Welcome to the 37th installment of Tracking, a regular series in which we discuss our current favorite songs. This time you can check out additions from Danish pop badass MØ,Cleveland punks Cloud Nothings, Australia's best new band, The Preatures, the chillest Black Hippy SchoolBoy Q, South Dakota's noise pop Artist, EMA and San Francisco's inimitable Holly Henderson. Yeah - it's a good one.
MØ - “Don’t Wanna Dance”
Let’s not pretend we didn’t see this coming. Even in her earliest works, such as the chord-driven “Maiden,” it was clear that MØ had a penchant for earworm compositions and an impressive set of pipes to back up any claims made by her melodies. However, back then her efforts were more eclectic. Each track had a different flavor, and felt more like an exhibit displaying some new side of MØ’s multifaceted psyche than a directive to storm the dance floor in droves.
Flash forward almost two years. MØ’s body of work has expanded to include a four song EP featuring nothing less than a collaboration with Diplo, and the approach towards quicker tempos and higher BPMs has accelerated from a crawl to sprint. “Don’t Wanna Dance” represents the culmination of this trend, and one of the final carrots dangling between us and the finish line (a.k.a. No Mythologies to Follow). It’s MØ’s most accessible song to date; a calculated mélange of handclaps, brass, and a distressingly contagious coda of piano and guitar. The lyrics also take a turn towards populism with lines such as “Tonight is the night / And tonight is alright.” However, at the end of the day, “Don’t Wanna Dance,” a song dealing with infatuation and desire, two topics already overrepresented on the charts, is imbued with an original spark that is unmistakably MØ’s doing.
Hottest record in the world? Yes. Is that surprising? Not quite. “Don’t Wanna Dance” is good fun, and pop at its pinnacle. [Jean-Luc Marsh]
Cloud Nothings - "I'm Not Part of Me"
Right from the opening chord progression, the first thing you’ll probably notice about “I’m Not Part of Me” is how relaxed it sounds. Comparatively speaking, of course. Cloud Nothings’ sophomore album, 2012’s Attack On Memory, was their first as a full band. After founder Dylan Baldi put out a debut of scrappy, deceptively tuneful garage punk on his own, his next effort was an all out assault with an army backing him. From the parched squall of his vocals to the power tool antics of the guitars, it was a thoroughly unfriendly record. Even “Stay Useless”, Attack On Memory's ostensibly “poppy” song, pulsated like an open wound.
“I’m Not Part Of Me” is a teaser from Attack On Memory’s follow-up, Here And Nowhere Else, which is due in April. This track hasn’t foregone that sense of alienation entirely, but you can immediately sense a calm trickling into the fringes of the music. Borrowing again from the heroes of emo, particularly Jawbreaker, Cloud Nothings sound uncharacteristically inviting, heartbreak and baggage in tow.
The opening track on Attack On Memory was titled “No Future/No Past”, but the closer on Here And Nowhere Else finds Baldi looking decisively forward: “Moving toward a new idea/You’re not what I really needed/I’m not you/You’re a part of me,” he professes. No longer keen to dwell on, but rather learn from his failures, “I’m Not Part of Me” is a sure-footed stride forward both sonically and emotionally. Has this kid ever grown up. [Brendan Frank]
The Preatures - “Better Than It Ever Could Be”
The hunt for our socks continues after The Preatures blew them off with “Is This How You Feel?” last year. The Aussie quintet’s polish and rhythmic savvy was a breath of fresh air from the most unexpected of places. “Better Than It Ever Could Be” is another cut from their forthcoming debut album, which we’re expecting at some point this year. It finds the Aussie quintet moving one step closer to ridding themselves of the albatross that nearly every band struggles with after writing their breakthrough song: consistency. And it does so with a measured flair that’s quickly becoming a hallmark for the groovy 70s pop revivalists.
If “Better Than It Ever Could Be” is built from the same key ingredients, it's the more anthemic, free-spirited cousin of the tightly-coiled “Is This How You Feel?”. The songwriting is sharp and executed almost perfectly; frugal but immediate, with more hooks than a bait shop. The guitars flash and flicker like neon signs, and the understated rhythm section provides a showcase for Isabella Manfredi. She alternatingly swoons and growls, displaying a versatility that had only been vaguely hinted at by her previously sugary vocals. It looks like The Preatures are confident that they’ve finally found the sound they can ride into stardom. We tend to agree. [Brendan Frank]
ScHoolboy Q - “Man of the Year”
Black Hippy, championed by hip hop wunderkind Kendrick Lamar, is poised to do great things this year, especially with member Schoolboy Q’s forthcoming album Oxymoron. On album single “Man of the Year” Q unleashes his harsh spitting on an unexpectedly apropos sample of Chromatics' “Cherry.” The anthem of revelry and bliss is brought down from the conventional euphoria of bombastic rap with its dark, consuming timbre and tone, to produce something altogether more determined. The production from Nez & Rio is large and hazy but dark and driving, and compliments Q’s raspy, cutting lines (“Ba-Bounce for the crown!”) to a T. Q is declaring himself the Man of the year, and he’s doing so in a way that guarantees that everyone will know; everyone rejoice. [Dorian Mendoza]
EMA - “Satellites”
If there’s one thing to be said against EMA’s strident new single “Satellites,” from the upcoming The Future’s Void, it’s that in comparison to her bracingly raw, still-tremendous 2011 solo debut Past Life Martyred Saints, the new song sounds very much like a creation of the studio – in a way that’s sunk many a sophomore album from an artist prized for their edgy energy (looking at you, Show Your Bones). Those tinny, fuzzed-out vocals on the verses, for instance, have the air of affectation rather than technological constraint. Yet while “Satellites” has a certain polish that comes from time and money, it doesn’t sound diluted for it – think of the shift as analogous to the one PJ Harvey made between To Bring You My Love and Is This Desire, from live-wire blues-rock to something weirder and chillier but no less urgent, potent, or brutally throttling. The song, which situates EMA nicely alongside likeminded female practitioners of a new American gothic such as Zola Jesus and Chelsea Wolfe, deals mainly in horror – both baroque (dramatic violins, haunting harmonies, left-handed piano) and dystopian (Cold War references in the lyrics, harsh industrial beats, gut-churning stabs of bass, serrated blasts of distortion). And where there’s disquiet, you’re bound to find Anderson and her bruised, transcendent moan, her anguish writ newly large on this thrillingly vast new canvas. “I’ve got a brand new spell, ain’t coming out that well,” she sings on the outro, but I beg to differ. [Sam Tolzamann]
Holly Herndon - “Chorus”
Conservatory-trained techno artist Holly Herndon sounds most exciting when she’s navigating treacherous divides: concert hall and dance club, art and pop, technology and humanity, intellectual and visceral, synthetic and organic. She has obvious peers in Oneohtrix Point Never and Laurel Halo, and recognizable forebears in Herbert’s Bodily Functions and the Knife’s Silent Shout, but Herndon’s definitely doing her own thing on jaw-dropping new single “Chorus.” Aptly if facetiously titled, “Chorus” is composed largely from fragments of human voice (Herndon’s own and samples culled from YouTube) that waver between dissonant chaos and uncanny harmony. The song takes two minutes to flicker into being before, inevitably, the beat drops, the bass kicks in, and “Chorus” goes berserk. Those shards of barely-human voice cascade in from every direction with little sense of organizing principle as the whole composition spins dizzyingly on its taut, confident rhythmic foundation. It’s the arty, austere evil-twin counterpart to SOPHIE's “Bipp” from last year: a song that provides familiar joys in alien ways, a slippery wonder you can put on repeat for hours and still not be able to fully understand or anticipate. [Sam Tolzmann]