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song reviews

Tune-Yards

"Wait for a Minute"

8

We can always use another Annie Lennox, can't we? Tune-Yards' Merrill Garbus is apparently well up to the task, finding formerly untapped wells of soul on this lovely R&B ziggurat. The production from Frank Ocean collaborator Malay is both supple (old-school drum crack) and spare (squiggly synths). "Just twiddling my thumbs and hoping for the words to rhyme," she sings, easy like Saturday night. | More »

Eno-Hyde

"Daddy's Car"

7

Someday World, due out on May 6th, is a collaborative LP from Brian Eno (one of music's great chameleons) and Underworld's Karl Hyde (whom most Americans remember only from the 1995 big-beat classic "Born Slippy"). The single features almost all of the Enos at once: from skittering, Talking Heads-style drums and syncopated synth riffs to disco horns and deepfocus ambient hum thanks to harmonized Hyde vocals. The overall effect is addictive. | More »

April 4, 2014

The Black Keys

"Fever"

7

It's sleek and sinewy like Little Willie John's foundational 1956 "Fever," and it's got a strutting four-on-the-floor like the Bee Gees' "Night Fever." But the first offering from the Black Keys' Turn Blue (due out May 13th) gives its vintage rock & roll theme a garage-psychedelic fine-tuning, collapsing decades of history into music that still feels forward-moving. | More »

Wu-Tang Clan

"Keep Watch"

6

The first single from Wu-Tang's maybe-it'll-ship-on-time 20th-anniversary album, A Better Tomorrow, probably would not have raised any eyebrows back in '97. But today's rap is so far removed from the dense, scuzzy, classic Wu-Tang sound that "Keep Watch" is refreshing like a cold Shaolin wind. All praise to the gods. | More »

Chrissie Hynde

"Dark Sunglasses"

7

After 35 years fronting the Pretenders, Hynde is releasing her first solo album, Stockholm, produced by Bjorn Yttling of Swedish outfit Peter, Bjorn and John. Its cutting, springy first single is about people trading it in for wealth and status – the opposite of Hynde, who's still a pure-of-heart rock & roll crank. | More »

Drake

"Draft Day"

7

Drake's latest statement-of-Drakeness casually big-ups his sports bros Johnny Manziel and Andrew Wiggins over a dreamy sample of Lauryn Hill's "Doo Wop (That Thing)," then drops a little Jennifer Lawrence fan fic: "On some Hunger Games shit/I would die for my district." It's baller brio with a characteristic light touch. May the odds be ever in your favor, son! | More »

Sam Smith

"Stay With Me"

6

The British crooner du jour opens this slow-burn, piano-soul monster with "'Cause it's true, I'm not good at a one-night stand" like he knows the line is money in the bank (which, c'mon, it is). Then the gospel choir backs him up like it's Memphis '67. If ninth-graders still made mixtapes for their crushes, this would be on all of them. | More »

March 20, 2014

Frank Ocean, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Diplo

"Hero"

7

The cross-generational collaboration – part of a Converse ad campaign – throws Clash vets Simonon and Jones together with omnidirectional beatmaker Diplo and R&B rebel Ocean. It's every bit the punky hip-hop party you'd expect, with spacey dub energy and a children's choir adding uplift. How about an EP, guys? | More »

Big Boi

"Mother of Dragons"

4

Big Boi goes full Game of Thrones fanboy on the HBO-helmed Catch the Throne mixtape, with references to Khaleesi, White Walkers and the Lannisters in 22 bars. There's some dragon-size bass, but Sir Luscious Left Foot's wordplay feels more like live-action role-playing in a 25-minute ad. | More »

Tame Impala

"Stranger in Moscow"

4

 You might expect these Aussie acidheads to turn a Michael Jackson cover into a trippy rock fantasia. Instead, it's an oddly faithful rendition of MJ's chill trip-hop groove – the kind of pleasant karaoke jam you forget by the next morning. | More »

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Song Stories

“American Girl”

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers | 1976

It turns out that a single with "American" in its title--recorded on the Fourth of July during the nation's Bicentennial, no less--can actually sell better in Britain. Coupled with the Heartbreakers' flair for Byrds jangle and Animals hooks, though, is Tom Petty's native-Florida drawl that keeps this classic grounded at home. Petty dispelled rumors that the song was about a suicidal student, explaining that the inspiration came from when he was 25 and used to salute the highway traffic outside his apartment window. "It sounded like the ocean to me," he recalled. "That was my ocean. My Malibu. Where I heard the waves crash, but it was just the cars going by."

More Song Stories entries »
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