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Weekly Listening: Joanna Newsom, HAIM, Mariah Carey, City and Colour and Poivre

Wednesday 12th August 2015

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


Joanna Newsom - ‘Sapokanikan’

Just the other day I was thinking "when did Joanna Newsom last have an album out?" and I couldn't remember - it seemed like forever, like at least one Kanye album ago. My train of thought continued, hoping she'd have something out soon, and then I woke up this week to all the tweeting about a new video (!) and it was as if Joanna had answered my prayers.

It sounds very similar to her last record - the opening phrase and the non-abrasive nature of Newsom's voice. The phrasing which builds up eventually enters into a conversation with flutes (and possibly Rick Wakeman) and then dies off. That's just dandy.

There's something to be said with having a sonic footprint, unwavering, in times where every record is supposed to have a new aesthetic ('we recorded it in a basement where Phil Spector once ate a cracker, with fliptop phones', etc). What's remarkable here, though, is the way Newsom twists her melody so deftly it doesn't seem like anything is happening at all. So deft are these turns of melody and narrative that you have to pay attention to it happening or else you might miss it. Deft indeed. - Eden Bradfield

Tame Impala - ‘Cause I’m A Man’ (HAIM Remix)

“Artist A belongs to one genre, Artist B belongs to another. What happens when A is covered by B?” It’s the model that works without fail in this age of click-bait music journalism. One popular artist appears on Triple J, for example, and shows listeners what would happen if this differing genre were made by them. It works because as music fans, we’re naturally curious to see experimentation. There’s also the novelty in hearing what CHVRCHES sound like covering Paramore via a console player.  

The trick is to have the covering band sound completely different to the artist being tackled.  This week HAIM released their remix/cover of Tame Impala’s ‘Cause I’m a Man’. That description alone recalls the click-bait model – on the surface HAIM and Tame Impala seem unalike. The key reason really is the gender politics involved; the all-sister group covering the all-dude Tame Impala and their ode to manhood. Too tempting right?

The problem is it doesn’t work like that. Tame Impala and HAIM are too alike. Both bands have their heads in the 70s and infuse their styles with their personalities. Tame Impala mellow, HAIM audacious. That makes this quasi-collaboration sensible, and the novelty never sticks. Beyond that, HAIM sell the song, perhaps much more than its creators.

In the original, Kevin Parker plays around with effects – he snaps his fingers and sings it a little high. HAIM play around too but in the vocal delivery they shine. Danielle Haim holds each note with intent and punches emotion into a relatively cold song. Hopefully, vocals of this outstanding quality are used on more than just cover tracks.

On this cover, HAIM take advantage of their invisible similarities to Tame Impala. With it, they create a piece that transcends the gimmicky cover song beast that lives on the Internet. - Alex Lyall

Mariah Carey feat. French Montana, Justin Bieber and T.I. - ‘Why You Mad (Infinity Remix)’

When Mariah Carey released her single ‘Infinity’ in May, the sole new recording on her compilation album #1 To Infinity, the track was ignored, underappreciated and quickly, criminally forgotten by all except the most devoted Mimi acolytes (even in spite of it’s fabulously passe lyric video). Fast forward three months and with the help of T.I, French Montana and an apparently serendipitous Justin Bieber this diamond in the rough has been remixed and retitled and repackaged and mercifully given a second chance.

As with the original, ‘Why You Mad’ is a break up song, but a sassier, catchier version with heavier beats and a synthy sound that accommodates the inclusion of three fairly diverse artists remarkably easily. While T.I and Justin Bieber’s verses stand alone, Montana provides a kind of back and forth with Carey throughout the song and their chemistry is evident on both the song and Mariah’s Instagram.

Collaborations can be hit and miss and the addition of other artists to what was originally a personal and cathartic ballad may not be to the taste of all Mariah die hards. Yet with usurper Ariana Grande always lurking in her cultural shadow, it is good to see and hear Mariah up and about and engaging with the zeitgeist once more. And after all you’ve gotta love her hustle. - Katie Parker

City and Colour - ‘Wasted Love’

Dallas Green’s audience has followed him down an interesting and somewhat twisted path over nearly two decades. When he began releasing music under the City and Colour moniker (get it? Dallas Green?), the people who listened were mostly fans of his post-hardcore/screamo outfit Alexisonfire. The link between screamo aggression and falsetto-plus-acoustic guitar was Green’s unabashedly emo lyricism, and City and Colour developed a crazy cult following in the emo/post-hardcore heydays of the mid-2000s despite the musical divergence.

Fast-forward to 2015, and after four studio albums, Green has steered City and Colour away from a solo acoustic project and firmly planted it in the realm of folk-and blues-tinged rock band. Beginning with 2011’s Little Hell, Green began to re-educate his audience in the language of his new style, gradually moving his sound along the spectrum toward a sound more reminiscent of Band of Horses or Alabama Shakes than Iron and Wine. His forthcoming album If I Should Go Before You, to be released this October, is no exception.

‘Wasted Love’ is the second single (the first, ‘Woman’, was premiered on Apple Radio by none other than Zane Lowe). It sees Green’s signature quasi-falsetto sitting atop a driving kick drum and twangy electric guitar riffs. His vocal range is impressive, and the unique and clear tone he’s developed - particularly in the last decade - sits a little uncomfortably at first. The song seems to demand more aggression than he can give, so whether he can find more common ground between the band and his voice on the rest of the album remains to be seen. City and Colour fans, devoted as they are, will almost certainly give him the benefit of the doubt. - Sarin Moddle

Poivre - ‘Good Sleeping’

When thinking about which track to write about this week, I was halfway between a lulled sleepiness and the earliest earthy LIFTS of a small, dark coffee, which is the perfect combination for Poivre's 'Good Sleeping'.

The track hums at 140bpm, but drives forward like it's being lifted by 160, somewhere that Poivre tends to reside. The kick and snare patterns are beautiful murmurs - intricate, and consistently thrumming, yet in a soporific manner.

I'm now following late-night links to the roots of Poivre's work and reading up/watching information on Sasebo, in the Nagasaki Prefecture of southern Japan. It's beautiful. And all the photos that first come up in a search seem to come from pre-1980s Sasebo. Poivre’s juke’d background comes through delicately and taps out these patterns, echoing up nostalgic feelings that couldn't have come from anywhere but the seaside.

Now all I'm going to dream about is those islands, inlets and living there - in a world where 1960s Sasebo also happened to have Poivre - living on a boat - recordings tracks for my good sleeping. - Thomas Shoebridge

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

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