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Music - Singles of the week - Friday, March 24, 2017

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

Michael Kiwanuka

SINGLE OF THE WEEK 1: MICHAEL KIWANUKACOLD LITLE HEART: Michael Kiwanuka releases another highlight from his Love & Hate LP in the form of the epic Cold Little Heart. The track very much underlines the scope of his ambition this time around. Clocking in at 11 minutes [in album form, six minutes in video form], this opens with an instrumental that sounds more like a cinema soundtrack moment than a song (think Ennio Morricone). But it’s shot through with beauty, with swirling strings and beautifully realised piano arrangements eventually ushering in Kiwanuka’s distinct, even classic vocal style. It’s a song about regret and sorrow that’s shot through with the emotional conviction that Kiwanuka has made his own, not to mention that sense of the retro and the cinematically grand. The cinematic short that accompanies it is directed by David Helman and features fast-rising US actor, Lakeith ‘Keith’ Stanfield (Get Out/Selma/Short Term 12) in its lead role. Helman commented: “Since the narrative is rooted in grief and centres around the loss of a father figure from the perspective of a young teenager, I knew we needed to cast someone who would immediately connect with our audience on an emotional level. Lakeith has been a close friend who has continued to inspire me with both his talent, but also with his genuine curiosity. You can easily spend hours talking to Lakeith about almost anything and expand your perspective on everything from religion to Death Grips. I wrote this concept with Lakeith in mind from the start because every time we’ve worked together he’s always willing to make himself vulnerable and he’s absolutely fearless in front of the camera.” As ever with Kiwanuka, this is impossibly stylish. If you’ve not heard the album as a whole, then you’re missing out.
Rating: 4 out of 5

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Rag N Bone Man

SINGLE OF THE WEEK 2: RAG N BONE MANSKIN: Rag’n‘Bone Man officially releases the new single Skin, taken from his debut album Human, out now on Best Laid Plans/Columbia Records. Following hot off the heels of his massive single Human, Skin again highlights why there is such a buzz surrounding him. An anthemic slice of blues soaked soul-pop, this is a record about empowerment that deservedly soars over the chorus. It’s then that Graham’s vocals hit some powerful blues highs, while being rousingly supported by a gospel choir. It’s the very epitome of anthemic. But there’s a lot of heart and soul in the lyrics, which reflect on a heartbreak and the effect of memory over the years. And the way it patiently builds, layering in the instrumental elements, is equally striking too. The accompanying video is something special, too, set against some striking landscapes and featuring some fine young performances. Rag n Bone Man is fully deserving of the success he is currently enjoying. The phenomenal success of Human has resonated around the globe on an equally outstanding scale, with the album surpassing an amazing 1 million sales worldwide and hitting the number 1 spot on iTunes in over 30 countries.
Rating: 4 out of 5

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Gorillaz

GORILLAZASCENSION/WE GOT THE POWER: Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz have unveiled two new singles from their forthcoming comeback album in the form of Ascension and We Got The Power. As usual with an Albarn production, it continues to evolve the creator’s sound, so that anyone expecting a sound on a par with Clint Eastwood had best think again. Ascension, in particular, is built around an almost urban set of vocals from Vince Staples, which give the track an immediate potency, as well as real edge. Albarn contributes some more familiar vocals midway through, which are typically distinct, but this maintains a speak-sing delivery throughout, complete with the odd shot of gospel. It’s typical of Albarn’s and Gorillaz musical sense of adventure that this straddles so many genres: pop, hip-hop, gospel and soul. It takes a little getting used to, but there’s something hip about it that’s difficult to ignore. We Got The Power, meanwhile, features Jehnny Beth as the focal point and a chorus by Noel Gallagher. It’s an impassioned call to arms for positivity in the face of diversity, offering some form of anthemic hope in the face of the current political uncertainty that seems to be gripping the globe. You can’t argue with a line that states: “We’ve got the power to be loving with each other no matter what happens…” And it’s delivered complete with a foot-stomping set of beats and some soaring keys, that contribute to something empowering and positive and even breezy – but not pop. Gorillaz don’t do pop, even though they know how to deliver something capable of appealing to the masses without sounding like anything you’ve heard before. And all power to them for that.
Rating: 4 out of 5

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Tei Shi, Justify

TEI SHIJUSTIFY: Following a week of acclaimed performances from critics and fans alike at SXSW, Tei Shi has shared Justify from of her highly anticipated debut album Crawl Space, out on March 31 on Polydor Records. According to the singer herself (aka Valerie Teicher): “Justify is a kind of protest song against the way in which we are categorized or judged by others based off of very superficial or one dimensional standards. It came from a place of rebellion against the insecurities and pressures that come into play when you put yourself in a position to be defined by another. For me, the song is a challenge against that musically and emotionally.” The ensuing song builds on the R&B pop formula that Tei Shi began to estabish on former offerings Keep Running and How Far. Vocally, she emerges as something of a cross between Prince and Janet Jackson, while the blips and electronic beats that accompany the song have a very polished feel… pop but with enough edge to enable her to stand out from the norm.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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Freak, I Like To Smile When I'm Sad

FREAK – I LIKE TO SMILE WHEN I’M SAD: Freak – aka 19-year-old Connar Ridd – has dropped the explosive new single I Like To Smile When I’m Sad, available now on his FREAK Recordings imprint and Polydor Records. The track is another visceral slice of disaffection that’ll make you choke on your Fruit Loops… all abrasive riffs and cascading percussion, while the accompanying video sees Ridd hiding behind a grinning emoji face like a warped 2017 version of Frank Sidebottom. The singer has been described by The Guardian as a “one man Nirvana who hits hard” and there is truth in that. The guitar sound is very Nirvana-like, even if the vocals lack the grunge intensity of Kurt Cobain (or rather, sound more British and punk inflicted). A full-on guitar solo also enables the track to sound as furious and frustrated as the lyrics suggest. Its potent stuff – heavy but kind of catchy too. Speaking about the track, Freak said: “Out of all the songs I’ve written, this one is probably my favourite. I wrote, produced and recorded it all in my bedroom. During my days at university and working in the Co-Op, I was really frustrated about having to do things that I didn’t want to. All I really wanted to do was make music and not be stacking shelves or learning about stuff I didn’t care about. This song is about putting on a face which can totally hide what you are feeling. It’s about smiling when you are sad.”
Rating: 3 out of 5

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ZAYN feat PARTYNEXTDOORSTILL GOT TIME: Former One Direction star Zayn drops his latest single in the form of the zippy Still Got Time. But while it does mark a departure from the boy band sound he used to be associated with, the track seems to owe more in style to the likes of Craig David. It also features a guest rap from OVO Sound luminary Partynextdoor, which – again – feels like an over-used device for the moment. In spite of these reservations, Zayn clearly knows how to create something that appeals to the mainstream sensibility and this boasts all the components required to make it a huge hit for him. The beats are slick and rapid (and get better and more pronounced the longer the track lasts), the electronics have a smooth groove kind of vibe and the central vocals also evoke that same smooth groove sensibility. It knows what it’s doing. Still Got Time is the first single from his highly anticipated second studio album, due out this summer.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5

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All Time Low, Last Young Renegade

ALL TIME LOWLAST YOUNG RENEGADE: All Time Low’s Last Young Renegade is the title track from the band’s upcoming album, available from June 2 on Fueled By Ramen – and it’s another breezy slice of pop punk that should delight their burgeoning fan-base. Owing as much to the likes of early, more mainstream Springsteen as it does the likes of Panic At The Disco and boy bands, this manages to be both catchy and punchy, thereby boasting plenty of crossover potential. If we’re being ultra picky, the boys could do with going a little harder on their sound, as some of the melodies are a little too lightweight and melodic. But they’re clearly writing songs that are designed to appeal to a more female demographic, with the sounds of a thousand screams undoubtedly ringing in their ears. Last Young Renegade is fine as this kind of record goes, but it’s very generic and merely sounds like it’s ticking all the right boxes for world-wide smash-hit success (right down to the cheesy accompanying lyrics).
Rating: 2.5 out of 5

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Analogue Wave, Hope

ANALOGUE WAVEHOPE: Analogue Wave is an Irish-based electronic duo, mixing dub and electronica with breakbeats, vocals and synths. After a three-year hiatus, the band have returned to the underground scene with a brand new single Hope. This is a sonic call to arms in a world spinning wildly out of control, both politically and climatically, with no hope of a positive ending in sight. Set against a highly insistent electronic bed, as well as some atmospheric, potent beats, this is clearly influenced by the likes of Leftfield, Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode and Massive Attack, while also being capable of appeal to fans of Aphex Twin and Leftfield. Vocally, it’s arguably at its weakest. But the instrumentals give it a pumped up vibe that is difficult to ignore. “Hope is a sonic reaction to both the political and climatic turmoil currently threatening modern life as we know it,” explains vocalist Del Chaney. “It was written under the shadow of the farcical US presidential elections and the current fallout from Brexit.” Potent and timely, it’s well worth checking out if you share similarly disaffected political feelings.
Rating: 3 out of 5

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