This week on Tracking––a regular series in which we discuss our current favorite songs––you can listen to additions from Youth Lagoon, Foxygen, MØ, David Bowie, Widowspeak and Merchandise.
Youth Lagoon – “Dropla” (1 of 6)
The first sounds we’ve heard from Trevor Powers, aka Youth Lagoon, since September 2011’s release of The Year of Hibernation, “Dropla” is a strange and exciting introduction to Wondrous Bughouse, scheduled to drop on March 5th.
Perhaps the most immediately striking thing about this track is the dense playground of sounds that open the song and remain throughout. Their lively, whimsical nature—reminiscent of the album title–suggests that the youthful innocence that makes Powers’ music so irresistible is still there, despite a song that otherwise comes across as a step towards maturity. The tune is essentially a 4-minute build-up, a la “Montana” of yesteryear, followed by a deliberate, wordless fade out. Anthemic noise explodes into strangled repetitions of “You’ll never die” at the climax, leaving us to watch the dust settle as Powers cautiously invites the lightning bug refrain back in.
“Dropla” relies less on heavy beats and straightforward guitar/ keyboard composition to conjure response in the listener than say, “Afternoon,” and more on a clear vocal recording and rich atmospheres/ arrangement techniques. There is no hesitation getting to the meat of the song either—vocals enter at 0:20 and a chorus at 0:40.
What hasn’t changed is the directness and honesty of Powers’ lyricism, fit with uplifting messages amidst anxiety and insecurity, a welcome thing to hear for most fans. The benefits of breaking out of the bedroom and into a professional studio–real drums, more robust compositions, more room for experimental arrangement, and more audible vocals—give Youth Lagoon and this album the potential to transcend The Year of Hibernation in a fantastic way. –– Ben Brock Wilkes
MØ – “Glass” (2 of 6)
Danish singer MØ may only be three tracks deep into her career, but she continually tops her own efforts, and most recent single, “Glass,” is no exception. The harsh Scandinavian winter has not dampened her creativity, as “Glass” is the most dazzling work of hers to date. The song begins with a barrage of synths that sounds like an infectious version of Disney’s Electrical Main Street Parade theme, complete with anthemic shouting. However, before things get too crazy, MØ reminds us that the song is about her with a stripped down verse, keeping us hooked, waiting for our next fix of that unimaginably sparkly melody. She can only contain herself for so long though. As she utters the line “If you’re in love beneath the pain / what a pleasant sensation,” she too gives in to the addictive music, letting it carry her words in an unstoppable procession of sound.
“Glass” is that burst of synth-pop sunshine that keeps us going through the harsh winter. It instills the hope that warmer times are around the corner; and during its three minutes, the snow is painted in jewel tones, and the ice around our feet thaws, letting us dance in the prismatic wonderland. –– Jean-Luc Marsh
Foxygen – “Shuggie” / “No Destruction” (3 of 6)
If you heard the first few bars of “Shuggie” and then jumped straight to its chorus, it would sound like two entirely different songs. Opening with low-key horns, tired vocals and staccato guitars, “Shuggie” presents itself as a breezy, relaxed track for chilling and slow head-bobbing. One minute later, it’s a rollicking, soulful jam with bluesy piano pounding and a complete group sing-a-long. Obviously, any song can change directions midway, but what makes “Shuggie” great is how its transformation feels both jarring and fluid all at once. When Sam France first sings “If you believe in yourself, you can free your soul,” the track jolts you awake – it’s a remarkable surprise in the moment. On repeated listens, the build becomes more apparent, and the moment feels more earned. Early in the song, France sadly sings “but you don’t love me, that’s news to me,” followed by nothing but 4 beats of simple percussion. The next time he repeats the same words, those drums are layered with smooth, swaying strings. Then, France quietly warbles “I begin, and I begin”…and proceeds to begin the tune’s thrilling chorus.
Foxygen’s We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors is an album full of old-school rock influences. Throughout the record, the duo makes sure to balance their obvious homages with modern sounds, providing their own unique spin on recognizable artists and genres. But on “No Destruction,” they go with straight-up, all-out nostalgia – and it makes for a pretty fantastic listen. “Destruction” sounds like it could easily be a Velvet Underground B-side. In fact, it’s beginning is essentially a slowed-down version of “Rock and Roll.” “I hate to say I miss you ’cause you don’t need me anymore,” France sings, going on to add, “I politely say I miss you but we know you don’t mean that anymore.” He drops his voice on “anymore” with the sleepy swagger of Lou Reed and Bob Dylan clearly in mind. Reed and Dylan are certainly in mind throughout the nine tracks on Foxygen’s record, but it’s only on “No Destruction” that they bleed through so passionately, shamelessly and perfectly into the music. –– Adam Offitzer
David Bowie – “Where Are We Now” (4 of 6)
I have a friend who has a David Bowie sugar skull tattooed on his right shoulder, and when I told him I was going to be writing about “Where Are We Now,” he became excited, and asked me what I was going to focus on. As I began to talk about how odd the video was and that it probably reflected Bowie’s disillusionment with society, his smile quickly faded. He shook his head and told me to listen again to Heroes, the second album of the Berlin Trilogy with Brian Eno, and Reality, his most recent album (which came out in 2003). “Then you might understand the song better,” he said.
There are definite echoes of those two albums in Bowie’s first new song in ten years, and he largely channels much of that same disillusionment with society that has been tangible his entire career. Echoes of the Reality track “The Loneliest Guy” are particularly audible here, on a song that his producer says is different from the rest of the album. “Where Are We Now” asks a question on behalf of “we,” but he sounds so alone, singing of his memories of his time in Berlin in the seventies. “A man lost in time / near Kadewe / Just walking the dead.” But Bowie keeps going, and the song ends on an upswing in attitude. It’s a more than intriguing introduction to The Next Day (due out in March) that should give everyone a reason to put on some old Bowie and let his question, “Where are we now?” ring in the ears. –– Matt Conover
Widowspeak – “Ballad of the Golden Hour” (5 of 6)
Molly Hamilton and Robert Earl Beale have written an Almanac of America, with chapters from the rugged hills of Appalachia to the wind-blistered cornfields of the Midwest. On “Ballad of the Golden Hour,” we are swept away on a westbound train towards a New Mexican sunset, dangling our feet from a boxcar and readying our eyelids to shut to the world for the night. The first single Captured Tracks released from the new Widowspeak album, this is one of the most cleverly written tunes on an exceedingly smart record.
Beale’s intricate, sliding guitar licks are woven to overlap with Hamilton’s vocals in neat crochet. The duo is at home on this track, playing off of each other’s melodies. They rub hips during verses, but link hands to melancholically swing through choruses as Hamilton laments, “We could never stay forever / as you know, we’re destined to grow cold / it isn’t over ‘til it’s over / and what’s great is good as gone.”
This song moves like water: the only things determining its course are gravity and inertia. In a particularly stunning moment, Beale guides the chorus riff down the neck of his guitar at 2:25 to set up the song’s climax quite perfectly. The tastefully distorted melody that breaks in at 3:02 is this powerful culmination, and a subtle reorientation of the off-kilter verse riff we hear first at 1:08. Hamilton’s soft croon sails through a dreamy haze to close a remarkably self-aware song, “It’s all slowing down.” –– Ben Brock Wilkes
Merchandise – “Anxiety’s Door” (6 of 6)
Natives of the Tampa punk scene, the members of Merchandise may not have imagined five years ago that they’d be releasing a track like “Anxiety’s Door.” As Carson Cox said last year, “There’s no reference point for what we do in Tampa. The punk scene was not a friendly place. People were not welcomed. Punk is still the spiritual music of my life, but I’m not interested in being that kind of person anymore. I’m interested in letting whoever do whatever.” Their transition may have estranged them from the underground hardcore scene but “Anxiety’s Door,” the first cut from their upcoming Totale Night, is a welcome sound for fans of murky, industrial rock.
The song fades in over mechanical background noise, as if the track is being recorded in the middle of a chaotic factory workshop. Soon that clatter gives way to a swooning melody that recalls The Smiths or Echo & the Bunnymen. Cox’s voice sounds like any number of 80’s English frontmen but according to him he just “sounds like [his] mom when she is singing to [him].” “Anxiety’s Door” has a krautrock drive to it but it instills plenty of hazy meandering and a comforting sense of looseness. A natural extension of last year’s excellent Children of Desire, the track is an example of the potency of Merchandise’s blend of punk foundations and noise-pop tendencies. –– Drew Malmuth