May 16th, 2013 12:34pm
I remember a few weeks ago Ian Cohen tweeting something to the effect of how Devon Welsh of Majical Cloudz could’ve made a killing ghost writing the new Depeche Mode album, and everyone would’ve been better off for it. This stuck in my head, and it surfaces every time I hear this song, which is basically the best Depeche Mode song since the early 90s by a wide margin. Not to sell Welsh short, though: He’s got his own thing going, and so few people are good at this sort of stylish, melodramatic hyper-masculine balladry that it’s always welcome. This is excellent “brooding guy walking through the city in the rain, thinking about his many regrets” music.
May 15th, 2013 11:25am
“Make Me Lovely” is one of those rare, special songs that is both marvelously ambitious and seemingly effortless in its construction. There’s a lot of things coming together here – mannered neo-soul, nuanced orchestration, a touch of jazz, a melodic sensibility somewhere between ’70s Paul McCartney and prime Stevie Wonder. The composition mirrors the epic turmoil of the lyrics, in which Mvula attempts to distance herself from a partner who could not accept her as she is, and tried to make her into something else: “I can’t make you love me / you can’t make me lovely.” The music, with its 20th century glamor, make the declarative lines come across as magical epiphanies, and each time the musical stakes are raised, she sounds closer to a point of being entirely rid of this person who has held her back.
May 14th, 2013 11:58am
A lot of songs that implore the listener to “do something” with their lives can seem awfully smug and self-satisfied, but R.E.M.’s “Get Up” side-steps that trap by making it clear from the start that the singer is addressing himself as much as the audience. The lyrics are intentionally vague about what Michael Stipe wants us all to do, but the basic point is abundantly clear: No matter who we are or what we do, we need to resist the empty comforts of apathy and become active members of society. The song is meant to apply to everyone, whether they are a teenager who needs some kind of permission to pursue a life in the arts or sciences, an office worker who needs the extra push to get involved with local politics, or a member of a pop band who needs to do more than just indulge in hedonism.
As noted by Marcus Gray in his book It Crawled From The South, “Get Up” is essentially a “lullaby in reverse.” The song hops in place like an impatient and excited little kid, and its peppy bubblegum hooks place it among the most joyous and immediately ingratiating songs in the band’s repertoire. It also boasts a rather clever arrangement full of interesting details that aren’t exactly subtle, but fit together without distracting the listener from the tune. The chorus features one of the best examples of the band’s contrary approach to writing lyrics for background vocals — as Michael sings “dreams they complicate my life,” Bill Berry counters him with “dreams they complement my life.” It’s not really an argument, though. Even if the song is an exhortation to action, it acknowledges that our dreams supply us with an essential motivation as long as we don’t get lost within them.
May 13th, 2013 11:33am
“I want to know, does it bother you? / the low click of a ticking clock.” Yes, yes it does. Nearly every song on Modern Vampires of the City reckons with the inevitability of time running out, and to be honest with you, it really gets under my skin. Ezra Koenig mentions death a lot, but in some ways, it’s hyperbolic – it’s not about death, it’s about the fear of adulthood, and surrendering the possibilities of youth. Koenig’s characters sense doors closing behind them at every turn, and feel the weight of decisions they might have not considered to be particularly important even just a few years ago. “Don’t Lie” is a love song, really, but the urgency of the romantic feeling is amped up by morbidity – “there’s a headstone right in front of you, and everyone I know.” The feelings are strong, but the character is caught up in the anxious rush to find more experiences, and the fear that making a commitment is a death sentence for their youth.
May 10th, 2013 12:09pm
It’s hard to remember what music was like before chipmunked soul vocals. I mean, I lived through that time, but it’s a haze – just a slightly more drab version of life without this particular surefire path to immediate joy. Bibio is breaking no new ground in “You” – you’re probably familiar with Kanye and Dilla, right? – but the song is glorious all the same, with mellow, slightly out-of-it phases bracketing a sample that just sorta bounces up in the mix. It sounds like a sudden moment of elation after you’ve sorta forgotten what that feels like.
May 9th, 2013 2:53am
I have to get this out of the way first: It is so weird to me that this guy goes by “Chance the Rapper” when his actual real name is Chancellor, which would be a perfectly decent rap name, especially in a world where one of the most popular rappers is called Drake and everyone is totally fine with it. Also, I find it really weird that when people write about him, no one ever seems to compare his voice or style to Lyrics Born from Latyrx. The only way this makes sense is if everyone just wants to pretend Lyrics Born and Latyrx never happened, which is…stupid, c’mon, do you really want to live in a world without “Lady Don’t Tek No”? No. But I really enjoy his voice and flow, and it’s nice to get back to that comfy Kanye-circa-College Dropout vibe, especially since there’s no way in hell Kanye himself is ever going back to that. Maybe it’s just a young sound? A lot of Chance’s mixtape is about reconnecting with an early childhood that was not very long ago, and I guess part of that is capturing this feeling that’s like a very soulful sort of innocence.
May 8th, 2013 2:18am
Deerhunter usually occupies a very dark and lonely emotional space, but “Dream Captain” is kind of an outlier – it’s not a goof or anything, but there’s a touch of levity and humor to its tone and lyrics. But still, despite that, it’s treading familiar thematic ground – Bradford is giving voice to a passive character who desperately wants this powerful alpha male to come along and pull him out of his life. There’s a notable tension between the way he sees himself, and how he imagines this guy, and it all comes out in the song’s funniest and also most resonant line – “I’m a boy-man, and you’re a MAN-MAN!” It’s a self-deprecating joke, but it seems to dig a bit deeper into serious self-loathing, or at least a feeling of frustration about the sort of masculinity he can’t inhabit.
May 7th, 2013 12:20pm
The soundtrack for Baz Luhrmann’s Great Gatsby is overflowing with big name artists and producers, but the best track on it is something of a dark horse. “Where the Wind Blows” is written and produced by veteran R&B songwriter Andrea Martin and sung by Coco O., the vocalist from the Danish R&B group Quadron. It’s a deceptively simple song, with Coco singing a neatly linked chain of hooks built around a snippet of jazz age piano. That sample is our tether to the setting of the film, but also a tip off that our singer is yearning for a sort of glamor and excitement that mostly exists in books, movies, or the past. It sets up a romantic thought that the vocals complete, as she sings craving endless fun, and wanting to make a real connection with someone despite enjoying the freedom of “being more single than anyone.” There’s a touch of sadness to this song, at least in knowing that she’s making impossible demands, but it’s mostly joyful as she essentially pledges herself to hedonism and the pursuit of simple satisfaction.
May 3rd, 2013 12:14pm
Here’s an interesting one: A jubilant yet slightly dour, Tears for Fears-like synth pop song about reconnecting with an old friend after a terrible falling out. This is a pretty good reason to feel jubilant, sure, but I don’t feel like I’ve heard many pop songs specifically about this, and the few that come to mind have a different mood. I quite like how clear-eyed and rational this sounds too – any trace of ill will is long gone, but very much acknowledged and taken seriously. Great guitar solo too – maybe a little corny, but absolutely fitting the tone of the piece without getting all winky-winky about it.
May 2nd, 2013 12:21pm
I wish I could tell whether or not Jai Paul intends for this song to be so lo-fi, or if the tracks on his leaked album sound the way they do because they’re unmastered demos. We’ll see? I certainly hope it’s just an unfinished thing because this song has one of the most imaginative and interesting arrangements of anything I’ve heard in the past year or so, and I just don’t think a vocal take that sounds like it was recorded on a cell phone off of a speaker phone in a large conference room is the best idea. I love the way “Str8 Outta Mumbai” keeps shifting around, tossing out ideas every few bars, sometimes just stopping on a dime to get another one in there. It’s an impatient vibe, for sure, but I whole heartedly believe that this song would be seriously next level if Jai Paul has the patience to take it there.