Singles Club: How To Dress Well delivers a Train-wreck and Tinashe sparkles

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, Tom Krell rediscovers the magic of hold music, serpentwithfeet collaborates with Arca and Tinashe brings back memories of So So Def and ‘My Boo’.

Elsewhere, Girl Unit returns to the dancefloor, Joel Ford goes to The Beach and Nas collaborates with Erykah Badu.

How To Dress Well – ‘Lost Youth/Lost You’

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Someone on the YouTube comments says that the keys in the chorus sound like Train’s ‘Drops of Jupiter’ and now I can’t hear anything else. Tom Krell is definitely in that zone, which is fine if you’re into it, but this doesn’t do anything for me. (4)

Zoe Camp: Maybe it’s the peppy piano plunks in the background, the shared key, or the whole loss of innocence thing, but this song gives me serious ‘Drops of Jupiter’ vibes – just without the references to “freeze dried romance” and “the best soy latte that you ever had, and me”. Certainly, ‘Lost Youth/Lost You’ is one of the poppiest How to Dress Well singles to date – but hummable enough as its bubbly hooks may be, the track ultimately seems wan rather than minimalist. (5)

Chris Kelly: While it might have been too academic for some, I enjoyed How To Dress Well’s Tri Angle period. But the more he’s come out of the shadows, the less I’ve enjoyed his work. The romanticism is too emo, too cloying; the reference points have morphed from ‘90s R&B to… Train [LOL – Ed.] and Pure Moods? And while ‘Lost Youth/Lost You’ isn’t as cringeworthy a title as ‘Childhood Faith in Love (Everything Must Change, Everything Must Stay the Same)’, it’s close. (4)

Son Raw: How to bore me. We’re tragically cycling back to the sort of bland adult contemporary R&B that still lives on in its original form on customer service hold lines everywhere. Jodeci may have cried for you, but it’s cause they were yearning to get it on, not because they were twerps. (3)

Tayyab Amin: His voice might still be great but I think I’ve fallen out with it. The beat is bloated enough without that electric guitar solo into piano, though I’ve always preferred Tom Krell’s sparser stuff anyway. This is another one of those Krell tunes for people who never heard Ashanti’s ‘Foolish’/’Unfoolish’. (4)


Joel Ford – ‘I Was Yours’

Zoe Camp: Between the stammering 808s, the house-y vocal sample, the laser-focused arpeggios, and the synths weaving in and out of the beat, ‘I Was Yours’ is far more dynamic than its lack of bass lets on. The gravity’s still there, just in a refracted, erratic form. That the juxtaposition between the grounded and the intangible carries as much weight as a punishing bass throb would have done is testament to Joel Ford’s artistic prowess. (8)

Tayyab Amin: This is the sound of staying up too long and feeling your brain try to cope, to make sense of fragmented, splintered experiences and try to put the jigsaw back together. It could be after the club, or after a moment, with bits and pieces of speech coming back to you. Super literal, quite effective. Would’ve been massive a few years ago, not that that stops it from being lush now. (6)

Son Raw: I’m eagerly awaiting the great American vaporwave pop record, so hopefully someone passes this along to Ariana Grande. Those synth chords are satisfyingly physical, grounding the song while the fantastic drum programming does all the work. All the fun of the best jungle records without sounding one iota like warmed up jungle: love it. (8)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Somebody’s seen The Beach, looked at Leonardo DiCaprio’s floppy ‘do and heard Orbital sampling Leo’s monologue and thought, “THIS is the wave in 2016!” I’m not sure so, my guy. (5)


serpentwithfeet – ‘blisters’

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Last time serpentwithfeet was covered on Singles Club we were all pretty impressed, and ‘blisters’ only pushes the anticipation for an upcoming EP to another level. It’s an arcane, lusciously performed torch song that begs to be put in album context – time will tell if this is a mid-point showstopper or one rattling, haunted composition too many. Which is a way to say it doesn’t work as a single as well as ‘flickering’ did, but as an EP preview, it’s one hell of a teaser. (7)

Chris Kelly: While How To Dress Well’s new single has me reminiscing about Tri Angle’s first boom, serpentwithfeet unveils a glimpse of its second one. ‘blisters’ builds on the promise of ‘flickering’ and is another prayer in a church of love, pain and forgiveness. Josiah Wise’s vibrato-heavy voice is one of the most captivating in recent memory, and it’s perfectly paired with the Haxan Cloak’s harp-filled composition. In a year where everyone from Kanye to Beyoncé to Chance is re-evaluating gospel, serpentwithfeet has delivered the most praiseworthy take. (8)

Zoe Camp: I can’t say I’ve ever sat around praying for an Arca-produced musical amalgam of Joanna Newsom, Maxwell, and Burial – until now. Arca’s creepy collage lends itself remarkably well to Josiah Wise’s tenor, illuminating the the darkness lurking beneath his angelic croon. Quiet storm’s never sounded so sensual, sinister, or eccentric. (8)

Son Raw: I was lukewarm on the vibrato the last time we checked for serpentwithfeet, but he nails it here – that vocal is a soaring tour de force. That said, harps and a string arrangement, dude? A little less shmaltz, SVP. (5)

Tayyab Amin: There’s a visceral intimacy to serpentwithfeet’s gospel – opening the door is an invitation to be overwhelmed. The drastic twists and turns in the instrumental coupled with the harmonising is striking, but it’s the lyricism that really stays with you. It’s great to see an artist so brazenly gospel over experimental electronics when spirituality and faith are so often overlooked or misunderstood in these quarters. (8)


Tinashe – ‘Superlove’

Chris Kelly: The bounce of So So Def? Written and produced by The-Dream and Tricky Stewart? Uncle Luke and Freak Nasty references? I’m here for all of it. It’s clear that Ciara has absolutely no interest in crunk&B and I’m glad Tinashe is picking up the crown. If this is what her album ends up sounding like, it’s going to be a hell of a Joyride. (8)

Tayyab Amin: Everyone sounding like Tinashe these days except Tinashe herself, apparently. That’s alright though, ‘cause even if you turn it on and tune it out, even if it’s been heard a thousand times before, this is a jam. Shorty swing my way! (6)

Zoe Camp: Getting serious juke vibes from ‘Superlove’ – it’s built around the type of insistent beat Kid Sister would go HAM over, just with a futurist twist à la Dawn Richard. Tinashe’s yet to match ‘2 On”s four-on-the-floor bliss, but the latest taste of her long-delayed Joyride LP proves promising nonetheless. In case you’re wondering, the font in the lyric video is Beyno. It’s a nice font. (6)

Son Raw: It’s Tinashe! Over a Miami bass beat! OK, so there’s not much more to it than that, but the one true heir to Rihanna’s bad gyal throne delivering equal parts sultriness and sweetness over 808s is all I need to be happy this summer. #FreeJoyRide (8)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: At a barbecue this weekend I had a discussion about Tinashe and if the long-delayed Joyride LP was going to come to us in 2016, if at all, when a friend stated her worries that RCA wanted her to be “cute”, to abandon the airy authority that made up much of her discography. I can understand those worries after listening to ‘Superlove’, but it’s a breath of fresh air for Tinashe, who can seem a touch self-serious at times: a little boundless joy never hurt matters. Also, kudos for upping the tempo and dropping it in the year of the ‘My Boo’ Running Man Challenge. That’s synergy right there – real cute. (8)


Nas & Erykah Badu – ‘This Bitter Land’

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: On Life is Good, Nas introduced more ornate musicianship into moments of charged melodrama, a decision that became charmingly ritzy at points and too noisy at others. Here, with the help of Erykah Badu and a soundtrack tie-in, he’s adapted to strings and space, allowing the drama to feel natural. It’s artistic progress, but also quite gorgeous, with Badu sounding as if she’s on the edge of tears. (7)

Zoe Camp: Deft interplay between the two performers aside, the sweeping string arrangements on ‘This Bitter Land’ are the song’s sonic focal point, and that’s not entirely a good thing – the orchestral preciousness is at odds with The Land‘s gritty subject matter. The whole thing scans as Oscar bait, but it’s totally fine because Badu deserves an Oscar. (6)

Son Raw: Again with the weepy string arrangements? Fuckouttahere. Both Badu and Nas are out of place here: she’s at her best espousing her natural mystic cool rather than high drama, and the further Nas strays from autobiography and crime drama, the more hackneyed his writing. Remember the untitled album? Yeah, I didn’t want to either. (4)

Tayyab Amin:

(Nas gets a 5 but it’s all Erykah).

Chris Kelly: Just because you can put two artists together doesn’t mean you should. The parts of ‘This Bitter Land’ where Erykah is getting her Nina Simone on are gorgeous, and here comes Nas with some Def Poetry Jams to spoil the mood. Unless an Erykah-only version surfaces, just stick with Dinah Washington’s ‘This Bitter Earth’. (5)


Girl Unit – ‘Queen B’

Son Raw: ‘IRL’ and ‘Wut’ are a trillion years old in dance music terms and its amazing just how much their innovations has become part of the mainstream pop vernacular. Girl Unit is still able to mash Southern rap drum patterns to Detroit chords and stabs so that it works, while practically everyone else who tries the trick ends up in the horrible wasteland that is EDM trap. Not quite as surprising as it was half a decade ago, but still really good. (7)

Chris Kelly: As revolutionary as Girl Unit’s first few EPs were, this left me disappointed – and not just because the title had me hoping for a Beyoncé flip. A pneumatic club construction with a ‘Vogue’ sample and some orchestra hits? I think it’s going to take more than that to move dance floors in 2016, especially after setting the bar so high. (5)

Zoe Camp: The first few times I listened I mistook the strings for sirens, prompting me to halt in the middle of a Rite Aid because I thought I’d set off the security alarm. Thanks, Girl Unit, for making me look stupid in a Rite Aid. At least the song’s good. (7)

Tayyab Amin: This is like a fairground where the strings are the romantic Ferris wheel ride, the bubbling melodies are the candy floss and those pounding FX are bumper cars. It’s reluctantly adorable, like that picture of Jay Z blowing bubbles for Blue Ivy. (7)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: A discombobulated hyper-banger, chewing Madonna’s ‘Vogue’ into iron mulch and turning the racket into a focused blast of pummeling percussion. Welcome back, GU! Sorry I mistook you for Girl Talk all those times! (8)


Final scores

Tinashe – ‘Superlove’ (7.2)
serpentwithfeet – ‘blisters’ (7.2)

Girl Unit – ‘Queen B’ (6.8)
Joel Ford – ‘I Was Yours’ (6.75)
Nas & Erykah Badu – ‘This Bitter Land’ (5.4)
How To Dress Well – ‘Lost Youth/Lost You’ (4)



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