Looking back on the last couple of hot, sticky summer months, it feels like everything has been boiling up to this point. Music’s most-loved recluses, Frank Ocean and Bon Iver, both decided to show their faces. Everyone breathed a deep sigh of relief.
We’re still not sure what the former’s up to - whether there’s a proper album on the way, what the hell his staircase leads up to, why he went completely silent for two weeks - but there’s no use getting caught up in the tiny details. Frank’s “visual album” ‘Endless’ contains some of his best moments yet, and in this week’s Tracks round-up we had a go at picking out the highlight.
There’s not one but two Bon Iver songs to get excited about, and if you’ve been off the radar for new music this week, we’ve got you covered. Ace tracks from The Magic Gang, Hudson Scott and SWEAT all make the cut, sharing space with the unstoppable Deap Vally. This week’s Tracks is jam-packed.
Top photo: Bon Iver, by Cameron Wittig & Crystal Quinn, courtesy of Jagjaguwar.
Bon Iver - 22 (OVER S∞∞N)
The first new Bon Iver song in five years is set against a theme of expiration. A lyric video for ’22 (OVER S∞∞N)’ - sorry, ’22 (OVER S∞∞N) [Bob Moose Extended Cab Version] to be precise - shows a photograph of Justin Vernon’s face set alight. The trick is in how a lit flame never gets the better of him. This photo doesn’t turn to dust within seconds. Instead, destruction’s put on hold. And this matches the mood of the track itself. “It might be over soon,” Vernon sings, putting all the emphasis on potential rather than inevitability. In turn, a jagged, looped synth line fidgets in the background and feels like it could stop at any second - but it doesn’t.
The track relies on stark, smart minimalism. But over three minutes, it bit-by-bit blooms. A crackling, scattered ember backing vocal gives way to fluttering keys, waves of instrumentation that revisit the gorgeousness of 2011’s ‘Bon Iver, Bon Iver’. Strings sweep in from both sides, and whereas maybe a few years ago Vernon would explode the track into a yelping, give-everything climax, he lets the piece simmer out, skewing finality once more. (Jamie Milton)
Bon Iver - 10 D E A T H B R E A S T ⚄ ⚄
Sibling ’22 (OVER S∞∞N)’ links back to Bon Iver’s past, but the second track to be lifted from his new album is in a completely different headspace. Folk, Arca-style electronica and even gospel share the same platform. Uptight handclaps are the only constant - the rest is brilliant bedlam. It also contains the most ridiculous lyrics of Justin Vernon’s career. So many to choose from, but the unintentionally hilarious “I been sleeping in a stable, mate” is a highlight. And don’t be surprised to see the occasional “Fuckified” tattoo in the future.
But through all the extremes of ’10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄’, it somehow works. Vernon is blessed with one hell of a voice. Glaze it in however much vocoder you want, it still sounds like him. And with that all-purpose tool, he can thread together wildly different musical styles without coming off as stuffy or pointlessly experimental. He can dish out bizarre song titles and get away with it. On this song, he’s using that full artistic license for a bigger purpose. Rarely does music sound both so bizarre and so exciting when it first comes out. Elements of this feel alien, and that’s quite the feat in 2016. (Jamie Milton)
Deap Vally - Gonnawanna
Spare a thought for any fool that tries to halt Deap Vally’s rumbling rock-jeep as it thrashes through the undergrowth, and speeds straight towards a rough-sanded beach right at home next to choppy, shark-infested waters. “I’m on a psychic safari, and I’m not sorry” spits a defiant Lindsey Troy, thrashy, spun-out riffs getting lost - and remerging again just as brashly – from Julie Edwards’ thunderous, spare rhythmic powerhouse. ‘Gonnawanna’ isn’t just loud; it’s terrifying. Just try and stop it. It’s impossible.
Solo chops constantly trade blows with squalling, feedback laced shots of guitar on ‘Gonnawanna’, necking giant tequila shots filled to the brim with the wide-beamed, chaos-prompting influence of both Def Leppard and Black Sabbath. Honing their concentrated essence, Deap Vally’s second record ‘Femejism’ is fast shaping up into a multicoloured spew of hyperactive, unstoppable, delicious noise. You’re ‘Gonnawanna’ warn the neighbours before cranking up the volume on this absolutely monstrous beast of a track. (El Hunt)
Frank Ocean - Slide on Me
Frank Ocean’s voice being placed up against the splintered, rough-edged guitars of Alex G isn’t a combination your average dream-collab-lab would come up with. But it’s a meeting of minds that defines ‘Endless’, a collection of abstract, ghostly material threaded together by a sense of looseness. ‘Slide on Me’ is the most straight-up song on ‘Endless’, a sweat-dripping dose of intimacy. Whatever happens next - whether an eventual full-length goes in a completely different direction to this new collection - ‘Slide on Me’ deserves to be considered up there with Frank’s best work.
The Magic Gang - All This Way
The Magic Gang don’t just know how to write a decent pop number; by now they’re seasoned veterans when it comes to bottling pure sunshine. Moving far beyond the crunching half-grunge of early single ‘No Fun,’ the Brighton’s band has evolved into an even more potent mixture, combining lovelorn college-dorm diary scribbles with the rich, multi-hued harmonies, and limb-possessing melodies of – weirdly, but stick with it a second - 1960s boyband originals The Osmonds and The Temptations.
Peppered with joyous backing vocals, and skipping light-touches of spare guitar, ‘All This Way’ is by no means a matching-jumpers-ahoy peppy barbershop ditty, instead investing most energy into The Magic Gang’s usual staple – a belting chorus. “All I really wanna know, is how I got all this way on my own,” ponders Jack Kaye again and again, concluding “I’m sorry that we fell in love.” Still fresh to the band’s repertoire, an early airing of ‘All This Way’ at Latitude saw Cav from Swim Deep, no less, airborne, and clinging on to bunting for dear life as the whole tent surged and yelled along. Welcome to The Magic Gang’s fantasy pop league, ‘All This Way’. They’ve written yet another slice of gold. (El Hunt)
Hudson Scott - Get Down
If that debut ‘Clay’ EP was the sound of Hudson Scott striking out solo, ‘Get Down’ is the big, brash bash that he’s throwing to celebrate its success. All clinking glass bottles and tropical, bubbling synths, the darker tint of ‘Clay’ is shifted to one side in favour of basking in sunshine.
That’s not to say it’s a one-track, er, track – there’s a brain-box behind even Scott’s most whimsical sounds. “’Get Down’ is about pursuing a girl and how the peaks and troughs that come along with ‘the thrill of the chase’ can mess with your melon,” he explains. “It’s about when the same tropes that got you hooked in the first place, start to drive you mad.” That sense of repetition and collapse is perfectly reflected in every twisting melody and left-field percussive flourish, and as he pops into the studio with XL super-producer Rodaidh McDonald, Hudson Scott’s proving himself to be an alt-pop auteur like few others. (Tom Connick)
SWEAT - PLW VIP
London lot Sweat have thus far thrived on a hidden persona. Skulking about in the shadows and kicking up gutter dirt, they’ve avoided breaking cover. ‘PLW VIP’ finds them stepping out into the spotlight.
Vocals pushed to the fore, ‘PLW VIP’ feels like a manifesto for a future Sweat are longing to dictate. A classically Britpop drawl takes the lead, announcing its discontent like it’s a call to arms - “even the best things go bad eventually” they shrug, before things hit fever pitch. From scratchy poetry to a dancefloor-cutting dance-punk odyssey, via a twisting bout of electronic hypnotism, ‘PLW VIP’ sheds its skin over and over again, leaving just Sweat’s sinewy skeleton to beckon you down their dark path. (Tom Connick)