This week, I’m bringing you four new singles which I adored, and one which I very much did not. No points for guessing which one won’t be making an appearance on any of my Spotify playlists, much less my 2018 wrapped.
Courtney Barnett,‘Nameless, Faceless’:
Since first hearing her stream-of-conscience outpourings on ‘Pedestrian at Best’, I have been intrigued by Courtney Barnett. Her lyrics present her as a philosophical slacker, ruminating on life’s mysteries from the comfort of a sofa, the music transporting you into her crowded headspace. Her new single, ‘Nameless, Faceless’, provides us the same thoughtful Courtney we have grown to expect from her last 3 releases. Her Kurt Vile collaboration bought with it folk vibes, but this is a return to the Australian lo-fi sound of her last solo release, ‘Sometime I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit’. This track has 2 faces; the major scale safety that accompanies Barnett’s didactic speech directed at her internet trolls transitions sharply into chromatic, distorted danger as she attempts to walk home alone through the dark. The music intelligently reflects her lyrics, as the hollow typed threats she brushed aside become immediately more menacing when she is out in the night, protected only by the keys protruding from just below her knuckles. Overall, a great new single- Courtney’s keen observations speak volumes about the unfortunate truths of women’s lives in the 21st century.
Jack White, ‘Corporation’:
With its rich history and its players’ widespread respect and admiration of its tradition, the blues may not seem like a genre ripe for experimentation. Jack White, however, continues to inject elements largely foreign to the blues into his own garage-blues rock. ‘Corporation’, a single released in anticipation of his upcoming album ‘Boarding House Reach’, sees the hip-hop influence that drove the eponymous single off his last studio album, ‘Lazaretto’, make a triumphant return. ‘Lazaretto’ felt a little heavy handed in this fusion of blues and hip hop (as much as I adore the track, the fiddle solo at the end was unexpected in the worst of ways). In contrast, ‘Corporation’ pairs the groove in the rhythm with rambling funk passages on the synth, before the ascending pentatonic passages on White’s fuzzed out guitar enter. This slow introduction of diverse sounds that had the potential to feel disparate works incredibly, demonstrating White’s talent as a unique songwriter. Far from a verse-chorus structure, the largely instrumental first half descends into a cacophony of sound as White maniacally claims that he’s going to ‘start a corporation... that’s how you get adulation’. ‘Lazaretto’s sound was so diverse it was incohesive- so long as elements of this sound continue to appear throughout the rest of the album, I think we can expect a solid Jack White album come March.
Speedy Ortiz, ‘Lucky 88’:
With a Master of Fine Arts in poetry, it should be no surprise that Sadie Dupuis’ lyrics are some of the best in the alternative rock scene. ‘Lucky 88’ seamlessly blends the noughties pop of her solo project, under the moniker Sad13, with the typically excellent instrumental work of the guys in Speedy Ortiz to take the act in a startlingly different direction. The fuzzy pop of Darl Ferm’s bassline provides a subverting grunge influence to what is otherwise a glitzy, polished pop track. Sadie’s sweetly delivered vocals also mask her cutting lyrics; illusions to death can be seen in both verses, juxtaposed against recovery and the bustling life of a single 20 something. Their sonics may have shifted since 2015’s ‘Foil Deer’, but the effortless cool of Speedy Ortiz’s venomous sound persists, hidden underneath a sweeter exterior.
Parquet Courts, ‘Almost Had to Start a Fight/In and Out of Patience’:
There seems to be a recent trend in rock music of outsourcing production to left-field producers, with whom collaboration fans would never have considered. We saw it last year with Mark Ronson’s production on Queens of the Stone Age’s ‘Villains’ The dance grooves that pervaded all of the bands previous work were brought to the forefront. And now we have producer Danger Mouse, famed for working on Gorillaz’s ‘Demon Days’ and collaborating with MF DOOM under ‘DANGERDOOM’, producing art-punk quartet Parquet Courts’ latest album. The band’s lo-fi garage sound persists however, opening with a jittery rhythm that sounds like the band have had a little too much coffee (probably something stronger). The treble on the guitar is cranked right up, and frontman A. Savage shouts about having to come to terms with the truths of being an adult in the 21st century - running out of patience and repressing your emotions because you don’t know how to express them. The promise at the end of a ‘Free Bird II’ next on the tracklist should be enough to have any rock fan chuckle, promising another wry, self-aware Parquet Courts record. As far removed from the masturbatory egotism of a 4-minute guitar solo as possible.
Muse, ‘Thought Contagion’
Normally, I wouldn’t write about music I didn’t enjoy; I respect that everyone’s taste is different, and that music I don’t enjoy has huge artistic merit, even if I can’t appreciate it. But, as a former Muse fan, I had to write a small piece about my disappointment in this new single. I haven’t really enjoyed a Muse release since 2009’s ‘The Resistance’, and their attempts at producing ‘high-concept’ music have always been a little bit laughable- but for a time, they released great music despite their lyrical cheese. There is no doubt in my mind that Matt Bellamy is still an incredible singer and a decent guitarist, but his song writing ability has sure taken a dive bomb. The only thing that could make this song any more meme worthy would be if Bellamy were to call for us to all ‘open our third eyes’. From their 2006 album ‘Black Holes and Revelations’ to this single, Muse have descended from blockbuster Space Opera to the equivalent of a ‘made for daytime TV’ movie, brimming with lyrical cliché and dated, chanted harmonies in the chorus. Whilst Bellamy’s love of conspiracy theory is well documented, it’d be nice if it didn’t spill into his music in such a ham-fisted way. But, it continues to do so, and we have yet another track that sounds like the ramblings of an ‘enlightened’ teen on an internet message board.