Five Quality Tracks: October 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.

October will probably remembered as the month that Adele said “Hello”. I thought about including it as one of my five tracks, but the idea of this post is to introduce people to songs that they maybe haven’t heard, or to songs that they can maybe appreciate in a new way. Everyone on the planet knows about “Hello,” so here are five additional songs that ruled my Spotify this month.

1. Grimes: “Flesh Without Blood”

Grimes finally announced her much-anticipated follow-up album to 2012’s Visions (which contained one of the best songs of the decade so far) — Art Angels, which comes out this Friday. Over the last year or so, Grimes has generated a lot of questions about what direction she would take on the new album, the primary question being: how ‘pop’ will it be? Last year, she released the extremely polarizing, intended-for-Rihanna track “Go”, which saw Grimes embracing full-on, drop-heavy, banger pop like never before. Would the new album go further in this direction, or was “Go” just a one-off? The questions only grew when reports came out that she scrapped an entire album because she believed it “sucked”. And it didn’t make her intentions any clearer when she denounced her own songs publicly, saying she hates “Oblivion” (which is ridiculous) and doesn’t like “REALiTi” a demo she posted on YouTube in March that I consider to be one of the best songs this year. If she hates her best songs, then what does she think is good?

ANYWAY, I’m just glad that all the speculation will be put to rest very soon. “Flesh Without Blood” is, without a doubt, another embrace of pop. On first listen, I was slightly disappointed — I thought it wasn’t as imaginative as her best work on Visions. It certainly was catchy, but it seemed a little too basic, too obvious, too simple. It just felt like all she did was provide a slight update to the guitar riff from “Since U Been Gone” — which, don’t get me wrong, is a pop masterpiece, but it’s not weird. The ultimate credit to Grimes — in both her music and her personality — is her innate weirdness. Where was the weirdness?

I was dead wrong though. Nuances and intricacies revealed themselves on repeated listens, and I realized that “Flesh Without Blood” isn’t basic at all. It’s teeming with unexpected sound effects sprinkled throughout, it skillfully adds and takes away elements at just the right time, and the various intersecting melodies are perfect. The lyrics are well-constructed and vivid: “Your voice, it had the perfect flow / It got lost when you gave it up though” and “I don’t see the light I saw in you before.” And did I mention it was catchy? This is a blast-in-the-car type of song. Art Angels looks to be very, very interesting.

 

2. Majical Cloudz: “Downtown”

Now onto a past collaborator with Grimes: Majical Cloudz. I was originally reticent to listen to them just based on the spelling of their name, but it would have been a gigantic mistake to overlook them. Where it took a few times through to appreciate “Flesh Without Blood” above, “Downtown,” by contrast, completely floored me on first listen. It’s literally giving me chills as I’m listening to it right now. It’s so emotionally bare and heartening and potent. Sometimes all you need is a heart-on-your-sleeve love song. It subtly builds in intensity and volume until “And I’m going crazy, crazy for you!” The melody is really impeccable, but the atmosphere they create to surround it is just as important. My favorite line: “There’s one thing I’ll do if it ever goes wrong, I’ll write you into all of my songs.”

 

3. Fuzz: “Say Hello”

And now, for a complete change of pace, I give you Fuzz, one of Ty Segall’s pet side projects. If you’re unfamiliar with Segall’s solo work, I highly recommend spending an afternoon listening to our best modern garage rocker (Mainpulator and Goodbye Bread are my two favorite albums of his). As a part of Fuzz, he slides behind the drum set and plays with his Laguna Beach high school buddies, and the camaraderie comes through. “Say Hello” begins with a quiet, Doors-like, ’60s Eastern-influenced, noodling intro before blasting open at 1:38 with two monumental snare hits and a sludgy Black Sabbath-like riff. There is nothing new here, but it is executed so well, in such head-banging fashion.

 

4. Haybaby: “Elevator Song”

Haybaby have played shows in Brooklyn for a few years, but only recently did they record their debut album Sleepy Kids. My first introduction to them was “Elevator Song,” and it’s immediately apparent that this band has been around for a while. The instruments interact so well, but the star of the show is the vibrant post-punk bass here. It’s been refreshing to hear so much expertly crafted ’90s guitar rock with female lead singers this year, from Bully to Hop Along to Wolf Alice, and now Haybaby.

 

5. Blood Orange: “Sandra’s Smile”

“Sandra’s Smile” is an ode to Sandra Bland, a black woman who controversially died while in police custody this past summer. It is a beautiful tribute, equal parts somber and uplifting, that also addresses the hypocrisy of racism in general. “Who taught you to breathe, then took away your speech / Made you feel so loved, then shook your hand with gloves? / You watched her pass away, the words she said weren’t faint / Closed our eyes for a while, but I still see Sandra’s smile.” It doesn’t hurt that the music itself is amazing, with its busy beat, walking bass line, and introspective, swirling, R&B atmosphere (plus an on-point sax solo break).

 
Honorable mention goes to Promised Land Sound and their 70’s AM rock “She Takes Me There” and especially honorable mention to Beach House, who surprise-released their second album of the year and released a masterpiece in “Elegy to the Void”.

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