This was a feature that I used to do for the Daily Californian’s Arts & Entertainment blog. I decided to give it life again here. At the end of each month, I’ll post a feature highlighting five quality tracks released during that month.
1. Alabama Shakes: “Don’t Wanna Fight”
Alabama Shakes surprised everyone with their fully-formed, blues-rock debut Boys & Girls in 2012, gaining popularity on the back of lead single “Hold On.” The band makes their return this year, delighting us with the booming and gritty “Don’t Wanna Fight.” The instrumentation sounds like peak Brothers-era Black Keys, but with the always-impressive yowl of lead singer Brittany Howard.
2. Death Cab for Cutie: “No Room in Frame”
Death Cab have hit their stride again. Sadly, their stride seems to only exist in a space where Ben Gibbard is heartbroken. Since their joyous and boring 2011 album Codes and Keys, Gibbard has divorced Zooey Deschanel, and as a result, their upcoming album Kintsugi is showing all signs of being another sorrowful, deeply-affecting, and very good entry in their discography. The music on “No Room in Frame” (follow-up to their first single “Black Sun”) sounds crystal clear and really catchy, as Gibbard makes mournful references to Southern California — the “hum of the 5 in the early morning,” “Up through Coalinga through the Valley,” “It catches you on the coast / or on the cliffs of the Palisades” — as well as his failed relationship with Deschanel — “Was I in your way when the cameras turned to face you?” and “We will both go on getting lonely with someone else.”
3. Best Coast: “California Nights”
Where Death Cab often maligns sunny Los Angeles, Best Coast heartily embraces it — almost too much, most would probably say. But as an unapologetic Southern California native, I love it. In classic Best Coast form, the lyrics are predictably terrible, with obvious rhymes and absolutely no depth — “California nights make me feel so happy I could die, but I try to stay a alive.” But the grungy, shoegaze guitars and melody sound awesome.
4. Drake: “10 Bands”
Drake has built a double-persona as both a rapper and a soulful R&B singer, excelling at both. But on his new surprise mixtape If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, he is strictly a rapper. The beats are a lot more spare but still alluring, and Drake makes another solid argument for “greatest rapper alive,” jockeying for position with Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar. “10 Bands” is probably the catchiest track on the tape.
5. Father John Misty: “I Went to the Store One Day”
Josh Tillman (otherwise known as Father John Misty), whose outsized personality was a little too big to stay drumming for the more straight-laced Fleet Foxes, has released his second solo album I Love You Honeybear. On his debut album Fear Fun (check out the excellent “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings”, complete with video featuring Aubrey Plaza), Tillman introduced us to his penchant for sarcasm and disdain. On I Love You Honeybear, he grapples with a quality that doesn’t come naturally to him: sincerity. Closing track “I Went to the Store One Day” is not only gorgeous musically, with Tillman’s pretty-much-perfect baritone voice and acoustic picking, but lyrically as well, as he details how he met his now-wife at a country store in Laurel Canyon. He still peppers the lyrics with his idiosyncratic musings — “Don’t let me die in a hospital, I’ll save the big one for the last time we make love” — but he also hints at the innocent wonder he feels in meeting his wife — “For love to find us of all people / I never thought it’d be so simple.” The whole song is brilliant.
And while you’re at it, check out this intimate live version of the song. It’s just as impressive.