A round up of the most interesting singles released this February – Featuring new music from Caroline Polachek, Sharon Van Etten, Ithaca, Lucy Dacus, RZA, Lingua Ignota and more.
SINGLE OF THE MONTH
CAROLINE POLACHEK – Billions
[Art-Pop – USA – Perpetual Novice]
If Caroline Polachek’s incredible 2019 debut(ish) full length Pang taught us anything, it’s that her vision of crafting surreal, melancholic art-pop ballads outshines even her bangers. Whilst ‘So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings’ was the elite banger of that album, moodier cuts like ‘Ocean Of Tears’, ‘Hit Me Where It Hurts’ and the phenomenal breakthrough smash ‘Door’ were her most triumphant moments. Last year’s sensational single ‘Bunny Is A Rider’ tipped the scales for Polachek; her most outrageously catchy, danceable, funky, glamorous and effortlessly straight forward song yet. This latest new single Billions is more in line with much of the style of the songs across Pang – a weighty, moody dreamscape wrapped in layers of breathy auto-tune, with hard hitting beats punching through and gliding synths that loom like an enveloping fog. This five minute multi-faceted beast plays out like a spiritual successor to the spellbinding ‘Door’, but is far from Polachek sticking to her comfort zone. With Pang producer Danny L Harle returning as well as bringing experimental electronic poster boy of the moment Oneohtrix Point Never along (fresh off working with The Weeknd), Polachek pushes into more daring and experimental territory, even conducting a children’s choir on this song’s surprising climax.
On the first listen or two, Billions feels really out there and perhaps a bizarre choice for a single, but Polachek’s daring ideas really do converge into something captivating and otherworldly, in the spirit of Kate Bush or Bjork’s total elimination of pop music’s boundaries and confines. In the first half, Polachek (and a hefty dose of delay) manages to turn a breathy gasping sound into something akin to a stab of rushing synths, becoming a strange melodic throughline that glosses over an erratic pulsing beat and glitchy vocal bridges that feel like they are tearing at the fabric of the song. The use of the phrase “Billions” as a quasi-chorus in the first half is a ruse as the finale takes on a much heftier mantra, “I’ve never felt so close to you”, which becomes so gargantuan that the aforementioned children’s choir launches Polachek into the spiritual aether – in what is an unorthodox yet powerful climax. If ‘Bunny Is A Rider’ succeeded in how direct and supremely catchy it is, then Billions is the yin to its yang, flying off the map with big, wild and outlandish ideas. If these are the first two glimpses into album #2 then we should be in for something truly mind-blowing.
CHALK HANDS – Les Jours Passent Et Ne Me Ressemblent Pas
[Post-Hardcore, Screamo – UK – Dog Knights]
The second single offering leading up to Chalk Hands’ debut full length Don’t Think About Death is an immediate and expressive explosion. The former single ‘Fail, Grasp, Restore‘ was a five minute powerhouse that showcased Chalk Hands’ growing grasp on space and dynamics. This second single goes for something of an opposite approach, lasting half the length and going for the jugular with a more frenzied and immediate delivery, whilst traversing through a number of exciting passages of emotive chords, passionate vocals, some pretty twiddly guitars and even some blastbeats. If you like highly emotive post-hardcore then do get to know Chalk Hands as they are yet another fine Brighton band out to prove just how special the UK’s heavy underground is right now.
LUCY DACUS – Kissing Lessons
[Power Pop, Bedroom Pop – USA – Matador]
Indie Folky singer-songwriter Lucy Dacus’ previous album Home Video was a soul-bearing personal journey through nostalgia and sadness, framed through the narrative of watching old home camera footage. This lead to some of her most solemn and revealing balladry to date, so it’s fitting that this brand new single flips the script by finding a more breezy and upbeat sound. Not even two minutes in length, Kissing Lessons is a bratty and sunny power-pop guitar wonder, with slight synth flourishes and a simple yet effective barebones drum machine beat in place of a live kit. There’s a real bedroom DIY recording energy here, yet the production is still bright and well polished. The guitar playing is all block power chords, but the guitar sits back in the mix and isn’t as crunchy as say a Weezer or Pavement song – or perhaps a Snail Mail or Best Coast track for a more contemporary comparison. Dacus’ vocals are also fairly hushed, so there is a little bit of a missed opportunity for her to really go wild and rock out, but her extraordinary storytelling and lyrical attention to detail continues to be such a strong asset. In just shy of two minutes in length, Lucy Dacus constructs a short coming-of-age story that feels bigger than the sum of its parts.
DALEK – Decimation (Dis Nation)
[Industrial Hip-Hop – USA – Ipecac]
Before Clipping, before Death Grips and before JPEGMAFIA, Dalek were the OG pioneers of marrying hip-hop with experimental production, loud industrial textures, unsettling drones and sometimes straight up abrasive noise. Interestingly, now that contemporary hip-hop artists are finally catching up, this first single teasing towards new album Precipice is the sound of Dalek looking back. Decimation (Dis Nation) very much sounds like their earlier material, putting the hip-hop roots of their sound at the forefront. I don’t even think I’ve ever heard MC Dalek’s voice mixed with so much clarity, as he often sits back into the middle of their dense industrial fog. Compositionally it’s Dalek through and through, with a fairly straight forward and to the point structure here. That said the soundplay is flavoursome with looming drones at the back and these excellent bubbling synth pinches reminiscent of Boards Of Canada. The juxtaposition of the anger in MC Dalek’s politically charged rhymes with the dreamlike instrumentals has always been something to admire, and Dalek capture that signature to a tee here. This song certainly isn’t anything surprising or particularly adventurous for long term fans, but Dalek still sound strong and sharp like leaders of the pack should.
DREAM WIDOW – March Of The Insane
[Thrash Metal – USA – Roswell]
Dream Widow are a fictional metal band played by the Foo Fighters in their upcoming horror film Studio 666. The Foos have recorded new music as a tie-in, with this lead single March Of The Insane going for a full on thrash metal sound (despite a number of publications thinking it’s death metal – it’s not). I’m sure there will be legions of metalheads groaning about this on Facebook comment threads, but I kinda had a fun time with this. March Of The Insane is a very by-the-numbers tongue firmly in cheek attempt at making a classic ’80s thrash song in the vein of Anthrax, Kreator and Exodus with lyrics that could have come straight out of the back of a teenage headbanger’s school notebook. The production tries to go for a vintage sound, holding back on the polish and sheen. It’s not exactly going to impress many devout thrash fans and reeks of “hey, we’re still cool – look at what we’ve made!” But in terms of the Foo Fighters canon, I’d sooner take something slightly riskier and adventurous like this instead of their past decade’s descent into bland radio friendly dad rock. Dave Grohl still needs to revisit his Probot project though – that would be even better.
ITHACA – They Fear Us
[Metalcore – UK – Hassle]
Ithaca are always one to take their time between releases, so it’s great to hear that they are gearing up for their sophomore album in a perfect pairing with Hassle Records. With their outspoken condemning of social injustice, brutal metallic hardcore sound and of course their incredible dress sense, people should fear them! They Fear Us builds upon the sound of their fantastic debut The Language Of Injury and feels even more confident. That delightful Petitioning-era Converge guitar attack is back, but there seems to be a tighter focus on structure here. The verses are fierce, the production is vibrant, but the best surprise are the soaring Deftones-inspired choruses that feature amazing clean vocals from Djamila Azzouz, as well as what sounds like some subtle spacey synth textures. How dare Ithaca drop a lead single this killer!?
LINGUA IGNOTA – Katie Cruel
[Darkwave, Dark Folk – USA – Self-Released]
Lingua Ignota already released my favourite record of 2021, and yet Kristin Hayter is still delivering more crushing tear-jerking ballads. Always one to get involved in Bandcamp’s incredible Bandcamp Fridays (in which for the first Friday of each month the platform takes no fees on any purchases made on the site), Lingua Ignota has dropped a bunch of digital only singles and EPs, most of which are excellent cover versions made completely in her own style. This latest is a rendition of traditional Scottish folk song Katie Cruel, best known as recorded by Karen Dalton back in 1962. Hayter’s version of this song is much longer and more spacious, building with gloomy piano chords and an absolutely stunning vocal that resonates with peril and mystery. Working once again with producer Seth Manchester, the sound captured here is very earthy, favouring natural instrumentation and finding a brooding, menacing atmosphere. There’s very little (if anything) that could improve Lingua Ignota’s previous album Sinner Get Ready, but if this cover song had found its way into the tracklist it would feel right at home.
GREG PUCIATO (FT. REBA MEYERS) – Lowered
[Alternative Rock, Shoegaze – USA – Federal Prisoner]
This new single from former The Dillinger Escape Plan vocalist Greg Puciato is reminiscent of the early to mid ’00s when a string of overly anthemic alternative rock bands were doing the rounds. Remember the likes of Angels & Airwaves and Thirty Seconds To Mars!? Maybe Imagine Dragons would be today’s equivalent? Fortunately, this song by Greg Puciato is much more tasteful and endearing than those bands, even if it did remind me of that style and era. Puciato trades clean singing verses with Code Orange’s Reba Meyers, who delivers a dynamic alluring and breathy delivery. Closer to Puciato’s The Black Queen project in spirit, Lowered strives to be a huge fist pumping festival anthem full of bombast. Though it’s a very over the top song, the neon tinged production is detailed with shoegazy guitar lines, pounding drums and subtle electronics. The verses ring with plenty of texture and melancholy, whilst the choruses and vocal duet finale are left to fly off the rails, exploding into the kind of cheesy alt-pop that could grace an Evanescence song. It’s daft but very well conceived.
ROW OF ASHES – Worcester Man
[Noise Rock, Sludge Metal – UK – Self-Released]
Noisy cult Londoners Row Of Ashes seem to be making a fairly low-key return as a trio after parting ways with their lead vocalist Eliza Gregory. Guitarist Will Turner-Duffin does a fantastic job taking over vocal duties on this filthy, pummeling, noisy sludge tune. Worcester Man is the sound of a band going back to the bare bones of their sound, and the trio find plenty of grit and anger in the process through jagged stop/start riffs and molten bass reminiscent of Will Haven, Naisian, Sonic Youth and Shellac in equal measure. Turner-Duffin’s screeches are cutting, direct and pained across this frantic belter that teases towards their forthcoming new album titled Bleaching Heat.
RZA & DJ Scratch – Fate Of The World
[Hip-Hop, Boom Bap – USA – Self-Released]
It’s funny to think that despite RZA being the conceptual mastermind of the Wu Tang Clan, as well as a rugged emcee and one of the all time greatest hip-hop producers and beatmakers, his solo career has been pretty unremarkable. I’m surprised to see RZA pass over the producer keys to understated NY producer DJ Scratch here, shifting his own focus onto the vocals and rhymes. DJ Scratch himself has worked with plenty of legends since the late ’80s including EPMD, Busta Rhymes, Redman, Pharoahe Monch and plenty more. Comically, DJ Scratch has come up with an instrumental that sounds near identical to RZA’s signature beat style. This beat could have easily sat on the underrated ’97 double album Wu Tang Forever, so much so that the chorus of this song even goes, “Push your hands up, Wu Tang is forever”.
Bizarre to think that RZA couldn’t have just came up with this beat himself, but regardless this is a pretty decent track. There’s a nice pulsing sub-bass, a classic boom-bap beat and a catchy soul hook to boot. Lyrically RZA delivers just about every cliché in his verbal repertoire, mentioning bone marrow, “A better tomorrow”, spiritual metaphors, warrior pep-talks and motivational Wu Tang chants, but his voice and flow has a nice energy at least. Fate Of The World is pretty by-the-numbers and nothing too striking, but it is a fairly solid track.
SHARON VAN ETTEN – Porta
[Synth-Pop, Heartland Rock – USA – Jagjaguwar]
Sharon Van Etten’s one off single collab with Angel Olsen, ‘Like I Used To’ was my favourite single of 2021, in which the pair explored a Born To Run-inspired epic heartland rock sound. This new solo single Porta also has a bit of a Springsteen vibe, but captures much more of an ’80s aesthetic, complete with twinkling synths, choppy drum machine loops, an anthemic drive and even a music video that features aerobics… Does it get more ’80s than aerobics!? Van Etten’s vocals stride with so much husk and gleaming confidence here on a track that takes her sound further away from her indie folk upbringing. Porta is uplifting and has this floating, shimmering vibe. It’s not a massively immediate song – and aside from the chorus is fairly low on drama – but it’s one that weaves its way into your psyche and sounds better and more familiar on repeat listens. No doubt, Sharon Van Etten will be cooking up yet another incredible album release if this is anything to go by.