Music Reviews Muse

The Month in Singles – July 2019

The best and worst new music, reviewed

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Image Credit: Jagjaguwar Records

Bon Iver – ‘Faith’ & ‘Jelmore’
These two singles anticipate the upcoming album i,i, which the band announced this month for a 30 August release on Jagjaguwar

‘Faith’ is the better single of the two. It manages to achieve a neat pop structure while continuing the exploration of new ground which has characterised the sonic progress of Vernon since For Emma, with the presence of soaring and bubbling synths which thicken the texture, the subtle guitar-work and swelling brass. There is also a sense of calling back to the Bon Iver of old, though without being gooey. Vernon concludes: ‘And we have to know that faith declines / I’m not all out of mine’, matching classically Bon Iver-levels of melancholy with defiant hopefulness and progress .For those who have followed the band from the start, there will be a sense of nostalgia here. 4/5

‘Jelmore’ is somewhat weaker, and lacks the organisation of ‘Faith’ in a kind of sparsity which just ends up feeling ill-thought-out. The fuzzy synth which accompanies Vernon’s vocal is kind of sweet, but eventually becomes slightly grinding when it becomes apparent that it is leading nowhere. Somewhat disappointing all round, though it will be interesting to see how it plays out in the context of a full album. 2.5/5

Ed Sheeran – ‘Remember the Name’ (feat. Eminem & 50 Cent)
I understand that Sheeran is pretty good at throwing together a hit pop single, and he is probably a pretty nice guy, and he can use a loop pedal, and your grandma likes him. But still, how the hell did we get to a point where this kind of stuff is considered to be the musical and cultural pinnacle of our generation?

The beat sounds like it was made on a standard issue classroom keyboard. Somebody has clearly made Ed a playlist of early noughties rap and he’s got a bit too excited. Luckily he is in fact Ed Sheeran, so he can rap about the completely depressing fact of having ‘[grown] up ten miles from the town of Ipswich’ on a tune alongside Eminem and 50 Cent. Every time I think it couldn’t get any worse, another clichéd sample drops clunkily into the mix. This piece of music is the sonic equivalent of a stock image overlaid with comic sans, featuring a shout out to East Anglia and 50 Cent uttering the words, ‘She like the fly shit and I like to buy shit’ within three minutes. Surreal and nightmarish. 1/5

Four Tet – ‘Dreamer’
A playful new ditty from the genre-bending producer. As far as I’m concerned, this man is incapable of a bad tune. Last year his Nelly Furtado-sampling tech belter ‘Only Human’ was a hit on dancefloors across the country, but this new single is something completely different.

It is busy and buzzing with lively percussion, around which Monsieur Tet builds a tuneful polyphony of wandering melodies which sound like some sort of alien ringtone; or muzak for an intergalactic elevator which won’t be invented for another few hundred years. There is just the right level of sparsity allowed for the correct amount of compositional progression to take its course, though, which moves along with an expert and almost symphonic poise as new sounds weave in and out of the texture without feeling jarred. Perfection. 5/5

Flume – ‘Let You Know’ (feat. London Grammar)
I’ve personally never cared much for Flume’s music, so I can’t say hearing about this new single or his new EP, Quits, filled me with any kind of emotion at all.

Frankly I’ve come out from listening to ‘Let You Know’ feeling the same way. I just can’t bring myself to express anything other than, ‘meh’. There is just nothing particularly electrifying about it at all. If it is being considered as ‘experimental’ electronic music (the tag usually stuck onto any description of Flume) then there isn’t much to see here. Yes, the sound palette is somewhat broader than an average pop song – or even the average dance tune. But this doesn’t mean it should be let off the hook. The synth lines are scatter-brained to the point of sounding gratuitously ‘different’, but without any obvious artistic organisation. Even as a pop song it is impotent; the vocal, provided by London Grammar’s Hannah Reid, doesn’t add very much at all to the mix and lacks the catchiness required of a decent pop song.

In fact (I am beginning to wind myself up now), this is completely inane stuff. It sounds like the kind of thing your 16-year-old sibling listens to after finally finishing their GCSEs, at last graduating from hundreds of hours of ‘Chill Beats to Revise to’ playlists. In a couple of years they might use it as the background music for their gap year vlog. 1.5/5

DIIV – ‘Skin Game’
Cole Smith et al finally make a return after a few years without fresh material. Their new album, Deceiver, will be out on Captured Tracks in October.

This new cut continues in the more minimal direction of Is the Is Are– which came as a pointed step out from the washy, reverb-shrouded debut Oshin. The guitars sound and feel crisp, and with intent; there is nothing left out of the light here. There is still the edge of DIIV’s earlier work, however this is paired with an evolved sense of presentation. The instrumentation is more self-assured and essential. Equally, Smith’s vocal is confident and sits comfortable over an instrumental which even has a pop sensibility about it. As a fan, I am excited to more of this new sound. 4/5

Oh Sees – ‘Poisoned Stones’
Stalwart psych-boppers Oh Sees released this single and an accompanying video (which looks like what would happen if the ghost of a subject of a 1950s LSD experiment conducted by the CIA got inside your old Megadrive) hot on the heels of announcing the release of a new album – the alarmingly yet brilliantly titled Face Stabber.

‘Poisoned Stones’ features janky post-punk riffs, scuzzy and flange-soaked psychy goodness, and frantic drums which create a mood at once breathless and cool, almost reminiscent of Captain Beefheart. I found it to be a grower, taking a few listens to get into it. Still, it feels as if the vocal performance could give just a little more to match the excitement and pace of the instrumental, and the verses feel a little lacklustre and dull because of this. Overall, though, not a bad single – and an exciting teaser for the album. 4/5

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