Page 1 of 8

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 its 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, Clams Casino, Hot Chip and the highest score in Singles Club history.

Kendrick Lamar photo: Jørund Føreland Pedersen

GZA – The Mexican (ft. Tom Morello)

William Skar: In which Genius stops pondering the wonders of the cosmos, and enters into brand synergy with Las Iguanas. (4)

Tayyab Amin: This feels quite lazy. It doesn’t really paint a picture for me, perhaps if I saw it with a video or it was a soundtrack to something. GZA just doesn’t sound like a good storyteller here, there’s no weight to his words – I’m tempted to listen to Twelve Reasons to Die again though. (5)

Son Raw: I’m not sure if it’s all that time spent studying quantum physics and giving lectures on chess, but at some point in the past 10 years GZA’s flow has degenerated to the point where he’s only barely catching the beat. Worse, where his lyrics used to be clever and complex, they’re now just needlessly complicated – whatever happened to half short and twice strong? Throw in a bizarre Morello cover of a beat that Ghost body-bagged a decade ago, and there’s not much to love here. (4)

Claire Lobenfeld: One of the best members of Wu-Tang Clan linking with Tom Morello, Hanni El-Khatib and the drummer of UMO (who I do love) to cover a Babe Ruth song from the ’70s screams hard pass for me. Turns out it’s lot better than I expected, but what I really, really want to know is the identity of the “anonymous” female vocalist who is either an embarrassed-to-be-associated Santigold or someone trying to get away with sounding exactly like her. (3)

Mikey IQ Jones: I want to give credit to GZA for revisiting a classic tune with heavy-duty roots in early rap culture and giving it some exposure to a new audience, but there’s something about this that doesn’t sit well with me. I dig Santigold’s covert guest spot singing the hook of the original, but what exactly is everyone else bringing here? Oh wait, there’s Tom Morello, nevermind. If I treat this like a public service history lesson, it doesn’t bother me so much, but as a serving of pop, a slice of rap, or a chunk of rock, it’s just crap. Silver linings though: at least it won’t be on his next album. (4)

Brad Stabler: You can’t blame GZA for wanting to pull up the rocking chair and start giving us a history lesson: at 48, his legacy is pretty much a lock, and no one’s going to not give him props for the music he made when Wu-Tang made eyes widen instead of roll. A cover of Babe Ruth’s ‘The Mexican’, which has been pilfered and sampled again and again, is pretty much the safest victory lap he could’ve taken. GZA’s verse delivers, Tom Morello’s solo doesn’t surprise, and the mystery vocalist on the chorus (probably Santigold), puts a nice pretty bow on things. So if all this is good, that’s just leaves one question: who actually needs to listen to it? No one except historians. (6)

4.3

Tkay Maidza – ‘M.O.B.’

Claire Lobenfeld: There are so many women in rap doing so many diverse, fun, engaging things that my heart tingles any time something new pops up. Maidza’s Switch Lanes mix was miserably slept on — even by me, until a friend pointed out its excellent—so having ‘M.O.B.’ from that release isolated and put out as single should ameliorate that foresight. It’s just so fun. (8)

William Skar: Endorphin spillage in aisle 9. The beat’s one of the most shameless Rustie swipes I’ve ever heard, and just about every component of this feels like a hand-me-down from somewhere or other, but stolen eggs still make good omelettes. (7)

Tayyab Amin: I mean, it’s not quite up my street but it totally works. Maidza flows over the hooks and climaxes so so well and there’s a dazzling array of colour for an old Rustie B-side type of beat. (7)

Son Raw: Maybe it’s because I’m typing this from a beach bungalow and I’ve been exposed to obscene amounts of Indonesian happy hardcore over the past week, but Tkay’s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink sugar rush totally agrees with me. The power-chord EDM drop isn’t my favorite thing in the world, but she spazzes out on the flow and that bridge is pretty and the chipmunk soul trigger sampling aims right for my pleasure centers. I’d throw my hands in the air to this, given the right chemical motivation. (7)

Brad Stabler: Maidza’s lyrics are the only thing here that’s keeping me from going into a diabetic coma. PC Music should never cross paths with festival EDM. I still had to check my blood sugar after it was done. (4)

Mikey IQ Jones: This… just isn’t doing anything for me on a pop front or a rap front. It falls much too easily into that forgettable negative zone of clothes-shopping-soundtrack music – it’s harmless, upbeat, a bit sugary, but simultaneously too slow in its step and too rushed in its delivery to enable me to recall anything from the experience. I get the sense that there’s more great music to be heard from Maidza, but this wouldn’t have been the track from her Switch Tape that I’d have chosen to single out; in all honestly, it’s probably my least favourite moment from it. (5)

6.3

Hot Chip – ‘Haurache Nights’

Son Raw: Even the band doesn’t sound enthusiastic about this song. (3)

Tayyab Amin: Hot Chip are still doin’ their thing in the most Hot Chip of ways, which is both admirable and slightly infuriating. It’s a fun groove though it does reach peak cheese with those robotic vocal moments. (6)

William Skar: I’ve struggled on-and-off with Hot Chip’s sad-lads-do-cheapo-bangers schtick, but, even factoring in the cheeseball vocoder section and that clanger of a sample, this is easily their classiest lead single yet: amphibian disco that, between the ‘Once In A Lifetime’ shimmer and the album title, suggests the band might be going through a Talking Heads phase. Rashad did it better, though. (7)

Brad Stabler: Hot Chip haven’t lost their touch for sneaking melancholic vocal runs into their “dance” tracks. At the beginning I was ready to just enjoy some 2006 nostagia, but then the First Choice sample comes in, as does the vocoder, and there’s a badly spliced chorus somewhere in there too. I’m not saying Hot Chip made this as a stab for relevancy (unlike, say, The Prodigy or Giorgio Moroder), but it’s very awkward, defying expectations not through its quality but through the sheer amount of uncomfortable curve balls. There’s got to be some kind of “naked at the front of your 5th grade class dream” award for this one. (4)

Claire Lobenfeld: Help! Help! I think I got locked in a Gap. But for real, this sounds like the opening music for a low budget teen flick that gets relegated to VOD. The only use I have for Hot Chip post-2005 is used as a punchline for how out of touch Mark is on the last season of Peep Show. (1)

Mikey IQ Jones: You know, I try to be somewhat diplomatic when writing contributions to this column, but fuck this. ‘Huarache Lights’ packages so many things that disappoint me about the milquetoast topcoat of “indie”-minded pop music into one tidy little precious little idiotic parcel. Alexis beckons us to “replace [Hot Chip] with the things that do the job better.” Your wish is my command, sir. (2)

3.8

Kendrick Lamar – ‘The Blacker the Berry’

William Skar: Good to see Kendrick returning to the sort of freethinking last heard on ‘Cartoon and Cereal’, a stream-of-consciousness style that sounds like he’s trepanning his skull and capturing whatever bubbles out – ragga chat, street knock, toytown Gothic, wobbly fusion in a Yesterdays New Quintet mould. The political commentary isn’t as vital as others have made out, but, considering he’s just won a Grammy for a track that sounds like something from The Emperor’s New Groove OST, it’s heartening to know he’s still willing to go out on a limb. (8)

Son Raw: Is this Kendrick standing outside our door with flowers and chocolates apologizing for having to drop ‘I (Love Myself)’? Yes. Is it Kendrick pulling a pump fake on the Grammies, conning them into awarding him institutional credibility? Also. Most importantly however, it’s a howl of pain, the full fury he teased at on ‘Control’, now aimed at hundreds of years of social, political, mental and spiritual sickness and corruption. The best major label rap single since ‘New Slaves’. (10)

Brad Stabler: There’s a lot of comparisons going around between this and 2pac’s ‘Hold Ya Head Up’. But it’s easier to sum up ‘The Blacker the Berry’ by pointing to how it’s closer (lyrically) to 2pac’s ‘Holla If Ya Heard Me’, by way of Nina’s Simone’s live rendition of ‘To Be Young, Black, and Gifted’, in which she told the audience before she played it that while the whites present weren’t being put down, “it simply ignores you, for my people need all the inspiration and love they can get.” The entire audience, black and white, then explosively applauded.

We’re right to applaud here, because so much of ‘The Blacker the Berry’ was inevitable ever since 2014 took a turn for the worse. But it’s not just all the unfortunate names and headlines that haunt the song, it’s Kendrick as well. Kendrick’s entire discography has been one of ceasefire-style duality between how he portrays himself and his own actions, but ‘Berry’ might be the masterful way he’s done it so far. There’s a lot to be said here, but really, you should just listen to it again. (10)

Tayyab Amin: C’mon, what am I supposed to do, pass judgement on this? The beat’s rough and ready, the intro and outro are gripping, Assassin’s great and Lamar’s words come with as much conviction as they ever will. So there’s a 10. At first it sounds like Lamar’s talking to the USA, but I think he intends the message goes to his kin, and of course himself. His exploration of duality doesn’t have a sense of finality about it, more akin to a crucial stepping stone towards further thoughts on coming to terms with his self-proclaimed hypocrisy.

My worries about this stem from Lamar’s current platform, inbound with a follow up to GKMC, industry in tow – his message on this song isn’t something for non-black people to actively consider whether to co-opt; what right do we have to push an agenda for or against it? Especially considering the influence white men hold over the music industry, we’d do well to be wary of some things that come from the machine. Instead, it’s best to continue paying attention and simply listening to what Lamar and other black people are actually saying. And if they’re talking to each other, non-black voices butting-in is quite unnecessary. (10)

Claire Lobenfeld: Calling Kendrick Lamar an underrated rapper sounds misguided, but when he is acknowledged more for his the wiliness of his ‘Control’ verse and called out for being corny for self-love on ‘i’ (did you even listen to good kid, m.A.A.d. city?), it’s hard not to feel like he’s not getting his due for the kind of artist he has set out to be. ‘The Blacker the Berry’ is not only hard as hell, but a perfect example of how the immediacy of the internet has improved a rapper’s ability to respond to criticism in real time. The last four bars on the song, important not only in Kendrick’s catalogue but in the moment we’re standing in right now, are him responding to the accusations of engaging in respectability politics in a recent Billboard interview.

How quickly we forget that K.Dot is a conservative Christian. How quickly we forget he raps about himself with introspection more often than not. How quickly we forget that he’s a kid who is lyrical because he has a lot on his mind, emphasis on the word his. 2015: When you hear Kendrick speak, listen to him for more than just to steal a catchphrase like, “Bitch, don’t kill my vibe” that you didn’t even take the time to understand anyway. Whatever he’s got up his sleeve will be an important document about this American era and we need it now more than ever. (10)

9.5

Sia – ‘Elastic Heart’ (Clams Casino Remix)

Claire Lobenfeld: WHO ASKED FOR A CLOUD RAP REMIX OF A FANTASTIC TRACK FROM ONE OF 2014’S BEST ALBUMS? WHO? (1)

William Skar: If the best Clams Casino tracks feel flooded with dry ice, this is more of a sputtering bubble machine affair: the Sia vocal feels somewhat stapled on, drifting listlessly above his whorling instrumental and never quite connecting. That said, few people do hot and heady better, and I’m still buzzed on the novelty of hearing a Clams beat that sounds like it could have cropped up on Public Information’s Happy Machine compilation. (7)

Son Raw: Clams has been pretty quiet since his initial run and he’s had a hard time breaking out of his microsampling aesthetic, but this fully connects. I have a firm policy of not listening to Diplo productions unless I’m absolutely forced to so I can’t compare this to the original, but Sia sounds perfect in this kind of quasi-ambient haze. Let’s hope for more in this vein from both parties. (7)

Tayyab Amin: I’m really into the whole, vacuum between the song and our ears phenomenon – it’s satisfyingly dramatic. You can have a good idea of what you’re gonna get when you put something through the Clams Casino filter but that doesn’t make the results any less pretty. (6)

Brad Stabler: Clams really needs to lay off producing remixes for others and get back to making tunes for himself again. This sounds like he’s trying to ignore Sia completely, and it robs the remix of any potency it could have. Do yourself a favor, man: make another solo EP that folks will be waiting in line to do vocals over. (3)

4.8

Francesca Belmonte – ‘Lying on the Moon’

Son Raw: Nothing wrong with Belmonte’s singing but Tricky’s production feels vacuum-sealed in plastic. This goes for icy but misses the mark and feels oddly disconnected. (5)

Claire Lobenfeld: This is beaming with sensual urgency, somehow both minimal and maximal. It’s just enough that I feel hungry for her LP, but feel certain that she’s not revealing all of the tricks she has up her slinky sleeves. It must be that sumptuous electricity in her vocals. (8)

Mikey IQ Jones: I’m looking forward to Belmonte’s debut, as her voice has brought forth some of Tricky’s finest moments of recent vintage. After hearing the flimsy production of ‘Lying’, though, I don’t feel quite as eager. This sounds like a demo for a potentially satisfying song than an actual finished product: where that once was one of the secrets to Tricky’s magic, and even worked on Belmonte’s first solo dispatch ‘Stole’, it’s not holding water here. That canned beat just ruins things, too – I want to hear it banged out on scrap metal and barrels, not a digital Fruity Loop. (5)

Brad Stabler: Right as things are about to really get going, the song cuts straight to black. No build up, no climax, it just stops cold. You can’t help but feel all the disappointment, as Belamonte spends three minutes building up what seems to be a proper ending, or at least some kind of payoff. I feel ripped off even though I listened to it for free. (5)

Tayyab Amin: For me, it’s part ‘Rusty Nails’, part Blank Project, and I love it. There’s an irksome imbalance between the strength of the beat and her voice’s presence, yet it’s as if that imbalance is what drives the track’s momentum. (8)

William Skar: Gimcrack, ever-so-dorky pop that doesn’t do much to hide its shonkiness – are we sure this isn’t the Hot Chip single? (6)

6.2

Final scores:

Kendrick Lamar – ‘The Blacker the Berry’ (9.5)
Tkay Maidza – ‘M.O.B.’ (6.3)
Francesca Belmonte – ‘Lying on the Moon’ (6.2)
Sia – ‘Elastic Heart’ (Clams Casino Remix) (4.8)
GZA – The Mexican (ft. Tom Morello) (4.3)
Hot Chip – ‘Haurache Nights’ (3.8)

Page 1 of 8
Latest

Latest

Share Tweet