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IN CONVERSATION WITH: Empress Of

WORDS BY HANNAH TINKER

Lorely Rodriguez AKA Empress Of is fiercely fighting-the-good-fight. With lyrics delivered with her LA twang that wraps around millennial vocals – see “don’t be pissy with me” and “I don’t even smoke weed / it gives me anxiety” – Empress Of may have the ingredients for your run-of-the-mill pop songstress but she’s working with a different recipe to the norm.

Of course, releasing an LP infused with an R’n’B basis (her debut album Me) wasn’t a rarity in 2015 but Rodriguez stepped it up a level with the catchy electronica influxes throughout and a tracklist that smacks the stereotype of a dismissive female off its feet. From Kitty Kat to Need MyselfMe is rife with angsty feminine empowerment and, you’re invested in every word. These cries for self-love and fighting back are expanded on with the feat that the album was all, entirely self-produced. In comparison, 2018’s sophomore record, Us, sees her work alongside the likes of Dev Hynes, duo DJDS (Kanye West, Khalid, Kacy Hill), Cole M.G.N. (Ariel Pink, Christine and the Queens). It’s a collaborative piece that offers less of an internal monologue but more of a discussion on about mutual relationships.

It’s clear that the record, and Lorely’s method of creating it, cultivated from her peers and her relationships with them. When we catch her, she’s in Cologne, having played Amsterdam the night before at 12:30 am. Images enter the mind of fluoro-brightened rooms and revelers lip-syncing her high-octane hit track Woman Is A Word – as featured on another female-fronted plotline, the recently aired Killing Eve. She speaks of her relationship with Dev Hynes – who produced Everything To Me, the first track on Us – as “friends first and then collaborators”, with the singer recruiting him particularly because she penned When I’m With Him about their friendship. Yes, yet another stereotypical barrier is broken down, this time in the form of a song about platonic relationships.

Her reign began when ‘Empress’ was brought up on a tarot card that a friend pulled out for. “I related to it so much, the mothering, strong, feminine energy of it. There are so many parts of me. The anxious side, the insecure side but I feel so empowered by my own music and I wanted to show that to people.” What really translates is that she’s by no means calling herself the Messiah though – “I can’t be that person…” Instead, she wants to embody a character that raises others up, be that showcasing her friends’ talents through collaboration or sanctioning positivity into the minds of her audience.

Empress Of isn’t just about empowering women. A feminist through and through, equality is the name of the game, as best transcribed by the recent Perfume Genius cover of the aforementioned Us track When I’m With Him. “I love that he sang the song from his perspective. It’s just beautiful.” Lorely mentions how her version of the track is from the point of view of a heterosexual woman and Perfume Genius takes it and eloquently ties it in, from his own point of view.

As we continue, the talk turns to social media as Lorely reveals that she no longer uses Mark Zuckerberg’s behemoth – Facebook. “Everyone’s constantly resharing political stories and views. I’ve seen friends go down spirals about ‘fake news’ and other political garbage.” Being from LA she is of course mostly aware of North American news and media but, we’re not too different over this side of the Atlantic. Globally, Facebook and generally all social media platforms have morphed from ‘hey look at my holiday snaps’ into a full-blown news site with twenty-four hour, twenty-four-seven, updated every microsecond. “I find it important to stay in touch with what’s happening in the world but I don’t want to be clouded by it.” A valid point of view amongst a society where ‘procrastination’ is a regular in our vocabulary.

The next two months sees Lorely take to writing once more, so perhaps You is in the pipeline? Two particular characters that always catch her attention are Mariah Carey and French new wave artist, Lizzy Mercier Descloux. “Before every show, I look at these two photographs and, it makes me feel like, they’re watching over me.” Let’s hope that these two iconic acts only continue to watch over this LA protégé.

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hans zimmer Live

LIVE: The World of Hans Zimmer @ Manchester Arena

WORDS BY LUKE LIDDLE  PHOTOS BY MANC WANDERER

35 years and over 150 films into his career, iconic German composer Hans Zimmer has curated a live symphonic retrospective of his vast body of work, which reached UK shores this week. Despite the fact that Zimmer himself is not a physical part of this tour, Manchester Arena, in its seated configuration is very close to being sold out, with a crowd from across the age spectrum coming to bask in some of the greatest ever celluloid soundtracks.

hans zimmer

As opposed to previous Zimmer-related tours, where individual songs from his films were performed, the pieces played this evening are mini-suites, starting with the themes from The Dark Knight and King Arthur. Zimmer himself appears in pre-recorded videos with a few of his film collaborators, including Ron Howard, who introduces selections from Rush and The Da Vinci Code. The latter is a sprawling mishmash of Zimmer’s ‘scrapbook’, his original ideas for the score, not all of which made it to the actual film. It twists and turns, by far the longest piece played throughout the night and somewhat overstaying its welcome.

After a 20 minute intermission, the mood changes significantly, with a joyous romp through some of the animated films that Zimmer has contributed to, from Madagascar and Kung Fu Panda to The Lion King, the latter proceeded by a video introduction featuring Lebo M, who provided the iconic chant at the start of the film. The feel-good factor is continued with excerpts from rom-com The Holiday, which takes on an almost rock flavour. The set then builds to a dramatic denouement, with Gladiator and Inception. Gladiator features the stunning vocals of Lisa Gerrard, the Australian artist who co-wrote some of the films’ work with Zimmer. The arena rises to its feet for an ovation, prompting a somewhat inevitable, yet thrilling, an encore of Pirates of the Caribbean.

‘The World of Hans Zimmer’ is a success as a production, a potent reminder of Zimmer’s vast influence across the world of film and music and a testament to the magic that he and his collaborators have created across the decades.

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idris elba stand by me

SINGLE REVIEW: IDRIS ELBA – ‘STAND BY ME’

WORDS – CRAIG HOPKINSON

Idris Elba is, by all accounts, the Midas of his time; anything he touches turns to gold. Not only is he an international movie superstar, a world-renowned tech-house and progressive house DJ, nor is he simply an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE), Idris has pushed out one of the best new singles of 2019 thus far, ‘Stand By Me’. (Additionally, Idris Elba also just happens to be my number one man-crush, so there’s also that).

 

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Happy to announce my directorial debut #Yardie is opening in theatres across the U.S next Friday 15th March

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‘Stand By Me’, a Dancehall infused, dub totting, instant reggae banger is one of the single releases from a collection of tunes inspired by last year’s Elba film; Yardie. Incorporating audio samples from the film, ‘Stand By Me’ and other tracks to be released over the course of the year were produced and arranged by Idris Elba and include collaborations with various British and Jamaican artists. Brixton born artist Tanika and Jamaican Dancehall singer Kranium joined Elba in bringing us ‘Stand By Me’ and instantly the listener is belted by what can only be described as very traditional reggae sound. With a ‘2-step’ and roots feel throughout the song, ‘Stand By Me’ issues archetypal up-stroke guitar patterns and Rhodes keys played with such swing that the whole piece bounces classically, as all good reggae does. It’s a positive vibration indeed.

Lyrically, the song is in keeping with the narrative of the film and the themes it portrays. The story of a young Yardie from Jamaica, witnessing the ills of the world around him, murder, organised crime and gangsters, wondering who, if anyone, will stand by him in times of trouble and strife.

The production level here is so clean and vibrant, it’s a really well-oiled piece. Each instrument has its own shelf of frequency and every second just sounds so clear; the instrumentation throughout is immense, but to play the reggae strum pattern properly a guitar player needs to have paid their dues. Here’s the thing though, I really can’t tell if all the drums were recorded live or if they are all digitally sequenced or punched in with a sampler like an MPC. This is surprising because it either means the live drumming is that tight or sounds almost electronic or if the drum samples used and the patterns created are that tight and authentic they sound as though they were played live.

Is there anything this man cannot do? If one thing is for sure, the box of top-notch music producer has officially been ticked. Keep making bangers like this Mr.Elba and I’m sure we’ll all stand by you.

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jonathan bree

SINGLE RELEASE: Jonathan Bree – ‘Fuck It’

WORDS BY CRAIG HOPKINSON

It could easily be said that our generation is the generation of apathy. Disenchanted, disenfranchised and disillusioned politically and in most cases financially. Yet we are fat from the foods of every far reaching corner of the planet, stuffed and lacklustre from the ease of access to vast and infinite forms of media now available, and choice is only ever a finger or thumb tap away. Millennials, now in adulthood, and what could be categorised as ‘post-millennial’ teenagers, now steer the wheels of the world and, like frustrated Punks in the mid 1970’s, artistry echoes the ‘vox populi’ and it’s lazy, frustrated screams. 

Fuck it. That is the name of the latest single release by Jonathan Bree and that one forlorn phrase explains the message of the song perfectly. Fuck it.  

 

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Performing today at the Parish 12:30pm and then at Hotel Vegas at 5:30pm Captured here at the Desert Daze showcase by @mr_wingard

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From the tone of the lead vocal to the reverberated ‘80s influenced pad sounds, and even the music video; this piece is awesome and could be the dulcet war cry of our generation. If Aldous Huxley heard music in his head when he wrote ‘A Brave New World’ then it would have sounded like this.  

In terms of the production of the song, there is a great use of reverb throughout. The whole song is very lucid and fluent thanks to an almost wet sounding reverb and delay effects unit. Like an original new-wave or post-electro pop piece, Fuck It is crammed with electronic keyboard chord progressions, perhaps a Korg or a Yamaha. Conversely, the main guitar riff sounds a lot more analogue to most of the other instruments used. The riff played continuously throughout the track, finger picked from the guitar chords used, almost has a vague hint of an American Country Music riff. The glue that holds this awe-inspiring yet apathetic and paradoxical song together, in terms of instrumentation, is the drum section. Such a heavy kick drum, married up with this crunchy snare, gives this lullabied melody some contrasting bite.  

The surreal and slightly eerie music video looks as though it was filmed in the 1960’s. A black and white filmed room of dancing girls, dressed as though they are an episode of ‘Soul Train’. A complete contrast to the new-wave sound indeed. The eerie thing is; everyone in the video is wearing a fully lycra body suit, from head to toe, covering their faces. Why? Not a clue.   

This really is such an amazing song. It effortlessly speaks in volume about the ills of our society, our generation and somehow encapsulates it and makes it beautiful. The music video is witty and thought-provoking and as a bit of a treat for our more lyrically inclined readers; Jonathan Bree posted the lyrics of the song in the YouTube video description.

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SINGLE REVIEW: Trudy and the Romance – ‘The Original Doo-Wop Spacemen’

WORDS BY: TOM BRANFOOT

Having recently announced that their debut album Sandman will be released on May 24th, Liverpudlian mutant rockers Trudy and the Romance treat our undeserving ears with yet another ice-cream float of doo-wop with a scoop of punk. 

The Original Doo-Wop Spacemen is a cinematic wall of sound, with nods to 40’s Disney flicks (check their cover of Baby Mine from Dumbo) and 50s acts such as The Teddy Bears or Dion & The Belmonts. All their nostalgic influence being stated, they also deliver a heavy, crushed guitar tone akin to Iceage (especially their latest single Broken Hours) and vocals in the same league as King Krule, as well as thick, full bass tones and Phil Spector-esque drums. 

 

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Howdy and Goodbye Austin, Texas. Forever in our hearts @sxsw Thank y’all for watchin’ 💋

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The vocals on Doo-Wop Spacemen are subdued in comparison to previous songs such as the quivering impetus of My Baby’s Gone Away. More like crooning to the girl next door as opposed to hollering at an ex-beau. Trudy always excel themselves in backing vocal duties and these are as blissfully reverb-soaked as ever, provided in part by soulful existentialist Brad stank, even complete with a splattering of schoo-bop-doo-wop’s. This song gives an indication the album may contain a self-reflexive narrative throughout.

Trudy are an amalgamated act who never fail to disappoint with each release. With this new single they appear to have refined their sound to a self-assured and recognisable niche, sounding much more mature and considerably different to most formulaic acts in the indie scene at the minute. Cinematic and lush, any one of their ditties wouldn’t seem out of place being lip-synced by Dean Stockwell in Blue Velvet by David Lynch.

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LIVE: Ist Ist @ Gorilla

WORDS BY: NATHAN BAILEY      PHOTO BY: TRUST A FOX

One of them New fangled musical troops Ist Ist filled Gorilla on Saturday night on the penultimate leg of their spring tour. Like the daffodils they have been sprouting up across the country this past month, basking in the light of their latest EP Everything is Different Now. They also had some ‘Special Guests’, popular lads that they are.

Pick of the special guests’ bunch were Salfordians Red Light Effect, who were great value on the night. They had Corby trouser press crisp adult songwriting on offer, reminiscent of a pre-Daily Mail era Morrissey yet lathered in that gigantic expression pedal guitar sound you all know and love. Singer Ian Scott certainly cut a charismatic figure as he hollered above the snowdrifts of guitar delay, and with the aid of a mysterious box stuck halfway up the mic stand sounds an awful lot like some wonderful northern bird of paradise calling for a mate. Red Light Effect also wear great shoes! What’s not to like.

Now, let’s just say it. Ist Ist are a MOOD. They have the potential to unite unhappy teenagers and their “young in the eighties” parents in a way not seen since Rick Rolling appeared and the overwhelming verdict of a death penalty for Astley reached across the generational divide.

They begin their set brooding through Preachers Warning and I’m Not Here. Gorilla is tense. Tantalisingly so. The whole place is threatening to boil over, like a derby day nil-nil with blue touch paper teasing flame. Anti-guitar solos tinker with the central heating controls and it’s getting warmer as the band bring out one of their superior early numbers Silence. There is a solid tradition of artists sculpting into their work the dichotomy of sound and silence, Kierkegaard through John Cage via Paul Simon. You can add Ist Ist’s take to that list, it is a banger. Certainly more so than Kierkegaard ever was.

 

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Post-show, Sheffield… • 📸 – @malwhichelow

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For this EP Ist Ist added multi-instrumentalist Mat Peters to their ranks. whilst this tipped their new songs on a slightly different trajectory with keys heavy tracks like Jennifer’s Lips it has also given a symphonic slant to some of their older material which is most welcome. If this isn’t enough for you, he also happens to be a really nice guy, so there, have that.

At the core of the bands sound on the old stuff and the new is Adam Houghton’s wonderful voice. In the darker number’s such as the aptly named Black, Houghton gets positively subterranean. Such tones must be heard down in the ninth circle of Dante’s low register, along with Nick Cave, Mr Curtis and that bloke out of The National.

Of course, despite all the brooding that exudes from a lot of Ist Ist’s more melancholic work, a maudlin nil-nil this is not. They offer up surprisingly catchy stripped back little number I want to disappear. This is followed swiftly after by a wondrous end to the set where they kindly smash up all that tension lest anyone have to split a taxi home with it. Renditions of Nights arm and Diversion kick all this to pieces, along with any lingering eagerness from the audience to compare Ist Ist wearily to a certain Manchester band from days yonder. Thumping through these tunes you would say they were more reminiscent of The Editors at the 2005 Munich best. That’s a bloody good compliment in case you were wondering.

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LIVE: Sleaford Mods @ Manchester O2 Academy

WORDS BY NATHAN BAILEY         PHOTO BY VISION HAUS MUSIC

A rather well dressed Parisian man once told me that he liked Sleaford Mods because they talk about real life. It is anyone’s guess what Messrs Fearn and Williamson would have to say about reflecting life in the city of light. However its probably a safe bet that, like most things they do, it would be worth listening to. Last weekend at the O2 Academy they certainly were.

Before the Mods took to the stage however, we are treated to post-punk pontiffs LIINES who have been supporting them on this tour, how nice of them. I first saw LIINES in the wonderful Ferret in Preston. Rather amazingly, if memory serves, they were on first in the little gem of a pub. They absolutely battered it in the Ferret and the big step-up in size here did not seem to daunt them one bit.

They were perfectly at home on the O2 Academy stage, fringes all to the left saluting the flag, dressed in funeral black. I’m not sure who’s funeral it was but judging by LIINES performance they must have had a keen ear for hell for leather drum beats and riffs that make you want to do that half jump thing when you’re on your tiptoes at gigs. You know the one.

Angry and sophisticated, their set is a fitting birthday present to singer Zoe McVeigh’s dad, how sweet. A highlight of their set was the last song on the night: Never There. It’s got this strange tough-but-catchy quality to it, like a big concrete net. The whole of last years debut Stop-Start is, in fact, a big concrete net. Go and throw yourself in.

And so it was. There we were. Full speed ahead for the Sleaford Mods. They are the best double act since Torvill and Dean and you know what, they have got better moves too. Andrew Fearn trots on stage wide-grinned with the oversized backpack of a graffiti vandal and his now, surely certified ICONIC baseball cap. We couldn’t spot the Guinness officials but Andrew waves his way through the quickest soundcheck of all time as he plucks his computer out of his bag and (presumably) crosses off all them annoying McAfee ‘EXPIRED!’ warnings. He briefly disappears only to return with Jason and off they go galivanting through Into The Payzone, Subtraction and Flipside, all from their fantastic latest offering Eton Alive. 

Williamson is immense through all of this. He can-cans about like Liza Minelli’s edgier brother, leans out over his microphone stand like Raw Power-era Iggy Pop, and dances gracefully like a young Brazilian Ronaldo’s harder twin, bearing down on the defence.

It’s easy to forget when listening to the serious subject matters and snarly interviews what a laugh Sleaford Mods are. But that is the point of them. They are a band of contradictions. Their set contains genuine Saturday night spinners like BHS and Tied up in Notts as well as swear-hinged toasts to kebabs. Sleaford Mods openly bear disdain for music with a ‘social conscience’ whilst having a go at it themselves. Don’t like punk but they have a go at it themselves. They have a go at themselves.

 

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Cheer up @sleaford_mods, you played a frigging blinder last night #manchester #workingclasselectronics

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Their songs are lacing social satires and personal tales of addiction healing at once and then neither. Sleaford Mods seem to have that intangible quality of a band you can’t ignore but make it look as though they couldn’t ‘give a monkeys’ if they did. They scream for your attention as sneer mongers and then pat you on the back for giving to charity. They claim they’re influenced by the Pet Shop Boys! They’ve got your head in a vice and they’re not letting go. If you’re feeling tense then fear not as one look at Andrew, seemingly the happiest man alive, will put you at ease. Good Cop Bad Cop anyone?

The set was an absolute stormer, a great selection of the newer tunes and a healthy dose of the classics. What a joyous world we live in where there is classic Sleaford Mods. This review could have gone on and on happily but Sleaford Mods reminded us that ‘it’s just new music magazines lying to us’, so like Jason we will leave you as he left us pirouetting proudly off the stage like Nijinsky. Go and have a McFlurry.

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SINGLE RELEASE: Squid – ‘Houseplants’

WORDS BY: KANE MARTIN

“To hell with poverty, let’s get drunk on cheap wine” bemoaned Leeds monoliths of Post-Punk Funk, Gang of Four in 1978. With the latest Brexit statistics of meat and cheese prices skyrocketing but wine being okay. It’s a nihilistic response to a cultural crisis, but with the release of Squid’s latest single Houseplants we’re summoned to have a bit of a fucking boogie, chugging down lambrini to a motoric beat whilst everything turns to toss. 

 

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SAFE. @sxsw

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Houseplants, a follow up to the bands Dan Carey produced hyperventilating instant classic The Dial furthers the already established ironic yet earnest explorations in tight funk rhythms, ear-worming repetition and splashes of post-rock textures. Yet this time around we’re welcomed with more immediacy and we’re lauded into the groove that smacks your jaw like an on-time train from Northern Rail. This train that’s just hit you in the face we can imagine that the passengers look something akin to the lost souls in a Hieronymus Bosch painting except they’re reading all Sunday Telegraphs TV times supplement, updating their linkedin profiles and sorting out cocaine for the weekend whilst bleeding blue and yellow goo from their pours without realising it. 

 Absurd right? Well as is the genius of Squid. With Houseplants we see a claustrophobic attack on middle England, we as listeners are attacked with the unfortunate pedestrian concerns that we haunt ourselves with daily I.e. careering, buying a house, children’s television. Whilst the familiar is screamed at you by the band’s lead vocalist / drummer Ollie Judge, you begin to realise just how absurd the whole thing is.

It’s cruel optimism and the results of ongoing destruction of our souls daily by the neo-liberal agendas beyond our control set to a pulsing beat and infectious groove. It’s brilliant and exactly what we need right now it such times of divisions. Frustrations we can dance to. Squid seem to hold similar lyrical and sonic concerns to many of this new emerging sound of rhythm fuelled post punk (black midi, Handle, N0v3l) and with Houseplants, another jewel is added to this tapestry of militant post-funk resistance. Viva La Squid!      

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SINGLE RELEASE: FKJ – ‘Leave My Home’

WORDS BY: MWIKA BULAYA

Leave My Home is the brand new single released early this month as an ode to changing your surroundings for something new. The single isn’t worlds away from French Kiwi Juice’s (FKJ) previous works, prior fans of the artist should expect the same attention to detail that has been given to his other projects.

The Tadow singer references how he has to change his surroundings after being in the same place for so long. The ascending vocals may be representative of this journey beginning at one place that is comfortable but reaching another that is much more fulfilling. The French multi-instrumentalist did not disappoint with this track. A simple yet faultless production and fusions of jazz and electronica take centre stage to create a piece that is perfect for any mood.

 

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🙏🏻 Paris

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Much of the single is focused on the music as many of the lyrics are repeated, with little distinction between the verse and hook. Yet, this doesn’t seem to matter so much as the vocal harmonies that run throughout the track hold their own. In true FKJ style, the track transcends you to a place of utter relaxation where you can free your mind of all worries for the next 4 minutes.

Honourable mentions of this brand new single have to go to the steady percussion, soothing bass and the guitar solo that demands to be heard. Vincent Fenton, better known under the moniker of FKJ, has kept to his reputation of making music that you can vibe to alone or with friends, and this single is no different.

With this new single, FKJ shows no sign of slowing down. The 29-year-old is reinventing the music scene, blending your favourite genres into one that only he has found the key to. The French-artist will be making another appearance in the UK this year at Lovebox festival which is sure to be unforgettable.

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SINGLE RELEASE: Loyle Carner- ‘Loose Ends’ (Feat Jorja Smith)

WORDS BY: MATTY PYWELL

Loyle Carner‘s debut album Yesterday’s Gone was a fantastic record that established Carner as one of the UK’s most intriguing rappers. He writes biographical and often poignant lyrics which take an introspective look in to his life. His flows are at a slower pace than other MC’s, as if he’s taking as much time as possible to choose the perfect word, or the perfect line to best describe a thought, observation or moment.

On his latest single, Loose Ends, Loyle has enlisted the help of Jorja Smith, who recently won the Brit Award for ‘British Female Solo Artist’ after her critically acclaimed debut album, Lost & Found. The track starts with Smith’s typically striking vocals, she has a habit of making her high notes seem effortless. There’s a remorseful and emotive feeling to the song, created by the downcast piano notes and the simplistic, rhythmic drumming track. Loyle‘s vocals take centre stage, he uses his conventional, thoughtful flow, paced expertly by his habitual “uh’s”, which are little bits of vocalisation he uses to help space out the lyrics.

The track sees Loyle speak about some of the downsides of his success, which has seen him fly all over the world, but means that he hasn’t been able to keep up with friends and loved ones as well as he’d like. “I feel ashamed, I know there ain’t no savin’ away. They went astray, I went to Australia, so what am I supposed to say to ’em?” Overall, Loose Ends is a fantastic blend or soul and rap. It’s brought together two of the UK’s finest young talents and is one hell of a powerful match. This is the third single Carner has released in the last five months, and he’s heading out on tour next month, which is hopefully a sign that he will be releasing a follow-up to Yesterday’s Gone soon.

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