This week on Tracking – a regular series in which we discuss our current favorite songs – you can listen to additions from Vampire Weekend, Savages, Postiljonen and Annie.
Vampire Weekend - "Ya Hey"
Rather than comically covering Outkast’s generation-defining anthem in reverse, Vampire Weekend’s stomp-along “Ya Hey” instead takes on a completely different, even more surprising task – reenacting one of the most memorable scenes in the Old Testament.
In Exodus 3:14, when Moses famously approaches the burning bush and asks God to speak his name, he responds by simply saying “I Am that I Am.” It’s an answer shrouded in mystery, open to endless meanings and interpretation. Fortunately, Ezra Koenig is no stranger to this form of abstract wordplay – he’s practically made a career out of it.
Most Vampire Weekend ballads tend to wallow in these half-meanings and paraphrased riddles, but here, God’s words provide most of that for them, allowing Koenig to compose some of his most literal lyrics to date for the song’s chorus:
“Through the fire and through the flames, you won’t even say your name, only ‘I am that I am,’” Koenig sings. “But who could ever live that way?”
Then, in one of the year’s most thrilling musical moments, Koenig does his best to pronounce God’s historically unpronounceable “true” name, inviting what sounds like a chorus of cartoon chipmunks to join in with him. Beginning with the song’s title, Koenig inverts André 3000’s dance hall cry into a variation on the traditional “Yaweh,” before lunging into a series of less traditional “yo-ohs, yo-ays, and wha-ee-yoos,” twisting and turning his voice at every wacky syllable.
It’s a testament to the band’s musical sensibilities that they pull off a song with chipmunk-sounding vocals singing gibberish lyrics and make it sound meaningful rather than silly. Then again, this is fairly representative of the band’s career – making playful, humorous songs that manage to connect with the listener on an emotional level.
The chipmunk chorus is undeniably the song’s most divisive moment. When the band plays the song live, bassist Chris Baio has been singing along with the electronic sample, adding a human layer to the song’s titular refrain. On the album, the morphed vocals often go unaccompanied. YouTube commenters have been arguing about this split between the live and studio versions of the song, and it’s easy to imagine the band’s self-described “perfectionists,” Ezra and Rostam, having the same debate in the studio themselves.
The verdict could go either way, but I think they nailed it. In concert, leaving the chipmunk vocals on their own would take away from the energy of the live performance; on a recording, it serves as a memorable use of studio experimentation that works sufficiently on its own.
By naming their song after not only one of the most beloved hits of the past decade – not to mention the Almighty – Vampire Weekend set lofty expectations for themselves with “Ya Hey.” As has become customary of the band, they matched them. Just make sure not to google “Ya Hey chipmunks,” unless you want to be treated with an ear-splitting Outkast cover from Alvin, Simon and Theodore. – Adam Offitzer
Savages - "Strife"
Savages’ Silence Yourself is an in-your-face challenge from its very title. It’s completely devoid of anything remotely resembling bashfulness – singer Jehnny Beth gets up close, intimidatingly unshy, you can practically hear her smirking around her cutting lyrics; Gemma Thompson’s guitar sounds like shattering glass; bassist Ayse Hassan and drummer Faye Milton lock into impossibly tight motorik groove after motorik groove. In its first seconds, first-half highlight “Strife” sounds like it’s going to be the record’s exception – Milton’s drums have a deceptive patience, Thompson starts off with a demon-summoning feedback wail then comparatively calms down, aligning with Hassan’s slow-burning bassline; even Beth, when she starts singing, sounds like she’s bearing a torch as she reckons with outsiders who speculate on her love life. But when that chorus breaks, it breaks – Thompson’s guitar wades through mud, Milton pummels her kit, and Beth teases “they have no idea what we do at night.” Part of what’s so stunning about “Strife,” and the rest of Silence Yourself, is its self-assuredness – presiding over her band’s maelstrom, Beth doesn’t care about the things you think you know. She just commands that you listen. – Genevieve Oliver
Postiljonen - "Supreme"
Spring has officially arrived in Scandinavia, and you know what that means: an endless stream of uplifting electro-pop gems to fuel your summer escapades and daydreams. “Supreme” from Stockholm upstart group Postiljonen, is one of the first to emerge from the melting snow, and perhaps the most massive this season. Three and a half minutes of pure gold, it is best summed up in three words: easy, breezy, and beautiful.
“Supreme” is already brimming with exuberance at its inception, launching forward with a sunshine-laden electronic rhythm and subdued dreamlike vocals proclaiming “We are hopelessly in love / the stars in our sky never turn off.” Then it swells into something even larger, filling all of sonic space with an ebullient energy. Things slow down for a moment during the bridge in which the electronic rhythm falls away, making room for a steady pounding that intensifies over the course of the pre-recorded voice of woman talking about dreams and dresses. The rhythm kicks in again, and with that you find yourself once again inhabiting the neon dimension that Postiljonen crafted with such effortlessness. Shake off the winter doldrums and submit to the impending wall of warmth and sound in “Supreme.” You just found your next summer beach jam. – Jean-Luc Marsh
Annie - "Tube Stops and Lonely Hearts"
Not one to be outdone by her fellow Scandinavians, Norwegian synth-pop queen Annie has broken her three year silence, releasing comeback single “Tube Stops and Lonely Hearts” accompanied by an oddly endearing DIY video. Described as being “inspired by the rave scene in Bergen,” “Tube Stops and Lonely Hearts” is less of a beach-ready tune, than a precise, nocturnal performance. The track begins with the ticks and tocks of a symphony of clocks over a growling bass. “Four AM / I took a shot in the dark / Need to escape before the battles restart / Tube stops and lonely hearts / Lost the rhythm yeah I’m falling apart” sings Annie before switching to a series of monosyllabic “ooh na na nas.” The bass growls deeper with each passing moment, and on Annie’s cue the floor falls out, the labyrinthine rave rhythm taking control.
This is Annie with edges; the dominatrix calling all of the shots and wielding domain over the power of sound. Her sweet, hypnotic voice is deceptive. “Me, I think I’ll be ok” she chants, but it is clear that she is more than fine. Annie is back with a vengeance, ready to make up for lost time and regain control of the dance floor. – Jean-Luc Marsh