Pop CultureApril 17, 2017

Best Songs Ever: Steve Braunias reviews the Harry Styles single – and more!


Our regular round-up of new songs and singles, this week featuring Chelsea Jade, Harry Styles, Kamasi Washington, and Mermaidens.


Chelsea Jade – ‘Life of the Party’

New Zealand’s pop minimalist isn’t better, she’s best

In 2015’s ‘Low Brow’, Chelsea Jade was anchorless and anxious, appealing for a lover to deliver the impossible: “hold me closer than you know how to”. Two years later and, while she may be confessing she’s not the “LOTP”, as she’s been touting the single on Instagram, Chelsea Jade is a more immediate, more urgent, more self-possessed presence: “I don’t know better / But I do know best”. In the verse her voice is small and matter-of-fact – there’s even a discernible New Zealand accent – and effectively stripped bare of any production effects, even reverb. It contrasts against the airy confection of the Carly Rae chorus like stones with confetti, and lends a new world-weariness to her characteristically wry observations: “I never mean it when I’m sorry/And I’m sorry, for that.” ‘Life of the Party’, writes Chelsea Jade, is in part about the “learning about the reality of myself, for better or worse”. Self-knowledge suits her. – Elle Hunt


Harry Styles – ‘Sign of the Times’

Ex-One Direction star blunders his reach for credibility

The end. That’s it for The Hazz – he took his lucky break and broke it in two. He could have been a great white pop contender, he could have been bigger than Zayn or at least Niall, but his new song deletes everything that made him great – wit, charm, effortless cool, a voice that didn’t frighten the horses – and leaves him looking like a pompous ass. It’s five minutes long but it feels like a Ted talk that goes on for five hours. He reaches for the poisoned chalice that kills all but the strongest of pop stars: credibility. He wants to be taken seriously. His great gift in One Direction was that he was dying to be taken lightly. This blundering power ballad is the sound of a man clearing his throat and making his thoughts known once and for all. He’s got his thumbs holding onto the lapels of his overcoat, and he’s nodding at the piano player to strike the slow, boring chords. People have said oh it’s like Bowie and there was even a reference to Freddie Mercury but the closest rock equivalent is ‘November Rain’. The guitar solo has the determination of Slash but none of the talent, and Harry’s quest to be Axl Rose is an act of madness. He squeals: “We’ve got to get away!” From what? Stardom? Joy? Common sense? He’s heading in the right direction; he’s rolling straight to the bottom. Fuck him, he’s over. – Steve Braunias

Kamasi Washington – ‘Truth’

New jazz from the jazz guy for people who don’t usually listen to jazz

Kamasi Washington is in an odd spot. He plays a style of jazz that is pretty un-radical. He combines Coltrane spiritualism, 70s afro-fusion, some guitars and marimba LA cool jazz stuff, and some orchestration and choir singing that, when combined, is distinctive yet not ground-breakingly original. Yet, through some dint of persona, media narrative, right time/right place, as well as an amazing live show and a really good debut album, The Epic, has leap-frogged the rigid bureaucratic and academic jazz institutions to find himself the ‘savior of jazz for people who don’t keep up with jazz that much’. Or, if you’re more cynical about these things, ‘jazz for people who still read Pitchfork’.

But if you missed The Epic (and missed Washington at Auckland City Limits), here’s your chance to dip your toe in and see what everyone’s so psyched about. ‘Truth’ is both the final movement of Washington’s forthcoming EP, The Harmony of Difference, and party of a large scale video (directed by AG Rojas) which is part of this year’s Whitney Biennial. Musically, this is everything you’d like about Kamasi if, in fact, you did like Kamasi. Soaring, twinkling, lyrical … epic. Perfect to listen to while waiting for a cyclone. – Henry Oliver

Mermaidens – ‘Lizard’

If they play their cards right I reckon Mermaidens could get one of their songs picked up as menu screen music for an EA Sports game. Their latest single ‘Lizard’ has the kind of clean, precise, slightly angular guitar riff those computer game guys seem to go crazy for. The bass groove reminds me a bit of early Dimmer noise jam ‘Crystalator’ (good!) and the singer bloody nails it (has there ever been a female singer on an EA Sports game?). Basically, top tune; I suspect it would go off about ten times as much live. – Calum Henderson

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