“I still haven’t tired of PC Music”: Charli XCX, All Saints and more reviewed in Singles Club

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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, Charli XCX and SOPHIE, Mogwai and Slowdive’s new band, Mannie Fresh and much more.

Charli XCX – ‘Vroom Vroom’

Tayyab Amin: This sounds like two interludes stitched together as opposed to a song, and an extended version or an “experimental pop” tag isn’t going to help that. The SOPHIE is pretty evident in this, but so is the rudimentary FKA twigs, MIA, and Bromance. In spite of all that, she sort-of makes it work and it wouldn’t stop me dancing. (5)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Compacting four ideas into a spunky two minutes, this sounds like cartoon chainsaws and elastic-band bass allowing space for XCX to turn into something other than noise, and is pretty fucking glorious. (8)

Chris Kelly: I still haven’t tired of the PC Music world, especially when they’re finally making an actual pop crossover. Unfortunately, this one isn’t much improved from when it leaked last year: it’s too disjointed, squandering the momentum of the pre-chorus (“all my life…”) with one of Charli’s clunkier choruses. (4)

April Clare Welsh: SOPHIE has waved his day-glo wand and turned Charli into a shiny PC Music chipmunk, but she’s still put her trash-pop stamp on things here. As she squeaks her way to the rave it feels like a match made in fluffy pen heaven, even if that press shot of Charli and Hannah Diamond does make them look like school bullies. (8)

Aurora Mitchell: It’s weird/fitting to see PC Music and affiliates fulfill their superstar pop producer dreams. You can now hear Danny L Harle on daytime Radio 1 and SOPHIE’s out producing for Madonna and now Charli XCX. His production on this is wonky, clanging and shrill in a playful way, but Charli’s voice doesn’t match up in ridiculousness at all, so there’s a disconnect between the two elements. It feels uncomfortable, out of place in some way. (4)

Son Raw: Thanking my lucky stars this week’s Singles Club picks got sent out before ‘Paradise’ hit the net, I might have had a meltdown. ‘Let’s Ride’ thankfully lands on the spartan side of the PC Music oeuvre, repackaging K-pop’s interlocking overload for listeners who prefer their lyrics in English – although considering what’s being sung, I’m not sure that’s a good thing. It just detracts from controlled madness. Ultimately, we’re left with an object d’art easier to admire than identify with, but as far as shiny, textural gallery pieces go, it’s a good one. (6)


Shiftee feat. TT the Artist – ‘Dope Girls’

Chris Kelly: Shiftee and TT bring ’88 back, a leg-warmed blast of nostalgia that shouts out the women of hip-hop. Plus, how many girl power anthems have middle school girls on backup vocals? (6)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: A charming bellow for all the cool-ass ladies out there over some Technicolor scratch-hop. Inessential, but you would have to be dead inside not to register the slightest of smiles. (6)

April Clare Welsh: As a “straight up anthem for all the ladies,” I could imagine this soundtracking an Archers-fuelled Thursday night in a Colchester club quite nicely. Thankfully, the fierceness of TT the Artist and her primary colour-blocked retro sensibility help to steer it away from that and into pure sassy waters instead, but somebody please give DJ Twist the decks. (8)

Son Raw: I’d love to see an East Coast answer to Oakland and LA’s Mustard-powered ratchet funk as much as the next man, but it’s got to have teeth, otherwise you end up with a PG-13 version of jerk music a decade after the fact. Shiftee does a lot here and those synth pads are lovely, shame the rhymes sound like they were written so as not to offend anyone’s mum. (4)

Tayyab Amin: I’m not on this flex at all in this decade, but let’s not brush aside the fact that TT The Artist is coming through all swish on this one. It’s a cute, playful tune and I can’t spend too much time scrutinizing how current its definition of “fresh” is when I’ve been out here lobbying for Mark Ronson to return to his NY flex. (6)


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Gold Panda – ‘Time Eater’

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: A stunning mosey through tranquil electronics, melting a slightly distorted koto into Eno-esque airport mise en scène until the lines blur between tradition and the future. (8)

April Clare Welsh: From Chelmsford to Japan (via NYC and Germany), the visuals here are compelling, but I have nothing to say about the actual song. (5)

Son Raw: Holy micro house, Batman! The riddim twitches like 2006 all over again but it works: after the past half decade’s onslaught of maximalism, pulling back seems like the right move. Those pads are soothing as peppermint tea, but in a dance music environment that feels like one big hangover, who doesn’t want a cup? (8)

Aurora Mitchell: Most of the music that was heavily featured on Majestic Casual in the early ‘10s sounds dated already, and unfortunately Gold Panda falls within that. When those angelic, stuttering pads come in though, it sounds like if Oneohtrix Point Never had never moved away from beatless tracks, so for that this gets a (5)

Tayyab Amin: There’s something almost sullen about music based around clocks ticking down. Then again we use music in such a way so often, at work or on the commute. For me, this is about being alone and jaded in the city. Gold Panda’s built a landscape of stasis for wanderers where minutes turn to hours and days – the same sort of places Four Tet once sculpted. Regardless of whether it’s deemed a postmodern cliche, I think it’s important to have these places to retreat to when the need takes hold. (7)


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Minor Victories – ‘A Hundred Ropes’

Aurora Mitchell: Supergroups more often than not feel indulgent, unneccesary and disappointing, but you know what, this is pretty good. Hoping since Rachel Goswell is actively recording stuff this means we’re closer to new Slowdive. (7)

Tayyab Amin: The opening is some mid-2000s grotesqueness that’s well worth sticking out for what becomes a ravishing tightrope thriller of a track – kinda like when the big boss has to charge up for their super attack. Strings, riffs, drums rend the sky wide open, whilst Goswell haunts souls and breaks hearts with “we’ve got to find our own way out.” (7)

Chris Kelly: An impressive sum of some already impressive parts as metallic arpeggios, string swells, Rachel Goswell’s hypnotic vocals and a last minute blast of guitar come together over a beat that chug-chug-chugs along. Made even more impressive by how seamless this is, given the new bandmates “barely spent any time” recording together. (7)

April Clare Welsh: The horror synth intro gets things off to a promising start here, but those orchestral flourishes and pseudo-goth schtick sail too close to the Saddle Creek wind for this to be anything more than the damp squib of a 2003 memory. I like Mogwai and I love Slowdive, but if the spark’s not there, it’s not there. (6)

Son Raw: I wish they hadn’t buried Rachel Goswell’s vocal under those Bond-theme strings – it’s by and large the main attraction here, with that opening synth arpeggio coming in second. Thankfully, the rhythm section propels this one over the hump: if you bash out something this propulsive all the unnecessary accoutrements in the world can’t hold it back. (7)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: A forceful, propulsive jam that leaves no traces in the memory, perhaps some pulses in your blood. Thrilling, if impermanent. (6)


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All Saints – ‘One Strike’

April Clare Welsh: I’m sad this isn’t a homage to trade unionism but happy Nicole Appleton has washed her cheating ex out of her hair and is ready to move on. I’m just wondering – where’s the fire and the fury? I know All Saints were meant to be the laidback ones and I’m not asking for Kat Bjelland or anything like that, but I’d expect more passion from someone who’s just got a divorce from Liam Gallagher. I was all ready to dust off my camo combats and high-kick Appleton over the marriage hurdle and into the field of single female empowerment, but this is such a weak trickle of a song, it doesn’t bring me on side at all. Look back in anger, Nicole! (6)

Aurora Mitchell: Currently having flashbacks to being seven years old, turning up to primary school friends’ birthday parties ready to belt out the lyrics to ‘Pure Shores’. ‘One Strike’ picks up right where they left things 10 years ago. I heard that bassline and thought Dev Hynes may have had something to do with this – considering he has also produced for MKS it doesn’t seem too far-fetched, but it seems he didn’t work on this one. This is fun, understated pop, and god, those harmonies are still so magnificent. Welcome back. (8)

Chris Kelly: Personally, All Saints is like Sugababes: too distinctly an English phenomenon for me to have the proper context and accordant nostalgia (I barely remember ‘Never Ever’). So all hear is some MOR, adult contemporary, Sia-pop. (5)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: A solid return for a properly underrated girl group having another shot at glory after the oddly airless response to ‘Rock Steady’, and it’s more ‘Never Ever’ than ‘Pure Shores’. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but your mileage may vary, should your preference not be towards post-angst affirmations of self. (7)

Son Raw: Craig David comeback got you thinking there’s a market for this stuff, huh? This is painless but it’s also a transparent excuse to test the waters for a reunion tour: don’t change the formula and see how far the nostalgia quotient will carry ‘em. (4)

Tayyab Amin: A classy showing that restores some confidence in the comeback, even if it quells some of the excitement at the same time. All the gears oiled and slick in motion, All Saints coolly proceed with a reach-out to their existing fans. It sounds like they’ve gone for something that won’t age badly, but does that even matter when the song isn’t particularly memorable in the first place? (6)


Mannie Fresh feat. Juvenile & Tunechi – ‘Hate’

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Wayne has been disappointing us for a longer period than when he was blowing our minds, but the lowered expectations help ‘Hate’ along – a solid tag-team rap song that shows the emotionally fluctuating Cash Money crew putting arms down (if not their lawyers). (6)

Tayyab Amin: Yes, yes, yep. Lyrical hot potato, everyone sounds so ready for their turn. I’m shadowboxing to the beat. It’s raw energy and to me it sounds like people who are willing to put in work regardless of surrounding disagreements. (8)

Chris Kelly: Cash Money’s importance can’t be overstated, but the prospect of new music from Mannie, Juvenile and Wayne in 2016 is just depressing, especially since none of them (except for Weezy) has done much of note for more than a decade (as always, Birdman’s Midas touch comes when shepherding projects, not featuring on them). Between lyrics about 64 Gb iPod and Wi-Fi, and the continuing bad blood between Birdman and Wayne, this rings hollow. (3)

April Clare Welsh: Nicole Appleton, take note, this is how you do acrimony! (8)

Son Raw: If you want proof that time flattens all musical differences, let’s take a moment to ponder how Cash Money’s Hot Boys released a song through boom-bap stalwart Mass Appeal’s label… and it actually makes sense. After all, Mannie Fresh’s 90 BPM plastic bounce is as close to Nas’ boom-bap as it is to Metro Boomin’s. I never bought into the idea of Wayne as a lyrical marvel – his strength has always been that rubbery flow, and it’s at its best paired with Juvie’s baritone over this sort of hyperkinetic speed rush. C’mon Birdman: cough up some dough and let’s make this official. (8)


Final scores:

Minor Victories – ‘A Hundred Ropes’ (6.7)
Mannie Fresh feat. Juvenile & Tunechi (6.6)
Gold Panda – ‘Time Eater’ (6.6)
All Saints – ‘One Strike’ (6)
Shiftee feat. TT the Artist – ‘Dope Girls’ (6)
Charli XCX – ‘Vroom Vroom’ (5.8)

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