Soul Scholar Nick Waterhouse Sings the Opposite of What He Means
As if tailored to match San Francisco's schizoid weather patterns, this week's selections -- Sharon Jones, St. Vincent, Damien Jurado Nick Waterhouse and Chuck English - oscillate between wintry, kinetic and utterly peculiar. We tried to cover all our bases here: It's a playlist fit for either a sunburned day at Dolores Park or a freeze-your-ass-off evening at Ocean Beach. Or, you know, both.
Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings - "Stranger to My Happiness"
Sharon Jones may be 57, and bald as a newborn from recent rounds of chemotherapy, but don't worry: that hasn't changed her. She's still a writhing, snapping conduit of old soul esprit. Her voice remains at once forceful and soothing -- a honking power tool one moment, a rubbery, girlish, squeak the next. Here, she sounds fluidly virtuosic -- and, more importantly, undaunted. And though there are flecks of fatalism stirred in ("I've seen a hundred thousand faces and only called a few my friend"), Jones's energy remains inexpungible.
St. Vincent - "Digital Witness"
Suspicions are confirmed: The puffy shock of snow-white hair is not all St. Vincent's Annie Clark inherited from her recent stint of touring with David Byrne. She also appears to have nabbed a penchant for sonic curio - off-kilter horn arrangements, growling synths, sardonic vocal acrobatics, dance beats. "What's the point of even sleeping/If I can't show it/You can't see me?" she wonders here. Condemning digital culture via such a potent pill of robotic space funk is a thin tightrope to walk, but if anyone can execute it gracefully, it's Clark.
Damien Jurado - "Return to Maraqopa"
When you've released as many albums as Damien Jurado has (his forthcoming Brothers and Sisters Of The Eternal Sun will be number 11), it's tempting to start cranking out roughly-sketched ideas and calling it a day. That is mercifully not the case on this loping, wintry waltz. The track is stunning in its restraint: It doesn't so much progress as it does uncurl, as if rousted from a long meditation.
Nick Waterhouse - "This Is a Game"
Don't confuse the prim buoyancy of this track for irony -- or anything even remotely resembling abandon, for that matter. Waterhouse, with his Poindexter specs, gelled coiffure, and surgical adherence to old soul conventions, is really more of a scholar than a musician. Though his songs at times feel like dusty paradoxes -- at once brittle and lush; simple, yet striped with layers of encyclopedic references -- they're always thrilling. Put another way: When Waterhouse croons, "This is a game" near this track's outset, what he really means is the exact opposite of that.
Chuck English ft. Chromeo - "Legs"
Here's a Real Talk Factoid about partnering with the electro-funk duo Chromeo, then naming the track on which you're partnering "Legs:" You've sort of got to bring it. It's not even really up to you. There are certain evocations of glossy sensuality, certain entendres about the intersection of dance and sex, that it's now your duty to nail (so to speak). So though the stakes seem low, they're actually higher than you might think. Chuck Inglish, seemingly cognizant of his limitations, does the smart thing on this track: he gets out of his own way. A pun here (What motivates me?/That curve, like a lowercase "d"), a saucy voice-over there ("Chuck, can you tie my swimsuit strings?"). It's a dexterous and dopey exercise in semi-smut, which is all Chromeo ever requires.