a little like someone’s snuck into your media player of choice to crank the speed as a prank. It’s also proof of Jeremih’s impressive vocal agility, albeit proof you might not need if you’ve been spending a lot of time with his new Late Nights: The Album. He’s slippery, but he’s in complete control here.
Thee Oh Sees, "Fortress":
It’s rare a year goes by without new music from garage rock veterans Thee Oh Sees, and 2016 won’t be an exception: the band’s working on a new album. "Fortress" won’t be part of it — it was recorded as part of the sessions for this year’s Mutilator Defeated at Last — but it’s a pleasure all the same. Few bands are better at churning out dense, scruffy burners. It’s a specific skill, but it’s a useful one.
2015’s last pick comes from Willow Smith’s recent surprise LP Ardipithecus, an album that’s all over the place (and overlong) but rewarding in spots. "IDK" sounds a little like Erykah Badu, albeit through the lens of someone who isn’t old enough to drive yet. It’s warm, loose, and comfortable in its own skin. Willow and her brother Jaden are easy targets because of their insane interviews and unfathomable wealth, but you can make a case for their musical talent, especially the former’s. This song’s all the evidence I need.
Here’s the running This Is Your Next Jam playlist — have an awesome weekend, and I'll see you in 2016!