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Each week on the FACT Singles Club, a selection of our writers work their way through the new music of the week gone by.

With the way individual tracks are now consumed, the idea of what constitutes a single has shifted dramatically in the last half a decade, and its for this reason that the songs reviewed across the next pages are a combination of 12″ vinyl releases, mixtape cuts, Soundcloud uploads and more. Up this week: Dr. Dre, Visionist, Joanna Newsom and more.

Rizzla – ‘Iron Cages’

Son Raw: Loving how this doesn’t check any obvious boxes – there’s a hip-hop core to the rhythm but it avoids any facile trap-lite flourishes and the interplay between the percussion and those mournful chords is a thing of beauty. Then there’s the rush of hearing club music returning to that 140-150BPM zone where everything teeters on a teeth grinder edge. (8)

April Clare Welsh: Vive La #KUNQ! Rizzla could probably torture and flay my cat and I’d still think the sun shines out of his arse because anyone who a) has a song called ‘Fucking Fascist’ and b) brings the words “queer” and “dancehall” into the same space deserves some respect. He may have double-dropped some Xanax, shaved off a few hundred BPM and stripped back the frenetic layers of hyper-colour but there are still lots of sleazy house vibes and it’s still super compelling. I’m particularly tickled by the Ultra Naté/political philosophy dichotomy; there should be a new genre called Intelligent Dance Mus…oh wait, that’s already a thing? (8)

Anupa Mistry: From his mixes and his Twitter timeline and our mutual appreciation of Deborah Cox’s stratospheric dance remix of ‘Nobody Used To Be Here’, I knew that whenever Rizzla decided to put out music it would be my ideal blend of references: super gay 90s dance laced with a freak dem energy. ‘Iron Cages’ has a more mellow energy than I’d have expected – cultivated by singer Odile Myrtile’s blue vocals – but Rizzla’s production meets my (and his, of course) criteria. IT’S AN ULTRA NATE SAMPLE over a slack-waist dembow – the tempo vacillates between bachata and soca – with the usual FTM ephemera of gun clips and sirens and synth stabs dashed over top like glitter. PERFECT. (10)

Tayyab Amin: One of the things I really love about this track is how well-balanced it is: there’s never too much going on, nor too little. All the textural tidbits, like gun-cocks, plasma FX, and cold drip-drop keys add to the track’s character without taking away from its heavier-hitting aspects: Odile Myrtil’s delivery that gels so well, and that guitar. God, that guitar – it’s like Ultra Naté’s ‘Free’ but filled out, explored a little more, translated to that Fade To Mind talk. This indicates that Rizzla’s made the transition towards the single format really well, without ditching the creative instincts seen in his edits. (9)

Claire Lobenfeld: Perhaps this counts as cheating in the Singles Club universe, but if I hadn’t heard the rest of the Iron Cages EP already, I would be very bummed out by this track. I hold Rizzla to a very high standard, whether it’s via studio releases or in a club, and this just doesn’t push boundaries in the way I’ve come to expect. That said, it’s accessible enough to help him push through into places he maybe hasn’t appeared before and I am 100% on board for that, so I’m grading this on a curve, even though I’ll be bumping the rest of the EP way more. (6)

8.2

Visionist – ‘Victim’

April Clare Welsh: I listened to this with the premise (tracing the narrative arc of an anxiety attack) in mind and definitely felt a palpable sense of calm and resolution wash over me as the song came to its conclusion. The disembodied MIDI choirs are just about eerie enough to steer clear of uncanny valley territory and the spectre of Fatima Al Qadiri looms throughout, like a beautiful sinogrime angel. The robots are winning. (8)

Son Raw: There’s no mistaking a Visionist track – he found his own sound at the intersection of grime and Europe’s darker club styles back in 2013 and has been refining it in the margins ever since. The first missive from Safe doesn’t re-invent the wheel but it’s the lushest version of those disembodied vocals yet and I eagerly await the opportunity to brood to it by candlelight. (8)

Anupa Mistry: This reminds me of Fatima Al Qadiri’s production a lot: those Gregorian synth lines and aggressive, mechanical snares with a melody that feels kinda sinogrime. But I keep waiting for it to bottom out, and it never does in a way that leaves me wanting more. Keen to hear Visionist’s side of this story. (8)

Claire Lobenfeld: Here’s another that’s doing fairly little to move me when I’m expecting a little bit more. Oh, well. (4)

Tayyab Amin: ‘Victim’ sees Visionist delve even further into his world of sci-fi choir grime, broken melodies and eyes-down introversion. There’s mention of Safe covering the experience of an anxiety attack. I’ve never had an anxiety attack before but if it feels like how this sounds – passing through a factory on the assembly line, being pummeled by pneumatic kicks and reverb-heavy claps – draining might not even begin to describe it. I’m a huge fan of how all the disjointed and broken-sounding aspects of Visionist’s tunes are pulled together and balanced against each other so well; he’s adept at bridging textures, between ethereal* and physical. (8)

*Are we still banned from saying ‘ethereal’ when writing about music or…?

7.2

Joanna Newsom – ‘Sapokanikan’

April Clare Welsh: I prefer this jaunty piano ‘realness’ to the harp-wielding celestial being who (arguably) exists on a different plane entirely to us mere mortals, BUT Newsom’s facial expressions here just make me feel really uncomfortable. Also – Tori Amos anyone? (5)

Tayyab Amin: I’ve never listened to Joanna Newsom before, so listening to this turned out to be a real treat I’m glad to say. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I was first taken aback by Newsom’s saccharine voice. Combined with her songwriting, it makes the track feel more like a lecture than say, musings and ruminations. But her singing traces so many different trajectories across the sky once you get on board with it. The piano is speculative at first, however before you know it you’re sauntering along with it – not to mention the trombone and recorder and everything else Newsom has in tow. I can see the arrangement infuriating some people, there’s a quirkiness that’s a barrier to entry more than a charm, however I’ve listened enough for it to win me over for sure. The video’s quite jarring for me, ‘cause I really don’t associate folk aesthetics with the city, but I guess part of the point here is how perceptions of a place are always going to change as growth and development brings erasure with it. Excuse me, I have to go hit up the library for about six months. (8)

Claire Lobenfeld: Welp! I wasn’t a Milk-Eyed Mender or Ys fan because I just simply can’t get down with Newsom’s voice. Have One On Me was so refreshing because it was stripped of that affectation and devoid of the whimsy that I find to be just so grating. I was hoping that she would maintain that vibe going forward in her career, but alas, it just means that she and I had a weird one-off moment together that is perhaps never to be returned to. I see its value, but it’s just not for me. That percussive bit at the 2:40 mark is nice, though. (5)

Anupa Mistry: You know, I’ve never had any interest in listening to a Joanna Newsom song because it seemed the sonic equivalent of a Wes Anderson film and ‘Sapokanikan’ does nothing to convince me otherwise. (5)

Son Raw: I guess she swapped the Ren-Fair aesthetic for Tin Pan Alley and a manic pixie dream girl video, so if that’s your thing, blast it out your Prius (at a sensible volume, outside residential neighborhoods). Has Cam’ron ever used a “coke whiter than a Joanna Newsom record” line? Wasted opportunity if not. (5)

5.6

Dr. Dre – ‘Genocide’ ft. Kendrick Lamar, Marsha Ambrosius & Candice Pillay

Claire Lobenfeld: I mean, it’s fine? (3)

Anupa Mistry: ‘Genocide’ is currently my favourite song from Compton, mostly because on an album that is not very good about women, the first two voices we hear on this track are collaborators Marsha Ambrosius and Candice Pillay. (But also because that woozy, descending bass line is amazing.) (7)

April Claire Welsh: Until he is officially cleared of the abuse allegations I’m afraid I can give Dre no attention. (0)

Son Raw: I think we were all ready to hate Compton, but I’m not immune to nostalgia and when it bangs, it bangs harder than an eccentric billionaire’s rap album has any right to. Who else can string together hooks and bridges for nearly two minutes without losing your attention? Even Kendrick put the free-jazz and politics aside to deliver his best verse since ‘Blacker The Berry’, before Dre brings the free jazz right back and somehow makes it work. (8)

Tayyab Amin: I don’t think anyone really forgot about Dre, what with the decade he’s had (his products subsidising an industry of music videos), but I sorta did forget that he raps. I don’t know who wrote his verse but they wrote it well – he bodied it, even though he low-key sounds like Yelawolf. Kendrick’s at his dependable best of course, and it’s great to see Marsha Ambrosius doing it with the hypnotic hook. Everything about this track is tight to me. The beat is ridiculous, so distorted you could just turn it up and wallow in the grit. My favourite thing is how it doesn’t go out of its way to be super catchy and immediately gratifying with something gimmicky; it’s like quicksand, you just inevitably sink into it, and it knows you will. (9)

5.4

Autre Ne Veut – ‘World War Pt. 2’

Anupa Mistry: I almost closed the tab on the video because I want to sleep in peace tonight and it’s frightening as fuck, but I’m glad I kept watching because they’ve done such a good job at capturing the sensuality and terror of Arthur Ashin’s lyrics. He’s never shied away from vocal texture either and the plaintive, raw power he calls on for ‘World War Part 2’ gives some tenderness to a song that’s about co-dependency, self-loathing, disease… I’m not sure what, but something real. (8)

Son Raw: That quasi-trap riser is like nails on a chalkboard and I was never sold on this guy’s vocals – in a bad year for R&B he could squeak by on concepts alone but not when Miguel just dropped. This is art music by committee: a little R&B, a little indie, a little dance music, but ultimately a whole lot of nothing. (3)

Claire Lobenfeld: This has some interesting production elements, but I do think it’s pretty interesting that the last How To Dress Well album had some pretty real adult contempo-Jon Secada vibes and so does this. (6)

Tayyab Amin: It’s as if there are two tracks playing simultaneously, one of them I don’t like and the other has some elements I’m into. The former includes that “oy-oy-oy-oy” vocal, which I find really annoying, and since the song uses that as its most prominent recurring motif, we don’t get along so well. Then there’s the presence of some ugly synths to put me off even more. Ashin’s vocals are strong, but I wish there was some more room for subtlety in here – it’s a really nice moment when the choral support vocals come in and I dig his lyricism. (5)

April Clare Welsh: Autre Ne Veut’s louche-ness often feels like he’s riffing his way through a song, but this new track is stiffer than Cleopatra’s corpse. Maybe hooking up with a big gun like Tony Maserati has stifled his freedom, I don’t know. But I do know that it sounds like he’s borrowed a choir from Take That to try and affect a grandiose statement which is essentially disjointed in all the wrong places and collapses into itself as a result. (5)

5.4

Kane West – ‘Don’t Stop’

Son Raw: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ (4)

Tayyab Amin: You’re a kid and you go to Pizza Hut and you only really wanted to go for the dessert ‘cause you gotta have that Ice Cream Factory and you get a little bit of ice cream in the bowl and then drown it in sweets until you have a mountain of chewy jelly sweets that you never even really wanted that much in the first place and you’re feeling a little sick in your tummy and you start to cry a little bit so that your parents will take you home and then you realise you’re actually an adult and you’re not in Pizza Hut and you’ve just had a DAW open this whole time. (3)

Anupa Mistry: The worst part of FACT Singles Club is the forced exposure to dumb stuff I’d generally ignore like this PC Music Windows 95 bougie irony bullshit. (1)

Claire Lobenfeld: I am pretty much just a huge sucker for whatever is the synth version of “angular guitars” and this is totally loaded with them, despite being pretty lackluster, otherwise. And it’s totally non-cloying, despite being PC Music-adjacent, so points for that, too. (6)

April Clare Welsh: I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Tiga played a major part in this because it sounds like someone’s getting a little ‘Pleasure From The Bass’. That aside, it’s a stone-cold banger and almost like a biopic-in-a-track featuring some of the biggest and best club music tropes – acid breakbeat, cowbells, 808s, arpeggiated synths etc – but for all its freneticism and fragmentation, there’s still a synergy to it. I guess you could say PC Music are pretty good at doing that. (8)

4.4

Final scores:

Rizzla – ‘Iron Cages’ (8.2)
Visionist – ‘Victim’ (7.2)
Joanna Newsom – ‘Sapokanikan’ (5.6)
Dr. Dre – ‘Genocide’ ft. Kendrick Lamar, Marsha Ambrosius & Candice Pillay (5.4)
Autre Ne Veut – ‘World War Pt. 2’ (5.4)
Kane West – ‘Don’t Stop’ (4.4)

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