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Music - Singles of the week - Friday, June 19, 2020

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

DMA's, Learning Alive

SINGLE OF THE WEEK 1: DMA’S – LEARNING ALIVE: Sydney trio DMA’S prepare for the release of their new album, The Glow (on July 10, 2020) with the release of powerful new track Learning Alive. A slow-builder designed to foster a sense of reassurance, this is another example of the band’s ability to deliver anthemic, stadium-primed tracks that appeal on an instrumental and emotional level. The song takes an honest, heart-rending look at a challenging relationship (“never been so scared to be broken”) while attempting to find a way forward (“I just want to hold you forever, how can I tell you we’re getting better with time? I’m on your side”). It’s the groundswell of emotion that really sweeps you along… those emotive lyrics, delivered in heartfelt fashion, complete with slow-building instrumentals that eventually give rise to some powerful string arrangements. The guitars and pianos also combine beautifully, bringing a touch of Oasis at times. It’s terrifically stirring songwriting.
Rating: 4 out of 5

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Annie, American Cars

SINGLE OF THE WEEK 2: ANNIEAMERICAN CARS: Norwegian pop superstar Annie steps back into the limelight with her seductive single, American Cars, a prelude to her forthcoming album, the opulent and extraordinary Dark Hearts. The track is described as the soundtrack to blacked out skylines, abandoned downtown city districts and empty highways and continues the cinematic theme that runs throughout the new material. Annie explains: “It was partly inspired by the David Cronenberg film Crash. It was 2pm and the only other people in the cinema were two old men, a mum and her screaming baby, and 16-year-old me. It was quite a strange experience. The film is about pushing it to the edge. When you’re looking for something dark you don’t necessarily know why you’re doing it. But you’re pushing the boundaries. You can fall, or almost fall, but you climb back.” The late-night sound conjured by the laidback synths and dreamy beats certainly has something dangerous and cinematic about it, also evoking comparisons with Drive-era Nicolas Winding Refn. But with Annie’s hypnotic, sultry vocals to guide the song as well, this unfolds like a dangerous dream… but an intoxicating one all the same. It’s endlessly addictive, even beguiling stuff, that you just want to hear more of.
Rating: 4 out of 5

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Beyonce, Black Parade

SINGLE OF THE WEEK 3: BEYONCEBLACK PARADE: A late arrival but a potent one… Beyonce has dropped a new track to celebrate Juneteenth (a holiday marking the official end of slavery in the US) and to mark the Black Lives Matter protests sweeping the globe. And it’s been worth the wait. Featuring a pulse pounding back-beat and some typically sassy vocals, as well as dashes of flute and touches of electronics, this is very much a song of its time that’s in tune with a moment. Lyrics include “Put your fists up in the air, show black love, need peace and reparation for my people”, before going on to reference the Covid-19 pandemic (“Fly on the runway in my hazmat”), police brutality (“Rubber bullets bouncing off me”) and Tamika Mallory, a prominent activist in the Women’s March and Black Lives Matter movements. It’s a resolute, brilliant offering… a song with plenty of say that’s delivered in a way that offers global reach and appreciation. Quite simply, you’ll be singing along, while dancing along – but the crucial part is actually taking notice of what it has to say. Announcing the single via Instagram, Beyonce wrote: “Happy Juneteenth Weekend! I hope we continue to share joy and celebrate each other, even in the midst of struggle. Please continue to remember our beauty, strength and power.”
Rating: 4 out of 5

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Melody Gardot

VIDEO OF THE WEEK 1: MELODY GARDOTFROM PARIS WITH LOVE: Acclaimed singer-songwriter Melody Gardot made headlines last month when she launched a call on social networks for musicians and people to join her on a new project called From Paris With Love. After reviewing hundreds of the online submissions, the final piece is ready. From the United States, Armenia, South Korea, Japan, Australia, Brazil, to Norway and beyond, Gardot’s new single combines the musicality and skills of orchestral musicians from all over the world who have never met, many of whom have been out of work these past few months currently unable to perform due to closures related to COVID-19. The hopelessness of this continuing situation for her musical colleagues is what inspired Gardot to embark upon such an ambitious project. All musicians who were chosen to be in the final project were paid a fee relative to a standard UK musicians studio wage. Gardot explains: “This project is a stunning example of how music is a universal language and how our global awareness is greater than ever. Seeing what’s happening around the world, we cannot ignore our need for love and connection during this time. I am so happy to see the generous response displayed in the vast array of characters, from all corners of the globe, coming together to create this unique piece of music. It is a symbolic gesture for the way we can offer hope as we look towards the idea of creation in the future.” The video itself, shot in black and white, is beautifully made. It is a perfect love-letter to the world’s ability to come together and support one another in the darkest of times. The song, meanwhile, has a classic romanticism attached, with Gardot’s timeless vocals evoking memories of classic songstresses. But the accompanying instrumentals, many of them strings-based, are heart-meltingly beautiful, too, as well as highly cinematic. It’s a labour of love that inspires love and nothing but deep felt admiration.
Rating: 4 out of 5

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Swae Lee, Reality Check

VIDEO OF THE WEEK 2: SWAE LEEREALITY CHECK: Swae Lee remains, perhaps, best known for his Sunflower collaboration with Post Malone but his distinct rapping style and vocals are back with new single Reality Check. But while the eye-catching video combines dream-like elements with footage of America burning in the wake of the BLM movement, the song itself has more of a fantastical element to it. It’s not a protest song. Rather, it’s all about deciphering the real from the fantastical, with Swae attempting to make sense of his own reality and checking on his ex to make sure she’s not doing better than him. On the plus side, Swae’s distinct, sedate vocals create a hazy, lazy, almost woozy focal point that’s further enhanced by the lazy beats and ambient synths. It’s low-key stuff. But some of the lyrics leave a little to be desire, featuring as they do the use of words such as ‘bitch’ and ‘nigger’. On the whole, however, Reality Check works because of its spectral style, which eases you into an almost fantastical state of mind as you attempt to make sense of your own new reality. It’s strangely hypnotic stuff, with the visuals to match.
Rating: 4 out of 5

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Ellen Krauss, Bali

ELLEN KRAUSSBALI: Rising Swedish pop star Ellen Krauss has returned with another new single in the form of Bali, which is taken from her forthcoming second EP Pearl, which follows on July 17, 2020. With its bright and atmospheric production woven effortlessly between her bold and soaring vocals, her latest offering brings back more of that broad and euphoric direction that she is quickly gaining a reputation for. Her vocals are particularly expressive, trading between impassioned during the soaring chorus, or more sultry in the build-up. The instrumentals are nicely layered, too, providing a warm but subtle backdrop that’s always careful to ensure those powerhouse vocals remain the deserved focal point. Speaking about the song, Ellen said: “(Uncontrollable attraction, Quarantine, Corona, Dream away, travelling – Bali). This song is about a steamy date. Simple as that. The girl I wrote it about had planned a trip to Bali. Maybe this song will play a different role now than when I wrote it, because of Corona. People now have to fantasise about a hot vacation instead of actually going places. But that can be fun too.”
Rating: 3 out of 5

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Tommy Ashby, Blood Wolf Moon

TOMMY ASHBYBLOOD WOLF MOON: Scottish singer-songwriter Tommy Ashby releases his reflective new single Blood Wolf Moon via Wow and Flutter Records. Co-produced by the artist and double Grammy Award winning producer Sam Okell, Blood Wolf Moon follows One Word and is the second single to be released from Tommy’s fourth EP, Everywhere Is Home, scheduled for release in Summer 2020. The beautifully atmospheric indie folk song was recorded during the early stages of quarantine in a makeshift home studio. The artist enlisted his father’s help on double bass and added the delicate ethereal backing vocal of his girlfriend to add texture to a playful melodic folk sound. Lyrically, Tommy’s crystal-clear vocal reflects on the intimate story of two shy introverts negotiating being young and in love for the first time. There’s an ethereal beauty that results, with Ashby’s vocals perfectly complimented by those of his girlfriend’s accompanying melodies. The folk backdrop is also great, building from restrained and ethereal, to something quite celebratory and soaring. The second half of the track, when the banjos and hand-claps really come alive, burst into life as if in celebration of the positive feelings the song is channelling. It’s inspired and inspiring. Tommy commented: “When I was growing-up, I was a wallflower. Parties would pin me to a wall and leave me there for the night. I was left wondering how a shy person ever actually meets someone. The internal monologue left running on those nights was so awkward. I wanted to show how much of falling in love can be done long before two people actually have a conversation. Seeing someone and watching how they act around their friends, the tiny interactions and glances; I think introverts notice more of this stuff because they spend so much time observing. And how much more gravity things can have when they take time to unfold. Queen Street is the road next to my house in my hometown (Innerleithen). Growing up, I used to walk back from the river late at night and see the moon hanging low in the sky as I turned into my house. It always struck me as kind of magical.”
Rating: 4 out of 5

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tommyashby · Blood Wolf Moon

Dan Croll

DAN CROLL – SO DARK: With his long-awaited third album Grand Plan set to arrive on August 21 through Communion Records, Dan Croll has now unveiled the new video for his latest single So Dark. Recorded exclusively in the back seat of an Uber and captured by visual collaborators Wild Honey Pie, the singer and songwriter croons his way through this humble and emotive rendition of his newest offering, as he takes a ride around his new home of Los Angeles, the inspiration behind his forthcoming full-length. It was, of course, shot pre-lockdown and edited during it. But it’s a nice reminder of life pre-corona, when taking an Uber and playing an acoustic guitar in the back-seat was easy and possible. It’s also a nice accompaniment to the folk pop song, which finds Croll exploring the difficult feelings he experienced in settling into his new environment in LA. There’s an outsider element that he has to contend with, lamenting – albeit comically – that he’s “happy to play the joker, the clown and the fool”. But the feelings expressed throughout the rest of the song suggest otherwise. It’s quirky, breezy but emotionally honest – quintessentially Croll. Speaking about the new video, Croll said: “I wrote So Dark after an unverified ride home with some friends, we were having some pretty dark and funny conversations. I think that first verse tells it pretty straight. After that night we would take a lot of late night drives, exploring the neighbourhoods, picking up food and drink, it became a pretty important ritual of living here. It felt only right to film this video on the backseat driving around my neighbourhood and reliving that feeling/those moments.”
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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Fergus, Young Tonight

FERGUSYOUNG TONIGHT: London-based alt-pop artist Fergus has dropped Young Tonight on Summer Solstice 2020 in a bid to celebrate new beginnings. The upbeat track is self-consciously soaked in positive harmonies with percussive texturing and a rolling backbeat that captures an alluring sense of optimism. And yet it’s born out of sorrow following the end of a relationship. Fergus explains: “Young Tonight captures the calm after the storm. It’s a break-up anthem that pairs bitter lyrics with euphoric sounds as you cast off a heavy sentence and emerge, reborn, surveying the wreckage one last time before leaving it behind for good. Symbolically, summer solstice is the perfect time to release Young Tonight – it’s all about celebrating life and abandoning negativity, manifesting new beginnings through inner reflection and revelling in the present, not dwelling on the past.” Vocally, Fergus’ delivery here is reminiscent of classic Crowded House, with a touch of Jose Gonzalez. While the warmth of the instrumentals succeeds in conjuring the sense of euphoria and positivity that Fergus is seeking to harness. It’s a bittersweet song, for sure. But it’s beautifully delivered.
Rating: 4 out of 5

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Kev Sherry, Feelgood Movie of the Year

KEV SHERRYFEELGOOD MOVIE OF THE YEAR: Kev Sherry, lead singer for the cult, critically-acclaimed Scottish indie-rock four-piece Attic Lights (Island Records, Elefant Records), makes a welcome return with new solo single Feelgood Movie Of The Year, ahead of his debut solo album Foxy Orthodoxy in September 2020. The deliberately feel-good offering was written in Melbourne, Australia on a break from touring with Attic Lights, while sitting on a tram looking at everyone staring into their phones instead of the incredible views of Melbourne. Kev explained: “The song explores the way we present ourselves on social media, trying to remove our flaws and create almost Hollywood-like personas for ourselves – and how this ‘fakeness’ is a symptom of our wider society.” Collaborating with renowned producer Paul Savage (Mogwai, Franz Ferdinand, Arab Strap), the song was recorded using a guitar borrowed from Tracyanne Campbell (Camera Obscura, Tracyanne & Danny) and a bass guitar borrowed from Francis MacDonald (Teenage Fanclub). And, as if in homage, there’s a very definite Teenage Fanclub vibe in the guitars and the head-rush, indie-rock delivery of the song, which builds to a genuinely feel-good, anthemic chorus. And yet, for all of its bounce, the song has something very important to say. It is evocative of the themes that inspired it and the issues that continue to inform our present day. Thematically, the song is also linked to Kev’s anarchist journalism for New Statesman and The Alternative UK and his acclaimed feminist graphic novel Warpaint (due to be published by a legendary Franco/American company in early 2021.) Given the song is about false personas, both online and in the political/cultural world, the video heavily references the current zeitgeist: would-be dictators and demagogues, election interference from foreign powers, data manipulation, fake political saviours who serve themselves and their billionaire overlords rather than the public offices they represent, alternative facts, climate chaos, culture wars, demographic wars, trolling… We’re on board!
Rating: 4 out of 5

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