This week on Tracking––a regular series in which we discuss our current favorite songs––you can listen to additions from James Blake, Youth Lagoon, Rihanna, Kurt Vile, Iceage, CHVRCHES, Autre Ne Veut and Jagwar Ma.
(Click on the arrows to navigate through the songs.)
James Blake – “Retrograde”
James Blake admirers usually tout his sparse yet emotive arrangements, which often create a heavy atmosphere with very few elements. I can see why, but I prefer when his songs embrace and build upon their core melodies, as opposed to shrouding them in mood. “Retrograde” starts with a quivering hum backed by soft piano. Blake’s humming etches out the songs stellar melody and even as multiple layers of swelling synths are added, that tender sound remains the backbone of the track. Still, the heart of the song is, unsurprisingly, Blake’s vocals. In almost every tack, the man sounds like he is perpetually watching his family being taken away by rebel soldiers. If you don’t find it overly-sentimental, then you’ll likely find it completely heartbreaking. In which case, “Retrogade” will be on repeat for the foreseeable future. –– Drew Malmuth
Youth Lagoon – “Mute”
When an artist prefaces their new material with the fact they are “becoming more fascinated with the human psyche and where the spiritual meets the physical world,” I’d say it’s fair to be suspicious, but also extremely intrigued. Suspicious, because this type of vague mysticism could lead to meandering dreck; intrigued, because in the right hands this approach could make for a mind-bending listen. That comment was made by Trevor Powers (Youth Lagoon) and if you were a fan of his debut then the suspicion was probably never warranted. “Mute” confirms that Powers’ metaphysical mindset is leading to some excellent music.
“Mute” is an ambitious and sonically rich track that eschews some of the twee charm found on the Youth Lagoon debut. The opening melodies are built with broad slabs of echoey guitar alongside a delicate picking pattern. Powers’ dainty voice rides along the cyclical drum beat. It’s unclear where exactly the arrangement is going until after the first minute and then, with a clever little transition, the song finds its groove. Odd psychedelic flourishes bounce around the swaying instrumentation. There is a looseness to Powers’ songwriting but he is also adept at building little pockets of melody that are lovely and potentially addictive. I welcome Youth Lagoon’s larger sound and I also encourage other talented songwriters to join Powers in his study of metaphysics. –– Drew Malmuth