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. Beirut: “Gibraltar”
It’s been far too long since Zach Condon of Beirut graced us with The Rip Tide four years ago — I’ve been missing his pleasing style of sparkling indie pop. “Gibraltar” furthers the more minimal blueprint of The Rip Tide, largely foregoing the “world music” that Beirut became known for originally. There are no horns or strings to be found here, but there’s still plenty to keep us interested. The piano is bright and the melody sweet, but the percussion is what makes the song, with its combination of bongos, shakers, and well-placed handclaps. It’s a light, airy, and delightful song.
2. Julien Baker: “Something”
“Something,” from newcomer Julien Baker, is as sparse as they come — nothing more than a finger-picked electric guitar and Baker’s voice (and a tiny, almost unnoticeable bit of flute adornment). And wow, does she have a great voice. It’s stark and sorrowful, full of passion and anguish. At 2:00, it kicks up a notch, her distress burns: “I should have said something, something, something, I couldn’t find something to say, so I just said nothing, nothing, nothing, sat and watched you drive away,” the repeated somethings and nothings burrowing into you. She goes on: “I just let the parking lot swallow me up, choking your tires and kicking up dust, asking aloud why you’re leaving, but the pavement won’t answer me.” It’s a crystal clear portrait of heartache.
3. Martin Courtney: “Vestiges”
Martin Courtney’s day job is lead singer of Real Estate, one of my absolute favorite modern bands (and makers of one of last year’s best albums). Courtney paints with the same palette as his band on “Vestiges,” his first foray into solo work. It’s a slice of 1970’s AM radio gold, with soft-edged guitars, background harmonies, and a killer bass line. No one is better than Courtney at setting nostalgic scenes, creating an aural atmosphere for memories to flood your brain — “vestiges of springs and falls long gone.”
4. Drake: “Hotline Bling”
Drake is an unparalleled hitmaker. His non-album tracks and seemingly random Soundcloud releases are as good as his official singles. He does both rap and R&B equally well, always uses top-notch, compelling production, and coins catchphrases that never die. All this from a freaking Canadian child actor! You may think he’s overstaying his welcome in the public consciousness, but you can’t deny hits.
On “Hotline Bling,” Drake, not a stranger to melodrama, croons about petty jealousy, acknowledging feelings we’ve all felt but never wanted to admit. The beat is laid-back but still busy and the melody is memorable, especially at “You used to call me on my cellphone / late night when you need my love.” It’s about as Drakey as it gets, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.
5. Beach House: “Space Song”
Beach House, much like Spoon or the Walkmen, are purveyors of the “Old Faithful” wing of indie — they generally stick to a certain formula because the formula works. The duo of singer/keyboardist Victoria Legrand and multi-instrumentalist Alex Scally have never released a bad piece of music, ever. Beach House’s dreamscapes are fully intact and gorgeous as ever on their new album, Depression Cherry. Despite the unquestionable similarity with their previous output, the album’s overall mood is subtly different. It doesn’t reach the climactic heights of their last album Bloom — nothing goes for the jugular quite like “Lazuli” did. Instead, it washes over you like a wave pool, slowly weaving into your consciousness but never shaking it.
“Space Song” is the standout for me. I see the title as not only a “Space Oddity”-type ode to isolation in the vast unknown, but as a literal description of the sonic space in the track. The various organ lines are given room to glimmer and mesmerize the listener. When she slowly and deliberately says “Fall. Back. In. To. Place,” I can’t tell whether it’s a reassurance or a warning. All I know is I don’t want her to stop.
One last note: sorry to upset the haters, but the opening track on Carly Rae Jepsen’s new album, “Run Away With Me”, is really, really, good. I’m not joking. It won’t reach immortality like “Call Me Maybe”, but imagine a mix between M83’s “Midnight City” and T-Swift. Yeah, that sounds pretty awesome to me too.