FACT Singles Club

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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 it’s 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: Kanye West, Sia, Novelist and more.

Brandy – ‘Beggin & Pleadin’

Claire Lobenfeld: ‘I Wanna Be Down’ has been one of my favorite songs for over two decades, but sometimes you have to set aside your childhood and let someone live. Brandy’s on her Ray Charles here, which I think was probably super fun to make and wholly unexpected by me for her comeback record. It tickles me to think of her in the studio, evolving and creating new things that excite her, especially when she’s faced so much in the past few years. But Brandy also fosters this demand for the past to be re-lived. Even the expectations for her new TV show are for a Moesha re-up. And while it is a top ranking 90s sitcom — which also convinced me one of my top 10 dream dudes, Fredro Starr, would be a great — she’s doesn’t have to stay frozen in her initial output, however excellent. While I love her rasp on this track, I am not super feeling it, as a whole. It needs a little bit more of a push — it’s not as committed to its ambition as it should sound. (6)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Brandy does the blues better than she ever did gospel, willing to riff over 12 bars with a roar far removed from the woman who sang ‘Full Moon’. It’s humiliating, this love she sings of, having left her in the dirt yet seemingly demanding an apology. She sounds as though she’s recognising an illness or addiction, yet the desire to make a healthy future together seems beyond reproach. And besides some sub-bass, that’s about it. But the blues aren’t about ideas: they’re about thrashing out a singular idea until there’s no breath left. (7)

Chris Kelly: I’m looking forward to the follow-up to Brandy’s criminally-underrated Two Eleven as much as the next guy… but I’m not here for old-meets-new, juke-joint-blues-with-club-drums Brandy. She sings her ass off, and it’s refreshing to hear this type of apologia from a female perspective, but it sounds like an Idlewild outtake. (5)

April Clare Welsh: She duetted on everyone’s favourite late-90s R&B dazzler, but Brandy’s solo albums have always been packed full of stuffing and about as flat as a week-old bottle of rosé cava. I’m afraid this new song has the same effect, in that it is very very good at being very very average. (3)

Tayyab Amin: I can’t pretend I’ve been keeping up to date with Brandy but this feels like a massive curveball. There’s enough in her voice to power a song that feels both sparse and busy. I can’t tell if it’s a sluggish hi-hat or brushes on a snare but there’s something in the beat that comes across too drowsy in comparison to an incendiary Brandy. (7.5)

Son Raw: I’d rather hear Brandy singing this sort of done-me-wrong-blues than say, Jack White, but just barely. The intro makes an interesting connection between the Future/Migos flow and black music’s Mississippi roots, but beyond that it’s a period piece with an 808 boom that can’t deliver on its promise. Draw for the inevitable 2-step chop up. (4)


Kanye West – ‘Real Friends’

Chris Kelly: This is what happens to ‘Family Business’ if you leave it in the spotlight for a decade, or if you aim ‘Blame Game’ at your family instead of your ex. But I’m not sure what it means for SWISH, which is what everyone will be trying to tease out from this batch of GOOD Friday tracks (even if it didn’t quite work like that last time). There’s no stylistic thread tying together Kanye’s post-Yeezus material, but does getting back to basics like this really seem like the plan? Whatever the case, Kanye + Ty Dolla = winning formula. (7)

April Clare Welsh: My heart bleeds for you Kanye… not. C’mon, who needs friends when you’ve got real diamonds and EVERYTHING YOU COULD EVER DREAM OF. Just remember you’re actually God and that if you really wanted to kill off the fakers then you totally could. Also, if you are going to question the authenticity of your personal relationships, it may be worth pointing the finger at someone in your immediate family first? #justsayin (6)

Tayyab Amin: ‘Real Friends’ sees Kanye West bring his ‘Welcome to Heartbreak’ facet to the foreground, scrutinising problems both around and within himself. Ty Dolla $ign is perfect on this and right now I’m really relating to the line, “What’s best for your family, immediate or extended?” People my age probably haven’t been to the places West has, where his peers are fully grown with children, with fluctuating priorities and in the run up to middle-aged living. But there are a couple of fears we have that he taps into: Friends increasingly falling away as we grow and focus on our immediate loved ones, and for guys, the trend of maintaining no intimate friendships with other men as adults. (9)

Son Raw: This is definitely better than the wet fart that was ‘FACTS’, which served little purpose beyond letting us know that Future and Drake had lapped Yeezy while he was off on paternity leave. I’m not sure I buy Kanye’s in-se-curr-ities after a half decade of maniacal media trolling, but ethereal boom bap is a left turn I can fully endorse, production wise. (Oh, and ‘No More Parties in LA’ is fantastic off the snippet alone because it’s Kanye and Kendrick spitting on a Madlib loop sampling peak-era Ghostface Killah. What more do you want out of life? World peace?) (7)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Christmas just passed and you’re skirting around the familial details when asked about the holidays, running through a bunch of okays and it-was-nices because the petty irritations, year-end beef roundup and pressures are too complicated to explain. Family matters are like that – an inextricable mix of good and bad, able to catch you off guard even when you prepare. You probably forgot to Facetime your siblings and have to reschedule via passive-aggressive texts. I sure as hell couldn’t remember my uncles’ names, something like how West admits to forgetting kids. You love them all, but can’t it all be much simpler? Ty puts it succinctly: you just showed up for a plate of yams like everyone else. (8)

Claire Lobenfeld: When Kim announced that Swish would be preceded by another G.O.O.D. Friday, I was a little bit worried. The last time he did this was before My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and its greatest release didn’t even make the album — oh yeah, and Kanye doesn’t even stand by it anymore. ‘FACTS’, to me, read as insecure, as if he felt excluded from the 2015 conversation. December is too late for a ‘Jumpman’ take and he’s coming for Nike two years too late. This presented a Kanye quagmire that my critical brain could not rest upon. And then he released ‘Real Friends,’ which is meticulous and thoughtful, as ever. It portends that we’re about to be delivered SoCal Kanye. A guy who collaborates with Ty Dolla $ign, Kendrick Lamar and Madlib. One who is self-aware about the assholeishness of celebrity but isn’t so consumed by unnecessary guilt that leads to poor songwriting and lyrics like, “Let’s have a toast to the douchebags.” (And let’s face it: If that was written by anyone else, it would not be so revered.) If things continue this way, then writer Tracy Garraud was on to something when she anointed Yeezus as Kanye’s bachelor party. (This would be a 7, but gets an 8 for Ty)


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Novelist – ‘Street Politician’

Chris Kelly: Novelist’s flow is perfectly paired with the beat (perhaps the clubby bounce is Nick Hook’s contribution?), but I can’t get into a David Cameron hook, no matter how Orwellian. (6)

Son Raw: For those keeping score, this is the first time an MC has used the phrase “I’m known to get reckless” without irony in 25 years. There’s a serious class-of-91 fast-rap aesthetic going on here, both in flow and the overtly political content – the ghost of N.W.A. joining Dizzee Rascal’s influence. Stylistically, the shouting is a bit off-putting for someone who lived through LL Cool J’s run, but as far as Tory-slating howls from the street go, this checks all the right boxes. (8)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Able to get your blood boiling with the simplicity of a David Cameron soundbite, this is mean, chunky and pissed off, as much a shotter-riddled grime riddim as it is barebones gangsta rap. (7)

Claire Lobenfeld: Excuse me, but is this a grime ‘Fuck Tha Police’ produced by Nick Hook, owner of the world’s greatest J.R. Smith t-shirt? Down. (8)

Tayyab Amin: It’s not just me that sees Dizzee in this, and around a decade on there’s no love lost between London’s black youth and a government that paints them as a source of national fear, wilfully dehumanising them in the process. This weekend David Cameron was reported as saying that “decades of neglect” were behind anti-social behaviour such as the 2011 riots, but at the time he was first to ignore that, dismissing them as “criminality pure and simple” in the statement sampled on ‘Street Politician’. Novelist is totally justified in attacking the integrity of the government and police, and him spreading that message in its purest form to listeners is vital. On this, he spits bars harder than a brick wall. (8)

April Clare Welsh: Yes! This is everything. Brutal, anarchic, bile-fuelled, aggressive and 100% more punk than most (cookie cutter) punk bands. The sirens are old school, the message is hard-line ie “black boys stuck in the system / when the feds chat shit I don’t listen,” and it’s about the only time I can actually stomach Spameron’s voice without wanting to lob something at someone. (9)


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Yeasayer – ‘I Am Chemistry’

April Clare Welsh: I don’t understand what just happened but all I know is that’s 5.02 minutes of my life I’ll never get back. (2)

Tayyab Amin: This is a little too vanilla, disjointed and anonymous for me – I’ve definitely enjoyed Yeasayer more when their jaunts flow into meanders with catchy melodies, as opposed to jagged cuts across to the middle of the road. (5)

Claire Lobenfeld: Yeasayer has always been kind of corny, but there was something more compelling about it circa Odd Blood. The romance of ‘O.N.E.’! The fatherliness of ‘Ambling Alp’! But since that album, they have continued to invert the rubbery — and I mean that in that the music actually sounds like rubber, not that it’s overly emotional — quality of their music into full 3D plastic models of itself. And that children’s choir? Blech. Remember when this was their concept of children? Can’t give it a zero because it has some bits before the little ones chirp in, but otherwise, not my cup of latex tea. (2)

Son Raw: If that earnest white dude vocal popped up on alt-rock college radio, I’d assume it was recorded in 94, maybe 96, at least until that synth breakdown and 60s AM-pop chorus reminded me that all rock requires multiple reference points now. This is the endgame for heady Brooklyn bands: your audience is pushing strollers so don’t rock too hard, not that you were going to. (5)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: For a while in the late Noughties, Yeasayer became one of indie rock’s most promising acts with a collection of strong singles that acted as propeller boosters on an otherwise muddled full-length. (‘O.N.E.’ still goes.) ‘I Am Chemistry’ throws that singles strength to the wayside for an indulgence of the band’s nouveau hippie mysticism, easily their most frustrating characteristic. Over five minutes there’s enough Maynard James Keenan impressions, child choirs and waddling chord progressions to soundtrack multiple video game trailers. There’s no hooks, though, and this is supposed to be Yeasayer. (5)

Chris Kelly: I haven’t listened to Yeasayer in years, but this one balances their freak folk/world music/electronic interests with stronger songwriting and fewer extraneous experimental bits. Plus, the breakdown by folk original Suzzy Roche is very Pink Floydian. From a band whose interest in chemistry probably starts and stops at psychedelics, making chemical warfare catchy is quite a trick. (6)


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Sia – ‘Reaper’

Son Raw: This is a corporate product meant to manufacture an emotional response in the listener through repeated exposure to tried and true songwriting and production techniques combined with a focus-grouped image. Determine the products this is meant to sell, and don’t buy them. (2)

Claire Lobenfeld: This has to be a Rih-ject, right? (3)

Tayyab Amin: This is nice although quite ineffectual. It’s triumphant without being uplifting, and as such not enough to tell Death to turn around and walk away, really. The best thing about the beat has to be that bass. (6)

April Clare Welsh: Rihanna the norm should have taken the job – Sia is too much of a weirdo for this song. (4)

Chris Kelly: Sia’s strength as a hit-making songwriter (and the crux of her anti-persona public persona) is her ability to sublimate her identity as she writes songs that “sound” like other artists’ (and resonate with millions of people). But when she doesn’t have an emotional connection to the song, like she confessed about this one, it shows. Written for Rihanna without Rihanna in the room, “co-written” by Kanye via a handful of notes… this is some bad record industry sausage-making and it gives me visions of white people clapping and stomping off beat. (3)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: There’s Sia when she wants to push the boat out and makes HUGE synonym-laden bangers where she can stretch her voice to frankly unbelievable lengths (see ‘Alive’), and there’s Sia when she forgets to leave the best material for herself (see above). (5)


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DJ Mustard – ‘Whole Lotta Lovin’ (ft. Travi$ Scott)

Son Raw: My love of Mustard collides with my contempt for industry plant Travi$ Scott. Except… did he just reference CeCe Peniston’s ‘Finally’? I have to grudgingly give him a pass for that. Ignore the faceless singer, the real story here is Mustard’s continuing serotonin-soaked synthesis of ratchet and deep house. I always found it weird that most molly-themed rap never bothered to engage with rave music’s sonics, Mike Will’s filter sweeps aside, but holy shit: I want to be on one, on a beach, dancing to this right now. (8)

Claire Lobenfeld: Listen guys, this kind of made my brain explode. My vision of how this went down was that Travi$ Scott was like, “Yeah, so I was really into that song you made with Jeremih last year, so if we could have something where I could interpolate a 90s pop-house track, but also I really like that one Justin Bieber and Jack Ü song, so if you could make it like that, too, that’d be great,” and Mustard was just down. This is part ‘Where Are Ü Now’, part CeCe Peniston, and part a reminder that Scott had a huge hand in how Yeezus sounded, but miraculously not as vacuous as most of the stuff on Rodeo. (4)

Chris Kelly: Mustard finally goes full (trap) EDM, which is not really as big a transition as some will make it: his formula (trunk-rattling bass, fat-ass synths, 90s dance pop interpolations) is the same, just laid on a new grid. He toyed with the sound last summer on ‘Why’d You Call?’, but while that one was blessed by Ty Dolla and Makonnen, this one is saddled with Travis Scott. Young La Fraud rips off Kanye (as usual) but also Chief Keef, and that “it’s lit!” ad-lib is laughably late. Points anyway, because we can’t let Travis ruin 2016. (7)

Tayyab Amin: Travi$ Scott tried to vocal a feelgood hit of the summer, DJ Mustard swerved into the EDM lane, it all ended up sub-standard and no one was surprised. But there is something entrancing about music from this genre becoming twisted and intoxicated into a late-night knocker. (5)

April Clare Welsh: Autotune is one of modern music’s greatest gifts but like a lot of things, is best enjoyed responsibility, in moderation. For me personally, this means a short dip rather than a ridiculously sumptuous bath, because – help me out here – I AM DROWNING. (3)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: After a 2015 where he receded from the limelight ever so slightly, Mustard’s returned with a new sound. It’s not a bad idea because as consistent as his music has been for the past few years, the formula was wearing thin. And yes, it’s a smart move to make a song that combines dance music in a more graceful way than the EQ-dismantling wobblestep that opens his live shows. And yes, it’s a smart move to utilise Travis Scott in the most inoffensive way possible. And yes, all these positives don’t make this any better than throwing on ‘Face Down’ for an hour, not at all, nope nope. (4)


Final scores:

Novelist – ‘Street Politician’ (7.7)
Kanye West – ‘Real Friends’ (7.5)
Brandy – ‘Beggin & Pleadin’ (5.5)
DJ Mustard – ‘Whole Lotta Lovin’ (ft. Travi$ Scott) (5.2)
Yeasayer – ‘I Am Chemistry’ (4.2)
Sia – ‘Reaper’ (3.8)

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