This week on Tracking – a regular series in which we discuss our current favorite songs – you can listen to additions from Drake, TV on the Radio, Cut Copy, Omar Souleyman/Four Tet, FKA twigs, BANKS, Washed Out and Jon Hopkins/Purity Ring.
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Drake - "Hold On, We're Going Home"
The trail leading up to Drake’s rapidly approaching Nothing Was The Same has been littered with earwormy, often attention-grabbing early releases (think the titular shock value of “Girls Like Beyoncé” or the now over-quoted, nigh-inescapable refrain off “Started From the Bottom”). However, Drake’s latest offering is devoid of the self-aggrandizing lines and limericks that previously proved so endearing, or polarizing, depending on your tolerance for braggadocio; not to mention his smoothest work yet.
“Hold On We’re Going Home” tones down the hip-hop and dials up the R&B, finding Drake in the position of a troubadour who, having temporarily discarded his spitfire lyrics, resorts to the croon of a lullaby. It is not a particularly novel direction, and one well-traversed in recent memory (here’s looking at you, Miguel), but Drake puts his inimitable touch on the track, making it feel like something utterly revolutionary, and allowing “Hold On We’re Going Home” to join the collection of standout tracks he has assembled in his relatively short career. Even among such company, this song is a standout; an enticing morsel of sultry easy-listening for the end of the night as the disco ball’s turn slows to a crawl and the dance floor is decorated in drowsy flecks of silver incandescence. One thing is certain: nothing will be the same knowing Drake is capable of a slow-jam gem of this caliber. - Jean-Luc Marsh
TV on the Radio - "Mercy"
TV on the Radio's sound is easy to identify but impossible to predict. It's a rare feat for a band that has been making near-impeccable music for over a decade. After the song starts it's anyone's guess as to what comes next. Nine Types of Light was a far cry from the shifting post-punk and anthemic rock of Return to Cookie Mountain but it still surprised in satisfying ways. After the tragic passing of keyboardist Gerard Smith, it was even more unclear exactly what kind of sonic direction new TVOTR might take. “Mercy,” the first new material from an as of yet unannounced LP, is a blistering shot out of the gate. It's a gritty stomper that lays sheets of new wave synths over Kyp Malone's rugged guitar line.
The band hasn't touched on anything this aggressive since the climaxes on Dear Science, and even then there was a more soulful bent to the melodies. “Mercy” is all about spitting distortion and eery synth arrangements. The drumming whips at a rapid pace, sixteenth notes pushing the track into a soaring finish. The last thirty seconds unleash piercing squeaks and even more fuzz atop background vocals that coo in a less comforting and more unsettling kind of way.
Tunde Adebimpe's lyrics are another intriguing collection of images and feelings that don't quite fit into a linear narrative. These are dark thoughts, full of lethal people and stained souls. He laments that he sees “tons of people lookin lost and lethal” and he thinks “we're all the same.” The most troubling thought comes on the chorus: “I just can't keep the stain from my soul/ It burns so cold/ It's got to go.” As always, his remarkable voice is charged with personality and emotion such that you can almost see him spreading his arms wide as he stretches out the final syllables.
“Mercy” is an unexpectedly explosive track that immediately makes new TVOTR an even more eagerly awaited event than it already was. - Drew Malmuth
Cut Copy - "Let Me Show You"
“Don’t need to pray / Don’t need to bow / But we are true believers when the sun goes down.” Within seconds of starting, “Let Me Show You,” the latest opus bestowed upon us by Australian electro wizards Cut Copy, establishes itself as a rhythm better saved for the night. This is fitting, considering how the track is driven by a menagerie of futuristic synthesizers, many of which sound like twinkling stars and science fiction spaceship noises. It’s a whimsy best saved for after the sun goes down, and Cut Copy does not disappoint in this six minute flight of fancy.
Following in the polished, pop-oriented footsteps of Cut Copy’s last LP, Zonoscope; “Let Me Show You” is another in a long line of electro jams with its eyes on the dance floor. What makes it, and Cut Copy as whole, so alluring, is how none of the indie quirkiness and sparkle is lost in the transition. Where others sacrifice substance in order to conform to the current sonic trends, Cut Copy boldly goes where others do not dare, exploring the periphery of pop, and returning with some dazzling treasures. In comparison to the majority of contemporary pop, “Let Me Show You” is bizarre, bewitching, and just what the doctor ordered. Best of all, this is only the first step of Cut Copy’s latest trek into the unknown. There are more treasures to come. - JLM
Omar Souleyman x Four Tet - "Wenu Wenu"
Searching for a little dose of culture to go along with that club banger you can’t not move to? Look no further than “Wenu Wenu” by Syrian artist Omar Souleyman. He may not exactly be a household name in the States yet, but that’s to be expected with lyrics in Arabic (though anything is in the realm of possibility after the baffling and beautiful success of “Gangnam Style”).
Souleyman gives a decent vocal performance (it’s difficult to judge the musical quality of lyrics in a foreign language, but they sound pleasant enough) composed primarily of a raspy ode to the one that got away, but the production by Four Tet steals the show and propels “Wenu Wenu” from a pedestrian love song to a track begging to be played at the nearest discotheque. It is a testament to Four Tet’s instrumental prowess that despite lasting a marathon seven minutes, “Wenu Wenu” never feels stale. He devises an ever-shifting sonic riot featuring what at first listen appears to be everything but the kitchen sink. In reality, the confluence of handclaps, a robust drumbeat, a synthesizer ditty that goes for days, and a chorus of chanting men, results in an infectious Arabesque-electro odyssey, dipped in all kinds of kaleidoscopic colors. Already bursting with vitality, all “Wenu Wenu” really needs to explode at this point is a hot new dance craze to go with it. - JLM
FKA twigs - "Water Me"
Trip-hop, a term that accurately implies consistently inconsistent beats tripping over each other in a dub-state of wobbling harmony, is a specific and acquired taste. FKA twigs (formerly just Twigs), the trip-hop vocalist from Gloucestershire, is a fresh face to look out for if you’re one to find existential comfort in unusual electronic sounds. She embodies the breathy vocal innocence of Grimes and Die Antwoord’s Yolandi Visser, while scraping chunky bass off the plates of James Blake and Shlohmo.
Her newest single from the upcoming EP2, “Water Me,” opens with anonymous whispers over hollow bass undertones, before expanding to hammering textures in what sounds to be a creation of vast, grey sonic space. It’s the spacey result of her collaboration with producer Arca (Kanye West’s Yeezus), known for his torrentially dark and weird dubstep mixes.
The few lyrics on “Water Me” provoke substantial contemplation; the entire second verse flows: “He told me I was so small/I told him ‘water me’/I promise I can grow tall/When making love is free.” It asks us to imagine a lost and vulnerable soul in search of guidance and immaterial pleasure. The vacancies of Arca’s echoing production allow us to hear her cry, as do her simple tones and verses on repeat.
“Water Me” is accompanied by an entrancing music video featuring a close-up of FKA twigs’ wide-eyed face, dramatized by digitally enlarged features (think anime eyes) and a solitary cartoon tear. Not much happens at all, but that’s the mood of a contemplative track- leaving room for you to think along with it and numbingly stare at her mechanically pivoting face. - Adrienne Thomas
BANKS - "Waiting Game"
BANKS is the elusive and stunningly beautiful LA singer & pianist to look out for this year. Producers featured on her Soundcloud page include SOHN (“Waiting Game”), Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs and Snakehips, guiding our taste for sultry R&B falsettos towards a slow and heavy electronic floor. “Waiting Game,” SOHN and BANKS’ latest addition to her 3 original tracks thus far, digs deeper down past pop music’s threshold veneer, leaving her previous single, the TEED-produced “Warm Water” feeling like just an ordinary radio single.
“Waiting Game” is a heartfelt confession from BANKS- a space to express the prospect of clichéd lovisms and their haunting potential to become reality. She sings about insecurity within relationships, “What if the way we started made it something cursed from the start/What if it only gets colder/Would you still wrap me up and tell me that you think this was smart.” It's dark and sexy and sometimes disarming.
Grinding and simple, “Waiting Game” is a brief crescendo of piano and heavy backdrop distortions. Occupying the popular dichotomy between angelic sounds and layers of distress (think Ellie Goulding or Sleigh Bells), BANKS is intriguing to a subset of listeners already interested in paradox. She sets a deeper standard for fellow nightclub songbirds working their way towards soulful R&B careers (it's no coincidence that she's opening for The Weeknd next month), employing honesty and casual emotion in her music while maintaining a mysterious identity outside it. - AT
Washed Out - "It Feels All Right"
It all feels right indeed, Mr. Greene. Paracosm, Washed Out's newest album, is essentially an aural defense of being happy and grateful, living in a serene world and not sweating the little stuff, man. “It All Feels Right,” then, is the album's thesis statement. Aside from the slightly heavy-handed nature noises, Greene uses adept songwriting and spot-on aesthetic choices to create an entirely pleasing world for the listener to seep into. The off-beat acoustic guitar rhythm. Spaced-out vocals bathed in reverb. A psychedelic synth softly buzzing in the background. This is all backed up by live drumming that gives the song more of a soft-rock feel than anything else Greene has produced. Gone are the gauzy textures and bedroom-dance rhythms. In general, the track is engineered to accompany breezy days on the beach rather than make-out sessions in dark basements.
It's arguable that “It All Feels Right” doesn't quite leave an imprint like the best tunes on Within and Without or Life of Leisure. It is true that it is less engaging, not quite as interested in grabbing the listener's attention. But that's likely the point. Paracosm is meant to push the listener into a world outside of the album not suck him or her into Greene's headspace. There is some slack in the album because of that approach but, on tunes like “It All Feels Right,” those concerns feel irrelevant. The song is able to capture a simple, peaceful feeling and permeate it into whoever may be listening. That's no small feat and it's a reminder that we should never underestimate the importance of songs that are written simply to make people happy. - DM
Jon Hopkins x Purity Ring - "Breathe This Air"
Jon Hopkin's latest album Immunity is a complex, sweeping take on techno and progressive house. Given that the atmosphere of the songs often rests on the lack of vocals, we were surprised to see a version of “Breath This Air” with Purity Ring's Megan James. Then again, Hopkins has remixed Purity Ring (“Saltkin” and “Amenamy”) and the two are slated for dates in L.A. Plus, and most importantly, the vocal version is gorgeous. It's shaped into a very different tune – James' vocals add a sweet pop element that was absent from the original – but it retains the eery piano line and slow-moving garage rhythm.
With James' echoey falsetto the track becomes more of a song proper than an off-kilter, gesticulating dance track. This obscures some of what made Immunity so interesting but it adds new layers of accessibility and tenderness – exactly the kind of transformation that a rework should entail. It also allows Jame's voice to inhabit a more gritty electronic atmosphere than Shrines delves into. Her voice sits perfectly within Purity Ring's serene slabs of sound but alongside Hopkins' more jagged textures there is something even more insecure in her tone. It's an interesting direction for both artists and a track that build's something lovely from dingy, haunting elements. - DM