Electronic influences and uninhabited lust reach their peak on British art-rockers Wild Beasts' latest studio offering.
Wild Beasts/ Boy King
Speaking of Boy King, bassist/vocalist Tom Fleming reported that they are "back to being pissed off". This statement, of course, alludes to their last record, 2014's Present Tense, in which the quartet were chest-deep in domestic contentment and fulfilling peace of mind. With more than a handful of tracks addressing the many aspects of personal bliss, it's fair to say that the beasts had been tamed -- so to speak. But back to "back to being pissed off." Wild Beasts' fifth studio album sees Tom Fleming and co slithering back into their modus operandi, getting reacquainted with their quiet rage and raw libido that underpins much of their discography.
Working with John Congleton who produced anyone from Antony and the Johnsons and Erykah Badu to St Vincent and Sigur Rós, the band channels their pent-up angst through a more electronic sound. Nowhere is this musical shift more apparent than lead single Get My Bang, a tapestry of swaggering distorted electric guitar embroidered by frontman Hayden Thorpe's fabulous falsetto. "Got me blubbing just like a jealous child/Want something so badly it eludes you every time," he moans over a sinister industrial funk beat. Consumed by carnal desire, eventually he erupts with frustration: "Why would you hold it back from me?/If not then when?/If not you then who?/If not here then where?"
Like a wild feline waiting to pounce, Big Cat is all sneaky sounds with its snarling synths and dark electro undercurrents. "Big cat, top of the food chain/Big cat on top/Better show me what you've got," goes the chorus. Then, with a sly wink, he concludes, "I'll be your big cat/Are you OK with that?" Described by Thorpe as "organic but digital, aggressive but tender, hallucinatory but clear-eyed", Celestial Creatures harkens back to the band's classic sound -- think the more vocally restrained All the King's Men. Tough Guy, on the other hand, features an electric guitar growl, and distorted pedals spiked with synthy swells. Once again, the theme of hyper-masculinity takes centre stage: "Now I'm all f---ed up and I can't stand up/So I better suck it up like a tough guy would."
Boy King is a natural progression for the band that's always had one foot dangling in the world of electronic music. With this record, they revisit their trademark visceral masculine melodrama and crank it up all the way with help from hard-edged, often stern electronic elements. The only small gripe we have here is the songwriting which comes across as somewhat lacklustre (bear in mind that this is the same band who gave us dazzlingly superfluous lyrics like "By smirking prank of fate/We find ourselves dancing late/Like young reprobates"). Having said that, this is still a solid Wild Beasts album, one that showcases their willingness to reinvent and step away from their comfort zone.
Singto Numchok/ Carnival
After teasing us with an English-language EP Sticky Rice back in 2013, Thailand's favourite troubadour Singto Numchok has finally dropped his first English-language full-length with an auspicious title, Choke Dee (Best of Luck). Lead single Carnival finds the ukulele-toting singer-songwriter in his usual carefree attitude, urging everyone to come join him as he's dancing in the street. "Come meet me here/I'm doing just what I want to," he sings over a laidback, hip-swaying melody. At this point, no other Thai artist can do uplifting quite like this guy does.
Scouring any recent list of "new artists to watch", it's likely that you'd come across the name ABRA in most of them if not all. The London-born, Atlanta-bred singer-songwriter makes old-school R&B laced with a lo-fi DIY aesthetic that recalls the works of contemporary artists like Kelela and Blood Orange. Her latest offering Crybaby blends her smooth vocals with a funkified groove and a whole lot of '80s influences. "You're calling me a crybaby/But you're making me cry," she repeats during the chorus. Well, girl does have a point.
Jagwar Ma/ OB1
Three years ago, just after the release of their debut album Howlin', we had the pleasure of seeing Aussie psych-dance outfit Jagwar Ma live at the Berlin Festival. For a band that was just starting out, they played like seasoned pros, resulting in an electrifying set that was one of the festival's highlights. Now, they have returned with OB1, a swirling new single taken from their forthcoming sophomore record Every Now & Then. According to band member Jono Ma, the track was "designed for nocturnal road trips and foraging through forests for morning fresh champignons." Good to know, boys.
Zhu/ Palm of My Hand
Another up-and-coming artist worth keeping an eye on is a 25-year-old DJ/producer who goes by the name of Zhu. For the uninitiated, he's a guy behind the Grammy-nominated moody deep-house anthem Faded and sophisticated dance cut Paradise Awaits. Here, we're treated to another gem of his called Palm of My Hand, a six-minute-plus number built on a sensual electric guitar solo, pulsing synths, wistful piano chords and horns. There's also some French snippet towards the end, which only adds to the track's burgeoning sultriness.
Jamila Woods (featuring Noname)/ VRY BLK
"If I say that I can't breathe, will I become a chalk line?" asks rising star and neo-R&B songstress Jamila Woods in the opening line of her debut single-slash-protest song VRY BLK, a collaboration with Chicago rapper Noname. Woods, who previously collaborated with Chance The Rapper, is the latest artist (and certainly won't be the last) to touch upon the subject of police brutality in the US. "I'm very black, black, black/Can't send me back, back, back/You take my brother, brother, brother/I fight back, back, back, back," she croons, recalling the smooth, honeyed vocals of neo-soul queen Erykah Badu.