Good afternoon dear readers and welcome to another edition of Tracks! This week is a bumper edition of our regular round-up of the week’s best track, not least because a certain former member of One Direction returned with an all-conquering retro-ballad… It was actually a bit of a week for comebacks, with Mount Kimbie returning to their more insular beginnings with the help of one James Blake and Brooklyn’s Big Thief announcing their second album with some signature storytelling.
Elsewhere, Marika Hackman referenced ‘The L Word’ on her latest belter, Mr. Jukes (aka Bombay Bicycle Club’s Jack Steadman) treated us to a soulful R&B banger, Feist recruited none other than Jarvis Cocker for her latest theatrical single and Tel Aviv’s Noga Erez shared her boldest track to date.
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.
Harry Styles - Sign Of The Times
Harry Styles’ debut solo single was always going to be an interesting one, wasn’t it? Rumours of collaborations with everyone from Meghan Trainor to Max Martin meant that, sonically, we were left floundering as to what Harold’s music would actually sound like. Would he continue down the Fleetwood Mac meets Bruce Springsteen meets Coldplay route that One Direction were headed down before their “hiatus” was announced back in 2015? Would he join Zayn Malik in deciding that fornicating and smoking weed was all that mattered, or would he do a Robbie and get a bit lost for a bit before churning out some A+ pop songs?
Well, if his debut single ‘Sign Of The Times’ is anything to go by it’s none of the above, and it’s the better for it. It’s a bold move for a popstar to launch their solo career with a ballad, even a ballad that takes after the likes of Rod Stewart, Elton John and, yes, at times David Bowie and Queen. It’s easy, in fact, to get bogged down in who (or what) Harry is or is not trying to emulate, and, whether that’s because he came from ‘The X Factor’ or was in One Direction, it does him a disservice. Because ‘Sign Of The Times’ is legitimately good.
Harry’s vocals sound the best that they ever have, and he adds flecks of vulnerability to the track with extended use of his strong falsetto matched against stripped back instrumentation. The production, which was handled by Kanye West and Mark Ronson aficionado Jeff Bhasker, is layered, complete with 70s textures, melancholic pianos, and, at one point, a full-blown choir. And while space-themed sound effects and pronounced guitars might, at times, be trying too hard, Harry just about managing to stay in control of the whole thing naïve astronaut piloting a rocket heading to space.
Lyrically, ‘Sign Of The Times’ is ambiguous in that it could be about climate change, a destitute romance, personal grief or even war. And it’s generally emotional as he sings on the middle eight, “We don’t talk enough/ We should open up/ Before it’s all too much/ Will we ever learn?/ We’ve been here before/ It’s just what we know.” By the time we reach the nearly six minute (!) song’s climax things take an even more dramatic step as guitars whirr, the choir sings and Harry does his best Bonnie Tyler-esque power ballad vocal, raising everything up a decibel for campy dramatic effect. It’s both exhausting in it earnestness and yet completely satisfying in its genuinity.
It would have been easy to Harry Styles to pop out a Spotify ready playlistable track, but instead ‘Sign Of The Times’ is a sprawling 5 minute 40 mass of heavy 70s stylistic influences with just enough emotion and personality to pull it all off. Count us in. (Alim Kheraj)
Mount Kimbie - We Go Home Together (ft. James Blake)
Mount Kimbie’s last album, 2013's ‘Cold Spring Fault Less Youth’, was an ambitious, dancefloor-bound trip bookended by a pair of vicious King Krule collaborations. Their return, on the James Blake-featuring ‘We Go Home Together’, takes things back to their insular beginnings.
The track is slow and slight, reigning in the ambition shown both on ‘Cold Spring’ and Blake’s winding, ambitious 2016 LP ‘The Colour In Anything’, and when the latter croons “we go home together, to our inner most,” it shows he and Mount Kimbie hiding from the world instead of racing further into the limelight. Rather than Mount Kimbie re-stamping their authority with their initial comeback, ‘We Go Home Together’ quietly and subtly signals the return of a duo that we’ve been dying to have back. (Will Richards)
Marika Hackman – My Lover Cindy
If there's anyone who can combine jaunty little sitcom-theme guitars, and a burst of sha-la-la-las - and make the whole thing GO BLOODY OFF - it's yer girl Marika. Rather brilliantly, her latest song is titled 'My Lover Cindy' in honour of a minor character from telly show The L Word. Quick recap for those who are unaware: Lover Cindy (who rarely gets to speak on the show, tbh) and her girlfriend own a rival lesbian bar across the street from centre of action The Planet, and things all get a bit 'Romeo and Juliet' when she has a fling with chief lothario/tie-enthusiast Shane. Phew. The L Word recap, over.
Incidentally, Marika Hackman channels Shane-vibes for this one, sweetly singing absolute filth along the lines of "'cause I'm a greedy pig, I'm gonna get my fill" atop the deceptive, jangly candy-coating. Self-depreciating - and at times self-loathing, as backing band The Big Moon cheerily appear with a chipper chorus of "I'm a lousy lover" - 'My Lover Cindy' shows Marika flexing her new direction, and sounding all the more unstoppable for it. (El Hunt)
Big Thief – Mythological Beauty
Big Thief’s debut album ‘Masterpiece’ looked at life and its hardships sometimes with a light touch, and at other times with a brutal rawness and sincerity. A little more than a year on from its release, the band are set to unveil their second record, ‘Capacity,’ with singer and guitarist Adrienne Lenker saying that the songs “search for a deeper level of self-acceptance, to embrace the world within and without.”
If ‘Mythological Beauty’ is anything to go by, they’re certainly in a reflective mood. On the surface, it appears to be something of a lilting indie-folk number with a gentle, repeating guitar line. Like many Big Thief songs though, it’s Lenker’s words that reverberate most. Here, she sings about relations, particularly familial ones. There’s flashes of internal pain, with Lenker lamenting that “I have an older brother that I don’t know/ He could be anywhere.”
Elsewhere, it’s like she tries to balance her own potential, childlike escape to a better place with the harsh reality of adulthood: “I built a ladder out of metal pieces/ Father was working hard.” Occasionally her voice breaks away from hushed tones to become more like a wail, overflowing with emotion and emphasising some of the most human moments; “you held me in the backseat with a dishrag, soaking blood,” she cries, remembering the care she felt.
Lenker addresses inner conflict on the refrain of “you’re all caught up inside,” and once again, with this delicate balance of raw emotion and restrained music, Big Thief are making it easy to get caught up in their world, even if it’s not always an easy one to inhabit. (Eugenie Johnson)
Mr. Jukes – Tears (ft. Alexandria)
Last month, Bombay Bicycle Club’s Jack Steadman re-emerged forth with a brand new project. Stepping forth as Mr. Jukes, his debut track ‘Angels/ Your Love’ was about as far away as you could get from a Bombay Bicycle Club track. Built on a sample from Argentinian jazz master Jorge Lopez Ruiz and with vocals from BJ The Chicago Kid, it was clear that the “sample-hound” was ready to go in a bold new direction.
In that sense, the lilting guitar riff that opens up new track ‘Tears,’ pretty misleading, perhaps lulling you into thinking that Jack might be slipping back into indie rock. Before long though the hip-hop inspired beats kick in, punctuating each line before ushering in classic, twinkling R&B melodies. With the added oomph of rising Atlanta star Alexandria’s soulful vocals, ‘Tears’ is a soulful gem that firmly cements Mr. Jukes’ position as an artist with the freedom to go in a whole new direction. (Eugenie Johnson)
Feist – Century (ft. Jarvis Cocker)
With ‘Pleasure,’ the opening, title track from her first album in six years, Leslie Feist set her stall out. This was going to be a record that was raw and more uncompromising than what’s come before it. It was stripped back and bare, consisting pretty much only of Feist, her intricate guitar playing and some malleable vocals.
By contrast, ‘Century’ is a slightly grungy number that announces itself with a clattering of drums, becoming a theatrical yet ragged thunderclap of riffs and pure emotion. Then the vibe almost completely changes, seeming to calm down, with none other than Jarvis Cocker coming in to intone how long a century is (“3,155,973,600 seconds,” apparently). But he also reminds us that a hundred years is nothing compared to the “endless dark nights of the soul.” Feist is continuing to forge a dark new path, exploring rougher terrain and shape-shifting before our very eyes. (Eugenie Johnson)
Noga Erez – Off The Radar
With her debut album ‘Off The Radar’ arriving in June, Noga Erez has already shared an impressive handful of singles. From the politically charged ‘Dance While You Shoot’ to ‘Pity’s take on sexual assault, and most recently her incendiary look at inherited power on ‘Toy,’ she’s proven she isn’t afraid to talk about some of the world’s biggest issues while still making fun, danceable pop tunes.
But nothing quite captures those two sides of Noga’s work better than the album’s title track. On it, she tackles contemporary fears of being forgotten, and our desire to share thoughts and desires simply to get a kick out of gaining likes and positive comments. But while she sings about flattening the bumps and capturing “your muscles and your bones,” it’s all set against her some of the boldest, brightest melodies we’ve heard from her to date. Marching beats and the constant refrain of a distinctive, almost brassy synth keep ‘Off The Radar’ urgent. She might sing “hear me no-one, sees me no-one,” but with tracks like this Noga Erez is making sure people take notice. (Eugenie Johnson)
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