Tracking Our Favorite Songs of 2013 #7

This week on Tracking, we discuss Daft Punk, Young Galaxy, James Blake, Deerhunter, The National and Justin Timberlake.

This week on Tracking – a regular series in which we discuss our current favorite songs – you can listen to additions from Daft Punk, Young Galaxy, James Blake, Deerhunter, The National and Justin Timberlake.

(Click on the arrows to navigate through the songs.)

Daft Punk - "Get Lucky"

“Get Lucky” arrived at 12:01 a.m. last Friday, following the kind of hype and fanfare that usually greets a new iteration of an Apple device. At 12:02 came the inevitable backlash from a vocal minority of Daft Punk fans. According to the poll at the bottom of our "Get Lucky" post, about a third of PMA readers dislike the track, or are at least confused by it.

Though I'm firmly with the majority on this one, the mixed-to-negative response seems quite understandable. The French duo have already stated their creative goal for Random Access Memories was to invoke the signature Daft Punk sound primarily with live instruments and a bare minimum of machinery. “Get Lucky” follows suit, the song essentially being a duet between Pharrell Williams’ vocal (at the forefront, jarringly so for the song’s detractors) and Nile Rodgers’ magnetic fretwork. Throw in some hand claps, a sly bass line, and – in a moment of true fan-service – the familiar presence of a vocoder and there you have it: another terrific (or awful!!!) Daft Punk single. Of course the song’s strength – its effortlessness – is also one of its most controversial aspects. Still, I’d argue that by not fussing with Rodgers’ and Williams’ first-rate contributions, Daft Punk showcase the pitch-perfect disco melody that forms the heart of “Get Lucky.”

Of Daft Punk's four studio albums, “Get Lucky” is their third polarizing lead single. Lest we forget, “One More Time” scandalized Homework purists when it was first released. Five years later, “Robot Rock” was met with lukewarm reception by fans of Discovery. Both songs are now generally considered gems of Daft Punk’s catalog and stage show. Given some time, and maybe a live-reinvention, I suspect “Get Lucky” will likewise shimmy into the hearts of its haters – as it already has for the rest of us. – Peter Tabakis


Young Galaxy - "New Summer"

Young Galaxy hit the nail on the head with this one. “New Summer” is an emotive tour de force that summons a myriad of conflicting emotions upon each listen and the subsequent discovery of nuances not previously noticed. It has the potential to one day stand on par with Cyndi Lauper’s ubiquitous “Time After Time,” delivering a similar passionate punch while also being crafted for a slow, celestial waltz. Amidst the shimmering miasma of synthesizers, summer vibes, and melancholia, is a track that stops time.

In just four minutes, the entire spectrum of juvenile, estival emotion is captured and communicated. Love is found, reckoned with, and lost. Loss itself becomes a central theme, and the holding on to the liquid emotions that flow out between your fingers, an integral motif in the tableau. “Here it comes again the beautiful warm weather / right before the end of everything forever” reflects vocalist Catherine McCandless, adding to the atmosphere of surreal finality. “New Summer” is not your dime-a-dozen warm weather easy listening. It is the exploration of what happens after the glitter is gone and the ballad is over. One night remains between you and the great unknown. The choice is yours: spend it as you would any other, or “go for a ride / with the windows down and the stereo loud,” savoring the last moments of a dream that you may never have again. – Jean-Luc Marsh


James Blake - "Overgrown"

The fear of decay is one that plagues humanity, preying on and destroying our dreams of preservation and longevity. Decay is the only constant. It is this issue that James Blake grapples with on “Overgrown,” the eponymous track off his sophomore effort.

“I don’t wanna be a star / but a stone on the shore” he confesses in his characteristic warble, wishing to trade the fugacity of glamour for the durability of simplicity. But even stones waste away as the waves of the shore erode them to dust. The same happens to the instrumentation that amasses beyond his crooning. A fleeting riff of the ivories and a constant percussive companion grow into a nearly orchestral, sweeping sound, at once spare and expressive. It is a testament to Blake’s ability that such an extraterrestrial sound can seem so familiar and so organic. It rises from a most inhospitable soil, and billows in the gentle gales. Then, almost cruelly, the rhythm is cut short and fades into the distance, decaying along with everything else, becoming ground down again into its essential components. It seems, at least on this occasion, that Blake elected to be a star, endowing “Overgrown” with a subdued magnificence that will allow it to last a little bit longer in the face of the inevitable. – Jean-Luc Marsh


Deerhunter - "Monomania"

Deerhunter teased their last record Halcyon Digest with two singles, “Revival” and “Helicopter,” the former just over two minutes of shambolic nostalgia on bright, clean guitars, the latter, with its reeling percussion stagger, effects-laden guitars, and lucid Dennis Cooperian lyrics, one of their strangest and most eerily beautiful songs. Entirely on the contrary, Deerhunter teased their upcoming record Monomania with the record’s title track, jagged, noisy, and snarling, winding out and dissolving into the sound of an engine spluttering, and a performance of it on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon during which frontman Bradford Cox bandaged two fake blood-covered fingers and strolled through the studio halls to the elevator whilst the rest of his band played that stunning coda riff until it shattered. Most bands couldn’t and/or wouldn’t dream of getting away with five records with five distinct sounds (or six with six, if you count Weird Era Cont.) over just about eight years, with absurd theatricality on live TV, with the sunniest pop guitar tag lilting over the bridge of one of the heaviest songs they’ve ever released, and especially not with an opening line like “My only boy couldn’t leave his lady,” but Deerhunter are – assertively, defiantly, and delightfully – not most bands. – Genevieve Oliver


The National - "Demons"

We’re not sure how it took the National until their sixth record to write a song called “Demons,” because all of the National’s songs are about demons, when you boil it down – demons like jadedness, trouble in love, drinking your feelings, urban ennui, you know the kind, have possessed Matt Berninger’s lyrics and meditative baritone vocals and the rest of his band’s taste for huge guitar and drum sounds and haunting piano licks since their self-titled 2001 record. Berninger confesses as though to a priest – “I’m secretly in love with everyone I grew up with, to my crying underwater I can’t get down any farther” – but he’s not looking for absolution; that chorus, “I stay down with my demons,” undercut with layers of brilliant guitar echo, sounds not only resigned to the fact but almost euphoric, like walking through the cities of your youth as thunderclouds shift past the sun. It lights up for just a second but it’s long enough. – Genevieve Oliver


Justin Timberlake - "Mirrors"

It’s now been just about two months since Justin Timberlake released his bombastic anthem, “Mirrors.” But it’s hard to shake the feeling that the song was released closer to 13 years ago.

Of course, hopping into the metaphorical Delorean and taking that 13-year journey would bring us back to the dawn of the millennium and, consequently, to the peak of *NYSNC mania. Masters of the heart-on-sleeve emotion required of boy bands at the time, Timberlake and company dominated our radio airwaves and Napster downloads, selling out arenas across the country on their No Strings Attached tour.

Now, JT finds himself in the second phase of a career in which he has twice been a pop icon – first as a teenage heartthrob, now as a buttoned-up, do-it-all showman. He’s come a long way from his boy band days – The 20/20 Experience is loaded with ambitious demonstrations of lengthy neo-soul and futuristic pop. But throughout Timberlake’s 10-year solo career, in which he has been officially legitimized as a mature, adult pop star, he’s thankfully never entirely shed the persona of N*Sync’s endlessly earnest 19-year-old front-man - a hint of that delightful cheesiness has always stayed with him.

No track emphasizes Timberlake’s connection to his roots better than “Mirrors,” essentially a thrilling 8-minute upgrade of a traditional N*Sync track. Timbaland’s production is drenched with vocal filters, synthesizers and hand-clapped percussion that give it a wonderfully old-school pop feel – it’s what we thought sounded futuristic back in 2000. And that’s not a bad thing - on an album that occasionally tries too hard to be “innovative,” the radio-friendly, unabashed pop grandeur of “Mirrors” is remarkably refreshing and nostalgia inducing.

When performed live, the song’s landmark moment has been its central clap-along breakdown. The glossy synths and slithering drums drop out entirely and give way to Timberlake’s voice, joined by only the clapping hands of his exuberant bandmates and adoring fans, who will belt this anthem along with him at stadiums across the country this summer – just as they did 13 years ago. – Adam Offitzer