The biggest popstar in the world, a trash country icon and a dancehall legend are what we’ve been listening to this month – it’s The Spinoff Music’s Songs of the Month for August.
Mess with My Head by Miranda Lambert
I included Lambert last month, justifiably, because that song bangs. But I kind of wish I’d saved the spot for this, which manages to be even better than the lead single off of her upcoming album Wildcard. Lambert can do more or less anything well, as her tender, mournful The Weight of These Wings proved, but she’s in her element when she’s having a little bit of fun, and getting a bit messy.
Appropriately, ‘Mess With My Head’ is a messy, strident slice of country rock, clocking in at barely two-and-a-half minutes. It stuffs a lot into that short amount of time: A guitar solo, a gutsy second verse drop, killer lines and a give-no-fucks vocal from Lambert. / Sam Brooks
Sweet and Loco by Nailah Blackman
Rising Trinidadian soca singer Nailah Blackman effortlessly knocks out another breezy summer smash with ‘Sweet and Loco’ (I’m very mad I didn’t get the terrible “loco”/”nutty” chocolate pun at first listen) off new EP The Reel – her hummingbird vocal delivery lifting a little from Indo-Caribbean style chutney and Bollywood filmi, and the sparse production from UK Afrobeats duo Team Salut echoing Ghanaian alkayida styles. “Move yuhself with yuh X and O’s / I don’t wanna play yuh tic tac toe” she playfully warns, before trilling a run of “loco, loco”s. / Stevie Kaye
People by the 1975
The lead single from the 1975’s fourth album Notes on a Conditional Form is a delightfully cartoonish rock move, ProTools glam/goth pitched somewhere between Gerard Way and Marilyn Manson. Matty Healy’s able to deliver his typical Wildean fuckboi tongue-twisters in a throat-shredding rasp – “My generation wanna fuck Barack Obama/ Living in a sauna with legal marijuana” and the kiss-off “Well girls, food, gear / I don’t like going outside / So bring me everything here”. The band match him with air-raid guitars and glittery stomp – while I was happier when they were pastiching The Blue Nile and other ‘luxe 80s pomp-pop, I’m intrigued to see where this album will take them. / SK
Balloon by Busy Signal
A new track from dancehall legend Busy Signal is always welcome news (you might know his Lorde flip, ‘Well Prepared‘, though I’ve always been fond of the bugged-out ‘Pon Dem‘), but it’s hard to overstate the sheer delirious life-affirming glee of ‘Balloon’. “I walk into the party, all I see: balloon, all I see: balloon, all I see” sets the scene nicely (with judicious use of autotune on random “balloons”), then Busy starts rattling off “balloon balloon balloon balloon” like he’s been taking notes from the ‘Baby Shark’/’Old Town Road’ continuum, and when he gets to “I see loving people here taking part in this affair/ I see thousands of balloons floating in the atmosphere” it’s impossible not to buy in. 🎈🎈🎈🎈 Song of the year 🎈🎈🎈🎈. / SK
Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince by Taylor Swift
I already wrote about this in our Lover track-by-track review, but in the few days since this song has already dug itself deep into my brain. There’s too many lines in it that I have to resist the urge saying in my everyday, non-Swift life (she’s a bad bad girl, you play stupid games you win stupid prizes, boys will be boys, where are the wise men) but the thing that keeps hooking me in is the decidedly un-Swifty vagaries around the relationship. Is it about a crush? Is it about a friendship? Is it about a doomed high school relationship? Is it about her perceived politics? The swoony production helps a lot here.
But I think the most special thing is, and this is unique amongst Lover, is that it feels like it could only ever be a Taylor Swift song. / SB
Falling For You by Fimo
I’m putty in the hands of Tāmaki Makaurau synthpop duo Fimo’s debut single, ‘Falling For You’ – alongside fellow Aucklander J.J. Mist it seems we have a micro Latin freestyle revival, though Fimo are more on the winsome Shannon/Debbie Deb side of things, or if Stephin Merritt from the Magnetic Fields had worshipped at the altar of Jellybean Benitez instead of John Foxx as a teenager. Moe Zass’s vocals are on a continuum with those that Sylvia Dew sang for Amelia Berry’s songs in Polyester (pastel carousels on Coney Island rather than Vice City neon), but the context of abundance of backing vocal flourishes (“heys”, echoing “along the shore”, declarative “ba-by”s ) and crushed-out swoons of “push my hair behind my ear” give the track space to breathe between the dramatic orchestral stabs. Bring on summer. / SK
Ephemera by Crap Date
More synthpop from Tāmaki Makaurau, with Crap Date’s Jamie-Lee Smith and Marcel Bellvé trading off vocals like Nancy and Lee (or Phil Oakey / Joanne Catherall and Susan Ann Sulley) in mirrorshades. Bellvé’s squelchy, italo-disco-heard-down-the-hall production (harking back to the late 90s glory days of French touch/filterdisco) is chocka with squiggly arpeggios and keytar solos, bringing to mind another italo-indebted Auckland duo, Spring Break. Bellvé’s stentorian tones and Smith’s breathy vocals trade off on “Don’t make me your everything / Coz when I leave you’ll have nothing / Don’t make me your everything / Coz when I leave I’ll have it all” to devastating effect. / SK
Odysseus by N.T Honey
The Sebadoh-ish, vivacious lo-fi post-grunge/garage-pop of N.T. Honey’s debut album Eat Them Before They Eat You comes with a bibliography, and while I’m more au fait with the Octavia Butler/Elizabeth Bishop content contained within, ‘Odysseus’ fits in with a mini-tradition of female New Zealand artists limning Homer – well, the Look Blue Go Purple banger ‘Circumspect Penelope’, and at a stretch Repulsive Woman’s Joyce/mansplaining bon mot ‘Ulysses‘. ‘Odysseus’ is brisk and propulsive, Anya Henis’ vocals revelling in the euphony of phrases like “two swift dogs” or “wine dark sea”, and the frisson of referring to Penelope as Penny. / SK
Why by Lord Seez
18-year-old Auckland Soundcloud rapper and Instagram heavyweight Lord Seez has finally released music onto Spotify. Seez’s influences are clearly American, and his latest release, ‘Why’, is a tribute to modern American hip hop. It’s got a little bounce, a dash of echoing vocals, and lyrics that try really, really hard to be romantic.
He may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and I doubt radio will play him, but he’s proving young Kiwi musicians can make moody beats as well as anyone. Lord Seez has been in #albummode for about a year now, and I’m ready to reap the rewards. / Josie Adams
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.