New Music: Singles Roundup April 2020
The industry has shifted back to a singles market from its LP-ruling heyday. Even more so now that Covid-19 has ground the world to a standstill. Artists are left with whatever they had recorded before lockdown, often short of a full album. They also have an audience that is more captive than usual, clamouring for new media to fill the void of day after day sheltering-in-place. This means a lot of new one-offs. So, let’s see who’s releasing new music with depth in our SINGLES ROUNDUP.
GREG PUCIATO – FIRE FOR WATER
For three years we’ve missed the sabre-toothed tiger growl of former Dillinger Escape Plan frontman Greg Puciato. The snarling singer was the mouthpiece for the band who for the better part of two decades were the gold standard of blistering metalcore. Witnessing a Dillinger show is unlike anything else. It’s a front-row seat to a jet engine. The assault of machine-gun riffs, persistent strobe lights, and Puciato’s skin-splitting scream leaves you with the impression that the whole world has been “turned down” when you stagger out of the sweltering venue.
Puciato hasn’t been absent this whole time. 2018 saw the release of the second Black Queen album. An intriguing project that embraces 80s synthpop production and features Puciato’s falsetto crooning. However, this is not the merciless growl that Dillinger fans had missed. ‘Fire For Water’ brings back that violent dragon from the band’s incendiary tenure.
With the help of a rotating cast of drummers, Puciato has forged a fiery followup to his beloved retired project. Without the incomprehensible genius of mastermind guitarist Ben Weinman at the helm, the new music might not have the mind-pretzel insanity of complex polyrhythms and bizarre time signatures that were a hallmark of the Escape Plan. Nevertheless, ‘Fire For Water’ captures the earth-shattering power of a good old Dillinger Escape Plan breakdown. There are a litany of screaming voices in the pantheon of heavy music but there are few that can embody the fury and rage at injustice like Puciato can.
BRUTUS – SAND
Imagine if Bjork sang for a post-hardcore band. There’s much more to the Belgian progressive rock power trio but for the uninitiated, that’s a good start. Singer and drummer Stefanie Mannaerts takes a belt-at-the-skies vocal delivery similar to the Icelandic songstress and pairs it with hardcore and metal beats while guitarist Stijn Vanhoegaerden and bassist Peter Mulders craft layers of post-rock atmospherics to tie it all together in an unparalleled package.
Brutus waste no time, cutting right to the firework display. Guitars fire off with cascading pull-offs, sending the rockets off. Mulders hits the melodic accents while Mannaerts sets an intractable beat with her obstinate snare. Her voice treads that line between faery and fury, an impassioned plea for equity and justice in a relationship.
Brutus have managed to pull off a feat similar to Deafheaven by combining metal drumming with a shoegaze aura. Sadly, theirs is one of the countless tours postponed this year. Brutus are poised to become another cult favourite, they just need to convert more of the masses with their mesmerizing live show.
RUN THE JEWELS (FEAT. GREG NICE + DJ PREMIER – OOH LA LA
Run The Jewels are having fun and what’s more, they’re starting to lay back. Their first three records mixed a king of the party vibe with that cocked and loaded sense of urgency. The one and only Killer Mike spat rhymes like he was gettin’ out his manifesto with his dying breath. On ‘Ooh La La’ he seems to relax a bit. His rhymes will always be delivered with a certain amount of force given his towering stature but with this latest release, he’s kickin’ back and enjoying the ride.
A woozy piano loop and hype up gang are all they need to back their steady rhymes. El-P hits with tight uppercuts and jabs while big Mike comes over the top with the hooks and crosses. Sirens and the mockingly jovial “Ooh la la” chorus declare Run the Jewels champs once again.
JEHNNY BETH – FLOWER
The reasons for a group to disband for a time are numerous. However, the pull must have been very strong for Beth’s group Savages to go on hiatus in 2017. Exhaustion from the road and the desire to pursue other projects were cited as causes just as the band had finally really broken through. Their second album Adore Life was on every critic’s best pick list and their raucous live shows were becoming the stuff of legend. Right at that pivotal moment, they pulled the plug.
Although the members of Savages all have their own endeavours, Beth has the most on her plate. She’s been involved in art exhibits, written a book of erotica (from which she’s been reading via Instagram livestream during the Covid-19 quarantine), and acted in the film An Impossible Love. She hosts her radio show on Apple’s Beats 1, Start Making Sense, and now she’s releasing her debut solo record To Love Is to Live.
Sly, slithering, and salacious. The beat is feline in its prowling nature. Beth’s voice pants with anticipatory titillation. Restrained to tease, breathy with a flirty melodicism. The chorus erupts with her cravings for the woman of her desire in a string of Anglo-French yelps. Savages always had this erotic edge but now with the noisy guitars and ragged bass stripped away, Beth can make her intentions unambiguous.
ALISON MOSSHART – RISE
The Kills singer is also forging out on her own. Aside from her work with her original group, Mosshart has also masterfully led the southern gothic powerhouse The Dead Weather alongside noted spotlight stealer Jack White. Despite having contributed vocals to countless projects other than her main musical families, she has yet to release anything strictly under her own name.
Rise is Mosshart’s debut solo single and the track’s theme of rising up to defeat the threat of a doomsday could not be more prescient. A steady pressing chugging and a loose gruelling guitar drive her committed point home. Her coarse voice fuzzes out the signal the more she pushes it. With this single, Mosshart presents as positive an anthem as she ever has.
BIF NAKED – JIM
Known since the mid-90s as Canada’s scrappy, straight-edge, tattooed (back when it was a big deal) punk frontwoman, Bif has come at everything with a “no-nonsense, don’t fuck with me” attitude. ‘I Love Myself Today’ and ‘Moment of Weakness’ are tenacious anthems and ’98s ‘Spaceman’ rode the wave of end of the millennium cyber-tinged rock.
With her latest single from the upcoming album Champion, Bif puts on the gloves to take on a lacking, leaving lover. The video features a messy scene running in reverse with Naked decking the eponymous Jim when he’s caught with other women. The song combines her punk and cyber sides with a new layer of maturity. Her voice hits a deep floor in the verses. Driving guitars merge with frantic arpeggiated synthesizers to make for a tense but cathartic revenge tune.
DAVID BOWIE – FUN (DILLINJA MIX)
Recorded during Bowie’s Earthling period in the late 90s, this bangin’ drum n bass track was initially only given a release on the second disc of a live/remix web exclusive release through BowieNet. This is back in the day when downloading an album meant tying up the phone line all night with your dial-up connection. Technology hurdling into the future at a breakneck pace isn’t all bad, now is it?
During that period, Bowie and collaborator Reeves Gabrels were drawing heavily from acts like Underworld, The Prodigy, and other wilder DnB and jungle artists. ‘Fun’ is very much in line with those bombastic Eurobeat-influenced tracks that made it on to Earthling like ‘Little Wonder’, ‘Battle For Britain (The Letter), and ‘Telling Lies’. Booming tom breaks and scathing guitar hits, Bowie slips in between blasts like jumping into a double dutch rope.
It’s evident why the track was relegated to the B-Side heap as its structural direction isn’t quite up to par with the rest of the Earthling record (although one could argue that swapping it in for the lackadaisical ‘Looking For Satellites’ with its insidious “Nowhere, Shampoo, Tee Vee, Combat” refrain would have made for a more driven, hard-hitting record). Bowie was pushing for a proper release for the live/remix release dubbed liveandwell.com but the record company was uninterested in promoting it, leaving the track in relative obscurity until now.
GORILLAZ (FEAT. PETER HOOK AND GEORGIA) – ARIES
In a way, Damon Alburn’s side-turned-main project Gorillaz has defined the new millennium. Countless acts have sought to bridge the gap between rap and rock but you could argue that none have done it as smoothly and successfully. The first waves of this attempted fusion had the genres meeting at their most hyped and brazen point. Instead, Gorillaz found a low-key, subversive way to dig into our psyche.
The project has always changed shape to fit the container it finds itself in. The early days saw Alburn recruiting the team from Deltron 3030 to bring a real hip hop authenticity with spectacular results. Those songs have since pervaded the culture, loved by people of all stripes. Then, taking on legendary singer Bobby Womack connected the worlds of rap and rock with their common soul roots but instead of copping out and pulling a simple throwback track, Gorillaz blasted Womack into outer space.
Now, with ‘Aries’ they have enlisted the help of New Order bassist Peter Hook and UK pop singer Georgia to once again shift their dynamic. They make no bones of their shift to the 80s aesthetic. Archetypal drum machine and synth pads are pulled directly from the era with little attempt at modernization. It’s hard to imagine much else to go with Hook’s iconic style of sentimentally melodic bass lines.
Alburn returns to his favourite subject; the dissociation of modern society, the isolation amongst the crowd. He professes this with the dreamy tone that he typically reserves for his solo records. Shimmering synth swells rise up to meet his airy assertions. ‘Aries’ could become a dark horse club/pub favourite in the same way that Hook’s biggest hit ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ did, although Alburn doesn’t hit the level of macabre of Ian Curtis.
EOB (FEAT. LAURA MARLING) – CLOAK OF THE NIGHT
To round out this roundup, we have yet another member of a prominent band venturing out on their own. Ed O’Brien is the latest member from Radiohead to find a second life. Frontman Thom Yorke’s ventures have taken him off on illuminating euro-electronic tangents, spastic renaissance man Jonny Greenwood has composed several incredible film scores, and drummer Phil Selway has also released several solo albums.
O’Brien has put out several singles ahead of today’s album release, the last of which was ‘Cloak of the Night’. The track will serve as a delicate, understated conclusion to the Earth album which features folk singer Laura Marling duetting with O’Brien. The ambling fingerpicked guitar can trace its roots directly to the White Album, conjuring up the memory of ‘Dear Prudence’, ‘Julia’, and ‘Mother Nature’s Son’. Marling and O’Brien glide like two birds caught on the same updraft. At a brief two and a half minutes, the track is a slice of a moment in time rather than a full statement. Gone with the wind.