Good afternoon dear readers and welcome to another edition of Tracks. This week everyone’s been going down at Austin for SXSW, Ed Sheeran was finally (finally) officially announced as a Glastonbury headliner, and Donald Trump hasn’t been very happy with Snoop Dogg.
There’s still been a bunch of amazing new tunes to indulge in though. Embers made a grand resurgence and one Leslie Feist returned after bloody ages (six years to be precise). Elsewhere, Lydia Ainsworth made one of her most confident statements yet, Celeste unveiled a slick R&B banger, and Actress filtered his comeback single through the lens of the 4th dimension. Yep.
For our verdicts on all of this week’s biggest and most exciting tracks, all you need to do is scroll down. And if you’re itching to check out everything else out this week, step this way for DIY’s Listening Hub, and our Essential Playlist.
Embers – Unbound
The resurgence of Embers is one that’s most welcome. Making a grand, arena-sized entrance over four years ago, there’s only been one new track from the Manchester four-piece since then, until new single ‘Signs’ screeched onto the scene last month.
Its follow-up ‘Unbound’ shows the band to be back in full stride, and it’s a track that doesn’t do anything by halves. Even from its acoustic guitar-based beginning, the sense that a storm is coming is unavoidable, and when the torrent of noise does arrive, it’s one that reaches Mogwai levels of piercing walls of reverb.
Maybe it’s a release of frustration and tension from multiple years away that makes ‘Unbound’ so huge, but whatever the reason, it hits with the force of a hurricane. (Will Richards)
Feist – Pleasure
Feist’s last album ‘Metals’ came out in 2011. A whole six years ago. It’s not unusual for Leslie Feist to take her time when gearing up to release a new record (a little over four years passed between her breakthrough LP ‘The Reminder’ and ‘Metals’) but an awful lot has happened since then. Back in 2011, the thought of Donald Trump being President of the United States or Brexit wasn’t even a tiny thought in someone’s mind, let alone a very real prospect. Things have changed. And so, it seems, has Feist.
Her new album ‘Pleasure’ is promising to be a sparser record compared to some of her previous works, and the title track gives a firm indication of what that truly means. It’s very lo-fi and bluesy, some of the scratching and squeaking of her hands moving across the fretboards clearly heard, occasionally bursting out into heavy, dirty riffs. Her voice, usually brimming with warmth, is sometimes recognisably airy, but by the time the song’s climax comes around she’s cracking up, beginning to wail and go into a heady trance that’s reminiscent of early PJ Harvey. ‘My Moon My Man’ or ‘1234’ this ain’t. It’s Feist as you’ve never heard her before, raw and truly vital. (Eugenie Johnson)
Lydia Ainsworth – Into The Blue
Lydia Ainsworth’s debut album, 2014’s ‘Right From Real’, was pieced together from two EPs of material. On the one hand it showcased her ability to create eerie electronic soundscapes, while on the other she demonstrated she was capable of arranging ornate, luscious string arrangements. Her upcoming follow-up, ‘Darling Of The Afterglow,’ started life while Ainsworth was far away from her hometown of Toronto, but eventually she returned to fully realise her vision, surrounded by an environment she was comfortable with.
Her latest single ‘Into The Blue’ isn’t entirely calming in tone, mixing together glacial synth tones and sweeps of grand electronic strings, but it does show off how Ainsworth is getting more and more comfortable bringing the two sides of the coin shown on ‘Right From Real’ together. It still maintains some of her more experimental tendencies, her voice chopped and pitch-shifted in various places, and she drops a tiny bit of EDM in there without completely changing the brooding tone of the track. It’s Ainsworth’s most confident and attention-grabbing foray into dark, moody electropop yet, and she sounds completely at home doing it. (Eugenie Johnson)
Celeste – Chocolate
On her debut EP ‘The Milk & The Honey,’ Los Angeles-born, Brighton-based Celeste channels her inspirations into a giant melting pot. She listened to a wealth of blues music when she was younger, and after making the huge move to British shores, the 22-year-old started to develop a love of instrumental artists such as Thelonious Monk and Sun-Ra. Despite this, she still kept her love of singers such as Aretha Franklin, Minnie Riperton and Etta James close to her heart.
Some of these elements come together on her latest single ‘Chocolate.’ Though the warm, slow-burning R&B beats peppered with twinkling piano melodies and dramatic bursts of strings are beautifully constructed, it’s Celeste’s voice that makes the real impact. Her vocals glide effortlessly across the track, harbouring the warmth but also the emotional impact of classic singers like Billie Holiday. She has huge presence, making you hang on every word she says. Make no mistake: despite nodding to her influences, Celeste is standing out in her own right. (Eugenie Johnson)
Actress – X22RME
Darren Cunningham, better known as producer Actress, is returning with new album ‘AZD’ via Ninja Tune on 14th April. There were those who thought he might have retired, but it turns out that he’d just been exploring a parallel universe where he’s been conjuring a unique and globalised vision of what electronic music should sound like. For the record, he’s been inspired by black artists James Hampton and Rammellzee, who created works by “sourcing castaway materials from their environment and reinterpreting them into absolute majesty given from the fourth dimension.”
‘X22RME’ (pronounced “extreme”) is a stunning example of this working practice. Cunningham has pieced the track together from three hours of different passages, pieced together from clips found on tapes, CDs, old computers and USB sticks. In the end he made fifty different versions of the tune, but this final incarnation has travelled through time and space to reveal itself as a constantly twisting and turning slice of techno. Kicking off with a gorgeous yet melancholy string section, Cunningham soon introduces the pulsating beats, layering elements across the top before ending in a climax of overlapping spoken phrases. In theory, the disparate elements shouldn’t work, but in Cunningham’s hands they become a unified, cosmic whole. (Eugenie Johnson)
H.Grimace – Call It Out
It’s been a little while since London-based H.Grimace burst forth with their debut, cassette-based EP ‘I Am Material’ in 2015, but last year they resurfaced with their 7” ‘Royal Hush’ and are finally gearing up to release their debut album, ‘Self-Architect’ next month.
That title almost suggests that they’ve been busy forming themselves into a tightly-knit, perfectly formed unit, and that’s pretty much what we get with their latest single ‘Call It Out.’ On it, the band combine neurotic, sometimes staccato post-punk licks with a slightly shoegaze fuzziness and Hannah Gledhill’s distinctively doom-like vocals. The result? A driving, monolithic, occasionally chaotic but thrilling ode to speaking out against the ills of the world.
“It was initially a response to a friend who had been drugged at a party but couldn’t name the perpetrator,” the band said. “But generally the song was about naming something you think should be said but are afraid to say.” It might sometimes be difficult to speak your mind, but it isn’t hard to say that H.Grimace have crafted something quite spellbinding here. (Eugenie Johnson)