Welcome to the 2014's 3rd, and overall 38th installment of Tracking, a regular series in which we discuss our current favorite songs. This time around we discuss new music from M83, St. Vincent, FKA twigs, Wild Beasts, Cloud Nothings and EMA.
M83, "I Need You"
Fittingly, M83’s Anthony Gonzalez has turned his attention towards the silver screen in recent years after having released his extravagant magnum opus, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. It is there, where images collide with sound, and drama plays out in the audiovisual dimension, that the soaring structures of his electronica dreamscapes have the greatest potential to flourish.
Gonzalez’s latest contribution to the film industry comes in the form of “I Need You,” for the upcoming dystopian flick Divergent. From beginning to end, the track is unmistakably M83: triumphant, vibrant, and liberating. In the opening half of the song, Gonzalez’s voice, coated in layers of reverb, is ghostly and comforting, cut from the same cosmic cloth as his melodies. The real fun begins once the melody takes off, though, charting a course directly to the dizzying heights of the stratosphere. Gonzalez handles the elevation with aplomb, weaving in crystalline bundles of static and sublime saxophone notes that adhere perfectly in the thinning atmosphere. The pièce de résistance however, is Gonzalez’s distorted howl, a buoyant rasp that ascends into a constricted scream rendered immaculate amidst the twinkling synthesizers, pushing the pinnacle of passion beyond the sidereal.
And then it all dissipates. You open your eyes, disappointed to find that your feet have returned to solid ground. Therein in lies the allure of “I Need You,” an infinitely repeatable epic in pursuit of the naïve belief that for a moment you have defied gravity and flown on a carpet of sound and stardust. [Jean-Luc Marsh]
St. Vincent, "Severed Crossed Fingers"
“Severed Crossed Fingers” finds Annie Clark in the wake of a breakup, reeling from how pitifully wishes fare when confronted with cold fact. The song’s title is an allusion to “Beautiful Grade,” a short story by Lorrie Moore, first published in the New Yorker and later reprinted in her collection Birds of America. At the end of Moore’s story, her protagonist Bill is disabused of his naïve belief that objective reality can be altered by hope alone: “He thinks of the severed, crossed fingers found perfectly survived in the wreckage of a local plane crash last year.” Clark imagines herself as that horrified passenger taking an earthward dive, with a superstitious ritual as her only substitute for a parachute. “I’ve got hope,” she sings to her ex-lover with matching futility, “but my hope isn’t helping you.” The result, alas, is the same: total devastation.
The song itself is just the opposite – grand, climbing, everlasting. “Severed Crossed Fingers” not only wears its power balladry with pride, it turns retro-cheese on its head and makes it glorious (see also Bon Iver’s “Beth/Rest”). Clark’s melody goes down easy, as does her bitter lyric. Her voice trembles with the kind of heartbreak that soon solidifies into triumph. The victim then becomes perpetrator. And so, the listener’s heart is stolen right out her chest too, still beating in Annie Clark’s terrible grip. [Peter Tabakis]
"FKA twigs x inc."
British trip-hop pixie FKA twigs spins ache and sensuality into haunting confections. As inc., L.A. brothers Andrew and Daniel Aged make spectral hybrids of Prince’s sexiest moments, airy R&B owing a major debt to the spirit of Aaliyah, and gothic dream-pop. Since both acts have fixations on lower-case typographic stylization and achieved their widest exposure yet (with EP2 and no world, respectively) last year, it could of course only be a matter a time until they merged their highly compatible aesthetics, and the result – with the characteristically minimalist title “FKA twigs x inc.” – is exactly what you’d expect (in the best way). There’s the tiptoeing structure and creaking, twitchy percussion of your typical twigs composition brushing shoulders with the Aged brothers’ trademark 4AD-style guitars and some lonesome Morricone-esque drones suited to the accompanying twigs-directed video’s desert setting – it all just comes together so beautifully. But just her directorial vision utterly transforms the American desert that’s normally the Ageds’ territory, twigs’s fluttering, heartbreaking vocal work steals the show as ever, and even when she’s trading lines with Andrew Aged, it’s always clear who the real star is. I think no world is a great and unjustly overlooked album, yet even so, it’s hard to see inc. functioning here as much more than twigs’s backing band, though the way they flesh out the song’s skeleton with guitar is certainly an exciting new look that works in her favor. It’s twigs’s crushing pessimism, rather than inc.’s hushed sultriness, that drives “FKA twigs x inc.” “Don’t cry for the things you love, or fall in love, ‘cause they die in time,” twigs taunts evilly on the chorus, knowing full well it’s too late for her audience. [Samuel Tolzmann]
Wild Beasts, "Palace"
Delicate though it may be, “Palace,” the final cut from Wild Beasts’ Present Tense, packs a formidable featherweight punch. The track is a Spartan one, anchored by a synthetic palpitation, and taken to a celestial apogee by Hayden Thorpe’s falsetto as minimalist percussion, piano, and pitched droning coalesce below into a spare springboard for weightier emotions. The crescendo is subtle, equally unassuming and disarming, floating in like dream, departing with comparable finesse, and leaving you gasping for air.
Thorpe conveys a fatigued romance through his airy falsetto. Each iteration of the titular lyric pushes higher, clawing at the ceiling without betraying the difficulty behind each attempt. Though the subject matter is susceptible to sappy detours, working with similes and admissions of wanting to be a better person, Thorpe keeps the course, breathes it, and believes it. At first blush, it is not immediately certain whether “Palace” deals with a break-up, a rekindling, or a confession of deepening devotion, but the end result, regardless of direction, is unchanging: a love song that carries the force of a wrecking ball in a weightless three minutes. “We may be savage and raw / But at the core, we have higher needs” Thorpe coos. Even in this spare space, he manages to convey warmth and weariness with little more than his voice and a synthetic heartbeat. [Jean-Luc Marsh]
Cloud Nothings, "Psychic Trauma"
Lest we forget, Cloud Nothings’ last record was called Attack on Memory and its nine-minute centerpiece / mission statement / ultimate moshpit instigator / possibly best track “Wasted Days” ended with an emotionally gutting dirge mantra that always makes me think of those that close out “Smells Like Teen Spirit” or Slint’s “Good Morning, Captain” – frontman Dylan Baldi screaming himself hoarse over “I THOUGHT I WOULD BE MORE THAN THIS.” Cloud Nothings’ newest single, from their forthcoming LP Here and Nowhere Else, is called “Psychic Trauma,” which is kind of funny because if you want to talk about psychic trauma, I would like to talk about singing “Wasted Days” along with the band at Brooklyn’s now-shuttered 285 Kent in July of 2012, but you probably wouldn’t want to hear about it. I would also like to tell you about how my favorite Cloud Nothings song is still probably “Morgan,” a song about a shark, but you probably wouldn’t want to hear about that either. Regardless, we can talk about “Psychic Trauma,” which sees the band pack if not all than at least some of that baggage from “Wasted Days” into an impossibly tidy three-minute package with enough drum fills and searing guitar solos to prove they’re one of the best young rock bands in the world right now. As for the psychic trauma, does anyone do it better? I’m thinking of these guys alongside a handful of their contemporaries – Syracuse’s Perfect Pussy, Olympia’s Naomi Punk, Copenhagen’s Iceage – as proof incontrovertible that you really have to get loud as fuck to purge your demons. [Genevieve Oliver]
EMA - "So Blonde"
“So Blonde” – Erika M. Anderson’s on Venice Beach, her sunglasses reflective of palm trees and blue sky, posing chauffeured in a limo, chilling with a big dude and a boombox, blonde-haired in a Jim Morrison t-shirt, and then Molly Soda’s eerie, Angelfire-recalling animated .gifs show up to grind along. It’s indicative of the song as a whole – anything you start expecting, even subconsciously, Erika’ll cut right down. That acoustic-guitar riff that backbones the whole song is undercut by a seething, bloody wave of distortion; Erika croons “Let me tell you about this girl I know,” then screams, “she’s so blonde!” and you start wondering, is she talking about herself? She opens with “I barely survived my twenty-seventh year,” and you start thinking about her quoting Bo Diddley in “California” – “just twenty-two, and I don’t mind dying.” Like all the best blues, the whole thing’s kind of romantic in a way you can’t envy – “I was alone in the city,” Erika purrs, then she’s telling you probably more than you want to know about a mythic cast of characters, blonde boys and girls she knows or knew, who can introduce you to the band, who’ll take you to their places after the show, whose pills you can hear shaking in their bags. Leave it to the woman who wrote the best song in recent memory about California to effortlessly refine and update the mythology of her own past, undercutting expectations at every turn, winding up with a noisy guitar pop song par excellence. [Genevieve Oliver]