The return of the original girl group babes, the twink Taylor Swift, and New Zealand’s most electrifying rap group are all part of our songs of the month.
‘Flowers’ by DJ Spoony (feat. The Sugababes)
An orchestral-ish cover of a early-00’s garage hit? Sure, whatever. But put the Sugababes, and I mean the original Sugababes – the Origibabes – on it, and you’ve got gentle club magic. Not only are the bones of ‘Flowers’ strong – the nineties version is the perfect minimal sad-house track that feels like a precursor to what Robyn mastered a decade later – but there’s a beautiful melancholy in hearing these three voices come together again. And holy shit, do these women know how to harmonise. Remember when girl groups harmonised instead of all just singing at the same time? This is how it’s done. I hope this isn’t a flash-in-the-pan Origibabes reunion like the last one, because we deserve more from that. / Sam Brooks
‘So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings’ by Caroline Polachek
‘So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings’ is, to my mind, the only real contender for the best song title of the year, because who on earth hasn’t looked at someone and been like ‘ugh too much no thank you’?
It also represents the most openly poppy and mainstream that Polachek – who released two of the decade’s best mopebangers with ‘Crying in Public’ and ‘I Belong In Your Arms’ as Chairlift – has ever been while still being defiantly weird. It’s all in the way she handles her voice – double tracking here, synthesizing there, gasping for air at the bridge – and sounding like Katy Perry if she did some acid before ‘Teenage Dream’. It’s the catchiest that Polachek has ever been, so much so that it feels like a coming out for an artist whose name has been behind collabs and projects but never out in the open (check out the entire album, it’s one of the best of 2019, and the most beautiful marriage between PC music aggression and traditional pop music that I’ve heard yet). / SB
‘Maniac’ by Conan Gray
I’ve been a bit on-and-off with Conan Gray, who first hit fame as a 15-year-old on YouTube. His Sunset Season EP last year was a bit too small-time Tumblr pop for my liking, but I went head-over-heels for ‘The King’ earlier this year – which is what would happen if you ran Melodrama through the Tik Tok app (is that what the kids do?). It was swoony, cocky and a perfect encapsulation of having a crush on someone you know you’re just a bit too good for.
‘Maniac’ mines that same emotional experience, but it marks Gray’s evolution into Twink Taylor Swift. His cadence is full-on ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’, full of bratty character and adolescent venom, while the song explodes and booms around him. When I wrote about ‘The King’ earlier this year, I marvelled at how much I wished a song like that had existed when I was in high school. Now, I marvel at how this 21-year-old is capturing my most juvenile thoughts in such propulsive, witty fashion. / SB
‘Kinfolks’ by Sam Hunt
This week marked five yawning years since Montevallo came out, an utterly perfect album in which studmuffin and nationally-ranked quarterback Sam Hunt created a genre which was essentially ‘Drake, but country’. Then… not a lot. An acoustic placeholder and two singles: one just OK (‘Downtown’s Dead’) and one trash, and don’t let anyone tell you different (‘Body Like a Back Road’). It looked for all the world like Hunt was one of those artists who didn’t know what the next thing was. But turns out, what he was looking for had been here the whole time because ‘Kinfolks’ is pure Montevallo – driving, ultra-melodic country pop about his infatuation with a just-met woman. It’s nothing new, but after a half-decade, that’s exactly what his constituency’s been waiting for. / Duncan Greive
‘South’ by CHAII
‘South’ proves three things:
- ‘Digebasse’ was no fluke.
- CHAII has bars.
- CHAII has flow.
This goes a bit less hard than CHAII’s breakout Silver Scroll-nominated hit, but it moves even faster, and CHAII shows off her personality and charisma here – her vocals are full of a coy menace that dip in between the beats deftly. It’s a great second showcase for a rapper I can’t wait to see a full EP from. Do right, do good, do it like we’re asking, indeed! / SB
‘Bunga’ by SWIDT
Conjuring a moment is the hardest thing to do in pop music. The margin for error is nil – just ask Rita Ora, whose ‘Girls’ of last year attempted a coming-out anthem and was roundly condemned for glib monetisation of the occasion.
SWIDT didn’t miss. ‘Bunga’ is the most powerful New Zealand single in years, an imposingly direct evocation of a whole community being taken for granted for 50 years. Just over two minutes long, with its first lyrics not until 30 seconds in, drums deeper again, it contains generations of hurt, cynical policy and acceptance of the unacceptable.
It begins quiet, almost meek, expressing the lives of the “have nots and the have less”, but each line seems to raise the intensity, as if the very act of describing a litany of indignities uncorks a long-restrained rage. Pasifika “have to die before they pay homage”, a truth evident in the intensely scrutinised lives and platitudinous deaths of everyone from Pauly Fuemana to Jonah Lomu. They talk of Police Ten 7 and the tyranny of low opportunity and expectation, and every single line cuts to the bone.
The moment of it is crystallised in a stunning video in which Chris Alosio alternates rapping to the camera with living out various historic scenes, dawn raids and Polynesian panthers. That ‘Bunga’ only exists on YouTube underlines the sense of it being unlike anything the group has released before. And with one clipped and fiercely creative single, SWIDT is the most-watched artist in the country, and again seem like they possess no ceiling. / DG
SWIDT’s newest release ‘Bunga’ is only two minutes in length. Not that its size has any correlation to the monumental impact of the work: ‘Bunga’ is fierce, meaningful and everything art should be. Lyrics like “I share a room with six relatives, we draw heat from a stove-top element” and “speechless, they really be calling us leeches?” reflect the complexities of being Pasifika in Aotearoa: the intergenerational neglect and oppression from the state, the complicity and ambivalence of white New Zealand, the rage and energy of NZ-born Pasifika chasing the demons of colonisation. Put to a jazz track that builds in intensity, the result is disarming. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel overwhelmed with emotion watching it for the first time. Must be the proud bunga in me. / Tamsyn Matchett
You can read our interview with SWIDT here.
‘AKLTown’ by Shiraz & LSJ
Although its time as a physical focal point for Auckland’s uptown underground was relatively brief, the ongoing impact of Karangahape Road’s late Grow Room collective continues to be felt deeply across the city’s creative spheres. Shiraz & LSJ’s Jive Days was the collective’s first LP release, and in the years since the pair have quietly assumed a position as one of the more reliably groundbreaking acts in an undeniably incredibly healthy local rap scene.
Lifted from Imported Smoke, the second in a pair of criminally underappreciated albums released earlier this year, ‘AKLtown’ finds the two deeply in their respective pockets – LightSkinJohn’s production strikes a note-perfect balance between cafe jazz and Dilla syncopations, while Brandn Shiraz’s languorous flow is less on the beat than inextricably intertwined with it – but it’s in the pairing with Tak Soropa and Luca Macioce’s subtly pointed video that the song truly elevates. Showing an Auckland generally unseen by the spotlight, including beautiful shots of the Ihumātao occupation as it reaches day 100, together they draw a picture that’s critically affectionate – scenes from the city that they love, but not unconditionally. / Matthew McAuley
‘Dildo Baggins’ by Unsanitary Napkin
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