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8 Tracks: Samba shoegaze, cherry blossom jazz and an 8-bit K-pop crush

Sonhos Tomam Conta roughly translates as "dreams take over," which is a perfect way to think of this samba-infused shoegaze project from São Paulo.
Courtesy of the artist
Sonhos Tomam Conta roughly translates as "dreams take over," which is a perfect way to think of this samba-infused shoegaze project from São Paulo.

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.

Ever since 2013's Beyoncé, I have made a point to buy each new Beyoncé album from a store before I stream. With physical media, I tend to focus on the narrative arc of an album with more intention, especially someone as intentional as Beyoncé. RENAISSANCE, for instance, did not truly click with me until I put needle to vinyl and let the music overwhelm my living room — that moment reinforced that a music's medium can unlock a new listening experience.

So I was a little miffed to discover that "YA YA," among other tracks, is not included on Cowboy Carter's CD or LP. More than likely, they were late additions to the album, too late to be added in the production cycle — there's a download that includes everything on the digital edition. Still, it's a shame: Coming toward the end of a sonically sprawling and thematically messy album, "YA YA" succinctly sums up Cowboy Carter's rich and complicated tableau of American history. There are references to the Chitlin' Circuit and The Jackson 5; dance moves from "the swim" in the '60s to twerkin' and jerkin'; there's a sample of "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'," plus interpolations of The Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations" and Mickey & Sylvia's "Love is Strange" — all swirled up in a psychedelic-soul rave up. In the (physical media) sequence of Cowboy Carter, I not only miss the song's intricately woven chaos, but also Bey's ability to command the story on the dance floor.

While I wish for a deluxe super physical edition of Cowboy Carter that restores "YA YA" to its proper place in the track list, here are some of the best tracks I heard in the last week, featuring shoegaze samba, ambient jazz and 8-bit K-pop.

Sonhos Tomam Conta, "oração do mar"

Shoegaze was made to be malleable. Sure, its sonic touchstones are well trod — gossamer distortion, cooed vocals, disappearing drummers — but in recent decades, those same sounds have successfully daisy-chained to screamo and metal. And then something like São Paulo's Sonhos Tomam Conta comes around. On "oração do mar," a samba rhythm is plucked on a dreamy acoustic guitar as the track gives way to a bluster of beautiful noise. I was worried that this unique — and complementary — melding of worlds would be drowned, but where electric guitar careens, the drums carry samba's ebb and flow into the oceanic void.

Fuubutsushi, "Tenel Ka (First Crush)"

Fuubutsushi crafts hard-to-classify music that soothes and challenges. The quartet includes saxophonist Patrick Shiroishi, violinist Chris Jusell, keyboardist Matthew Sage and guitarist Chaz Prymek, each adding additional instruments and textures. From the group's forthcoming album, Meridians, "Tenel Ka (First Crush)" is a pastoral adventure: flickers of flamenco guitar, static and shimmering synths give way to a joyous romp that blooms like cherry blossoms — violin, saxophone and guitar trade the melody like pale pink petals rustling in the breeze.

ILLIT, "Magnetic"

If there was a retro-style 8-bit game about falling in love, "Magnetic" would soundtrack the level where you pass notes to your crush. ILLIT is the latest K-pop girl group from the HYBE empire and, like its contemporaries (elders already?) in NewJeans, slightly twists turn-of-the-millennium R&B and bass music into pure bubblegum. The vowel-stretched-and-stuttered "you" of the hook is dance challenge-ready, but the stacked rhythms and countermelodies of the verses and pre-choruses make "Magnetic" far more dynamic than most in this scene.

Ekko Astral, "devorah"

A minimalist riff emerges from a gaping maw. A moan matches nervous tension. Everything erupts into a volcanic deconstruction of dance punk's heyday, but sludged and fuzzed into a smeared pop slop. Think Perfect Pussy's blown-out noise-pop, Priests' snaggle-toothed post-punk and The Armed's maximalist post-hardcore and you get somewhat of an idea, but still need to buckle up for this helluva introduction to Washington, D.C.'s Ekko Astral.

Alejandro Escovedo, "Sacramento & Polk"

No one can really pin down Alejandro Escovedo, but it's still a smack to the head when he pulls another rabbit out of his cowboy hat. His latest album, Echo Dancing, revisits old songs and doesn't so much reinvent but awaken an alternate timeline. "Sacramento & Polk" first appeared on Bourbonitis Blues in 1999, then again in 2006 with John Cale behind the boards, and was later covered by Lenny Kaye — it's a bruiser of a rocker about the dark underbelly of 1970s San Francisco. But here, Escovedo exorcizes a street demon with an industrial-punk beat, whispers of spaghetti western guitar and barroom piano.

Liv.e, "It Doesn't Matter"

Speaking of the unpinnable, yet surprisingly industrial, Liv.e surprise-dropped PAST FUTUR.e on Cowboy Carter Day. She is a warper of R&B worlds, but I did not expect a mini-album of lo-fi synthwave bangers. "It Doesn't Matter" churns a minimalist synth beat that wouldn't be out of place on a Super Mario dungeon level, but smears a Gary Numan melody atop as Liv.e moans a goth rave maxim: "The real truth is that you have to face your hell / In order for all of it to be proven / Now dance!"

The Ophelias, "Soft and Tame"

The Ophelias' "Soft and Tame" unfolds slowly, like delicate origami — a violin murmurs around moody guitar chords as Spencer Peppet paints a murky scene of a black house and an overturned bus. There's an unwelcome presence here, even as the "radio plays a song we love." It's both a love song and hate mail for the hometown that feels familiar, but is tainted by something that cannot be named.

Pedro the Lion, "Modesto"

Pedro the Lion's David Bazan has been revisiting his childhood and teenage years in a series of albums named for the towns he's lived in. If "First Drum Set" from Pedro the Lion's 2022 album, Havasu, captures the joyous moment of pure creation, Santa Cruz's "Modesto" turns that ruckus into something his own. "Make all the messes you can manage to make," he sings over a slowly rumbling rocker that only grows with fervor — it's advice given to him by a guitar store employee, but Bazan turns a simple reflection into a revelation.

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