This week on Tracking, a weekly series in which we discuss our favorite songs of the year, you can listen to additions from Major Lazer, Death Grips, Nicki Minaj, Alabama Shakes, Lotus Plaza and Screaming Females. (Click on the arrows to navigate through the songs.)
Major Lazer - "Get Free" f/ Amber of Dirty Projectors (1of6)
"Get Free" is likely Diplo and co.’s most slow-burning track to date, but that doesn’t mean their famously crazy beats have gone anywhere – in fact, thoughtful Major Lazer might have yielded one of their best offerings so far. On “Get Free,” an classic reggae bass pulse gets buried underwater and under cutting synth planes, arpeggiating keyboard riffs, and, most strikingly, Dirty Projector Amber Coffman’s cut up, layered, sometimes distorted, always sublime wail. Lazer and Amber are meant to work together – their mutual tastes for complex rhythms yield a really amazing, seamless collaboration.
Death Grips - "I've Found Footage" & "Hacker" (2of6)
One of our favorite hip-hop records in recent memory is Death Grips’ upcoming The Money Store, and two immediate highlights are tge new single "I've Seen Footage" and the ferocious album closer "Hacker," just because Zach Hill and Andy Morin’s production sounds like club remixes of garage psych-rock and Stefan Burnett raps fast and brutal and totally singular. The end product is avant-garde only because it’s like little else you’ve heard before, not because it’s inaccessible. Try not to have this stuck in your head all day, we dare you.
Nicki Minaj - "Beez In The Trap" (3of6)
As critical as I am of Nicki Minaj's largely misguided sophomore album Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, “Beez in the Trap” was one of the few songs I replayed instead of skipping right through. Sadly it’s the only track produced by Kenoe on the entire disc –– he’s responsible for Lil Wayne’s most poignant moment yet, “Nightmares at the Bottom.” You’ll hear that same sunken beat down below followed closely by a muffled high-pitch alternating synth that adds considerable weight to seductive verses “I’ll spend a couple thou just to bust that open” and “So if you need a hit then I’ll whip that bat.” College Park, Georgia is home to 2005 NBA Slam Dunk Champion Josh “J-Smoove” Smith and Tauheed Epps aka 2 Chainz. He really knows how to cut to the chase when he rises from the murky depths spitting rhymes: “Now Nicki, Nicki, Nicki / Let me put it in your kitty / Got a new LS 450 / Ain’t no keys in this doo-hicky.” He goes hard until the subwoofers fade away, leaving only that incredible, tight little synapse popping the rest of the night away.
Lotus Plaza "Monoliths" (4of6)
Lotus Plaza’s “Monoliths” has been a fantastic song since it was a demo called “Monolith Rock,” buried in Coco Art’s yearly holiday compilation along with offerings from every other Deerhunter side project that exists, and masked in the ample reverb and echo it’s taken Lockett Pundt until pretty much now to scrub off the surface of his music, so it’s no wonder the version that figures as centerpiece on Spooky Action at a Distance is the summer jam to end all summer jams. “Monoliths” is maybe the best example of Spooky Action’s very literal revelatory quality – this is a song that’s always sounded, even in scuzzy demo form, like the windows down and the wind in your hair driving into the sun melting across the horizon, like plunging from a rope swing into sweet cold dark water, but now that vision is so clear, so immediate, so brilliant that you can see it when you close your eyes. One of these days, I hope I come around.
Alabama Shakes - "Hold On" (5of6)
Lately Southern rock has gotten a bad name when it strays from its roots (see: Kings of Leon), which is good for Alabama Shakes, who are (the clue’s in the name) all about roots. “Hold On,” the first single from their debut record Boys & Girls, is adamant that those roots are in the garage, in dusky bars – chugging, bluesy guitar and bass riffs, a reverb-soaked, electric outro that rattles your bones and sends chills up your spine – but most importantly, frontwoman’s Brittany Howard’s husky, elastic wail sounds like 1. that of no other woman in the world, 2. that of someone who incontrovertibly means what they say. When she sings herself into her song (“There must be someone up above saying, come on Brittany, you got to come on up!”) it’s like you know you’re seeing into her heart – and that’s where those roots really are.
Screaming Females - "Expire" (6of6)
Screaming Females have, deservingly, made hay with that fucking riffage. The only word we can use to describe singer / guitarist / frontwoman extraordinaire Marissa Paternoster are that she absolutely slays, in every sense of the word – absolutely brutal guitar riffs, a surprisingly elastic voice that yelps here and wheedles there and then serenades like a metal balladeer, bitingly sarcastic lyrics – which is why we’re surprised as hell that Ugly’s recent release was kind of overlooked. This is a record that contains songs like “Expire,” the brutal pop-punk kiss-off you’ve been searching for your entire life. Paternoster’s voice goes from a deepening croon to a sharp, mocking bark in zero to sixty, and her electrifying riffs will be stuck in your head eternally if her non-female rhythm section doesn’t make you deaf first. Try to resist; you can't. Their new album, Ugly is out now.