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It Ain’t That Deep Either Way: Your Springtime Pop Roundup
Anna Cafolla , April 19th, 2018 07:18

Making the old new, and making the new beautiful - we’ve ben feeling some proper pop magic recently. Starring Clairo, Seinabo Sey, Hayley Kiyoko and Let’s Eat Grandma

Let’s Eat Grandma

The last few weeks have been a masterclass in the art of a good cover: Vanessa Carlton’s icy electro reinvention of Robyn, Lorde’s earthy redo of ‘Love Lockdown’, Clairo’s light-as-air take on Brockhampton’s ‘Waste’.

A cover needs to shake up the pop planetary system, rise and find its place among the stellar ‘Valerie’s and ‘Tainted Love’s, above the ‘Hallelujah’s and ‘Heartbeat’s stretched and tortured across on the rack. Reimagining a tune big or small should bring about a fresh and assured story all its own, leaning hard into the lyrics to occupy and conquer unexplored space - that’s how ‘Lola’ belongs to the Raincoats, and ‘It’s Oh So Quiet’ to Björk.

Original output has been stellar recently too - there’s been some shimmering debuts, spiky electro-pop, and twinkly takedowns.

Hayley Kiyoko - Expectations

Holy shit, it really is 20-gayteen, baby. Jumping from those early Disney Channel years into a new sphere of queer ambitious pop, Hayley Kiyoko’s first album Expectations is filled with light and personal truths. It’s acerbic, vulnerable and ferociously romantic over danceable basslines and sunny melodies - of course, Kiyoko is an Aries. ‘He’ll Never Love You’ is a caustic, cool hit. “Yeah I know / I'm the drug you never did / Higher than you've ever been,” Kiyoko sings, confronting the girl who won’t make the leap for her.

‘Curious’, the album’s central banger, has the racing pop pace of Camila Cabello or Dua Lipa’s current output, but with brilliant openness about her sexuality. There are moments where we lose the magic, when the songwriting trudges into the vague and saccharine - like the verging-into-beige ‘Let It Be’ - but that’s quickly remedied with more intimate lyrical choices. “All I want to do is cry / Bang my head until I start to fly,” she whispers to the night sky on ‘Mercy/Gatekeeper’. The fiery, stomping ‘What I Need’, featuring Kehlani, is worthy of a single crack. She’s known cheekily by her fanbase as ‘Lesbian Jesus’, and that’s testament to how much queer women’s voices in mainstream pop are so needed.

Clairo - ‘Flamin’ Hot Cheetos’

The first official music video for YouTube ‘recommended’ section dominator Clairo lands in the form of ‘Flamin’ Hot Cheetos’. It’s a surreal, Dali-on-vacation-with-Wes-Anderson visual, set to the pleasant, twinkly tune Claire Cottrill originally put out herself last year. The song is filled with pleasant teen-in-loveisms like “girlfriend or girl that’s a friend?”, pulsating with DIY-devoted vocals, soft synths and a nostalgia felt hardest by people who weren’t around for the first wave of sad-girl pop. Already supporting Tyler, the Creator on tour, she plans to drop her EP later this year - said to feature a collab with Rejjie Snow and production by PC Music’s Danny L Harle. That, if successful, could slam the door shut on bedroom pop.

Cuckoolander - Mercury

In ancient alchemy, the awe-inducing mercury is considered to be at the core of all metals. It’s the spirit that unites the body with the soul to make them one. Cuckoolander’s latest track and Altered Carbon-esque video takes inspiration from this, zoning in on the power of the mind and the complex trials and tribulations of love and loss that go on inside our heads. “Be my mercury, when the dark is taking over me,” she cries over a battering soundscape. “Be my mercury running through my body.”

Cuckoolander’s ‘Mercury’ has been released on Charli XCX’s Vroom Vroom recordings - as well as releasing two EPs (the latest out this year), Cuckoolander has been part of Charli’s backing band as a bassist. Her second release, EP_02, promises more anthemic tunes to envelop your body and soul

Let’s Eat Grandma - ‘Falling Into Me’

‘Falling Into Me’ follows the Norwich duo’s SOPHIE-produced fever dream ‘Hot Pink’, both from their upcoming second album. A fractured, fluorescent disco beat reaches a crunchy techno climax, with EMOTION-like quirks and glam-metal synths. They sing about shedding insecurities and falling without fear into feelings, romantic or otherwise: “We got this,” they assert. Let’s Eat Grandma oscillate from the sweet and psychedelic to the deliciously sinister; it’s like if Tegan & Sara were produced by The Knife. Pulling fervently at the fabric of pop, I’m investing a lot of hope in I’m All Ears.

Sorcha Richardson - ‘Can’t We Pretend’

With a feather-light production and cinematic storytelling that burrows into the inner ventricles of your nostalgia-sick heart, Sorcha Richardson explores the distance she feels between her hometown of Dublin and new residence in New York: “It's raining in New York too / That doesn't mean I'm any closer to you.” Richardson’s voice swirls across memories of underage drinking and accidents, the familiar slipping into the unknown, and relationships gnawed by time apart. Relatable for anyone who’s ventured to the big smoke and come back home to an unrecognisable high street and school friends you now have little in common with other than hazy memories.

joan - ‘i loved you first’

The Arkansa set are here with a tune that sounds like a cut from a John Hughes movie, with the full-bodied, artery-bursting ‘i loved you first’. It glows with the achy, nervy feelings of being a teenager getting unceremoniously aired, with Prince-inspired emotive turns and mesmerising Richard Marx-esque song structure. The guitar solo is like huffing a can of Silvikrin hairspray. Along with breezy alt-pop number ‘love somebody like you’, released earlier this year, joan could confidently nab all The 1975’s summer festival slots.

Laura Jean - ‘Touchstone’

Four albums into her career, Laura Jean is known as a spectacular folk musician in Australia. With ‘Touchstone’, she ventures into a dreamy pop oddity, a jubilant sound inspired by tinkering around on a 90s Kawai keyboard. It consumes you in one swoop with twitchy guitar lines and deep, playful percussion, like a wave to shore, where the sea is as silvery as the sky. ‘Touchstone’ comes from her forthcoming album Devotion which, she says, is about how “a lonely coastal childhood filters into a contemporary adult life built hundreds of miles away”. With such uplifting, dissonant musical choices, I would love to hear her collaborate with Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith. She has Lorde’s seal of approval, too.

Seinabo Sey - ‘I Owe You Nothing’

Real Lauryn Hill vibes from Swedish-Gambian artist Seinabo Sey. Back with her first single in three years and refusing to bend to the music industry machine, she’s asserting that she owes you nothing at all. “I don’t have to smile for you / I don’t have to move for you / I don’t have to dance / Monkey dance for you,” exhibiting the rich caverns of her voice across soulful, fat-bass pop. The video is absolutely glorious, too.

Biig Piig - ‘Flirt’

Singer and rapper Biig Piig is feeling out a sound that’s her own: half in, half out of dream-mumbled lyrics with a neo-soul tone, over smokey, Dilla-like beats. ‘Flirt’ is a sweet song about mustering the courage to spark up a conversation with someone you like. With its distorted, dreamy sounds, it soundtracks the burning embers of an afterparty, the sky so muted and hazy you’re not sure if it’s twilight or pushing sunrise. Growing up between Ireland and Spain, Biig Piig has spent the last few years in London - she’ll soon be putting out her Big Fan Of The Sesh EP, along with some releases with DIY creative collective NINE8.

Chloe x Halle - The Kids Are Alright

The sister act take full creative control on this madly anticipated debut, with a strong sense of self and a slick aesthetic. Ascending from the days of honey-sweet YouTube covers, 19-year-old Chloe and 18-year-old Halle make melodic, dreamy R&B with a web of harmonies and a grounded attitude. It flies through themes of self-discovery, new beginnings, and working on their flaws and through hard times. ‘Fake’, with a powerful verse from Kari Faux, is a particular highlight that cuts down the false hangers-on. The title track praises the vibrant youth movement that’s pushing for change where adults in power have faltered, with rich vocal twists and turns. ‘If God Spoke’ is beautifully textured, commanding space and attention with a power that feels celestial. ‘Hi-Lo’ is a bass-pumping banger, with production by Kendrick and Bey co-producer Pluss. Overall, a beautiful coming-of-age work that’s powering towards a new horizon.