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Best Songs Ever: A Bic Runga remix, a brilliant Aldous Harding bonus track and a U2 return to form

Our regular round-up of new songs and singles is back from its sabbatical, featuring Silicon’s take on Bic Runga, Aldous Harding’s off-cuts, the return of Kimbra, and more…

SONG(S) OF THE WEEK

Bic Runga – ‘Drive (Silicon Remix)’

A retro-futurist take on a New Zealand classic

Released ahead of Bic Runga’s 20th-anniversary celebration of her debut album Drive, Silicon’s remix of her classic sounds more like a cover than a remix. It’s hard to know how much of the original went into this – are those Silicon’s Kody Neilson’s vocals being processed and vocodered or are they some twisted version of Bic Runga’s original recordings? Either way, Silicon’s treatment of the song could effortlessly slide onto his under-rated album Personal Computer, combining its digital loneliness and Italo-disco hedonism. It sounds like Bic Runga only if Bic Runga was a sad robot from the late-’70s which had travelled through time to steal the digital voicing capabilities of an early-’00s personal computer. Or, to put it simply, this is catchy as fuck and endlessly listenable. / Henry Oliver

Aldous Harding – ‘Elation’

A bonus track that’s too good to be a bonus track

When I was sent Aldous Harding’s album Party a couple of month before its release, it was ten songs long, rather than the nine that ended up on the record. I’d been warned that ‘Elation’ was a bonus song and might not make the New Zealand release. Whatever. I put the ten songs on my phone and, until Party was released in May, that was the album to me. It didn’t end on ‘Swell Does the Skull’, the archaic-sounding duet with Perfume Genius, it ended with the ever-so-slightly optimistic catharsis of ‘Elation’, an emotional journey from “Sadly, I feel nothing / I’m so down on life” to “The beauty is so close to me” (though, I should note, while it sounds soaringly optimistic, the beauty is close, it’s not, like, here).

For me, ‘Elation’ completes the album. Makes it whole. Harding’s voice opens, her finger picking flows softly and calmly, there’s some chiming instruments sparkling through the chorus and bridge (A marimba on delay? A processed guitar?) and a muffled vocal sample which, in my mind, incessantly repeats “wonderful, wonderful” in the background, offering some literal optimism. While I still can’t believe this didn’t make the album, it always will for me.  / Henry Oliver

clockwise from top: KODY NEILSON (SILICON) AND BIC RUNGA, KIMBRA, KHELANI, ALDOUS HARDING

Kimbra – ‘Everybody Knows’

She’s back!

Up until now, the closest I’d come to being a Kimbra fan was spending most of 2011 fixated by ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’. I struggled to understand the hype around ‘Settle Down’ and her 2014 album The Golden Echo left me feeling neither here nor there. It’s for this reason I approached ‘Everybody Knows’ with caution, but it turns out I had absolutely no reason to because this funk pop song goes and goes, a reeeeeaaaal slow burner. It’s a low-key track to return with, which is risky business for any artist, but the slow build, rolling synths and restrained vocals leave you wanting more, more, more, more, more. The cruel joke here is that there isn’t more, and just like TV in the olden days we’re gonna have to wait patiently for the next instalment. / Kate Robertson

St Vincent – ‘Los Ageless’

Twisted progressive rock meets funky pop

‘Los Ageless’, the second single off Annie Clark’s fifth upcoming album MASSEDUCATION (apparently pronounced Mass-seduction), is so poppy and inviting that you would almost think it’s a top 40 banger, except it is so much darker, complicated and intricate. It’s got all the signs of a typical St Vincent song, but refreshed and renewed. This may be because she’s worked with Jack Antonoff, the producer of Lorde’s Melodrama, or maybe because she has lost her signature curly locks and traded them in for a brunette sharp bob.

This song reminds you, if you needed reminding after her first single in years ‘New York’, that Annie Clark is here to play guitar and be a total badass. This is what she does best after all: progressive rock meets seriously funky electronica, reminiscent of her song ‘Digital Witness’ but more succinct. This is pop music from a parallel universe where musicians actually call the Hollywood machine out on its bullshit. / Bridie Chetwin-Kelly

Kehlani – ‘Honey’

An honest-to-goodness straight-up love song

Kehlani’s LP earlier this year, SweetSexySavage, has been a grower for me. The heavier pop moments (‘Personal’, ‘Distraction’) are what grabbed me initially but it’s the sweeter, softer tracks that have hung around on repeat (‘Escape’, ‘Hold Me By The Heart’). There’s a pitch-perfect blend of vulnerability and earnestness, the same kind that makes Carly Rae Jepsen a bastion of pop perfection in our hard times.

Her new single ‘Honey’ is a straight-up, no-frills, no-irony love song, written for her current girlfriend, and it has all the specificity of a song that you’d write for your first partner, with the inside jokes (“Oh, I’m a heartbreak vet” “Don’t even have a car, but you’d wait for me”). It’s just her voice, a guitar and some very loose backing vocals; it shouldn’t work, but the hook of “I like my girls like I like my honey, sweet” is killer, as is the bridge. Spring is crawling slowly into Auckland, so pour yourself out a rosé on your deck or sunset-facing window and listen to this as the sun goes down. It’ll be a treat. / Sam Brooks

U2 – ‘You’re the Best Thing About Me’  

U2’s back, baby

2017 marks 20 years since U2 released Pop; an album where they switched out the Berlin obsessions of Achtung Baby and Zooropa for a dalliance with techno. The record flopped, something which happens to all “important” bands, but U2’s reaction was uniquely knee-jerk. Starting with 2000’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind, the group stripped their sound back, not only removing their ‘90s quirks and irony, but even the shimmering cloak of mystery that hung over much of their ‘80s work. This, combined with their dogged determination to not turn into a legacy act (perhaps best epitomised by the why-the-hell-is-there-a-U2-album-on-my-iPhone? episode of 2014) gave their later day work a slight whiff of desperation.

‘You’re the Best Thing About Me’ feels like a fresh start, much better than either of the opening singles off the preceding albums No Line on the Horizon (the garish ‘Get On Your Boots’) and Songs of Innocence (the frankly ludicrously titled ’The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)’). There’s a grit to The Edge’s guitar in the verses, giving way to his usual soaring, delay-soaked signature sound over the chorus, and Bono is in good voice, effectively selling the melancholy that undercuts the outwardly upbeat tune. This, combined with their current The Joshua Tree tour (the first time they’ve ever tacitly accepted their age and revisited a full album in concert), are promising signs that this band might finally be willing to age gracefully. / Pete Douglas


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