These “Five Quality Tracks” posts stress me out. I want to pick 15 tracks, not 5. January was a really good month, and I’m passing over a lot of good songs from Hinds, Wet, Eleanor Friedberger, and even the guy who you see everyday in the header photo of this very website, Ty Segall! I can’t believe I didn’t include them. That must mean these next five songs are really good. Also, keep scrolling after the tracks for a bonus section with some of my favorite David Bowie moments.
1. Chairlift: “Moth to the Flame”
The indie pop duo Chairlift have been around for a few years, but they’ve always been somewhat of a footnote to me. They had a song in 2012 called “I Belong in Your Arms” that I really liked, but I hadn’t really heard anything else by them. They just released their new album Moth and it’s chock-full of jams. I was *THIS* close to selecting another track, the slightly emo but deeply affecting and equally awesome “Crying in Public” as my Chairlift representative. But I couldn’t ignore the sugary, danceable beat to “Moth to the Flame.” This is catchy, reach-for-the-stars, indie pop at its finest.
2. Kanye West feat. Kendrick Lamar: “No More Parties in L.A.”
Yeezy is back, and it’s about time. His upcoming album WAVES (formerly known as SWISH before being formerly known as So Help Me God) is due out February 11, at long last. We still have no idea what the album is going to sound like. Kanye has been tweeting up a storm recently, and nestled in among the random tear-downs of Wiz Khalifa, he’s shown that he doesn’t even really know what the final product will be. With the release date looming, he keeps bringing new guests into the studio and changing the tracks on the album (not to the mention the name, of course). All the instability makes me worried that WAVES will be a dud (the first dud of his career, by the way). Kanye, please prove me wrong.
“No More Parties in L.A.” is a good start. The track, which will appear on the album unless ‘Ye changes his mind, is intriguing in its fairly classicist nature. Usually Kanye’s MO is pushing sonic boundaries, but the track — with its savory, Madlib-produced beat — could have come out 10 years ago. The Madlib beat fits comfortably with the prolific producer’s repertoire of soul-sampling productions, and it’s honestly refreshing to hear Kanye (and Kendrick Lamar) pull back a bit and just go all-out over a classic beat.
3. Whitney: “No Woman”
The best feeling is having no expectations and then discovering a song that blows you away. “No Woman” by Whitney did that for me. Whitney are from Chicago in 2016, but they would be totally at home in Southern California in 1970. “No Woman” sounds like a more lilting, laid-back “Ventura Highway” by America, or a cousin of Seals & Crofts’ “Summer Breeze”. The throwback sound makes sense when you learn that it was produced by Jonathan Rado, a true 60’s enthusiast as a part of Foxygen. Everything sounds great, from the jumping bass to the acoustic chords and electric frills, from the strings to the horns, from the understated percussion to the thin (even with double-tracking) but beautifully yearning vocals. There are so many pieces and instruments, but at no point does it sound like too much. They add and subtract instruments at just the right time.
4. Anderson Paak feat. Schoolboy Q: “Am I Wrong”
Anderson Paak’s new album Malibu sounds very much at home with some of the recent jazz/hip-hop/funk hybrid projects we’ve heard recently — Kendrick Lamar, D’Angelo, Kamasi Washington. “Am I Wrong” turns the funk dial way up, featuring an incredibly swanky bass line along with the talents of Kendrick’s buddy Schoolboy Q.
5. David Bowie: “Lazarus”
David Bowie released his last album, Blackstar, on Friday, January 8. Two days later, he passed away. Bowie’s death came as a complete shock to almost everyone, but the clues were right there in Blackstar all along. I think it’s hilarious how these news articles and blog posts sprouted up about how Blackstar had all these “secret hints” about his death. “Decoding the hidden messages in David Bowie’s final album”, Slate said; “Was David Bowie saying goodbye on Blackstar?”, the Guardian earnestly asked. Uh yeah, of course he was! Blackstar is full of blaring sirens alerting us to Bowie’s impending fate. Don’t get me wrong: like most people, despite listening to the album on the day of its release, I had no idea what was coming. It didn’t occur to me in the slightest either. But that’s because we were all stupid!
Listen to the lyrics of “Lazarus” and watch the music video. The song starts with him singing, “Look up here, I’m in heaven. I’ve got scars that can’t be seen.” Later, he says “This way or no way, you know I’ll be free, just like that bluebird. Ain’t that just like me?” These messages don’t seem very “hidden” to me. He was saying goodbye to us, plain as day, and it’s remarkable that we’re able to have this parting gift from him. And I haven’t even gotten into how brilliant “Lazarus” sounds. It’s unbelievable that at his age, he was still creating some of the most vital, inspired music of his career. He truly was on a higher plane.
And now, our BONUS section of Five Quality Tracks. I’ve already written about David Bowie’s lasting influence and picked my 10 favorite songs, but in addition to that, here are five Bowie-related clips and sounds, live performances and covers, songs and comedy bits, all in no particular order. I found these after trying to gobble up everything Bowie-related that I could this month.
1. David Bowie playing “Starman” on Top of the Pops, 1972.
2. A chorus of 500 people in Toronto giving a chill-inducing rendition of “Space Oddity” a few days after his death.
3. Bowie’s impressively hilarious cameo on a Ricky Gervais comedy show, 2006.
4. Britt Daniel, lead singer of Spoon, delicately and passionately covering “Never Let Me Down.”
5. Bowie appearing with Bing Crosby on TV to sing “Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth,” 1977.