Our May new music review and playlist has great singles by some unusual and talented artists. Read all about them and listen to the tracks at the end of the post.
From album: Dirty Computer
If there’s one bright spark coming from the Trump presidency it’s that there are musicians operating in daytime radio-friendly music nowadays who have something interesting to say. Modern mainstream R&B, in particular, has been a genre that has avoided politics in favour of matters of, well, let’s just say the body. In the last couple of years there’s been a big shift; think artists like Solange and SZA, and now Janelle Monáe. To be fair, Monáe has never shied away from controversy and tough topics, not surprising from someone who has come out as a pansexual black woman. But the skilful way in which she blends her pristine pop-R&B on latest album Dirty Computer with topics ranging from gender issues to #blacklivesmatter is next level. She’s not afraid to drop a slew of f-bombs (even as primary words in a chorus) and for sure is still able to get raunchy when the mood takes hold (try listening to I Got The Juice without blushing).
Don’t be fooled by the perfect sheen, this is not music to listen to casually in front of your pre-teens. Avoid this warning and don’t be surprised at what they drop at granny’s lunch next Sunday. Pynk is the lead single and is a collaboration with Canada’s Grimes. Despite Grime’s normal EDM leanings, she treats the production gently and the result is gorgeous. Don’t be fooled by the title of the track and the now infamous vagina-pants in the video, this song isn’t all what it seems. For sure this is a lesbian anthem, but a line of lyrics in the chorus (“leaving traces of us down the boulevard”) also points to a different interpretation from the obvious.
(Also download from the album: Crazy Classic Life, Make Me Feel, Screwed)
From album: You Will Not Die
When the movie Inxeba (The Wound) was released last year it was met with critical acclaim globally and what can best be described as ‘mixed reactions’ in its home market. The controversial story of homosexual love mixed in with the sacred Xhosa manhood/circumcision ritual was treated as an affront in certain conservative South African circles. Lead actor Nakhane Touré (born Mahlakahlaka) plays the role of Xolani, a gay factory worker who is responsible for mentoring a youth from Joburg through the coming-of-age process. Nakhane is himself gay and did not have an easy upbringing. So much so that his reaction to the film being slapped with an X18 rating by under-pressure authorities*, a rating typically reserved for hard-core porn, provoked an emotional response.
In his musical output too, he has never shied away from expressing some hard truths. He tackles themes of religion and sexuality so seamlessly that sometimes it’s difficult to distinguish one from the other. After 2015’s breakthrough collaboration with Black Coffee, latest album You Will Not Die presents a marked shift from his former folky style. Shimmering electronics and, on lead singles Clairvoyant and Interloper, even danceable beats, are present throughout. But Nakhane’s voice remains the same – a beautiful device that straddles the mid-point between Anohni and old-time gospel. Whatever your religious, sexual or cultural beliefs, this is a treasure to be celebrated as one man’s triumph over adversity.
* subsequently reversed
(Also download from the album: Clairvoyant, By The Gullet, Presbyteria)
Song: Get Up
From album: Isolation
Kali Uchis was born Karly-Marina Loaiza. The Colombian may only be 23 but she’s crammed in an awful lot. The singer-songwriter has already twice been nominated for a Grammy, in top of success as a poet, record producer, video director and fashion designer. Preceded by a mixtape and handful of singles, Isolation is her debut album. Critically acclaimed across a broad cross-section of critics, the style is largely neo-soul, and the album is carried by Uchis’ impressive vocal performance. Understated where most of her contemporaries favour a more in-your-face approach. The 4th single released from the album (Get Up) merges a brief intro from album track Gotta Get Up (itself billed as an interlude) before slipping into album opener Body Language. In both incarnations, Body Language is all sensual Brazilian jazz. Just add a beach and some pina colada for a perfect sundowner. Also worth checking out is In My Dreams, Uchis’ collaboration with the Gorillaz’ Damon Albarn.
(also download from the album: In My Dreams, Miami, Your Teeth In My Neck)
Song: Every Morning
From album: Stop Lying
Some music is designed to make you think while some is there for you to just take in with a smile. And so it is with Londoner Raf Rundell. In both his solo output and the stuff he releases in the guise of the 2Bears duo with Hot Chip’s Joe Goddard, his is a collection of happy, cheeky stuff. Rough of appearance, his sweet voice and melodic pop is disarming. Let’s face it, this guy ain’t gonna win any GQ style awards; he reserves his cool for his musical output rather. He blends disco, soul and indie in a groove-heavy dynamic. Every Morning is the first single off Rundell’s 2nd album Stop Lying and a track that he describes as “a bright-eyed, shuffling paean to the joys of parenthood”. The Sunday morning vibe is captured perfectly here, complete with mellow beats, real bass, 60s guitar and even a welcome smattering of trumpets.
(Also download from the album: Falling Out, Sweet Cheeks, Kinder Nature)
The Magic Gang
Song: All This Way
From album: The Magic Gang
Traditional rock music seems to be in terminal decline. So, when a four-piece gets signed by a major record label for the release of their debut album it’s newsworthy nowadays. The fact that the band concerned hails from Brighton, England, which is hardly a hot bed of new music, is even more surprising. Then layer on the fact that the band comprises four unremarkable looking lads who have nothing particularly interesting by way of back story, and it becomes something worth looking into.
Listening to their self-titled debut, it becomes clearer what the fuss is about. Sure, this is typical guitar-based fare. Sure, the lyrical content seems to be the normal boy-girl stuff. Sure, this was all done before by bands like Teenage Fanclub. But The Magic Gang’s no-filler approach means they have dropped an album where the singles are difficult to distinguish from the album tracks. Everything on here could have been a massive hit in the mid 90s. In an era where verse-chorus melodic indie-pop has become something of a rarity, their vocal harmonies and straightforward backing seems fresh. Despite the 12 tracks sounding like a best of collection, All This Way still manages to stand out. A life affirming slacker anthem that will no doubt sound glorious as a sing-along with the crowds at the UK summer festivals.
(Also download from the album: How Can I Compete, Caroline, Slippin’)
In case you missed it…
Song: One Day Like This
From album: The Seldom Seen Kid (from 2008)
London hosted the summer Olympics in 2012 and Danny Boyle was chosen to choreograph the opening and closing ceremonies. Given his prior work directing movies like Trainspotting (with its game-changing soundtrack), coupled with the riches to choose from in the library of British music, little wonder that the director curated an amazing showcase of ‘Cool Britannia’.
Elbow took the stage at the climax of the closing ceremony and delivered a towering performance of their song One Day Like This. Despite the downtempo nature of the piece, it’s power and uplifting theme was a perfect accompaniment to the happy-sad feeling that comes at the end of something truly successful. Recall the collected gathered athletes on the field joining in for the song’s main chorus line of ‘it’s looking like a beautiful day’, a global sentiment of joy. Less worldly is the pre chorus line of ‘holy cow I love your eyes’ of course, which could only come from a band from Manchester. For a rock band, the backing is atypically orchestral. Strings are a tricky proposition in pop music, mostly coming across as either cheesy or filler. Elbow manage to get it just right here.
Elbow had been kicking around for more than 15 years when they released 4th album The Seldom Seen Kid. A Mercury Prize win for the record followed, as well as Ivor Novello awards for its 2 main singles; Grounds For Divorce and One Day Like This. The latter song also returned back to the top of the UK charts following that Olympics performance. The band has become something of a national treasure in the UK. Never flashy or attempting to keep pace with latest trends, they have a knack of delivering moving music touching on adult themes. They have always seemed genuine in their messaging as well – album title The Seldom Seen Kid was a nickname given to Elbow frontman Guy Garvey by a good friend who passed away shortly before the album’s release. Bittersweet Mancunian humour at its best.
(Also download from the album: Grounds For Divorce, Mirrorball, An Audience With The Pope)
LISTEN TO OUR PLAYLIST
You can listen to previews of each track by clicking on the red preview button.
If you have iTunes and an Apple Music account, you can listen to the full songs and add the playlist to your library. Simply click on the Apple Music logo, top left, then choose “listen on Apple Music”, then “Add”.
(RELATED POSTS: See our other music reviews and playlists here. )