Singles Of The Month: Jan 2017

In the darkest of times – e.g. in which the incumbent leader of the ‘free’ world is a sociopathic, malignant narcissistic bigot with baby hands to match the developmental stage of his id – great art often blooms. This January, music has been a fertile ground for both head-on protest and, if protest has got you exhausted, lying back and trying to forget for a moment. Read on to find which eight singles from the first month of 2017 have made their mark. 

Gorillaz - ‘Hallelujah Money feat. Benjamin Clementine’

Protest first, peace later. This cacophonous, at times a-tonal call-to-arms is exactly the sort of thing you want in your ears on a day as apocalyptic as the eve of Trump’s inauguration. Although Gorillaz are set to release an album later this year, ‘Hallelujah Money’ arrived not as a lead single but as a singular offering, and their first in six years at that. Clementine stands in Trump’s golden elevator delivering a sermon in praise of financial gain at the cost of pretty much everything else. He holds a book – a bible or a ledger? He performs in the voice of a false prophet.

Sampha - ‘No One Knows Me Like The Piano’

From one kind of intensity to another, Sampha’s stripped piano-ballad is a lesson in the equal power of restrained simplicity. ‘In his mother’s home’ he was musically birthed, and it’s a life force that flows through him now. The austerity of his piano allows him to distil the power of his singular voice, with only murmurings of bass humming beneath the second half hinting at his electronic sensibilities. If his forthcoming album Process bears the lightness of touch of this single, he’ll have served his gift well. Special mention also to the promo video featuring Adwoa Aboah, an activist and model, whose performance is a perfect match for Sampha’s delivery.

Plaid - 'Bet' / 'Nat'

To launch their first American tour dates, electronic music veterans Plaid have released ‘Bet Nat’ as a free double A side – you can get the download here. Both tracks are slow burners, and equally hypnotic. They maintain a single melody line throughout, nonetheless developing layer upon layer as each track progresses in texture. Having released The Digging Remedy through Warp Records last year after a period of rest, ‘Bet’ and ‘Nat’ show a continuance of their return to form.

London Grammar - ‘Rooting For You’

It’s been a long time coming. The stratospheric rise of London Grammar set in motion with the release of their first album If You Wait in 2013 was such that the pressure loaded upon the band by label and fans alike has been enormous. It makes sense then that they would spend the best part of the next four years waiting, cultivating, and finally emerging afresh. ‘Rooting For You’ is classic London Grammar, only kept in the oven for longer. It’s still weighted with emotion, but there’s a new maturity in Hannah Reid’s voice that makes those climbing chorus notes feel more transcendent than ever before.

Arcade Fire - 'I Give You Power' 

We’re back on the protest trail with this offering from Arcade Fire, all proceeds of which go to the ACLU. A hint of the organ from Neon Bible’s ‘Intervention’ is offered in the first seconds, only to give way to a swaggering electronic bass line. The tried and tested won’t cut it now, they need something darker, heavier. Mavis Staples lends a grandiosity to her vocals, and when they descend unexpectedly into a growl, there's a real menace. The repeated lines ‘I give you power over me / I give you power but I’ve gotta be free’ give way in the final moments to a threat: ‘I can take it away’. It’s a battle cry, a chant screamed by a marching crowd, a reminder to Ol’ Tiny Hands of the fragility of his tyranny, masculinity, intellect, supposed lawfulness of his executive orders…take your pick.

The Black Madonna - ‘He Is The Voice I Hear’

The Black Madonna is a singular force in electronic music right now. She’s unafraid to blend style and genre in her live sets, and so too is this apparent in her solo productions. ‘He Is The Voice I Hear’ enlists Christoforo LaBarbera to provide a virtuosic piano intro, and Davide Rossi to deliver a lush string section in which violins stab over sweeping bass. The track erupts, needless to say, into a four to the floor banger, with a disco bass line providing a grooving comfort to the anxious melody. It’s part piano-house, part string-synth Moroder. Whatever it is, Stamper offers us a port in the storm.

Dirty Projectors - 'Up In Hudson' 

Dirty Projectors is a David Longstreth solo project (basically) once more. Amber Coffman has left the band, and she and Longstreth have broken up. ‘Up In Hudson’ is an emotional narrative ode to their relationship. When the chorus‘cos love will burn out / and love will just fade away’ interrupts the first verse, the punctuating brass blasts are stabs to the heart. Nevertheless, a sense of thankfulness and hope pervades. Longstreth’s pain is palpable, but he’s doing a good job of exorcising it.

CocoRosie / Anohni - 'Smoke 'Em Out' 

The creative bond between CocoRosie and ANOHNI is tried and tested having previously collaborated on the 2014 Future Feminism performance series. Their merging is no less successful in ‘Smoke ‘Em Out’, another inauguration eve release. CocoRosie’s flair for conjuring the spirits of horror-movie-trope creepy children is put to great use here, and when Bianca Cassady’s stream of consciousness verses give way to ANOHNI’s erupting chorus, the effect is of a spell-casting, a witches conjuring against the men who’ve set ‘a rat trap snapping back’.