Singles Club: Justin Timberlake’s bubblegum catastrophe and James Blake breaks his silence

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, Justin Timberlake, Radiohead, Kehlani, Red Hot Chili Peppers and more.


Justin Timberlake – ‘Can’t Stop The Feeling’

Claire Lobenfeld: If this was supposed to be the 2016 ‘Happy’, they’ve done a pretty shit job of making it a total ear worm – I am left more with James Corden’s confounding pseudo two-stepping in the video. Honestly, I don’t even at all remember what the song sounds like. Am I really supposed to believe this is a production by the genius Max Martin? To me, this is just a horrendous nostalgia grab for children whose parents were born in the ‘80s and have fond feelings about playing with and collecting Troll dolls and probably were too busy to be up on the internet when The 20/20 Experience came out to have the Timberlake vibes sullied. But this track does make me feel great: I am grateful I don’t have my own kids, so I can at least avoid these weirdo toy rehash films at all costs. Will give it a couple points because I heard ‘Dick in a Box’ in the bar the other night and I still got love for Justin. (3)

Chris Kelly: The bastard child of ‘Uptown Funk’ and ‘Happy’: impossibly pleasant, destined to dominate Top 40 and soundtrack white weddings all summer. FutureSex/LoveSounds is only a decade old but feels so far away, between this schlock and a comeback (double) album that I barely remember. (3)

Son Raw: 20/20 was sort of a flop (right?), so I guess that explains Timberlake falling back on pop bottom-feeder Max Martin’s production, aka the aural equivalent of a Las Vegas hotel hangover. Which is a shame, because there’s actually a great pop soul song buried underneath all of this bubblegum. On the other hand, Trump might be president bro, now’s the not the time for the happy-happy talk. (4)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Look, we already have one Olly Murs, so a little bit of off-season effort wouldnt go amiss, my guy. (2)

Aaron Drain: There’s a semi-decent EDM thread just itching to be pulled from this utterly feckless, formulaic and banal offering from JT. It’s safe to say that the days of FutureSex/LoveSounds seem to fade away with each meticulously calculated bar, mercilessly sacrificing any semblance of credibility or originality that Justin Timberlake once had. I CAN stop the feeling, Justin. We all can. (1)

Tayyab Amin: Listen, making it to that JT level where your legacy is past the point of relevance and you can just dad the fuck out without a care in the world is pure goals. (4)

Hamda Issa-Salwe: I’ve seen reviews pushing it as the new summer bop but ‘Can’t Stop The Feeling’ is super bland and forgettable. It’s just a boring disco pop soundtrack for a kids movie, that Olly Murs probably could have sung. I’m disappointed considering the buzz around him hitting the studio with Pharrell Williams and Timbaland. Expectation: another ‘Señorita’ or ‘My Love’. Reality: the poor man’s ‘Happy’. (2)

2.7


James Blake – ‘I Need A Forest Fire’ (feat. Bon Iver)

Chris Kelly: I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this as much as I do. I’m not a Bon Iver fan and I haven’t paid attention to Blake’s work since his self-titled album, but they bring the best out in each other. Blake is practically aping Anohni’s melodrama and that note Vernon holds at 2:40 (Pro-Tooled or not) is chilling. This is propulsive and soulful and touching in the same way that Blake’s early work broke hearts. (8)

Aaron Drain: Now we’re talking. It’s been too long, but James Blake’s surprise landing with ‘I Need A Forest Fire’, along with a whole album’s worth of ebbing goodness has excellence stamped all over it. The repetitive refrain of “we need a forest fire” looped to delay ad infinitum before giving way to some serious vocal dynamics from Justin Vernon is a sonic treasure. The insistent beat, swirling synths and airy, atmospheric harmonies more than make up for any absence. Welcome back, old friend. (9)

Claire Lobenfeld: Let’s get my huge issue with this track out of the way first: It forces me to be that guy, the one who goes on about how *pushes glasses up nose* I haven’t been into James Blake since CMYK or Bon Iver since Blood Bank. Ugh, I am the worst! I’m sorry! And ‘I Need a Forest Fire’ just slaps the pretension right off of me. It is unimpeachably beautiful, synthesizing the things that endeared me to both artists in the first place and hardly maudlin at all when that’s exactly the thing it should be. (7)

Hamda Issa-Salwe: Blake and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon aka Fall Creek Boys Choir make such a beautiful pairing, this song is everything. On ‘I Need A Forest Fire’ JB’s lullaby-like voice and Vernon’s smooth vocals have been reducing grown men to tears. They finessed it to the point where lyrics like “You’re thicker than you think / You know that money bought your name” pretty much fly over your head, but honestly when they sound this good who cares what they’re singing about? (8)

Son Raw: Honesty time: I’m still vexed that out of the 15+ genius level talents that orbited FWD circa ‘07, walking sack of mope James Blake is the superstar. I’d be much happier in a timeline where Beyonce was working with D1 or Pinch, but I guess that was never on the cards, was it? This is oppressive in its gorgeousness, demanding your love it by insisting that it’s done nothing wrong. I want to date this track and cheat on it out of spite. (5)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Easily sons the entirety of Views at its own game. (8)

7.5


AraabMuzik – ‘Chasing Pirates’ (feat. Raiche)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Some of you may be confused how a guy that produced Cam’ron beats ends up making the US equivalent of Boohoo.com ad music, but lest we forget, this man’s first album sounded like ‘Zombie Nation’ being played in a Grove St party. It doesn’t make it much more interesting, but his earnestness and belief in this type of music is endearing – though not infectious. (4)

Claire Lobenfeld: It’s just never going to get better than ‘Streetz Tonight’ ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ (3)

Tayyab Amin: I expect that in 12 years time, when there is only one major label left and it’s run by Elon Musk, I shall turn to my children and inform them, that legend has it, the reverb from these claps are still audible to that very day. It’s cool that AraabMuzik’s exploring, but moving past his trademark rapidfire MPC-playing, the challenge is to find and amplify what makes his productions interesting. This isn’t it. (5)

Chris Kelly: If AraabMuzik has to make pop-EDM pabulum to stay off the streets and avoid getting shot, so be it, but I have no desire to listen to a third rate Corinne Bailey Rae coo over a beat by the guy who once made ‘Get It In Ohio’ and ‘Salute’. (5)

Hamda Issa-Salwe: With Araab on the MPC and Raiche’s dreamy vocals there’s something grown and sexy about this track. I actually googled Raiche to find out who the songstress behind this track and it looks like this might be her first major project, so I’m hoping to hear more from her in the future. ‘Chasing Pirates’ is smooth yet catchy and I can imagine it’s already been uploaded to Majestic Casual’s YouTube channel with a grainy pic of a skinny half-naked white girl. (7.5)

Son Raw: AraabMuzik’s debut is dropping just as EDM enters its long awaited death spiral, which is the definition of poor timing. The guy’s a brilliant live act, but this doesn’t do anything to translate his MPC prowess into anything I’d want to listen to twice – if anything it reinforces that idea that his finger flex histrionics don’t work on record. (3)

4.6


Radiohead – ‘Burn The Witch’

Tayyab Amin: Both the video and the music comment on England’s “keep calm” heritage and the paranoid xenophobia of ‘British values’. The video channels The Wicker Man and the twisted twee of Postman Pat, but even after I’d seen Hot Fuzz I’d joke to people about how I felt going through these nameless (well, often quite ridiculously named) English towns as a brown inner city kid! Regardless of when this was written, it sounds quite snugly, safely Radiohead, which after so many years does feel refreshing in the moment. All about the string orchestration for me – faint horrors dressed and dolled into quite a welcoming sound, suiting the theme perfectly. (8)

Son Raw: Radiohead are in the same place they found themselves circa 2000: surrounded in the A-list by innovative Black Pop and sticking out like a sore thumb. This is conservative by their very high standards, but we’ve all already moved on and agreed that ‘Daydreaming’ is a flawless recovery, so no harm no foul. I miss the days every record they dropped was a surprise, though. (7)

Claire Lobenfeld: *cowers in the corner* While I really loved bossman Al Horner’s take on this track, it barely moves me at all. The video is masterful, but I am not really piqued by anything in the music except for the completely demented strings, which I would listen to on an isolated loop. The dichotomy between those and what Yorke is doing on the track is something I appreciate, but I always want Radiohead to go as big as possible when they’re leading off a new album cycle. This needs a little more meat. (6)

Aaron Drain: A thrilling turn from the Oxford old boys, ‘Burn The Witch’ manages to rise above its curt marketing beginnings to reiterate Jonny Greenwood’s competence for throbbing orchestral maneuvers and Thom Yorke’s apposite lyricism in a welcome return to form. I’ll probably be forever fond of that drilling synth lead line and post-Kid A syncopated percussion too, which helps. Relevant, poignant and piercing, ‘Burn The Witch’ has been worth the wait, and with A Moon Shaped Pool now on general release, here’s hoping there’s more of the same to come. (8)

Chris Kelly: The best Radiohead song in nearly a decade, ‘Burn The Witch’ is more immediate than anything on The King of Limbs and forgoes Thom Yorke’s electronica noodlings for Jonny Greenwood’s orchestral work. “This is a low flying panic attack” is such a quintessential Radiohead lyric, and one that I’m sure rings true with plenty of people (myself included). (7)

Hamda Issa-Salwe: After sending out creepy, cryptic postcards to fans and wiping themselves from the web, Radiohead dropped ‘Burn The Witch’ and I still don’t really *get* them or the hype. The stop motion video – which one YouTube commenter describes as the TLDW version of The Wicker Man – is genius but if I were listening to Spotify and this song came on shuffle, I’d probably skip. (5)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: A stirring use of orchestra alongside Thom Yorke humming paranoiac slogans is effective, even quite good, but strangely underwhelming. It’s nice to hear Radiohead writing capital-S Songs after The King of Limbs‘ antsy beat-rustling, but the downtempo vibe doesn’t urge you to do much more than stroke your chin. A thinking exercise, more than a totally satisfying song which makes sense given the band’s standing – it’s just that I’d rather have a song called ‘Burn the Witch’ enthrall me. (6)

7.3


Kehlani – ’24/7′

Claire Lobenfeld: I am going to be completely real here: I find Kehlani’s music to be a huge snoozefest. ’24/7′ stays in line with the rest of her output, but I wholeheartedly appreciate the bravery embedded in her lyrics here. It’s completely fucked that in the week that Kehlani was set up to look like or accused or whatever that she was cheating on Kyrie Irving that another NBA player, Nick Young, was outed as his cheating on his famous musician girlfriend Iggy Azalea and the reactions were completely different.

Young was outed by his teammate D’Angelo Russell, who was roasted for being a snitch. Whether Kehlani was in bed with PartyNextDoor is none of our business, but the way she was taken to task was a brutal reminder that double standards are here to stay, no matter how much we push back on them. Kehlani deserves to have her voice heard, she deserves to express her pain and her audience deserves to get the real. Is the song good? No. But it’s much, much bigger than that. (5)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: The “you can make it” ballads that make up the back half of Kehlani’s You Should Be Here album can read as saccharine on the page, but there’s an understanding of tough times in her performances that turns Hallmark platitudes into Real Shit. That would be true of the poignant-yet-buoyant ’24/7′, even before the horror of her suicide attempt earlier this year – something I’m certain we wish she didn’t have to go through to get to this song. But it’s like Jay said: I did that, hopefully you don’t have to go through that. (8)

Hamda Issa-Salwe: With ’24/7′ Kehlani shows both vulnerability and strength on a DZL-produced beat. Lyrics like “It’s OK to not be OK, to dive in your pain / And it’s alright to not be alright to search for your light” feel autobiographical after the singer’s recent mental health struggles almost cost the Kehlani her life. Addressing serious mental health issues and depression in a three-minute pop song can’t be an easy task and I rate her for doing so. (6)

Chris Kelly: Whatever Kehlani did next was going to be viewed through a prism of her mental health, so kudos to her for tackling the issue head-on. Over a pneumatic-but-pleasing groove, Kehlani does honesty and uplift without too much schmaltz. (7)

Tayyab Amin: So much love going out to Kehlani for this. She’s deftly, admirably, triumphantly taking this opportunity to speak to her own mind whilst offering support to so many others dealing with their demons. It’s so important to have people around you who ask and care about how you are. People who tell you that it’s okay when you’re fretting over not being the person you and the world wants you to be. People who remind you they’re here for you when you constantly feel like you should be apologising for the pain you’re going through. It’s important to have music that does that too, and with ’24/7′, Kehlani is being that person for us, just as others are for her (I hope!). (8)

Son Raw: Absolutely brilliant production that sounds like soap bubbles in space and Kehlani knows how to deliver a vocal with that pop shine without compromising the emotion. Lyrically however, this is nothing but ultra-shallow platitudes that might seem deep captioned on Instagram, but that should actually get you unfollowed. It’s alright to not be OK but it’s not OK for that line to make the cut. (6)

6.7


Red Hot Chili Peppers – ‘Dark Necessities’

Aaron Drain: “Do we really have to continue spreading this inoffensive misery, Anthony?” asks a wide-eyed Flea. “We MUST,” Kiedis barks, a sly, twisted smirk creeping across his moustachioed face. And so the story (probably) goes behind the latest West Coast indie-funk-by-numbers offering from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, an unfortunate misstep in a series of that has seen the Californian four-piece move further away from relevant with each release since Californication. The crescendoing chord progression intro/piano line is the strongest element here, but it’s nothing they haven’t used before to much greater effect. (2)

Hamda Issa-Salwe: Honestly, the only a thing I know about Red Hot Chili Peppers is that their logo looks like a bum hole and this is probably the first song of theirs that I’ve listened to from start to finish. For some reason the singer’s voice on ‘Dark Necessities’ reminds me of that Simpsons episode when Homer formed a grunge band, but I’m feeling the claps and funky bass line. (5.5)

Chris Kelly: Blink-182 last week and now Red Hot Chili Peppers; who’s next, Foo Fighters? The RHCP formula is so established that parody is indistinguishable from the real thing. And even though this is the latter, there’s nothing dark or necessary about it. (2)

Son Raw: Seinfeld slap bass intros are NOT due for a comeback, Flea. These guys have been running in circles since Californication but as long as there are sunsets to drive to, they have no reason to change. I’ll be over here making acid house with John Frusciante. (6.5)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: After RHCP fell off a talent cliff immediately following recording the best bits of 2002’s By the Way, it was easy to brush them off as a self-parodic wickawicka “funk” group. But ‘Dark Necessities’ is a well-measured song that avoids thin bombast for an elegiac look back at bad habits, the type of hazy music you expect rich old ex-drug addicts to make. (7)

Tayyab Amin: What is it about piano that waters down alternative rock so much? The funk sound should be palpable (and not necessarily for the better), but deploying the piano like this opens the floodgates for a whole river of vanilla. However much the Red Hot Chilis like to make fools of themselves, it’s nice to see they’re still able to proceed in even the most boring strain of grace. (5)

Claire Lobenfeld: hahahahahahahahahahahahahHahahahaHahahahahaah
HAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
HAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHA
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HAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
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HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHA
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ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha heh heh heh heh *explodes* (0)

4.1


Final scores

James Blake – ‘I Need A Forest Fire’ (feat. Bon Iver) (7.5)
Radiohead – ‘Burn The Witch’ (7.3)
Kehlani – ’24/7′ (6.1)
AraabMuzik – ‘Chasing Pirates’ (feat. Raiche) (4.6)
Red Hot Chili Peppers – ‘Dark Necessities’ (4.1)
Justin Timberlake – ‘Can’t Stop The Feeling’ (2.7)

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