A re-recorded Kiwi classic, the best song by pop music’s greatest diva, a supergroup of country’s finest highwomen – they’re just some of the tracks gracing The Spinoff’s songs of the month for September 2019.
‘Highwomen’ by The Highwomen
There are many things I love about country music: it captures narrative better than any other genre, it experiments and subverts while staying within a comfortable sonic comfort zone, and it has a capacity to give you a subtle emotional gut punch that you don’t even realise until the song ends. The lead track from new supergroup The Highwomen’s self-titled debut album does all of these, and throws in some gorgeous harmonies on top of it. It’s a revamp and a response to the The Highwaymen’s own self-titled track, which detailed the lives of forgotten, everyday men, but instead with the lives of forgotten women whose stories exist in the wreckage of every me. The song builds and builds, right to this stunning climax:
“We are The Highwomen
Singing stories still untold
We carry the sons you can only hold
We are the daughters of the silent generations
You send our hearts to die alone in foreign nations”
It’s a strong, stunning debut for a supergroup that actually earns that moniker. More of these ladies, please. / Sam Brooks
‘In the Mix’ by Mariah Carey
The path to ageing for musicians is kinda torturous. You can stay deep in your lane, putting out variations on a set theme, try to trend chase or muddle around before reverting to a self-consciously authentic style. For most of the past decade or so Mariah has stayed maybe a year or two behind the state of the current art for R&B, a comfortable pace for an artist staring down 50. It’s also a position she entirely abandons, to deliriously great effect on ‘In the Mix’, a non-album single, inauspiciously located in the soundtrack to Mixed-ish, a spinoff of a sitcom, albeit a well-conceived and -reviewed one. It is one made in the dreams of fans of her ’90s peak, fusing ‘Got Ya Money’ and ‘Fantasy’, taking in robofunk bass, an extraordinary high pitched vocal performance and even a squealing guitar solo. It’s a long way out of time, but also the best thing she’s done in years. / Duncan Greive
‘Something has to Change’ by The Japanese House
On her first salvo after debut album Good At Falling, Amber Bain doesn’t stray too far from the 1975-meets-Chairlift-inflected synthpop she’s been honing. The marriage of melancholy and vocodered bounce imagines the Jam & Lewis producing the Durutti Column on a song using classic form-as-sedimented-content tropes in a song about being stuck in a loop:
“And it’s the same thing
You’re repeating yourself
And it’s the same girl who’s giving you hell
And it’s the same face
Your heart keeps breaking in the same place.”
/ Stevie Kaye
‘No Bullshit’ by Sault
Enigmatic London ensemble Sault have released their second album within a year, and while 7 doesn’t have 5‘s immediate highs, they have a very Stereolab-ish quality where their potpourri of influences and scrimshaw production easily carries the material along. There’s some Northern Soul, the groovier end of krautrock (well, Jaki Liebezeit), gum-snapping skipping-rope rhymes, the garbage-can clatter of the sweatier end of disco, and a hefty dose of South Bronx punk-funk legends ESG. “Can’t fuck with me ’cause I know the real thing’s for free, can’t bullshit me” might not be the most original sentiment, but they make you believe it. / SK
‘Below’ by Blush Juliet
‘Below’, one of Emmanuel Sarmiento’s songs on Blush Juliet’s debut EP, has less of the post-Pixies pop-rock dynamic range or melodramatic oomph of songwriting partner Archi Banal’s contributions. Instead it trades on exquisite shoegaze swoon and muted synth undercurrents, the pair’s harmonies evanescing into emo ambience. / SK
‘Drive’ by sports dreams
Shannen Petersen, half of Pōneke via Te Papa-i-Oea outfit Sports Dreams, is no stranger to repurposing iconic NZ song titles for her compositions (c.f. fruit juice parade’s ‘Whaling‘), and there’s subtle shadings of Bic’s anthemic torch-song to this. Petersen’s soaring/plaintive vocal approach provides an unique offset to the track’s marriage of subdued guitar chime and moody, motorik synth that flares up on lines like “You get too close sometimes / I put all my trust in you” – an alternate universe where Midwestern emo and, say, the Postal Service had traded places chronologically. / SK
‘Orchid’ by Miss June
Miss June’s Bad Luck Party is a wall-to-wall pack of moody bangers, but the one that stood out for me was the reflective anger siren ‘Orchid’. The verses build from a rightfully bitter rumination on how men deal with relationships (“Ma says it’s easier for men to take flight / men were born with wings”) to the crash of the chorus (“Don’t go scratch at the wound / Don’t knock my down door”) and vocalist Annabelle Liddell’s howling repeated wail of “fall”. Like many of the songs I put on these lists, it’s the kind of song that I wish I had when I was a teenager – glistening rock that loses none of its edge or emotional authenticity. / SB
‘Haere Mai Rā’ by Bic Runga
Look, Bic Runga’s ‘Sway’ would be the best song of any month it happened to come out in, but as it stands, it’s a highlight of the gorgeous album Waiata / Anthems, a set of Kiwi classics re-recorded in te reo Māori. The longing ache and lightly-held melancholy of the track are no less potent two decades on, and Runga is an even better vocalist now than she was then: the high notes are still clean and powerful, but there’s a gorgeous weight to her lower register that makes this more than just a re-recorded version of the old song. / SB
Read our interview with Bic Runga on the process of recording this song for Waiata right here.
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