Music Mostly

Best Tracks from 1st Quarter 2016


This quarter I found some country I liked. And lots of synth pop. Lots! And the Adele record continues to be huge.

Spotify Playlist

Chairlift, “Show U Off”

This is bubbly, R&B fun. I can’t resist. Love when vocalist Caroline Polachek slides to the top of her range on the bridge. She sends the song right off to space where things only get more funky. Chairlift is exceptionally good at melding electronic influences with an intimate, confessional feel. It works just as well at living-room parties as in stadiums. Reminds me of Lucius in a really good way.

Mates of State, “Staring Contest”

When Spotify’s Discover Weekly works the best, it surfaces all-new-to-you artists along with gems from familiar names. I’m familiar with Mates of State, but this song blew me away. I love the stop-start rhythms, soaring boy-girl vocals, heavy synths, clever lyrics. By itself, the song balances the playfulness of early romance with adult intensity. Love that. The uber-cute family vibe in the music video overloads on the schoolyard concept and changes the feel. But like I said, uber-cute!

St. Lucia, “Home”

Honesty Box: The new St. Lucia record is M83-lite. It just doesn’t cross the threshold of reference to become something beyond nue-Bananarama. But I’m a sucker for aggressive synths, pounding drums, keyboard brass sections, and dramatic kiss-off poetry. In that, it’s a win.

Dan Croll, “One of Us”

Another Discover Weekly discovery, found about the same time I added Chairlift. Above and beyond the weirdest thing I heard that day. Really abrasive on first listen. But you can’t beat punk guitars and Beach Boy harmonies.

Lucius, “Something About You”

I’ve been waiting for a synthy, stormy Lucius record since I heard “Tempest” for the first time. This is it. The two vocalists sing in unison a lot, making a sort of super-Adele. They successfully apply synths and electronic music with aplomb, somehow channeling Stevie Nicks, Eurythmics, Gary Numan and Robert Palmer. Great stuff.

Be sure to watch the music video for lots of twisting, grasping fingers, overgrown limbs, and some really weird dancing.

Adele, “When We Were Young”

My favorite part happens at the end, when Adele gets so mad at the idea of aging she lets a spotless performance fishtail for a second. This little release saves the song from mawkishness. Solid ballad for carpool karaoke.

Twin Limb, “Don’t Even Think”

When you’re shopping for earphones, you come across this idea of sound stage. Roughly stated, that’s the space in your brain where music plays, right between your ears. Some songs create bigger stages, some smaller. Some earphones handle bigger stages better than others. This song starts fairly small, just the organ and vocal. It becomes something huge that howls and swirls to drown out whatever “it” is. And it’s gorgeous.

Christ Tomlin, “At The Cross (Love Ran Red)”

I Shazam’d this at church after service one day. The electronic touches are just enough to freshen and amplify Tomlin’s winning anthem formula. I think hear a little Phil Wickham in the second chorus as well, as sparkly piano and synths propel it into a massive bridge. The whole album is a winner, schooling rock’s biggest radio stars. Check out “Psalm 100” for Tomlin á la Killers, “Waterfall” for a touch of late-stage Coldplay, and “Boundary Lines” for a One Republic club banger. Tomlin aces all of these guys at their own game.

Hot Chip, “Dancing In The Dark”

First: Nothing beats The Boss’ rough cadence singing over these glossy synth lines. Anyone else just sounds thin. But Hot Chip performs everything so well, adding their own buzz to this classic without overpowering it. And when the end comes and the song turns inside out to reference one of its own offspring, things just get deliriously happy.

Esperenza Spalding, “Unconditional Love”

When I think Esperenza Spalding, I think Starbucks CD rack. Something primarily to ignore. Something like a jazzier Michele Branch.The NPR darling I don’t want to like, for whatever reason. But the cover caught my eye on Pitchfork. They loved it, which seemed weird. I think they loved it because it was weird. And it is. I mean, “Good Lava” is a challenge, a dare to keep listening. But there’s a tremendous sweetness, crystalized in this song, that you can find all over, making it very easy to listen to, even with knotty prog rhythms and vocal gymnastics. Give it a chance. You can always come back to “Unconditional Love”.

Chairlift, “Crying in Public”

Darn but if this Chairlift record isn’t great. Another super vocal performance, kind of an Imogen Heap thing this time. Evocative lyrics, a confident, but relaxed arrangement. I was surprised to like it so much. But it’s a definite highlight that shows the breadth of their skill next to “Show U Off”.

Cotton Jones, “Where You Stop for a Minute”

I just like the line “Home is where you stop for a minute. And clean your teeth.” And the way he delivers the word “teeth”. Not sure what it means, but I feel it. It’s a song about moving along, maybe touring, maybe just moving house. And trying to define home in a way that makes sense when traditional signifiers don’t apply. Organ and crackling drums back up the yearning, folky vocals.

Cicada Rhythm, “Dirty Hound”

Another folky, old-timey tune. The guitar line starts all Tex-Mex before dropping into a slow, Southern stomp. Love the singer’s way of compressing and warping the vowels. Plus, I’m pretty sure no-one’s confessed their love by comparing themselves to a grizzly bear silently following some unaware woods wanderer. “Would you like to be caught by me?” It’s a weird thought. But cute in a crocheted pillow cover kind of way. Kudos.

Clint Black, “State of Mind”

Some of my favorite country songs are about rain. “The Thunder Rolls” is killer, don’t deny it. And Clint Black’s “Like the Rain” is a longtime favorite. Not sure why I thought of it here in March. Maybe all the rain. But I looked it up on this greatest hits comp and was surprised to find I really like the rest of his stuff. This fairly straightforward tune gets kind of huge. And you know I can’t resist that start-stop bit on the bridge where the guitar drops out and the backup singers come in a capella just before the guitar comes back.

Be sure to watch the music video for more weird dancing.

Charles Kelley, “The Driver”

A wistful tribute to the road crew, faithful fans and anyone who believes in the power of music for good. Guest spots by bro-country. Classic songwriting at work here, the kind of swaying sing-a-long a Mumford would covet. Plus, Charles Kelley can belt. Part John Mayer croon, Ray LaMontagne grit and something else inherited from 90s no-hat outlaw Travis Tritt. 9/10 would sing loudly with.