Music Reviews

Single Review: New Releases Roundup – Against the Current, Sundara Karma, Dua Lipa, Troye Sivan, Shelly and bladee

Gemma Cockrell and Kiah Tooke

Gemma and Kiah collaborate to give us their take on this week’s single releases, reviewing some impressive tracks bound to get you through lockdown.

that won’t save us – Against the Current (Gemma):

New York pop-rock trio Against the Current are back with their first release since their sophomore record, 2018’s ‘Past Lives’. Despite that LP leaning heavily towards the pop side of the pop-rock genre, that won’t save us sees them shifting towards the opposite end of the spectrum, exploring heavier rock-inspired elements, and taking their sound to a new level. The band wanted to make a track with a lot of energy, and they have succeeded in doing so.

The track is a moody, explosive, guitar-charged rock banger, driven by fast-paced, energetic drums, over which vocalist Chrissy Costanza’s powerful and commanding voice soars. These towering vocals in the chorus juxtapose to her soft, gentle, and pure-sounding vocals on the verses and the bridge, demonstrating her impressive versatility, and making the chorus stand out and hit even harder.

that won’t save us sees them shifting towards the opposite end of the spectrum, exploring heavier rock-inspired elements, and taking their sound to a new level

Costanza explains: “I had so much anger and frustration built up from my personal life and the business. A lot of confusion and passive-aggressive feelings were starting to boil over. The song points the finger right in your face and says, ‘What you’re doing right now isn’t going to save us. What do you want to do about it? Do you want to keep doing what you’re doing and know this is going to die? Or, are you ready to make a change?’” She was therefore fuelled by anger and emotion when writing the track, which is reflected both lyrically and sonically.

It’s refreshing to hear the trio fully exploring their rock potential – something which fans have been eagerly anticipating since 2015’s rock-infused ‘Gravity’ EP. that won’t save us therefore feels like a nostalgic nod to their origins and early work. Despite no announcement of album number 3 as of yet, it appears that this will be an era in which fans will experience a heavier side of Against the Current, for the first time in a while.

Artifice – Sundara Karma (Gemma):

Released alongside the announcement of upcoming EP Kill Me, which is set for release on 24th November, Artifice “is about someone having been in your life and not being in it anymore, but they’ve left a mark that will never be removed…. and being able to make peace with that. The scar may be there forever, but that’s fine because life goes on” according to frontman Oscar Pollock.

The EP was co-produced by Pollock himself, alongside Clarence Clarity, who has previously worked with the likes of Charli XCX and Rina Sawayama, both of whom are renowned for their experimental, futuristic pop sound. Pollock explains: “It was really exciting to work together… I’ve been a fan of his solo material for a while now and I think he’s really helped me translate my songs into a more streamlined sequence of sounds. There’s so much going on with each of these songs.”

The dreamy, twinkly, shimmering synths which open the track are unrecognisable from the indie guitars and drums that dominated their early releases

The EP will be their first body of work since 2019’s unexpectedly Bowie-esque, psychedelic sophomore record Ulfilas’ Alphabet, and their sound has clearly evolved in the past year – Clarity has likely been the influence behind this. Artifice is arguably the band’s most experimental release to date; the dreamy, twinkly, shimmering synths which open the track are unrecognisable from the indie guitars and drums that dominated their early releases.

The song climaxes with a chorus of autotuned, produced vocals and explosive, powerful, euphoric synths – when Pollock said that there is a lot going on in this song, he couldn’t have been more correct, but in the best way possible. Artifice is experimental, exciting, and genre-bending. Sundara Karma have evolved into something much bigger than the indie band that they were when they released their debut album in 2017. By being fearless, exploring genres, and pushing boundaries, they have crafted one of their biggest and best tracks to date.

Steeeam/Natural – Shelly (Gemma):

This week, the bedroom pop turned indie sensation Clairo took to Instagram to announce that “my best friends and I made a band”, consisting of Clairo herself, and fellow musicians/close friends Claud, Josh Mehling, and Noa Frances Getzug. Their first release, an A/B side single, was “created during quarantine in LA, Chicago, Houston and Atlanta.”

Clairo has always taken a refreshing DIY, minimalistic approach to her music, and this side project is a nostalgic nod to her early career, when she used to write, sing and produce all of her own material from within the four walls of her own bedroom on her laptop. Quarantine forced most musicians to take this independent approach to making music, so it made perfect sense for Clairo to take the opportunity to return to her roots.

A-side Steeeam and B-side Natural are both synth-heavy, dreamy, warm, ethereal tracks, with soft, pure vocals. The tracks don’t drift far from the typical style you would expect from Clairo’s music, but there is something special and wholesome about the tracks – they have not been crafted out of desire for commercial success. Instead, the tracks are merely the creation of four musicians who didn’t want to let quarantine halt their creativity.

Drama – bladee & Mechatok  (Gemma):

Enigmatic, experimental Swedish rapper and drain gang member bladee collaborates with familiar producer Mechatok for their latest track Drama. Growing up in Stockholm, bladee was detached from any sort of rap culture, so he invented his own unique genre born from a hybrid of his internet influences and his own imagination. Futuristic and progressive pop-producer Mechatok is also a fellow European-based artist, hailing from Germany.

bladee’s self-released, emotionally-charged, unique take on rap with abstract lyrics and heavily autotuned vocals has earnt him a loyal and dedicated fanbase, coined drainers by the internet. Mechatok’s upbeat, distinct production results in Drama having a huge sound and an infectiously catchy chorus – elements which haven’t always been characteristic of bladee’s past releases, many of which have been emotional, slow-burning ballads. The track is described by label YEAR0001 as “a playfully spiritual pop experiment intertwined by a relentless, almost sinister feeling of sheer ecstasy and bliss.”

He invented his own unique genre born from a hybrid of his internet influences and his own imagination

bladee has experimented with highly-charged pop in the past, but never before has it sounded this crisp or high-quality. Drama was released with an accompanying music video, which mirrored the aesthetic and quality of the song. This may be surprising to fans, as bladee is notorious for his cryptic visuals, which usually mask his visual identity with blurry, dark shots, or flashing lights. In contrast, Drama’s video is clean and high-definition.

However, bladee hasn’t completely abandoned his roots with this stylistic shift – the video was co-directed by long-time, frequent collaborator Ecco2k. Therefore, despite this release demonstrating a completely new side to both his sound and aesthetic, it is still very much a bladee track. Mechatok’s production unlocked a more polished, refined side of bladee – a side which I think we will be seeing much more of in the future.

10/10 – Troye Sivan (Kiah):

Initially only available as a bonus track for the vinyl edition of EP In A Dream, 10/10 has now been officially released as a new single by the Australian singer. Sivan’s In A Dream EP navigates heartbreak and discusses the aftermath of a breakup; 10/10 follows similarly in this trend and in a bittersweet tone details the process of falling out of love with someone, despite his best efforts to preserve their relationship.

Renowned for his song-writing abilities and expertise of synth and dance pop, Sivan never fails in creating lyrically beautiful songs that either make you want to dance or cry. 10/10 falls on the sadder part of this spectrum, being described by Sivan as a ‘guitar ballad’, and is probably the most stripped-down addition to the EP. The lyrics see Sivan at his most vulnerable and this is reflected in the less produced sound of the track.

The lyrics focus heavily on the idealised version of a relationship whilst acknowledging that their love can never again be what it was. The acoustic guitar paired blend with Sivan’s soothing vocals give 10/10 a gentle and sombre tinge that perfectly fits the narrative of the In A Dream EP. Sivan candidly reveals all of the emotions he was experiencing whilst dealing with his breakup when he returned to his family home in Melbourne. Sivan beautifully describes the EP as a whole as being a ‘time capsule for some of the most intense weeks of my life’, which can be seen in the emotional authenticity throughout the songs.

Fever – Dua Lipa and Angèle (Kiah):

English pop star Dua Lipa is joined by Belgian singer-songwriter Angèle on her new single, Fever. This is the second single released for the bonus edition of Dua Lipa’s successful sophomore album, Future Nostalgia. Although the song has a more chilled dance-pop style, Fever still fits in nicely with the rest of Future Nostalgia, whilst giving the album a full-circle feeling by ending on a more relaxed tone.

As the song progresses more energy is injected with a dance-pop backing which builds upon the song’s lyrics

Despite already having success in the French-speaking music industry, this song marks Angèle’s debut to an English audience. Angèle already has a debut album that has gone platinum two times in France, but through this collaboration with Dua Lipa she has reached out past her traditional audience to Lipa’s broader platform.

The song features two verses sung in French by Angèle, her higher soothing voice contrasting with Lipa’s and complementing it successfully. Initially the song starts on a calmer tone, just Lipa’s vocals paired with a melodic bassline. However, as the song progresses more energy is injected with a dance-pop backing which builds upon the song’s lyrics. The lyrics describe the nervousness and emotion of being around a romantic interest, covered in both English and French.

The pair were spotted together in London before the release of the single, allowing fans of both singers to wait in anticipation for its release. Dua Lipa has also announced a special virtual concert called studio 2054 which could potentially see the song have its live debut.

Gemma Cockrell and Kiah Tooke

Featured image courtesy of Nina via Flickr. Image license found here. No changes made to this image.

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