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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: David Bowie, Jay Rock & Kendrick Lamar, Slackk & Dullah Beats, Niagara and more.

Niagara – ‘Beto’

Claire Lobenfeld: OK, you know what? Bless this track. While people are saying insane things about Justin Bieber’s singles output like “it’s tropical house” (not a real thing, dudes) or, holy shit, Tropicalia, this exists, shunning all of those totally bizarre, made-up delineations. This embodies those sentiments, but it’s really just its own thing. Our main source for batida has shirked its primary niche genre and put out one of the most compelling house records of Q4 while single-handedly — and, no doubt, unintentionally — destroying a new nonsense categorization. Not the most compelling track, but so necessary. (7)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: The looped keyboards on ‘Beto’ point towards sunshine, a type of holiness only achieved through the glory of mantra-style repetition, only to build into a chiming jam session, each synth line locked in and not shifting. A glorious racket, but one not without warmth. (8)

Tayyab Amin: When this takes off, it really takes off – absolute senzu bean of a track. I’m so down with anything that can set up such a freeing experience on the dancefloor. I want people to have a moment to this one. (8)

Son Raw: I can’t escape the feeling that I should be customizing my car in a driving sim’s pre-race screen when I hear this kind of safely funky, mid-tempo house. By the same token, it’s a hell of a lot better than the kind of vacuum-packed, pre-rendered chords the genre is currently suffocating under, so fair play. (5)

April Clare Welsh: If the batida scene is Lisbon’s boundary-defying party monster, then Niagara is the more reserved soul who respectively lives within the lines (but enjoys the occasional 2am finish). The pacing of this track is so measured that all the ingredients make their appearance at exactly the right time – the gloopy horror synth, the claps, the clicks – and turn it into into the most perfectly formed slice, but for me it hasn’t really got the same bite as the previous live-recorded EPs. There will always be a place in the market for this kind of nu-disco though. (7)

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David Bowie – ‘Blackstar’

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: This is perfect comedown music, Bowie croaking out solipsisms over downbeat, hazy jazz reminiscent of Rocketnumbernine. It’s plenty haunting, too, with its length and many voices unsettling the chilled feeling of the music. It’s good to have Bowie sticking about some more to make eerie and intriguing music, especially after his supposed last hurrah two years ago. (7)

Tayyab Amin: My reference points to connect with this are scattered all over the show. It’s as if Thom Yorke joined a Black Holes-era Muse and they jammed before listening to a bunch of Gonjasufi. It’s also like a cosmic lament that could be written into a story arc for DC’s Lucifer. It’s grandiose, operatic, and perhaps a little too Doctor Who for my tastes. (5)

Son Raw: Bowie lives! What other retirement-age rock icon is releasing weird modal hymns slash Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom cultist chant outtakes? Then there’s the second half that sounds like a freaky nightmare version of the Young Americans era, if a tad more restrained due to (I assume) latter year cocaine abstinence. Kanye West is currently giving Paul McCartney the stink-eye and realizing he bet on the wrong horse. (7)

April Clare Welsh: The babe with the power is back! There are a few 18+ Labyrinth vibes going on in this video, which is nice, and I’ve been waiting for what I like to call ‘The David Moment’ – when Bowie and Lynch merge into one weird person – so I’m into this new song (even if his voice does remind me of Kevin Eldon’s evil executioner/dark lord/whatever he is in that Big Train sketch). Bowie’s totally dropped his pants for sax here and steered clear of guitars, which sounds great, so if the rest of the album is as anti-rock’n’roll as has been promised, then I’m excited to hear more. (8)

Claire Lobenfeld: I listened intently to the whole thing and, once it was over, I forgot everything I heard. I know what I heard was good, but it doesn’t stick to my ribs. (6)

6.6

Roly Porter – ‘4101’

April Clare Welsh: While I’m still basking in the glory of Roly Porter’s name, I’d like to say this is THE ultimate choice for romancing that special someone. Providing that special someone happens to be a blood-hungry, knife-wielding killer or the time-lapsed explosion of a supernova. This track is so tense, I’ve managed to grind my own teeth down to nothing but a chalky dust. (8)

Son Raw: We’re leagues away from the FWD>> era, but Roly Porter’s music still lives and dies by sound system culture, no matter how experimental the composition. That’s not a slight: too often artists compromise their work for suboptimal conditions, and you just can’t appreciate this music streaming off Spotify out of laptop speakers. Give this your full attention, in a dark room, with a heavy sub and it’s a full-body experience. (8)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Somewhere between an orchestra soundtracking the glorious reveal of a new planet and the tension of a video game set in a silo. Space and science fiction come to mind when I am confronted with the steely aesthetic of many Tri Angle artists, and this is no different. An immersive piece, but difficult to judge when you realise it’s just that – a piece of a greater whole. (6)

Tayyab Amin: Yes come on, Roly Porter on that Gregorian monk in the Matrix chanting, giant obelisks crumbling into oblivion, slow-burning bass candle tip. The first chapter is alluring and engrossing despite the sense of danger surrounding it, and by the time things become intense, I’m already consumed. A beautiful, devastating blockbuster. (9)

Claire Lobenfeld: This is exactly what I expect something on Tri Angle to sound like and makes me furious that the Yeezus follow-up probably won’t be in this vein. The latter is a desire, the former is kind of a bummer. (6)

7.4

Slackk & Dullah Beatz – ‘Forest Walk’

Tayyab Amin: I’ve got no idea how this stuff always gels for me, but it does. The squelchy splashes of synth and the bamboo woodwind and then there’s some licks of guitar too – not only is this palette somehow not jarring, but it’s canonised in grime, and to further that marriage of sounds beyond their honeymoon period is an achievement. There’s always just the right amount of things going on in the tunes these guys make too. D’you reckon Slackk would be down to dabble in some grime-drone at some point? (8)

April Clare Welsh: I was getting a massage the other day to a really mediocre panpipe soundtrack and thinking how much I’d love to make them a playlist. If they agree, I would definitely pop this on the list, because talk about Amazonian forest odysseys! All I wanna do now is drink ayahuasca and watch Ferngully. (8)

Claire Lobenfeld: Slackk is so, so much better than this. And this is great! But no boundaries are being pushed, despite the surprising cohesiveness of the collaborators. Should I give it extra points for that? (6)

Son Raw: The Boxed record label is an interesting proposition since none of the residents’ productions have felt club-centric in ages, creating a bit of a schism between their albums and what they play out. A platform to highlight the movement’s club-ready side would do wonders for coloring in the blank space between the weirder, quasi-ambient devil side of things and the straight-up bangers most grime labels trade in. Which basically means Boxed001 is a club 12″ for a very specific club. Dullah Beatz’s no-frills sensibility brings Slackk down to earth from the more psychedelic space he’s inhabited since Palm Tree Fire, while Slackk’s flute loops sound even stranger next to Dullah’s Rawse grunts. A throwback to the days when it seemed like maybe 50 people cared about this stuff, in the best way possible. (7)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: A tin whistle rumbles around jangling percussion and synths like go faster stripes, for four minutes – unlike the Niagara track, the repetition doesn’t allow the composition here to evolve. It’s stagnant, but even as it sinks into the ground, its stubborn grime squiggles are somewhat exciting. (6)

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Max D – ‘Rhythm Automator’

Son Raw: That was a blissfully spaced out intro so I don’t know why he had to muddy it up with a bunch of clanging beats. (4)

April Clare Welsh: You totally had me there! I was all ready to stretch out, take a chill pill and have a little lie down before I found myself violently battling with tiny robots out for blood in a rusty water treatment plant deep underground somewhere. #nightmares (7)

Claire Lobenfeld: When this broke just after a minute into the track, I thought we were on to something very special. And then it just continued into this sort of spectral sameiness that I feel like I have been hearing all year, but with off-kilter blips that hardly made much of a difference. Did I hate it? No. Do I care that much? No. (6)

Tayyab Amin: The sounds on this are so clear and wonderful – the rollicking, tumbling percussion and glitches are so grounded, caught out there beneath chiming, celestial rain. It’s these textures along with the drain-circling intro that make this for me. (7)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: This is a cantankerous, ugly fiddle through age-old techno snares and traps. It’s remarkably addictive, and somewhat feral – of course, the SoundCloud account for this song mentions the artist “acting on instinct”. (7)

6.2

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Jay Rock – ‘Traffic Jam’ (Easy Bake Remix feat. Kendrick Lamar)

Son Raw: If you’d told me at the top of the year that I’d have preferred Jay Rock’s album to Kendrick’s, I’d have called you crazy, but TDE’s finest spent most of 2015 in a slow-mo Sly Stone/Andre 3K celebrity meltdown while the media applauded him as “stunning and brave.” Meanwhile, Jay Rock dropped a pretty cool Jay Rock album – a rock solid examination of street life that’s still paying dividends by supplying one of Kendrick’s best straight up verses all year, even if the track’s a bit short. Proof rap music doesn’t need free jazz to be a worthwhile artistic endeavor. (8)

Claire Lobenfeld: Can someone explain to me why the most highly regarded contemporary LA rapper would re-release a G-funk track into something that mutes the hell out of one of city’s best sub-genres? Have you guys heard the original ‘Easy Bake’? It’s pretty much the best Freeway track since 2007, albeit subtly informed by drill, before turning into a thing that makes you want the sickest hydraulics on a low rider since the fucking ‘I Wish’ video.

Kendrick’s verse isn’t even that much of an improvement from his acrobatics on the original, except for maybe boasting eating pussy (which is, pathetically, still a feat in 2015). Do you know how good SZA sounds over the bombast of the original? It’s the kind of thing that makes you wish her output, despite its merit, was a lot less subdued. This was unnecessary. So, so unnecessary. (4)

Tayyab Amin: This bops. I always get worried guys come through with no chill on beats like these but Kendrick’s so good at bringing listeners in to acclimatise after he steps tracks up to 100. You can tell he’s put in work over the years to perfect that flow just from this verse alone; opening like a steam train and switching lanes towards the end, it’s that masterful control when he plays with pace that stands out for me. (8)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: On Jay’s 90059, ‘Easy Bake’ is a hard track that uses the same Syreeta sample as The LOX’s ‘None of Y’all Betta’, made purely for violent head-nodding – only thing is that SZA upstages it with her sticky melodies on the song’s outro, which is the genesis of this remix. Jay and Kendrick are phenomenal rappers, obviously, and expanding the rubber-and-stomp interlude into a fuller collaboration is fun for TDE marks, but yeah – this is for TDE marks. I’m only saying this so you understand the struggles we go through being this nerdy all the time. (7)

April Clare Welsh: LOL, he said “Cunnilingus.” (7)

6.8

Final scores:

Roly Porter – ‘4101’ (7.4)
Slackk & Dullah Beatz – ‘Forest Walk’ (7)
Niagara – ‘Beto’ (7)
Jay Rock – ‘Traffic Jam’ (Easy Bake Remix feat. Kendrick Lamar) (6.8)
David Bowie – ‘Blackstar’ (6.6)
Max D – ‘Rhythm Automator’ (6.2)

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