This week on Tracking – a regular series in which we discuss our current favorite songs – you can listen to additions from Yeah Yeah Yeahs, HAIM, AlunaGeorge, Rhye and David Bowie.
(Click on the arrows to navigate through the songs.)
Yeah Yeah Yeahs - "Sacrilege"
In an interview with SPIN, Karen O described Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ 4th record, Mosquito – due out April 16 cased in its bold and wacky cover – as, “moodier and tripped-out…you might catch some roots reggae and minimalist psychedelia influences in there.” Guitarist Nick Zinner attributed this sound to, “the New Orleans vibe [where the band started writing Mosquito]. Just the juju in the air.”
“Sacrilege,” the first single released from Mosquito and its opening track, drips with this doomy juju, swirling around a minor blues skeleton until it boils over in gospel catharsis. The song is founded on a fat, descending bass line that, when joined by Karen’s soulful, witchy howl evokes dreams of spiritual resurrection or séance. A laid-back funk beat enriched with hand percussion fills out the slick groove, inviting Zinner’s twirling guitar licks to dance around vocals that at this point are immediately recognizable.
Karen O embraces her devilish mystique on “Sacrilege,” detailing how she is, “fallin’ for a guy, who fell down from the sky,” and how, considering their respective origins, the fact they have a bed that can be referred to as “our,” is “sacrilege, you say.” Despite strained assertions that, “I plead and I pray,” a choir seems to burst from the heavens to deliver the track’s climatic reprise. This moment of divine intervention is punctuated by a clever inversion of the formerly descending bass line at 2:37 to carry us powerfully into the song’s A cappella close.
“Sacrilege” is a promising first listen for Mosquito, ushering their audience into a new sound for Yeah Yeah Yeahs that maintains the gritty dance rock we’re familiar with – Dave Sitek of TV on the Radio produces, as with past YYY’s albums – while incorporating some darker, hazier tones and moods. There is a harkening back to the punker mentality of the band’s debut, Fever To Tell, with a psychedelic freedom achieved by getting 2009’s pop-loaded It’s Blitz! out of their system. Lord willing, we’ll get to see “Sacrilege” fleshed out by Questlove and a full gospel choir on Fallon in the coming weeks. – Ben Brock Wilkes
HAIM - "Falling"
In the original Jurassic Park film, a cup of water ripples as a result of a pounding noise, signaling the arrival of Tyrannosaurus Rex. “Falling,” the latest offering from Californian sisters HAIM, begins in much the same way, with a distant thumping sound populating the first seconds of the track. In both cases, something fantastic is about to happen.
On “Falling,” the pounding gives way not to a prehistoric terror, but something still very reminiscent of the past. To say that eighties music and HAIM are linked would be a correct assumption, and none of their tracks does a better job of proving this theory than “Falling.”
A truncated shout, and the minimalist plucking of a guitar begins, leaving space for the sisters’ lyrics to dominate the verse. Hand claps emerge from the mist, and the rhythm really takes off. Then the drop hits. A single word, “Falling” is shouted from every which direction in a moment of blissful confusion. The verse begins again, having augmented in magnitude to include drums and those unmistakable eighties-evocative synthesizers. The chorus comes back around, longer and replete with electric guitars wailing in the dense instrumental fog.
By the time it ends, “Falling” becomes a parade filled with a ragtag gang of sounds. In theory it should not work, but then again neither should resurrecting dinosaurs from amber. “Falling,” with its frenzied explosion of sounds and echoing vocals is fantastic enough to survive, and become one of the most fun tracks in recent memory. – Jean-Luc Marsh
AlunaGeoge - "Attracting Flies"
Remember the sweet side of Aluna Francis you heard on “Watching Over You”? She is long gone, having traded in the amiability and falsetto of before, for spunk on new track “Attracting Flies.” George Reid, the mastermind behind the melodies of AlunaGeorge, is not far behind. Sprightly piano strokes and high-pitched electronic elements have been ditched in favor of a vivacious synth riff that frames the edges of the masterpiece made as a result of their combined efforts.
“Little white fairy tales and little white lies / everything you exhale is attracting flies,” proclaims Francis, adopting the aggressive, cheeky persona that propels “Attracting Flies” from a mere diss track to something with enough edge to be worthy of playing after the dust has settled. Add to this the fact that the person at whom “Attracting Flies” is aimed at, is never named, and you have something that becomes universally applicable.
The only sweet thing remaining on “Attracting Flies” is the wasted breath of the individual she indicts throughout the course of the song. What remains however, is the aural aesthetic of purposeful, clear lyrics and sterling production cultivated by AlunaGeorge that continues to amaze. “Attracting Flies” forms another in a string of pearls that gets longer with each additional release. This one just happens to be a little rougher. – JLM
Rhye - "3 Days"
A disorienting harp instrumental signals the commencement of “3 Days,” a track that is perhaps the most profound of the many love poems on Woman, the amorous debut of bedroom-soul duo Rhye. The harp is the equivalent of pulling back a sonic curtain. The space that lies beyond is an environment of complete musical fidelity. Synthesizers, piano, violins, and the soothing, mellifluous voice of Mike Milosh coalesce into a downtempo disco gem. The melody of “3 Days” is airy, floating effortlessly between the lyrical loops woven by Milosh.
The profundity of “3 Days” comes from its contrasts. “Love is terminal / not meant to last / burn bright / burn fast,” croons Milosh. His confession, and the gravity it entails, stands incongruous to the nimble rhythm pulsing beyond him. Where Milosh’s vocals are buoyant and smooth, his meanings are dark and direct. There is an underlying danger hidden in the passionate folds of love.
“3 Days” is still a love song, but not in the typical sense. It serves as a warning. Love is beautiful, abrupt, and delicate. It could last forever or burn out in the span of three days. – JLM
David Bowie - "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)"
We create our gods and they walk the Earth among us. Devotion makes them mightier. Obsolescence seals their doom. That’s the central notion of Neil Gaiman’s novel American Gods. If you replace “gods” with “celebrities,” it’s also the theme of David Bowie’s phenomenal new song “The Stars (Are Out Tonight).” Though for Bowie, fame spawns creatures worse than envious deities – they’re ghoulish Dementors, with the tenacity of paparazzi, eager to dine on your soul with one small kiss.
Stardom is Bowie’s oldest obsession, but he’s never approached the topic with such dread. Musically, “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” is unadulterated merriment, filled with clapping hands, triumphant violins, and rowdy horns. Of course it is. The song is really just Bowie’s plea for immortality, in the guise of a biting critique of celebrity. His fame is greater than any “Brigitte, Jack, and Kate, and Brad.” “I hope they live forever,” he howls to the cosmos and to us. If they can cheat death, then surely he can too. – Peter Tabakis