‘Best Songs Ever’ features various contributors to The Spinoff Music assessing recent songs and singles.
SONG OF THE WEEK
Thundercat – ‘Show You the Way (ft. Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins)’
Not many things in life are more electrifying than seeing the names Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins in brackets after a song title. As official co-captains of the good ship Yacht Rock, the two have voices gifted from the gods themselves. Thundercat’s background couldn’t be more different – he’s a savagely good jazz/rock/hip-hop fusion guy with a penchant for ripping bass solos. His slot at Laneway last year miraculously managed to get a sea of hipsters jumping up and down to some very un-hipster heavy jazz. This new track somehow marries the contrasting styles into something that is quite beautiful (with a little help from producer Flying Lotus). Thundercat has composed a typically-funky R&B-style jam with some dense jazz chords, and Michael and Kenny are there to deliver some heavenly backing vocals that fit in just right. Michael McDonald gets a whole guest verse and shows he’s still got the magic. This song is an experiment that needs to be followed up on. Keep the fire burning. Always. – Mitchell Houlbrooke
4ti – ‘Cash Me Outside Howbah Dah’
A troubled teenager appears on Dr Phil, and is turned into a meme; a bedroom EDM producer samples her braggadocious retort; the track makes it to Spotify’s Australia Viral 50 playlist. It’s moments like this that really make me question my defense of the Millennial generation. That’s assuming some demographic details about 4ti, the listed artist for this second-pressing of a viral hit: as far as I can determine, it’s their only release. It is also available for $0.99c on iTunes. The original clip of Danielle Peskowitz Bregol on Dr Phil, and the non-musical memes she inspired, can be enjoyed for free. Not even liberal application of the phlange effect can stretch the one-note idea beyond two minutes, 27 seconds. I’m all in favour of the sub-three-minute pop song, particularly at a time when the average length is creeping ever-upwards and with mostly diminishing returns – but in this case even 147 seconds is too long. God willing, this will be the first and last you hear of its existence, and Cash Me Outside Howbow Dah lives and dies on Australia Viral 50. But there’s a chance – particularly given Danielle’s imminent return to Dr Phil – that it could cross over into the mainstream as a novelty single in the vein of #SELFIE, which the Chainsmokers released two years before they became a household name with one of the biggest songs of 2016. Here’s hoping that’s not in 4ti’s stars. – Elle Hunt
Nelly Furtado – ‘Cold Hard Truth’
Since reading this brilliant article on the icon that is Nelly Furtado, I’ve been absolutely hanging out for her forthcoming album The Ride. The piece reminded me just how iconic the woman was, and had me hoping she could pull off the near impossible – a flawless comeback. Her third single in recent months, ‘Cold Hard Truth’ is a fun, upbeat pop song, only let down by its lack of any risk taking. It’s safe. Sara Bareilles safe. Flawless, but safe. Despite the song’s inability to grab you right away, it still sees Furtado try things we haven’t heard from her before. 17 years into her career, there’s something very full circle about ‘Cold Hard Truth.’ It hits a sweet spot between her 2006 peak and the innocent ‘I’m Like A Bird’ wave she came in on. The sick collabs with Timbaland might be a thing of the past, but the confidence, attitude, and self-awareness we loved her for is very much still there, and my god am I here for it. – Kate Robertson
Future Islands – ‘Ran’
Three years ago, Future Islands made their network television debut on the Late Show with David Letterman. The ever-grumpy Letterman was visibly impressed and the YouTube video of the song, ‘Seasons (Waiting on You)’, went low key-viral, mostly due to frontman Samuel T. Herring, who combined weird dad dancing, sorrowful eyebrows, Richard III posture, earnest chest thumping and growling vocals into a genuinely new form of rock performance. Of course, the performance only worked because the song was so good (it was named song of the year by at least five major music publications). ‘Seasons’ was a synthpop anthem we didn’t know we needed. ‘Ran’, the first single of their forthcoming record, is a continuation of that moment, a band doing what it does best, staying the path, not fixing what ain’t broke. It’s all there – the steady melodic bassline, the triple-time high-hats on the chorus, the persistent synths and, yes, that emotively gruff voice. If you have room for another ‘Seasons’ in your life, ‘Run’ might be what you’ve been waiting for. – Henry Oliver
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Mount Eerie – ‘Real Death’
Brutal. Fucking brutal. – HO
Arcade Fire – ‘I Give You Power’
Oh, Arcade Fire. What happened? Last time you were any good was in 2010 with The Suburbs, and even that has not aged as well as hoped. This latest single goes even further into the dance/electronic direction of 2013’s Reflektor, this time omitting bass, drums, and guitar entirely. Even the trademark accordion has been left sitting on the artisanal windowsill. The whole track is built around just a drum machine pattern and some sparse synth bass, and in general it sounds like an NCEA Level 1 composition internal. The (almost) single-chord vamp has barely any musical ideas to sustain it for nearly four minutes. Soul legend Mavis Staples is wasted on this vapid song, especially with its ultra-sanitised lyrics that are clearly supposed to be a “cutting” political commentary. Do better, Win and co. Right now, we need it. – MH
Tennis – ‘Modern Woman’
Denver husband and wife duo Tennis have been plugging away at their jangly brand of rock since 2010 and, save for their first successful single ‘Marathon’, nobody has taken much notice. Now preparing to release their fourth album, surely it’s their turn to get the recognition they deserve. See, vocalist Alaina Moore happens to have one of the most drop-dead stunning voices on the planet, and on this new single she puts it to typical use. Her unassuming, fragile tone gives way to a rock solid belt when the situation requires. This is a particularly vulnerable performance, as Alaina asks some big questions about what it means to be feminine in 2017, and how she fits into it all. Patrick Moore’s lonely, reverb soaked guitar lines are the perfect counterpoint. Drums drop out for a haunting outro that interlocks all the song’s elements. This is the sort of music that lingers long after the song ends, in the best possible way. – MH
Kane Strang – ‘Oh So You’re Off I See’
‘Oh So You’re Off I See’ is a very good indie rock song, cleaner and catchier than his early work, sounding a bit like when those American lo-fi bands in the ‘80s got signed and spent money at professional studios. It’s not going to set the world on fire, but it’s enough to make me excited to hear the album which is apparently coming later this year. – HO
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The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.