Deadshirt Is Listening… Bringing you a rundown of our staff and guest contributors’ favorite new tracks released in the past week after they’ve had the weekend to blast them in their cars, in a club, alone in their rooms, etc.
Julian Ames is s-shakin’ it to…
After releasing a morsel of new music just for the hell of it, house music stars Disclosure are back for real this time with a track off their as-yet-unnamed upcoming album. “Holding On” follows the formula that netted Disclosure their initial crossover success, featuring a wide array of unique vocalists. The singles from their first album, Settle, included the gentle voice and insane falsetto jumps of Sam Smith on “Latch,” cool harmonies by Sasha Keable on “Voices,” and Aluna Francis’ British accent on “White Noise.” That album raised the group’s profile significantly, so this time around they should have their pick of the litter as far as guests are concerned—Settle’s final single was a song re-cut to feature Mary J Blige on vocals after it was clear that the album was a hit, and Sam Smith later won a Grammy, in part because of the exposure “Latch” got him. Now, Disclosure can turn to somebody who already has a Grammy, like they do with jazz vocalist Gregory Porter on “Holding On.”
Disclosure does a great job matching the tracks to the vocalists—Porter’s soulful voice is a natural fit for the track, and it’s actually the deepest voice we’ve heard on a Disclosure track so far. It’s not barbershop quartet bass-low, but typically Disclosure has stuck with female vocalists and higher-pitched males (see: Sam Smith’s insane falsetto), so it’s an interesting change of pace. The rest of the song is about what you’d expect from the house group, but I’m interested to see what other tweaks and experiments they try on this album.
Sam Paxton is grooving to…
It’s always a pleasant surprise when a long-dormant musician unexpectedly returns from hiatus, especially when it’s clear that their sound has matured in the interim. (This year alone, see: Sleater-Kinney, Faith No More, Blur, Sufjan Stevens, et al.) This week’s candidate is Neon Indian, a.k.a. Alan Polomo, who hasn’t been heard from since 2011’s chillwave masterpiece Era Extraña. Without any sort of pomp, Polomo innocuously dropped “Annie,” a single that I knew would be on heavy rotation this summer within seconds of clicking play.
Taking a different tack than the glittery haze of Era Extraña, “Annie” is a delightfully snappy, deliberately anachronistic slice of eighties-esque pop. Palomo’s voice is clean and clearer than ever before, no longer couched in the layers upon layers of reverb that exemplified his earlier work. Chirping birds and what sounds like babbling water underline the sparkling guitar and bopping high hat, lending the whole affair a vaguely tropical vibe. The entire track is gently wrapped in a hazy effect, like heat waves shimmering on blacktop, or the gentle warble of an old tape deck. “Annie” is ostensibly the first glimpse of things to come on Neon Indian’s third LP, and I for one am absolutely here for it.
Dominic Griffin is self-destructing to…
“I’m just tryna live life for the moment and all these motherfuckers want a relapse…”
When bubblegummy pop-leaning tracks like the Max Martin-assisted “I Can’t Feel My Face” leaked last week, fans of The Weeknd’s particular brand of trainwreck navel-gazing thought he had taken a wrong turn. Perhaps Abel Tesfaye had a little too much fun on that Kavinsky remix, and was trading in his Blade Runner aesthetics for something a little less monochromatic. He’d shown some measure of growth with 50 Shades soundtrack cut “Earned It,” but anyone who’s been down since House of Balloons has probably been sick with worry that the rueful balladeer was done crafting odes to self destruction and casual misanthropy drenched in sex, drugs, and self loathing. With his new single, we have less of a return to form and more a discomfiting refrain, a reminder that no matter how much Tesfaye may shift and fidget within his established identity, there’s a deeply fucked up center that will never disappear.
Like so many hits from the Toronto scene, “The Hills” is structured like a drunk dial wrapped around a warped, orgy of syrupy synths and pulsing bass. Tesfaye is singing to what must be one of his serial side pieces, spewing complisults and backing them up with self flagellating explanabrags. It’s a love song for people who never get around to uttering that particular four letter word, because they’re too busy acting out a different one. There’s something soaring and anthemic about the chorus (“I only call you when it’s half past five…”) that betrays how indisputably toxic the relationship being described here has to be. It’s anti-love, and in a way, that’s very pro-Weeknd.
Tesfaye is far from the first pop villain in music history, but there’s something specifically pernicious about his sonic persona that is so uniquely infectious. In today’s digital world of detached intimacy, humans are tethered to one another in such strange, amorphous ways. The Weeknd is the perfect protagonist to traverse such murky terrain, because he represents the human car crash the lurks within all of his listeners. The self-medication, the gluttonous sexual appetite, and the noirish prestige with which each is presented sting of a dark, twisted fantasy life that’s easy to envision when you’re struggling to reconcile the lesser parts of yourself. The Weeknd is famous for the same reason Hellblazer ran for 300 issues and that Walter White is so richly woven into the American pop cultural landscape. Deep down, when we make mistakes, we don’t just envision ourselves fallible, fragile creatures stumbling through the muck of trying to get things right. We pop pills, chase them with whiskey, and wonder if bad is all we are. Tesfaye’s songs lean into that fatalistic death wish and spin the ensuing human collateral damage with a panache that makes the emotional manipulation and carnal havoc wreaked almost seem charming.
He’s Angelus right before he snaps Jenny Calendar’s neck, Tom Regan before he sinks a bullet between Bernie Bernbaum’s eyes, Scar right as he lets his brother plummet into the stampede. The Weeknd is the stubbled, dark besuited silhouette of everything we hate deep down in our hearts, but fear, and maybe lust, to be our true selves. Only with more fucking and really catchy hooks. “The Hills” is that disgusting, nagging sense that when you’re fucked up and you’re getting it all wrong, that’s the real you, you careless car crash of a fucking person.
Maybe more upbeat songs produced by Max Martin would be a nice change of pace.