Singles Club: Laurel Halo takes futurist pop to new heights

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, Goldie gets a Record Store Day reworking from none other than Burial, Lady Gaga searches for ‘The Cure’ to her post-Joanne slump, UK club producer Murlo strikes again and DJ Shadow teams up with Nas.

There’s also another stellar Sevdaliza single in the offing as well as something special from Hyperdub hero Laurel Halo. Let’s get into it, shall we?


Goldie – ‘Inner City Life’ (Burial Remix)

Tayyab Amin: I’m grinning and I can feel the devil emoji horns sprouting from my head as I listen. It’s messy, there’s a lot happening and none of it is happening in a straightforward manner. There’s something wonderfully perverse about new Record Store Day pressings with inherent vinyl crackle – almost the work of a saboteur. Now, I’m not saying our dearest Burial would ever do something like that, but I am saying he is totally Chaotic Good. (6)

Haley Potiker: I feel like I could have a really great karate training video to this song, where years of intense physical labor are condensed into six-and-a-half-minute montage. Isn’t Record Store Day great? (7)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: I am sure that a generation of music fans remembers Goldie as one of the cameo roles in Snatch rather than a D&B figurehead who decided to take his mainstream ascendancy and release an hour-long song, but his bonafides exist for a reason. ‘Inner City Life’ in its original incarnation is a sort of proto-Burial joint: distant vocal lamentations over deceptively simplistic programming, a sentimental performance in spirit. It’s interesting to hear Burial swerve hard in a different direction when he could have just added rainy SFX and called it a day – instead, he goes more aggressive, suggesting that you’re listening to some lost piece of siren-wailing, wall-of-sound aggro-rave. He switches it up again, shifting the sound into something different, touching on the sentiment of the original before cutting it abruptly short, like an open airlock blasting you out into the great silence. This refix bares little resemblance to its source – it is scintillating and disrespectful and yet respectful and utterly confounding. For years, Burial has continued to leave you in such a state one song at a time, and that’s something to applaud. (7)

Jibril Yassin: Burial’s recent work hasn’t had the kind of heft seen on this Goldie remix, which almost feels blasphemous to listen to. However, it’s claustrophobic in a way only that he could provide and it’s gratifying to hear. My only gripe is that Diane Charlemagne’s vocals are criminally low in the mix – granted it helps the remix gain a wholly separate identity, but this isn’t exactly the “Torching A Classic” thing I expected to hear. (6)

6.5


DJ Shadow – ‘Systematic’ (ft. Nas)

Tayyab Amin: So this is for the Silicon Valley soundtrack, and it fittingly encapsulates the mistaken innovation the TV show’s subject matter prides itself on. I’m not even that mad at the retro-throwback beat, it’s just that Beastie Boys, for example, would have gone cinematic with it, while Nas doesn’t really go anywhere at all. “To make you feel is my new expression” should pack the heaviest punch in the chorus, yet it hides behind the production – almost as if they knew it couldn’t really carry itself as it was. The verses are all over the place, occasionally phoned in with the likes of “I’m like a Russian mob figure, I’m mad low, in the shadows / Big up to Shadow.” It’s so hard to hear Nas like this. (5)

Haley Potiker: It’s funny to think about how far apart Nas and DJ Shadow’s sensibilities were 20 years ago, especially compared to how similar they must be now. A fun fact is that this song closed out the Silicon Valley premiere last night and was written entirely by the guy who plays Jared. (8)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: At first listen, this is your over-enthusiastic ‘modern hip-hop’ dispatch from DJ Shadow (a producer who could sometimes do with simplifying his barrage of ideas) and a fair performance from Nas, as he rattles around waiting to release another album. On reflection, it’s also a fun B-side where these two find a soft spot in each other’s approach. This is Shadow giving Nas – a classicist at heart – a post-turntablist’s update of the good ol’ Ultramagnetic style. Imagine Nas didn’t will Nas Escobar into being, stayed Real Hip-Hop infamous rather than ‘If I Ruled The World’ famous, and we may have gotten this very song sooner, give or take some vocal effects. (6)

Jibril Yassin: Even as DJ Shadow’s latest compositions have been getting all the more dustier (and this is no insult, this really does sound like it could score a well-made dystopian spaghetti film), Nas is out here providing the spark, going from talking about street dreams and wearing Gucci links to dealing out investment tidbits, dropping cooking recipes and making Keith Haring comparisons, all in the same verse. (8)

6.75


Laurel Halo – ‘Jelly’

Tayyab Amin: “Future music” is often portrayed in pure digital or dirty mechanics, whereas this marries electronics with organic sound in a way that doesn’t even seem possible in tomorrow’s world. Put simply, this is the kind of song that makes me excited for everything music has the possibility to be. (10)

Haley Potiker: I could watch this lyric video all day. It’s like a Windows ‘98 screensaver. It sounds like the music you’d hear in the elevator at the world’s tightest Macy’s where the elevator keeps going up and up until you’re floating above the city like Willy Wonka. (8)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: In the best possible way, this felt longer than its five-minute runtime, a soak in a combination of emotional sniping from Halo and percussive combinations slotting into place like a Tetris line. Fairly stunning – I only say “fairly” because Halo’s presentation feels weirdly low-key, perhaps in the way it avoids being overwhelmed by its many moving parts. You want to overpraise this composition, but it melts into the ether at the end, as though its brilliance does not want to cause a fuss. (8)

Jibril Yassin: I very much like that this is entirely focused around Halo and her collaborators but most important of all, that voice. It feels surreal, playful at moments but a storm when doubled, making ‘Jelly’ feel incredibly disorienting as the track seems to change and warp around you. (7)

8.25


Sevdaliza – ‘Hubris’

Tayyab Amin: Sevdaliza really knows how to send those Portishead chills down my spine, and there are a few shades of La Roux here and there too. Her voice doesn’t go through you, rather it moves around and passes over you. Climaxing with a quiet roar, the aching in her voice is impossible to overlook. I love how delicately balanced the track’s elements are: Sevdaliza’s singing is powerful on its own, though the occasional electronic stutter instils as much unease as it does intrigue. The production plays the part of backing band well, even when it transforms into electronic beats completely. (7)

Haley Potiker: There’s something gothic about this, like it was made on a banged-up laptop in the middle of a medieval church. (7)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Sevdaliza songs usually have many great ideas pieced together by passages of unengagement: here, the artist’s songwriting continues to grow but parts like a robotic, clattering vocal interlude hold back a climatic key change (one of pop’s greatest emotional weapons!) from hitting as hard as it should. There’s plenty of promise in her haunted trip-hop revivalism, and despite those tetchy swerves of lodged-in experimentation, there are even more signs she can be behind a great song from start to finish. (6)

Jibril Yassin: We’re witnessing one of the smoothest key changes in history on this one. I hope people take notice. (8)

7


Murlo – ‘Tired of You’

Tayyab Amin: Few artists from recent years have developed as singular a sound as Murlo. He doesn’t rehash his music between projects – it’s always about building from the last thing. Murlo constructs his samples, melodies and rhythms clinically, but that drop into gunfinger synth stabs that appears from nowhere is a total show-stealer. (8)

Haley Potiker: Come for Murlo, stay for the animated video that’s better than most of the prestige TV airing right now. ‘Tired of You’ is knotty and claustrophobic and irresistible. (8)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: The vocal sample driving Murlo’s latest moans in a childlike voice as to being “tired of you”, the “you” drawling and fading into something that sounds like a “me”. It’s intriguing how the melted vocals collapse the song’s focus: as glissando keys and military-might bass take control, the vocals slide around from “me” to “you”, from self-pity to rage and back again. (7)

Jibril Yassin: Holy shit, so this is what a funhouse version of PC Music sounds like? I don’t know what’s more knocking, the acid bass keeping it together or the waves of percussion and bleeps that could fit right at home on a trap or grime track in another dimension. (9)

8


Lady Gaga – ‘The Cure’

Tayyab Amin: The entire second verse sounds like Gaga has a blocked nose. Why is she singing “If I can’t find the cure, I’ll fix you with my love” if she can’t even fix her hayfever? (5)

Haley Potiker: This song is catchy and fun but also pretty innocuous for Gaga. The beat is super generic – it could be from a random songwriter on SoundCloud. But then it transforms into a true Pop Banger. It’ll be interesting to see if she doubles down on this approach as a course-correction from Joanne, which was stuffed with a bunch of disparate ideas but got a lukewarm reception. (8)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Chorus machine Gaga has finally accepted the fate of modern pop – the post-‘Where Are U Now’ vocal squiggle-as-hook, a songwriting trick Skrillex once referred to as “the dolphin”. It overshadows what is a strong-enough effort to please a pop fanbase scared of country music (and ergo scared of Joanne), but it’s also Gaga jocking the charts in a way that’s a little depressing to hear. You want to see her wear the meat dress, not try on someone else’s normal-ass wardrobe. (5)

Jibril Yassin: Make no mistake, ‘The Cure’ is thrilling, but as satisfying as it is to hear Lady Gaga over something more akin to The Fame Monster than career-reboot Joanne, this feels far too normal for someone like Gaga and that’s upsetting. When even your missteps feel wholly yours, why now set out to sound anonymous? (5)

5.75


Final scores:

Laurel Halo – ‘Jelly’ (8.25)
Murlo – ‘Tired of You’ (8)
Sevdaliza – ‘Hubris’ (7)
DJ Shadow – ‘Systematic’ (ft. Nas) (6.75)
Goldie – Inner City Life (Burial remix)  (6.5)
Lady Gaga – ‘The Cure’ (5.75)