Pryor Stroud: Charged with gargling synths, metronomic percussion, and a vocal ripped straight out of the ‘80s fem-rock playbook, “Never Going to Die” is the debut single from Mary Jane Dunphe’s new synthpop project CC DUST. While on the surface this is a relatively straightforward electro-punk ballad, the details here deserve additional scrutiny: the foregrounded synthesizer drones are rough-edged, thick, even dirty, and Dunphe’s voice—a hoarse, up-from-the-gut warble—seems determined to fight against them. It’s as if she’s trying to free herself from the track’s sonic muck and, by extension, the oppressive sense of mortality that has begun to feel like a shackle against her skin. [7/10]
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Pryor Stroud: “I Need a Forest Fire” is perhaps best understood—and listened to—as a perfectly balanced collaboration between the two artists it features. Here, you can hear both of them vividly, as if they somehow happened to write and record the exact same song simultaneously and then, discovering that the other stumbled upon an identical slice of ether-drenched indie pop, decided to intermix their efforts into one singular composition. Indeed, “Forest Fire” seamlessly pools Blake’s ghost-soul vocal melodies with Bon Iver’s grayscale, heart-ripped-open songcraft style. The result is, needless to say, solemn, but the solemnity it conveys does not feel overblown or melodramatic or strategically manufactured. It feels, in a word, real, like a heartbreak from your past that you’ve been afraid to revisit. [8/10]
Australia’s CW Stoneking grew up in a remote part of the Northern Territory, but he fell in love early with gospel music, blues and ragtime and those first loves have been with him ever since. Stoneking notes that when he first heard blues he “thought it was kinda funny music because it was so deconstructed and not really adhering to any rules that I’d been told music [should] fit into.” Robert Johnson and Son House are among Stoneking’s influences, which makes sense given Stoneking’s raw, unvarnished, passionate form of the blues. That rawness has always been a part of country blues at least and it melds well with Stoneking’s somwehat punk sensibility.
Pryor Stroud: Cleaving electronic diva-pop to the drop-obsessed schizophrenia of contemporary EDM, “Wake Up” is a feverishly high-energy R&B convulsion that depicts Dawn Richard thrashing around in her sheets, pining for her lover, and seizing up from pure, world-consuming lust. The production is oversaturated with colliding sounds: synthesizers that stutter, bounce, and endlessly reverberate, ricocheting 808s, and clipped-up vocal samples that seem to have no purpose other than to take up space. “Don’t wake me up / I’ve been dreaming of you,” Richard sings, and while this plea is just a pop platitude that we’ve heard innumerable times before, it seems believably desperate here: in Richard’s dream stupor, she is with her lover, wrapped up in his arms, his chest to her back, but at any second he could slip out of sight and leave her gasping awake in the midst of a nightmare. [5/10]
Emmanuel Elone: For a comeback song, “All For One” is extremely solid. The descending chord progression feels vibrant and full thanks to some fantastic guitar tone, and the drums are crisp and steady. Ian Brown’s vocals are relaxed yet prominent as he croons a catchy melody and chorus. The only issues is the guitar solo on the bridge; while sweet, it feels out of place on the song. Still, it’s been two decades since the band broke up, yet they’ve returned to form as if it’s been only a couple of years. For that alone, they’ve solidified their position as one of the better British jangle pop bands of the ‘90s, right alongside the likes of the Smiths. [8/10]