This week's Tracking, the weekly series in which we discuss our current favorite songs, features music from tUnE-yArDs, The War on Drugs, How To Dress Well, Sun Kil Moon, Freddie Gibs & Madlib, Danny Brown and Viet Cong.
tUnE-yArDs, "Water Fountain"
If there is one talent that Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs has always possessed, it is the ability to make you get up and move. And by move, I mean that kind of embarrassing one-person dance party that takes over in the midst of some quotidian activity, and ends with you singing into your toothbrush. We’ve all been there.
However, with Garbus the true miracle reveals itself after the fact. You emerge from the end of “Water Fountain” only to wonder what exactly it was that you just danced to. Sure, it was catchy, but some reflection yields little more than some snippets about bear hunting, blood-soaked currency, and an omnipresent preoccupation with water. The New England native is not alone to blame for this though. Bassist Nate Brenner scores a brilliant assist in helping to craft a tribal, multi-layered concoction as busy as Garbus’ subject matter. The result is a cacophonous, chaotic affair, that swells with each subsequent verse before igniting in a sublime final minute replete with percussive slaps, yells, and several well-timed woo-has. Her voice as commanding as ever, Garbus spins a yarn that borders on the whimsical, containing an allegory that persists throughout. “Greasy men come and dig my well / Life without your water is a burning hell,” she chants in a particularly lucid, and mordant, moment. It’s ambiguous, and infinitely interpretable, but by virtue of a hypnotic rhythm and the sheer vitality of Garbus’ voice, it works. If the remainder of Nikki Nack is equally as enthralling, it could be entirely in Mandarin, and still have me belting out the words into my toothbrush by the end. [Jean-Luc Marsh]
The War on Drugs, "An Ocean Between The Waves"
As a portrayal of a man’s self-neglect, Lost in the Dream is about as unflinching as they come. One part Springsteen, one part Bon Jovi and one part guitar god, the escapism offered by the not-quite-lucid vision of The War on Drugs is never more immersive or ambitious than on “An Ocean in Between the Waves”. A rubber-burning caper that trembles to life before your eyes, “Ocean” is an experiment in perpetual motion, barreling ahead through the warm guitar goo on the back of Patrick Berkery’s brawny work behind the drum kit.
Like nearly every War on Drugs track, “Ocean” is shrouded in reverb, but its soft underbelly is exposed with multiple listens. It is a beautiful thing for a song this desperately infectious to reveal itself so purposefully: “Can I be more than just a fool?” mumbles singer Adam Granduciel. He's just as emotive with his guitar as he is with his words; almost half the song is a solo, and somehow, that doesn’t quite seem like enough. Every bend and vibrato is so vibrant, nimble and accomplished that you just want to grab the nearest Strat and wail along with him. [Brendan Frank]
How to Dress Well, "Words I Don't Remember"
Tom Krell excels at crafting slow jams for the afterlife, what it might sound like if a ghost had a knack for 90’s r&b. He has long abandoned the uncompromising squawks that defined How To Dress Well’s debut Love Remains. Its follow-up Total Loss was, in fact, scrubbed to a blinding sheen, almost to a fault. His new single splits the difference: while “Words I Don’t Remember” lacks the distortion and lo-fi hiss of his early work, it also breathes and stretches naturally, without any studio overreach. That lack of fuss also extends to the song’s zigzagging structure and largely spare instrumentation (an acoustic guitar, a pair of human hands, a synthesizer, a drum machine, little else). True to the form of How To Dress Well’s most memorable compositions, “Words I Don’t Remember” reaches an intense emotional climax. Its coda finds Krell chanting wordlessly in what’s either great ecstasy or distress, depending on your mood at the moment. Both his voice and the sonic tidal wave on which it rides, however, are unambiguously radiant. [Peter Tabakis]
Sun Kil Moon, "Carissa"
In terms of storytelling, Mark Kozelek employs a unique methodology: The only imagination that should be at work should be that of the storyteller. On the receiving end, any sort of decryption is unnecessary, because he almost always paints in primaries. Does it run the risk of eliciting boredom? Absolutely. But as perfectly illustrated by, “Carissa,” the opening track to Sun Kil Moon’s near-flawless LP Benji, the approach doesn’t really matter so long as the substance is captivating enough.
Running just short of seven minutes, “Carissa,” more than anything, is a brutally poignant lamentation over a lost family member. Admittedly, this theme runs rampant across nearly every square inch of Benji, but no track on the album quite nails the emotional disarray associated with death—especially when it comes as a surprise—like “Carissa” does. Rife with Sun Kil Moon’s signature melodic wax and wane, the track trades in characteristic lyrical structure for a commitment to telling the story as directly and succinctly as possible. Kozelek’s guitar becomes the ethereal complement to the message, transforming an otherwise dismal sentiment into something viscous and utterly beguiling. Rather than shifting aimlessly from left to right, “Carissa” saunters up and down with a graceful confidence that can only be achieved after experiencing and overcoming the death of family. “In this senseless tragedy, O Carissa, I’ll sing your name across every sea,” Kozelek declares. And sing he does. With conviction and poise. [A big PMA welcome to: Austin Reed]
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib, "High (featuring Danny Brown)"
I’ve been crushing pretty hard lately on Piñata, the recently released Freddie Gibbs and Madlib collaboration. Gibbs is a monster; every single lyrical twist, tangle and invariable turn he takes results in a trick altogether more stylish and more impressive than the one before it. His work on Piñata is his finest yet, and it would probably be the most trafficked talking point of the entire album if Madlib wouldn’t have gone and soaked the entire thing in his iconic brand of groove.
This type of blended creativity hits a particular apex on, “High,” a track that guests the graphic sincerity of Detroit rapper Danny Brown. “High,” operates less like a club-ready hip-hop tune and more like a draw-the-curtains slow jam with attention deficit disorder. Hell, it unapologetically changes tempo three separate times. Brown’s signature timbre delivers a clever contrast to Gibbs’ framework—a rhythmic arsenal that elevates and elevates until it all reaches preferred altitude. And Madlib intermittently jumps in and out, exploiting a sample from Freda Payne’s, “I Get High,” before eventually yanking the ripcord and letting the whole thing float safely to the ground. [Austin Reed]
Viet Cong, "Bunker Buster (Rough Mix)"
In September I'm driving with my friend Cam, sharing a beverage he has made that is instant coffee crystals stirred into regular black coffee. We are in Kitsap County, Washington, across Puget Sound from Seattle where the trees start to get thick and eerie and the shadow inscrutable and the land sectioned in farming plots and people have multiple junked motorcycles parked in front of their houses, and Cam puts on Women's "Lawncare," this rattling, unearthed-sounding song that feels like a robot made of car parts shuffling alive in the singularity or a storm blowing together on the gray sound or a series of small things collapsing. Quoth Cam - "They jam so econo." It's funny because if Women jammed econo it wasn't that they were economical in number of sounds. By all means Women were very much about very maximal sounds. It's economical music because it's made of only what it needs to be made of. It's a robot made of scrapped car parts shuffling because that's all it needs to move.
Now enter Viet Cong, two-thirds of Women's surviving members (guitarist Chris Reimer passed away at 25 in February 2011; guitarist Pat Flegel plays in Cindy Lee and Androgynous Mind) plus friends recruited out of fellow Calgary guitar pop weirdos Lab Coast and a Black Sabbath cover band; enter a sold-out tour cassette and a too-short stint of SXSW shows I rearranged my entire itinerary to catch, and a record deal with Mexican Summer and a rough, apparently unfinished mix of a song called "Bunker Buster," a very econo jam with a guitar groove circling like piranhas whose only really discernible lyrics are "going nowhere at all" and "tell me where you came from," enunciated in Matt Flegel's singular, recognizable bark that melts like a pure gold baby into a croon... I could say a lot about those lyrics in congress with Danny Christiansen and Monty Munro's perfectly discordant, dueling guitars sprinting round the ring road, with the wandering, serpentine loops Flegel's vocal line follows, not to mention I could say a lot about the latter lyric and how Flegel tells us where he comes from; it's in that smoldering, stinging guitar like sparks flying from metal cut with a buzzsaw, it's in that tightly reined-in maximalism (hardcore econo jamming), but I will mostly say a little about how Flegel is very much not going nowhere, about forward propulsion as hypnotic as a swinging watch, about disparate parts welded together at the joints slouching out of the forest toward Bethlehem to be born. [Genevieve Oliver]