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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: Madlib & DOOM, Sia, Murlo and more.

DJ Paypal – ‘Awakening’

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Paypal takes the familiar (jazz samples, jittery percussion) into something otherworldly by tweaking the context just so, before turning skittish, as if too many ideas are surging through the brain, the type of sensation that leaves you stunned and a tad exasperated. (7)

Son Raw: I like Brainfeeder, Teklife and jazz, but throwing some toots on a juke pattern ain’t working. (5)

April Clare Welsh: If you didn’t know what was coming next​, you’d half expect this track to kick into some groovy bossa nova, rather than rattle off​ ​electronic drum fills​ at lightning speed​​.​ It does ever so slightly remind me of the Sex and the City theme tune, but ​I welcome that weird juxtaposition and I really like hearing arpeggiated sax skronks​ and trumpet​ in a piece of club music. The Jazz Experiments of juke? (8)

Tayyab Amin: Fun often seems to be at the top of the Paypal agenda and this continues the trend in fine style. The sax playfully zips between weighty and wily, combining with skittering claps and heavy bass to juggle ponderous and agile. Hearing that bass morph from electronic to jazz during the backmasked outro is delightful. (7)

Claire Lobenfeld: Aah yes, and for our weekly game of Do I Really Mean It Every Time I Demand For More Innovation From Dance Music? we have Paypal’s first offering as a Brainfeeder artist. The most important thing is to acknowledge that dude just turned footwork completely on its head, kept it authentic and really bled his Teklife affiliations with his new home’s jazz-reliant aesthetics in a tight, cohesive track. Do I ever want to hear this again? Not really. Do I think it’s phenomenally constructed and worthy of significant praise? Absolutely. (7)


Lee Gamble – ‘B23 Steelhouse’

April Clare Welsh: There’s ​a ​lightness of touch ​to this which simultaneously feels like a skull trepanation, a moment of calm, and kissing broken glass. ​All the​ separate ​​​​parts are​ so lo-fi and loose, ​it’s as if they’​re floating together in a hypnagogic state​,​ but then the ​pummeling ​is so intense it becomes as immersive as any other slab of club-ready techno. Hooked. (9)

Son Raw: I was going to describe this as “steely” before looking at the track title, so mission accomplished I guess. Those tape damaged drum machines are the sound of the moment in dance music, but I’ll take this kind of tossed off (but actually carefully constructed) workout over the dry minimalism techno traded in a decade ago. Viva la overdriven hi-hat. (7)

Claire Lobenfeld: I am washed as hell and this made me want to go out immediately before I got lost in hazy memories of late winter nights past. Take that as you will. (8)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Near the end of ‘B23 Steelhouse’s eight minute running time, after Gamble has wrung every possible incarnation out of a stuttering synth low-end and bin-lid clap sound, the audio muffles and we’re ushered out. At the end, like a crane shot in a movie, Gamble rises above and out, turning the song to murk and mystery, a room that will keep thumping long after the credits roll. It feels like you’ve been pushed out of an alien world but never considered how well you had assimilated into it. Such is the world of techno. (8)

Tayyab Amin: At first I thought this was headed in more a Factory Floor-ish direction with that build up. Then those familiarly disintegrated claps came in and we were jackin’ somewhere else on the spectrum. This is all about the cymbals for me though, they’re used to devastating effect. It’s a good reminder that Lee Gamble’s definitely not just about lofty discourse and is totally down to properly smash it out between the concrete walls. (7)


Madlib, MED & Blu – Knock Knock (ft. DOOM)

Son Raw: None of these guys are particularly relevant to “the conversation” right now but that’s exactly where they need to be: free to do their thing. Madlib may no longer be dropping a mix a month, but he’s still a master at flipping a groove you never knew you wanted to hear looped for three minutes and the rapping is mixed so low in the mix as to be a pleasant afterthought. A man can’t listen to Metro Boomin 24/7, right? (8)

April Clare Welsh: ​Take a snippet​ of yacht rock, a pinch of DJ Screw​, ​gallons of 80s funk​, chuck​ them in a blender​ and imbibe the contents​. This track is so smooth​ and funky​ I don’t know what to do with it. (8)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Pop quiz, hotshot: do you ever get bored of Madlib? The suitably obscure psych or soul loops, bubbling effects, the beat dropping out at “odd” moments, drums that never knock beyond their position in the middle of the mix, the never-ceasing consistency? Do you wish something exciting – good or bad, but preferably good – could radicalise our forward-thinking maestro into shocking us? Is it impolite to want something riskier than to shrug “ehh, that’s dope I guess”? Is it worrying I wrote much of this before pressing play and was still accurate? (5)

Tayyab Amin: This beat is nice – particularly the sample’s vocals. All three rappers sound natural flowing over this, and I love a good verse that puts a slightly exaggerated, barely surreal spin on pure mundanity. And who is the Villain if he’s not your man who slips into your home and steals your Bru (“or two, or six”) just ‘cause you weren’t in? I’m into the way MED plays off DOOM’s verse, and how laid back he is about the state of his house. I could never be that chill about unwashed dishes. (8)

Claire Lobenfeld: I had some not so great things to say about the DOOM showing in Singles Club last week, but this is a vast improvement, at least in terms of sounding fresh while maintaining a signature sound. The instrumental is just totally killer: Perfect for two-stepping, gets a little weird around the chorus and then comes through with that slightly off-kilter bass line to create a deftly oddball, Dilla-indebted piece that still pushes forward. Old heads aren’t so bad. (7)


DJ Firmeza – ‘Alma Do Meu Pai’

April Claire Welsh: After engaging in an Internet voyage of kuduro discovery​, I have the burning desire to see some ​actual ​dancing ​in order to ​bring​ this track ​to life​; it just feels a bit limbless otherwise. But, that said, these still the ​​kind of ​super ​complex, African-led drum patterns which ​make me glad to be alive. (7)

Son Raw: My homegirl who goes on ayahuasca retreats would love this. I’m guessing this would sound absolutely amazing in the right DJ set and horrendous in a needlessly electic one, so let’s call it a (7.5)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Like DJ Paypal’s skittish footwork (is there any other type?), Firmeza’s percussively technical kurduro (repeat joke here) is a shot in the arm to listeners like myself who consider themselves explorers, open to global beats. On the other side, there is the fear of over-exoticising this music, of admiring it for its sheer otherness, of being patronising. To temper that, I’ll remind myself that while Firmeza has the rhythms down pat, I heard at least three hundred more fascinating dubplates in my years listening to East Village Radio’s Universopolis. (Universopolis, I love you and I miss you.) (6)

Claire Lobenfeld: Sometimes I am convinced that batida is just another form of hypnotism, but in a really good way. It’s hard not to get lost in the tracks and ‘Alma Do Meu Pai’ is impressively cavernous at first blush. It is, however, ultimately, a little blurry with all that’s packed into it and I didn’t entirely fall under its spell. (6)

Tayyab Amin: In terms of layers, there doesn’t appear to be too much coming into play, but the sound is still so concentrated and dense it becomes a little overwhelming. It’s not that it’s easy to become all wrapped up in the loop, rather it’s completely ensnaring and impossible to fully resist, so directed it is. New percussions are sucked into the storm and even if I notice them, it’s difficult to imagine the track without these accompaniments. Everything in here is essential and full-on, somehow draining energy whilst conducting and propelling it. (8)


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Sia – ‘Alive’

Claire Lobenfeld: I am such an asshole – I would really love to hear Rihanna sing this. But, good god, can Sia write the most triumphant pop songs. Her sense of melody is so intricate and knows how to drill straight into your belly. Yeah, this is cheesy as hell but it’s just made so fucking well and the hook sticks to your ribs. Listen, I am certain that ‘Chandelier’ is her holy grail, but the immaculateness of the song construction here is undeniable. This is going to make a lot of sorority girls’ fall semester and I mean that in the best possible way. (8)

Son Raw: *Hears ominous opening piano chords* Lemme guess, another overwrought belter about overcoming adversity, be it romantic or social? Maybe the kind they’d use for the type of reflective montage you don’t see in movies anymore? Complete with a hilariously overwrought chorus? Yeah, yeah, something like that. (2)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Last year’s 1000 Forms of Fear album confirmed two things about songwriter extraordinaire Sia Furler: 1. She is yet to encounter an extended metaphor that she didn’t like and 2. She exhibits a terrific control when it comes to making her voice topple and twist. ‘Alive’ is a song that thrives on its audio-war-EQ’ed universality, crafted to soundtrack everything from divorce parties to passing your exams. What lifts it out of ordinary inspiro-pop is, yet again, Furler pushing past standard diva dynamics to melodramatically allow cracks and creaks into her voice. By the time she allows through the whoops that standard issue melisma should cover over, it’d be hard to be not won over by her tinkering. (7)

Tayyab Amin: This isn’t up my street but I’d better prepare to hear it through various adverts and mainstream radio channels in the very near future. Sia’s got a lot of power in her voice, but this song is disappointingly vanilla regardless and I’m kinda glad Rihanna passed on it. It’s big, strong and makes for perfect drivetime fodder. (5)

April Clare Welsh: ​​Knowing this was a three-person race between Rihanna, Adele and Sia​, it sounds to me like the best ​​woman won. ​I don’t even need to hear the others to arrive at that conclusion because Sia’s voice literally soars above the clouds as she nails it with an exhilarating and life-affirming wail. It’s ​a​ gazillion times more impacting than anything Zero 7 ever did, but now I’m just stating the obvious. (8)


Murlo – ‘Moodswung’

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: The cover to Murlo’s forthcoming Odyssey EP is a vivid illustration of a statuesque man being doubled over as something attacks him from another portal, a disquieting image that screamed metal more than it did Mixpak. ‘Moodswung’ belies that image, a bouncing array of digital pizzicatos that sounds optimistic – romantic, even, with a tinge of nostalgia preying through the garage-style riffs. It’s luscious and quite sweet, a pleasant surprise for when you expect menace. (7)

Son Raw: Is there a forthcoming apocalypse due January 1 that I haven’t heard about? Because it seems like every musician worth listening to is dropping a project by the year’s end. Murlo’s probably the only producer whose tunes remind me of rugged dancehall and palatial grandiosity, and this is another winner, but I can’t help but want even more. Get this guy Fetty Wap’s number. (8)

Tayyab Amin: I’ve been stanning for Murlo so hard this past year, and he’s continually made it so easy with productions like this. His music doesn’t really sit still between grime, dancehall and beyond, and his colourful sound almost feels iconic to me at this point. ‘Moodswung’ has synths that play like a stunted yet melodious strings section riding the top of the beat, and is that basically a harp breakdown? We’re not worthy. (9)

Claire Lobenfeld: I swear that Mixpak lowkey hates me because I am the only person in history who finds no pleasure in listening to Popcaan — I know! I’m sorry! I know I’m on the wrong side of history, but I don’t like ketchup, either, and everyone thinks I’m nuts for that, too! — but I really think that almost everything else they do is untouchable. ‘Moodswung’ is endless waves of joy. Its movements are bright and emotional, almost otherworldly, and feels totally of the self. It’s just really, really lovely. (9)

April Clare Welsh: ​There’s a whiff of the new age here which I’m usually a fool for but something about this track – maybe it’s the twisted beats which sound a bit overdone – just turns me off. (6)


Final scores:

Murlo – ‘Moodswung’ (7.8)
Lee Gamble – ‘B23 Steelhouse’ (7.8)
Madlib, MED & Blu – Knock Knock (ft. DOOM) (7.2)
DJ Firmeza – ‘Alma Do Meu Pai’ (7)
DJ Paypal – ‘Awakening’ (6.8)
Sia – ‘Alive’ (6)

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