27 May 2015

Weekly Listening: Astro Children, Hudson Mohawke, Shamir, Laurel Halo and more

11:00 am on 27 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.

Astro Children.

Astro Children. Photo: Jamie Russell

Astro Children – ‘Play It As It Lays’

With crispy-clean vocals and every word in its place, Astro Children’s ‘Play It As It Lays’ reeks of Built to Spill-esque melodicism, yet the repetition turns somewhat sinister and grim.

Millie Lovelock’s building of her half-mock/half-jab - ‘you think there’s more to me’ in that creepy way older dudes corner and look deep into your eyes, and tell you their Older Dude Wisdom. She nails it. It becomes the anti-‘Creep’ (aka the weirdest song to watch your relations karaoke to on Singstar), projecting how it feels to be the one who is creeped on. ‘I think you’re watching me’ comes up in various guises - from the third person ‘I think my neighbour’s watching me’ to finally the first person, that infamous you.

We’re never quite sure who you is, but it sure sounds ominous. Everything marinates for the right amount of time; we have that nervous heartbeat riff ebbing us on whilst the drums smash but never falter, until each verse is delivered with devastating finality and venom. – Eden Bradfield

Hudson Mohawke feat. Antony Hegarty – ‘Indian Steps’

BBC 1 premiered a few new tracks from the new Hudson Mohawke album Lantern (due out mid-June), including this total swoonfest of a song that features the enigmatic vocals of Antony Hegarty (Antony & the Johnsons). If you’re not particularly familiar with the Scottish DJ, he’s held down production duties for the likes of Kanye, Drake, Azealia Banks, Pusha T, and more.

The other album tracks we’ve been hearing lately have been characterised as ‘friendlier’ than what we’re used to from HudMo, and ‘Indian Steps’ takes that sentiment even further for a superbly easy listen. It’s a warm and ethereal track that’s driven in equal measure by his beat and Antony’s distinct vocals. Antony’s resonant tone and fragile vibrato deliver a message of longing and past-tense: “You wanted me, and I wanted you.” Perhaps consider it a taste of Antony’s forthcoming album Hopelessness, which HudMo co-produced.

Putting aside a problematic reference to what I assume are Native Americans (“I take Indian steps / because I don’t want to wake you”), it’s a beautiful - if not slightly out of character - offering. Sarin Moddle

HalfNoise – ‘Inside’

HalfNoise is the moniker of Zac Farro, a Nashville based vocalist and multi-instrumentalist. In recent years Farro has spent a lot of time in New Zealand on and off, even spending seven months here over 2013/2014 recording his debut full-length LP. Prior to all of this, he was a founding member and drummer of Paramore.

Returning earlier this year to the country, Zac worked together with producer Joel Little to create ‘Inside’, a sonic dreamscape featuring ethereal vocals and sampling akin to the likes of James Blake and Jamie xx. This change for Farro is certainly different coming from his debut LP. In this song he trades his drum kit for a drum machine, and guitar strings for groove laden oscillating synths. While it may feel different instrumentally, familiar HalfNoise vocal melodies ring throughout the track.

If you find yourself swooning over the sonic pleasures of ‘Inside’, I recommend checking out his debut full length LP from last year, Volcano Crowe. – Joshua Thomas

Adult Mom – ‘Survival’

Adult Mom create a tale of acceptance through the sounds of slack. This New York based band’s themes seem to surround the idea of understanding self-worth and identity. It begins with “I don’t know if my mum loves me anymore” and ends with the heart-breaking line “I will not feel like a bad queer”. This is an important song.

What makes ‘Survival’ noteworthy is the music that accompanies it. Though the vocals have that dramatic wavy croak to them, the track is chirpy. The mix is sloppy and at times, off time. A beautiful almost-‘beeping’ noise chimes throughout. But it’s all intentional and all in good fun. Like Alvvays, Adult Mom use the silliness of the 90s to mask the hurt of prejudice that should have died back then. – Alex Lyall

Shamir – ‘Hot Mess’

20-year-old Shamir apparently started making music because he wanted to be a country musician. Instead, his debut album Ratchet is an exploration of disco and house music, genres that have typically created safe spaces for gay and queer-identifying partiers. The music fits well with Shamir’s genderless voice and look.

“Feel like I’m right but always wrong.” Shamir sings on ‘Hot Mess’, the acid house ode to not fitting in. Like all good dance tracks, ‘Hot Mes’s features the pre-requisite cowbell, with the rest of the music built up with programmed drums and synthesizers.

The biggest LGBTQ pop anthems have largely been performed by non-gay artists (think Abba, Lady Gaga…) but here Shamir sings from his own lived experiences. He “feels so alone”, but knows that he is “part of a bigger mission”. Luckily for us, Shamir isn’t following convention. As he sings on an earlier track, “Why not go out and make a scene?” – Ellen Falconer

Refused – ‘Françafrique’

Ahead of their first album drop in 17 years, reunited Swedish punk rockers Refused have just released their second teaser track which is sure to have fans talking. A long awaited follow up from their previous album The Shape of Punk to Come, it seems that shape differs from what many fans grew to love.

The album was looking like a return to the band’s intense, hardcore ways with their first single ‘Elektra’ released last month, but while that ticked all the boxes and showed a band back in form, ‘Françafrique’, while still intense and recognisably ‘Refused’,  carries a more pop-like feel, and builds elements of funk into the bridge.

With a punchy unaccompanied beginning of children chanting “exterminate the brutes, exterminate all the brutes”, a catchy electric guitar riff punches through before the word “murder” is repeated as if in the opening of a barbershop group (in a way reminiscent of something out of children’s show Blue’s Clues - think mail time).

I can’t help but like it. Its lyrics are obviously and shamelessly political, the guitar riff combined with funky bass line leave a strong impression while the shouting vocals remind you it's Refused. It’s a song that will get you nodding your head in both a curbed headbang, and a sign of yes, I can get into this. But will fans? – Tom Furley

Laurel Halo – ‘Blue Notion’

Yesterday Tompkins Square released a new compilation in which artists have covered previously unheard songs and lyrics by the legendary singer Karen Dalton. Remembering Mountains: Unheard Songs by Karen Dalton features an incredible cast of female singer-songwriters, from anti-folk outsider Diane Cluck to woman-of-the-moment Sharon Van Etten, but most interesting to me is the inclusion of Laurel Halo, the boundary pushing electronic artist who would be more at home on an underground techno mix than on a tribute album to a cult folk artist.

Out of all the tracks on the album, Halo’s interpretation of the song ‘Blue Notion’ is undoubtedly the furthest away from the music Karen Dalton may or may not have had in her head when writing these lyrics. Programmed bass drums stagger forward in jarring loops, accompanied by trickling toms and hi-hats that scatter about in the abundant aural void, all backdropped by warping synth-lines that seem to teeter on the brink of purgatory. The vocals drift naked through the soundscape, unaware and unconcerned with what is going on around them. It is a song of loss, of watching life slip through your hands, whole-heartedly believing that you’re too inadequate to stop it, to even attempt to slow down the inevitable implosion.

Despite being so stylistically far away from Dalton’s own music, the piece manages to perfectly capture the pain and tragedy at the heart of everything she recorded in her short musical career. There’s a rawness to it, a gaping wound unmasked and almost tangible, brushing past fingertips, just beyond our grasp. It is infinitely honest but hides something huge and futile. This is 21st century blues. 

Laurel Halo has masterfully opened up the windows to let these words breathe, and we can only hope the torment they encapsulate is somehow eased by the fresh air and fresh ears. – Luke Owen Smith.

Jamie xx feat. Young Thug and Popcaan – ‘I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)’

Widely known in hip hop circles for his production on Drake and Rihanna’s ‘Take Care’, Jamie xx brings us another solid single in the lead up to the drop of his next album In Colour.  Featuring Young Thug, who is on fire right now after the release of Barter 6, the track is fresh and catchy and could be one of the songs of the year.

Jamie xx recently told XXL Magazine that Young Thug has a weird style, but he loves what he does with his voice - the highlight here though comes from Jamaican dancehall artist Popcaan and the island/summer elements xx incorporates into the production. – Aleyna Martinez

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