Singles Club: The Black Madonna shows her disco ambition

Each week on the FACT Singles Club, a selection of our writers work their way through the new music of the week gone by.

We’re only a couple of weeks into 2017 and it already feels too real. Couldn’t we have had another couple of weeks to relax before the Trumpocalypse? Anyway, the tunes are coming thick and fast so if you need musical escapism, we have you covered.

This week there’s the exciting return of Slowdive, a disco belter from The Black Madonna, Syd’s latest solo experiment, Blanck Mass, Kingdom and the fucking Chainsmokers.

The Black Madonna – ‘He Is The Voice I Hear’

Chris Kelly: The Black Madonna is our disco-house nostalgist-in-chief, and she admits as much on ‘He Is The Voice I Hear’, a peak hour tribute to Frankie Knuckles, Larry Levan, Arthur Russell, Walter Gibbons and Loleatta Holloway. I can practically see the hands-in-the-air moments this will likely inspire during her pitch-perfect DJ sets, but the production is too predictable, too neat and too faithful to the legends to whom it’s dedicated. (6)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Pretty exemplary end credits disco, the type of poised boogie that could break through the end of an austere European film – Claire Denis, I’m thinking of your ‘Rhythm of the Night’ finale from Beau Travail, perhaps holler at the esteemed Ms Stamper. (8)

Son Raw: Given my exhaustion regarding house’s continued dominion over dancefloors – most contemporary tracks are plain boring – I’ve typically preferred Black Madonna “the symbol of rebellion” to Black Madonna “the DJ”, even if she’s incredible at what she does. If more contemporary house tracks were this good, however, I’d be fully onboard. Capturing disco’s drama without the retromaniac pastiche or even a hint of cheese, this is brilliantly arranged and utterly fierce, a dancefloor highpoint to lose yourself in amid a field of functional plodders. (8)

Claire Lobenfeld: About a hundred years ago, I was the executive editor of a fairly popular MP3 download blog where I pushed a lot of music from artists like Midnight Magic, Escort and Jessica 6. I loved how they were taking disco’s template for dancefloor liberation and modernizing it, while still making it about feeling from marginalization: you may be anonymous outside of the club, but you are a superstar – and you are free – inside of its walls. You should listen to those guys instead. (3)

Haley Potiker: Earlier today, the World Series champion Cubs visited President Obama at the White House – this despite Todd Ricketts, the team’s co-owner, being tapped to serve as Deputy Commerce Secretary in the Trump administration. As surreal as that sentence is (a Cubs pennant, a Trump presidency), The Black Madonna’s latest presents an even more Technicolor Chicago: one that never hosted Disco Demolition Night. ‘He is the Voice I Hear’ is a virtuosic, 10-minute piece that starts with contemplative piano and releases with enough brightness to weather inauguration week. (9)

Tayyab Amin: The only voice I hear right now is the one in my head that tells me we need to talk about the Black Madonna’s name. The Black Madonna springs forth from Polish and Catholic cultures and is intertwined with Haitian Vodou. But no matter how many explanations and placations the artist formerly known as Lady Foursquare might deliver, she still presents herself as dark-skinned in a world where black women’s lives are hindered for simply existing. Her 2014 record Goodbye To All This incorporates Veve symbols that are undoubtedly tied to Vodou, and this should be engaged with by her – not condescendingly whitesplained away.

Still, it’s 2017 and the golden headdress-adorned #wokeness™ tour winds down with a new release. It’s a bit of a saga, opening with a forgettable minute-long piano intro before Stamper ropes in a stomping kick (sorry) and sharp strings. It becomes a wandering, waltzing piano jam before it’s brought to boil, and we’ve not even got to the cowbell yet. (N/A)


Slowdive – ‘Star Roving’

Haley Potiker: The universal experience of stealing your older brother’s shitty weed and sneaking into the planetarium with someone who doesn’t like you-like you. (7)

Son Raw: Someone should come up with a formula to calculate whether a ‘90s reunion is worth the trouble. “Critical approval multiplied by years apart, divided by mass appeal during the group’s original run.” Anyways, Slowdive still sound like shoegaze, which is still very pretty even if the formula is so worn even the second generation revival groups that ripped them off are being forgotten. (7)

Chris Kelly: I’m on record as being pretty cynical and suspicious of all the reunion-comeback-cash-ins of the last few years. There’s no Slowdive in my musical past, so I don’t get any nostalgic kicks from this. Rather, it sits quietly and comfortably next to recent-ish efforts by My Bloody Valentine and Jesus and Mary Chain. Call it orthopedic-shoegazing. (4)

Claire Lobenfeld: My intro to Slowdive was in the quiet closing scene of Gregg Araki’s teen nightmare The Doom Generation, so there is something about the polish here that is irking me. But who am I too shun technology? Who am I too assert that a band needs to be exactly as they were before they broke up? (6)

Tayyab Amin: The last new Slowdive material came out in 1995. Coldplay formed in 1996. Over 20 years later, the former band release a long-awaited new single and it pretty much sounds like a Coldplay tune. I’m not one for conspiracies, but what’s the endgame here? Troll Coldplay by acting as if they’ve never existed? Troll fans who’ve already spent countless hours hearing Coldplay and Stereophonics whilst stuck in traffic on drivetime radio? Or maybe they’re for real and they’ve just never heard of everyone’s favourite Satriani-loving, self-professed “all-theist”, in which case I can’t wait for them to find out about Travis. (5)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Shoegaze rock has become an eternal void of fuzz’n’moan cliches, but when it’s executed with real force it stands out. Only occasionally from the dream-fog, but it does. (7)


Syd – ‘All About Me’

Claire Lobenfeld: I love, LOVE this beat. I really, REALLY want to believe everything else about this is sort of commentary on generic rap lyrics about going solo, its ‘All About Me’ title and “stacking bread on the shelves” lyrics too far a cry from the emotional, boundary-pushing work she’s done with The Internet. At the same time, I’ve seen Syd fluff a pubescent Odd Future crowd only months after Goblin was released, so what do I know of her ambitions as a solo artist? But if it’s making boring flex rap in the vein of (sorry, sorry, sorry) alt-R&B, I’m not with it. (5)

Haley Potiker: Until 2015, Syd was probably most notable as a connector of people: her studio, which she built when she was barely a teenager, became a nerve center for off-kilter LA hip-hop. But when The Internet’s Ego Death became a critical and popular sensation, she was finally given serious attention as an artist in her own right. ‘All About Me’ delivers on the potential she’s long shown as a solo act, all breath and air and quiet swagger. (8)

Chris Kelly: As the public face of The Internet, Syd is right behind Earl Sweatshirt and Frank Ocean as one of the most compelling artists to emerge from Odd Future. But in abandoning the neo-neo-soul of The Internet on ‘All About Me’, Syd joins a raft of wispy-voiced trap-R&B singers from which she doesn’t stand out. The Internet embraced anonymity; this is just anonymous. (5)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Syd was the DJ that played turn-up songs before Odd Future shows so it makes sense that she would eventually make her own – of course, sleeker and more dressed-down than anything else. (7)

Son Raw: Everything about this is thin, from Syd’s voice to the paint-by-numbers trap beat, but to be fair, she’s always relied on personality over virtuosity – her cosmic LA woke flowerchild style has essentially made her Odd Future’s most reliable act. Still, I wish there was a bit more to this. (4)

Tayyab Amin: This twisted, funhouse beat has got me all caught up in Devil’s Snare and there’s no getting out. The keys take you for a ride swirling around the drain whilst Syd speaks with an unwavering gaze. She’s got lessons to teach and those dog barks and whoop sirens are the punctuation. It’s extremely difficult to not pay attention, which is all down to the conviction behind statements like “I really do this.” (8)


Kingdom – ‘Tears In The Club’

Haley Potiker: ‘Tears In The Club’ delivers on its promise. It sounds like the absolute worst parts of any night out – from getting stranded with a dead phone to wondering why you didn’t go into finance. It’s terse, tense, serrated. (8)

Chris Kelly: So many club producers have ripped off Kingdom, Total Freedom and the rest of Fade to Mind that ‘Tears In The Club’ doesn’t possess the shock-of-the-new that it might have had just a few years ago. Still, you can’t spell Kingdom without “king”, and he’s still club royalty here. He invokes titular tears on this album centerpiece, with Pure Moods melodies, Ha crashes and pneumatic beats meeting for a sadboy rendezvous in the club. (7)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: In the familiar Kingdom style, this bruises and allures in equal measure with a music-box melody and pulverising percussion. He’s consistent at creating these beats, always on the precipice of turning evil or candy-cane sweet, and that makes his constructions interesting to return to. (8)

Son Raw: Don’t fight it FACT editors: Tears in The Club is a great album title. We’ve all shed them, no need to be embarrassed. That said, it will take a patient DJ to actually make this one work in the club given that Kingdom may have forgotten to unmute the snare bus. (6)

Claire Lobenfeld: I have always been a Fade to Mind evangelist, but I can’t completely abide by ‘Tears in the Club’ as a mind-bender from Kingdom. There is an expectation that the label will change the way I think about dance music with every release – just look at how the entire underground has been changed for the better by Total Freedom – and when I feel like I can’t be moved outside of a club setting by something Kingdom drops, I, too, have tears. (6)

Tayyab Amin: I thought the Syd-featuring ‘Nothin’ was more my type of Tears In The Club – this is a bit more MC Neutrino in the motorcycle leather, ready to ride out ‘cause fuck it. It doesn’t feel barebones so much as it comes across as restrained, as if the beat just wants to be alone with itself for a while. Same, really. (7)


The Chainsmokers – ‘Paris’

Chris Kelly: These doofuses clearly have their finger on the pulse of what excites faux-deep white millennials with this brand (and it’s very much a brand) of soulless, tepid EDM pop, somehow made worse by lyrics like “posting pictures of yourself on the internet” that Really Speak To Me, Ya Know? The biggest crime here is reviving Eton Messy-esque softcore for their shitty lyric video. Imagine being a Chainsmokers fan. Sad! (1)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: If you wish to see this as more than just a Simple Minds-indebted fourth-single semi-ballad vibe-out remake, then the group’s decision to cut vocalist Emily Warren out of the ‘featuring’ credit she deserves not only reads as selfish top billing but as a refusal of the song’s female POV. But ‘Paris’ isn’t worth the battle – it’s so sepia-toned that it fades into nothing by the times it ends. (5)

Son Raw: Chainsmokers on the radio, AKA the number one reason I might give an Uber driver a less than stellar rating. In 10 years, nostalgia dictates this aw-shucks-inducing hokey drivel will show up on music writers’ embarrassing high-school music playlists, and we’ll all be poorer for it. Look, all I had growing up was alt-rock radio but today’s generation has options: don’t listen to this. (2)

Tayyab Amin: Why are they called Chainsmokers when their voices are scrubbed cleaner than every White Cube false utopia? Were these condescendingly simple melodies designed by Apple? Why does the snare make me think of deodorant spray? I love how this tune is clearly an allegory of the gross facade of romantic Paris. I guess these guys are the other side of The xx coin, huh. Oops. (4)

Claire Lobenfeld: Boring has always been worse than bad and the thing I dislike about The Chainsmokers the most is that it always sounds like they are not trying – or, at least, I thought it sounded like they weren’t trying. With ‘Paris’, they have reached a new level of samey, boring schlock and I am concerned that certain sectors of the youth perhaps don’t feel like they need don’t need music that makes them feel alive or free? Or are there some kind of drugs that make this sound extremely fun and that’s why I don’t get it? This just sounds like a guy complaining. Back in my day, ahem, this is what romantic nostalgia sounded like. Go feel a fucking feeling and get back to me. (0)

Haley Potiker: The Chainsmokers, who do not smoke, return with more unlistenable schlock. ‘Paris’ is going to be the number one song in the world, The “Chainsmokers” will play more terrible gigs at awards shows, they’ll each have a lot of bad sex with college students, and they still won’t be cool. (0)


Blanck Mass – ‘Please’

Tayyab Amin: I’m feeling a strange sort of love for the vocal manipulation on here. On the one hand, it’s as if the world is finally catching up with what Evian Christ did with Marina’s voice on ‘Primadonna’ and on the other hand, has anything ever quite reached the heights of ‘Halcyon On and On’? I really dig the weight of this track in all of its gravelly melodrama, but it’s the allure of the oddly familiar character of the vocals that holds me most. (7)

Chris Kelly: I loved the brutality and violence of Dumb Flesh and I’m even more moved by ‘Please’, a song that surges into melodramatic and emotional territory, ground that is just as powerful as previous Blanck Mass material but pleasantly surprising. More, ‘Please’. (8)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: A hysteric gasp of holy howls and a bed of plink-plonk Whatever Notes – a mix of unvarnished power and dull, studied calm. (6)

Son Raw: We’ve reached the point in maximalist, overpoweringly emotional electronic music where an entire track of this magnitude can lodge itself in the background. Sure there’s a lot going on, but it’s not saying a terrible lot. (5)

Haley Potiker: ‘Please’ gets way too cacophonous for me, which might signal that I’m entering middle age. The manipulation of the vocal sample is superb, but needs more room to breathe. (6)


Final scores:

Kingdom – ‘Tears In The Club’ (7)
The Black Madonna – ‘He Is The Voice I Hear’ (6.8)
Blanck Mass – ‘Please’ (6.4)
Syd – ‘All About Me’ (6.2)
Slowdive – ‘Star Roving’ (6)
The Chainsmokers – ‘Paris’ (2)



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