Welcome to Tracks of the Week edition number 141, everybody’s favourite dialling prefix. This week we are joined by recent God is in the TV inductee, Julia Mason, who picks out her own track of the week at the top of the article. Welcome aboard! As ever, you can follow our latest picks of the best new music via our dedicated Spotify Playlist. Follow that playlist here.
Wolf Alice – Smile
Why we love it: Wolf Alice‘s latest track from their upcoming third album Blue Weekend is a bombastic blast of confidence from the London four-piece. ‘Smile’ opens with a quiet note that quickly transforms with pulsating drums and guitar riffs. As Ellie Rowsell’s vocals enter, the atmosphere shifts again into a more quirky, angular beat. The lyrics are influenced by being frustrated at those who make assumptions about us: “Don’t call me mad, there’s a difference, I’m angry. And your choice to call mе cute has offended mе“
This is followed by a chorus of soaring vocal harmonies, then an atmospheric mid-track pause. The powerful message is enforced with guitars riffs and pounding drums until everything abruptly stops: the message has been delivered and there is no more to say.
How on earth Wolf Alice have managed to pack so much into ‘Smile’? It’s astonishing. (Julia Mason)
Ishmael Ensemble – Wax Werk
Why we love it: Since the band’s incarnation in 2017, Ishmael Ensemble have been offering up some of the most innovative and intriguing contemporary jazz around. Their unique approach, which in part draws from the electronic sensibilities of their native Bristol, blends a remarkably proficient level of musicianship with a keen understanding of structure and intensity.
‘Wax Werk’, the first single to be taken from the band’s forthcoming album Visions of Light (August 2021), captures the essence of what makes Ishmael Ensemble such an exciting act, displaying a mastery of sonic intuition and musical dexterity.
Spang Sisters – Thank You, Will Shortz
Why we love it? “Thank you, Will Shortz is an ode to the editor of the New York Times Crossword.” You had us at ‘Hello’.
There’s something very refreshing about guitar-led indie bands writing about subjects other than love and heartbreak, and this is exactly what Spang Sisters have done here. Even for the uninitiated to the work of Shortz (guilty as charged) you can’t help but feel an affinity with the man by the end of the track’s blissful four minutes. Musically speaking, although the vocals and instrumentation are more than a little reminiscent of Mac DeMarco, there is originality here too, with soulful guitar work and lyrical quips that worm their way into one’s psyche: “Every Monday you make me hungry and by Friday I feel so ugly,” for example. Perfect good weather music.
Mutes – Severe Clear
Why we love it? Bringing us firmly back into reality is the latest offering from Birmingham’s Mutes, ‘Severe Clear’, a charging yet melodic track that recalls the driving energy of 90s New York rock acts such as Interpol. Speaking of the track, the band note, “Severe Clear is an unrelenting portrait of the dichotomy between addiction and sobriety – the title alluding to the often too-painful clarity that recovery can bring.” Throughout ‘Severe Clear’ there is certainly a sense of reflection that mirrors the themes and subject matter outlined by Mutes. The band’s third LP Dreams of Being Cornered arrives on the 7th of May via independent label FOMA.
Iceage – Gold City
Why we love it: Iceage‘s recent run of singles from their forthcoming album Seek Shelter point towards an altogether more accessible new sound, occupying a sonic space more akin to artists like Ezra Furman and the War on Drugs, shaking off the jagged edginess of the recent post-punk revival. I feel compelled to mention, albeit with extreme trepidation, how these latest offerings bring to mind the anthemic bombast of a certain New Jerseyan singer-songwriter by the name of Bruce Springsteen. Overall, this is one of Iceage’s best efforts yet, making the anticipation of their forthcoming record that little bit more difficult to deal with.
Jinnwoo – Milk
Why we love it: ‘Milk’, the first release by Jinnwoo in five years, carries the abandoned fairground sinisterness of Alice-era Tom Waits and the guttural voice of the Tallest Man on Earth, without truly sounding like either artist, such is its singularity. Jinnwoo, the alias of the Leicester-born artist Ben Webb, is preoccupied with nostalgia and his latest track explores this fascination, as he explains: “I obsess over photographs or old letters, or emails. It’s glorious and unhealthy. This song is about that. About how a part of us wants to sit and dwell, and we feed that part of us with photos or old songs.“
“Glorious and unhealthy” characterises the opposing feelings within ‘Milk’. On one hand, there is something strangely comforting about this song, but on the other, a sense of disquiet and foreboding abounds, resulting in a curious, intoxicating listening experience.
Freyja Elsy – Lungs
Why we love it: Ripe with inviting and tender synth-pop textures, ‘Lungs‘ is based around the end of a relationship and includes samples of the real voice notes sent around the time of the breakup. This intimacy and honesty is contrasted by Elsy’s enveloping bittersweet vocal that’s both vulnerable and infectious. Her classical background informs the intricacy and detail of the orchestral and synthesised instrumentals that frame it. Swelling pleasingly with shades of Madonna‘s ‘Substitute for Love‘ or even touches of the lushness of All Saints ‘Pure Shores‘ yet sounding intensely personal. A very promising beginning for the Cardiff based artist.(Bill Cummings)