We’re only a couple weeks into 2017, but artists are already teasing work that could be Album of the Year material. Here are a few of Scene’s favorite singles of the year, so far.
Diet Cig — “Tummy Ache”
By Erin McAuliffe
Alex Luciano (vocals and guitar) and Noah Bowman (drums) make up pop-punk band Diet Cig. Their 2015 EP “Over Easy” (combined with an infectiously energetic set that incorporated many leg kicks at a local brewery in Ohio) left me itching for new tunes from the duo — and all of those itches will be satisfyingly scratched April 7 with the release of their first full-length album, “Swear I’m Good At This.” Thankfully, they’ve released single “Tummy Ache” ahead of time, which hears Luciano cry out “it’s hard to be a punk while wearing a skirt” after referring to herself as “a kid, a girl, a runt.”
“And I’m starting to get real sick of / Trying to find my voice / Surrounded by all these boys.” With the recent Women’s March and the ongoing struggle for female representation on stages across the nation, “Tummy Ache” is a needed call-to-action. Luciano sang about cereal, cigs, eggs, turkey, coffee and being instructed by her mother not to buy vegetables on “Over Easy” — the tummy ache was inevitable, but the track is similar to the satiation before the regrets. Echoes bounce over stuttering drums and grunge guitar, settling in a way that won’t be settled.
Sampha — “No One Knows Me (Like the Piano)”
By Adam Ramos
Returning to a childhood home forces a person to confront their manufactured façade and face a more genuine identity. Sampha, the elusive and talented 27-year-old South Londoner, who returned home after his mother’s cancer diagnosis, understands this lesson all too well. In 2016, Sampha’s vocal performances were standouts on albums from Kanye West, Solange, Frank Ocean and longtime collaborator SBTRKT. But with the Feb. 3 release date of his debut album “Process” looming, Sampha is finally beginning to expose his full talent, and on single, “No One Knows Me (Like The Piano)” we get a tremendous preview.
Sampha’s unwavering love for both his mother and outlet through music is obvious and endearing throughout the track, poignantly reflected in his tender vocals and subtle piano melody. A delicate drum loop gallops in the distance, providing Sampha the complete spotlight all to himself, a rare and welcomed treat. As the track fades, the sounds of birds chirping in the distance bid farewell, a pleasant nod to all things homey.
Half Waif — “Severed Logic”
By Mike Donovan
Nandi Rose Plunkett and her Half Waif bandmates Adan Carlo and Zack Levine grew accustomed to the musical spotlight over the past year. Most of the press, however, applauded their work as members of the acclaimed Americana group Pinegrove. Half Waif, Plunkett’s synth pop project, stood silently in the background.
But, with the dawn of the new year, Plunkett isn’t content to be in the background any longer. Her band’s latest single, “Severed Logic,” makes this clear. Like Pinegrove’s Evan Stephens Hall, Plunkett writes to expose her flaws and redeem them. She first draws the listener into the bittersweet recesses of her mind with carefully layered, emotionally ambiguous synth lines. Her vocal stylings act as another layer of instrumentation in the mix, paying homage to the unique chorale techniques of Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen.
Lyrically, Plunkett doesn’t waste a breath. Each line rises straight from her internal torment. The poetry, by intent, is disjointed and troubling. “Will you listen / When I’m talking in my severed logic?” she asks of us. Given her songwriting prowess, I think we will.
Conor Oberst — “A Little Uncanny”
By Charlie Kenney
Conor Oberst, former front-man of indie rock band Bright Eyes, released a new single, “A Little Uncanny,” on Jan. 18 that displays a lonelier side to him not always seen in his music. Despite the tonal change, the song still has the hallmarks of what defined him as one of his generation’s most celebrated lyricists all over it.
His poignant lyrics and trademark sound of white-boy angst are there, but the ensemble that usually accompanies him has been replaced by Oberst alone — with a guitar around his neck, a harmonica suspended near his mouth and a piano with his fingers on the ivory.
In the single, just like in all of his songs, Oberst doesn’t disguise his grief within the lyrics — instead he lets his words bleed with heartbreak, anger and lamentation. Not over the addiction, sexual frustration or unrequited love that typically consume his lyrics, but over the election of President Donald Trump.
Oberst, an open critic of Trump, calls out the American public’s “idiocy” with the opening lyric of, “You started drinking the Kool-Aid,” alluding to the victims of the Jonestown incident of 1978. He touches on Reagan’s presidency as an awful “trial by fire” and as a precursor to Trump’s reign, all the while reminding us that in both cases it was “a little uncanny, what they managed to do.”
Gorillaz — “Hallelujah Money”
By Jack Riedy
After six years away, Gorillaz return just in time for the end. Damon Albarn’s collaborative crew taps Benjamin Clementine for lead vocals on new single “Hallelujah Money,” released on the eve of Trump’s inauguration. Thus, the track sounds like a funhouse funeral. Clementine’s baritone reeks of authority, earned or not, as he embodies utter corruption, “It’s not against our morals,” he intones. “It’s legal tender.” In the video, Albarn is reduced to a shadow of a puppet of his animated alter ego 2D. He croons helplessly, “How will we know? How will we dream? How will we love?” basic human empathy reduced to an uncertainty. Clementine’s haunting last shot combines the political, the spiritual and the dollar in a lovesick fever dream. The cut to a fleeing and sobbing SpongeBob is the punchline, mocking the simpletons who would cry foul at social commentary from a cartoon band while a caricature incarnate ascends to the highest office in the land. If the music video disturbs you, wait until you turn on the news. Gorillaz will be onboard playing away when the ship goes down, no matter who is steering.