Singles Club: Stormzy goes hard with a heart, Vince Staples tramples the competition

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

This week, Cali rapper Vince Staples cleans up with the highest Singles Club we’ve seen in years and Stormzy ups his game with a Sir Spyro-produced taste of his debut album.

Meanwhile, Blondie put the ‘Fun’ in ‘perfunctory’, Depeche Mode attempt a rousing political anthem, Mariah Carey teams up with YG and the Singles Club fall under Mac DeMarco’s spell.


Stormzy – ‘Big For Your Boots’

Tayyab Amin: The way Stormzy says “boots” it sounds like he’s on a shopping spree, picking up beefs like clothes off a rack. He’s got the flows but it doesn’t matter if you don’t like them ‘cause he wields his words like a battering ram. There’s a little bit of Jackie Chan in the way his impact leaves you too stunned to immediately clock jokes like, “you’re never too big for Adele.” For more on how he goes hard with a heart, check the squat powerplay on bossman’s counter (1:12) right next to the charity jars. (8)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Sir Spyro with the 2000 WWF promo package keyboard opera with disembodied garage vox: sleek, blocky, terrific. Stormzy is still amazed by his own rise to fame, stunned by “singing” at the O2 and planning to play the guitar in 2018 (someone talk to him). This is great stuff, bring on the album. (8)

Son Raw: Stormzy’s early hits tended to veer dramatically from pre-fab trap on one side and grime traditionalism on the other, which meant the music rarely matched the intensity of his flow. Here he finally hits the perfect balance, the synthesized choir and chipmunked lead providing the atmosphere while the skittering drums and his commanding presence do the heavy lifting. With the grime “revival” fading into the rearview, young UK MCs will have to shape what’s next. Here, Stormzy proves he can sound entirely current without American drum patterns. (8)

Chris Kelly: Letting out a Ric Flair “Woo!” for this one. Over an unrelenting blast of percussion (from grime champ Sir Spyro and veteran producer Fraser T Smith), he is all swagger and style, shutting down haters with precision and finesse but man enough to shout out Amy Winehouse and sing along with Adele. Stormzy is the antidote for all that Drake-ish UK hip-hop. (9)

8.25


Blondie – ‘Fun’

Chris Kelly: Blondie opened the studio to a wide range of songwriters for Pollinator, and ‘Fun’ is their collaboration with Dave Sitek. Those expecting any of the rough edges of his Maximum Balloon project (to say nothing of the experimental brillance of TV on the Radio) will be sorely disappointed with this new wave trifle. Wake me when their Charli XCX collaboration surfaces, because this one puts the “fun” in perfunctory. (2)

Tayyab Amin: Only the cowboy guitar can distract us from the overwhelming mediocrity of this track. One lone ranger, riffs at dawn. It’s high noon somewhere in the world, but there’s no action here. (4)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: A fine piece of wah-wah discofied rock with a strong chorus that overstays its welcome by at least two chorus repetitions – too much of a good thing. (6)

Son Raw: On a scale of 1-10, how pissed off were Blondie at not getting an invite to Daft Punk’s last album? The best part of their records was how their magpie approach always came with a wink and a nod, which gave the pilfering and pastiche a sort of detachment. This deathly earnest disco, on the other hand, doesn’t live up to the track title. (4)

4


Mac DeMarco – ‘My Old Man’

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: A gorgeous amble of father-son ponderings, delivered in that slightly flat, patient Demarco tone. I played this five times in a row. (8)

Tayyab Amin: All my prior enjoyment of Mac DeMarco’s craft has been reluctant at best, but this is genuinely such a lovely number. I’m ready to leave my old ways behind. I guess it’s that kind of song – be the person you actually want to be, before it’s too late. There’s a delightful ineffability to DeMarco’s “uh-ohs” and “oh-nos” in the chorus – are they disappointed? Cautious? Resigned? Amusedly intrigued? How he explores the past without it ever weighing him down – it’s almost freeing in that aspect. Bathe me in your feathery introspections Mac DeMarco, I’m ready. (9)

Chris Kelly: I know he’s supposed to be revered as the slacker prince of indie rock or whatever, but Mac DeMarco has never really done it for me. ‘My Old Man’ doesn’t change my view (jangly guitar: check; easy listening melody: check) but the lyrics – about the price tag for “all that fun” – resonate, especially considering his barely there relationship with his addict father. (6)

Son Raw: His post-Beck shtick would probably be a lot more fun for me if I wasn’t stuck in a country where this kind of wistful guitar balladry somehow still feels like the default mainstream “serious music.” Anyway, here’s ‘Wonderwall’. (5)

7


Vince Staples – ‘BagBak’

Tayyab Amin: The absolute Super Saiyan-ry of this track – this is what quality sounds like. He holds his own on the mic, he’s always got his people’s back and he shows an incisive awareness about his environment without ever seeming corny or preachy. Seeing someone who knows exactly what they’re doing and is never boring about it is rare – it reminds me of being a teen first seeing Pacquiao start fires in the ring. He makes good on the platform he’s built for himself too with that last verse. Vince taught me! (9)

Son Raw: Poignant, socially conscious lyrics that don’t feel like toothless appeals to the chattering classes’ ideological purity tests? Check. High-speed, roughneck, syncopated flow over abrasive electronics, the kind that’ll go toe to toe with anything made in Atlanta? Check again. It’s 2017: we got ourselves a rapper that can do both. (10)

Chris Kelly: Staples has been on an unimpeachable run for some time now. Summertime ‘06 made the headlines but Prima Donna really saw him come into his own as a rapper who can get political without ever feeling preachy. He does the same here, over a percolator of a beat by Ray Brady, touching on racial profiling, the incarceration state, gentrification and more with humor and verve. Who else is rapping, “Until the president get ashy, Vincent won’t be votin’ / We need Tamikas and Shaniquas in that Oval Office”? When Vince Staples talks, you better listen. (10)

9.7


YG and Mariah Carey – ‘I Don’t’

Son Raw: YG’s a throwback without being burdened by a surplus of self-awareness about that status, which makes him the perfect foil for Mariah’s latest twist on the good-girl-bad-rapper duet formula she’s been playing with since ‘Fantasy’. Nothing here is touching that beat or ODB’s insanity, but both provide the ear candy to justify looking fly in the video. (6)

Chris Kelly: Mariah rebounds from that New Year’s Eve fiasco (the first sign that 2017 would be as bad as 2016, TBH) with a song about moving on from life’s lowpoints and ending the “pity party of the year.” The song teams Carey with R&B legends/old running mates Jermaine Dupri and Bryan-Michael Cox, who forgo note-by-note So So Def revivalism for their own spin on the trap’n’B sound (love those drumrolls). An interesting use of YG – hook man and 8-bar drop-in – and a perfect Donell Jones sample, even if it’s the second-best use of it (shout out Jamila Woods and Chance the Rapper’s ‘LSD’). (8)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Mariah rests a break-up anthem atop a murderer’s row of musical preferences: Donnell Jones’ pained wails, YG’s hook-heavy Cali drawl, Jermaine Dupri’s radio-ready sleekness. And yet, it’s like much of Mariah’s output these past few years – well-performed, strong enough, but more of a boost to her non-musical ventures and idol status than an attempt to top the long-worn triumph of The Emancipation of Mimi. (6)

Tayyab Amin: I love my R&B videos excessively opulent, and Mariah has paired up with rappers so well so often. So that’s two checks, and everything else screams smart from our elusive chanteuse as well. She comes across confident with her current singing voice – it feels like a positive transition to a new range. This is the sound of leaning back, taking a sip and savoring the flavor. (8)

7


Depeche Mode – ‘Where’s The Revolution’

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: A very Depeche Mode piece of Depeche Modiness/moodiness. It’ll satisfy your urges for drama and surging momentum. (6)

Son Raw: ‘Where’s The Revolution’? You tell me, Depeche Mode. The only revolution going on here is you guys spinning in circles to lesser results. (5)

Tayyab Amin: I’m just finding it really hard to imagine anyone was excited about making this track, what a slog. In place of anything worth existing, we’ve got this noncommittal, misguidedly romantic and completely fauxstalgic paean to everyone’s favorite strawman: political apathy. I really hope this is secretly an anthem for the right-wingers, ‘cause I can’t see it producing much inspiration on this side of the fight. (1)

Chris Kelly: I’m listening to this just hours after watching corporations cash in on the anti-Trump, pro-progress resistance, and it’s giving me the same type of acid reflux. “Patriotic junkies” is forgivable from a teenager but is absolutely cringeworthy from a 50-something rocker, and the train metaphor reminds me of Party Down. The revolution won’t be soundtracked by stodgy synth-pop. (1)

3.25


Final scores:

Vince Staples – ‘BagBak’ (9.7)
Stormzy – ‘Big For Your Boots’ (8.25)
Mac DeMarco – ‘My Old Man’ (7)
YG and Mariah Carey – ‘I Don’t’ (7)
Blondie – ‘Fun’ (4)
Depeche Mode – ‘Where’s The Revolution’ (3.25)

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