An intriguing, and sometimes busy, first month in my new job has seen a fair bit of travel, and thus time to listen to new music (as well as old favourites). So here we go with this month’s /Tracks of the Month.
This month has a mix of returns from old favourites (including a track of the month from one of the most fascinating artists this site has covered over the past decade), some new discoveries and even a rare reworking of an old song (something I don’t usually cover nowadays, but this one was interesting enough to feature) – as this series enters the sixteenth year, an appropriate way to continue.
A quick explanation for new readers (hi there!): my Tuesday Ten series has been running since March 2007, and each month features at least ten new songs you should hear – and in between those monthly posts, I feature songs on a variety of subjects, with some of the songs featured coming from suggestion threads on Facebook.
Feel free to get involved with these – the more the merrier, and the breadth of suggestions that I get continues to astound me. Otherwise, as usual, if you’ve got something you want me to hear, something I should be writing about, or even a gig I should be attending, e-mail me or drop me a line on Facebook (details below).
/Track of the Month
The last time I was writing about the music of Zola Jesus was around the time of the astounding Okovi, which was #2 on /Countdown/2017/Albums and single Siphon was #1 on /Countdown/2017/Tracks. That was an album that broadly, was about fighting to survive in all senses of the word.
It appears that five years since, and after two years of COVID, Nika Roza Danilova was struggling. For the first time, she’s worked with outsiders (producer Randall Dunn and drummer/percussionist Matt Chamberlain in particular), and this first single seems to sum up the state of Zola Jesus in 2022. “Everyone I know is lost” goes the striking chorus, and it is a phrase that feels like something we can all relate to at the moment. The song itself is a dramatic wonder, with her unmistakable vocals assisted by multitracking and breathless samples that become part of the hyperkinetic, skittering percussion.
I’ve been patiently awaiting Zola Jesus to light the fires of her music again, and this is an astonishing return, easily the best music I’ve heard so far this year.
After a decade between albums last time around, it is just three years or so this time, and unlike the bombast of lead single Deutschland then, the lead track this time, Zeit, is rather more contemplative. A song clearly about dealing with the ravages of time and how all things die in the end, it is something of a stately ballad that is lush and sounds huge. So, typical R+ subtlety, then.
As is usual when it comes to a new Rammstein album, too, things have got weird. The latest part of the promotion was suspicious news on 01-April suggesting that they’ve invested in a beauty clinic (named Zick Zack [“Zig Zag”], which also just happens to be the title of another track on the album)…
/Gone Long Before The Death Of The Sun
The new Autoclav 1.1 album sees Tony Young offering atmospheric sounds built around the Climate Crisis and the ever-louder warnings from climate scientists that we are beginning to pass the point of no return. The titles, thus, suggest a fury at the inaction and bleak future we face, and it also bleeds into some of the music, too. Particularly the snarling Fauna Collapse, whose heavy beats provide an angry stomp, and are topped by chiming synths and a general feeling of helplessness.
It has been a long, long time since I first featured Testube on here – in fact, excellent single Lost and Found featured on /Tuesday Ten/112 back in 2010! But after a period of living “off-grid”, Jeff Danos finally returns, and his unusual split identity of melodic, punchy industrial and deeply thoughtful IDM is maintained. The opening, title track Backwater is one of the former, mostly, as it bounces through five great minutes of dancefloor-friendly rhythms and crackles of synths that sound futuristic, even in 2022. His vocals are treated to a point where much of the humanity is erased, but I rather get the feeling that’s the point. A very welcome return.
Thanks to a couple of friends in the US to pointing me the way to this upcoming release from a new Seattle band, who appear to be taking inspiration from political and digital paranoia and dystopia for a release that has something of the sharp edges of Numb, and perhaps a bit of the combat-ready sounds of Front 242. Concrete Sky puts the punchy kick drums upfront for a shouty EBM-electro-industrial workout that spits venom at vulture capitalism, and those that actively create cities hostile to the homeless, complete with sampled voices attacking the mix from both sides like strafing weapons. The two songs released so far have me very much interested.
/The Lightning I, II
The last couple of Arcade Fire albums have been…ok? Moving steadily into a looser, dance-rock sound seemed to suit them for the most part, but there was always this feeling that something of their soul had been lost, particularly as the albums sprawled. Their gloriously uplifting return – it is technically two songs, but released as one, as they are clearly written to be consumed as one – dials back the dance, and has the distinct feel of a band returning to their roots, as well as part of a shorter, snappier album (just forty minutes and seven tracks). Lightning I is a gentle swell of a ballad that eventually builds and explodes into the joyous life of Lightning II, which feels like the most thrilling music Arcade Fire has released in a decade or more. This band were always about the thrill of the possible, the dancing in the darkest of times, the celebration of the congregation, and this song takes me back to all of that. It’s a fucking joy.
While they reunited and continued to tour – including a hugely entertaining Deaf Dumb Blind anniversary tour a few years back – Clawfinger have only released one new track since 2007, and we can now add a second new track. It sounds like they’ve never been away, either, with a characteristic bluntness to both the sound and lyrics, as Zak Tell seethes at inaction over the environment (and with a hulking chorus that could only be this band, too). A bit of a departure from their preferred subject of anti-racism, but one that is certainly a subject that needs discussing, and to hold Governments’ feet to the fire over.
/INITIATION † PROTECTION
I don’t think I’d quite noticed just how long it was since that first ††† [Crosses] album. But in the meantime, Chino Moreno’s main band Deftones have continued their renaissance, and it appears that lockdown was the catalyst for more of this. The foggy electronics and slower tempos of before have continued, providing once again a sound that is both familiar and still sounds relatively new. Of the two new songs, INITIATION is for me the pick, a cryptic swirl that snaps into focus for the melodic brilliance of the chorus.
/Westgate Under Fire
Benji Webbe’s old band Dub War have unexpectedly returned, with a handful of gigs coming up as well as a new album – their first since the nineties. As was the case originally, there is less of the upbeat feel that Skindred has, and more of the rage and anger that fuelled the furiously heavy Dub War in the first place. Comeback single Blackkk Man sees Benji assessing his place as a black man in the UK in the twenty-first century, and sadly it’s not a good story. The lyrics are worth following on the video, too, as he reminds of history and the present, and what got us here. As the closing lyric notes: “The violence we see / we learned from you“.
/Decimation (Dis Nation)
Also seething at the state of the world is dälek, whose always-fascinating, thought-provoking industrial-tinged hip-hop is forever welcome in my house. The first taste of their upcoming album Precipice also takes a (rightly) accusatory tone in the treatment of minorities by white people, and clearly despairs at the lack of progress – or indeed the rolling back – of race relations in 2022. The key lyric to me is “HOW you gonna ask if I’ve been to prison?? / All you had to DO was listen / Nah you rather force religion“, an indictment of an increasingly reactionary, right-wing America that has no interest in solving problems, simply blaming others instead.
It shouldn’t really come as a surprise after the eye-wateringly expensive physical edition of Fear Inoculum, but to mark the thirtieth anniversary of their first release, Tool have released a Blu-Ray “single” for the best part of £30.
That single is a complete, and lengthy, reworking of the title track from that first EP, Opiate. Initially, a punchy five-minute track that tears into those that blindly follow religious “leaders” (presumably evangelists), this new version doubles the length but crucially doesn’t strip away the scorching fury of Maynard James Keenan’s vocals. Which absolutely a good thing, as that was always one of the key elements of this song, and mainly the changes stretch things out, with more measured, lengthy instrumental sections that bring the track in line with more recent Tool work. Also, it takes time to come, but the brutal climax of the track perhaps hits harder than it ever did.