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Music - Singles of the week - Friday, August 2, 2019

IndieLondon gleefully checks out the cream of the week’s singles

Haim, Summer Girl

SINGLE/VIDEO OF THE WEEK 1: HAIMSUMMER GIRL: Haim first debuted their new single Summer Girl in July to an intimate, sold out crowd during a special, one-night only show at Los Angeles’ Teragram Ballroom. Following the song’s debut, footage of the performance quickly spread online and on social media, with many critics hailing it as a laidback masterpiece. It’s easy to see why. Featuring a deliciously shuffling back-beat, some lazy saxophone and those sultry, sultry vocals, this is tailor-made for lying under the sun on a warm sunny day and just letting the vibe wash over you. And yet, there’s a bittersweet element to it too, as Daneielle Haim explains: “I started the song when I found out my partner had cancer. I was on tour and felt like I was trying to send positive energy his way almost telepathically. Whenever I would come home in between shows I wanted to be his sunshine – his summer when he was feeling dark. His hope when he was feeling hopeless.” The song is therefore designed as therapy for hardship, for overcoming something terrible. And taken in that bittersweet context, it could be just as therapeutic for any listener who uses it to add a little sunshine into their lives. It’s beautifully serene, quietly thoughtful and just a really great return from Haim.
Rating: 4 out of 5

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Iggy Pop, James Bond

SINGLE OF THE WEEK 2: IGGY POPJAMES BOND: Who better than to deliver a song about a ‘sexist, mysoginist, dinosaur’ like 007 than, well, a grizzled rock n roll veteran such as Iggy Pop? But then in this age of rewriting the script, empowering women and realising equality, Iggy has well and truly flipped the script. Far from revelling in the type of things that listeners might associate with a track about James Bond, this is sold from a female perspectve and playfully subverts expectations. Sure, the YouTube page features a body emerging from the sea, in classic Bond tradition (both male and female, and the silhouetted figure could just as easily be either), but the track itself declares “she wants to be James Bond” before delivering playful asides about liking M&Ms (as opposed to vodka martinis) and doing what she needs to in order to be perceived in the way that she wants (“she might stand in your way but still she’ll save the day”). The accompanying instrumentals are similarly playful: all cute guitar hooks, sharp stabs of trumpet and cinematic flourishes. It’s a fun offering that also showcases how Iggy Pop can continue to reinvent himself and surprise with the quality of his new music. It’s a delight. Free, the first new Iggy Pop album since 2016’s Post Pop Depression, will be released September 6 on Caroline International/Loma Vista.
Rating: 4 out of 5

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Death Cab For Cutie, Kids in '99

SINGLE OF THE WEEK 3: DEATH CAB FOR CUTIEKIDS IN ’99: Death Cab For Cutie’s new single Kids in ’99 may be as striking and intelligent as usual but there’s an extra level of poignancy attached. The track pays tribute to three children who died 20 years ago in a freak explosion. On June 10, 1999, a gas pipeline operated by the Olympic Pipeline Company exploded in Bellingham, Washington’s Whatcom Falls Park, injuring eight people and killing three children, aged 10 to 18, who were fishing and playing in the area. In conveying the randomness of this tragedy, frontman Ben Gibbard describes the scene and its horrifying immediacy (repeated lyrics like “gone, gone, gone” hammering this home), over a rolling drumbeat and textured guitar. In his delivery, he’s both sorrowful and angry, painfully aware of the innocence that has been lost in an instant. And yet, for all of that gritty, sobering reality, those backing instrumentals ensure that the song never sounds too preachy or melancholy. It’s a song that demands reflection (“thinking about those kids, wonder who they might have been”) but it’s also a track that demands to be enjoyed by virtue of its vitality and intricate layering. It’s a bittersweet gem, taken from their upcoming release, The Blue EP, which is due out on September 6.
Rating: 4 out of 5

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Foals

VIDEO OF THE WEEK 2: FOALSBLACK BULL: Foals’ creative ambition for Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost – Part 1 resulted in a striking state-of-the-world-address of an album in which apocalyptic lyrical themes were equalled by the sheer impact of the music. It emerged as an immediate album of the year contender that was recognised by also being shortlisted for the Mercury Prize last week. Now Foals complete that artistic statement with the October 18 release of Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost – Part 2 and incendiary lead track Black Bull. “Part two is a heavier listen, the guitars are more emphasised and there’s some big riffs on it,” explained Philippakis in an interview with NME. “It’s a rock record and it definitely carries on the narrative from part one. Part one ended with a lot of fire and destructive imagery, part two is trying to respond to that: how you can continue in the wreckage and through the scorched earth? We’re just excited for people to hear it because it completes the journey of what we’ve made over the last year-and-a-half.” That heavier emphasis on giutars is instantly apparent on Black Bull, which bursts out of the speakers from the outset. Built around vehement rhythmic onslaughts, angry vocals and those powerhouse guitars, it’s a head-rush of energy that angrily confronts conflicted masculinity and delusions of grandeur, as only Foals know how. And yet, there’s also something cleverly mainstream too, meaning that the track can easily appeal to fans of U2 at their most grand, as well as acts like Muse and Foo Fighters. It’s a black bull of energy with something important to say, delivered in the type of aggressive manner that’s impossible to ignore. And the accompanying video is just as eye-catching.
Rating: 4 out of 5

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Jacob Lee, Zen

VIDEO OF THE WEEK 3: JACOB LEEZEN: Jacob Lee, the independent singer/songwriter based out of Gold Coast, Australia, ha shared the music video for Zen via his own label Philosophical Records. The video was written and directed by Lee and produced by Moonboy Entertainment – and it’s a striking production, featuring the singer tied up with ropes for long periods while reflecting the mixed emotions at play in the lyrics. Here’s what he had to say about it: “Zen is a song where I finally come to terms with my purpose. It speaks of my capacity to write about others and how I feel as though I’m able to tap into a consciousness far from my own. The lyric is shaped around self-discovery, hope and wonder as I describe the process of writing from another’s perspective. The verses of Zen could almost be described as an ambiguous blueprint for how I feel when I write music, even though it’s largely metaphorical. I understand that artists harbour an aptitude for creativity, and sometimes we confuse it with spirituality or something metaphysical. I’m not convinced anything otherworldly is going on when I or anyone writes music, I just like exploring the concept. The music video takes a slightly different route, acting as a visual representation of my wish to converse closer with my subconscious. In the clip, we see a naive version of myself deep in a maze, whilst the other dwells alone throughout a mansion. My hope was to portray my regular self as lost and confused, while the other radiated a sense of wisdom. I wanted there to be a mysterious distance between the two initially, though ultimately they would connect & the innocent version of me would be shown the way & lead onward. Zen was the last song to be written for the record and acts as a stepping stone for the following single, Artistry.” If some of that sounds borderline pretentious [for some], the song is delivered in a style that allows very easy enjoyment. There are soaring choruses, intelligent lyrics, strong melodic hooks and a sweeping sense of emotion that’s both cinematic and grand. Lee may explore some complex themes yet he does so in a way that’s enjoyably accessible.
Rating: 4 out of 5

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Ava Max, Freaking Me Out

AVA MAXFREAKING ME OUT: Global pop sensation Ava Max has shared two new tracks, in the form of Freaking Me Out and Blood, Sweat & Tears, both of which are available now at all DSPs and streaming services. Commenting on both, Ava said: “Freaking Me Out and Blood, Sweat & Tears are two songs I am so excited to finally have out in the world. The first is about realizing that you’re in love with someone to a degree that feels almost beyond your control and the second is about giving all of yourself to someone you love and sticking by their side no matter what. I can’t wait for everyone to hear and hopefully relate to these new songs.” Of the two, the former is as pop as pop can get. There are bouncy beats, electro-pop flourishes and vocals that flit between purred and gutsy. In that way, it’s also fairly generic. But there’s an undeniable energy, too, which makes it tailor-made to appeal to fans of everyone from Taylor Swift to Sia via Ariana Grande and anyone in between. It’s catchy, hook-laden, breeze pop of the highly disposable but effortlessly enjoyable variety.
Rating: 3 out of 5

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Ava Max, Blood, Sweat & Tears

AVA MAXBLOOD, SWEAT & TEARS: The second of global pop sensation Ava Max’s new releases is Blood, Sweat & Tears and, somewhat predictably, it changes pace from breeze summer pop into something a little more sincere and ballad-based. Ava herself has noted that Blood, Sweat & Tears is about giving all of yourself to someone you love and sticking by their side no matter what. And it’s delivered with that kind of sincerity, allowing Ava to showcase a different side to her vocals – one that layers on the emotional content and delivers real meaning. That said, the production values are as generic, in their own way, as those on Freaking Me Out, playing up the emotion by virtue of emphatic, slower back beats, echoed backing harmonies, chiming electronics and – as ever – a keen sense of melody. It’s, again, the type of song that will appeal to fans of generic power ballads (from Sia to Ariana) but perhaps that’s no bad thing, either, given that Ava clearly knows how to deliver a tune that offers easy appeal, if not necessarily anything more lasting.
Rating: 3 out of 5

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Rhi, Plain Jane

RHIPLAIN JANE: Plain Jane is the latest single from solo producer, singer and songwriter Rhi, taken from her self-produced upcoming album The Pale Queen (out October 4, 2019). Headed up by lead single Swagger, the LP has received radio support from the likes of Lauren Laverne, Nemone, Cerys Matthews and Tom Ravenscroft (BBC 6Music) and Jason Kramer (KCRW). If Swagger was delivered with a certain laidback swagger of its own, then Plain Jane sees Rhi take a tongue-in-cheek look at herself, backed by her quintessential smooth beats and production style highlighting, her low-maintenance mentality. Rhi explains: “A lot of artists big themselves up in their music. I decided to paint a real picture of myself instead.” Hence, she proclaims that “I’m a natural lady” at several points, over a woozy back-beat and minimalist electronics – the accompanying instrumentals offering a similarly low-key, even ‘plain’ backdrop to the point she’s trying to make. But that’s no bad thing, for the way Rhi composes her beats and delivers her lyrics makes this both alternative and cool in its own, resolutely distinct way. By revelling in the everyday and refusing to get carried away by her own hype or ego, Rhi only makes herself more appealing.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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Liimo, If You Love Me

LIIMO – IF YOU LOVE ME: Edinburgh natives Liimo have dropped a new single in the form of If You Love Me, which could well appeal to fans of The 1975 too. A sultry, electro-pop jam about heartbreak, this plays up the sorrow in the vocals, yet also comes across as kind of sexy too – as if to underline the conflicted emotions at play in this tale of sexual heartache. There are similarly seductive back-beats, smooth electronic grooves and a keen sense of melody over the chorus, which is evocative of The 1975 in the way it’s delivered in cool but radio-friendly fashion. Speaking about the new single, frontman Kieran said: “Everyone’s been through heartache in some way, shape or form so with If You Love Me we always knew it was going to have a lot of raw emotion running through it. We actually had the chorus written for a long time before the rest of the song followed. As we threaded the track together, we set ourselves a very high benchmarch because we wanted it to stand up to those heavy hitting ballads that accompanied our heartbreaks growing up, but we love how it’s turned out. Sing it loud.” If You Love Me is the forth single from the London-based Scottish trio, following on from most recent single Pink In Heaven, Get Weird featuring LA artist Lizzy Land and their debut single Pineapple Radio.
Rating: 3 out of 5

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Husky Loops

HUSKY LOOPS – I THINK YOU’RE WONDERFUL: With the endorsement of Annie Mac ringing in their ears, Husky Loops release their new single I Think You’re Wonderful through Fighting Ourselves / 30th Century Records. Hailed as their catchiest track to date, the song still manages to incorporate that unique Husky Loops flavouring we’ve come to expect… quirkiness, thoughtfulness and a certain amount of coolness. Hence, while the initial vocal sample may catch you off-guard a little (and may well be irritating to some), once the lazy beat drops and the central refrain of “I think you’re wonderful” lands, you may well find yourself drifting along with its chilled out vibe. Speaking about the new single, frontman and producer Danio says: “I Think You’re Wonderful is a song about universal love, about forgiveness, about empathy, about resilience. I want people to listen to this one and feel encouraged to tell someone they care about that they’re wonderful. We have to be strong and love each other; in 2019 a lot of negative messages are being sold to us. The current political landscape worldwide is scary and our governments are promoting fear. I want our fans to listen to this song and feel empowered, happy, and full of spirit. Human beings are hard-wired to notice and remember negative news and events, but we need to have hope, we have to fight to stay happy and sane.” In that regard, it’s a song that’s well worth getting behind and adopting as something of a feel-good mantra, while also keeping your eyes and ears on global events to keep those politicians in check. I Think You’re Wonderful is taken from Husky Loops debut album ‘I Can’t Even Speak English, which is set for release on September 6, 2019, and follows on from their most recent single, Everyone Is Having Fun Fun Fun But Me.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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Tove Lo

TOVE LO feat ALMABAD AS THE BOYS: GRAMMY® Award-nominated, multi-platinum selling artist Tove Lo has confirmed a September 20 release date for her forthcoming album Sunshine Kitty (Polydor Records), along with the release of a new track, Bad As The Boys, featuring Finnish artist Alma. And the single is a catchy slice of power pop that’s sure to win Tove even more admirers. In her own words, Tove says of the track: “Bad As The Boys is about my first summer girl crush when I was in my teens. It’s about that sting you feel in your heart when you know summer is coming to an end and so is the romance. Since I’m singing about a girl, I wanted another female artist on it who also likes girls; so I hit up Alma. She really felt the song and was down to sing it with me. She has such an amazing voice and she absolutely killed it! And she’s badass.” In true Tove Lo fashion, the song retains that sense of melancholy in the way she delivers the vocals, ringing out the sense of loss inherent in the lyrics. But the accompanying beats and electronics are pure pop, lending the track an energy that heightens the bittersweet vibe. It’s a song that can be enjoyed in a pure pop fashion, yet one that carries a hefty, identifiable emotional clout too. And that mix of girl-girl vocals also works really well. It’s a song that also makes a statement too.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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Tom Tripp, Glow

TOM TRIPPGLOW: Grammy-nominated artist Tom Tripp returns with new single and video Glow, out now on Polydor Records – and it’s emotionally potent stuff. The self-produced track is an early hours R&B jam that he wrote at the beginning of the year following the inevitable demise of an emotionally abusive relationship. “I was depressed at the end of 2018 and I met this girl online. [I] thought she was a nice person at first, but she would be mentally abusive,” he recalls. “She just ruined me, ruined my whole head. And I managed to get out Glow about that girl.” Lyrics reflect the nature of this relationship with insights such as “it felt like a drug when you told me you loved me” and “you leave me red and blue”. But while certainly serious in lyrical terms, the accompanying R&B vibe makes it an easy, smooth groove listen – albeit with a heightened sense of mood and atmosphere. It’s a slickly produced, emotionally compelling offering from Tripp. The track channels a hint of the Timbaland-produced pop that inspired Tom at the inception of his music-making and comes accompanied by a stylish James Callum-directed video that visually articulates the song’s vulnerability. While Tom is the only character in the monochromatic piece, he has no trouble captivating the viewer with his performance.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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Ariana Grande, Boyfriend

ARIANA GRANDE & SOCIAL HOUSEBOYFRIEND: Multi-platinum, record-breaking superstar Ariana Grande and buzzing LA singer, songwriter and producer duo Social House release their new song boyfriend and seem intent on shocking, mildly. Grande drops a couple of F-bombs early on, as if to underline the grown up nature of the venture. But I couldn’t really see the point. In most other respects, this is a fusion of pop and r’n‘b that emerges as fairly generic. The lyrics, meanwhile, declare that “you aint my boyfriend, I aint your girlfriend”, while chronicling a troubled, twisted relationship. It’s slickly produced but doesn’t have that much to recommend it. The accompanying video finds Ariana and Social House committing various atrocities in the name of love, including literally ripping out a man’s heart. And while this is, again, clearly designed to bring shock value to the Ariana Grande template, it kind of feels forced, unconvincing and unnecessary.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5

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