Best of 2013: Track of the Year

Winner: Nils Frahm – “Says” from the LP Spaces (Erased Tapes / review)

Runner-up: Zola Jesus  – “Fall Back” from the LP Versions (Sacred Bones/ review)
Runner-up: Aya Nishina  – “Flora” from the LP Flora (Tzdanik / review)

Of all the contenders for track of the year, the common denominator between them all was “defining.”  Each of our top three selections for track of the year would go on to not only define the overall LP they extracted from, but would be the definition of the artist themselves.

Zola Jesus’s (Nika Roza Danilova) “Fall Back” off Versions  became the perfect example of an original pop song done tastefully for classical arrangement.  Desperate, extending, and departing – you feel the “last chance” exasperate from Danilova’s voice.  A song perfectly composed entirely of a fleeting final moment, you understand exactly not only the creative ambition but a beating heart pulsate from Danilova’s vocals backed by  a sobbingly tone quartet arrangement.   The simplified but powerful lyrics (“…who would do anything for you”) captivate without pushing too aggressive.  There is a always a feel of going full throttle on hearing “Fall Back” but Zola Jesus’ operatically trained voice decidedly always somehow pulls itself back in; an almost “giving up” gasp that drops you suddenly from elation.  In doing so, Zola Jesus provides the best emotional roller coaster of the year in less than a four and a half minutes.

On the other hand, Aya Nishina’s splendidly, beautiful choral composition “Flora” is a ten minute non-stop elation of serenity.  If comparisons could be made to “Fall Back’s” tears of desperation, “Flora” is tears of adulation.  Nishina is proper in grooming the title track “Flora” with zero momentum shifts – the beginning of “Flora” immediately starts on an uplifted note, and there’s little reason ever to come down from this cloud nine.  In listening to “Flora,” emotions will spur from every angle of the cortex – perhaps the most sonically pleasing “mental silence” you’ll ever truly enjoy.

Overall, if one track changed the way how we perceive conventional form, Nils Frahm’s awe-inspiring “Says” is the epitome.  Momentum changing shifts that quickly negate themselves.  A fundamental structure that eventually begins to break down half way in.  A climax so late it leaves you quivering for more.  The drastic nature of  “Says” off the Spaces LP is exactly what keeps the ear hooked and always curious what lies seconds ahead.  Starting off placidly ambiguous, “Says” later turns into a perplexity of instrumental manipulations across a few consistent simple keys.

Frahm later ups the ante of “Says” getting progressively aggressive, pushing, and all-around explosive.  By the time “Says” reaches its apex 7 minutes in, Frahm cautiously pulls unworldly tones so fascinating and gravitating, you feel a sense of revelation tingle through your body.  “Says” changes the game for how arrangements can be structured and more importantly dispels any notion that acoustics and electronics cannot live in harmony together.  There is an emotional sense of wonder left after hearing “Says” – undefinable and practically inescapable.   You’ll search for an “answer” after hearing “Says.”  You won’t get it, but you’ll realize you’ve never needed it.

Frahm’s once-in-a-generation mind bender “Says” is not just track of the year because it sounds cool, it’s the track of the year because its going to change the dynamic of instrumentals for years to come.

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