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Best Songs Ever: Miley Cyrus’ hip-hop holiday is over, HAIM’s guitars are back & More!

Our regular round-up of new songs and singles, this week featuring Miley Cyrus, HAIM, and Japanese Breakfast!

Miley Cyrus – ‘Malibu’

Miley’s hip-hop holiday is over

‘Malibu’ is an easy-breezy-beautiful guitar jam about reconnecting with your ex Liam Hemsworth. There are hand claps. In the video, there are balloons. On the single artwork, Miley is wearing a sweater and looking angelic, her name written in girly cursive.

What works: Miley’s voice – smoky and full of character, capable of achieving power without the loss of nuance or emotion. She really sells the straightforward story of ‘Malibu’, singing with convincing wonderment at life’s twists and turns that have led her to be at the beach with her new-old boyfriend (“I never would have believed you if three years ago/You’d told me here, I’d be writing this song/But here I am, next to you”). Unfussy layers are added sequentially, building to an unexpectedly choppy little number at around the halfway mark, when handclaps give way to a steady thump from the kick drum and a jangly guitar refrain, but Miley never sounds any less than languorous.

What doesn’t: What the hell, Miley? Are we supposed to act like nothing happened? If ‘Malibu’ is representative of Miley’s upcoming sixth album, it would have been the logical continuation from her third, 2010’s Can’t Be Tamed. What happened between then and now? Well, 2013’s BANGERZ – executive produced by Mike WiLL, guest appearances from French Montana, Future, Ludacris and Nelly, with as many controversies as hits – and 2015’s psychedelic Dead Petz. ‘Malibu’’s “utter inoffensiveness”, to quote Spin, smacks of a deliberate attempt to rebrand, as do her spectacularly tone-deaf recent comments about hip-hopI appreciate artists take on new influences, cast off styles and change direction, but there’s precisely nothing about ‘Malibu’, musically or otherwise, to indicate that Miley took anything lasting away from her foray into “Dirty South hip-hop” on BANGERZ. Miley has been accused of touristing in African American culture, and ‘Malibu’ backs that up by saying the holiday’s over. – Elle Hunt

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: MILEY CYRUS, JAPANESE BREAKFAST, HAIM

HAIM – Right Now

The killer power chords are back!

If there’s an indisputably valid HAIM critique, it’s one of aptitude and restraint. And althoughtheirr debut Days Are Gone is comfortably the 2013 record I’ve listened to most in years other than 2013, it feels most memorable for an excess of aptitude sometimes led astray by a severe lack of restraint. Two singles deep into the sophomore album cycle, they’re still gifted and compulsive when it comes to recontextualising sounds and styles, but there’s a promising sense that they’ve spent the four intermittent years on figuring out how to deploy their various tics and tricks in a way that feels more organic.

Taken with lead single ‘Want You Back’, ‘Right Now’ functions both as response and companion. Where the earlier release saw the band earnestly lobby for the reunification of a relationship dissolved over claps and ’80s synth pads, here the lyrical tone is defiant and the instrumentation sparse, punctuated by Kate Bush toms and the HAIM signature most notably missing from its forerunner: Alana Haim’s world-crushing power chords.

Though history and probability suggest it’s likely that the forthcoming Something To Tell You will find the sisters further deepening their stylistic grab-bag, the fact that two songs with such diverging means and ends sound so defiantly of a piece has me extremely optimistic that whatever it sounds like, it’s going to sound amazing. – Matthew McAuley

Japanese Breakfast – ‘Machinist’

A good song by the good ‘Japanese’-named band

You ever notice a lot of bands have got the word ‘Japanese’ in their name these days? Guess it’s just one of those things. One method I use to remember which is the good one is to recite the old saying invented by the breakfast cereal industry: “breakfast is the most important meal of the day”. ‘Machinist’ is the first single from her (Philadelphia musician Michelle Zauner) forthcoming second album, Soft Sounds From Another Planet. It’s hot on the heels of her first one, Psychopomp, which only just came out last year, but if this track is any indication of what’s in store then the new one can’t come out a moment too soon (it’s out on July 14). ‘Machinist’ coolly triangulates Shangri-Las spoken-word melodrama, Twin Peaks eeriness and Daft Punk robot funk; it sounds like nothing on the last Japanese Breakfast record and I’m extremely into it. – Calum Henderson


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