The Decemberists – Lake Song
A new Decemberists album is definitely cause for celebration. Whether it’s through the music, the lyrics or just the pure spirit of showmanship that they bring to their craft, Colin Meloy and the rest of the band always produce something special. What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World doesn’t have the cohesiveness of their best album, The Crane Wife, nor does it quite reach the emotional highs of most recent release, The King Is Dead, but it’s still an endearing addition to their catalog. Like their first albums, there are a lot of stylistic shifts throughout, most of them quite fun, but the Decemberists’ have always excelled at straightforward, heartfelt ballads, which is what makes “Lake Song” one of the standout tracks on this solid album. Delicate, affecting, and typically literate, this is what a love song should be.
Sia – Chandelier (Piano Version)
The original album version of this track is excellent (as is the video), but it was hearing the acoustic piano version of this song (on the sadly departed sitcom, Selfie) that revealed to me both how stunning the vocal performance is and the heft of the lyrics. Few pop songs hit with this kind of emotional resonance, an exquisitely heartbreaking account of losing one’s self (and pain) in a night’s debauchery. This is the track that makes the argument that Sia is not only one of our finest pop song writers, she is a bona fide pop star.
José González – Stay Alive
Found on the soundtrack of a movie I never saw, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, this soothing song sees José González stretching his sound, with his normal acoustic guitar replaced by piano and an incessant, enveloping cymbal build. González didn’t write this song, which isn’t much of a surprise since his biggest “hits” have almost all been covers. That the songwriter is Ryan Adams, though, does explain why I fell in love with this track almost immediately. This is the kind of track that Adams can write in his sleep, so it’s fun to hear another artist take it and make it his own. I don’t know if the Ben Stiller-starring movie was any good, but at least it resulted in this gorgeous collaboration, so that’s something.
The Stills – Retour a Vega
I have no idea how I came to be in possession of this track by the Toronto-based band, The Stills, but it’s been getting heavy rotation for the last few months. Sung completely in French (title translates to “Return to Vega”), the melody has a floating, graceful ease that lifts up the otherwise plaintive vocals. Even without Google Translating the lyrics, you get the sense that the singer is missing a girl. But after all, aren’t all songs about missing a girl?
Kanye West – Power
Is this guy annoying? Sure. Is he an over the top egotist? Absolutely. Does he still write some flat out killer tracks? Can’t deny that. How great is “Power”? It was the song that came on the radio as I drove into New York City on my first day of my 10th year and there couldn’t have been a better song for the moment. Almost all rappers put out boast tracks, but hardly any of them do it with as much style and swagger as Kanye. If you don’t get pumped up listening to those propulsive chants and crashing rhythm, you may have a fatal case of Stick-In-Ass Syndrome. Better get that checked out.