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Best Songs Ever: Frank Ocean’s back and indie fans are shitting themselves

Our regular round-up of new songs and singles, featuring Frank Ocean’s continued glory, Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett’s indie-dream collab, and more…

SONG OF THE WEEK

Frank Ocean – ‘Provider’

Frank’s post-Blonde productivity continues

Four loose singles into his post-Blonde period, Frank Ocean’s transition from quasi-recluse to mercurial and erratically prolific auteur seems pretty much complete. Rarely seen in the time passed between Channel Orange and Endless, he’s spent the last year-ish turning to a kind of musical-realism, focusing micro and macro elements of his life as a bonafide musical celebrity: ‘Chanel’ explored the dualities of his life and of the people in his; ‘Lens’ saw him reflect on his status as a constant observer who now found himself under constant observation; and ‘Biking’ read a life detached thru the metaphor of, uh, biking.

‘Provider’ finds Frank contemplating his existence both as artist and human; the obligations to the people directly touched by his aura and those who just examine it from a distance. Sonically he’s in pure night music mode, underpinning and belying the track’s fundamental crispness with a treble-y warble that invokes more than anything the sound of 3am cassette tapes in a hotboxed hatchback.

Fittingly, for a song whose voice and message is so singular, Ocean enlisted the services of similarly self-determined visual artist and sometime creative partner Tom Sachs for the song’s understated (and under-promoted) video. Having worked together on projects ranging from festival staging to the infamous Endless staircase, in a recent interview with i-d Magazine, the latter said of their joint process, “there was an aspect of collaboration, but it was really me doing my thing and him using it.”

For a musician so concerned with controlling his own artistic and aesthetic destiny, to place such faith in a partner so independent feels significant; a tacit confidence that if he communicates his own self and his own story with absolute clarity, he can trust that it’ll be read and interpreted the right way. If his future output is equal to what he’s achieved with ‘Provider’, that assumption feels surprisingly secure. / Matthew McAuley

Kurt Vile & Courtney Barnett – ‘Over Everything’

Pitchfork’s wet-dream becomes reality

The idea of neo-slacker rockers Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett recording an album together is so appealing to a certain kind of fan that it sounds more like something dreamed by the editorial team of Pitchfork than objective reality. Both artists have managed to forge their own paths by taking aspects of ‘90s indie rock and imbuing it with their own specific touch to create something original.

Together, ‘Over Everything’ highlights some of their lesser tendencies. A 6-minute country-tinged drone, it feels like an album track on a Dinosaur Jr. record after Lou Barlow left (and before he came back again). Guitars jangle, Kurt and Courtney (hey…wait a minute) deadpan over top about bending blues riffs and not letting pesky headphones neuter listening to their jams.

These two are so appealingly louche it’s impossible to hate, but it just goes nowhere. Perhaps this is the point  a kind of meta-commentary on the constant modern craving for first singles to make a grand statement of purpose. Much more likely it’s just a jam between a couple of mates over a beer, who thought they’d do a whole record of ‘em while they plot their respective next moves. / Pete Douglas

Kaylee Bell – ‘Next Somebody’

It’s hard being a fan of youthful country music right now – two of the biggest names in the game (Thomas Rhett and Kelsea Ballerini) have both recently released music that edges so close to being syrupy pop that I feel nothing but betrayal. It’s a narrative we’ve seen play out time and again over the decades, but one that makes me particularly anxious in light of where Taylor has wound up. Anyway, enough mourning the superstars dipping their toes in the pop charts, because Kiwi country singer/songwriter Kaylee Bell has finally treated us to a new song and there’s not a synth in sight!

Anyway, enough mourning the superstars dipping their toes in the pop charts, because Kiwi country singer/songwriter Kaylee Bell has finally treated us to a new song and there’s not a synth in sight!

‘Next Somebody’ is yet another self-assured, confident song from a woman who knows her worth. The dude in this track just won’t quit, and with the willpower of a saint, Kaylee just keeps on pushing him away. ‘Next Somebody’ also meets all the pre-recs for a country banger – a strong identifiable melody, bold vocals and an easy to follow story – making it an ease to listen to.

Strong female country singers with a point to make are super underrated, in Nashville and abroad. You can listen to them at the gym, while you’re crying into a bottle of pinot gris, or scream along in the car with the windows down pretending you’re on a highway to who knows where. ‘Next Somebody’ fits all aforementioned occasions, and I hope so badly that it can shake up those male-dominated country charts. / Kate Robertson

Mogwai – ‘Party In The Dark’

Tuneful post-rock, poppy even

Back in the days when it took the best part of half an hour to download a single song, one of my most cherished mp3s was Mogwai’s cover of Guns N Roses ‘Don’t Cry’ from a John Peel session. Unlike the majority of the band’s post-rock oeuvre, this one had singing on it, and the fragility of Stuart Braithwaite’s vocals going up against the usual sheets of distortion and feedback absolutely destroyed me.

The band has released eight studio albums since then, and as their sound has continued to expand so too has the presence of vocals – but while they seem more confident on ‘Party In The Dark’, off the new album Every Country’s Sun, there’s still traces of that lonely voice on ‘Don’t Cry’ from two decades ago. Producer Dave Fridmann is (back) behind the desk for this album, and ‘Party In The Dark’ has more in common with Mercury Rev’s Deserter’s Songs than classic Mogwai; it’s tuneful, shimmering pop-rock, and it suits them. / Calum Henderson

Matthew Dear feat. Tegan and Sara – ‘Bad Ones’

Zooey-Deschanel-on-SSRIs

Tegan & Sara are responsible for releasing two of the best pop albums of the decade in Heartthrob and Love You To Death, and any new songs that let me hear their dulcet Zooey-Deschanel-on-SSRIs voices wrapping around each other is a good thing. ‘Bad Ones’ is that, and it’s even a little bit better like it could be a Heartthrob b-side. This isn’t even a Tegan and Sara song though, it’s a Tegan and Sara ‘feat’, as they say in the industry, but they still take lead vocals.

When Matthew Dear’s darker-sadder Morrissey tones come in, it should be intrusive and weird, but it’s the right tone. I hate whatever character he’s playing, he’s the dude who owns up to being a bad guy before he does it, and he thinks that excuses it. He’s a dick. But it’s all about that bassline, and what sounds like a didgeridoo in the background but possibly can’t be, and it’s to the song’s credit that when it riffs on it for an extra minute that it’s actually pleasant and not just an obvious way for a DJ to segue out of it in whatever club ends up playing this. / Sam Brooks

Savannah – ‘I’ll Never Know’

Debut dreamy dream-pop

Savannah, a 17-year-old dream-pop/funk artist is the latest teen act with an impressive set of pipes to come out of New Zealand’s resurging pop music scene. She just released her debut single ‘I’ll Never Know’ and I like it. It sounds like a lot of other pop songs, but that’s a good thing. If I heard it played on the radio or at a party, I’d just assume one of the many young female pop stars had put out another hit.

The only part of this song that threw me off was her very distinct American accent. For all I know, she moved to New Zealand recently but it does make me feel weird when I hear a New Zealand artist singing in an accent. It’s not harsh enough to make me stop listening, though. Savannah seems like one to keep an eye on. / Madeleine Chapman

Womb – ‘Feeling Like Helium’

Sibling-alt-rock

Hailing from Wellington, the appropriately named Womb are a band of siblings who make tender alt-rock. We usually associate family bands with joyous choruses and hand-claps, like HAIM and The Jackson 5. But this is not that.

‘Feeling Like Helium’ is a slow and fractured track that ranges from the moody to the melancholy. The music matches the lyrics then, which paint a picture of being so lonely that you feel as if you’re not part of society. It’s a relatively simple song, with a simple beat and simple chords, but becomes more interesting as the vocals become louder and more pronounced. Finally, the finale defines the song with lone, isolated strings fluttering for nearly a minute – offering a means of reflecting over the rather, sombre, subject matter. / Alex Lyall


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