Kazak’s Picks: March 2021 (Reviews)

Clockwise from top left: Be Sweet by Japanese Breakfast (Jubilee album artwork), Control by Mannequin Pussy (Perfect EP artwork), Open Eyes by Duendita (photography by Sandy Ismail (@sandyiism), art by Bailey Elder), and Utsurou by Lycoriscoris (Chiyu album artwork)

These are the hottest tracks of the last month. Any track that was released as a single or as part of an album in March was eligible for inclusion (which is why you might see some tracks that first emerged last month or in 2020).

WARNING: All tracks and their accompanying videos are completely uncensored. A number of them contain explicit language that is unsuitable for children, NSFW topics and images, discussions of potentially triggering subjects, and/or political commentary that may offend.

Spotify

Youtube
Apple Music

https://embed.music.apple.com/gb/playlist/3-march-2021/pl.u-qxylmNJFXlgAN8

Tracks Featured

Tracks listed in order they appear in playlists above.

Mette Petrified (Pop)

Kicking us off this month is as confident and commanding a debut single as you’re likely to hear this year. Petrified balances pared-down verses with choruses that bounce with an irrepressible verve, all while generously spreading a feast of vocal hooks throughout. The lyrics detail the author’s regret at a failed relationship and refreshingly sound like a sincere apology rather than the self-pity that such songs can often fall into (“You had an open heart, I hope I didn’t close it… I wasn’t able to hold you, When I was on my way down”). If we can expect this level of quality from all of Mette’s releases she may well skip the “one to watch” stage of her career straight to superstar status.

Jungle Keep Moving (Funk/Pop)

BROCKHAMPTON BUZZCUT (feat. Danny Brown) (Rap)

BROCKHAMPTON return with their best track since the slew of incredible singles that introduced them to the wider world way back in 2017. BUZZCUT bristles with energy, a pacey beat adding extra momentum to Kevin Abstract’s already-spirited and pertinent words (“A platinum record not gonna keep my black ass out of jail”). Even better still, Danny Brown’s guest verse is delivered with the vigour, charisma, and technical virtuosity that characterise his best work. Setting a vivid scene in just a single line (“Live from the gutter, blood like red paint spills”), he crams in veiled testaments to his own prodigious talent (“White on the street, walking the beat like Abbey Road”), references to Nas’ prime, and a multitude of memorably devastating put downs (“You n****s ain’t alpha, you’re incels”) in little more than forty seconds.

New Pagans Harbour (Alternative)

Harbour finds lead vocalist Lyndsey McDougall’s lyrics powerfully recalling the vast spectrum of experiences (both positive and negative) encountered through her pregnancy with her daughter. Her full-throated opening delivery of “You make me feel sick” contrasts with the emotionally tender chorus “It’s just you and me now, Everything else can fade.” The music is equally tumultuous, the hooky guitar riff and driving beat shattered by roaring choruses and a clattering extended guitar solo.

Duendita Open Eyes (R&B/Soul)

This stunning slow-burner from New York- and Berlin-based artist Duendita features in the Brooklyn label Mexican Summer’s single series Looking Glass which “focuses on the human condition as reflected through chance and destined encounters.” Its gorgeous combination of solemn piano chords, warped backing vocals, and Duendita’s wistful lead definitely imprint a contemplative, even crestfallen, tone on the track befitting the brief. Similarly, though the lyrics often seem so cryptic as to defy interpretation, allusions to pain in the past (“curls spun like wool got me bullied in school”), crippling uncertainty in the present (“had a bad dream, what could it mean? who can I be? blind is our fate”), and potential redemption in confronting that pain and uncertainty (“face my mistakes, never too late, love them away!”) keep listeners’ interest piqued rather than putting them off. The conclusion is fittingly vague, a glitchy repeated sample of the earlier “blind is our fate” now cut short to the point where it sounds more like “blinders up,” leaving us uneasy and with more questions than answers.

Silk Sonic (Bruno Mars & Anderson .Paak) Leave the Door Open (Soul/Pop)

Never completely write off the possibility of a musician unexpectedly producing something great, no matter how bad their previous track record is. Bruno Mars’ transformation from a peddler of extremely lazy pop to a legitimate superstar was one of the most pleasantly surprising turnarounds of the 2010s. Now he’s formed supergroup Silk Sonic with charismatic R&B star Anderson .Paak to offer up an excellent, unabashedly cheesy slice of romantic soul that would sound more at home in 1976 than 2021. Seduction is perhaps unsurprisingly the main lyrical objective, and the formula of silky-smooth backing vocals and luxuriant instrumentation remains as persuasive an accompaniment as it did all those decades ago. The tender croon of the first two choruses is turned up all the way to, ahem, a thumping climax for its final rendition, at which point I’m helpless to resist. You win again, Bruno Mars.

Genesis Owusu Drown (feat Kirin J Callinan) (Indie Pop)

Norf Face Baitest Sound (Grime/Rap)

Flourishing Grime MCs Frisco, JME, Shorty, and Capo Lee have teamed up to form supergroup Norf Face and released an excellent eponymous EP this month. The whole record is a testament to the power of collaboration, and frisky lead single Baitest Sound is a perfect example of the sonic alchemy at work here. Frisco delivers the chorus hooks and the first verse, immediately grabbing the listener’s attention with the opening lines (“I woke up in the strangest mood, Statistically I should be dead now, I’ll give thanks that we made it through”). All four MCs are given a verse to display their lyrical prowess, using the opportunity to great effect, whilst the music is located at the forefront of great grime production.

Noga Erez Cipi (Pop)

Japanese Breakfast Be Sweet (Indie Pop)

Artistic reinvention comes with significant risk, and Michelle Zauner could have been easily forgiven for following 2017’s excellent album Soft Sounds from Another Planet with something that cautiously expanded upon familiar foundations. Instead, the lead single from upcoming album Jubilee throws much of what we thought we knew about Japanese Breakfast out the window, recasting Zauner as a 1980s guitar-pop megastar. Almost every aspect of the track feels geared towards recreating the aural magic of the era, from the tone choices for the guitars, keyboards and synths, to the specific style of harmonised backing vocals in the chorus. And it is glorious.

Elkka Burnt Orange (Dance/Ambient)

Burnt Orange is that sort of dance track which curiously sounds just as well-suited to an evening relaxing on the couch with your headphones as it does to an actual dancefloor. It’s minimalist and airy, the syncopated two-note synth and simple spoken-word samples of its verses melting into ambient synths and melodic backing vocals for a ‘chorus’ of sorts. Put it on, settle into this mystical world, and let your fingers (or toes) tap along for a blissful five minutes.

Middle Kids Questions (Indie Rock)

Nappy Nina & JWords Real Tea (feat. Stas THEE Boss) (Rap)

Kylie Minogue Real Groove (feat. Dua Lipa) [Studio 2054 Initial Talk Remix] (Pop/Dance)

If you thought Japanese Breakfast’s aforementioned foray into 1980s guitar-pop was going to be the month’s most faithful tribute to that beguiling decade, get ready for round two. This remix of Kylie Minogue’s 2020 comeback track Real Groove, now featuring arguably pop’s biggest star Dua Lipa, is a lovably knowing homage to the synthpop sound that took over the world in that era, channelling the likes of the Pet Shop Boys, early Depeche Mode, Madonna, and The Human League. In short, it absolutely bangs, surpassing the original in just about every respect.

Nubiyan Twist Ma Wonka (feat. Pat Thomas) (Jazz)

Collaboration lies at the heart of nine-piece Afro-Jazz band Nubiyan Twist’s excellent new album Freedom Fables, and this piece with legendary Ghanaian singer Pat Thomas is arguably the pick of the bunch. Everything about the track seems designed to get your feet moving and your lips smiling, from the supple groove, to an earworm of a horn line serving as the song’s chorus. Given that we’re likely to have to spend any time socialising this summer outdoors, this is a perfect candidate for your barbecue/outdoor gathering playlist.

Hiatus Kaiyote Get Sun (feat. Arthur Verocai) (Indie Pop/R&B)

Fimber Bravo Can’t Control Me (World/Electronic)

Can’t Control Me perfectly demonstrates Fimber Bravo’s efforts to integrate his “cutting edge steel pan” playing with “leftfield improvisations with Western pop and electronic sounds” on the excellent new album Lunar Tredd (which placed fourth in my albums of the month). Aside from a brief solo at the very beginning, the cheerful steel pan is masterfully blended into an exuberant mix of bright synths, bouncing rhythms, and defiant lyrics. In particular, the groove provided by the bass, drums, and percussion is utterly irresistible.

Mr Twin Sister Expressions (Funk/Disco)

CHIKA Fairy Tales (feat. BJ The Chicago Kid) (Rap)

Fairy Tales’ comes with a vital mission statement: give those left behind by traditional, white-washed fairy tales a story that validates them, reflects their realities, and gives them hope for the future (“No heroes inside a book look like me … the remedy is simple, Let’s make a couple hits for all the kids that need a symbol, Let’s remind ’em that they matter”). Indeed, younger generations of aspiring musicians need look no further for inspiration than CHIKA herself, who delivers a dazzling technical flow over a lively beat once the track kicks into gear. The major-key, gospel- and brass-heavy sound is a nice call back to fellow Chicagoan Chance the Rapper’s peak Coloring Book too.

Luna Li Cherry Pit (Indie Pop)

Last month Canadian artist Luna Li released an excellent EP of short, almost sketch-like instrumentals appropriately titled jams. Little more than a month later she’s returned with a new full-length dream-pop single Cherry Pit. Breezy verses showcasing Li’s vocal chops and multi-instrumental talents give way to delightfully hazy choruses. Best of all is the expansive final minute, wherein Li delivers an extended guitar solo over phaser/flanger-heavy psychedelia.

Perfume Genius & A.G. Cook Describe (A.G. Cook Remix) (Electronic)

March saw Perfume Genius release a remix album of last year’s opus Set My Heart on Fire Immediately. The A.G. Cook interpretation of mammoth lead single Describe is a pleasingly inventive reinterpretation, initially marking a significant shift in both tempo and tone. Gone are the fuzzy guitars and the slow, sledgehammer beat of the original, replaced with icy synths and hi-tempo drums machines. Eventually it reverts back to a pace and style much closer to the original, albeit with a rejigged melody that feels closer to earnest stadium rock than the grunge-y undertones found before.

Astra King Silver (Alt Pop)

Having just spoken about A.G. Cook’s take on someone else’s track above, now let’s consider a cover of one of his own, in this case by recent signee to his PC Music label Astra King. King strips away the squelching synths and tentative vocal delivery from last year’s Silver, placing its ornate piano line (which weirdly reminds me a bit of Vanessa Carlton’s hit 1000 Miles) front and centre of the track. The addition of a gratuitous key change, an increasingly discordant outro, and Astra King’s stronger vocals all also play their part in making this a superior version of the track.

Junodream Travel Guide (Indie Rock)

There are very few things in music that catch my ear quite like a chord progression that I haven’t come across before. The verses of Travel Guide are a fine example, almost familiar yet throwing in just enough unexpected turns to throw you until your fourth or fifth listen. It’s gloomy yet beautiful, and combined with the acoustic tones and lead singer Ed Vyvyan’s vocal delivery, there’s a mood reminiscent of The Bends-era Radiohead (doesn’t it feel like an eternity since we’ve been able to talk about that album’s influence in positive terms?). It’s a good job that the verses are so enjoyable, as they form the basis of the vast majority of the song. Consequently, its blissful, wordless chorus only has to be deployed once, allowing it to have maximum impact.

IAN SWEET Sword (Indie Rock)

There are a number of curious lyrics on IAN SWEET’s third album where I’m never quite sure if songwriter Jilian Medford is intentionally working in contradictions, giving out misleading advice, or is simply misguided about the matter at hand. Having very successfully laid out a relationship under stress through clever blade-related imagery (“How do I start to feel, Less like a deadly weapon, After you made me believe, I have the sharpest edges? I’d dull them down for you”), the song’s most repeated line seems like a painfully inaccurate, even clumsy, metaphor in contrast (“my body is a sword, it gets sharper when it gets ignored”). But is that the point? It’s possible that the puzzling quality of the statement ultimately makes it more memorable, especially when set to such a melodic hook. It sticks in your brain and does not leave. Of course, it also helps that the surrounding music is so delightful, a quirky blend of stabbing bass and ethereal synth lines.

Yatabe Pretty Truth (Majestic Remix) (Dance)

ZULI Bro! (Love It) (Electronic/Experimental)

Valerie June Call Me a Fool (Singer-Songwriter)

Call Me a Fool is that rare thing: a blues/soul ballad that matches the greats of the 1960s and 1970s rather than merely imitating them. It sounds classic in all the best ways possible, from its warm, major-key chord sequence to its dignified, stately pace. Most of all, it’s the instantly memorable vocal line of the chorus that’s the star of the show, so brilliantly simple that you’re staggered no-one has ever come up with it before. Things end on a more emotionally ambiguous note, but by that point there’s no undoing the uplifting feeling generated by the preceding three minutes.

DVNE Mleccha (Metal)

Chance デラソウル (CHANCE DE LA SOUL) Ready For This (Dance/Plunderphonics)

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson Viscosity (Indie Rock/Spoken-Word)

The Anchoress Show Your Face (Rock)

Lana Del Rey White Dress (Singer-Songwriter)

The much-anticipated Chemtrails Over the Country Club finally saw its release in March, and marvellous opener White Dress is a personal favourite of mine. Whilst the backing music is another outstanding example of the kind of 1970s piano-ballad that Del Rey often thrives in, her trademark croon is interspersed with striking higher-register delivery not usually heard in her work. Whether this is an intentional decision designed to reinforce the lyrics’ nostalgic remembrance of her pre-fame life, or simply a musical decision to shake things up a bit, in my mind it’s an entirely successful move. White Dress sets such a high standard that much of the rest of the album fails to live up to it, but for the song’s duration you can relate to Del Rey’s assertion that “it made me feel like a god.”

Jane Weaver The Revolution of Supervisions (Indie Pop)

I wasn’t ready to say, But I danced to your beat for sixteen hours.” It sounds as if Jane Weaver knows that she has an enticing groove on her hands with The Revolution of Supervisions. It’s the perfect distillation of new album Flock’s manifesto to incorporate “unpretentious Day-Glo pop sensibilities, wit, kindness, humour and glamour” into the melodic, often cosmic sound she has cultivated over recent releases. It’s a winning mix, with that beat underpinning Prince-like guitars, “a funky whack-a-mole bass line, and synth worms” in the verses which blossom into psychedelic harmonies for the chorus.

Lily Konigsberg Owe Me (Pop/Electronic)

Armand Hammer & The Alchemist Scaffolds (Rap)

Regret and anxiety of past errors coming to light shine clearly through Scaffolds’ morass of enigmatic lines, references, and characters (“Always late with the epiphanies, Like, ‘Might coulda handled that differently’ … Men wrack our brains over past deeds, Indeed the ground’s cold but the bones not deep”). The all-encompassing sense of dread is drawn out even further by the haunted house of rolling toms, blaring saxophone samples, and descending piano lines that accompany the words. Scaffolds is a perfect entry point into Armand Hammer & The Alchemist’s heart of darkness.

Mykki Blanco Free Ride (Alt Pop)

Mannequin Pussy Control (Alternative)

I was sad to hear the news earlier this month that Mannequin Pussy guitarist (and founding member) Thanasi Paul has left the band, as 2019’s album Patience was another major leap forward for this exciting group (and a modern classic in my eyes). However, the announcement of a new EP on May 21stand the release of lead single Control around the same time have proven to be the best medicine possible, with the track showcasing a range of the band’s strengths. It starts off with mellow, summery guitar chords before exploding into a driving, almost grunge-y racket as singer Marisa Dabice snarls “I’ve come undone, I sliced it how I’d rather feel the hurt.” The addition of a simple ascending guitar line and repeated refrain “Something’s in your eyes” in the final minute brings the track closer to more anthemic high water marks from the band’s back catalogue such as Drunk II and Denial. This is a timely reminder that Mannequin Pussy remain one of the best alternative bands about.

Lycoriscoris Utsurou (Dance/Electronic)

Producer Yunosuke Senoo describes his music under the Lycoriscoris moniker as a “subtle fusion of organic melodies and futuristic electronic production,” and this month’s Chiyu album is a wonderful realisation of that design. Penultimate track Utsurou, for example, has a prominent, punchy kick drum pattern as its main ‘hook,’ whilst mournful ambient synths work almost in the background to create a mood that feels peaceful and naturalistic, but bittersweet. In the right hands a simple design can be as intellectually and emotionally affecting as a piece brimming with a multitude of ideas.

L’Impératrice Fou (Disco/Pop)

L’Rain Two Face (Neo-Psychedelia/Art Pop)

Honourable Mentions

Aesop Rock – Long Legged Larry (Rap)

Alice Phoebe Lou – Dirty Mouth (Indie Pop)

Aly & AJ – Pretty Place (Pop)

Another Michael – New Music (Singer-Songwriter)

The Antlers – Wheels Roll Home (Indie Rock)

Bachelor – Stay in the Car (Indie Rock)

Bill Wurtz – I’m a Princess (Indie Pop)

Black Midi – John L (Noise Rock)

Calboy – Miseducation (feat. Lil Wayne) (Rap)

Central Cee – 6 for 6 (Rap)

CFCC – Life is Perfecto (Electronic/Indie)

Crumb – Trophy (Rock)

Dawn Richard – Jacuzzi (Electronic/R&B)

Drake – Lemon Pepper Freestyle (feat. Rick Ross) (Rap)

DUDA BEAT – Mêu Pisero (Pop)

Emotional Oranges – Body & Soul (feat. Biig Piig) (R&B/Pop)

Erika de Casier – Drama (R&B)

Ethel Cain – Crush (Indie Rock)

Everything Everything – SUPERNORMAL (Rock)

Eydís Evensen – Dagdraumur (Classical Crossover/Ambient)

Fatima Al Qadiri – Malaak (Experimental)

Floatie – Shiny (Indie Rock)

Flock of Dimes – Hard Way (Electronic/Indie Rock)

For Those I Love – I Have a Love (Electronic/Spoken-Word)

Glaive – i wanna slam my head against the wall (Pop)

Guedra Guedra – Seven Poets (Dance/World)

Hikaru Utada – One Last Kiss (J-Pop)

KANGA – Moscow (Industrial/Electronic)

L’objectif – Drive in Mind (Indie Rock)

Lil Nas X – MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name) (Pop/Rap)

Lim Kim – MAGO (Electronic)

Lucy Dacus – Thumbs (Singer-Songwriter/Indie)

Lushlife – Redamancy (Rap/Electronic)

Lusine & Loraine James – Retrace (Loraine Jame Remix) (Electronic)

Nasty Cherry – Her Body (Pop)

Overmomo – Pieces of 8 (Dance)

P Money & Silencer – This Year (Grime)

Pixey – Electric Dream (Pop)

Poté – Young Lies (feat. Damon Albarn) (Electronic)

Quadeca – Sisyphus (Rap/Electronic)

Really From – Yellow Fever (Indie Rock)

Rich Brian – Sydney (Rap)

Rosali – Mouth (Singer-Songwriter)

Saba – Ziplock (Rap)

Snapped Ankles – Rhythm Is Our Business (Indie Rock)

Squid – Paddling (Prog Rock)

Throwing Snow – Brujita (Electronic)

Trance Wax – Rayna (House)

Tune-Yards – hypnotised (Indie Pop)

Wyldest – Hollow (Indie Rock)

Yaw Tog, Stormzy & Kwesi Arthur – Sore (Remix) (Rap)

YUNGMORPHEOUS & ewonee – Fistfulofgreens (Rap)

© The Baying of Kazak 2021. All rights reserved. All opinions (except those directly attributed to a third party) are the author’s own.

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