Five Quality Tracks: May 2015

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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. Miguel: “Coffee”

Miguel, the smooth-operating soul singer (and force behind one of my favorite songs of the past five years) is releasing a new album soon called Wildheart, and it can’t come soon enough. On lead single “Coffee,” Miguel is completely comfortable in his skin. He sounds cool and confident, but also ardent and passionate.

Miguel could easily sing over any generic beat of the moment and catapult to the top of the charts, just on the strength of his flawless voice. But the thing I love most about him is his excellent taste in production — “Coffee” only furthers this reputation. Like many of his songs, it pushes current R&B boundaries, employing a unique, seamless blend of soul, indie, and arena rock. Miguel said that he “just wanted this album to look and feel and taste like twilight in L.A.” Well, if the whole album sounds like “Coffee,” he succeeded. In the last minute of the song, you can even hear the keyboard and sound effect loops twinkle into the night sky.

 

2. Brandon Flowers: “Can’t Deny My Love”

We have fully entered the 1980’s music revival period, with acts like M83, Passion Pit, the War on Drugs, and Ryan Adams all conjuring different flavors of pop and rock from three decades ago. Brandon Flowers, whose day job is fronting the Killers, adds his hat to the ring with his second solo album, The Desired Effect.

Lead single “Can’t Deny My Love” is the album’s extremely catchy, impassioned standout. The chorus is such a pure jolt of energy (starting at 1:55 in the video below). It’s as infectious as humanly possible, and I don’t say that lightly. I listened to it one day after getting home from work and air-guitared across the floor while belting out “BUT YOU’RE NOT GONNA, NOT GONNA DENY, NO YOU’RE NOT GONNA, NOT GONNA DENY MY LOVE!”, followed by a quick double-check of the house to make sure my wife wasn’t there. I promise, it’s that good.

 

3. My Morning Jacket: “In Its Infancy (The Waterfall)”

It’s impossible to peg My Morning Jacket into one genre. You could viably call them alternative rock, classic rock, psychedelic, blues, country, Americana, electronic, R&B, or funk, and no one would bat an eye. Their most recent album, The Waterfall, is one of their best — an enjoyable journey through all the previously mentioned genres. “In Its Infancy (The Waterfall)” starts out psychedelic, with constant repetitions of “AGAIN, AGAIN, AGAIN.” Once we hit 0:36, a distorted Wurlitzer keyboard riff sets an ominous tone before transitioning to a gorgeous wander through finger-picking Eagles via Beachwood Sparks territory. After a momentary repeat of the psychedlic “AGAIN” refrain, a relatively heavy guitar riff breaks out and the groove is established. It’s a perfect microcosm of the entire album.

 

4. A$AP Rocky ft. Joe Fox & Kanye West: “Jukebox Joints”

Up until now, every A$AP Rocky song has been usurped by guest stars and producers. Rocky never seemed to adequately convey his own personality, and didn’t have a rapping style that was distinctive enough to stay in your head. His sophomore release, At.Long.Last.A$AP, allows him to show us who he is. The atmosphere he creates is hazy and thick and cohesive and brilliant. I know I just talked about how A$AP Rocky finally escaped the shadows of his collaborators, but I still gotta say: Praise Kanye West, the producer behind the exquisite, slow-churning “Jukebox Joints.” The track starts off bluesy, with a sweltering sample of an Indonesian song called “Doa Untuk Kasih” of all things. Who would have thought? It gives way to a soulful Smokey Robinson sample, simmering satisfyingly all the way to the end.

 

5. The Tallest Man on Earth: “Dark Bird is Home”

Kristian Matsson, otherwise known as the Tallest Man on Earth, is known for his pastoral, acoustic numbers and his Bob Dylan-esque voice. On his latest album, Dark Bird is Home, Matsson adorns his songs with layers of orchestration, as opposed to his more raw, early material. It’s probably necessary to branch out and expand his musical palette with more intricate arrangements, but the pure emotion that oozed from every one of his early songs tends to get lost somewhere amid the horns and sound effects on much of his new material.

The very notable exception is the title track (“Dark Bird is Home”), the album-closer and easy standout. It begins just as those classic Tallest Man on Earth songs did, nothing more than that acoustic guitar and Matsson’s expressive melody. It’s powerful when he sings: “And suddenly the day gets you down / But this is not the end, no this is fine.” Once we get to 3:22, drums kick in, followed by the dense layer of instruments I mentioned. But by this point, the instruments only augment the song, building on the slow increase in emotion and helping the song reach a beautiful climax.

 
*Bonus: It killed me to leave this off, but Shamir’s album Ratchet is a non-stop 40-minute party, and “Call it Off” is one of the best of the bunch.

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