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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: Four Tet, Tinashe, Underworld and more.

Fatima Al Qadiri – ‘Battery’

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Al Qadiri makes thoughtful electronic music that grapples with Important Issues, and the upcoming Brute promises insights into the police state and the protest that rails against it. Ideas don’t mean that she can’t indulge in some nostalgia trips, with ‘Battery’ sounding oddly similar – at least in my mind – to Grant Kirkhope’s score for the N64 game Goldeneye 007. It wouldn’t be the first video game tribute Al Qadiri’s made, either. (7)

Chris Kelly: With the genre reconstructions of Genre-Specific Xperience and the reality-as-video game soundtrack of Desert Strike, Al Qadiri perfectly balanced concept and musicality. Increasingly, however, it feels like the conceptual aims of her projects have exceeded the musical ones. Perhaps ‘Battery’ makes more sense in the context of Brute, but it does nothing new by itself — and if that’s the point, then wouldn’t it make sense to buck the music-industrial complex and forgo a single? (4)

April Clare Welsh: As the anti-police brutality movement goes from strength-to-strength, so the canon of protest songs continues to expand and metamorphose (the press release calls her new album “…a tribute to those on the front lines.”) There is indeed a fine line between defense and the deadly use of force and Al Qadiri explores this idea in a subtle yet clever way, with a finely tuned artistic ear. Who needs words when you’ve got aggressive bass growls? (8)

Tayyab Amin: ‘Battery’ puts little weight behind its punches in the rare case that it throws something more than the odd light jab at our ears. The tone and mood helps set a scene but there’s nothing in the track to make it believable. And for familiar scenes like this dystopic setting, we’re left to fill in the gaps, aimlessly wandering through a half-realised vision. It seems strange as a standalone tune. (5)

Son Raw: Asiatisch’s sinogrime slumped under the weight of its conceptual baggage, so it’s a pleasure to hear a Fatima Al Qadiri beat that bangs regardless of its thematic framework. This growls and rumbles with all the menace of Hyperdub’s class of ‘06 without losing the otherworldly, video game soundtrack aesthetic that made her early work so fresh. (7)

6.2

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Underworld – ‘I Exhale’

Chris Kelly: Just in time for the Trainspotting sequel, and also about a decade overdue. (2)

April Clare Welsh: It took a few listens before this half-clicked for me. I think it’s probably a case of Underworld doing what they do best – stitching together a patchwork of ideas (a rowdy football chant here, some deadpan poeticisms there), but it still kind of sounds like Sleaford Mods doing the Fall doing Underworld. (6)

Tayyab Amin: This sounds like a formative, even climactic excerpt from a Danny Boyle film about League Two football. The spoken word veers from the meagre inspiration of football manager pep talk realism to pretty much every time I’ve been to a pub sober and had to listen to a mildly drunken, forever-unraveling non-ecdote. (5)

Son Raw: There was a venue in my hometown called Underworld that used to specialize in skate punk and indie hip-hop. It really aimed to become a home for the kind of commodified misfit-by-choice demo that no one really much has time for these days. It closed down last year and the club that took its place books bass house and arty trap.

What I’m trying to say is I don’t know why this still exists. (4)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: This doesn’t make for a bad stomp about, with Karl Hyde doing a Mark E Smith ramble over pleasing swirls of distortion and #LadsOnTour backing vocals, but the song fades into the memory the second it ends. Three minutes and not a hook to grab onto. (6)

4.6

Designer & Four Tet – ‘Mothers’

Chris Kelly: Housers gonna house. It’s certainly a relief when the beat really comes in, but maybe I was just getting bored. Still, I’d rather Four Tet be collaborating with like-minded producers than making crossover attempts (leave Katy B alone!). (5)

Son Raw: Four Tet is at his best when he’s tempering his poindexter side with a bit of sentimentality, and this feels purely academic. It achieves lift-off if you give it six minutes of your time, but if you were suddenly phase-shifted into a universe where it was never created, DJs would find a similar track to mix in, and nothing would change. There’s no butterfly effect here. (6)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: A scatter-brained, tinkly puzzle-box of a song, with drums that infuriatingly, yet alluringly, slice through the whole thing. (7)

Tayyab Amin: Minigame music psychedelia, and yet there’s just something about it that has me on board. Its bass is coaxing, its groove amiable, and the track retains a steady momentum throughout. There’s something about its presence being unobtrusive and emanating a slow-burning energy – I’d liken it to walking with a friend in silence but for breaths and footsteps. (7)

April Clare Welsh: My mother would probably say, “This is a bit repetitive, isn’t it?” but then she would have switched the track off after 30 seconds instead of waiting patiently for the three and a half minute mark when everything starts “going off” (in a controlled manner) and the skittering beats begin their journey towards the candy floss clouds in the sky. It’s definitely a January song, if that makes sense? (8)

6.6

Tinashe – ‘Energy’ (ft. Juicy J)

April Clare Welsh: I wouldn’t go so far as to blame Juicy J for ruining this song, but I would have to agree that his verse juts out like a wart on the face of a beautiful angel. (7)

Tayyab Amin: A friend posed that all of Tinashe’s guest-featuring songs are not good, so I’ve low-key been keeping an ear out for ammunition against this slander, and Juicy J just isn’t helping my case here at all really. Whilst her first verse feels somewhat lethargic and lackadaisical, Tinashe steps it up for a middle third that pretty much makes the tune. (6)

Son Raw: If Tinashe gets any sultrier, those vocals are liable to spontaneously ignite anything within speaker-shot. As for Juicy J… bro, I love Mystik Stylez, but the last thing this song needs is a 40-year-old speaking on the benefits of yoga and yogurt. (7.5)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: From the off, this is easily one of the most luscious contraptions that Mike Will has Made in quite some time: a slinky howl atop shuffling drum patterns and expertly applied organ underlining everything. Every now and again, a laser-like sound comes as if to say take-off! Alongside Tinashe’s strong performance (that falsetto!) and Juicy’s just-enough verse, it’s a knockout. (8)

Chris Kelly: As if he’s telling Miley “this could be us but you playing,” Mike Will teams with Tinashe for a syrupy pop-R&B jam that suits them both: the beat is a warm blanket and Tinashe is never stifled by it. But like all Tinashe singles, the rap verse is totally mood-killing — is this the moment Juicy J needed to bring back horrorcore, chainsaw in hand? Joyride is shaping up to be a monster — even more so if Tinashe stands by herself. (7)

7.2

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Cam’ron – ‘U Wasn’t There’

Son Raw: I hate quoting Trump but why does Cam sound so low energy here? The story’s worth telling but he’s spitting about it with all the enthusiasm of a suspect in police custody. I guess even rappers eventually look back and pine wistfully for their youth. (6)

Tayyab Amin: Cam’ron raps a half-retrospective half-testimonial over a victory lap beat that seems to hold back out of sheer self-confidence. More than anything, this is about the things Cam’ron could choose to tell us about his life, and for fans, it’s a teary-eyed treat of a toast. (7)

April Clare Welsh: Making this song was probably less hassle than sending out a load of thank you cards, but for me the aesthetic shares an affinity with these photo montages we used to make at school for our friends’ 18th birthdays. (6)

Chris Kelly: Cam sounds like Cam for the first time in forever, bleeding pathos on this trip down memory lane. The way he laughs at his younger self (“What was we smugglin’?” he SMHs) and hits the heart (“Siblings turned into foster kids,” ouch), everything works. Even the minute and a half of you-had-to-be-there shout-outs — Cam’s earned it. (8)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: As callous and sardonic as the persona Cam’ron built in his prime was, the most alarming moments were the open-hearted ones: “Told my mother I hustle and she said, ‘be careful’.” On ‘U Wasn’t There’, he runs through a family tree, detailing the different people that he schemed with, was rescued by and sold cartel with, and it brings out a tragic side of Cam that feels like eavesdropping. (7)

6.8

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Pet Shop Boys – ‘Inner Sanctum’

Son Raw: Full disclosure: this is the first full Pet Shop Boys track I’ve heard in my life. The good news is they’re far better than Eminem led my teenage self to believe. Never trust a white rapper’s opinions on synth pop. That maximalist build up is a bit much for me, but I reckon slagging them off for being camp would be like blaming a fish for living in water. (8)

Chris Kelly: I know we’re losing nostalgia acts at an alarming rate, but I don’t need to hear Pet Shop Boys and Jacques Lu Cont doing Techno For Dummies. (3)

Tayyab Amin: The payoff that comes after the build-up is humorous and quite tacky even when paired against the cartoonish grandeur of the opening half. I think the textures might irk me even more than that climactic melody, with their bland sweepers and a low piano stab that’s Orwellian levels of blithely ominous. (4)

April Clare Welsh: This is massive! #EPIC #ANTHEM. A massive exercise in making a massive song for massive spaces and massive pupils. *Reaches for harem pants* It’s one massive slab of goggle-eyed euphoria *Sips some ayahuasca* Clearly, their three-way chemistry is a powerful thing and you should always work with your heroes. *Smashes up Armin van Buuren CD* (8)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: “In your inner sanctum, you’re a star.” Is this a depressing sentiment, or a positive way to mine self-confidence? PSB have always been upfront with their earnestness (and their occasional callousness, too) so Neil Tennant’s observational timbre here offers a cryptic side that surprises. The music backs up the short, clipped sentences with bubbling, almost Gothic dance. (7)

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Final scores:

Tinashe – ‘Energy’ (ft. Juicy J) (7.2)
Cam’ron – ‘U Wasn’t There’ (6.8)
Designer & Four Tet – ‘Mothers’ (6.6)
Fatima Al Qadiri – ‘Battery’ (6.2)
Pet Shop Boys – ‘Inner Sanctum’ (6)
Underworld – ‘I Exhale’ (4.6)

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