The best new singles this week
Our reviewers pluck the very finest singles from this week’s sprawling pile
‘Back To The Streets’ is a singular record in all senses of the word. American artist Rudy Norman spent his earliest years travelling the world as a self-confessed “army brat” before his family eventually settled down in Baltimore. By the late ’70s, Rudy was immersed in worlds of AOR: transfixed by bands like The Fixx, The Moody Blues, The Strawbs, and Paul Kelly & The Messengers. He spent his days working as a graphic designer, and his evenings playing in covers bands in and around B’more. At this time, commercial disco was dominating the airwaves, and therefore dictating the playlist requests for his band, Daybreak. Uninspired by the euphoric, club-focused tempos of the era, he decided to quit the band and do what he’d always wanted – cut his own record. Originally released in 1980 as a B-side on a cover version of Elton John’s ‘Harmony’, the record generated only a modest amount of heat when it first saw the light of day.
Over time, though, the infectious hooks of ‘Back To The Streets’ and the relative scarcity of the vinyl helped it generate a potent cult following. In 2015 the one and only Bill Brewster licensed the track to his Late Night Tales compilation, and – with prices of the original 7” by now skyrocketing on the resale market – Norman organised a limited repress in 2016. Having recently been introduced to the respectful reworks forged by Flying Mojito Bros, Rudy himself reached out to the edit specialists to discuss the possibility of the pair working their magic on his song, and the result is rather charming. The ‘Refritos’ version takes the song into glossy-eyed Balearic territory, with its solid bass and crisp drum programming adding weight to Rudy’s heart-felt vocal, while the dub version replaces the vocals with psychedelic-tinged synths for a delicately cosmic refrain. The iconic original is here too – its Rhodes intro, searing guitar, and sing-along vocal effortlessly combining with a sincerity of intention and effervescent charisma to ensure it more than stands the test of time.
Steven Rutter’s FireScope label is carrying on a fine tradition of UK techno which he helped kick start in the early 90s as one half of B12. The label doesn’t exclusively deal in UK artists – the likes of Sweden’s Bauri and Finland’s Morphology have also appeared – but the overarching sensibility derives from the particular style of melodic, inquisitive machine music Rutter and his peers helped pioneer. It’s a corner of electronic music which has remained earnest and slightly un-trendy – B12 records might have started attaining crazy prices second hand thanks to the minimal-ish scene’s embrace of vintage deep techno, but at its actual flash point of creation and appreciation, it’s thoughtful music for sensitive souls rather than a wildly popular soundtrack to a megarave.
Steevio’s sound, while resolutely individual as it always has been, fits into this creative ethic. The Freerotation co-founder might have a sizable reputation as a modular synth wizard with one of the wider scene’s most respected festivals to his name, but his music and the real world situations it lands in err towards intimacy. The delicate swing of his beats and the mellifluous flow of his synth lines are cosy and inviting – it would be hard to imagine them landing in a stadium techno scenario. In presentation as well as production, this release on FireScope feels homely and heartfelt – his partner Suzybee has designed the artwork, and Rutter’s attention to detail in mastering, pressing and so forth shine through with a degree of consideration that shows how seriously they take this act of releasing the music.
As ever, Acatalepsy is drawn from live improvisation sessions Steevio carries out on his modular rig, and you can certainly sense that natural sense of progression in these tracks, but there’s not much improv techno that sounds this good. It’s undoubtedly Steevio – that filter sweeping Moog tone is intrinsically bedded into his current work – but there’s a vibrancy to the finish on these tracks which feels especially refined this time around. ‘Tarantism’ spills out in waves, low-lying patterns tangling around upper register flourishes and buffeted along by a springy rhythm. The stuttering funk of ‘Cynetin’s drums feels especially jazzy, while ‘Oxytocin’ has a bleepy insistency which feels more inherently techno, but such associations are mere fleeting impressions. Steevio’s sound is one best felt in a state of vulnerability – eyes closed, the undulations washing over you.
It might have an understandable track record as an arbiter of quirky minimal, but the great thing about Perlon is that it’s really just an outpost for off-centre house music with bags of personality. Even in the early days you’d be as likely to hear a peak time cut with pop-leaning vocals as an after-after-afters freakout made from the slightest hiccups of beats and a disembodied murmur every 84 bars. Meanwhile Ivan Iacobucci has followed a similarly un-dogmatic approach since he first started releasing music in the late 80s. A true underground hero of Italian house music, he’s rolled out crusty garage bumpers, pristine deep divers, swooning crowd pleasers and plenty more besides.
Following his Logic Solution 12” for Perlon in 2019, he returns to the label with a sterling four track EP which feels like a perfect fit and brings out the best in the artist. There’s a full-fat quality to these tracks, densely layered with bold, supple sounds shot through with a freakiness that makes them quintessential Perlon. Whether it’s a subtly off-key pad or some jarring harmonic overtones, there’s a microtonal magic at work here which makes this record absolutely vital for anyone who craves a little spice in their sauce. House music needs more of this kind of subliminal weirdness, where the groove still does everything it should while offering something fresh for the ears.
Can you believe it? The Screamers’ ‘Demo Hollywood 1977’ is a five-track collection of the Los Angeles band’s first recordings, laid down only a few months after the city’s punk scene lifted off.
Punk moved quickly over there. Only two years after their formation as The Tupperwares in 1975, the Screamers finally made their mark in 1977, coinciding with the scene’s rambunctious claim to international appeal. Part of the ‘queercore’ subscene, the Screamers’ various members (totalling 10) were all also part of the glitter movement, and did not shy away from throwing synthetic elements into their songs, helping cement the credibility of the term ‘electropunk’. We doubt they gave a fuck about credibility, to be honest, but that probably helped them along.
Maybe we can draw parallels between the queer scene’s embrace of synth back then, and its embrace of hyperpop now. Both are self-described “radical statements of intent”, hellbent on moving middle-of-the-road music into lesser explored territories. As much is true here: spring-verbed stick clacks kick off ‘Magazine Love’, carrying the ghost of dub into a squeaky french-kisser of a tune. Tommy Gear’s s squeal-synth pans hard left, all distorted and wrong, while lead singer Tomata du Plenty lays down vocals that could emanate straight from the pit of Tartarus. It’s a mood that carries on into the tracks ‘Anything’ and ‘Peer Pressure’, all of which challenge queerphobic attitudes from both sides of the confrontation, straddling freeform tempo and ramming drums in the process.
The new, popular interest in the Screamers is justified. It’s been sizzling on blog sites and rabbit-hole YouTube channels since time immemorial, and we understand why. ‘Punish Or Be Damned’ has drum machine so crispy, cymbal so terse, bloop so provocative, that it almost sounds like being stoned to death, much like the theme of cruel vigilante justice heard in the lyrics. Meanwhile, ‘Mater Dolores’ deals with mindless religious persecution (“Tantum Ergo is no threat to my ego”), all the while crashing and squelching into double-time psychobilly hell. Even after restoration from the original reel-to-reels, all the tunes sound rad.
Canadian Rapper Checkmate is back again, and this time with some help from producer Vago. Having recorded over 200 underground tracks during his lengthy career, before appearing on Northern Touch, Checkmate has held his own within the rap music scene, and dare-say, carved himself a place among the underground greats. Having won multiple awards in his home country and released various mixtapes over the years on DatPiff, this enigmatic rapper’s lyrical style has evolved over the years and has seen him even work with the likes of Eminem associate, Royce Da 5 ‘9.
Three tracks presented on this single release are all taken from standout production, Hustle 101, the collaborative duo effort from Checkmate and Vago respectively, with the first being The Council featuring JD Era and has a sample taken from the 1977 release Affano by Italian composer Franco Micalizzi. Closely followed by Brazy and the show stopping Wild Kingdom featuring Concise on the 7” edit. This last track steals the limelight in the cleanest fashion from the first two and highlights the complexity each lyricist brings to the table as they go back and forth, and toe to toe.
Reminiscent of the early 90s American hip-hop scene which saw a rise in collaborative projects which used mostly jazz music samples, but also saw the use of movie soundtrack samples, international music and orchestral sounds, this EP from the rapper is no different and successfully modernised the arrangement of these sounds and beats he has been known to use. With similar musical vibes and clearly shared influences to modern artists such as Action Bronson, collaborative duo Madvillain and Freddie Gibbs, fans of theirs in particular should check this out..
Fresh new imprint Space Grapes continue their refined funk-coated flex with their second buy-on-sight release. Following last year’s delightfully agile ‘Mad Honey’ EP, the label once again journey deep into good time, psychedelic disco-funk territory with the utterly infectious ‘Life Is A Mirror’ from GALXTC. Already proving a hit for the likes of Giles Peterson, the word is that the mysterious players behind this release hail from somewhere in France, but there can be little doubt the inspiration for the music came from across the English Channel. The esoteric soundscapes of Brit funk have been garnering plenty of high profile traction in recent months, but, of course, for committed followers of the sub-genre, the imaginative blend of UK grit, street soul swagger, funk energy and Afro-infused disco rhythms have for years provided vast musical galaxies in which to set sail.
On 11-minute rhythm odyssey ‘Life Is A Mirror’, dancers are bewitched from the first lively bar to the last, as the magnificently dusty drum groove pounds the vivid tempo to which the immaculately constructed instrumentation is so skilfully anchored. The bassline is approximately one hundred feet tall, the congas explode with urgent intent, the synth motifs are deliciously cavalier, while the soothing Rhodes joyously solidifies the maverick musicality. Vaguely reminiscent of Atmosfear’s ‘Dancing In Outer Space’ or Powerline’s ‘Double Journey’, the fully authentic cut is every bit as immediate as the very best of the roots of the sound.
A mysterious individual – known only to us as Ronnie Frazzle – is responsible for these 7” reissues. Now on its sixth split single, Pampala West Coast Classics has released classic flown-under tracks by N.W.A., Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, on top of wilder-west names like DJ Quik, Too Short, King Tee and The Lady Of Rage.
We’re not quite sure how Frazzle handles the risk of re-releasing this music unofficially. All we do know is that he’s able to jack up the curatorial heat, and this week we can confirm: said heat is searing. This week, no punches are pulled. 2pac and Ice Cube are extremely well-known, and both tracks are fiyah – especially given their new context, a reframing we didn’t know we needed.
2pac’s vocoder-laden, 1995 classic ‘California Love’ features on the A. It’s a bold move to release not only one of the rapper’s biggest tracks, but also one of his most notorious before his death one year later. Perhaps we need not be reminded: it’s a shining example of Dr. Dre welcoming us to the wilds of Compton, while G-funk grooves and farty funk basses outline the sheer sultriness of the sonic situation. Meanwhile, on the tastefully-chosen B rests Ice Cube’s ‘Jackin For Beats’, Cube’s medley-ode to beat biting, and which samples Public Enemy, James Brown, LL Cool J, EPMD and X Clan. What a juxtaposition; side by side, the tracks are the quintessence of ‘no fucks given’.
Derrick G. Riddick, better known as Dam Funk, dropped this gem of an EP on his own Glydezone Recordings back in February, and with this reissue he plans to remind people as to why. Sticking to the theme many producers have gone this year, Riddick is ready to take new listeners and fans alike back to the summers we remember, all spent outdoors caught up in wanderlust. Taking us on a trip to never forget, he paints a picture of sundry nights spent listening to calm electronic vibes and jazz funk percussions, while wishing to be in the great outdoors.
Presenting us with two tracks, Known opens with simple looping sounds, mild paced drums and a warm, gentle riff. Backed up by hip hop style beats, this track will soothe all and relax the mind. This track loops on which then rolls until around the seven-minute mark, after which things get increasingly abstract as the track wanders off into near-ambient territory and takes on a slight meditational form. The standout for this though is ‘Paradise’, a slice of synth-y instrumental funk/jazz-funk with a clear early 80s feel. It’s not quite ‘get on the dancefloor’ type, but certainly enough to brighten any day and continue on this journey of relaxation.
London-based artist Elkka is clearly something of a creative dynamo. As well as crafting sugar-coated deep
house-related sounds, the singer-songwriter, producer and DJ also co-runs the Femme Culture collective and label – a luminous project that serves as a platform from where women across all arts disciplines are able to create, collaborate and engage in a uniquely future-facing environment. Having started her sonic quest providing guest vocals for a string of across-the-board producers, we now find her thriving on the other side of the console – with
releases on her own imprint as well as remixes for the likes of Hector Plimmer already under her belt.
Her ‘Euphoric Melodies’ EP starts exceptionally strongly with ‘Burnt Orange’ – an instantly recognisable, radio-friendly cut embodied with all necessary components to make a dancefloor go pop, with all
other baggage jettisoned to enable streamlined propulsion. The futurist arpeggios and yearning vocals of ‘Flowers’ also stand tall on the neatly constructed 5-tracker, as does the determined, smoke-filled thrust of
club-focused number, ‘Alexandra’. Closing track ‘Morning Fizz’ comes close to topping off the whole bunch, with its hypnotic synth bleeps and sparse drums blending supremely with rising harmonic layers, as Elkka’s distinctive vocals elegantly garnish the groove.
This week’s reviewers: Patrizio Cavaliere , Oli Warwick, Ava Yusuf, Jude Iago James