By Ray Freedman
Out of all the singles released in the past couple weeks, a few with similar sensibilities have shined through, albeit with completely different sounds. As spring arrives, these three artists have all released singles interested in the passage of time, engaging it with a vulnerable touch. What makes this refreshing and effective is that these singles are all upbeat and dancey.
The new single from Anderson .Paak, “Till It’s Over,” juxtaposes loss and longing with lighthearted stimulus. Released last week with a masterful and beautiful video from Spike Jonze (starring FKA Twigs), the song exposes a melancholy soul through the story of a break-up. The first verse builds from “We can laugh into the morning / or we can dance into the hallway” to “I didn’t think this day would happen.” Anderson .Paak’s husky, enthusiastic voice has become one of his trademarks, but he sings with a personal touch that feels unfamiliar on “Till It’s Over.” His breath has a quiet, restrained touch that makes it easy to picture him singing the song in his bedroom privately. This feeling of intimacy is underscored by the engineering of the milky, silky synth sounds that drive the song. The liquidy keys are layered to bring out slightly different textures at each moment. At the same time, the drums keep the verse on light feet; they rattle crisply with a shaky, bright feel.
As the verse approaches the chorus, the piece begins to float into an amorphous space. A piano flourishes on top of everything, trickling in a delicate dance feel. A synth bass with epic volume sneaks in. The beat gets a little more random before leading all the layers into a scramble that halts on the lyric “I’ma ride it ’til it’s over.” Instead of trying to satisfy its buildup, the track tries to do as little as possible. There are beats of complete silence, broken only by the silky synth chords before Anderson .Paak introduces an array of sounds that all play off each other like dancing staircases. It is full of energy while also laid back. At the end of the second verse — when Anderson .Paak sings “you could never be my one and only anyway” — the song embraces loss in a way that will make you want to dance next time you feel lonely.
Little Dragon displays a similar juxtaposition on their new track “Best Friends.” The single will appear on the Swedish electronic-pop group’s forthcoming 12-inch release in April. Like Anderson .Paak’s track, “Best Friends” feels intimate and interested in the relational consequences of passing time. The band’s singer, Yukimi Nagano, recalls a teenage friendship that “will never be quite the same.” Nagano’s voice is one the most ethereal in current pop music, and it shines as she sings “we were too young.” After a disappointing last album, the single seems like a return to form. As far as the music behind the voice goes, it is some of the most polished production from the band yet. The chords from the synths produce a certain modulation that supports the sense of brokenness in the lyrics. Driving everything is a simple dance beat comprised of Little Dragon’s classic underlying snare kick and an odd bass sound that bounces with dissonance. It is a song you can listen to over and over again without getting tired of it.
Twin Shadow’s new single,“Saturdays,” is a collaboration with the popular sister-trio HAIM. The song basically proves that George Lewis Jr. (Twin Shadow) is on a mission to bring back the ’80s. If you told someone that “Saturdays” was recorded in 1985, they would probably believe you, but it works. Like with Little Dragon, Twin Shadow’s last album was forgettable. That album, “Eclipse,” saw Lewis explore new sounds at the cost of intimacy and musical counterpoint. “Saturdays” fortunately evokes guitar riffs from his breakout album “Confess” while also evolving from it. Lewis’ songwriting is more masterful as it does not try to be anything it is not. He shamelessly embraces his ’80s pop sound. His voice feels invigorated and relaxed. It is simply refreshing to hear a pop artist so comfortable in what they are doing, and a final verse from HAIM lead-singer Danielle Haim does not hurt. Twin Shadow’s new album, “Caer,” releases April 27.