Best New Songs Of The Week: Lady Gaga, Slayer, Kings of Leon, Nicki Minaj, More
No messing around, let’s get straight to the good stuff this week:
411’s Song Of The Week:
“Civil Isolation” by While She Sleeps
I was absolutely desperate to slip this track onto last week’s Playlist, but it wasn’t officially shared until the 5th. While She Sleeps’ purists might bemoan the slick poppy immediacy of “Civil Isolation”, but this track kicks like an absolute mother. It’s always worth cherishing a metal track that manages to blend a ferocious level of technical precision/brutality, with the loose raucous swing of genuine rock and roll. This is the sound of a bar room brawl turning into a amoral beatdown. On top of this, While She Sleeps are showcasing some genuine ambition, slowing the track down at the appropriate moment to allow a moments introspection before returning to the matter at hand (i.e the grueling tedium of the neo-liberal grind).
“Perfect Ilussion” by Lady Gaga
If you want proof that, when it’s all said and done, a good hook trumps a flawed arrangement, then look no further than “Perfect Illusion”. If throwing together some classic 80s pop verses with an understated Disco beat and a hook that’s turned all the way up to 11 sounds utterly illogical, you’d be right. But despite “Perfect Illusion” seemingly running its creative course after a mere 90 seconds, Gaga’s sheer force of will and the utterly irresistible nature of the hook make “Perfect Illusion” a bombastic comeback hit. (Oh and it sounds bit like “Papa Don’t Preach”, but let Gaga catch you repeating that)
“No Target” by Brodinski
I feel like doing my best Becky Lynch impression and screaming “STRAIGHT FIIIIIIIRE” whenever I hear the “No Target” beat kick in. This track, by French producer Brodinski and guest rapper Savage, is ungodly cold. Every eerie, lingering second of this offering screams: “thou shalt not fuck with this”. Brodinski turns current contemporary production trends on their head by allowing the brooding beat room to breathe (it practically stalks the listener). The goal is not danceability – this is mean mugging music, plain and simple.
“Waste Of A Moment” by Kings Of Leon
Like Lady Gaga, Kings Of Leon are on the comeback trail. Unlike their pop peer, the stakes are lower for the Fallowhill gang. They will be indie stars whether they shoot for the stars or slum it in the gutter, despite this – and perhaps unsurprisingly – “Waste Of A Moment” doesn’t quite do either. Sure there’s an arena-ready backing chant, but this charming and understated single thrives on a gentle tone and Caleb’s vocal flourishes.
“Will O The Wisp” by Opeth
Whose ready for some medieval vibes? Okay, so metal bands have a mixed track record with the soft-plucked japery of yesteryear, but when it’s done right (“Dance Of Death” by Iron Maiden) the blend of delicacy and technicality can inspire awe. “Will O The Wisp” doesn’t quite achieve on that level, but this is a beautiful sung travelling song that is wistful and too masterfully executed to be labeled pastiche.
“The Greatest” by Sia
Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend offered an honest critique of Sia’s recent output: she’s been releasing hits that feel almost mechanical. You can see the moving and parts and practically hear her saying: “key change B will evoke emotion A”. This isn’t actually an insult, Sia is such a songwriting pro she can write hit singles in her sleep, even if the formula is occasional transparent compared to her truly mind melting and transcendent works. “The Greatest” certainly falls into the mechanical category, it has a contrived emptiness at its core – but you know what? Who cares, it’s so bloody catchy.
“Pride In Prejudice” by Slayer
Metallica, Testament and now Slayer? Well you won’t hear me complaining. The vocals might feel formulaic and stayed, but dammit, just try and resist that chugging groove. The all star neo-Nazi video makes “Pride In Prejudice” a must watch (BE WARNED: it’s deeply violent in the most graphic sense), but when a big memorable hook combines with a pleasing, back to basic arrangement, it’s worth sticking around for a song which should provide Slayer their biggest “hit” in many a year.
“Centre” by Tanya Tagaq
Well this one took me completely by surprise. Before this week I was completely unfamiliar with both Tanya Tagaq and guest rapper Shad, but color me impressed or at least pleasantly weirded out. Just when you think this glorious jumble of a track has found in its lane and is content to stay in it, there’s a sudden, but not wholly incoherent course correction in store. Beating boxing, crow noises, atonal guitars and smooth bars, this track kinda has it all.
“Digging For Windows” by Zach De La Rocha
EL-P, of Run The Jewels fame, is behind the boards on this De La Rocha solo cut and, unfortunately, it struggles to stand up to their prior collaboration ‘Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck)”. Which is a shame, as this beat, which evokes the dank, murky drift of an apocalyptic LA would be the perfect setting for a more gifted rapper. Zach brings plenty of pugnacity and attitude (and a decent hook), but the space the beat affords serves to highlight his deficiencies rather than accentuate his strengths. (This track is growing on me all the time though)
“Black And White” by Regina Spektor
Yep, it’s a dreamy yet maudlin ballad from Regina Spektor, and it’s glorious. The synths exude a stately emptiness – seriously, hearts could shatter and fragment into dust in the void between the pitter-patter rhythm of percussion – and yet, “Black And White” isn’t a bummer. There is a warmth hiding beneath the monochrome shade this weighty track comes coated in.
“333” by Against Me!
The anticipation levels for this release were staggering, Transgender Dsyphoria Blues was one 2014’s standout LPs: combining a provocative and powerful lyric sheet with badass, rip snorting rock music. “333” certains comes with the trappings of an all-star return. Natasha Lyonne of Orange Is The New Black fame stars in a deliciously demented video and Laura Jane Grace is firing straight from the hip. The guitar work is slick and satisfying, unfortunately the hook feels a little underpowered. “333” doesn’t quite slap the audience in the face and demand their attention: instead Against Me! have delivered a great little rock song, but not utterly essential single.
“Honey” by Pumarosa
With their second appearance on a 411 column are Pumarosa, an East London band making quite the impact mixing glorious, washed out tones with the severity of Isabel Munoz-Newsome vocal. At “Honey’s” outset there’s a stiffness to her voice that threatens to create a gulf between artist and audience, but the faltering modulations of her warble allow a sense of human vulnerability to bridge the gap between the strictures of the vocals and the tender strokes of the guitar work.
“CBM” by Kelly Lee Owens
Strip everything away, leaving mere understated words and a pulsating rhythm and (rather than robbing dance music of its color) Kelly Lee Owens has kicked up its intensity. This is tightly wound pop, underwritten by a deep throb. “CBM” dares the listener to lose him or herself in its terse intensity or reject it entirely. In other words, it’s brave songwriting: Kelly Lee Owens has no where to hide, she will live or die on the strength of these subtle, but powerful tempo changes.
“The Way To Fake It” by CRX
The first taste of Strokes’ guitarist Nick Valensi’s Josh Homme produced new project has arrived and… it’s a delight. There are hints of late period Strokes (The Cars are an obvious influence and the guitar tone echoes First Impressions Of Earth), but the highlight is the direct nature and vibrancy of the hook. “The Way To Fake It” is indie that’s unashamedly aimed at the charts.
“Cash Machine” by D.R.A.M.
So who’s ready to smile? For the second straight week D.R.A.M. is on the countdown, this time he’s serving up a slow strolling, warbled qausi-rap that celebrates payday in a glorious eccentric fashion.
“Immortals” by Oathbreaker
Another week, another Belgian representative worming their way onto our list. This time, we’re trading electro-pop for a wide-ranging, nine minute, tour de force that surveys a host of sub-genres. It’s to Oathbreaker’s credit that “Immortals” does not sound either like a showboating exercise or a cobbled together mesh of micro-suites – this is a textually delightful listen that rewards investment, rocking hard enough for metal traditionalists while proving suitably spectral, thus sure to intrigue the chin strokers among us.
“Death Wish” by Dams Of The West
Vampire Weekend drummer Chris Tomson is going solo and it seems he fancies himself a dry rival for Father John Misty. Truth be told, Tomson tries a bit too hard with the lyric sheet and ends up sounding like a pastiche of the kind of artist he is very evidently willing himself to be. Still, his Anthony Kiedis-does-low-key-indie vocals are dream and, when one of his witty couplets does land, it lands flush
“The Pinkprint Freestyle” by Nicki Minaj
Nicki is pretty much on fire from the second she says: “I’m talking about my brand, you talking bout your brands”. Everytime Nicki threatens to fall off a chart chasing cliff, she re-ups her cred with an ice cold killer freestyle. The puns are fun while the tone is serious and yet irreverent – i.e. this freestyle recalls the sound that set Nicki apart many moons ago.
“Lonely Smiles” by WSTR
I promised to keep some pop-punk in the rotation (if only to reconnect with my own youth) and “Lonely Smiles” is this weeks offering. There’s plenty of Blink like melody and buoyancy in the guitar work and WSTR manage to inject petulant grit without sacrificing any of the track’s fundamental hookiness.
“Do You Need My Love” by Weyes Blood
Now this is more than a little bit special. Natalie Mering’s vocal timbre has a richness that conjures visions of super 8 video and faded photographs (capturing and consigning a doomed romance to the past, no doubt). “Do You Need My Love” is psychedelic balladry of highest order. The flamboyance and idiosyncrasy of the delivery never threatens, not even for a second, to undermine the single’s emotional core. “Do you need me, the way I need you?” it’s a question that’s haunted every human being in relationship from the beginning of time – and its never sounded more profound or captivating than it does in the hands of Weyes Blood.
“Get Gone” by Gina and The Eastern Bloc
Time for a slice of fun, “Get Gone” concludes with week’s selection with a onslaught of pure scrub-busting attitude set to the kind of grimy groove that’d make Allison Mosshart purr. “You only call me when you want some/I’m sorry hun, but you can’t get none/So get gone, get gone” – now that’s one hell of chorus.
[Note: The track is a couple of weeks old, but I only just heard it, so I’m breaking my own rules]