Singles Club: SALEM return, Thundercat goes Zelda and Young Thug meets Harambe

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, witch house figureheads SALEM make an uneven return remixing Frank Ocean-collaborator Wolfgang Tillmans, Young Thug offers up a highlight from last week’s No, My Name Is JEFFERY dedicated to the internet’s beloved Harambe and Thundercat reminds of The Legend Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

Elsewhere, clipping. return sounding refreshed after Daveed Diggs’ acclaimed Hamilton run, Fire Alarm blend NYC party sounds (with Suzanne Vega and Paul Simon) and Speedy Ortiz’s Sadie Dupuis addresses consent and female friendship as Sad13.

Young Thug – ‘Harambe’

Zoe Camp: While I respect and admire Thugger’s decision to list Harambe as one of his idols — as he should, because Harambe was the closest humanity ever came to having its very own Ishmael  — I take issue with his allusions to the titular subject. Harambe’s unjust, tragic end occurred because he was not apeshit (many primatologists have hypothesized that he was following his paternal instincts). Harambe also would not condone leaving a romantic partner out on the street. Otherwise, good song. (6)

Haley Potiker: It honestly makes me mad that Young Thug/Jeffery named a song Harambe. But despite the dead gorilla meme title, the song – like the rest of No, My Name is JEFFERY – is undeniable. Harambe is never mentioned on the song, which name drops Godzilla a half-dozen times. The album is an exercise in role-play, with each song titled after someone Thug admires, so this one is apparently dedicated to the Jill Stein Office of Pandering. Anyway, Thug raps with this totally unhinged fury that makes JEFFERY such a vital listen. (10)

Tayyab Amin: Entire careers, ecosystems, even planets have born and died between the story arcs of the ever-mutating, always-fascinating voice of (The Artist Formerly Known as) Young Thug. The way he throats and sputters out some of these lyrics could totally suit some noise or screamo. This delivery is key to a moment of staggering vulnerability, where he lashes out to protect himself and survive, seemingly gets carried away and confesses, “I got devil inside of me.” When he finds his melody it signifies more than just regaining composure, it’s a plea to God fuelled by repentance: “I know I did a lot of sins and I hope you still let me make it through.” (8)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Across three minutes, Thugger – our elastic voice box – becomes Louis Armstrong as a blues man and Eminem as an emotionally engaged human, threatens familicide and then collapses into a percocet-assisted flood of tears. It’s an interesting song, and a good one, but it’s been overshadowed by people wishing to be glib about it being titled ‘Harambe’, focusing on the track perhaps fitting into a Twitter meme or showing how wacky Thug is without ever engaging with the art. This happened with ‘Picacho’ a few years back, and the blog-industrial complex hasn’t learned it’s lesson yet. So if I could die on this hill for a moment: people, if you’re going to write about the song, listen to the song to start with. (7)

Son Raw: No song could live up to this title, but this comes close thanks to Thug’s frothy delivery – he’s practically tripping over his own words here and entering a bizarre space that’s closer to James Brown’s grunts than anything in hip-hop, bar maybe Mystikal. The content, as usual, is non existent, but it’s amazing how much alienation and Southern gothic horror Thug can wring out of his purely stylistic ticks. (8)

Chris Kelly: The only song on Jeffery not named after one of Young Thug’s idols – and it’s a tribute to the memeternet’s favorite gorilla (RIP / Dicks Out), proving once against just how capable Thugger is at provoking fans and critics alike. That provocative spirit continues on the song itself, wherein Thug finds yet another way to contort his voice, this time into a Louis Armstrong-esque croak. “Fuck it, I’m changin’ up on ’em,” indeed. (8)


clipping. – ‘Air Em Out’ 

Zoe Camp: Daveed Diggs’ starring role in Hamilton‘s inaugural production is bound to lure in some new clipping. fans, and at the perfect time — the group’s latest phase belies a freshly resharpened confidence, if not a profound sonic transition. Give the MC a sparse loop and he’ll stitch the goddamn Bayeux tapestry without breaking a sweat, weaving in and out of his liminal surroundings earnestly and effortlessly. And Splendor & Misery is only album number two. (7)

Haley Potiker: Daveed Diggs apparently has a prescription pill that makes household objects fly. That’s what I got from this video, anyway, and that’s also what I assume Hamilton is about. (8)

Tayyab Amin:  That pre-hook of, “What you gon’ do about it?” is some whistling Omar Little business, a song to send shivers down the spine of a dead man. Daveed Diggs is the kind of rapper who can continue spitting at the edge of his breath without it sounding horrible. He’s the kind who can reference ASCII and you’ll still take him serious. And the beat most definitely knocks. (8)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Daveed Diggs was merely a proficient Oakland rapper prior until the first clipping. tape was released on Deathbomb Arc in 2012. On those three songs, he was the centre to swathes of fuzzy, alien atmospherics, turning into a great poet for the closer ‘block’ as he illustrated a neighbourhood in painstaking detail. Their Sub Pop material leaned hard on Diggs as a frontman, a focus that appeared to overwhelm him musically. Now, with ‘Air ‘Em Out’, he’s grown into the role of being the main focus with a firey flow and calm authority that was previously lacking – Hamilton must help your performances, blatantly. Kudos for development, but a mark is being deducted for his groupmates’ atmospheric touches for making me think I’d left the kettle on. Twice. (8)

Son Raw: Pretty much what I’d expect Sub Pop-signed rap to sound like, which isn’t bad per say, but it’s still basically a placeholder until Run The Jewels’ next album drops. The beats are sparse and the raps are intense but this lacks the x factor that’ll have me remembering it next week. (5)

Chris Kelly: There’s no group better than clipping. to add another “Afrofuturist, dystopian concept album” to the alt-rap discography, especially with Jonathan Snipes and William Huston’s pneumatic airlock production. But Daveed Diggs raps with the type of showy precision that I lost interest with circa Blackalicious. Sure, he made history interesting in Hamilton, but this just feels like homework. (5)


Fire Alarm – ‘Inna Dat With Dem’

Zoe Camp: Nice to see Suzanne Vega getting some royalty checks — she deserves to have her classic song hitched to bangers like this one, as opposed, to, say Fall Out Boy’s ‘Centuries’ (which she actually performed with the band, bless her heart). While we’re on the subject — Vega’s got a new album coming out in October titled Lover, Beloved: Songs from an Evening with Carson McCullers. No word on if it’ll have any dancehall collaborations. (5)

Haley Potiker: What happens when you combine some of the most overused samples in any genre into a dancehall banger? This mess, I guess. Fire Alarm is a pretty engaging vocalist, but ‘Tom’s Diner’ and the break are so familiar that this feels a bit like found poetry. (3)

Tayyab Amin:  I feel like this one channels every year in the ‘00s all at once. I could never be mad at the sound, it’s just that I’m sure we’ve heard this one fifty different ways already. (4)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: A melange of New York sounds, building off the city’s musical melting-pot reputation across decades and resulting in a thrilling, immediately comfortable party jam: Suzanne Vega watches slyly from her window as Run and D.M.C. stomp the pavement in white shelltoes while a bashment soundsystem rings loud alongside the house night a few doors down. (8)

Son Raw: Fuck no. You know what 2016 dancehall DOESN’T need? Corny Suzanne Vega and Bob James samples to attract a bunch of ironists to the party. Even Elephant Man couldn’t pull that off, and he made ‘Eye of the Tiger’ into a jam. Listen to ‘Toll Road riddim’ instead. (1)

Chris Kelly: The ‘Tom’s Diner’ and ‘Take Me to the Mardi Gras’ samples will no doubt stoke the flames of nostalgia in some, but I think the production is an unnecessary look in the rearview at a time when dancehall seems particularly interested in pushing things forward. Metric Man’s vocal melody is ace, at least. (4)


Thundercat – ‘Bus In These Streets’

Zoe Camp: I’ve always regarded Thundercat as infallible, but he’s outdone himself this time: this has got to be the first song ever to simultaneously invoke the Mister Roger’s Neighborhood theme, the Zora’s Domain theme from The Legend Zelda: Ocarina of Timeand Steely Dan’s essential ‘Babylon Sisters’. To top it all off, dude’s got the best artwork for any single released this year so far. You go, Thundercat! (8)

Haley Potiker: I love a sardonic jingle that reminds me of a children’s song or maybe a sitcom theme. The lyrics here are amazing (“From the minute I wake up I’m staring at the screen / Watching the world go insane… Thank God for technology because / where would be we be if we couldn’t tweet our thoughts?”). The cover art is also extraordinary (“Why my wife is crying, why my wife hates me, why my wifi is slow”), and Thundercat’s bass lines are as virtuosic as ever. (9)

Tayyab Amin:  The sound of staying up too late doing nothing online before the sobering self-awareness hits. Except that feeling hasn’t been this joyful in a few years, so I like to imagine this comes from a more innocent time with Thundercat arrow key-browsing Imgur and reading Hipster Runoff. “Where would we be if we couldn’t tweet our thoughts?” Is this same basic and ultimately useless question the same one they had about TV and everything else in the 20th century? Who is John Galt? (6)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: In the online documentary series Diggin’ in the Carts, Flying Lotus shares a factoid about his friend Thundercat: “when you text him, it’s like shoryuken,” referring to the famous Street Fighter II sound effect. Thundercat waxes rhapsodically over the music of the Super Nintendo fighting classic, citing its triumphant energy. On Twitter in 2012, he told a fan that he loved Steely Dan, the jazzy pop of the baby boomer era having found their way into his music. ‘Bus in These Streets’ feels like a merging of two musical temples for the artist, bright like a video game and suffused with technicality like Donald Fagen’s troupe. It’s nostalgia, but more than that, it’s a modern burst of sunshine. (8)

Son Raw: I was really hoping Thundercat would take his pop-minded fusion into full on vaporwave territory based on that cover art, but alas, it’s just very good fusion. Don’t play with my heart like that. (6)

Chris Kelly: Call it Schoolhouse Yacht Rock. To deliver its anti-technology message, ‘Bus In These Streets’ is comforting, sooting and pleasant to a fault. But am I alone in thinking the message is not as much “incisive” as it is patronizing and pedantic? Let me know what you think on Twitter. (3)


Wolfgang Tillmans – ‘Make It Up As You Go Along’ (Salem Remix)

Zoe Camp: This remix has skittering drums, blood-curdling screams and a backbeat that sounds like a hellcat coughing up a hairball – in other words, it’s good ol’ witch house as you remember it. The trip down memory lane is nice, and it’s good to see SALEM back to their usual spooky business, but this is damn boring even by the group’s quagmire of an ambient standard. I’d rather watch their FADER fort performance — and that’s saying something. (3)

Haley Potiker: This honestly reminds me of the Friends episode where Ross finds his “sound”. Even though Phoebe is genuinely intimidated by his inventiveness and Ross, as usual, is sure that he’s a genius, he’s actually just pressing keys at random while on the drum kit setting of a ‘90s-era electric keyboard. (3)

Tayyab Amin: It’s hard to talk about SALEM without talking about time. And since I last actively listened to them, Yeezus dropped, trap and drill blew up even more and a whole global club deconstruction bubble exploded, drenching everyone in industrial clanks and groans. Also, mainstream dubstep died. This song has aesthetic ties to it all, and besides the vacancies in the narrative department, even the individual elements feel flat and non-evocative considering how far others have taken them in recent years. (4)

Son Raw: Props to SALEM for sticking with those snare rolls half a decade after peak trap: that’s dedication. Witch House (or whatever) was always less than the sum of its parts, but this gang made the fusion of classic Three 6 Mafia and power electronics more convincing than most, since it never felt like a bunch of adhoc influences for them. Haunted house music for October: sorted. (7)

Chris Kelly: I actually saw SALEM live on their last go around. All I remember is an overactive smoke machine and Jack Donoghue “rapping” without a pitchshifter, which was truly cringeworthy. Oh, SALEM is back? And they remixed some identikit dance track by adding gunshots, female screams, police sirens and trap hi-hats? I’m just going to watch the ‘Skullcrush’ video and pretend none of this ever happened. (2)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: SALEM are a by-product of so much controversy and so little musical nous, with their murky Garageband take on early trap aesthetics (or “bad Gang Gang Dance”, your choice) held up as cool and then dragged through the holy ever-loving mud. They notoriously stank up the FADER Fort, utilised screwed-up Memphis rap ideas without ever bothering to engage with hip-hop culture, were the reason for a disgusting genre name (“rape gaze”), got catfished and then the music wasn’t even good! Somehow, we have reached a period where their fog can be open to critical re-evaluation, but even as remixers they remain as lazy as ever, a band unable to think beyond minor-key synth splodges and shotgun blasts. Your Apple appliance doesn’t deserve this. (1)


Sad13 – ‘Get A Yes’

Haley Potiker: This is a song about consent that was presumably commissioned to soundtrack a Juno reboot. It has a social-justice bent about the nuances of teen sexuality: “I say ‘yes’ to the dress when I put it on / I say ‘yes’ if I want you to take it off / I say ‘yes’ to your touch when I need your touch / I say ‘yes’ if I want to / If you want to you’ve got to get a ‘yes.’” Because of my politics, I am contractually obligated to give this song a (9).

Tayyab Amin: This is a more pleasant and patient breakdown of respecting personal boundaries than men deserve, so we should sure as hell appreciate it. I love that it uses consent to be both self-affirming and romantic, it’s really sweet. Those dreamy melodies float like butterflies in the belly. (7)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Sadie Dupuis has a strong idea for her Sad13 project, and ‘Say Yes’ by extension, by crafting pop songs that “emphasize friendship among women and try to deescalate the toxic jealousy and ownership”. It’s a song that is successful in placing a pro-concent message at the middle of the song and in pointing to a sense of inherent independence: “No need to stop me / It’s time you ask me nice”. It’s also musically cute, a solid piece of bedroom pop that recalls The Postal Service’s indie-star-does-pop bonafides. That duo had a sardonic mask, though; Dupuis has a manifesto, and that’s pretty cool. (7)

Chris Kelly: Speedy Ortiz is one of the rare guitar bands I listen to these days, mostly due to Sadie Dupuis’s unparalleled pop instincts. That skill is even more apparent when fuzz and grunge are replaced with ‘90s bubblegum for the first (and only?) affirmative consent pop anthem. (8)


Final scores:

Young Thug – ‘Harambe’ (7.8)
Sad13 – ‘Get A Yes’ (7.8)
clipping. – ‘Air Em Out’ (6.8)
Thundercat – ‘Bus In These Streets’ (6.7)
Fire Alarm – ‘Inna Dat With Dem’ (4.2)
Wolfgang Tillmans – ‘Make It Up As You Go Along’ (Salem Remix) (3.3)



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