Good afternoon dear readers and welcome to another edition of Tracks! It’s been another short week but it’s been an absolute Barry Belter nonetheless! First off, do you need reminding about the frankly epic return of Paramore? No? You’ve had ‘Hard Times’ on repeat since Wednesday? So have we. But we’ll use any excuse right now just to spin it again.
Elsewhere, we got two comebacks from Ghostpoet and EMA, both with politically-charged, socially-conscious tracks about two very different but equally pressing topics. Meanwhile, Waxahatchee announced her brand new album ‘Out In The Storm’ and delivered one of her breeziest but self-reflective tracks to date (no pun intended there). Londoner Saint Clair also emerged as a huge presence with her latest single ‘Train.’
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.
Paramore – Hard Times
Sugary choruses and enough hooks to catch an ocean of fish were always part of Paramore’s make-up, but 2013’s self-titled album took things further, embracing pop with open arms.
‘Hard Times’, the first taste of their forthcoming fifth album ‘After Laughter’, strays even further into saccharine-sweet pop territory, and is all the more enthralling for it. As the track’s bonkers, retro, goofy video shows, Paramore have never had as much fun as they’re having right now.
There’s also, we’re pretty sure, a more-than-slightly-intentional counting in of the track by the returning Zac Farro, making his second entrance into the Paramore fold with a rollocking beat that hurtles the track forwards.
Granted, when the drums crash in, the track’s first verse almost sounds like old, noodly Foals, but it’s quickly swapped for a shamelessly ’80s chorus, one that instantly sticks in your brain like bubblegum.
This infectiousness playfulness isn’t exactly reflected in the track’s lyrics - Hayley Williams laments said hard times, and how it often feels futile to get up and try again - but Paramore are, once again, fighting through the adversity (and don’t we know they’ve seen plenty of it) to become more irresistible, catchy and important than ever. (Will Richards)
Ghostpoet – Immigrant Boogie
Don’t let the title fool you. There’s not a Jools Holland impersonator in sight on ‘Immigrant Boogie’ and it certainly doesn’t step into that kind of jaunty territory. In actual fact, Ghostpoet’s comeback single, his first since 2015’s Mercury Prize-nominated album ‘Shedding Skin,’ deals with a particularly weighty, pressing and contemporary issue.
Underpinned by propulsive, pitch-black post-punk guitars and filled with the sense of impending doom, the track sees Obaro Ejimiwe telling a first person account of a difficult journey across borders. As the darkened melodies imply, although there’s a hint of hope in the first half of the track, the tone gradually twists around. Even the fact that the line “I was dreaming of a better life” is in the past tense hints at peril in the ocean depths. Sure enough, just as distorted synths wash over the track like waves, we’re informed that suddenly the protagonist has been swept overboard but can’t swim, fearful for his life and what will become of his “two kids and lovely wife.”
It might seem like a simple tale based on real-life events on the surface, but Ejimiwe achieves a heck of lot with comeback. The peril of the journey asks those afraid of the so-called “refugee crisis” to question their own beliefs, but the way in which the tale turns on a whim speaks to all of us. While we think we might be the master of our own course in life, things occasionally spiral out of our control. Sometimes, that can mean the difference between life and death, and Ejimiwe tackles that truth with tact, depth and empathy. (Eugenie Johnson)
Waxahatchee – Silver
“Stare at myself, the whole world keeps turning,” sings Katie Crutchfield on the first line of her new single ‘Silver.’ It’s pretty much the perfect way to introduce the track, the first Waxahatchee tune since 2015’s ‘Ivy Tripp,’ because, as she says, it’s all about “self-examination” and “the different shapes that takes.”
It’s testament to Crutchfield’s skill as a songwriter that she manages to condense such a wide, weighty subject into the space of a single line, but the magic doesn’t end there. The wordless chorus alone, a flurry of strident guitars and Crutchfield’s layered, harmonic vocals, propels ‘Silver’ to near the top of the rankings of her most soaring melodies to date, but the relatively simple lyrics suggest that Katie is undergoing a process of destruction. “I went out in the storm and I’m never returning,” she sings, while also referencing houses burning down.
Singing cathartically isn’t anything new in the Waxahatchee canon, but she’s never sounded so at ease with that process of having to rebuild from square one. She may have been out in the storm, but if the relatively calm reflections on ‘Silver’ are anything to go by, then she’s weathered it with ease. (Eugenie Johnson)
EMA – Aryan Nation
You’ve got to have a lot of guts to call the lead single of your latest album ‘Aryan Nation,’ but then again Erika M. Anderson, better known as EMA, has never really been one to shy away from some tough issues. On her last album ‘The Future’s Void,’ she took a long hard look at the nature of surveillance and the perils that can come with navigating an increasingly logged-on society. Now, after a full year where the headlines seemed dominated by overt or veiled racism and misogyny, on new record ‘Exile In The Outer Ring’ she’s taking her own look at the resentment that seeps from modern Middle America, with an attempt to render it in a more empathic way.
So back to that title. ‘Aryan Nation’ isn’t really specifically about a certain subsection of Middle America that are deemed racist. It was actually initially inspired by Shane Meadows’ film ‘This Is England.’ Meadows’ depiction of skinhead culture stirred something in Erika. She recognised a similarity between the way in which the non-violent skinheads were radicalised by a single figure and a sense of hopelessness and confusion in America. And so, the track is more about the set of conditions that cause particular inclinations to arise. Even the first line, “go back home to below your station,” speaks both of the grinding poverty some Americans have to live with as well as the perception of some Americans being “white trash.” Erika sings about habitual drug use being a “family tradition,” with a revolving door prison system (“are we out on bail or just a week’s vacation?”) and where bringing more children into seemingly inescapable conditions is just continuing a “cycle that’s vicious.” In the end, “you can deal but you can’t ever win.”
It’s a damning portrait of abandonment and alienation made all the more powerful by the fact it wasn’t written this year, or in 2016, but three years ago. That simply heightening the sense that the vitriol and spite channelled and exploited by the likes of Trump has been bubbling under for some time. But even though the means might not justify the ends, EMA has made a powerful, thought-provoking return. (Eugenie Johnson)
Willma Archer – ‘Like A Hunger’
Will Archer used to make music as Slime, creating dark, introverted compositions. He’s now returned as Willma Archer, a name he’s given to himself by twisting an old school nickname, and new single ‘Like A Hunger’ is a pulsating return. Featuring NYC-based singer Amber Mark, the track is held together by bouncy, jazzy bass that Mark’s vocals skim over like stones. Simultaneously danceable and gloriously dark, ‘Like A Hunger’ sees Will Archer refining and heading to even better things. (Will Richards)
Saint Clair – Train
If I told you that North Londoner Emma Topolski has been a backing vocalist for long-time friend Laura Marling and participated in her ‘Reversal Of The Muse’ project, what would you expect from her own solo project, Saint Clair? If you imagined you’d be in for some thoughtful folk, then prepare to be surprised. Under the alias Saint Clair, Topolski makes bold, invigorating pop music and with the upcoming release of her debut EP ‘D1’ in May, she’s ramping up the anticipation with the release of her new Ben Jones-produced single ‘Train.’
Building on a drifting, somewhat melancholic piano melody and reverberating, bassy synth tones, ‘Train’ soon adds snapping percussion and slowly ramps up before reaching a climactic, soulful peak of powerful synthpop. It’s beautifully restrained, knowing exactly when to hold back and when to let go, even including the sound of trains pulling in and out of London Bridge station.
The spaciousness of the melodies also allows Topolski’s vocals to really shine. Having begun her musical career as a jazz singer, she evokes the same sense of pained earnestness of the genre’s greats, even kicking off with the deeply honest proclamation that “I lost myself to the one I love.” By the end of the track, she’s not entirely ready to face the world again properly, instead having to “hide the pain,” but is determined to “fight it like a hurricane.” The raw power Saint Clair gradually generates here will blow you away like a gust of wind that’s off the Beaufort Scale. (Eugenie Johnson)