Round-up: Tracks: Arcade Fire, Empress Of, Zola Jesus and more

All the biggest and best tracks of the week, rounded up and reviewed.

Happy Friday, dear readers! We have a question for you: is it possible for Arcade Fire to get any more disco than what they were on ‘Everything Now’? Okay, it’s a bit of a rhetorical question: the answer is a resounding yes, as they show off their dancefloor-filling ability with aplomb on their latest track.

Elsewhere this week, after dropping a stand-alone single last year Lorely Rodriguez, better known as Empress Of, made a supremely confident return that called out those people who think they can do her job better – and made it a total banger. Zola Jesus also delved into an existential world and pondered free will, Nadine Shah took aim at holidaymakers with a lack of empathy for refugees and Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith gave us the musical equivalent of what it’s actually like to grow up and become aware of your surroundings.

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.

Arcade Fire – Electric Blue

The universe Arcade Fire have constructed around their upcoming fifth album is nothing short of compelling. Branded to within an inch of its life, with each song, video or live appearance it’s as if we’re stepping further into a dystopian video game, Douglas Coupland novel, or - and let’s be honest, it’s not entirely obvious which of these two is would actually be more realistic at this point - either having a not-so-flattering mirror thrown up at our own world, or finding ourselves inside Marty McFly’s alternate future. So when the latest cut from ‘Everything Now’ comes with prettily-shot footage of Régine Chassagne cavorting her way through the litter-strewn aftermath of a street party, binmen following in her wake, no eyelids shall be bat.

‘Electric Blue’ is - believe it - even more disco-tinged than the title track, if such a thing was ever thought possible. Matching Régine’s dreamy, high-pitched vocals with swirling synth lines and the band’s now-standard dance floor beat, it’s a little less in-your-face than any of the tracks that’ve preceded it, but is every bit the immediate earworm. Whether it’s pledging allegiance to everything around us, everything at once, or just their own ‘Everything Now’ Arcade Fire are after, at this point hands everywhere are already on hearts, waiting. (Emma Swann)

Empress Of – Go To Hell

On last year’s stand-alone single ‘Woman Is A Word’, Lorely Rodriguez, better known as Empress Of, interrogated the meaning – or more aptly, the meaningless nature – of gender. It was her attempt to consolidate the feelings she had by being labelled as a “woman”, that to the outside world it restricted her in terms of her potential and capability, even if those limits were completely artificial constructs.

As such, ‘Woman Is A Word’ was also a wispy examination of gender politics, one that used its music just as much as its lyrics to put across its social message. ‘Go To Hell’ does exactly the same, but much like its title suggests, it’s a strident and supremely confident slice of electro-pop. Across big beats and glistening, crystalline synths she addresses the nature of criticism head on, addressing similar issues of potential to ‘Woman Is A Word’ in an even more forthright manner.

Lorely questions why it is that some people think that they know how her creative mind works, and that they can do her job better than her. “Tell me about my potential and if you were me what you would do”, she says, “is this conversation an interview?” In the choruses, she becomes even more direct: “Everyone around me thinks I’m going to fail, but they can go to hell”. Lorely is taking no prisoners, and as a statement of intent and a declaration of self-confidence and empowerment, it doesn’t get much stronger than this. (Eugenie Johnson)

Zola Jesus – Soak

“What’s the point of trying to navigate life if you don’t even get to choose how it ends?” Nika Rosa Danilova asks in relation to her latest track ‘Soak’. Her upcoming album ‘Okovi’ is set to deal with these issues of existentialism and death in an incredibly personal and direct manner, drawing on a difficult time in Nika’s life when people close to her were struggling to cling on to life or losing their battle to keep living.

The album’s lead track ‘Exhumed’ introduced these concepts with its doom-laden, industrial nature, and while on the surface ‘Soak’ appears to be much of the same, it adds another thoughtful, philosophical layer to Zola Jesus’ story. Yes, it’s similarly creeping and absolutely awash in darkness, still hinting that ‘Okovi’ is likely to be Nika’s harshest album to date. Listen to her sing though, and the core point of the track gradually reveals itself.

Unsurprisingly, her vocals are downbeat, as she sings “you should know I would never let you drown” and “take me to the water, let me soak in slaughter”. It’s harsh, unforgiving imagery, but it’s also, somehow, got a positive edge. While the Grim Reaper lingers over the song, he’s stripped of control. The protagonist is choosing when to let go, rather than having that agency stripped of them. They manage to retain even just a small sliver of freedom even in their final moments. As such, Zola Jesus crafts a philosophical meditation on free will, even from the clutches of death. (Eugenie Johnson)

Nadine Shah – Holiday Destination

As the migrant crisis began to reach its peak, refugees began landing on the shores of islands such as Kos. While many would have been sympathetic to their plight, others saw it is a blight. On her latest single, the title track of her upcoming new album, singer-songwriter Nadine Shah brings to light how “there were some holidaymakers being interviewed and they were talking about how the situation was ruining their holiday”.

As such, ‘Holiday Destination’ sees the lives of the holidaymakers looking to have the “time of your life” with the refugees themselves, who’ve already suffered “fatalities in the water”, colliding in dramatic fashion. The contrast between the two is staggering, as the relative luxury of those on vacation clashes against the desperation of those fleeing warzones, poverty, and more. Its echoing refrain of “how you gonna sleep tonight” brings the difference between the two sides into even starker relief. It’s a direct question to the listener, but also draws attention to how many of the migrants not only no longer have a permanent roof over their heads, but have seen traumas that would likely give anyone insomnia. As a centrepiece for a politically-charged record, Nadine isn’t holding back here. (Eugenie Johnson)

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – An Intention

On last year’s debut album ‘EARS’, producer Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith demonstrated a knack for making electronic music sound like the most organic and natural thing in the world; it’s little surprise that she cites the legendary David Attenborough as an influence on her work. Little more than a year and a couple of months on and she’s readying a second LP, ‘The Kid’, which is due out on Western Vinyl on 6th October.

With it, she’s lost none of her ambition. The record is set to span four cognitive and emotional stages of the human lifespan across a quartet of sides covering two LPs, covering the unaware beginnings of a newborn, the increased self-awareness of early youth, the process of being firm in one’s identity and the wisdom and peace that often only comes in later life. Its lead single, ‘An Intention’, comes early in the album’s sprawling cycle, sitting within that sphere of being like a very young child.

As such, there’s a sense of innocence to ‘An Intention’ that captures that sense of blissful ignorance one has about the world at the very beginning of their life. It’s an often calm and ambient tune, punctuated by Kaitlyn’s own voice, which for the most part ethereally drifts along. But just like a child experiencing new sensations and often confusing emotions for the first time, the music sometimes swells, becoming more distorted and glitch-ridden in the process. Even Kaitlyn’s voice, as she intones “ahhs”, sits somewhat uncomfortably between pleasure and pain, unsure of really how to process the feelings that are coming over her.

Its climax descends into unfiltered noise, seemingly capturing the loss of innocence as the child reaches another developmental stage. As an aural representation of what it’s like to become aware of your surroundings, Kaitlyn has pretty much nailed it. (Eugenie Johnson)

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