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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. This week, ANOHNI gets political, Zayn continues to shake his old image and Julianna Barwick returns with a slice of blissful ambience.

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ANOHNI – ‘Drone Bomb Me’

Aurora Mitchell: ANOHNI talked about wanting to write songs with teeth as sharp as her thoughts and this one cuts right down to the bone. Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never opt for beautifully restrained production, keeping ANOHNI’s instantly recognisable vocal timbres at the centre of this heartbreaker. As tears roll rapidly down Naomi Campbell’s face in the track’s video, there’s a high chance you’ll feel like doing the same. (9)

Chris Kelly: Music with explicit political messages tends to be too ham-fisted for my taste, but ANOHNI’s lyrics and performance have so much humanity that it’s impossible not to be moved by them (that spoken “after all” before “I’m partly to blame” is the type of moment that haunts you for years). Kudos to Oneohtrix Point Never and Hudson Mohawke for crafting a production that twinkles and triumphs in all the right places but mostly stays out of ANOHNI’s way. (10)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: In a 2011 essay entitled ‘Burning Fuse’, the musician and author David Toop wrote that the R&B slow jam was representative of a subgenre he classified as “mellow soul”. The thirst for intimacy in “mellow soul” records is not just a sign of excitement, but of anxiety too, holding the potential to explode at any moment – powder kegs, he calls them. ‘Drone Bomb Me’ takes this theory past its logical extremes, presenting ANOHNI as a victim of a drone attack atop her producers’ silkiest sonics. Amongst debris, her protagonist blares her desire for death with the same intensity that mellow soulsters anticipate sex, with the threat of literal explosions hanging overhead. As a political statement, it picks up on the barely-veiled sardonic rage of ‘4 Degrees’ with ablomb; as a combination of slow jam and deathbed soliloquy, it leaves you uncomfortable yet stunned. (9)

Tayyab Amin: It’s taken me a few days to muster some courage/strength/anything to watch this – USA drones have inflicted terror on people in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia for over a decade as far as I’m aware. “I just want to write songs with teeth as sharp as my thoughts,” ANOHNI says, reeking of an emotionally transgressive mindset that takes no seconds to consider implications across wider ranges of perspective.

Recent years have only highlighted how White America views nonwhite people, including their policed oppression of black people living there, as well as the black and brown bodies they fly over with combat drones. “Drone bomb me… I want to die,” sings the white American, imagining herself as a (nonwhite) child, orphaned by drone strikes. We wouldn’t doubt for a second that those who were killed on 9/11 did not deserve their fate. Since then, that death toll has been surpassed by those killed by US drones. “I’m not so innocent,” sings the white Englishwoman, deciding that this particular image of a South Asian/Middle Eastern/East African child is the one that she should portray. At least 724 children and other civilians have been killed by US drones in Pakistan alone since 2004. “I’m partly to blame,” she sings, choosing to wallow in imagined heartache for some higher, artistic purpose I’m sure, instead of giving platform and support to those families torn apart by her government.

I think she intends for us to feel despair at how the child internalises blame. It’s such a reductive narrative with too few dimensions and too much absolving of accountability. ANOHNI allies herself with Givenchy and Apple to tell what she sees as a story abstracted from her, instead of rallying against the drone operations and fighting for those she commodifies by singing about like this. “My blood.” (0)

Son Raw: ANOHNI’s fearlessness in the face of an industry of compromise and bullshit is to be celebrated and admired, but beyond that – what a belter! The collision of musical worlds is what makes one for me: nothing screams potential clusterfuck like indie-disco meets maximalist Kanye collaborator meets Vaporwave pioneer, but this somehow plays to everyone’s strengths. (8)

7.2

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Zayn – ‘Like I Would’

Son Raw: I want to get off this ride: every few years another corporate teen pop idol “matures” and puts out middling, slightly more adult pop co-opting last year’s trends and somehow critics are expected to kowtow to the idea that this is somehow a worthwhile use of anyone’s listening time. It’s not. This is mediocre over-produced pop-house. If that’s your thing, good for you. But let’s not ignore that the entire Zayn Malik solo career narrative isn’t dull and predictable. (3)

Chris Kelly: “What if we could sell The Weeknd 2.0 to One Direction fans?” – music executive, in between sips of infant’s blood (3)

Tayyab Amin: The textures of the beat are so dull and ugly, yet it doesn’t bother me in the slightest. There are some nations that have mandatory military service but for us Northern brown boys, all that is asked of us is to protect Zayn. Ultimately, the goal is for the deep Malik album cuts to get the serious remix treatments, but until then it’d be great for him to have a banger that does it bigger (and ideally much better) than ‘Pillowtalk’. I definitely think ‘Like I Would’ is good enough, therefore it’s an unreasonably high, completely straight-faced yes from me. (10)

Aurora Mitchell: Considering everything that Zayn said about his solo direction prior to releasing anything, I expected something radically different. But the reality is his sound as a solo artist is just a slight detour from the One Direction sound. ‘Like I Would’ sounds like Majestic Casual house, you can do better than this Zayn. (4)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: An utterly airtight cocaine R&BDM production, the type of music Chris Brown could produce if he didn’t bring the baggage of being Chris Brown to everything the makes. That aside, Zayn Malik’s solo efforts so far haven’t caught fire the way they feel like they should – perhaps because they’re so tightly packaged that there’s no oxygen running through them. (6)

5.2

Denzel Curry – ‘Narcotics’

Tayyab Amin: Curry comin’ thru with the retort to anti-black state-perpetuated racial profiling both loud and clear. It’s a defiant, self-empowering sort of screwface. (7)

Son Raw: This hits that sweet spot: Curry doesn’t just rap like rapping still matters, he raps as if his life depends on it. Crucially however, he does it on the frosty, anesthetized production that offsets his torrent of words while complementing the urgency and making sure it doesn’t all become a blur. I had time for this antisocial coldness when Mobb Deep was spitting it, and I have time for it now. (8)

Aurora Mitchell: Florida’s Denzel Curry spits with a rapid flow over a beat by one of the South’s influential producers $crim as he questions the people who stereotype rappers as drug dealers in a direct tone. He veers into Death Grips territory at points and it’s great. (7)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Without paying close attention, beyond the beat and chopped-up fluidity, ‘Narcotics’ is an ode to criminal intentions with black pride footnotes. Once you properly tune in, it’s evident Curry’s frustrated about he would even considered to champion criminal intent in the first place. The song’s structure doesn’t offer much beyond that, but it’s a cluster bomb and a necessary lesson for a white listener to recognise some biases – sonic and social – and learn to try harder, do better. (7)

Chris Kelly: So many rappers crib Three 6 Mafia’s aesthetic and sound but then fumble when it’s time to create something original. Not Denzel Curry: the Miami rapper starts with the triplet flow, supercharges it and updates ‘Fuck Tha Police’ in his own image. (7)

7.2

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Shock Machine – ‘Shock Machine’

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Woozy romantic psychedelia, bubbled under Justice synth lines and narrated by reverb-soaked pleading: an aesthetic checklist for accessible cool but an undoubtedly effective one. Also, it’s always savvy to name a song after your band. (6)

Chris Kelly: I have absolutely no love for new rave or the electro-pop the Klaxons released before petering out in 2014, and I’d rather be connected to Milgram’s shock machine than listen to this uninspired piece of indie schlock. (2)

Tayyab Amin: It’s an improvement on last week’s M83, that’s for sure. There are some really cool transitions, such as how the electric guitar fades into the acoustic for the second verse with the accompanying keyboard squeaks – it’s all married together quite nicely. That doesn’t stop the song from being a ponderous slog though, as comfy as all the beige is. (5)

Son Raw: Is this what happens when nu ravers get old? I was going to tear this a new one until that ‘bitchin’ guitar solo came in, but this is so obviously so self aware of its cosmic self-seriousness that clowning it would be to miss out on the joke. Still, who is this for? When will they play this? All I can picture is terrible sex in front a of a wall of old NME covers. (4)

Aurora Mitchell: It’s evident that the members of Klaxons are still trying hard to shake the ingrained image of them as bright skinny jean wearing, glowstick-wielding nu ravers. Band member Jamie Righton has a go at it by trying his hand at meandering psychedelia via Tame Impala, using the name Shock Machine. His debut track is pleasant but all a bit too serious and stony faced, aided by the yawn factor of Righton’s shadowy, mysterious presence in the video. (5)

4.4

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Julianna Barwick – ‘Nebula’

Son Raw: On its own, this is beautiful in a fairly expected way. You’ve got to bring out its unique qualities, Barwick’s voice and the sense of otherworldliness conveyed by the reverb, through contrast. Which is to say, this is going to sound awesome when Mumdance mixes it in on his radio show in between an industrial club exclusive and a rare ‘94 jungle b-side. (7)

Aurora Mitchell: Barwick’s vocal harmonies always wash through her work like languid waves making their way to shore and retreating in repeat and it never fails to mesmerise. Currently imagining being in a desolate, smokey bar with eyes closed and swaying like Audrey Horne as this gets played. (9)

Tayyab Amin: Beautiful in the way things often can be from a distance. Barwick’s building up and stripping away of layers is graceful, though the loss of the initial momentum is something I find really frustrating. It’s a stasis that perpetuates some sort of nothingness, coming across as escapist and for me, detached. (5)

Chris Kelly: While I always try to only review the song and not the video, I can’t help but feeling that the latter presents the best way to experience this song: at Philip Johnson’s Glass House, as a light installation washes over you. (6)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Expertly-curated indie movie soundtrack coos. (5)

6.4

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Torn Hawk – ‘Feeling Is Law’

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: A busy piece, this relishes in a somewhat OTT approach to piling on instrument after instrument, yet finds space for many smaller gems: audible swipes across guitar frets and strings, distortion pinched into angles, vocal samples clipped into alien tics. As a song, it’s hard to find a purpose beyond Music Is Pretty – at points it sounds like a very energetic browse through a Garageband update – but that same optimism carries it through to the end. (7)

Son Raw: Too widescreen to be minimal, too restrained to be maximalist. (5)

Aurora Mitchell: From the name, you might expect Torn Hawk tracks to explode or detonate but instead, they simmer in a quiet, consistent manner. This suspenseful, orchestral cut is pretty far away from his initial L.I.E.S releases, sounds like it got lost in the edit to soundtrack a medieval drama. (7)

Tayyab Amin: This is lush. It’s reminiscent of Darren Korb’s videogame soundtracks, with a little of Ni No Kuni’s charm sprinkled over. I really dig the probing post-rock guitars and those vocals that gradually emerge from the back of the room. Torn Hawk’s just brought in the spring, refresh yourselves! (7)

6.5

Final scores

Denzel Curry – ‘Narcotics’ (7.2)
ANOHNI – ‘Drone Bomb Me’ (7.2)
Torn Hawk – ‘Feeling Is Law’ (6.5)
Julianna Barwick – ‘Nebula’ (6.4)
Zayn – ‘Like I Would’ (5.2)
Shock Machine – ‘Shock Machine’ (4.4)

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