the xx

Remember that crazy period over the summer where bad shit was just happening every fucking day? I mean, bad shit happens all the time, but over 40-ish days and 40-ish nights, we had the Bastille Day attack in Nice, the attempted coup in Turkey, multiple police shootings, the Chilcot enquiry, Brexit, and Donald Trump accepting the Republican nomination (at least nothing came of that though, right?) and much more.

After a period of relative calm, we now find ourselves in a different, but perhaps even more terrifying world. Donald Trump is the President. Nigel Farage is the UK’s main representative in the US. Leonard fucking Cohen died. What hell is being unleashed on us?

I will give credit where credit’s due. I used to write these weekly Stereo Tonics in the mad period over the summer as a way of lifting people’s spirits and giving them some great new music to listen to, whilst lamenting the fact that Frank Ocean’s second album still wasn’t out. Well guess what? Frank Ocean’s second album has come out! Have that 2016, you absolute fucker.

So with the endtimes signalling their arrival once more, and a good chance that a significant portion of our comrades in the States may have some pretty fucking basic human rights stripped from them in the coming years, it’s time to get the metaphorical band back together and fire up the ol’ girl, ‘coz Stereo Tonic is back.

Instead of just presenting a ‘Here’s Some Songs We’re Loving This Week’ that no one will give a toss about, here are some songs that might just carry you through another depressing week on Planet Earth (or ‘Planet Earth II’).

A Tribe Called Quest – ‘Dis Generation

The Tribe are back with a new track – their first in nearly twenty years, the charged-up ‘Dis Generation’. If ever a group were built for the Stereo Tonic, it’s ATCQ; their lyrics feature rallying cries against the establishment (and not in the way that Fox News wants you to think that The Donald is anti-establishment), the tunes veer between triumph and tear-jerking within mere moments, and their first performance upon reuniting – on Jimmy Fallon on the same night as the Bataclan attacks – charged them into getting back together full time.

The late, great Phife Dawg once said that he wouldn’t want the group to release anything that would damage their admittedly high reputation. Well don’t worry everyone, 2016’s constant pisser of news won’t include any headlines like ‘A Tribe Called Quest absolutely fucked it’, and Phife can rest very much in peace due to the fact that new album ‘We Got It from Here…Thank You 4 Your Service’ is wonderful. Retaining everything you love about the East Coast pioneers yet never out of step, ‘Dis Generation’ leads the attack with surfed-up guitars and deep, arse-rattling bass grooves, compounded with lightning-quick vocal delivery and a Busta Rhymes guest spot.

Perhaps it says something that the most ready and willing political commentators in music these days are veterans in the likes of A Tribe Called Quest and Green Day. Dis generation, eh?

Geowulf – ‘Don’t Talk About You

The Australia-via-Europe pop duo Geowulf (try saying all of that while you’re pissed) present their second single in amidst a haze of critical praise and great vibes; fitting, given these not-so-fun times that we now find ourselves in. The duo say that you can “probably find us sipping lattes whilst eating kale for breakfast in a sunny place called the Sunshine Coast”, which will probably make you switch off if you’re one of those sour fuckbags that doesn’t like it when people enjoy themselves, so off with you.

If you’re still here then congratulations, you have good taste! The summery psychedelia that comes with ‘Don’t Talk About You’’s blend of folk, pop, and rock are a sound for sore ears (mine are very sore indeed), and Geowulf’s brand of dreaminess comes with jangling guitars, reverberating vocals, and lucid melodies throughout.

If music at its best is a form of escapism and Geowulf can be filed in your iTunes library as ‘dreampop’, then keep dreaming of songs like ‘Don’t Talk About You’ before reality pops your bubble and brings you crashing back down to Earth. Have a nice day.

Couros ft. Alyss – ‘Never Break

Do you like a good cry? Me too. You’ll possibly do a lot more of it over the next four (or, God forbid, eight) years. One thing that is Scientifically Proven to cure crying is listening to London-based producers and Brighton singer-songwriters teaming up on psychedelic electropop-filled EPs named after planets.

Fortunately, Couros recruited Alyss to sing on his new EP, ‘Jupiter’, and the result is ‘Never Break’, a sultry exercise in stomping choruses and synth-bass wizardry. This mid-tempo jaunt is just as likely to have you in tears as it is on the dancefloor (for that 2016 look, I recommend openly weeping in your club to the sound of ‘Never Break’, yelling about how ‘BERNIE WOULDN’T HAVE LOST’), and Couros has perfected a sound that’s not too polished to be filed away as cheap PBR&B, but shiny enough to stand out from the pack.

Combining the emotion of Oh Wonder and the ethereality of Lapalux, ‘Never Break’ is a perfect antidote to anything you might be going through for three minutes and 21 seconds. That might not be long enough, but there’s always the repeat button.

IDER – ‘Million

One recent review said that IDER was ‘likely to rule 2017 with an iron fist’. Makes a change from the Conservative Party, eh!!!!!!!!!!!! Comedy.

If you want a reference point for where this North London-based duo sit on your contextual popometer, then slot yourself in square between Lapsley and Jones and you’ve got yourself a rough idea of IDER’s sound. Like both of those artists the production is light years ahead of most, but unlike them: THERE’S TWO OF THEM IN IDER. I think you’ll find that that means IDER are mathematically twice as good, and the on-point harmonies in ‘Million’ are the evidence with which I make my hypothesis.

A sparse arrangement is used so tactfully that it’s almost scary to think what these two could do with more at their disposal, once the inevitable pop superstardom whisks them away. The fragility of the delivery of lyrics like, “Come take me, see me in the best light // Weak heart for the taking, in the best light” are beautifully layered over a delicate piano, until things take off two thirds of the way through for a euphoric bridge to the promise of, “Honey we’re getting out alive”. You’d be a fool to not believe them.

Amy Shark – ‘Adore

Wobbly guitars and intimate vocals make up the latest effort from Amy Shark, an all-out love song as ambiguous as it is ambient. While introspective, it’s not actually obvious whether the song is borne from a happy relationship, an unrequited love, or a broken heart – maybe it’s best if we don’t know.

As Shark serenades this unnamed person in whatever context she damn well pleases, she asks this equivocal figure, “Get me a drink, I get drunk off one sip just so I can adore you // I want the entire street out of town just so I can be alone with you,” summing up pretty much the perfect circumstances to be in a relationship under; drunk and undisturbed.

So whether the Australian songwriter is coming from a place of happiness or a place of heartbreak, let that inspire you to tell the right person that you adore them – before it’s too late. Maybe get the entire street out of town so that you can be alone with them.

SOHN – ‘Conrad

I can feel it coming, we can never go back” is both the right attitude to take when a Republican Presidency/Great Depression is about to arrive AND the lyrical hook from SOHN’s new release, ‘Conrad’. I don’t know who this Conrad is, but if he had any quick ideas on how to make capitalism work in modern society then hmu.

Carved out of a now-recognisable set of musical circumstances such as trance-lite synths, syncopated drums, and repetitive lyrical hooks, ‘Conrad’ is SOHN at his most SOHN. It’s totally ace, and a subtle Fender Rhodes-sounding organ helps elevate it into some sort of modern motown-meets-electronica, without being too in-your-face with either genre. Layers of harmonies echo around a sneaky groove that you don’t even realise is there until it’s already too late my dudes; you could feel it coming but you can damn sure never go back.

That’s how they get you these days.

The xx – ‘On Hold

After a four year wait since ‘Coexist’, The xx seem to have sensed these troubled times and sprang into action with ‘On Hold’, the first single from the eagerly anticipated new album ‘I See You’, due out in January. It’s a thoroughly current-sounding tune, and feels like a band in the right place at the right time; the state of our society absolutely requires a soundtrack such as this, where melancholia and misery are quickly eschewed in favour of optimism and opportunity.

Of course, there’s still the bittersweetness that comes pre-packaged with any xx release (“Every time I let you leave I always saw you coming back to me // When and where did we go cold? I thought I had you on hold”), but there’s perhaps more to enjoy here than of any of the trio’s previous releases; The xx being greater than the sum of their parts is by no means a shot at any one member – Jamie xx’s synths, sequences, and samples (of Hall & Oates, no less) are key to ‘On Hold’ – but it sounds more like a band getting quite literally into their groove after years of never quite getting there.

Take that as inspiration: Sometimes it takes a few tries to really find your place in the world, even if you’ve previously felt outcast from what’s ‘normal’. In the current climate, there’s about to be a lot more outcasts, that’s for sure. As the band said themselves:

Well, there’s your first week sorted. The apocalypse might be well and truly here, but at least we still have the music. For now.

In all seriousness, if shit’s got you down then memes, Facebook shares, and petitions aren’t enough. Actions speak louder than words, and I’ve said a lot of bloody words here, so make sure that the actions are as plentiful. As the US and UK race each other to the finishing line of existence by seeing who can fuck up the furthest, your civil liberties and basic fucking human rights are going to be violated, torn up, and pissed on. Here is a list of organisations (h/t Jezabel) that are fighting and doing vital work to ensure that citizens of our planet are treated fairly, legally, democratically, and humanely. If you are able to, please donate whatever you can afford. If you’re unable to, then please try to spread the word. A lot of those organisations operate internationally, or deal with affairs that will greatly affect international policies for years to come – the time for complacency is over, the time for activism is right now.

Good luck, enjoy these perhaps-insignificant mere moments of pop, rock, and pop-rock brilliance and I’ll see you next week.

About The Author

Mark Riley

Always pick the Fire starter-Pokemon.