Singles Club: Frank Ocean is an Aphex Twin nerd just like the rest of us

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

This week, there’s another loosie from Frank Ocean, our second glimpse at what Jessie Ware is cooking up for her upcoming album, and a blast from the past as N.O.R.E collaborates with Pharrell once more.

Elsewhere, Ty Dolla $ign and Skrillex are the latest to enlist Damian Marley following his spot on Jay Z’s 4:44, while John Maus and Ibeya also return. A big week for new singles, then – but what did our reviewers make of them all?


N.O.R.E featuring Pharrell – ‘Uno Mas’

Al Horner: Hey, so, totally unrelated: did Taylor Swift drop a single late on Sunday night in a calculated bid to avoid another potential kicking in Singles Club, after last week’s Simpsons GIF-level criticism? Felt like I needed to pose that important question before getting to the matter of N.O.R.E needing a one dance, and me maybe needing a break from this rhythm: that calypso gallop that’s been leapt upon by so many pop producers post Drizzy’s all-conquering hit. I don’t hate this from N.O.R.E, but it’s weird to see Pharrell – whose early collabs with Noreaga seemed to blaze so many trails to the 10-year-old Al who made ‘Superthug’ his first ever rap CD single purchase, shout out Fleet branch of Woolworths – following trends rather than forging them. (6)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: The dream of Roc La Familia lives on! Cheerfully taking time off from getting absolutely leathered on his podcast, N.O.R.E sounds happy to recording, not just over the reggaeton-tinged music he attempted to take to another level in the US over 10 years ago, but recording full stop: “a 20 year career!” he bellows, toasting himself. Pharrell sounds like he’s trying to force a hit here, but his song partner is already in the zone their composition is intended to put you in: woozy, celebratory, drunk. He caught the vibe. I’m not mad at him. (6)

Carl Anka: Dropping a summer banger in late August is rude. N.O.R.E. screamed on Instagram that “THIS RECORD WILL CHANGE THE FUTURE” – it’s not that good, but it is a decent topical-themed team-up from a duo whose track record together speaks for itself. (7)

Tayyab Amin: I haven’t listened to anything Noreaga has done in the past 10 years so this is a bit out of nowhere for me and as genial a joint it is, it ain’t no ‘Unforgettable’ killer in the late summer club banger stakes. (5)

Jibril Yassin: N.O.R.E. and Pharrell are a mighty duo but this may be one of the rare instances where Skateboard P may have hurt the track with his presence, whether it’s because his hook feels too lazy or his vocals too smooth and reminiscent of every other better Pharrell guest verse from this year and beyond. On the other hand, Noreaga sounds absolutely pumped to be here and he makes the most of it, coming across as the gleeful burst of contrast we needed. (6)

6

Frank Ocean – ‘Provider’

Al Horner: In the grand scheme of Shit I Am Positively Definitely Really Fucking Into, a Frank track which shouts out both Aphex and Stanley Kubrick combines a lot of my interests, and makes me think me and the Blonde star have enough shared obsessions to probably hit it off at a dinner party (how about it, Frank? Butternut squash salad at mine?). ‘Provider’ is another gauzy, charming bit of evidence that the R&B hero has removed whatever shackles made the wait for last year’s album such a long one: he seems to be enjoying dropping whatever he wants, when he wants, usually on a Beats 1 show that runs whenever he feels like it. The freedom suits him: ‘Provider’ is lush, even if it didn’t quite provide the emotion overload of the live studio video of ‘Nikes’ he also dropped this week, which made me need to go stand in the shower so I couldn’t tell if I was crying or not. (8)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: ‘Provider’ can easily throw you off, functioning in the less immediate way of recent Frank Ocean material, flowing from patient minutiae-posessed storyteller to happily obtuse shit-talk via semi-ambient cooing interludes. Yet, once patient with him happily constructing harmonies at his own pace, in the middle of the cottonfloss-light haze, you hear those trademark Frank Ocean calls to honest emotion deployed like homing darts: curling snake-like across another’s stomach, hinting at life-shifting dedication with a tinge of fear, slyly leaving “I’ll be your new best friend” on the table (if you want to take it, that is). (9)

Carl Anka: Of *course* Frank Ocean dropped a new song during the Game of Thrones finale. Where ‘Provider’ falls on your personal good-to-great scale depends on how much you enjoy handsome man Frank humming over some expensive-sounding beats. (7)

Tayyab Amin: Have you noticed how all your favourite things get even better when they’re referenced by Frank Ocean? I was recently feeling disillusioned by Dragon Ball Z but that lull was over as soon as Frankie asked “Is you a natural blondie like Goku?” Listening to this guy is the chillest, most mellow way to get cultured and I’ve got those Channel Orange feels all over again. (8)

Jibril Yassin: ‘Provider’ feels unmoored in time as elements beside the static Rhodes chord progression shift like tectonic plates. While the percussion comes in and out of focus, Frank treats his vocals with a restless panache, altering cadences on a whim and crafting memorable hooks and turns of phase before moving on. It comes together to great effect on ‘Provider’ sounding much like a change between states. (9)

8.2


Ty Dolla $ign featuring Skrillex and Damian Marley – ‘So Am I’

Tayyab Amin: How can your new single sound like a reject from both Bieber and Zayn? I’m not that mad, get this shmoney and all but it reeks of ‘Chained to the Rhythm’ and Damian Marley somehow sounds clumsy on this beat. This just isn’t why we listen to Ty Dolla. (4)

Al Horner: I love the slink of this, and its massive, roomy reverbs: Skrillex dun good. There’ll be more eyes than ever on Ty when he drops Beach House 3, thanks to recent cameos on chart smashes like Fifth Harmony’s ‘Work From Home’. The addictive ‘So Am I’ sounds like he’s ready for it. (8)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: As with the pre-Free TC singles, Ty’s singles so far leading to his sophomore LP are an ultra-collaborative populist swerve away from his orchestral, studio rat filth. In short, if you want the best from all three men involved here, you’re not getting it exactly. However, while slight, you’re not going to get something less than well-written and aurally pleasing from Autopilot Ty. (6)

Carl Anka: Of all the people to get Skrillex to rein it in, who had money on Ty Dolla $ign? Skrillex’s unorthodox production gives this seasonal banger the bite Calvin Harris’s many attempts lacked. By the time Damian Marley pops up this is a done deal: this your two-cup summer groove. (8)

Jibril Yassin: We just got a dark horse contender for 2017’s Song of the Summer. Skrillex’s understated production leaves plenty of room for Ty Dolla $ign and Damian Marley to wax poetic, but the real poetry here is how well the two complement one another on this hazy after-hours banger. (7)

6.6


Ibeyi featuring Kamasi Washington – ‘Deathless’

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy:  Kamasi Washington – mostly biding his time amongst the thick future-swing of Ibeyi’s multitracked voice-of-millions choir – finds he has 15 seconds to go wild, and go wild he does. He is quietly building on the song’s bumps into defuant brass and yet furiously placing his name on the marquee, at once lithe and heavy-metal quick. The song around him is good, but his 15 seconds are exhilarating. (8)

Al Horner: Maybe it’s the red dresses, but the video for this has shades of The Handmaid’s Tale – a fucked-up interpretive theatre immersion reading of Margaret Atwood’s gender dystopia, rather than slightly plodding recent TV adaptation – and I’m into it. I’m even more into the track’s Bjorky vocals and sprinkling of Kamasi sax magic, on a track that feels like a rallying cry. Yes yes yes. (8)

Carl Anka: French-Cuban twins Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Díaz really know how to get you in the gut. After their dark self-titled release in 2015, ‘Deathless’ looks to be *slightly* more upbeat, especially with Kamasi Washington providing sax. This is important, vulnerable, soulful music and you’d do well to grab Ibeyi’s new album when it arrives. (9)

Tayyab Amin: There is so much strength in this song. Ibeyi chant in unison and shout in defiance to leave a lasting impression on oppressed hearts: “Whatever happens, whatever happened, we are deathless!” They turn suffering into their greatest source of power over a march that seethes beneath the surface. At the climax, Washington’s sax solo rouses and galvanises them to face whatever comes next. (8)

Jibril Yassin: Monstrous Kamasi cameo aside (if you’re still sleeping on his work this year, I’d advise you to change that), what’s immediately striking about ‘Deathless’ is its immediate intensity. Drawing inspiration from a wrongful arrest, the chorus of voices feels exhilarating amidst the drama and cacophony of the drums and layers of synth. (8)

8.2


Jessie Ware – ‘Selfish Love’

Al Horner: I really liked Jessie’s last single, but this fails to take the same risks: pretty straight-forward Jools Holland performance fodder with a post-‘Wild Thoughts’ tint to its ballad-y blossom of guitars and vocals. Hopefully Ware’s new album will be made up of more like ‘Midnight’. (6)

Carl Anka: After ‘Midnight’, ‘Selfish Love’ is Jessie slowing things down to her “cool music to play on the office stereo” best. There are tinges of Lana Del Rey and it’s fitting that the music video was shot in Mallorca, as this is all sultry samba and Jude Law whispering nothings into your crush’s ear. Why did I say Jude Law? Close your eyes and imagine that. Yeah. That’s what this song is like. (8)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Surprisingly, ‘Selfish Love’ sounds more of a surefire hit than any other single Jessie Ware has released. It is a fine showcase for her airy voice and its needle-sharp focus on finding the pocket around the music. It has a seductive, bachata-esque aesthetic that is ideal for everything from dusky sojurns to romantic drama TV trailers, from standing out in drive time to soundtracking late summer getaways. It tells an easy-to-follow story – one of Ware’s greatest strengths – and finally, against the majority of her cool adult-contempopop, the castenet-tinged gimmickry goes a long way. Let’s make this one a hit, people. (8)

Tayyab Amin: Jessie Ware went into this thinking it felt a little Sade and D’Angelo, though I think Noisey’s Moloko comparison is much closer to the truth. Man, Ware would have killed it in the ‘90s, chillin’ in the charts somewhere next to The Cardigans. Right now however, the Latin tinge feels gimmicky and her presence comes across more muted than intentionally low-key as if she’s hiding behind it all. (6)

Jibril Yassin: I’ve been really feeling the cinematic flair on the new Jessie Ware singles. Both ‘Midnight’ and ‘Selfish Love’ share a moody disposition, yet the latter feels like a breath unspooled as Jessie Ware gets on her soulful Sade shit, sounding lively over a Cashmere Cat/Benny Blanco production that would have been huge in 1998 and I am here for it. (9)

7.4

John Maus – ‘The Combine’

Al Horner: Listen, any and all music that sounds like you’d hear it blaring from a point-and-shoot game based on The Terminator In a dirty ’90s arcade gets my vote. The fact this swings and jerks its rhythms around with a powerful sense of menace only sweetens the deal. (7)

Carl Anka: John Maus disappeared from music for six years, got his doctorate in political philosophy, and has now emerged with a new album using sounds from modular synths he made at home. What kind of flex? Save an odd oscillating synth around the 1:54 this is a great, Flash Gordon-esque triumph of a track. Maus has returned, let us ring the bells. (8)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Gloriously yet emphatically mechanical in texture and swerve, like finding a neon sign high in the clouds. (7)

Tayyab Amin: Post-punk synthpop is a scam – stay woke, sheeple! (3)

Jibril Yassin: John Maus out here filling niches, that is, writing heavy synth tracks about grain harvesters. It’s a cut that sounds much like his best work – that is, intense and epic but what’s really cool about this is how his ear for detail is unblemished despite a long hiatus. (8)

6.6

Final scores:
Frank Ocean – ‘Provider’ (8.2)
Ibeyi featuring Kamasi Washington – ‘Deathless’ (8.2)

Jessie Ware – ‘Selfish Love’ (7.4)
Ty Dolla $ign featuring Skrillex and Pharrell – ‘So Am I’ (6.6)
John Maus – ‘The Combine’ (6.6)
N.O.R.E featuring Pharrell – ‘Uno Mas’ (6)