Recommended Tracks: Pell, Ellie Goulding, Julien Baker, & The Staves

Been working late a lot lately, so I wanted to do some quick hits on tracks that I’ve been loving to clear my head. Let me know if you dig any of them.

“Queso” by Pell
#1 Jam of the moment. The Latin-infused beat and hook remind me of D.R.A.M.’s “Cha Cha” in its left-field-proto-salsa charm. This song has so much more swag, though. It just goes, in a way that forces you to find new ways to dance. And I’ve found several: this little shoulder shimmy every time I hear those doubled vocals in the chorus; a weirdly fast head bop that looks like I’m trying to convince Pell to keep going; an involuntary singalong to the descending “I got, I got, I got”s in the song’s background that have gotten me way too many strange looks on my morning bus commute. Throw it on and shake.

“On My Mind” by Ellie Goulding
Such a percussive song to come back with as a first single. The verses and chorus just push, push, push forward at this clipped rate that you don’t hear much in pop music these days. I really love the way that the post-chorus vocal hook “you think you know some-boooody” is anticipated with a synth in the first two choruses, and the vocal drop builds tension without coming off as straight EDM cheese. Really good songwriting here (even if the video is a tad overblown). If the rest of her album has tracks this indelible, she’ll have a few more hits on her hands.

“Something” by Julien Baker
I’ve been trying to figure out how to write about Julien Baker all week. Her album Sprained Ankle hit me out of nowhere, with incisive, fragile songs that sound like pure desolation. Hopefully I’ll figure it out by next week, but for now I’ll leave you with one of the album’s more straining cuts. This live version of “Something” takes place in an empty parking garage, which feels appropriate to the way her lyrics echo into emptiness, more alone than you can imagine. If you give this video your full attention, you’ll be moved close to tears by the end. Or at least, I am.

“Sadness Don’t Own Me” by The Staves
I’ve been completely overwhelmed by the flawless vocal arrangements on the Staves’ second album, the perfect companion for days that are getting darker. If I Was is filled with harmonies that catch the light like icicles—crystalizing on top of each other and melting away again before finding themselves shaped anew. It’s partly a testament to Justin Vernon’s exquisite production (this is their first release on his label), but the lion’s share of credit has to go to the band of sisters who can conjure such stark, intimate beauty. Their three clear voices stack so close together that it feels like one person singing at times. The song’s got a lovely sentiment that befits a closing track on one of the year’s best albums about living with heartbreak. The closing atmospherics sound like they’re opening heaven.

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