Singles Club: The Weeknd meets Daft Punk, Black Beatles vs Robot Beatles

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 we squint into the blinding horizon of a new age to digest the first ever pop song written by artificial intelligence, and we hear the sound of everyone’s favourite robot duo teaming up with the king of pop debauchery.

Meanwhile, the Black Beatles are popping wheelies on the zeitgeist, rapper Cakes Da Killa is on the cusp of breaking out, and we rate the return of Simian Mobile Disco and Dirty Projectors.

The Weekend – ‘Starboy’

Son Raw: Let’s give Tesfaye credit for being consistent: a switch to in-vogue social consciousness would have been both predictable and ridiculous considering his rep as R&B’s king of debauchery and bad behavior. The problem here is that this is too clean, and not in the A1 coke ‘high kind of way. This screams “album cut turned into a single cause we roped in Daft Punk”, whose contribution remains fairly opaque. (6)

Chris Kelly: The Abel Tesfaye that used to reside in the House of Balloons is long gone, yet even after ‘Can’t Feel My Face’ I’m still having trouble reconciling his mainstream pop career. The ‘Starboy’ beat puts this a notch above anything on Beauty Behind The Madness, and it’s the best thing Daft Punk have done in ages (does anyone think about Random Access Memories anymore?). But while Tesfaye has swapped the gross lyrics of his mid-period for standard issue sports car purchase orders and ivory-on-ebony drug metaphors, I still find him as vacuous and – worse yet – boring as ever. (6)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: There’s the sense that Daft Punk appear so infrequently that we should treat their presence as a present – let’s not overpraise whatever multi-billion dollar shininess they did on this slo-mo Scarface-soundtrack take on a Sade club mix. They lost God status a while back. (4)

Tayyab Amin: I’m actually dizzy from the way the Weeknd veers between incredibly corny and graceful, hard-hitting lyrics: “Girls get loose when they hear this song / A hundred on the dash get me close to God.” It’s not how I thought this collaboration would turn out at all – it’s slicker, punchier and more considered than both artists’ typical offerings, and all the better for it. (7)


Simian Mobile Disco – ‘Far From A Distance’

Son Raw: This doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but to be fair, that bright, serotonin-coaxing synth was a pretty good wheel to start with. I’m left wanting a broken, high speed, circa-2009 Joy Orbison or Peverelist remix to close the circle though. (7)

Chris Kelly: Blog house was pure kitsch, but at least it was fun. I’ll take ‘Hustler’ over identikit analog techno any day. The title is the best part, wherein I tell SMD where I will be when this song plays: far away, from a distance. (3)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Simple, effective, kinda forgettable once the lights come up. (6)

Tayyab Amin: I enjoyed a few aspects of this, but that synth is absurdly grating. Simian Mobile Disco are one of those techno acts who I wish were modular in the sense that I could then just swap out some of the textures in their sonic wardrobe. (6)


Cakes Da Killa feat. Peaches – ‘Up Out My Face’

Chris Kelly: As much sense as it makes, I never thought I’d hear Cakes Da Killa and Peaches on a track produced by Jeremiah Meece. But here we are: in the club with a vogue rap track (the kind with which Azealia Banks always found success) that finds Cakes as fierce as ever, with a co-sign from one of the great queer provocateurs of our time. (8)

Tayyab Amin: This is so hard, so raw and so heavy! Relentless bars, rollicking beats; I think you could pull me back out of the grave with this one. When Peaches comes in and Cakes’ flow switches up right after, they swarm around you just emanating pure kineticism. I’d pretty much forgotten to exhale until that moment Cakes throws you a bone and instructs, “Breathe.” (8)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Cakes has always been a dope rapper but this is truly a showcase for him, breathlessly careering over a beat that deserves to become something more than a straight-ahead thump. The performance is better than the song, but that leaves you happy to hear whatever the next song is. (7)

Son Raw: I was dreading Peaches, but she’s just decoration to draw in newcomers – this is 95% Cakes and he’s in his element, drawing on club production without ever compromising that flow. Can the world make him into the star the industry wanted Azealia Banks to be? Let’s hope so, ’cause if there’s any style that can shock NYC out of its memberberries level nostalgia, it’s this. (8)


Dirty Projectors – ‘Keep Your Name’

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: A crooner’s recollection of a dead relationship with all the mindful blurring of opinions and emotion communicated through glitchiness, sudden #hashtag raps and tenor misery. A pleasure, if you can call it that. (7)

Chris Kelly: Dirty Projectors is whatever David Longstreth wants it to be, but I prefer when Amber Coffman and Angel Deradoorian shared vocal duties. On ‘Keep Your Name’, Longstreth detunes and screws down the composition, turning his scrawny quiver of a voice into something more soulful. It’s a cheap trick that’s undermined by the abrupt jump cut for the bridge, revealing some Beck-ish rapping in his natural voice. He sings “what I want from art is truth,” but I don’t know if I believe him. (5)

Tayyab Amin: I have zero emotional investment in this band so I’m missing the subtleties their fans seem to be talking about, but it doesn’t take much to realise this is one messy break-up: “What I want from art is truth, what you want is fame,” is truly damning. Regardless of any ambiguity between condemnation of the ex or self-flagellation, it all seems overly self-indulgent to an outside spectator. Just do an interview mate, no need to immortalise and canonise this strain of bitterness on record.(4)

Son Raw: Where to start? The vocal processing is so irritating it makes me want to dropkick a puppy through a brick wall to make it stop. The “bars” prove that the Rae Sremmurd rock thing doesn’t work in reverse, and the cloying lyrics and over-emoting would be hilarious if they weren’t so earnest. Back to the aughts with you, painfully self-serious rock music! (0)


Rae Sremmurd – ‘Black Beatles’ feat. Gucci Mane

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Solid stuff from a solid album by a great group, so a little disappointing despite the placement of the word “geezer”, which makes any song better. Also: I bet Ringo Starr isn’t even the best drummer in Rae Sremmurd. (7)

Chris Kelly: Sremmlife 2 is not as immediate or fun as the first go-around, but ‘Black Beatles’ is one of the album’s best cuts. Mike Will adds synth-pop accents to the formula, Gucci shakes off some rust and the Brown boys keep growing as pop songwriters and – as proven by the title, hook and video – continue to pop wheelies on the zeitgeist. (8)

Son Raw: Automatic winner for pissing off my dad, but beyond turning a boomer sacred cow into a symbol of conspicuous consumption, this is brilliant because of the rock music it actually draws from. A sub-scene of Atlanta rap has been slowly digesting lumpen teen-punk and icy new wave since Makonnen’s ‘Tuesday’, but the Ear Drummers and Gucci dive in headfirst here and the results are equally alluring and terrifying. I mean, do we want rap to go the Sum41 route? That stuff is awful, but somehow, here, it’s a revelation. (Plus, video of the year.) (10)

Tayyab Amin: For over a month now I’ve listened to ‘Black Beatles’ several times a day like it was salah. It’s less of a song and more of an event in its own right, some sort of wizardry or alchemy that perfectly ties together Rae Sremmurd’s lifestyles, flows and lyricism with the most miraculous of Mike Will’s oceanic trap bangers and awareness of the zeitgeist. From the tweets declaring “Migos > Beatles” of years yonder to the delivery of a line like, “Get you somebody that can do both,” there’s a really fresh spin on the dated concept of rap living in rock’s shadow. That’s what’s so good about the video, too – it demonstrates Rae Srem’s rock ‘n’ roll as transcending the limits of whitewashed rock aesthetics, as their props can only try to keep up with what is their typical behaviour. (10)


A bunch of robots at SONY CSL Research Laboratory – ‘Daddy’s Car’

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy:
Surprisingly well-built for a song made by artificial intelligence – a wispy, latte-light concoction reminiscent of the underrated singer-songwriter Sondre Lerche – but Hatsune Miku still holds the digital crown as far as AI tuneage goes. (6)

Chris Kelly: I mean, it’s impressive that AI can compose songs. But if the best it can do is jangly Beatlemania, I don’t think we have to worry about Skynet anytime soon. I’d rather hear what a thousand monkeys working at a thousand keyboards could come up with. (4)

Son Raw: Of all the jobs I expected to be lost to automation, I never thought seminal ’90s indie collective and Fab Four re-enactors Elephant 6 would be the first to get axed, but this sounds exactly like an Apples in Stereo single. The takeaway here is I’d rather listen to a computer ape the Beatles than a current rock band, but I’d rather hear Rae Sremmurd take the piss out the Beatles than that. (010001110000111010110)

Tayyab Amin: We’ve always said pop comes from the machine, so I don’t see what there is to write home about here! As someone who holds a BSc in Artificial Intelligence, I feel a partial responsibility to apologise for this ridiculous application of technology. It’s a victory for every fan who wants their fave to release the same album as the last one, and perhaps every artist trying to escape their label contract. As is often the case for me when it comes to AI, the implications tend to be much more interesting than the tangible results, and obviously that’s no different for something as bland and vacuous as this. At least we now know Black Beatles are also better than the iBeatles.(3)


Final scores:

Rae Sremmurd – ‘Black Beatles’ feat. Gucci Mane (8.75)
Cakes Da Killa feat Peaches – ‘Up Out My Face’ (7.75)
The Weeknd – ‘Starboy’ (5.75)
Simian Mobile Disco – ‘Far From A Distance’ (5.5)
A bunch of robots – ‘Daddy’s Car’ (4.3)
Dirty Projectors – ‘Keep Your Name’ (4)



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