A very happy Friday dear readers! It’s time for another bumper edition of Tracks and when we say bumper, we mean bumper. That’s partly down to a few massive returns. So, deep intake of breath… The Killers are back with a tune that, yep, kills, after months of teasing Queens of the Stone Age finally revealed more about their new album ‘Villains’ alongside their newest tune (it’s produced by Mark Ronson!) and Wolf Alice also returned with a monster from upcoming LP ‘Visions of a Life’. Meanwhile, Arcade Fire used Ritalin-infused cereal to help promote their latest cut from ‘Everything Now’.
Elsewhere, The Horrors have thrown a little bit of a curveball and delivered a throbbing, industrial slice, Everything Everything are back with a defiant, typically genre-bending new one, Ghostpoet continues to muse on the troubles of the world, Emily Haines is back with her first solo music in over ten years and Daphni put out a polished studio version of a live favourite. If that wasn’t enough, Sälen continued to get the balance between love and hate, lust and disgust just right. Phew!
The Killers – The Man
How, as one of the world’s biggest bands, do you recover from the slight misstep of your fourth album, followed by a five year gap? Ah yes, by going all-out ridiculous and coming back with a single the size and scale of ‘The Man’.
For The Killers - you know, that band who wrote Mr Bloody Brightside - writing hits is hardly a task, but after 2012’s ‘Battle Born’ failed to live up to expectation, there was probably more riding on this comeback single than many thought.
Luckily, ‘The Man’ is huge, bombastic and fearless, with Brandon Flowers at his most enticing. “I know the score like the back of my hand,” he begins, with lashings of sass, and he only gets more confident from there.
“I got skin in the game / I got a household name / I got news for you baby, you’re looking at the man,” the track’s near-obscene chorus concludes, and, in the very best way possible, we’ve heard nothing quite like it so far this year. (Will Richards)
Queens of the Stone Age – The Way You Used To Do
Two words that could strike fear into the heart of any long-time connoisseur of Queens of the Stone Age’s hard-rocking, saucy riffola: Mark Ronson. He of ‘Valerie’ fame. He of ‘if in doubt, whack a horn on it’ fame. But also he of ‘Uptown Funk’ master-stroke fame. See, when Ronson gets it right, he gets it really right. And judging by ‘The Way You Used To Do’ - the first cut from QOTSA’s forthcoming, fully Ronson-produced LP ‘Villains’ - it looks like he might have got it really right this time. You can all exhale now.
True, the shoulder-shimmying, finger-clickin’ riff that runs throughout is nothing like the thunderous desert rock of the Queens of old. But, for years now, Josh Homme and co have been equally as keen to push the pedal down and go full throttle on the hard stuff as they have to ease back and dial up the sass that lies beneath.
‘The Way You Used To Do’ is the most extreme example of the latter approach yet. It’s central motif is still gnarly enough to sound massive on the enormous stages they’ll be gracing later this year (hello, O2 Arena), and by the latter third of the track Homme and guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen are weaving their customary enormo-riff magic all over the shop. But it’s fundamentally more dancey, less dense and generally more ‘up’ than anything they’ve put their name to to date. You can picture ol’ Ginger Elvis hip-swinging his way through the whole affair, with a glint in his eye and an eyebrow raised, knowing he’s written a really rather excellent, in his own words, “song about screwing”.
So yeah, if you’re mad that ‘The Way You Used To Do’ doesn’t sound like ‘Songs For The Deaf’, then blame Ronson. But if you’re on board for the path that Queens of the Stone Age have been continuing down for the fifteen years since, then this looks like a pretty damn intriguing next step to us. (Lisa Wright)
Wolf Alice – Yuk Foo
And lo, they did return!
Where, one might have pondered, could Wolf Alice, with that nothing-less-than-perfect debut album, handful of stellar EPs and hidden gem of a contribution to the ‘Ghostbusters’ soundtrack go now?
If there was a metaphorical ceiling above them to smash, glass or otherwise, then Ellie Rowsell and gang are doing so with limbs flailing in the only way appropriate to accompany this absolute smasher of a comeback number. Making use of the best musical spoonerism since NOFX’s ‘Punk in Drublic’, the first teaser proper of Wolf Alice Mark II is easily the finest example of distilling anger into a shade over two minutes of bristling grunge.
“You bore me”, shrieks Ellie between expletives atop grubby, doomy, practically industrial guitars and a rollicking drum beat. Her lyrics, whether distorted, yelped or sinisterly whispered, give voice to a deep frustration that’s constantly threatening to bubble over. Still casting that one eye back to the ’90s, it’s as if The Prodigy’s eponymous firestarter had opted to front Garbage - while sipping snakebite through a straw in a dodgy Camden boozer.
And yet, as it drips with stuttering Gen Y angst, the final “shit” drawn out in near-digital style, Wolf Alice’s musical feet are planted firmly in 2017. Potent drinks may be harder to come by (but north London’s pubs will be just as sticky of floor).
Piercing, prescient and precocious as fuck - in its short length ‘Yuk Foo’ encapsulates pretty much everything that’s great about Wolf Alice, and maybe even music itself. The best band of the decade just - incredulously - stepped it up. Just pity the fool who’s sorting out that radio edit, eh? (Emma Swann)
Arcade Fire – Creature Comfort
Imagining the Arcade Fire of 2005 announcing their new single with an obscene, tacky breakfast cereal called Creature Comfort, and promoting their new album with a Twitter account bordering on parody seems near unbelievable.
They’re a completely different band now though, and their dive into ridiculousness is nothing if not entertaining. After all, the title track from new album ‘Everything Now’ starts with a piano line that sounds like an ABBA tribute.
‘Creature Comfort’ doesn’t dial down the bonkers levels one jot. Its first ten seconds feels like stumbling into a thudding nightclub by accident, before Win Butler yells his manifesto atop of erratic synths, lines repeated back at him by even more hyperactive counterpart Regine Chassagne.
Creating a new album campaign that playfully skirts around full-blown capitalism - the band are about to embark on a world tour they’ve labelled the ‘Infinite Content’ tour - doesn’t mean the music’s subject matter has become vapid, though, even if there are less-than-subtle, knowing nods back to their death-obsessed debut album ‘Funeral’: the track’s second verse reads: “Assisted suicide / She dreams about dying all the time / She told me she came so close / Filled up the bathtub and put on our first record.”
Arcade Fire are a fundamentally new band in 2017, and though it’s hard to connect the likes of ‘Creature Comfort’ with the band who wrote ‘Wake Up’ et al, the confidence with which they’re creating a new world for themselves is invigorating and thoroughly entertaining. (Will Richards)
The Horrors - Machine
With debut album ‘Strange House’ all-but-relegated to history’s back room, The Horrors’ had spent their three LPs since (2009’s ‘Primary Colours’, 2011’s ‘Skying’ and 2014’s ‘Luminous’) ploughing shoegaze’s fuggy, reverb-sodden mines and emerging with varying degrees of interest. While ‘Primary Colours’ wiped the slate clean in unexpected and hugely exciting fashion, and ‘Skying’ arguably fine-tuned the formula, by the more Hacienda-referencing ‘Luminous’, singer Faris Badwan was spending his time on stage berating lacklustre audiences and seemingly having a bit of a rubbish time of it. Something clearly needed to change.
Cue ‘Machine’: the band’s first new offering in three years, and the most delightfully grotty thing they’ve put their name to since the eyeliner-rimmed early days of polka dots and ball-busting skinny jeans. Pulsing along on an industrial throb that wouldn’t feel out of place on a Nine Inch Nails record, ‘Machine’ is a filthy thing - all metallic rasps and prowling basslines, with an absolutely gigantic chorus that’s more Marilyn Manson than Mazzy Star.
It makes total sense of the band’s forthcoming dates alongside Depeche Mode, and it’s a deliciously dirty, revitalised reminder of exactly how good the group can be when they’re clearly excited by their own ideas.
Grab your leathers, and welcome to Horrors Mk. III. (Lisa Wright)
Everything Everything – Can’t Do
“‘Can’t Do’ is about trying to bend to the world and fit into it”, Jonathan Higgs says of Everything Everything’s new single. “Nobody is normal, nobody knows what normal is. ‘I can’t do the thing you want’ - we don’t care we just want you to dance”. Well, Jonathan has certainly summed up a lot there.
Everything Everything have never seemed particularly bothered about being pigeonholed into a particular genre, or curbing some of their more experimental tendencies to fit in with what others have done around them. Instead, they’ve forged their own path, fitting in a wealth of ideas into three albums, yet somehow still managing to forge sparkling pop gems from their disparate influences and ideas.
‘Can’t Do’, the lead single from their upcoming album ‘A Fever Dream’, initially sounds like one of the most focused singles they’ve released, propelled by Jonathan’s instantly recognisable falsettos and semi-raps and an almost house beat. But dig a little deeper and all their experimental tendencies are still there: the prominence of deep yet melodic bass, a burst of guitar that sounds like classic New Order, Jonathan’s vocals becoming increasingly feverish as he repeats “I can’t do the thing you want” over and over again.
It’s glamorous, glossy synth-pop embedded with intriguing, ear-catching at-pop tendencies. Nobody knows what normal is, but here Everything Everything sound like no-one but themselves. Who would want them to bend to the world? (Eugenie Johnson)
Ghostpoet – Trouble + Me
On ‘Immigrant Boogie’, the first taste of Ghostpoet’s superbly titled upcoming new album ‘Dark Days + Canapés’, Obaro Ejimiwe weaved a tale of an immigrant sailing across the seas, hoping for a better life. It doesn’t end too well though, as the refugee is cast out to sea, unable to swim, wondering what will happen to his wife and children.
‘Immigrant Boogie’ set the tone for what we could probably expect from ‘Dark Days + Canapés’. On new track ‘Trouble + Me’, Obaro digs further into the sense of unease that’s been brought about by the unstable and often chaotic contemporary political and social climate. Whereas ‘Immigrant Boogie’ was direct in its exploration of the refugees’ plight though, this new cut sees Ghostpoet moving back into slightly more ambiguous territory lyrically, talking about people who “slowly lose control” and harbouring the echoing line of “I feel it all the time”.
Obaro is never crystal clear about what “it” is, and although the fragments of detail he gives can point you in the direct, the slightly amorphous picture he presents mirrors a sense of general disquiet in the soul. But the general tone of the track sums up the discontent perfectly. Like with 2015’s ‘Shedding Skin’, it’s a dive into more guitar-driven melodies, scaling back the post-punk bluster of ‘Immigrant Boogie’ to contemplative refrains and dusty percussion that gradually builds up in intensity as the gloominess grows. Ghostpoet has always managed to conjure a distinctive atmosphere with his music, and ‘Trouble + Me’ might be the pinnacle of that craft. (Eugenie Johnson)
Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton – Fatal Gift
Metric released an album, ‘Pagans In Vegas’, in 2015 and this year Broken Social Scene make their long-awaited return with ‘Hug of Thunder’. But we’ve been waiting for another solo record from one of the voices behind the Canadian collective and the band’s frontwoman, Emily Haines, for over ten years. Eleven years on from ‘Knives Don’t Have Your Back’ though, Emily is back with another Soft Skeleton record, ‘Choir of the Mind’.
Hearing the hushed piano tones at the beginning of lead single ‘Fatal Gift’, it’s easy to draw a direct comparison to the subtle, stripped-back nature of ‘Knives’. Whereas the songs on Emily’s first Soft Skeleton outing more often than not contained their lamentations to that sole combination of keys and voice (with a few dramatic strings and flourishes here and there), ‘Fatal Gift’ is much more expansive, blossoming into a tense, propulsive indie-dance number with squalling guitar riffs.
Not that Emily’s subject matter has become any less introspective and soul-searching. She says herself that “we all pursue symbols of achievement, but utopian material promises are hollow”. That sentiment is echoed, quite literally, in the refrain of “the things you own, they own you”, which reverberates hauntingly at the climax at the track, imprisoning itself in a seemingly infinite loop similarly to the cage of aspirational materialism it references. Increasingly anxious, it’s a track that feels more pressing as it morphs into its various forms without ever losing its core message. (Eugenie Johnson)
Daphni – Tin
On his upcoming collection ‘FABRICLIVE93’, Dan Snaith’s club-ready incarnation Daphni is following in the footsteps of Ricardo Villalobos and Omar-S by presenting a collection of 23 brand new tracks and four edits. ‘Tin’ is one of those, but for anyone who’s ever had the pleasure of seeing Daphni play live then the track will no doubt feel familiar. That’s because it’s been floating around in his sets for some time, but has never been fully realised as a track.
Luckily, ‘FABRICLIVE93’ has given Dan the perfect excuse to finally unleash the crowd-pleasing juggernaut on to the world properly. While ‘Tin’ has some euphoric highs (complete with rhythmic house beats and stuttering, reverberating synths that can swell with incredible force), it also sits somewhere between the dance-oriented, propulsive nature of Daphni and the more meditative, thoughtful side of Caribou. Its vocal loop in particular is soulful, but also yearning and mournful. ‘Tin’ manages to marry both of Dan’s worlds into a happy union though. It effortlessly weaves the two projects’ identities into four minutes that’s just as much at home being heard by a sole person through headphones as it is by hundreds on the dancefloor. (Eugenie Johnson)
Sälen - So Rude
Sälen have always been kings and queens of sass. Declaring that “loose lips suck dicks” on latest cut ‘Pretty, Fake’ to flipping cliches on their heads throughout, their humour is some of the driest, consistently entertaining and backed by earworm basslines.
As with much of Sälen’s output, ‘So Rude’ sits on that wobbly fence between love and hate; lust and disgust, and threatens to go either way throughout. Toying with emotions while also being unashamedly danceable, there’s a lot more to this trio than most who attempt what they’re going for. (Will Richards)