I Heard Your Single: A survey of the month's releases, featuring Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj, Frankie Rose, Santigold, and more
So! This is how it’ll work: Last Friday of the month, I’ll survey new singles from local acts—selectively, not exhaustively. By “singles,” I mean everything from 7- and 12-inches to “focus tracks” (e.g. they gave the MP3 away two months before the album release, or made a video), and by “local” I mean they live in New York. (Remixes and guest appearances by New Yorkers on out-of-towners’ records also get looks in.) Suggestions are welcome to firstname.lastname@example.org, no guarantees made. Let’s get started.
Hey! Did you hear? Jay-Z and Beyoncé had a kid! I know, right? Anyway, “Glory,” featuring B.I.C. (Roc Nation)—that’s the kid, Blue Ivy Carter—is less Sinatra at the Opera than ’80s Lou Reed, in that Jay’s been getting praise for inferior work and good intentions for a while. (Yes, I like Watch the Throne, too.) It’s not inapt or anything, but Josh Langhoff said it best on The Singles Jukebox: “Hide all by Jay-Z.” His verse on Young Jeezy’s “I Do” (Def Jam) is a lot better, maybe because his time was slightly less occupied when he recorded it.
“There ain’t no motherfucking third verse!” Nicki Minaj yells on “Roman in Moscow.” No, there’s a bunch of kiddie rhymes (“I triple-dog-dare”) and a really bombastic theme all the way to the finish—except she goes so fast you don’t notice the bombast until she’s done rhyming. “Stupid Hoe” (both Cash Money) is more problematic—the finishing callout, “I am the female Weezy,” is groan-inducing any way you hear it, especially after three straight minutes of what you’d declaim as sexist trash talk from a dude. Too bad, because the track is so unrelentingly percussive that you keep noticing things.
At the precise opposite end of the scale is the Robert Glasper Experiment feat. Musiq Soulchild and Chrisette Michelle’s “Ah Yeah” (Blue Note), the jazz pianist’s latest foray into black-radio terrain. (Literally: It precedes an album titled Black Radio.) It’s an elegant quiet-storm ballad that refuses to devolve into slop. It’s an accident of iTunes that I heard Shigeto’s “Huron River Drive” (Ghostly International) right after “Ah Yeah,” but they do go together like a natural A- and B-side, with the Brooklyn electronic producer’s twilit Rhodes line and glistening percussion extending Glasper’s heavy-lidded groove.
Evoking black radio of a different stripe—the synthed-up dance-pop ’80s, in this case—Pound Sterling’s remix of Escort’s “Why Oh Why” (Escort; download via Rolling Stone), makes the original over as something that just escaped from the Miami Vice soundtrack rather than the Thank God It’s Friday one. Speaking of remixes, four Brooklynites have good ones this month. In Brennan Green’s case, make it two: he turns London trio’s the M.E.B.’s “M5 M6” (for Throne of Blood, the label bankrolled by the Rapture and headed by James Friedman), which opens up the slow-building original with welcoming piano chords, and gives a similarly classy piano-house treatment to Toronto house duo Art Department’s “Tell Me Why” (Crosstown Rebels), which thrashes the all-new A-side, “Touch You Gently,” a record as gross as the title warns. Also on Crosstown is Amirali’s “Beautiful World (Deniz Kurtel Remix),” where the Turkish-born deep-house producer subdues the rubber-bandy bass and synth sproings of the original in favor of something that creeps beguilingly. Finally, FaltyDL, reworks Roots Manuva feat. Spikey Tee’s “Here We Go Again” (Ninja Tune) with a stuttering step, blobbier bass, and Psycho violin stabs that amp the track’s menace.
Nevertheless, the local remix of the month is by an outsider, albeit one who visits a lot: Belgium’s Vito de Luca, a.k.a. Aeroplane, who gets his mitts on the Rapture’s “Sail Away,” gets rid of the singing, synths up the opening chords, stretches them out till they’re ready to burst, then brings in the keyboard riff that marks the bridge of the original and lets things cool down a while. Result: a track that evokes white beach sand and a darkened bar at the same time.
Santigold’s first new track in a couple years, “Big Mouth” (Downtown; download via Santigold’s site), seems to take shots as well: “Gaga-ga, all slightly off,” Santi sneers. But its methodology is right in line with the prevailing pop trend toward Euro-house, albeit with a deeper sense of history. The track, co-produced by Switch (Diplo’s partner in Major Lazer) and Buraka Som Sistema, jacks its chassis from the Age of Love’s 1990 “The Age of Love (Watch Out for Stella Club Mix),” the record that essentially built trance’s early template, before it got gushy and moved into arenas. “Big Mouth” is hypnotic but not trance-like—the arrangement jumps around a lot, and the chorus is for chanting along with. Ditto Sleigh Bells’ “Comeback Kid” (Mom + Pop), which sounds just like the best parts of their debut album, only with a more sharply defined mix, including Alexis Krauss’s singing.
There’s a lot of latter-day new wave going on this month. The best of the pack is School of Seven Bells’ “Lafaye” (Ghostly International/Vagrant)—an early-’80s hook swathed in mid-’80s reverb, plus some of the catchiest vowel sounds in an age. The B-side, “Blood From a Stone,” goes surprisingly deep into R&B, and pulls it off—Alejandra Deheza has always had pipes, but hearing them with a dusting of Auto-tune and a chorus marinated in TLC is a surprise.
Frankie Rose has been making garage rock in bands (Vivian Girls, Crystal Stilts) and solo for a while, but “Know Me” (Slumberland) finds her going mid-’80s synth-pop rather well, which is sort of surprising and sort of not. (You can safely skip the Le Chev remix on the B-side.) If you crave the shock of the old, skip to La Sera’s “Please Be My Third Eye” (Hardly Art), the new one from Rose’s former Vivian Girls bandmate Katy Goodman, who leaves the draggy tempos of the last VG album in the well-earned dust. Decent sound quality, too.
Porcelain Raft’s “Unless You Speak From Your Heart” (Secretly Canadian) is closer to Rose’s earlier choices in fidelity—shimmering black-and-white production, very 2D despite all the echo—but a lot more expansive: vamping rhythm, whirligig sounds, guitar reverb, tambourines, the usual indie-pop kitchen sink. Tiny Victories’ “Lost Weekend” (BirdDog) is for those among us who always thought Interpol should just say fuck it and go full-on bubblegum. Bear in Heaven’s “The Reflection of You” (Dead Oceans/Hometapes) is the latest edition of ’10s indie’s propensity for John Hughes soundtrack audition songs.
Two more before we go: White Rabbits’ “Heavy Metal” (Third Man; downloadable from the band’s site), makes me approve of Spoon’s influence on younger bands. As for Lee Ranaldo’s “Off the Wall” (Matador), I get pleasure neither from listening to it nor in saying so. Its uninspired times-are-changing lyrics sound slightly overwhelmed; listening is like hearing a friend show you something they did, and then changing the subject.