13 May 2015

Weekly Listening: Willow Smith, Janine and The Mixtape, A$AP Rocky and more

8:52 am on 13 May 2015

A revolving cast of contributors from the Music 101 and Wireless teams showcase some of the best new music releases from the past week.

Willow Smith.

Willow Smith. Photo: Unknown

Willow Smith – ‘F Q-C #7’

Is Willow Smith becoming the Jimi Hendrix of teen pop?

While it’s probably best to stray away from definition by precedent, Smith’s take on pop in the vein of Girlpool and tUnE-yArDs remains undeniably fresh and invites an awakening of the senses in a way that appears in the mainstream every so often.

Smith’s sparse and playful production oozes intention and conviction, and talks about amethyst crystals, rejecting the intellectual homogenisation of the US schooling system, and climbing trees.

The video for ‘F Q-C #7’ (pronounced Frequency Number Seven) is also self-produced and features her in symbolic garb: Yellow for self-confidence, blue for her voice, red for survival instinct, and black, for all of the above.

It’s unsurprising the daughter of Jada Pinkett (who is basically Gaia from Captain Planet) would grow within five years from junior power pop sensation to 14-year-old chakra cleansing punk. Some might call it spiritual correctness gone mad.  Regardless, it’s all pretty clever and gleeful. Sophie Wilson

Janine and The Mixtape – XX EP

Writer, producer and beatmaker Janine and The Mixtape has just released the XX EP, a collection of songs both heavy and lush that echo the sounds of a woman who's been through some real shit.

She’s not playing either. 'When I’m Broken' showcases the power in her voice, with her confronting her ex-lover with lines like, “I don't think you want me as much as you wanna say that you had me”. The EP is intoxicating and defining, and because she's creatively constructed everything in it, it’ll make you stop and listen. 'Lose My Mind' is a really cool rendition of DMX's ‘Party Up (Up In Here)’ too.  - Aleyna Martinez

A$AP Rocky ft. Rod Stewart, Miguel and Mark Ronson – ‘Everyday’

During an interview with the Red Bull Music Academy over the weekend, A$AP Rocky dropped ‘Everyday’, a new track which is rumoured to be the first proper single from his anticipated third album, A.L.L.A. (At.Long.Last.A$AP).

The track sees A$AP joined by an unlikely trio – Miguel, Mark Ronson and … Rod Stewart, with the latter appearing via a sample of his 1972 song ‘In a Broken Dream’. It’s a risk, but A$AP is no stranger to switching up his style. In an interview last month, he explained, “I don’t like doing anything anyone else is doing”, and it shows. With Miguel’s vocals, the sample and beat switch, ‘Everyday’ is a more mellow sound than we’ve heard from him before. It’s worth the wait.

If the track is anything to go by, this June holds a lot in store with the release of his album. At long last indeed. - Hannah Martin

Kamasi Washington – ‘Henrietta Our Hero’

Last week Kamasi Washington released one of the most exciting jazz albums of the 21st century. Heavily influenced by the likes of John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders and Sun Ra (to name but a few,) his music honours – and pushes forward – the spiritual/free jazz movement that blossomed throughout the sixties and seventies, giving it a new lease of life and a younger audience – particularly after collaborating with the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus and Thundercat.

It’s not an album I expected to be hearing in 2015, yet somehow the timing is perfect; over the past decade or so, free jazz has been slowly creeping back into the periphery of popular culture and into the ears of the under thirties, both through leftfield hip hop artists – particularly around the L.A Beat scene – and through British electronic musicians such as Floating Points or Four Tet. Although a touchy subject in legal terms, the age of sampling has done wonders for shedding light on music that would otherwise be remnants of the past. 

‘Henrietta Our Hero’ finds itself on the second disc of this monstrous triple album, appropriately entitled The Epic. It is a great example of how Washington’s music simultaneously concerns itself with the infinite and the infinitesimal, moving from a quiet, gentle ballad in one moment to a full blown orchestral explosion in the next, barely stopping to catch its breath as waves of euphoria crash all around.

The narrative runs parallel to the musical arrangements, detailing Henrietta’s woes in the quieter sections – a woman broken down by love and life, battling alone – and then surging with of tide of choir and strings to tell us of the inextinguishable strength of human spirit, the limitless power held within Our Hero – and in all of us – channelled from the moon and stars, as ancient and formidable as love itself. – Luke Owen Smith

Sugar Pigs – ‘Boiled’

Most of the time it is fruitless, but I occasionally check out Bandcamp for the new releases and new happenings in this digital music world we live in. I followed the 'punk' tag (which made me vomit a little) and clicked on 'Boiled' by Sugar Pigs, because the cover art looked great. And if we have learnt anything, we've learnt you should always judge music by its cover - especially if it doesn't have a fancy booklet to fold out.

I was pleasantly surprised, even energised. The track is blissfully melodic with an obvious love for the pop form. The vocals are as nuanced and overblown as a late Jay Reatard track, with a sensibility for dumb bubblegum hair-gel pop (think early 2000s, when you were in a high school choir and there was the cool kid who wanted to screw the system and loved Green Day!), that is frankly refreshing to these jaded ears.

These fellas understand the importance of the backup singer (who’s seemingly shouting from the drum kit) and the importance of relentless drumming with little regard for showing off. They don't have 1,798 cymbals, but they don't need them either. – Eden Bradfield

Nicolas Jaar – Nymphs ll EP

Nicolas Jaar’s first solo work in four years is also some of his most avant garde music to date. Side A’s ‘The Three Sides of Audrey and Why She's All Alone Now’ spends nearly four minutes collaging various swishes, rumbles and chirps, before it begins to flirt with the idea of rhythm and a vaguely tribal beat arrives. Soon an intimate vocal joins in. You can hear hints of his prior work in the melody, but otherwise it’s bracingly unfamiliar. Side B’s ‘No One is Looking at U’ finds him in friendlier territory as he locks into a 4/4 beat, but where the first track was a pleasant mush of organic sounds, this one is swathed in a digital chill, all modulated vocals and glacial synths.

I always thought Jaar talked a big game that he didn’t quite deliver on. Despite moments of undeniable genius on his first album, he tended to fall back into a pretty standard samba-type boogie that was hardly life changing. Here though, there’s a real sense of starting from scratch and challenging himself; the kind of reinvention that’s essential to the longevity of any artist. I look forward to hearing more, even if it does take him another four years to produce. – Tony Stamp

Bully – ‘I Remember’

I don’t think you can ever be truly over ‘it’ as there’s always going to be a flash of memory when ‘it’ gets to you. For ‘I Remember’,  ‘it’ refers to lost love, a subject that for every song or album that gets the subject right, there are so many that get it wrong. It’s hard to write about getting stung and still feeling raw in a way that can convey those almost indefinable, devastating moments when you know something you care about is over.

The latest single from Bully builds on the strength of previous single ‘Trying’ and works as a companion to that song. It adds weight that Bully do indeed have something to say about the house of cards coming down. The track is sparse and since it’s brief, it gets directly to the point. The production is scratchy and the chorus hurts like a static shock - there doesn’t seem to be any wasted time and that is very important in a pop song.

Like Shellac’s ‘Prayer to God’, that wiry texture breaks through any defences you might put up, allowing you to understand the angst behind the song. Is it mature sounding? Not really. It reads like a diary entry, but it’s honest and that’s what makes it special. – Luke Jacobs

Neck Deep - ‘Can’t Kick Up The Roots’

Hailing from Wales, Wrexham pop-punk bandits Neck Deep have been a driving force behind the recent revival of the genre. This is following in the wake of bands like California’s The Story So Far and New Jersey’s Man Overboard. While pop-punk reached peak popularity and enjoyed mainstream attention in the late 90s and early 2000s, you would be forgiven if you thought it was a now dormant genre reserved for nostalgia trips and ironic house party sing alongs. The truth is anything but, as it explodes in popularity just outside of the mainstream eye. 

Neck Deep’s ‘Can’t Kick Up The Roots’, off their upcoming album Life’s Not Out To Get You, doesn’t change the pop-punk formula exactly, but then again changing the formula isn’t why you would want to listen to them. Featuring fast drums, catchy vocal melodies and lyrical themes involving drinking,  girls, being young, and living in a dead end town, it all seems familiar, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. While Neck Deep won’t appeal to everyone, if you have at any point enjoyed the genre, you might be pleasantly surprised by how this new generation of pop-punkers are shaping up. – Joshua Thomas

Yuma X – ‘Swimming Pool’

Australian boy-girl duo Yuma X have come out of nowhere with their debut release ‘Swimming Pool’. Heavy on the chill and light on the bass, it’s an emotive and simmering RnB/electronica track, the kind of song you want to immerse yourself in.

A Facebook page that is as sparse as their music, reveals little information about the duo behind Yuma X, only that their names are Lucy and Jake. Originally released in 2008 by a musician named Ghoul, the duo have totally made the song their own and brought new meaning to the lyrics. This stunning debut proves there is plenty of talent here for them to release something of their own. – Ellen Falconer

What's your pick? Tell us about it in the comments section.