United in their sharpness and density, this week's selections are taut as well-set mousetraps. The tension comes in a few flavors: Paul McCartney's insistent momentum, The Blow's clean pluckiness, Son Lux's jam-packed orchestration. The genres vary, but each song is marked -- and propelled -- by its skittering sense of anticipation. Hang on tight.
Paul McCartney - "New"
At 71 years young, Sir Paul appears very comfortable playing to his strengths. His voice, though noticeably creaky, remains a persuasive instrument; his melodies are still unfathomably catchy. And as the title suggests, this track's production (courtesy of Marc Ronson) crinkles and pops like the wrapper of some expensive candy bar. All the right ingredients are here, but there's something else at work, too -- something intangible. A wide-eyed joyfulness that feels unholy to dissect or quantify.
Elvis Costello and The Roots - "Walk Us Uptown"
If "New" is a crisp and well-preened step into modernity, then "Walk Us Uptown" feels a bit dragged through the dirt. As Costello groans and hiccups, the Roots punch through a rusty workout -- a composition so pinched and be-fuzzed that it sounds like it was recorded inside an old oil drum. Like so many of Costello's collaborations (Burt Bacharach, anyone?), "Walk Us Uptown" seems weird, and complexly inappropriate, right up until the second you hear it. After that, things just seem to snap into place. Such is the power of Costello. "Keep a red flag flying/Keep a blue one as well/And a white flag in case it all goes to hell," he sings near the song's conclusion. He may be on thin ice stylistically, but he's also clearly loving every second of it, skating beautifully, tongue deeply embedded in cheek.
The Blow - "From the Future"
Just the sort of snappy, hyper-precise bliss we've come to expect from this synthpop-duo-from-before-it-was-cool-to-be-a-synthpop-duo. At first listen, the staccato claps and creamy harmonies give off the impression of calculated disinterest. Closer inspection, however, reveals that it's a dire warning against wasting time and life. The daytime, we are warned, "just distracts us from the facts/We're floating in a vast expanse of black."
Gregory Porter - "Musical Genocide"
"I will not commit, nor will I submit, to musical genocide," declares the honey-throated Gregory Porter near the outset of this slinking diatribe. The arrangement is simple and trampoline-tight -- a perfect venue for Porter's baritone to do its thing. And unlike a lot of his more traditional earlier stuff, "Musical Genocide" doesn't aim to charm. It's a charged and purposeful declaration -- equal parts smooth and jagged.
Son Lux - "Lost It to Trying"
Balancing emotiveness with virtuosity is a fraught (and usually futile) battle, but Son Lux manages it with the sort of reckless grace that's awe-inspiring. Easily the densest and most demanding of this week's selections, "Lost It to Trying" doesn't so much require repeated listenings as it does demand them violently. It's a tenuous cloud of paradoxes -- intricate and accessible, loud and delicate, soothing and thoroughly combustible. But the net effect is incredible -- a pop song that's wholly different from your typical pop song. Worth the time.