This week on Tracking – a regular series in which we discuss our current favorite songs – you can listen to additions from Chance the Rapper, Daft Punk, The Weeknd, Laura Marling, Glass Candy, Smith Westerns and Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings. (Use the blue arrows to navigate through the feature.)
Chance The Rapper - "Chain Smoker"
Chance the Rapper’s Acid Rap is good, great, and then killer. “Chain Smoker”, the Frank Ocean hat tipping, cathartic, mixtape-closing, powder keg is exactly the finish Acid Rap deserves. The rolling piano, the whip snare, the high hi-hat, all sewn together by giddy time changes would be an awesome song as it is. Chance more than rises to the occasion, firing on all cylinders, as he showcases his impressive vocal range, and his refreshingly quirky rhymes and delivery. The message provides a nice wrap up to the themes of the mixtape: Hi, I’m Chance, and yes, I’m having as much fun as this sounds. This song is summer’s offspring, and I dare you to try and make it through “that part” without smiling or bobbing your head. What part? Oh you’ll see. – Nick McGourty
Daft Punk + Panda Bear - "Doin' It Right"
If the outstanding new Daft Punk album Random Access Memories has an oddball track, it’s not the Paul Williams fantasia “Touch,” but the Panda Bear feature “Doin’ It Right.” The song comes just before the conclusion of RAM’s prolonged French kiss to genres and studio techniques best remembered by the parents of the duo’s most enthusiastic fans. “Doin’ It Right” has no hints of the EDM that Daft Punk inspired, but it at least feels in step with music produced in the last few years (read: Panda Bear’s last album).
The more I listen to “Doin’ It Right” apart from the album’s sprawling sequence (which I became intimately familiar with while preparing for my review), the crazier it sounds. The song could have been the first single to a very different Daft Punk album, one where spare electronic production supports front-and-center vocal performances. That version of Random Access Memories would have fit comfortably within Daft Punk’s trajectory, which is the very reason why the duo avoided it, even at the potential cost of a large part of their audience.
“Doin’ It Right” is by far the safest composition on Random Access Memories. Still, if a song were worthy of the title “Instant Crush,” it’s not RAM’s Julian Casablancas track, but this fantastic Panda Bear showcase. Noah Lennox’s piercing tenor carries “Doin’ It Right,” while the robots’ vocal loop subs for a Nile Rodgers guitar lick and a freaking machine play the drums. Only on an album where facing backwards feels so fresh could a track this of-the-moment sound utterly retro. – Peter Tabakis
The Weeknd - "Kiss Land"
"I went from starin’ at the same four walls for 21 years/ To seein’ the whole world in just twelve months.” So sings Abel Tesfaye on “Kiss Land,” the title track to The Weeknd’s sophomore album. It’s a telling lyric, especially given the drug-fueled tawdriness of his excellent collection of 2011 mixtapes that became his debut album Trilogy. Snorting rails of coke off a Toronto call girl? Boring. Tesfaye now has fame and the world is his strip club. Not that he appears to be having anything close to fun on “Kiss Land.” Boastful glimpses of jet-setting notwithstanding, the song’s description of sex – drained of all sensuality, naturally – is familiar Tesfaye terrain. And yet, as usual, The Weeknd almost makes self-loathing sound sexy, this time atop brooding electronics, female screams, and a sped-up vocal loop.
The second half of the almost eight-minute-long track essentially one-ups Trilogy’s most troubling anecdotes with outright death wish. The track matches all the drug mixing and 110 mph joyriding with eerie, echoed vocal ambiance and the harsh patter of a drum machine. At the song’s come down, he sings “This ain’t nothing to relate to/ Even if you tried.” These words could be read as swagger, out of context. Coming at the end of “Kiss Land,” they’re a clear warning: Keep away if you know what’s good for you. – Peter Tabakis
Laura Marling - "Master Hunter"
Laura Marling’s a master hunter. Who knows how a 23-year-old Brit found her voice in bluesy Americana, all echoey twanging guitar and Dylan references, as though she were telling you her stories from a rocking chair on a general store porch in the distant blue mountains somewhere beyond the passage of time, but Marling gets bitter deadpans and the sweetest sarcasm out of her choir-of-angels voice like an expert, because she is an expert.
“Master Hunter” sounds like an event in and of itself, so when she repeats “I have some news; I have some news,” she’s calling your attention when she’s already got it, as though to drive in with her bootheel a kind of multireferential, winking dig: “You’re not sad, you live for the blues.” You live to hear Marling’s blues, or maybe to hold yours over her head, but: “Wrestling the rope from darkness is no fucking life that I would choose.” She shuts you down like it’s the end of her tallest tale about fighting the devil with her bare hands. – Genevieve Oliver
Glass Candy - "Warm in the Winter"
Rare is the occasion in which one of the best power-pop tracks of recent memory is not found on the latest offering by Lady Gaga or the ambitious debut of some preternaturally endowed Scandinavian upstart. “Warm In the Winter” by Portland duo Glass Candy, is a diamond in the rough, glittering with a kaleidoscopic joie de vivre in the least likely of places. It remains stubbornly resplendent even as its companions, the remaining fourteen songs on noir connoisseur Johnny Jewel’s After Dark 2, skew in a darker direction.
Dense with synthesizers from beginning to end, the myriad layers of “Warm In the Winter” intertwine to play the parts of percussion and melodic advancement simultaneously. However, Ida No, the lyrical half of Glass Candy, is the one who transforms the track from a nondescript synth-pop ditty into an uplifting, glamorous self-validation. From her first reverberated shout, she enters ecstasy and continues onward with a child-like, wide-eyed intensity. “I’m crazed like a monkey … Happy like a new year,” she announces gleefully. Every emotional barrier is broken in a subsequent spoken interlude as No welcomes everyone and anyone with open arms, proclaiming “I love you!” at the top of her lungs. Her bliss is infectious and the synths reciprocate, climbing to neon heights, twinkling like falling sapphires, and blooming in vast strokes of triumphant sound in a vain attempt to match the unbridled joy in her vocal cartwheels. The result is a track that transcends pop. “Warm In the Winter” is a portal to a place of euphoria, where the key to happiness is tangible and there for the taking. – Jean-Luc Marsh
Smith Westerns - "3AM Spiritual"
When Smith Westerns released “Varsity” back in March, we at PMA were blown away by the newfound clarity in the band’s sound. The echo was still present, but the vocals were less filtered, the guitars less fuzzy, the vision less foggy. “With their first new track in over two years,” we said, “Smith Westerns have added a bit more polish to their music, and the shine is visible.”
“3AM Spiritual” tries out this new formula again, and the results are stunning. When Cullen Omori’s voice comes in, it's unmasked by washed-over production, instead providing an instantly crisp, warm tone. The clarity is crucial – this song could’ve easily been a typical hazy, faded dream-rock jam, but instead it’s a beautiful, Beatles-esque wall of sound, with gorgeous harmonies, high-pitched synthesizers and sun-drenched guitars. The song’s title couldn’t be more perfect. If you find yourself up one night at 3AM, not feeling your best, give this track a play. It may not be a spiritual experience, but it will undoubtedly provide a much-needed jolt of warmth, happiness, and clarity. – Adam Offitzer
Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings - "Retreat"
Everything about “Retreat!” is massive, right down to the exclamation point in the title. Jones’ voice, as usual, is a force of nature – rising high above bop-along drums and tambourine crashes. “Play with me and you’ll play with fire,” she belts. “Do you hear what I say?” If not, she makes sure you get the point by the end. A full choir and a barrage of blaring horns join along as she wails “retreat!” with the conviction of someone who really means it. If Jones was singing this directly to you, you’d have no choice but to obey her request – the song works as a direct threat; a warning to back off, or else. But since we're fortunately not the target of Jones’ anger, we’ll be happy to replay instead of retreat, enjoying Jones’ powerful, surging vocals and the frenetic, frenzied brass section over and over again. – Adam Offitzer