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Weekly Listening: FKA twigs, Average Rap Band, 1D, The Chills and more

Wednesday 5th August 2015

A revolving cast of contributors showcase some of the best new music releases from the past week.


FKA twigs – ‘Figure 8’

In her own words: "The idea's the idea: It's about what you do, and not who you are." Tahliah Barnett, and the creative identity she has assumed since 2012, FKA twigs, are hard to put your finger on - and that's exactly what she's going for. Beguiling and enigmatic, FKA twigs is an amalgamation of asymmetrical beats and an artistic and sexualised aesthetic. She has created an image and sound for herself much unlike anything happening in music right now. 

On the heels of her debut LP1, which was a personal and idiosyncratic exploration into twisted ideas of gender politics, beauty, power dynamics and sexuality, FKA twigs has given us a taste of what is to come. After performing the song live back in January, ‘Figure 8’ officially premiered on Zane Lowe’s Beats 1 programme this week. The track is the second tease of her forthcoming album, rumoured to be called Melissa, and features pulsating mechanised synth, despite being inspired by voguing dance. 

Describing her music as wanting to "put a spell on people", ‘Figure 8’ has the same hypnotic, bewitching quality as LP1 - and it’s a track that only transfixes us further. – Hannah Martin

Average Rap Band - ‘Long Snooze’

When @peace announced that they were disbanding earlier this year, I wasn’t the only one who mourned the demise of one of the most interesting and exciting creative forces in New Zealand music - but I was able to take great heart in knowing that none of its members were likely to stay silent for long. Lo and behold, rising like a slightly tipsy Phoenix from the ashes, Average Rap Band sees local hip-hop ingenues Tom Scott and Lui Tuiasau join forces once more on an EP of verbal gymnastics set against Dandruff Dicky’s supremely vibey beats.

Average Rap Band’s Stream of Nonsenseness six-track EP started making the rounds two weeks ago. It’s a step back from the lyrically - and musically- demanding final album from @peace, but remains chock full of the jazz-tinted beats and wordplay that Tom Scott has been toying with since 2010’s Max Marx and Friedrich Calloway EP. Lyricism is the focus here, which means you won’t find super catchy hooks on the tracks and that seems to be by design. ‘Long Snooze’, for example, is populated almost entirely with crescendoing horn refrains and delicate jazz percussion. In a refreshing and sometimes challenging move, it’s the vocal cadences, not the beats, that drive the songs.

As with many of the projects that come out of the Young, Gifted & Broke collective, it can be hard to tell where Average Rap Band is headed or for how long. What is certain, though, is its dynamism; these boys don’t sit still for long. – Sarin Moddle

One Direction – ‘Drag Me Down’

It was just five short months ago that One Direction’s best voice and hair Zayn Malik broke away from his musical brotherhood to make #realmusic, leaving the world in shock. Now with the release of ‘Drag Me Down’, the band’s first Zayn-less track, it seems the boys are ready to move on and so must we.

With a vaguely more aggressive sound and title than one might be used to from 1D, and released just days subsequent to Zayn’s announcement of his new solo contract, the temptation to read the track politically is strong. Yet, refreshingly in these beef heavy times, the lyrics themselves are as benign as ever (“I got a river for a soul / and baby you're a boat”) and contrary to the misleading title, ‘Drag Me Down’ describes an uplifting, supportive relationship.

Yet this remains a pivotal moment for One Direction and where the song departs from the band’s previous offerings is in a formal sense. With a higher tempo, strong beat, and a drop reminiscent of Taylor Swift’s dubsteppish ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’, ‘Drag Me Down’ indicates a move away from cutesy towards a more mature kind of pop.

The result is a sense of defiance and determination, qualities that the boys will surely need if they hope to succeed amid their recent turmoil. In the face of an uncertain future, the track is a bold move to take things in a new **direction** to which we should all pay attention. And after all: Zayn approves. Katie Parker

The Chills – ‘America Says Hello’

The new Chills’ single, released ahead of their first full-length album in almost twenty years, starts out jubilant and gets gradually more bittersweet, culminating in some truly strange spaced-out synth sounds. It has all the headiness of standing in the arrivals terminal after a long flight (with jet lag making everything slightly surreal); the lyrics make it sound like part of the soundtrack to the great Kiwi OE, probably contributed to at least in part by that familiar nasal twang.

First up, breathe a sigh of relief, it sounds like the Chills but assured, well put-together, and glossy. One thing that might hurt this track is how many pretenders to the Chills’ throne have emerged from the woodwork in the interim period. Unfortunately it sounds a bit like all of them too, with a side of jingly-jangly Joy Division angst. 

Rather than being a new trick for some old dogs, ‘America Says Hello’ could easily be a ‘lost’ track from 1988 - it doesn’t so much have a ‘vintage feel’, rather it sounds genuinely from another time. It’s a testament to the Chills’ skills that this is a positive thing; it isn't dated in the slightest, just totally out of kilter with almost everything else being released in the here and now. Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with writing what you know.

Maybe this track isn’t reinventing the wheel, but it does have some seriously nifty moves up its sleeve, and it’s worth a listen or ten. The Chills, bless ‘em, have still got it, and this might just turn out to be a song for the ages. Perhaps it isn’t as solid gold as ‘Pink Frost’, but it’s a sterling effort nonetheless - and fitting, given that the accompanying album is Silver Bullets. – Natasha Frost

Jonathan Bree – ‘Once It Was Nice’

‘Once It Was Nice’ is a track from A Little Night Music, Jonathan Bree’s new record, due out mid-September. Disconcerting, and simultaneously refreshing, Bree’s music has a kind of ghostly loneliness to it. Through strained vocals and a whimsical rhythm this song is beautifully gloomy and nostalgia tinged.

There is a slightly ominous quality bearing down over the light fluttering melody, making the listener lean closer and examine the different threads that make up this song.

‘Once It Was Nice’ is a good title for this enchanting track. The slumberous tone is warm and fits Bree’s deep, moody vocals. This song marks a continuation of his experimental output, retreating from pop stability and dabbling with the more abstract. – Elizabeth Beattie

Chet Faker feat. Banks – ‘1998’

For the final act of the Built On Glass promo cycle, Chet Faker (Melbourne’s Nick Murphy) has enlisted Banks (LA’s Jillian Banks) to add her vocal shimmer to a rework of ‘1998’. One of the strongest songs on his debut album, ‘1998’ has become a call and response song; a his and hers retelling of a painful break up.

The downbeat instrumentals and Faker’s lyrics remain the same, but Banks interjects in the second verse, singing “Just look at what you've done / Promised you'd scratch my back but you stabbed my back”. It’s a call back to his line, “Take my good word, turn it backwards / Turn your back on me”, before their voices dovetail for the second half of the song.

Given how well their musical and vocal styles complement each other, it’s no surprise that Chet Faker and Banks paired up in the studio. Let’s hope this rework is not the only co-release they have up their sleeves. – Ellen Falconer

U-ZET - ‘Umbhanyazo'

Gqom music has begun its reach out of the townships of South Africa and into the net labels of, well, wherever they want to be from. The genre name, which apparently draws from the sound of a stone hitting a tiled floor, originally spread its roots amongst the Fruity Loops-laden computers of Durban. Virtually all gqom artists beat their way to, a local website claiming to use the plays of the artist’s tracks to generate ad income, which in turn pay for the works themselves.

Amongst these artists is the young U-ZET, whose Soul Groovers EP was picked up by fledgling gqom-focused, London-based net label Township Tech. Characteristic of many gqom works, opening track ‘Seng’phahlakile’'s foundations rest upon a brooding synth pad with a forged, rotating drum rhythm. The drums repeat into and around themselves as whistles and vocalisations arrive and escalate.

The most affecting part of the whole track is the fact that these elements never let up - giving only shallow intakes of breath for paltry moments - as you attempt to hash out your situation. This urgent tension felt throughout the track verges on antagonism. It forces my knees to stab fervently as I listen - even now. Press on though gqom boyz and girlz. – Thomas Shoebridge

Clutch – ‘X Ray Visions’

‘X-Ray Visions’ is the first single from Clutch’s Psychic Warfare, the 11th album from the Maryland stoner rockers. For a band that isn’t comfortable in front of the camera, the music video for ‘X-Ray Visions’ is fantastic. Neil Fallon and co dressed up as mad scientists in some sort of faux-“The Men Who Stare at Goats” themed music video, showing them more active in a than they have ever been before. Highly stylised, but simple, this is how you make a music video in 2015.

In a whimsical way, ‘X-Ray Visions’ touches on the ideas of fringe science, mind reading, hypnotising, telekinesis, and it’s ultimately super fun. Clutch are definitely a band that has a cult-like following, as most post Kyuss/Desert Sessions bands that were birthed from this particular movement, but this doesn’t mean it isn’t accessible. Groovy baselines and catchy vocal hooks will pull you in and not only pique your interest, but hold your attention.

I thought it would be hard to follow up 2013’s Earth Rocker and had my fingers crossed that they wouldn’t miss a step after nearly 25 years of making consistent music. If ‘X-Ray Visions’ is anything to go by, Psychic Warfare will be one hell of an album. – Joshua Thomas

Wavves – ‘Flamezesez’

If we were to assign indie bands Disney characters, Wavves would be given Peter Pan. The band operates a style that’s crude, energetic and youthful. Above all, the group is bratty. This shows itself more outside of the music. Nathan Williams and trouble frequently meet; even during the promotion of this song, Williams could not refrain from feuding with his label. The second release from the upcoming V, this is a song that will undoubtedly ruffle up some feathers.

For a first taste of difficulty, look no further than the spelling of the track name. The irritating overkill of incorrect letters for any other band would be seen as parody, but Wavves’ core values demand for rolled eyes. This desire manifests itself within the actual song, intentionally incorporating the most generic of Wavves characteristics. The most obvious example of this is the chorus, “wasting all your time/wasted all your time”, the real wasted time would be counting how many times the band has used a chorus with that variation of words.

It’s hard to fault Wavves for sounding like themselves but missing here is the freshness that their discography owns. More so, in 2013 the band probably picked up that lo-fi as a genre was not to be forever and they changed their sound. Afraid of Heights was and still remains their best collection of well written songs. It’s always hard when a favoured band releases a bad song, but a known brat can’t be faulted for acting like one. – Alex Lyall

New Order – ‘Restless’

‘Restless’, the latest release from New Order, doesn’t feel like a single, but more like the opener for an album. But despite feeling a bit fidgety over the track, I like ‘Restless’. The song still feels like New Order and if you like their material it won’t turn you off giving the upcoming album Music Complete a spin when it’s released in September. Fan reaction has often mentioned the absence of Peter Hook, but that doesn’t hurt the song. He was involved in 2007’s Waiting For the Siren’s Call and that album, while having some sharp cuts, feels even looser than what’s here.

In comparison to older singles like ‘Krafty’ or ‘Jetstream’, ‘Restless’ feels much more mature and it fits comfortably into the New Order catalog. It’s hard to know what contribution Hook would have made to the track - perhaps he would have given it a stronger anchor with a touch more rigidity - but looking at the credits for the new album there are quite a few collaborators involved. What influence they have, and how ‘Restless’ fits in, will be interesting to hear. – Luke Jacobs

Duke Dumont – ‘Ocean Drive’

I don’t believe in having guilty pleasures but if I did, heartfelt and uplifting house jams would be mine. The new song by UK producer and DJ Duke Dumont is exactly that, as all of the best house tracks are. Called ‘Ocean Drive’, the song features legendary Chicago house singer Robert Owens and sees Dumont experimenting with a more distinctly ‘80s sound.

Along with the release of ‘Ocean Drive’, Dumont also announced a new EP series called Blasé Boys Club. The producer said that releasing a series of EPs, “allows me the freedom to bring music to people quicker, and more regularly”. In this age of surprise album drops and no-shows (I’m looking at you, Frank Ocean), if anything, it’ll be interesting to see if forgoing the album release cycle works in his favour.

Keep an eye out for him when he performs at Mount Smart Stadium for the Our: House festival later this year. He is definitely one to clear the schedule for. – Ellen Falconer

What's your song of the week? Tell us about it in the comments section.

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