CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: LAWRENCE ARABIA, UMO, SAM Manzanza, JULIA MICHAELS

Best Songs Ever: Welcome to the Lawrence Arabia’s singles club

Our regular round-up of new songs and singles, featuring Lawrence Arabia, UMO, Yo La Tengo, Dry Dive, Justin Timberlake, Bromelain/Manzanza and more…

Lawrence Arabia – ‘Solitary Guys’

Welcome to the singles club

Imagine if somebody ten years ago had said that in 2018 it’d be normal for whole seasons of TV shows to come out all at once and that the singer from The Reduction Agents would be releasing his new album one song a month over the course of a year. This is the entertainment delivery of the future. Track one arrived this week as the first instalment of Lawrence Arabia’s Singles Club, which can be joined via Kickstarter. ‘Solitary Guys’ starts out sounding like it could be the serious song on a canonical Britpop album – you’re anticipating a Gallagher or Albarn vocal, maybe even Ashcroft (!), before the distinctive falsetto of James Milne comes along, delivering with it all the stately ‘60s-and-’70s pop flourishes we’ve come to expect from a Lawrence Arabia recording. The mp3 (via Bandcamp, so audiophiles can probably also get it as a ‘FLAC’ or ‘lossless WAV’) arrived in my inbox accompanied by a brief abstract, full lyrics, comprehensive production notes and credits – a massive coup for the kind of listener who still laments the loss of liner notes in the digital music revolution. / Calum Henderson

Unknown Mortal Orchestra – ‘American Guilt’

Fuzzed out (nearly) beyond recognition

The first music from Ruban Nielson’s next UMO record, ‘American Guilt’ is based on a fuzzed-out guitar riff many on the internet have compared to Queens of the Stone Age. But bands like QOTSA typically use a lo-fi, over-driven-beyond-recognition guitar sound to tease what becomes – when the full bass and crystal-clear drums are added – a pristine rock sound, maximised for volume and heaviness. Here, UMO take that everything-on-ten guitar and add that texture to every component, so the vocals are wrapped in distortion, the drums (like some of the Mint Chicks recording) sometimes sound like they’re a kids’ set, and the bass rarely raises its head above the fray. All of which I, of course, love. It’s just not what I would have expected after Multi-Love’s crisp funk. But, hell, no-one around here does a musical “fuck you” like the Nielson brothers. / Henry Oliver

UNKNOWN MORTAL ORCHESTRA

Julia Michaels – ‘Heaven’

One of the best pop writers lands somewhere between good and great

“All good boys go to heaven but bad boys bring heaven to you” is such a killer of a line, from an artist who has quickly become known for killer lines in her own songs and her songs for others (“Yeah I got issues / And one of them is how bad I need you”, “You’re metaphorical gin and juice”). This song, from the upcoming soundtrack to the next Fifty Shades movie, mixes her headphone-pop intimacy with the slow-burn cinematic treatment that the Fifty Shades songs generally have, and the song is more of a come-on than you’d expect from Michaels, whose voice is generally quite light and chirpy.

In ‘Heaven’, her vocals are heavier and more laboured, and as a result the whole endeavour seems like it’s making fun of itself, like an aural eyeroll at the kind of song that talks about bad boys at all. It doesn’t grab you immediately but after a surprisingly fleet three-minutes-eleven, it digs its way into your brain. Most Fifty Shades songs are pretty good. All Julia Michaels songs are great. Split the diff, and you’ve got ‘Heaven’. / Sam Brooks

Dry Dive – ‘Reputation’

Punk goes a little bit pop

You wouldn’t know it but this is the drummer, Johnny Fast, from Christchurch’s Nervous Jerk. With clear influences of Blink 182, Weezer and Sum 41, basically anyone could listen to this insanely catchy tune. It’s not one of those tracks you need to listen to a few times to like either – it’s a straightaway kind of enjoyment. I like how it reminds me of Goodnight Nurse but it’s also taking pop punk in a completely fresh direction. ‘Reputation’ has an addictive bass line and really strong punk guitar riffs, not to mention excellent lyrics that shout out to Christchurch: “Now I’m pissed off like the New Brighton Pier”. Fast has released two songs now off the upcoming EP, including ‘Bad Idea’ which comes in at just over a minute long, making me look forward even more to what’s next. / Bridie Chetwin-Kelly

Yo La Tengo – ‘Shades of Blue’

The most dependable indie rock in the universe

[Oprah Winfrey voice] New Yo La Tengooooooo! The best band in the world are back, baby, with their first new LP in five years due out in March. Four songs from the LP, titled There’s a Riot Going On, are out already and there’s a lot for YLT fans to be jazzed about. From the cuddly krautrock of ‘You Are Here’ to the lava lamp spoken word on ‘Out of the Pool’ there’s a subdued, cosy feel to all four songs which makes it feel like this could be a kind of sister record to (the extremely underrated!!!) Summer Sun. ‘Shades of Blue’ gets on the playlist because it’s an instant classic in the best Yo La Tengo subgenre: Georgia songs. / CH

Justin Timberlake – ‘Say Something’ (feat. Chris Stapleton)

JT going 0 from 2 so far…

What is this acoustic Caucasian nonsense! More accurately, what is this overlong Sam Hunt ripoff? Justin Timberlake’s best work is when he goes big-pop (‘Mirrors’, ‘Sexyback’) and this stripped back hashtag-authentic acoustic country pandering reveals how thin and unappealing Timberlake’s vocals really are. When it’s surrounded by production, by all the bells and whistles, he’s got something to bounce off. But when you put his voice up against an acoustic guitar, an almost identical sounding duet partner (especially with the strange vo-pro on it) and a backing track that resembles a country song from 15 years ago, he flounders.

On some level, you could interpret this as about people telling him to say something about Janet Jackson, but Justin Timberlake doesn’t feel like that kind of artist. Instead, it’s just a boilerplate song about… not being able to read signs in a relationship? Or something like that? Whatever. Let’s throw this JT-era into the Joanne bin thanks. / SB

Bromelain/Manzanza – ‘Nocturnes (Tech Mix)’

No-frills dubby (Wellington) techno

Wellington techno producer Bromelain (Nick Hyder) teams up with Sam Manzanza, a Congolese musician who’s been in Wellington playing music for over 30 years, to make a robust, no-frills dubby techno track (though while you’re here, you may as well listen to the Afrobeat and Dub mixes too), that robotically shuffles under Manzanza’s live and (I assumed) sampled conga and sparse vocals. Hope there’s more where this came from. / HO


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