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8 Tracks: Are you here to rekindle the flame of love?

The Bat for Lashes beacon has been lit; it's shaped like a bat, of course, but somehow features an intricately woven lace pattern.
Michal Pudelka
Courtesy of the artist
The Bat for Lashes beacon has been lit; it's shaped like a bat, of course, but somehow features an intricately woven lace pattern.

8 Tracks is your antidote to the algorithm. Each week, NPR Music producer Lars Gotrich, with the help of his colleagues, makes connections between sounds across time.

It's Pisces season, which means my feeds are full of memes about sensitive people who don't want to be bothered, but feel very strongly about their creative passions and close friends. (Also don't you dare ask them about their birthday plans, but do something nice for them anyway.) I say all of this as someone who does not ascribe to astrology, yet very conveniently checks most boxes for a typical Pisces. (Don't put me in a box! I am a special boy.)

One of these memes is a variation on the idea that when a new song "awakens a new flame" within us, we cannot stop listening to it. This week on 8 Tracks: Mild to wild obsessions with songs that hit upon a feeling or musical concept that you — in your perfect Pisces wisdom beyond age — have not yet been able to articulate.

Talker, "Easygoing"

Talker is Celeste Tauchar, who has a knack for super catchy pop songs that overshare just enough to be worried about her, yet are wholly relatable for the most self-deprecatory among us. "Easygoing" is an unapologetic ballad for people pleasers, even if the character portrayed in the music video takes obsession to a deranged degree. I can't stop laughing at the line, "I've never seen my parents kiss / That's got something to do with it." You assume it's sung tongue-in-cheek, yet I get the sense that she's bitten down a bit too hard and bloodied her teeth.

Bat for Lashes, "The Dream of Delphi"

The Bat for Lashes beacon has been lit; it's shaped like a bat, of course, but somehow features an intricately woven lace pattern. Natasha Khan has always wielded enchantment as her power, yet imbues her shapeshifting art-pop songs with an intimacy that feels luxurious. "The Dream of Delphi" is a reflection on motherhood that repeats its title like a mantra over ascending synths — the effect is emotionally ritual, the way we hum the same few notes to lull our babes to sleep, and see our hopes within them.

SZA, "Saturn"

Everywhere I've read about the release of "Saturn" has referred to the single as a "streaming bundle" as if SZA suddenly had something on Disney+ Hulu+ ESPN+ Combination Pizza Hut Taco Bell... and I don't like it. Don't normalize monopolies, the corporate homogenization of art! Anyway, I listened to all five versions of "Saturn" as if in a trance: the lush dreamland of the original, the way the drums give the live spin a classic R&B oomph, the music box effect of the sped up version, the subtleties found within the a cappella and instrumental. It's all in service of a song that captures SZA's signature move: mourning the patterns of life in the most exquisite setting possible.

Still House Plants, "no sleep deep risk"

On "no sleep deep risk," the UK trio sidesteps its wiry, experimental post-punk roots for something still sideways-constructed, but far more elemental. A guitar slowly picks one note at a time, as if wary to disturb the delicate non-pattern set by the drums — imagine Tortoise stripped for parts, yet still a puzzle to decipher. The way that Jess Hickie-Kallenbach sings "deee-eeee-eeply sensitive," in a soulful low register that curls like the knob atop a wooden banister, embodies the shape of introverted intuition: ever shifting, yet stable in its emotional core.

Alice Coltrane, "Shiva-Loka"

Alice Coltrane's music will elevate you to a different plane of consciousness; when she sets her own mind to such pursuits, you can hear the ascension in real time. In this Carnegie Hall performance recorded live in 1971, "Shiva-Loka" — a communion with "one of the highest points of the universe," as she originally wrote in the liner notes to Journey in Satchidananda — becomes not only a springboard but a dance with the cosmos. Coltrane's celestial harp, in particular, ripples around an extended saxophone solo by Pharoah Sanders, as if the constellations were looking on, smiling.

Katie Pruitt, "All My Friends"

Part of growing in or apart from faith is taking the next step toward understanding others... or at least that feels like the most healthy way to realize that the world doesn't revolve around you. On 2020's Expectations, Katie Pruitt reckoned with her Catholic upbringing with much pain and revelation, but also an emotional clarity. This is the comedown from that experience: A gritty soft rocker that nevertheless sparkles, "All My Friends" doesn't let up on the people in her life that hold onto belief — whether in Jesus, yoga or tarot cards — but understands how the divine can offer a guide to those who seek it.

Daymé Arocena, "Por Ti"

When I hit play on Daymé Arocena's Alkemi this past weekend, I had the most satisfying sonic whiplash. The Afro-Cuban singer, whose stirring voice girds a mix of Caribbean jazz and folk traditions, executes a sumptuous pop vision completely unique to her. As producer, Calle 13's Eduardo Cabra gives Arocena more room for nuance and playfulness, especially on "Por Ti," a horn-forward, new jack swing-style kiss-off with a trap beat switch and a knowing nod to her jazz roots. ¡Sabor! You can hear more about Alkemi on the latest episode of Alt.Latino.

Mekit Dolan Muqam Group, "Bash Bayawan Muqam"

Shouted poetry that will vibrate your soul. This seven-piece group preserves a folk music tradition from the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, China, performing on stringed and struck instruments that crosshatch polyrhythms with a wild ferocity. Improvisation (called muqaddima) opens "Bash Bayawan Muqam" from Bayawan, a studio document of the Mekit Dolan Muqam Group when it was in Shenzhen for a music festival. But about one minute in, the full force of these voices come together in a way that I can only describe as a gang vocal — the call-and-response of hardcore punk. What are these Dolan men whooping on about with such passion? Why, love, of course: "Are you here to rekindle the flame of love / That went out long ago?"

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Lars Gotrich
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