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Each week on the FACT Singles Club, a selection of our writers work their way through the new music of the week gone by.

With the way individual tracks are now consumed, the idea of what constitutes a single has shifted dramatically in the last half a decade, and its for this reason that the songs reviewed across the next pages are a combination of 12″ vinyl releases, mixtape cuts, Soundcloud uploads and more. Up this week: Venetian Snares, Micachu & The Shapes, Toro Y Moi and more.

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Micachu & The Shapes – ‘Oh Baby’

Brad Stabler: The problem with The Shapes has never been the amount of instruments they keep at their disposal, but their ability to stick it out long enough over the course of a full-length and avoid a haphazard, discordant mess. No idea how that’s going to pan out this go-round, but I’ll be damned if this isn’t the most intriguing single they’ve put out yet. (7)

Anupa Mistry: I didn’t realize that Mica Levi did the score for Under The Skin, this amazing Jonathan Glazer sci-fi film starring ScarJo! If you haven’t seen it, you should – take whatever you want from the plot line, but it is endlessly unnerving and a visual treat – not in the least because of Levi’s rumbling, expansive score. Like the film, something about ‘Oh Baby’ gives me the heeby jeebies – both twist the sensual into something kind of sinister. (8)

Tayyab Amin: Each flicker of candlelight, each tick of the clock, every single weighted step forwards is vivid and tangible on this. ‘Oh Baby’ exists in some pocket surrounded by pressure; the very last, lone voice in our heads shielded only by an impenetrable and transparent membrane. The strain in the vocals sounds like they’ve been far enough through too much. There’s a faint murmur that occasionally surfaces, but the sound is hard to make out. The world around slows down and the only clear voice is the one that matters. (9)

Son Raw: As much as I want to root for Mica Levi, this one sort of melts into the furniture. I’m sure there’s a cool narrative as to why this sounds like an opiate coma but all I’ve got to work with is the music and there just isn’t enough happening to justify what sounds like a demo. Have you ever been to a freshers art show, quietly smiling while wondering how soon you can dip out for pint? This is like that. (4)

Chal Ravens: I was deeply in love with Jewellery when it came out about 400 years ago, but thinking on it now, not many of the songs have stuck with me. This is way more downbeat than I was expecting, but there’s plenty to chew on if you want to play the guess-which-household-appliance-The-Shapes-have-turned-into-an-instrument-this-time game. The album will probably be bolder and better but this is pretty slight. (6)

6.8

Helen – ‘Motorcycle’

Chal Ravens: I was very ready for this to be blow me away so I could add another guitar thing to my slim annual haul of guitar things I like, but on first listen I was unconvinced. Then of course by about the seventh or eighth listen Liz Harris starts to weave her sticky web around you and you find yourself totally absorbed in this levitating fuzzball of unintelligible lyrics and squally guitars. It’s good! Of course it is. (6)

Brad Stabler: Will take my love of Grouper with me to the grave, but Helen is sounding so far like yet another batch of Slowdive cover band auditions. Well, fuck it, that’s pretty okay. And pretty. Hopefully the nostalgic charm holds for longer than two minutes a pop. (6)

Son Raw: One day the world will tire of C-86 but until then, I like my ‘verb and distortion brief, to the point and with dreamy vocals, so this will do. I wonder what the mood board/Tumblr for this song was, and how much flannel was involved. (5)

Anupa Mistry: Music as gauzy-sounding as ‘Motorcycle’ never sticks with me. Maybe it’s because I can’t hear what the singers are saying or maybe it’s ‘cos I prefer to hear women screaming into mics – I’m not sure, but it feels unsatisfying in the same way that a track length of under two minutes does. Longer and louder, please. (5)

Tayyab Amin: My only experiences of the band members prior to this has been Liz Harris’s output as Grouper, and I never would have suspected I’d want her music to soundtrack Sonic the Hedgehog. Yet here we are! It’s the bass, really, particularly when the track crashes into full momentum – I can just imagine sprinting through greenery, snatching rings to chiming sound effects. Harris’s singing is all snug in this dream-poppier context and ‘Motorcycle’ is a nice sampler of the variation on the album; I perceive four different segments in the track and whatever pace they’re riding at, Helen make it work. (8)

6

Strict Face – ‘In Evergreen Pt. II’

Chal Ravens: The grime-orbiting sound (NOT GRIME, okay, I didn’t say grime, no one is saying it’s grime, sit down everyone) has really entered its romantic phase now; there’s a mysterious, slightly unsettling undercurrent to this that really secures the Miyazaki flavour. Structurally I’d like it to go a bit harder and make that one huge swooping gesture to finish, but the raw materials are second date-worthy. (6)

Tayyab Amin: An especially serene and celestial take on its predecessor, and I think it works in more seasons and thus is truer to its name! It feels like all year round all at once, and I’m already a sucker for the walking-on-clouds vibe, so when it comes to heavenly ascension via helicopter leaf/snowflake/pollen I’m all for it. I love how over-the-top dramatic it is too – everyone needs a reprise and I’d happily pick this. (8)

Anupa Mistry: I’m not mad at this but wouldn’t you rather just listen to Bok Bok instead? (5)

Son Raw: Strict Face deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Rabit, Sharp Veins, M.E.S.H and all the other grime-not-grime instrumentalists making a splash in the experimental scene. If he hasn’t made the same impact, it’s due to a lack of push rather than talent. This reprise of last year’s stand out ‘In Evergreen’ is an expansive vamp instead of a new mood and direction, but a track this good ages like fine wine. (7)

Brad Stabler: Frankly, this is just bloody gorgeous. Strict Face doesn’t really need to expand his formula much further than the one he’s currently mastering, especially since it seems like he’s reached the state where he can just make things like this in his sleep. A pretty easy (7)

6.6

Toro Y Moi – ‘Pitch Black’ (ft. Rome Fortune)

Brad Stabler: Last time I was probably a bit too hard on Toro Y Moi. It’s fun to watch him try to take a step back into his second childhood phase, ironing out kinks that weren’t there to begin with while trying to break out of the dad-funk box he’s found himself trapped in. So, if the fun part is getting handed a new wild card single every other month, then what’s the good part? That remains a mystery, even with Rome Fortune trying his hardest to turn this one into something other than a snoozer. (4)

Chal Ravens: Not convinced Rome has the vocal chops to pull off the retro funk and soul vibe that Chaz Bundick usually riffs on, but they’ve thrown a bunch of FX at it to paper over the cracks and it works very well – it’s pretty dark too, which is more appealing than Toro Y Moi in his family-friendly, Instagram-filtered mode. At this point Rome should probably be unveiling his Big Statement Album rather than dabbling with an ever-changing menu of hip producers, but it’s a solid diversion. (6)

Son Raw: Toro Y Moi’s Les Sins project was the album length equivalent of seeing that one bro who was waaayyy into earnest guitar pop go to his first rave after a divorce: awkward and ugly. The good news is this is an infinitely better post-chillwave approach for Chaz Bundick, mining the digi-funk of early Neptunes and late period Outkast – surely the aughts aesthetic most deserving of continual reinvention. Rome Fortune continues his streak as rap’s most underrated vocalist. (8)

Anupa Mistry: Is this the most aggro thing Chaz has put out as Toro maybe ever? Getting Rome Fortune on here is a pretty inspired decision; he’s not just a great rapper, but shares that weird, lustful remove that makes Toro such a weirdo. Rome’s reminding me of Andre 3000 here, similar staccato flow and topsy-turvy narrative. Just when you thought Toro might have run out of ideas. (9)

Tayyab Amin: This went from Evian Christ dancefloor obliterator to a nothing interlude going nowhere. I’m not really into Rome’s flow and it feels like he’s trying to ride a still water beat that never really pushes me any which way. His forced enunciations ring like a Pharrell impersonation that isn’t usurping the real thing any time soon. I would’ve liked to hear Bundick turn the instrumental all the way up and send it into the realms of shock that he started with, or go for the gut-punching negative abrasion with an intentionally lifeless delivery – as it stands, things just mill around in the middle of the road and that’s the last feat Bundick needs to show off. (5)

6.4

Venetian Snares – ‘Your Face When I Finally’

Anupa Mistry: This track gave me an anxiety attack. (4)

Son Raw: The sound of every 35-year-old bearded dude in a pit-stained Technics t-shirt cumming in unison and posting about “real electronic music” on Facebook. Despite that ugly truth, now that this stuff is out of style, it’s easy to appreciate in small doses, so the universe is in balance. (6)

Tayyab Amin: I don’t know what to think about this but it’s not like the track can make it’s own mind up either. It wildly veers between bangin’ and lame, sometimes it’s incredible disorienting, other times it feels ready to plunge into full-on chiptune. It’s always about to be something, constantly teetering and tumbling around its sound palette. Sure, that’s the point, but it means the moments I am into are too fleeting to enjoy. I’ll just cherish those dear memories of the few strikes of pan percussion I vibed with. The vocal breakdown comes across as childish, but they’re followed by some niche bassline tremors immediately afterwards in a brief but wonderful moment of redemption. (5)

Chal Ravens: Unbelievably, this came on the radio as I was administering a massage the other day (for a BAD BACK, okay?) and who knew! It’s not appropriate massage music. Then I started thinking, like, I know people love this stuff but what would be the scenario when you would listen to this music? Basically the whole gleaming, impenetrable, vorsprung durch technik-ness of this extreme branch of IDM has never found its way into my heart, so it’s hard to grade. It reminds me of the kid at school who could play the Eastenders theme in armpit farts: so virtuosic, so futile. (3)

4.5

Tarquin – ‘Kid U’

Son Raw: I’ve heard a ton of absolutely awful R&G refixes with bait sample sources and off-brand chops this year, so it’s a pleasure to hear a track that brings something different to the form. This bubbles and fizzes like the best PC Music material but swaps out cheesy maximalism for a sparser than average vocal flip and UKG-ready pizzicato strings. It’s also the happiest thing Gobstopper’s put out in a hot minute, and in a scene that sometimes alternates between sugar-rush intensity and suspended animation, this is a much needed inversion in polarity. Giving this one an (8) just because ‘Lost My Marbles’ off Tarquin’s EP is even better.

Tayyab Amin: Lovely. Everything meets in the middle to come together and then the track really finds its feet and gets moving. Before that though, there are so many delicious sounds – that first kick, the swoosh, those string plucks. It’s enjoyable hearing the pieces fall in line behind the vocal, rather than the more familiar tapestry of a vocal being woven into a readied instrumental. Despite being generally quite laid-back, every so often the drums threaten to break into dancehall territory before Tarquin takes the pan off the heat and cools things down. It’s a playful dynamic, complemented by the sound palette and I’m here for it. (8)

Anupa Mistry: Unless it’s massive enough to make me want to punch someone in the face I can’t really get with grime instrumentals. Tarquin seems talented enough, but I don’t have the energy to sit through four minutes of a chirrupy loop with a small detour to a bridge that has no pay off. Get someone chatting shit over it though? Might be a banger. (6)

Chal Ravens: Gobstopper has been chalking them up all year long with that gem from Social State and Iglew’s cinematic stuff, and Tarquin (can that possibly be his real name? Brave, so brave) seems to be another one who chooses to zig where others zag. It’s heavy as fuck and yet so featherlight and melodic and girly. Absolutely massive. (8)

Brad Stabler: Gobstopper goes chipmunk after years of SoundCloud and PC Music abuse and somehow makes it tolerable by remembering pitched up vocals don’t need to be only used with with soul samples and a twelve-pack of Mountain Dew. (7)

7.4

Final scores:

Tarquin – ‘Kid U’ (7.4)
Micachu & The Shapes – ‘Oh Baby’ (6.8)
Strict Face – ‘In Evergreen Pt. II’ (6.6)
Toro Y Moi – ‘Pitch Black’ (ft. Rome Fortune) (6.4)
Helen – ‘Motorcycle’ (6)
Venetian Snares – ‘Your Face When I Finally’ (4.5)

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