A new column rounding up the most interesting singles released each month, good and bad. This January we have new jams from Animal Collective, BCNR, Charli XCX, Grimes, The Smile, Denzel Curry, Ghost and more.
SINGLE OF THE MONTH
BLACK COUNTRY, NEW ROAD – Snow Globes
[Post-Rock, Jazz Rock – UK – Ninja Tune]
Goddamn, I am so excited for this new Black Country, New Road album! So far the young UK ensemble have dropped four singles leading up to their sophomore record and all of them have been absolute fire. Interestingly BC, NR have been sounding much less chaotic and unhinged on these new songs, finding more space and alluring builds, with vocalist Isaac Wood’s insane screams and ranting spoken word settling on something of a half-sung-half-spoken approach. Snow Globes is very post-rock inspired nine minute crawl starting on a super sparse yet really pretty repeated guitar melody (not world’s away from Television’s ‘Marquee Moon’) and gradually rising and falling into more explosive sounds later on. It’s maybe BC, NR’s most melancholic track with parts of it sounding like a lullaby. The use of violins and brass is really striking here without being overbearing in the mix, and the drums have a really jazzy shuffle to them that carry the build of the song excellently. Wood’s vocals don’t come in ’til three minutes in and feel relatively calm at points, though his lyrics are still wonderfully strange and unsettling, borrowing the line “He doesn’t look a thing like Jesus” from The Killer’s iconic ‘When You Were Young’ (incidentally almost the name of that controversial pop-punk festival in their hometown Las Vegas that everyone is talking about).
Black Country, New Road continue to be an unstoppable force of insanely well realised musicianship and songwriting… It’s incredibly sad to hear that vocalist and lyricist Isaac Wood has left the band days before the release of their new album due to what sounds like struggles with stage fright and anxiety. I really hope he is doing okay because I don’t think this band can possibly be the same without his enigmatic presence.
ANIMAL COLLECTIVE – Strung With Everything
[Neo-Psychedelia – USA – Domino]
I have a bit of a bias towards Animal Collective as they are one of my all time favourite bands that I am constantly coming back to again and again. But even I’m aware that there has been a drastic critical shift in perception from being an untouchable band in the ’00s and then receiving very lukewarm attention from their criminally underrated 2012 album Centipede Hz onwards. AnCo have always had a fluctuating lineup and this is the first time all four of the beastly creatures have been recording together since their maligned 2016 album Painting With.
But it feels like the tides could be turning back into AnCo’s favour as all three of the lead singles leading up to their new studio album Time Skiffs have all been really well received by fans and critics. I especially loved lead single ‘Prester John’, which weirdly sounded like AnCo doing a Tame Impala song. Strung With Everything sounds like a band rejuvenated. It’s got an intricate groove and the vocal harmonies are really on point. There’s a fun almost calypso vibe running through, yet not as outwardly sugary as some of the singles from Painting With. AnCo play it more restrained to begin with and let some pretty textures build in, but then go wild in the second leg. It feels weird to say this is “classic Animal Collective” as the band are constantly changing up their sound and approaches to writing, so let’s just say AnCo are really on the money here. Strung With Everything feels familiar and fresh at the same time. This is the most excited I’ve been for a new Animal Collective album in ages. 😀
CHARLI XCX (FT. RINA SAWAYAMA) – Beg For You
[UK Garage, Pop – UK / Japan – Asylum]
The queen of hyperpop returns with her second single leading up to new album Crash, and has brought along friend and peer Rina Sawayama for a duet. Charli XCX throws a surprising and interesting curveball here, singing over a classic 2-step UK garage beat which sounds like it could have come straight from Craig David’s first album! Just shy of three minutes long, Beg For You is a hi-energy no-nonsense romp with an instantly catchy earworm hook that will have you screaming “Don’t you leave me this way” into the bathroom mirror! Sadly Rina Sawayama’s guest vocals don’t really add too much of a strong presence in the mix, merely repeating a very similar sound and phrasing that was already set by Charli XCX. The track also hits some fairly obvious beats and is nowhere near as wild and abrasive as many of the songs on her previous triumph How I’m Feeling Now, but regardless this duet is heaps of fun and an instantaneous burst of nostalgia.
Charli XCX’s previous single ‘Good Ones’ was very ’80s sounding, whilst this one is straight out of the year 2000, so I’m curious to see what else her new album Crash will have in store. Perhaps it will be a love letter to different eras and evolving sounds of pop music? Also… CRAAAAAAIIIIG DAAAAAAVIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIID!!!!!
DENZEL CURRY – Walkin’
[Conscious Hip-Hop – USA – Loma Vista]
I jumped on board the Denzel Curry train when 2018’s fantastic TA13OO album was released, and ever since the man has kept dropping high quality exciting projects. I’ve always thought of Denzel Curry as being one of the many leading lights in contemporary hip-hop, but with this new single Walkin’ I’m starting to feel an extra level quality that could elevate him to the pantheon of the all time greats. Curry has always been a sharp emcee, whilst still being able to healthily embrace new trends in hip-hop, but Walkin’ is proof that his technical abilities as a rapper, as well as a wordsmith have only got sharper. Walkin’ has a late ’90s/ early ’00s Rawkus Records sort of vibe and I am really digging hearing Curry ride more of an old school traditional grimy boom-bap style hip-hop beat. I feel like this is the tightest I’ve ever heard his flow and rapping abilities, as well as one of the wordiest songs yet.
Unlike some of his great singles like ‘Ricky’, ‘ULT’ and ’13LACK 13ALLOONZ’, Walkin’ doesn’t really have a big hook or a chorus. Denzel Curry just goes off and raps and raps his ass off Nas style here and damn, he’s absolutely got the chops to walk the walk. What a tune!
LANA DEL REY – Watercolor Eyes
[Soft-Rock, Lounge-Pop – USA – Polydor]
I’ve often felt that Lana Del Rey can be inconsistent when it comes to writing albums, but has a great track record for putting out excellent singles. This sentiment couldn’t have been more true of her two album release cycles from last year. Watercolour Eyes is a standalone single made for the soundtrack to new HBO series Euphoria, and this is just outright disappointing and feels really phoned in. The lounge-pop inspired instrumental features a chord progression that kinda sounds like Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ (something Lana Del Rey almost got sued over already in the past on a different song), but the most distracting thing is this track sounds very cliched and also like it was rushed out. There are numerous lyrics in this song where she describes how the subject person, presumably a love interest, tastes which already feels like an overused lyrical motif in Lana Del Rey’s repertoire. Her voice sounds noticeably flat at points and it also feels like she is rushing over the tempo of the slow piano, which becomes awkwardly off-putting. Speaking of the piano, something about it sounds really off key on the chorus in the second leg of the song. There’s just no chemistry between Del Rey’s voice and the instrumental. Production and sound pallet is usually a very strong point in all of Lana Del Rey’s body of music, but this track feels really, really disjointed…
Something has gone terribly wrong here. Watercolor Eyes is easily one of the most disappointing Lana Del Rey singles I can think of. I’ve not seen the show, but I hope this track isn’t too integral to the story, unless there’s an awful car crash!
GHOST – Call Me Little Sunshine
[Heavy Metal, Occult Rock – Sweden – Loma Vista]
Ghost are such a marmite band that have completely divided the metal community. You either love them or absolutely despise them. And whilst I’m certainly no metalhead, I do love myself a bit of Ghost – they’re arguably the best pop metal act since ’90s Metallica and I feel like they’re ready to take over the world. Leading up to their fifth full length Impera, Ghost have definitely built a signature sound by this point, where you only need to hear five seconds of one of their songs to know who it is. Call Me Little Sunshine rolls into that comfortable signature, feeling effortlessly catchy and memorable. Ghost absolutely know how to write massive hooks and sticky riffs. I’m feeling a proper classic rock vibe coming out of this single – with nods to ’80s Ozzy Osbourne and a main riff that makes me think of Dio’s immortal classic ‘Holy Diver’. It’s also quite a relaxed mid-tempo effort for Ghost – neither as uplifting as ‘Dance Macabre’, nor as evil sounding as ‘Cirice’. Ultimately, this is a pretty good song, but it doesn’t leave a huge impression. It’s just Ghost sounding like Ghost. I hope the Impera album throws us some twists and surprises because there aren’t really any here.
GRIMES – Shinigami Eyes
[Electro-Pop – Canada – Sony Columbia]
Legendary alt-synth pop artist Grimes releases another single that gears towards a new album cycle and I’m just not sure I’m feeling the direction she’s going in. Grimes’ futuristic visions, sugary sweet hooks and rough around the edges DIY beats have always worked wonders across her previous three albums, but this latest single Shinigami Eyes feels like it is really missing a spark. This track has a really strong Eurovision style electro-pop leaning with a really dated sound. To add to the despair, the structure of the chorus and lyrics just seems to pander to really obvious and formulaic stereotypes. The production is also way too squeaky clean and bland. The line “I’m so fucking high” feels so damp and processed that it could easily pass by sensitive ears on daytime radio uncensored.
Grimes has been an influential figure towards the exciting new directions that synth-pop and even hyperpop are shaping, but if this is the sound and writing style that her next album is hinting towards then I’m fearful that she’s going to fall way behind the curve.
J.I.D. (FEAT. 21 SAVAGE & BABY TATE) – Surround Sound
[Southern Hip-Hop, Trap – USA – Interscope]
I’ve been hearing a lot about J.I.D. over the last couple of years and caught the odd song and feature here and there, but with this new single Surround Sound he has my total attention. Surround Sound takes the exact same sample from Mos Def’s immortal classic ’99 hip-hop anthem ‘Ms. Fat Booty’, yet takes this upbeat soulful tune into a much darker and eerier place through the use of hard trap beats. It’s a clever transformation, as this track hits similar checkpoints to Mos Def’s classic, only slowing down the tempo. J.I.D. has an ice cool voice and flow and makes it sound effortless here, with 21 Savage and Baby Tate complimenting well with their verses, yet not outshining J.I.D. In the final third, the beat flips into an even grimier vibe, and J.I.D. really flexes his technical abilities with a commanding, wordy flow. If this is the quality that J.I.D. is going into his forthcoming album with, then I’m all ears.
DANIEL ROSSEN – Shadow In The Frame
[Chamber Folk – USA – Warp]
It’s been far too long since we’ve heard from US indie folk legends Grizzly Bear, but thankfully vocalist and guitarist Daniel Rossen is gearing up for a full length solo album on Warp Records. The apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree and it’s so great to hear his mesmerising vocals in full force once again. ‘Shadow In The Frame’ definitely shares a similar spirit to the arrangements of Grizzly Bear, and this song could have fit snuggly onto their excellent 2012 album Shields.
Daniel Rossen has paired back the rock and electronic elements that make up Grizzly Bear’s dense sound to focus much more on the folk aspects, with finger-picked guitars, rousing vocal harmonies, shuffling drums and embellishments of strings and horns. There’s a similar sonic blueprint to recent Fleet Foxes material here too. Grizzly Bear fans should definitely be keeping this solo joint on their radars as this song is wonderful and elegant.
THE SMILE – You Will Never Work In Television Again
[Post-Punk, Noise Rock – UK – XL]
I guess it’s never too late to start a new band. Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood are joined by drummer Tom Skinner from futurist afro-jazz outfit Sons Of Kemet to take on a stripped back post-punk sound. This debut single from The Smile is a brisk, immediate two-and-a-half minute offering that hangs on one motif and doesn’t even reach a chorus. The guitar and bass sound is pretty satisfying here – captured by Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich – and far more bare and simplistic than much of Radiohead’s output. The lyrics are typically esoteric from Thom Yorke, delivered with a fairly lively and compelling vocal.
The Smile are giving me vibes of The Walkmen with a tiny pinch of Sonic Youth here. I guess this could have been a B-side from Hail To The Thief. I’m definitely intrigued to hear more from this project, but I don’t think they are likely to gain a new fanbase aside from people who already like Radiohead to begin with.
THANK – Dread
[Post-Punk, Synth-Punk – UK – Box]
If sarcasm was a genre, Thank would be the pin up band and Dread would be the anthem to open disc 3 of Now That’s What I Call Sarcasm. Just like exactly 50% of UK bands formed since 2017, Thank are a post-punk act. Dread teases existentially towards the Leeds’ crew’s forthcoming album Thoughtless Cruelty and works like this decade’s firmware update to LCD Soundsystem’s ‘Daft Punk Is Playing At My House’. I say this because the repeated refrain “There’s never been a good band from… [Insert quip here]“ is equally as irritating and yet irresistibly catchy. The insanely British yelpy vocals glide across a Suicide like… The band that is… Synth-punk groove that staggers along as volatile as a spicehead stumbling out of an afternoon Wetherspoons. The bizarre low budget music video only adds to the charm, with a bling clad bank teller sporting a mask of late celebrity medium Derek Acorah tearing up print-outs of iconic band press photos. The icing on the cake though, comes from the noisy saxophone solo in the rousing climax. Delightfully dreadful? Thanks.
THE WEEKND – Sacrifice
[Alternative R&B, Synth-Pop – Canada – XO]
So I didn’t quite enjoy The Weeknd’s new album Dawn FM quite as much as the R&B sensation’s previous album -the moody, atmospheric ’80s infused opus After Hours – but it still has some great moments. Sacrifice is without a doubt Dawn FM‘s crowning tune – a sensational song that is instantly catchy. This smooth as hell track reels you in immediately with a supremely funky bass hook that sounds so much like it could have come off one of Daft Punk’s Homework era singles. The Weeknd just runs with it, soaring over the beat and chiming synths with an enormous chorus and effortlessly amazing vocal chops. Sure, the production and sound are maybe a little too shiny, but damn… This song has burrowed itself firmly into my brain and set up camp. Just try not to shake your ass along to this song, I DARE YOU!!!
There will be no Spotify playlist this time because FUCK SPOTIFY!!!