Welcome to the newly rebooted DiS singles column! We’ve turned the power off and back on again, and the result is weekly chatter from a ragtag team spread far and wide across the four corners of the earth.
As I’m sure you’re aware, new releases are now out on a Friday, but many are online weeks (if not months) beforehand. The end result means nothing makes sense anymore. Up is down, black is white, cats and dogs are living together.
Sounds stressful, right? Well don’t worry, we’ve come to make sense of a senseless world for you.
This time the effervescent talents of Marie Wood, Derek Robertson, Matt Langham and Gemma Hampson join me (Tom, oh hai!) on a ramble through a dense woodland of musical hits and misses.
And we’ve got a bumper crop: future classics by Sharon Van Etten and Chvrches (which flew under our radar last week), a reappraisal of Lana Del Rey, plus new tunes from Foals, Deradoorian, Alice Glass, Kathryn Joseph, Hinds, Pure Bathing Culture and many more.
So on that note, let’s kick things off with something sublime...
SINGLE OF THE WEEK
by KATHRYN JOSEPH
Tom Fenwick: 'The Worm’ washes over you like a dense fog rolling in across the coast. Subtle percussion and mournful piano cloaked in Joseph’s mercurial siren call, which manages to exude power and fragility all at once. It’s a guiding light through the murk, but will it lead you to shelter...or into the icy depths? Stellar stuff. It’s also worth checking out this interview with Kathryn by our good pal Tom Johnson of Gold Flake Paint fame.
Derek Robertson: This is just gorgeous; gently foreboding and threatening. The tension is beautifully maintained, in no small part to the wonder of Joseph’s voice - part lullaby, and as Tom says, part Siren Call - and the haunting, sparse piano, always a winning combination. A worthy winner of the Scottish Album of the Year and on this form, destined to reach the wider audience that her talent so richly deserves.
Matt Langham: No one would necessarily set out to sound like Kathryn does - swallowing her vowels, mewling a cracked melody that seeps out of her seemingly involuntarily - but the results mean we should cherish her for it. I have literally no idea what this song is about three listens in, but that doesn’t stop its chilly peaks being mesmerising and intriguing; quite the reverse. There’s not much around that’s so elusive and arresting because of it, and it almost creates its own little ecosystem. I do wish people wouldn’t film in portrait though.
Gemma Hampson: Ooh, a nice woody piano opens the track, floating over what sounds like a swarm of crickets in the distance and some spooky screeches from what could be a saw. As the singing starts, it’s childlike tone cuts through the softness, like Joanna Newsom meets Martina Topley-Bird. The vocals are maybe mixed a little too harshly in parts, but the contrast is still nice. There’s a Thom Yorke fan lingering here too as the wispy melody wraps around you like thick smoke.
Marie Wood: Knowing little about Kathryn Joseph I was pleasantly swept away by the powerful emotive current of this song. It rides a wave of musical tautness and emotional fragility as Kathryn’s cracked vocals weave in and out of the repetitive piano scale to evoke an unnerving urgency. It's no surprise that after watching ‘Worms’ YouTube loads Kathryn covering Radiohead’s ‘Street Spirit’; her style shares a similar love to Thom Yorke’s of placing their listener’s nerves on a knife’s edge. The only drawback to the track is just wishing there was more.
Every week we’re deluged with songs to premiere, but there can be only one.
And this time out it’s a majestic standalone live version of another track from DiS SOTW awarded chanteuse Kathryn Joseph.
KATHRYN JOSEPH - ’The Mouth’ (live)
You can see Kathryn Joseph performing live tonight on the DiS stage at Wickerman Festival.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
'Mountain At My Gates'
TF: Gushing words there from DiS kingpin Sean Adams. I’ve never been quite as sold on Foals, but ‘Mountain At My Gates’ is rather fun. There’s bluster, rock, funk and if you close your eyes and you can almost see a thousand Tuborg soused Yannis lookalikes singing-a-long. But they’re going to have to offer up a lot more than this if they want to be in the running for album of the year.
DR: It’s jaunty, it’s kinda angular, it’s neatly restrained in the way it threatens a big crescendo that never quite comes...it’s very Foals. If you’re a fan, you’ll like this, if you’re not, it might not win you over. And that’s exactly the problem; by album number four, pretenders to the headliner crown should be grabbing you by the lapels and proving their genius, not simply re-arranging a winning formula and asking “Is this good enough?” No Yannis, it’s not.
ML: Yep, this is Foals being Foals, forever threatening to do great things that don’t materialise. Everything’s thrown at the song, but in coming up a bit meh they cut the branch they’re perched on; like its central image of facing an insuperable obstacle, they’re forever destined to be everyone’s fifth favourite band.
by ALICE GLASS
MW: ‘Stillbirth’ is a red herring of a title as Alice Glass’ debut single kicks and screams into life to silence the recent spiteful insinuations by former bandmate Ethan Kath that was she was the dead twin of the Crystal Castles’ creative coupling. Some have accused Jupiter Keyes’ (HEALTH) production on the track as being dated and brattish, but the detonating beats force home the sentiment of the statement Glass issued to accompany the single: isolation, anger and hope, in a chilling 2.48 minute assault. ‘Stillbirth’ is Glass asserting her agency and it leaves Crystal Castles’ recent vacuous output firmly in the shadows.
DR: Cards on the table - I was never the biggest fan of Crystal Castles, and found their signature abrasiveness rendered parts of their output all but unlistenable. ‘Stillbirth’ continues in the same vein; a brutal, angry, uncompromising beast of a song that overwhelms any resistance and melts your brain within sixty seconds, but given the subject matter, that’s surely the point.
GH: It’s loud and exciting, but doesn’t deliver on its promise. There’s autotune and a spooky bridge with muffled beats creeping in, creating a weird mix of electro punk and chart house from 1994. There are some great ideas in here, but they’re moulded together with some electro clichés.
TF: Alice Glass has outdone herself with a track that sounds better than anything her old band have released in an age. A fearsome barrage industrial noise and piercing vocals, the only shame is it feels like it’s all over before it’s begun.
by DILLY DALLY
TF: Someone’s been digging through their old Pixies records haven’t they? While the crunchy riffs combined with Katie Monk’s florid yelps of angst are bound to draw a host of lazy comparisons, the end result is pretty compulsive. It’s the kind of mean little grower that’ll dig its claws in deep and refuse to let go.
DR: I love how this makes me feel 18 again. It’s rough, and jagged, and addictive, and fun, and makes me want to pogo all around my living room for twenty minutes straight just to get a head rush. It’s like eating a whole bag of fizzy cola bottles just because you can and and TO HELL with the consequences. The laziness of that riff combined with the laconic disaffected drawl that gives way to a soaring chorus...FUCK YES.
ML: It’s much undervalued when a band are derivative yet still somehow avoid every pitfall of mimesis. Dilly Dally do it with aplomb. They’re clearly operating slavishly in the wake of indie and slacker rock, but in the glorious mess of this track they render that meaningless. What’s that noise? It’s tropes being followed and smashed unerringly all over the place: sludgy riffs bouncing off chiming arpeggios, that abrasive voice meeting the sensuous “oohs”. It’s sweet as ice cream and bitter as blood.
MW: What the f*ck was that? Was the first ineloquent thought I had after ‘The Eye’ thrust me without warning onto a runaway conveyor belt of bubbling beats, furious rhythms and vocals ripped straight from the throat of Sparks’ Russell Mael. And the parts when they come together make it a beguiling beast fit to roam the futuristic planes of Earth 2.0.
DR: Dirty Projectors specialise in walking the line between inventiveness and sensibility, matching intelligence to glorious, ear-worm melodies. But there’s little of that on show here. ‘The Eye’ sounds like the theme tune for a particularly arch Japanese anime cartoon from the future, perhaps starring an emotionless animatronic cat forced to wander through a dystopian landscape. Despite the chugging beat, it’s cold and sterile, and even a few playful moments can't save it. Destined to remain unloved, much like that cat.
TF: Ooof! Well, you can tell Deradoorian used to be in the Dirty Projectors, that’s for sure. Scattered poetics overlay driving rhythms and polyphonic melodies which coalesce into a rather pretty - if a touch facile - jumble of sound. It might lack some of the deeper substance of her old band’s tunes, but it makes up for it with vibrant discord.
'Pray For Rain’
by PURE BATHING CULTURE
DR: Bands really should be bored of the whole Eighties, Miami Vice, sleaze’n’coke style yacht rock vibes by now, but they are the go-to signifiers of cool that JUST WON’T DIE. That said, there’s a lot to like here; a breezy, carefree nonchalance that has hints of Duran Duran hanging out by the beach, and a warmth that slowly seeps into your brain and has you dreaming of summer. Whether that’ll be enough to sustain a whole album of this remains to be seen, but in the meantime kick back, pour yourself a Pina Colada, and watch the sun sparkle off the surf.
TF: If you come from Portland - as Pure Bathing Culture do - the last thing you need is to pray for rain.
'Look It Here'
by NATHANIEL RATELIFF & THE NIGHT SWEATS
ML: This is a perfectly serviceable, uncomplicated soulful tune that you’d cut some rug to in a tipsy haze, with your enjoyment unhampered by its inability to land a meaningful lyric or make a huge musical impression. But who cares? It’s what we all need now and again.
TF: I kind of dig it. It's got a distinct Northern Soul vibe. And while this might be better seen live than played through speakers on my laptop, it's still comes off as a foot-stomping slice of fun.
DR: I just can’t warm to Ratliff. It’s a bland, uninspiring mix of just about the right amount of every genre designed to tickle the fancy of the type of people who have dinner parties and shop exclusively at Waitrose. A little soul, a little swing, some pop, even a hint of jazz - all fine and well, but it doesn’t go anywhere. Where’s the rawness of those genres? The danger? The spark of passion? Wearing a silly hat and chucking some horns at a song does not an artist make.
DR: ‘Chili Town’ meanders by at a slower pace than their previous singles that set the Internet on fire, and I’m not sure if they’ve pulled it off or not. It’s still rough’n’ready, the kind of sloppy surf-tinged garage rock that makes you grin from ear to ear and sounds as effortless as it is fun. Can this sustain the hype? Will this maintain their momentum as 2015's indie darlings? For now, yes. I only hope the fickle nature of the hype machine doesn’t drag them beneath the waves anytime soon.
ML: I can’t bring myself to be nasty about Hinds. It would be like kicking a puppy in the face - only a psychopath would set out to actually do it. They get a pass from proper criticism because they’re just too lovely. But the naive ebullience which they rely on to carry their rudimentary musicianship won’t be overlooked forever.
TF: If you’ve heard their other singles, or their album, or pretty much anything they’ve ever recorded then you’re probably fine giving this a miss.
In which a few of us pick personals highlights from the few past weeks that were overlooked (or just got missed amidst this Friday release malarkey). And as a special treat this week, a track that some of us felt got judged unfairly last time round.
Consider them all worthy of your time.
by SHARON VAN ETTEN
Chosen by Derek Robertson: Ah, Sharon. Back to tug at the heart strings, to remind us that love is rarely possible without pain, and to illuminate the darker side of life and human emotion. But if that makes ‘Words’ sound depressing, I apologise, for it is anything but. A sweetly uplifting lilt about the power of words, it was written specifically to accompany the end credits of Tig, a powerful documentary about legendary comic Tig Notaro and her battle against cancer. “Finding Life in the Face of Death” runs the movie’s poster, something that could be equally applied to Van Etten’s gorgeous music. Simply stunning.
'Leave A Trace'
Chosen by Matt Langham: Admit it, yov called them “Chuh-verches” too for a while. Pronvnciation aside, 2013’s favovrite Scottish indie-electro popsters are BACK, althovgh their vbiqvity and indefatigability, especially ceaseless tovring of the VSA, means it feels like they’ve never been away. It’s testament to ‘Leave A Trace’ that a retvrn is still welcome despite it being very mvch bvsiness as vsval; a worming sample is thovghtfvlly expanded by politely thvmping beats, aqvaplaning synths and a whip smart pop melody delivered by Lavren Mayberry. Less forthright than the bigger moments from “The Bones of What You Believe”, it’s a song abovt the cool relief that comes with escaping a relationship, and that it blows itself ovt rather than ending in a rvsh might imply a more reflective side to come on albvm two. Best of all for them, 800,000 Spotify plays in little vnder a week svggests they’ve still an eager avdience.
'Where Does A Child Hide In A Small Town Like This?'
by BODY IN THE THAMES
Chosen by Tom Fenwick: Bleary eyed from the midnight sun of Stockholm, with a vague echo of deep house in his bones, comes Body In The Thames. His glorious shards of electronica have been lighting up my Soundcloud for a while now and this latest joint doesn’t disappoint. Building on the foundation of previous releases, it’s a seven minute bubblebath of squelch, bounce and burble that shimmies and darts with serpentine electro wonderment.
by LANA DEL REY
Chosen by Marie Wood: ‘Honeymoon’ was torn the proverbial new one in the singles column last week so I’m here to give it the vaycay it deserves. With Lana Del Rey songs it’s all about the atmosphere and ‘Honeymoon’ is swimming in it as the layered syrupy vocals and melancholic sweeping strings encase you in a rich postmodern cinematic velvet. The song is a classic tale of an unsuitable lover, a story that could have easily been gleaned from the dog eared pages of a Mills & Boon novel, but Lana’s crooned purr distills it to the base emotions we all feel: love and fear. As Lana sings in the song’s opening line, with a knowing false eyelash wink, “it’s not fashionable to love me” and thankfully ‘Honeymoon’ is not going to change that.
A cold and lonely place where we lock up tracks for their crimes and throw away the key.
ML: I can only imagine that the inspiration for the video, which sees people covering their faces and pegging it away from the band as fast as possible, was inspired by reactions to seeing them live. This is really the product of the internet age, where record companies play it safe by investing in something stylised and edgy, but only succeed in bringing woefully uninspired, feckless dreck to the marketplace. Apart from that it’s fine.
DR: “I can’t believe, how could it be, how could this happen?” sings Dominic McGuinness...I assume he’s referring to the song, the video, and his entire band’s existence.
TF:The only hope is that when they get sprayed with water at the end of the video for this track, it will render their instruments unusable.
MW: After wasting 20 precious minutes of my dwindling life watching the Bohicas’ offensively sanitised set at The Great Escape at the end of a long booze sodden day, I refuse to let them excrete their beige bile in my ears again. NEXT!
'Up All Night'
by DAMON D
TF: “The highly anticipated single by Damon D is impacting radio now!” is what the press release tells us. I assume when they say “impacting” they mean it in the same way a colon can become painfully impacted with shit.
DR: The words 'synergy', 'brand reach' and 'content strategy', could well have been invented to describe this, which is not so much a song as a marketing concept designed to appeal to the type of guys who wear fake tan, drink creatine, and have a diamond stud earring. I bet Cristiano Ronaldo loves it.
Listen to many of the above recommended tracks and new releases as they hit Spotify by following this regularly updated playlist.
To send us your music - drop us an email to singles [AT] drownedinsound [dot] com.
Lead image of Foals by Caitlin Mogridge.