‘Best Songs Ever’ features various contributors to The Spinoff Music assessing recent songs and singles.
BEST SONG EVER FOR THIS WEEK:
Austra – ‘Utopia’
Sometimes it feels like the loneliest place in music is the hinterland between chart aspirant pop and austere electronic music. Those who who exist in that space lack for all kinds of infrastructure, from venues to radio to a defined fanbase to target. Which makes the persistence of Austra’s vigil all the more admirable. ‘Utopia’ precedes Future Politics, arriving in 2017, and is ultimately no different from ‘Home’ or ‘Lose it’, standout singles from their two prior albums. Which is to say that it is icy heartbreak synth-pop, twinkling sadly at the world as it curdles, dreaming on something better. – Duncan Greive
Ambré – ‘No Service In The Hills’ feat Kehlani
While this slice of New Orleans trap-soul’s meditations on loyalty / haters-gonna-hate / etc are a shopworn trope, I can’t begrudge Kehlani the tropes after her tough 2016, and I’m glad she’s in a better place than she was circa the haunting ’24/7′ – the cotton-candy harmonies on this are like sunlight. – Stevie Kaye
Gucci Mane – ‘Bling Blaww Burr’
Since being released from prison in May, Gucci Mane is so unrecognisable that some are suspicious the new version is a fake, some kind of government-sponsored clone intended to sanitise trap music or something. The chubby joke of a rapper who was so stoned he slept through his sex scene in Spring Breakers is leaner, prettier and more cogent – even buddying up to Malcolm Gladwell on Twitter – but as prolific as ever.
Woptober follows briskly on the heels of July’s occasionally crisp Everybody Looking, and its first single, produced by Metro Boomin, sounds as purposeful. A lumbering, heavy-handed bass line that bangs and rolls along, punctuated by Guwop’s percussive flow, it dispenses with the conspiracy theory (“Think I’m a clone but if they cut me this sauce gon’ ooze out”) and addresses the topic of being iced-out, in a perfunctory but fun way. Young Dolph’s presence doesn’t add much. On a personal note, I would have liked to see him get up off that poolside sunlounger and move around a bit more in the video. Is he just going to lie around sliding back into his old ways? – Rose Hoare
Brooke Fraser – ‘Therapy’
The sole new track on a forthcoming 14-year career retrospective, ‘Therapy’ sees Brooke Fraser joined by fellow national treasure Joel Little. For all it does well, though, the song struggles to live up to expectations set by its collaborators’ considerable track records.
It starts with promise, as a spare vocal hints at the earliest, softest corners of Fraser’s oeuvre, setting a mood soon shattered by a shoehorned bridge and a chorus several degrees less nuanced than Little’s work with Lorde and Broods. It’s by no means without merit, but ultimately the song feels like it was written one way and recorded another; soft harmonies and lyrics that speak of the weight of the cyclical nature of being, both trapped under production that needs to do a bit less.
For the sake of a catalogue that’s undeniably worth celebrating, I really hope this isn’t its conclusion. – Matthew McAuley
Drake – ‘Fake Love’
This premiered on Drake’s 30th birthday episode of OVO Sound Radio, one of two singles from his upcoming “playlist project” More Life. (How this will differ from a mixtape remains to be seen.) In it, Drake complains about “fake people showing fake love” to him over a pleasing jangly sample and a ‘Hotline Bling’-style syncopated beat. This is nothing we haven’t heard from Drake before, on any front– you get the sense it’s the kind of thing he can bang out in his sleep. Which is not to say I don’t rate it. – Elle Hunt
Little Mix – ‘Shout Out to My Ex’
This ~feel-good anthem~ is reportedly about Zayn Malik, who broke off his engagement with Little Mix’s Perrie Edwards over text and is now at pains to convince the public of the vigorous sex he has with his new girlfriend. Edwards does much of the heavy-lifting in this song, and the lingering shots of her in the video seem straining to communicate that she’s never been better (though her stylist did not have her best interests at heart). But “I hope she getting better sex/hope she ain’t faking it like I did” does leave one wistful for a metaphor, and the song lasts a good 30 seconds longer than it should. Unlike Malik, apparently. – EH
ymtk ft Iamsu! – ‘No Rest [west coast]’
Oakland’s Young Murph The Kidd’s ‘No Rest [west coast]’ is a humid, honey-drenched piece of post-Mustard r’n’bass, echoing Ty Dolla $ign’s narco-bubblegum and Droop-E’s Los Angeles traffic-jam insomnia. “I’m up late in L.A. / No bedtime in the bay / Sleepless in Seattle / Wide awake in San Diego” – like Bic Runga, dude needs to get some sleep. – SK
Fortunes – ‘501s’
Fortunes are a Melbourne-domiciled New Zealand duo taking on the Americocentric monoculture the only way that Kiwis know how: by singing very heartily in full-throated Aotearoa accents.
Plucky though the endeavour may be, all too often those rounded vowels can feel like an empty point of difference outside their jarring initial novelty. Where it works on ‘501’s’ is in the otherwise total contextual immersion. Sonically it’s textbook Majestic Casual R&B, but it feels personal both on the lyric sheet and in delivery; a never-subtle lust song about a dude that just looks really fuckin good in that light stonewash.
Though its ceiling is probably as a mainstay on Spotify Discover playlists for people that listen to too much Kygo, Fortunes seem like they’d be fine with that. ‘501s’ sounds like someone singing ‘Brown Sugar’ at 3am through the walls of a party you weren’t invited to, and I swear that’s a compliment. – MA
Rei – ‘Out Dancing’
Wellingtonian Rei follows up ‘The Chief’s Speech’ (with Pharcyde-inspired reverse video) and the blissed-out ‘Hundy Club’. I’ve got a real soft spot for this sort of Kiwi pop-rap (and have the Dei Hamo CD singles to prove it), but I’m a little skeeved out by ‘Out Dancing’. While musically it’s in London (as the nexus of Kingston, Lagos and Ibiza) with its ominipresent tropical-house sound, lyrically it lands squarely in the Canada of sub-Drake/Weeknd-style fuckboi-isms. Lines like “I’m in the studio yo don’t need the stresses / I need you waiting at home home to relieve the pressures” splits the difference between the puppy-eyed needy whine of Monsta Boy’s 2-step anthem ‘Sorry’ and, uh, some other recent song with that title, perhaps you know it. – SK
YG – ‘One Time Comin”
The coming US election appears to have galvanized YG’s political conscience. Although he’s yet to endorse Hillary Clinton or make any kind of pro-feminist comment I’m aware of, he’s released two versions of ‘Fuck Donald Trump’ in fervent disgust at Trump’s anti-Hispanic, anti-Muslim sentiment. His classic West coast gangsta rap is so much more exciting now that he seems to have something to say.
On ‘One Time Comin’’, a tribute to victims of police brutality that opens with siren sounds set to a MoneyMakinMitch beat, you can hear desperation and urgency in his delivery, although the lyrics are strangely measured for a protest song. Compared to something like T.I.’s informed, impassioned ‘Warzone’, it’s all pretty toothless. Other than “they don’t want us sellin’ records, only want us sellin’ crack, man” there are few truly blistering lines. It’s little more than a two and a half minute dash through a couple of ideas, but it’s another step in the right direction. – RH
The best covers take a song you know and love and show you something you never noticed or appreciated about them before. There’s plenty like that on Princess Chelsea’s 9-song covers album Aftertouch – ‘Side of the Road’ highlights the stark beauty of Lucinda Williams’ songwriting, taking the lyrics out of their natural country setting and dressing them in epic 80s pop production. The result sounds remote and otherworldly; it could just about be the B-side to Berlin’s Giorgio Moroder-produced ‘Take My Breath Away’. – Calum Henderson
Charli XCX ft. Lil Yachty – ‘After The Afterparty’
Built on the back of Charli and SOPHIE’s saccharine-cum-caustic collaborations on the Vroom Vroom EP, ‘After The Afterparty’ sees the pair joined by Swedish powerhouses Stargate and shadowy mononym FRED in an apparent attempt to fill the vacuum created when Miley Cyrus stopped working with Mike Will Made It. Considering the personnel, what follows is surprisingly restrained: soft pads and big claps in the verses, a piano line that follows the vocal in the choruses (a PC Music hallmark) and a requisite Eight Extremely About Nothing Bars From A Hot Rapper via the tonally gifted Lil Boat
The result is a few measures more formulaic than most of Charli XCX’s banner singles, but there’s enough edge to keep things interesting. I wouldn’t bet on it topping charts, but I’m for sure going hear it while I stand in a 45-minute line outside H&M Sylvia Park this December, and I’m for sure going to enjoy that. – MA
Metallica – ‘Atlas Arise’
There’s so much to love and hate about Metallica. On one hand, they’re a giant corporation, devoid of any real emotion in their new songs. On the other, they’re lovable rogues who treat their fans super well. It’s been an eight year wait for this record, and this third single is… fine. It’s adequate Metallica, a song that feels very much in the vein of something found on 2008’s Death Magnetic. Unfortunately it’s let down by a dead boring guitar solo. But at least there’s a guitar solo. – David Farrier
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The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.