What a week for new music! From Parquet Courts to Janelle Monáe and Father John Misty, there’s been some brilliant, varied, much-needed returns this week. Alongside these, Sunflower Bean have returned with the quiet yet stunning ‘Twentytwo’, Alexis Taylor has shared the first preview of his new album, and Simian Mobile Disco also make a hypnotic return.
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.
Parquet Courts - Almost Had To Start A Fight/In And Out Of Patience
“I wanted to get back to writing raw songs. Things you can dance to and things I could harness my anger into,” Parquet Courts guitarist Andrew Savage told us at the end of last year, talking about the band’s new album ‘Wide Awake!’.
Spending 2017 releasing solo albums (Savage shared the sombre ‘Thawing Dawn’ in October) and sharing collaborative projects (the band’s long-in-the-making collaboration ‘Milano’ with Italian composer Daniele Luppi came out the same month), it’s no wonder Parquet Courts wanted to get back to basics on their new album.
The desire for simplicity is written all over ‘Almost Had To Start A Fight/In And Out Of Patience’, the first song(s?) from ‘Wide Awake!’, the follow-up to 2016’s ‘Human Performance’. A fidgety, repeated thrash of guitars, drums and Savage’s harsh, urgent voice rules ‘Almost Had To Start A Fight’, the stop-start first half of the track, as he yells “Finding peace is not an easy task”.
Then, just as the walls begin to close in on the brilliant-yet-claustrophobic track, Savage pleaing “If it stops I’m having a bad dream”, the track folds out into ‘In And Out Of Patience’ - a flowing, danceable bop - with not a second’s warning. It’s done at an intoxicating speed, and is an urgent, fantastic return that sees the band at the very top of their game, and more together than ever. (Will Richards)
Janelle Monáe - Make Me Feel
As an artist, Janelle Monáe is impossible to pin down. Versatility being her calling card, she’s leapt effortlessly from debut album ‘Metropolis’ to the sci-fi touch of her graphic-novelly second record ‘The ArchAndroid’ right through to ‘Electric Lady’s jazz, soul and gospel explorations, all while putting a futuristic spin on the classic reference points that shape her thoroughly modern music. And in recent years she’s only diversified further, showing her talents as an actor in the Oscar-winning Moonlight, along with providing a stand-out moment from ‘Art Angels’ with her fearsome Grimes collaboration ‘Venus Fly’. Accordingly, Monáe’s return to the spotlight - in the shape of two tracks, ‘Make Me Feel’ and ‘Django Jane’ - is equally dismissive and playful when it comes to definition.
Clearly indebted to her former mentor Prince (and boldly unapologetic for it, quite rightly) ‘Make Me Feel’ - all woozy, spaced-out guitar strums, and gasping percussive moans - is brilliantly queer to its core. The accompanying video - which shows Janelle Monáe torn between becoming romantically involved with either a man and a woman - seems to be a campy, theatrical play on bisexuality, and flinging herself dramatically between two purposefully binary figures, you suspect Monáe is poking fun at the whole notion of binaries in the process.
Playfulness peppers every lyric too, cracking arch puns about shag carpets and stealing the show with a falling-cadence, half-spoken vocal delivery during the chorus (“It’s like I’m powerful with a little bit of tender,” Monáe declares, prowling along the floor, “an emotional, sexual bender.”). Charged with raw 80s energy and making tongue-in-cheek reference to Monáe’s own refusal to entertain labelling her sexuality - “I only date androids,” she once quipped - this might just be 2018’s most electric return so far. (El Hunt)
Father John Misty - Mr. Tillman
It was only last year that Father John Misty released his sprawling opus ‘Pure Comedy’, yet he’s been teasing another full-length since September, when he said that the follow-up was “pretty much done”. Now, less than 10 months later he’s back with a new track, one that switches the focus away from the outward-facing musings of that last record squarely back on to himself.
Father John’s flipped the perspective on to himself in similar fashion before, on ‘I Love You Honeybear’ track ‘The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apartment’, and here he’s at it again, taking on the role of hotel staff as he comes to stay. They struggle to keep him in check as Tillman himself apparently goes through a drink-fuelled break, trying to reiterate hotel policy, note that “you left your passport in the mini-fridge”, and assure him that there’s no film being shot on the premises: “No, they aren’t running lines, and they aren’t exactly thrilled, would you like/ A regalo on the patio/ Is there someone we can call/ Perhaps you shouldn’t drink alone”.
It’s all wrapped up in a swirl of piano and guitar that Tillman’s voice can glide across, as twinkling glockenspiel shimmers around its hook, the relatively pretty veneer deftly belying some of the chaos that’s actually unfolding within the song. The overall effect is hypnotic, dreamlike yet surreal at the same time. Reflexive and beguiling, it shows there’s no slowing Tillman down. (Eugenie Johnson)
Sunflower Bean - Twentytwo
‘Crisis Fest’, the last preview of Sunflower Bean’s new album ‘Twentytwo In Blue’, was a rousing call-to-arms (or a call to put them down, more specifically), with lyrics like “2017 we know / Reality’s one big sick show” laid over absurdly catchy, crunchy classic rock guitars and an insatiable groove. On its follow-up ‘Twentytwo’, Julia Cumming opts for a more gentle form of attack. It turns out to be just as potent.
“We could live inside a place where we’d never have to face / All the people who disgrace us and make us hide our face,” she laments, constantly craning her neck to search for the greener grass. Then comes the chorus, an emotional barrage delivered in whispers. “I do not go quietly into the night that calls me, even when I’m alone,” she sings, recalling Dylan Thomas’ gorgeous, powerful poem ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’, intentionally or not. It’s a gorgeous, quiet act of defiance, and one that speaks volumes, as well as representing the feelings and worries of those growing up in a political climate they didn’t choose.
While ‘Crisis Fest’ dealt in finding resolution through fist-pumping and dancing in equal measure, ‘Twentytwo’ shows that Sunflower Bean’s continued attacks against injustice can be transmitted in many forms, all of which prove as devastating and affecting as each other. (Will Richards)
Simian Mobile Disco – Caught In A Wave
Across their career, Simian Mobile Disco have never shied away from collaborations with a variety of voices, whether that’s with Beth Ditto, Gruff Rhys, Alexis Taylor, Ninja from The Go! Team or Yeasayer’s Chris Keating. On their new album ‘Murmurations’ though, they’ve enlisted the help not just of individual vocalists but of a whole choir. Last year Hackney-based collective Deep Throat Choir released their own album ‘Be OK’, which was filled with a capella versions of tracks from the likes of Björk and Little Dragon, as well as a couple of original compositions, but how would they marry their voices with the pulsating electronic music of SMD?
If the album’s lead single ‘Caught In A Wave’ is anything to go by, the answer is effortlessly. The different forces that propel Simian Mobile Disco and Deep Throat Choir combine on the track to startling effect. The haunting choral waves of their voices swirl around the mix, lending an ethereal edge to the deep, bass-driven pulses that form the foundation for the track. Each element is given space to flourish, creating an intense and evocative interplay between the dancefloor-leaning beats and the Choir’s euphoric harmonies. It really does sweep the listener away. (Eugenie Johnson)
Alexis Taylor – Beautiful Thing
With his last album ‘Piano’ and its more recent companion, ‘Listen With(out) Piano’, Alexis Taylor stripped back his sound to some its barest components, and then asked other musicians to respond to those tracks with their own soundscapes. With his upcoming new album ‘Beautiful Thing’ though, Alexis has shifted gears once again. This time he’s worked with an outside producer for the first time in his solo career: Tim Goldsworthy of DFA and UNKLE.
From its title track alone, it’s clear that what the pair have conjured together is another distinctive chapter in Taylor’s solo canon. ‘Beautiful Thing’ couldn’t get too much further from the sparse arrangements of ‘Piano’, thanks to its genre-bending, almost experimental soundscape. From a foundation of bouncy bass-laden pulses, dark clamours of sound and jittery, mechanical scratchings, the track develops into a strident disco-house number filled with searching synths and propulsive, dynamic keys that drive it continually forward. Here, Taylor and Goldsworthy have crafted a track that’s danceable yet cerebral, one that marries together numerous elements into a vibrant whole. (Eugenie Johnson)